Louis XI, King of France

(1423–1483)
   King of France during most of the civil war period, Louis XI tried to use the WARS OF THE ROSES to prevent English intervention in FRANCE and to weaken English support for BRITTANY and BURGUNDY, two independent French provinces that Louis sought to reincorporate into the French Crown. Although physically ugly and eccentric in behavior and dress, Louis used war and diplomacy to continue the centralizing policies of his father, reabsorbing much of the Burgundian state into France and passing a greatly strengthened Crown onto his son,CHARLESVIII. The eldest son of CHARLES VII, Louis had a poor relationship with his father, against whom he rebelled in 1440. Pardoned for his actions, Louis retired to the Dauphiné, the French province usually entrusted to the heir to the throne. In 1456, Louis fled to Burgundy after another clash with his father. Upon becoming king in July 1461, Louis dismissed his father’s ministers but continued Charles’s efforts to increase the authority of the French Crown by reducing the power and independence of the great French feudatories, especially the duke of Burgundy. Because the Burgundian alliance with Henry V had helped make possible the extensive English conquests in France early in the century, Louis saw perpetuation of the Wars of the Roses as an excellent means for diverting English attention from further French adventures. Accordingly, in the early 1460s, Louis provided diplomatic, financial, and military assistance to the house of LANCASTER in an effort to focus EDWARD IV’s attention on securing his shaky throne. In 1462, Louis concluded the CHINON AGREEMENT with MARGARET OF ANJOU, who secretly agreed to surrender CALAIS in return for French money and men. When Burgundian intervention prevented the French seizure of Calais, and Yorkist successes in northern England forced Queen Margaret and her French commander, Pierre de BRÉZÉ, to leave SCOTLAND for the continent, Louis began negotiations with Richard NEVILLE, earl of Warwick, for a marriage alliance with Edward IV and the house of YORK.
   The 1464 announcement of Edward’s secret marriage to Elizabeth WOODVILLE ended these talks, and the importance of Anglo-Burgundian trade to both states led in 1467 to a commercial treaty and in 1468 to an alliance sealed by the marriage of Duke CHARLES of Burgundy with MARGARET OF YORK, sister of Edward IV. The pro-Burgundian policies of the house of York inclined Louis to support Warwick, who fled to France after the failure of his second coup in April 1470. In June, Louis arranged an interview for Warwick with Margaret of Anjou; though stormy, the negotiations between the two longtime enemies were skillfully brokered by Louis. As a party to the resulting ANGERS AGREEMENT, Louis promised to provide Warwick with money and ships to restore HENRY VI in return for the earl’s agreement to take England into war with Burgundy as France’s ally. Having lost the Somme towns of Amiens, Abbeville, and their adjacent territories to Burgundy in the War of the Public Weal in 1465, Louis was anxious to reverse that defeat. Although Warwick overthrew Edward IV in October 1470, the earl’s fulfillment of his promise to declare war on Burgundy convinced a reluctant Duke Charles to provide Edward with the ships and men he required to regain the Crown. By May 1471, Warwick was dead and the house of York was again in power; Louis never received the English assistance he had sought.
   The seeming end of the Wars of the Roses in 1471 robbed Louis of opportunities to weaken England by supporting one contending party against the other. Both Louis and Charles of Burgundy paid pensions to English courtiers to obtain their good offices with the English king. In 1475, Edward IV launched the long-threatened Yorkist invasion of France. Perhaps disappointed by the lukewarm support of his allies, Charles of Burgundy and FRANCIS II of Brittany, or perhaps seeking a financial settlement from the start, Edward met Louis at Picquigny and accepted an annual French pension of £10,000 in return for withdrawing his army.
   In 1477, the death of Charles of Burgundy turned Louis’s attention toward dismantling the Burgundian state, which was now ruled by Charles’s daughter Mary. Louis successfully seized the Duchy of Burgundy, the Somme towns, and territory in northern France, although Mary retained the Netherlands. When he died in August 1483, four months after Edward IV, Louis had almost completed the territorial unification of modern France, and had so strengthened the French state as to largely remove the threat of a successful future invasion from England.
   Further Reading: Kendall, Paul Murray, Louis XI (New York:W.W. Norton, 1971);Tyrrell, Joseph M., Louis XI (Boston:Twayne, 1980).

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

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