Louis xi

Louis XI the Prudent
Louis XI wearing his Order of Saint Michael
King of France
Reign 22 July 1461 − 30 August 1483
Coronation 15 August 1461, Reims
Predecessor Charles VII
Successor Charles VIII
Spouse Margaret of Scotland
Charlotte of Savoy
Anne, Duchess of Bourbon
Joan, Duchess of Berry
Charles VIII
Father Charles VII
Mother Marie of Anjou
Born (1423-07-03)3 July 1423
Bourges, Berry, France
Died 30 August 1483(1483-08-30) (aged 60)
Château de Plessis-lez-Tours, France
Burial Notre-Dame de Cléry Basilica, Cléry-Saint-André, near Orléans
Religion Roman Catholicism

Louis XI (3 July 1423 – 30 August 1483), called the Prudent (French: le Prudent), was a monarch of the House of Valois who ruled as King of France from 1461 to 1483. He succeeded his father Charles VII.

A devious and disobedient Dauphin of France, Louis entered into open rebellion against his father in a short-lived revolt known as the Praguerie (1440). The king forgave his rebellious vassals, including his son Louis, to whom he entrusted the management of the Dauphiné.

Louis' ceaseless intrigues, however, led his father to banish him from court. From the Dauphiné, he led his own political establishment and married Charlotte of Savoy, daughter of Louis, Duke of Savoy, against the will of his father. Charles VII sent an army to compel his son to his will, but Louis fled to Burgundy, where he was hosted by Philip the Good, the Duke of Burgundy, Charles' greatest enemy.

When Charles VII died in 1461, Louis left the Burgundian court to take possession of his kingdom. His taste for intrigue and his intense diplomatic activity earned him the nicknames the Cunning (Middle French: le rusé) and the Universal Spider (Middle French: l'universelle aragne ), as his enemies accused him of spinning webs of plots and conspiracies.

In 1472, the Duke of Burgundy, Charles the Bold, took up arms against his rival Louis, who was able to isolate the Duke from his English allies by signing the Treaty of Picquigny (1475) with Edward IV of England. The treaty formally ended the Hundred Years' War. With the death of Charles the Bold at the Battle of Nancy in 1477, the dynasty of the dukes of Burgundy died out. Louis took advantage of the situation to seize numerous Burgundian territories, including Burgundy proper and Picardy.

Without direct foreign threats, Louis was able to eliminate his rebellious vassals, expand royal power, and strengthen the economic development of his country. He died in 1483 and was succeeded by his son Charles VIII.


Early life

Louis was born in Bourges in 1423, at time when the English held northern France and his father Charles VII was restricted to the centre and south of the country. Louis was the grandson of the strong-willed Yolande of Aragon, the princess who was the moving spirit in the royal family to drive the English out of France. Louis despised his father, whom he regarded as a weakling.

On 24 June 1436 Louis met Margaret of Scotland, daughter of James I of Scotland, the bride his father had chosen for diplomatic reasons.[1] There are no direct accounts from Louis or his young bride of their first impressions of each other, and it is mere speculation to say whether or not they actually had negative feelings for each other. Several historians think that Louis had a predetermined attitude to hate his wife. But it is universally agreed that Louis entered the ceremony and the marriage itself dutifully, as evidenced by his formal embrace of Margaret upon their first meeting.

Louis's marriage with Margaret resulted from the nature of medieval royal diplomacy and the precarious position of the French monarchy at the time. The wedding ceremony — very plain by the standards of the time — took place in the afternoon of 25 June 1436 in the chapel of the castle of Tours and was presided over by the Archbishop of Reims.[2] The 13-year-old Louis clearly looked more mature than his eleven-year old bride, who was said to resemble a beautiful “doll”, and was treated as such by her in-laws.[2] Charles wore “grey riding pants” and “did not even bother to remove his spurs”.[2] The Scottish guests were quickly hustled out after the wedding reception, as the French royal court was quite impoverished at this time. They simply could not afford an extravagant ceremony or to host their Scottish guests for any longer than they did. The Scots, however, saw this behaviour as an insult to their small, but proud, country.[3]

Following the ceremony, “doctors advised against consummation” because of the relative immaturity of the bride and bridegroom. Margaret continued her studies and Louis went on tour with Charles to loyal areas of the kingdom. Even at this time, Charles was taken aback by the intelligence and temper of his son. During this tour, Louis was named Dauphin by Charles, as was traditional for the eldest son of the king.[3] The beautiful and cultured Margaret was popular at the court of France, but her marriage to Louis was not a happy one, in part because of his strained relations with her father-in-law, who was very attached to her. She died childless at the age of 20 in 1445.

