Memoirs

(Commines)
   Although particularly useful as a source for fifteenthcentury French and Burgundian history, the Memoirs of Philippe de Commines (or Commynes), a Burgundian nobleman, are also an important source for English politics and Anglo-French relations in the 1470s. In 1464, Commines (1447–1511) entered the service of CHARLES, Count of Charolais, who, upon becoming duke of BURGUNDY in 1467, made Commines his chamberlain. In 1472, Commines defected to the service of LOUIS XI of FRANCE, becoming one of the king’s most trusted advisors. His influence at COURT diminished after 1477 and vanished completely after Louis’s death in 1483, when Commines lost the lands and offices he had acquired. He was imprisoned for two years until 1489, when, in an effort to justify his career, he began writing his Memoirs. Running eventually to eight books, the Memoirs were completed in 1498.
   An eyewitness to many important English interactions with both Burgundy and France in the 1460s and 1470s, Commines was personally acquainted with EDWARD IV, whom he met in 1470 and 1475, and with many leading figures at the Yorkist court. While at CALAIS in 1470, he had contact with Richard NEVILLE, earl of Warwick, and he was present in 1475 at the meeting of Edward IV and Louis XI at Picquigny, where he helped negotiate the Anglo-French treaty. Besides the French campaign of 1475 and the general course of contemporary diplomacy in northwestern Europe, Commines is particularly useful for Warwick’s activities in France in 1470 and Edward IV’s Burgundian exile in 1470–1471 (see Edward IV, Overthrow of). Although an eyewitness to many of the events he describes, Commines also wrote with a moral purpose, seeking to present events as lessons on the proper conduct of government. He wanted government to become more rational and diplomacy to supplant military strength as the chief tool of foreign relations.
   Because Commines sometimes altered events to suit his moral purpose, modern historians use the Memoirs with caution. Such care is particularly warranted for English affairs, about which Commines often had no firsthand knowledge and for which he was forced to rely upon informants’ accounts and on rumors circulating in the French court. Commines wrote in an engaging style and had a gift for detail and psychological analysis, but his reliance on secondhand information and on his own memory, often at twenty years’ remove from events, significantly diminishes the accuracy of the Memoirs at many points. For English history, an example of this problem is Commines’s condemnation of RICHARD III, for whose reign he had to rely solely upon English informants encountered at the French court, which meant that most of his information came from exiled followers of Henry Tudor, earl of Richmond (see Henry VII, King of England), and perhaps even from the earl himself.
   Further Reading: Commines, Philippe de, The Memoirs of Philippe de Commynes, edited by Samuel Kinser, translated by Isabelle Cazeaux. 2 vols. (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1969–1973); the text of Commines’s Memoirs is also available on the Richard III Society Web site at http://www.r3.org/bookcase/de_commynes/decom_1.html.

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

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