The reign of Louis XI was dominated by his struggles against the Duke of Burgundy, his cousin. King Louis’ thoughts and preoccupations revolved entirely around France; how can he unite the disparate provinces under his scepter and create a state of order in the country that would meet the needs of his people? His cousin, on the other hand, thought only of himself. The Duke’s lands extended from the North Sea to the Alps. He was extremely rich, had known highs and lows, victories and defeats, and was more powerful than the King Louis of France.
One Sunday, in 1477, King Louis was at a Mass in the oratory of his chateau in Cléry. His mind was elsewhere, consumed by the war he was waging against the Duke of Burgundy. What would be the outcome? The consequences? What will become of France, he wondered? Suddenly, during the offertory, the chaplain who was giving the Mass turned to face the King, his eyes fixed upon the kneeling king a few paces away. He spoke, “My lord, your worst enemy is dead.” Then, without pause, he continued on with the Mass. The king remained frozen until the office concluded, then approached the chaplain and asked him who he had spoken with. The chaplain was shocked, visibly confused.
“But what you said to me, where did this information come from?”
“What did I say, my Lord?”
“That my worst enemy is dead!”
The chaplain nearly collapse with surprise, he could remember nothing, he had no knowledge of speaking these words, or their origin. Louis was unable to speak, dumbstruck.
Two days later, a messenger arrived, carry news of the death of the Duke of Burgundy, Charles the Bold, who fell before the walls of Nancy, at the precise hour the chaplain spoken those auspicious words. This death allowed the king to take possession of the French provinces of his cousin, and united them under the crown.
The Duke of Lorraine, the victor, secured his win with the aid of Swiss mercenaries, who proceeded to pillage the camp of the Duke of Burgundy. The fabulous tapestries that adorned the duke’s tent now hang in the museum of Berne.
One Swiss solder, rummaging through camp in search of plunder, picked up a small piece of glass. A few days later he sold it for a next to nothing to a Dutch merchant who was passing through. This is how the Dutch merchant came into possession of the largest diamond in the world, formerly the pride of the Duke of Burgundy. He sold it for an enormous sum.
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For centuries, Louis XI has suffered a terrible and unjust reputation. In particular, posterity has denounced him for locking his minister Cardinal La Balue in a cage. We forget of course that La Balue owed everything he had and was to the king, who he betrayed in favor of the Duke of Burgundy.
As for the cage, it was an 18th century anti-monarchist invention, a copy was even on display at Mont Saint Michel. My ancestor, Louis Philippe went to see it while still only a child, and with the encouragement of his governess, Madam de Genlis, the mistress of his father, the Duke of Orléans, young Louis Philippe took an axe to it and smashed it into pieces, this symbol of royal tyranny.
The illustrations are taken from a children’s book by Job and Montorgueil that belonged to my father