In 1440, Louis, aged 17, took part in an uprising known as the Praguerie, which sought to neutralize Charles and install Louis as Regent. The uprising failed and Louis was forced to submit to the King, who chose to forgive him. In this revolt, Louis came under the influence of Charles I, Duke of Bourbon, whose troops were in no condition to mount such a serious threat to royal authority. Louis was forced to retreat to Paris, but was “by no means trounced.”[4] In fact, before his final defeat, “[Louis's]...military strength, combined with antipathy of the masses for great lords, won him the support of the citizens of Paris.”[4] This was a great learning experience for Louis. James Cleugh notes:

“Like other strong-minded boys, he had found at last he could not carry all before him by mere bluster. Neither as prince nor as king did he ever forget his lesson. He never acted on pure impulse, without reflection, though to his life’s end he was constantly tempted to take such a risk.”[2]

Louis continued soldiering. In 1444 he led an army of "écorcheurs" against the Swiss at the Battle of St. Jakob an der Birs and was impressed by the latter's military might. He still quarreled with his father, however, and his objectionable scheming, which included disrespectful behavior directed against his father's beloved mistress Agnès Sorel, caused him to be ordered out of court on 27 September 1446 and sent to his own province of Dauphiné. He lived mainly in Grenoble, in the tour de la Trésorerie.[5] Despite frequent summons by the king, the two would never meet again. In Dauphiné, Louis ruled as king in all but name, continuing his intrigues against his father. On 14 February 1451, Louis, 27, who had been widowed for six years, made a strategic marriage to the eight-year-old Charlotte of Savoy, without Charles' consent.

Finally, in August 1456, Charles sent an army to Dauphiné. Louis fled to Burgundy, where he was granted refuge by Duke Philip the Good and settled in the castle of Genappe. King Charles was furious when Philip refused to hand over Louis and warned the duke that he was "giving shelter to a fox who will eat his chickens".

French Monarchy
Capetian Dynasty
(House of Valois)

Philip VI
   John II
John II
   Charles V
   Louis I of Anjou
   John, Duke of Berry
   Philip the Bold
Charles V
   Charles VI
   Louis, Duke of Orléans
Charles VI
   Isabella of Valois
   Michelle of Valois
   Catherine of Valois
   Charles VII
Charles VII
   Louis XI
   Charles, Duke of Berry
Louis XI
   Charles VIII
Charles VIII

Succession as King

In 1461, Louis learned that his father was dying. He thus hurried to Reims to be crowned in case his brother, Charles, Duke of Berry, tried to do the same.

Louis pursued many of the same goals that his father had, such as limiting the powers of the dukes and barons of France, with consistently greater success. He suppressed many of his former co-conspirators, who had thought him their friend. As king, he became extremely prudent fiscally, whereas he had previously been lavish and extravagant. He wore rough and simple clothes and mixed with ordinary people and merchants. A candid account of some of Louis's activities is recorded by the courtier, Philippe de Commines, in his memoirs of the period. It was his habit to surround himself with valuable advisers of humble origins, such as Commines. Others include Olivier Le Daim, Louis Tristan L'Hermite, and Jean Balue.

Feud with Charles the Bold

Philip the Good was keen to start a Crusade, and Louis gave him money in exchange for a number of territories, including Picardy and Amiens, in order to fund this enterprise. But Philip's son Charles the Bold was angry about this, feeling that he was being deprived of his inheritance. He joined a rebellion called the League of the Public Weal, led by Louis's brother Charles. Although the rebels were largely unsuccessful in battle, Louis was forced to grant an unfavourable peace as a matter of political expediency.

Upon becoming Duke of Burgundy in 1467, Charles the Bold seriously considered declaring an independent kingdom of his own, but he had many problems with his territories, especially with the people of Liège, who prosecuted the Liège Wars against him. Louis was their ally.

In 1468 Louis and Charles met at Péronne, but in the course of negotiations they learned that the Liègois had again risen up and killed the Burgundian governor. Charles was furious. Philippe de Commines, at that time in the service of the duke of Burgundy, had to calm him down with the help of the duke's other advisors for fear that he might hit the king. Louis was forced into a humiliating treaty. He gave up many of the lands he had acquired and witnessed the siege of Liège, in which hundreds were massacred.

But once out of Charles's reach, Louis declared the treaty invalid and set about building up his forces. His aim was to destroy Burgundy once and for all and end a feud that had lasted over three generations, since the murder of Louis, Duke of Orléans, in 1407. War broke out in 1472, but Charles' siege of Beauvais and other towns was unsuccessful, and he finally sued for peace. Philippe de Commines was welcomed into the service of King Louis.

In 1469, Louis founded the Order of St. Michael, probably in imitation of the prestigious Burgundian Order of the Golden Fleece, founded by Charles' father Philip the Good, just as King John II of France had founded the now defunct Order of the Star in imitation of the Order of the Garter of King Edward III of England. In both cases, a French king appears to have been motivated to found an order of chivalry to increase the prestige of the French royal court by the example of his chief political adversary.

Dealings with England

Coin of Louis XI, struck ca. 1470
Obverse: Medieval image of Louis XI Reverse: Fleurs-de-lis

At the same time that France and Burgundy were fighting each other, England was going through its own civil conflict known as the Wars of the Roses. Louis had an interest in this war, since Charles the Bold was allied with the Yorkists who opposed King Henry VI. When the Earl of Warwick fell out with Edward IV, whom he had helped attain the throne, Louis granted him refuge in France. Through Louis' diplomacy, Warwick then formed an alliance with his bitter enemy, Margaret of Anjou, in order to restore her husband Henry VI to the throne. The plan worked and Edward was forced into exile, but he later returned and Warwick was killed at the Battle of Barnet in 1471. King Henry was murdered soon afterwards.

Now the undisputed master of England, Edward invaded France in 1475, but Louis was able to negotiate the Treaty of Picquigny, by which the English army left France in return for a large sum of money. The English renounced their claim to French lands such as Normandy and the Hundred Years' War could be said to be finally over. Louis bragged that although his father had driven the English out by force of arms, he had driven them out by force of pâté, venison, and good wine.

Settling with Charles the Bold

Louis still had to deal with the Duke of Burgundy, and for this he employed the Swiss, whose military might was renowned and which he had admired himself at the Battle of St. Jakob an der Birs.

War broke out between Charles and the Swiss, but it was a disastrous campaign for the Duke and he was finally killed at the Battle of Nancy on 5 January 1477, which ended the Burgundian Wars.

Louis thus succeeded in destroying his sworn enemy. Other lords who still favoured the feudal system gave in to his authority. Others, like Jacques d'Armagnac, Duke of Nemours, were executed. The lands belonging to the Duchy of Burgundy, as constituted by Louis' great-great-grandfather John II for the benefit of his son Philip the Bold, reverted to the crown of France.

Louis XI died in August 1483 and was interred in the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Cléry Anne of France became Regent.


Louis developed his kingdom by encouraging trade fairs and the building and maintenance of roads. He is seen as one of the first modern kings of France who helped take it out of the Middle Ages.

Louis XI was very superstitious and surrounded himself with astrologers. Interested in science, he once pardoned a man sentenced to death on condition that he serve as a guinea pig for a gallstone operation.

Through war, cunning, and sheer guile, Louis XI overcame France's feudal lords, and at the time of his death in the Château de Plessis-lez-Tours, he had united France and laid the foundations of a strong monarchy. He was, however, a secretive, reclusive man, and few mourned his death.

Despite Louis XI's political acumen and overall policy of Realpolitik, Niccolò Machiavelli actually criticized Louis harshly in Chapter 13 of the The Prince, calling him shortsighted and imprudent for abolishing his own infantry in favor of Swiss mercenaries.

In popular culture

  • Louis XI is a central character in Sir Walter Scott's 1823 novel Quentin Durward, where he is presented as an utter villain, who fatally undermined "the knightly code of chivalry", "ridiculed and abandoned the self-denying principles in which the young knight was instructed" and "did his utmost to corrupt our ideas of honour at the very source".
  • In the opinion of Scott, inspired by the 19th-century Romanticism, Louis XI's being "purely selfish" and concerned solely with "his ambition, covetousness and desire of selfish enjoyment" merited his being considered "almost an incarnation of the devil himself", comparable to Goethe's Mephistopheles. Coincidentally, Sir Henry Irving had long-running stage successes playing both Louis XI and Mephistopheles.
  • Conversely, Balzac gives a plausible and somewhat favourable picture of the king in his story "Master Cornelius".
  • Louis XI appears as a character in several film versions of the stage melodrama If I Were King, a fictitious play about real-life poet François Villon.
  • He is an important character in Victor Hugo's classic novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame as well as in most of its film adaptations.
  • He appears in the operetta The Vagabond King, which is based on If I Were King.
  • Among the actors who have played him onscreen are Robert Morley, Basil Rathbone, Conrad Veidt, Harry Davenport, Walter Hampden, and O. P. Heggie.
  • In addition, Louis XI is a minor character in the play Henry VI, Part III, by William Shakespeare, where he is stylised as Lewis; he is depicted as, after choosing to support the Yorkist faction, switching allegiance to the Lancastrians, led by Margaret, following Edward IV's refusal to marry a French noblewoman.
  • A character called the Spider King in Christopher Stasheff's 1994 novel The Witch Doctor goes by different names in different worlds, one of which being Louis XI.[6]

Children with Charlotte of Savoy

Louis's marriage with Charlotte of Savoy was not consummated until she was fourteen. Their children included:

  • Louis (18 October 1458 – 1460)
  • Joachim (15 July 1459 – 29 November 1459)
  • Louise (born and died in 1460)
  • Anne (3 April 1461 − 14 November 1522), who became Duchess of Bourbon.
  • Joan (23 April 1464 – 4 February 1505), who became Queen of France.
  • Louis (born and died on 4th of December in 1466)
  • Charles VIII of France (30 June 1470 – 8 April 1498)
  • Francis, Duke of Berry (3 September 1472 – July[7] or November[8] 1473)



Kingdom of France portal
Louis XI of France
Cadet branch of the Capetian dynasty
Born: 3 July 1423 Died: 30 August 1483
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Charles VII
King of France
22 July 1461 – 30 August 1483
Succeeded by
Charles VIII
Dauphin of Viennois
3 July 1423–1461
Annexation by France

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