Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Louis XI: The Universal Spider Paperback – October 28, 2001
"Children of Blood and Bone"
Tomi Adeyemi conjures a stunning world of dark magic and danger in her West African-inspired fantasy debut. Learn more
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
Customers who bought this item also bought
About the Author
Paul Murray Kendall, PhD, LHD, is a former Regents Professor at Ohio University, and a former Visiting Professor at the University of Kansas.
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
Kendall makes no such mistakes, his mastery of his subject and the vicious world he inhabited is laced with both humor and pertinent quotes from contemporaries â€“ in the exceptional Prologue Kendall leaves us with could have been Louisâ€™ motto: â€œâ€¦ he was never so dangerous as when he was in danger. What Louis said of Francesco Sforza, a fellow political adventurer, applies equally to himself: â€˜He was never better that when the water was up to his neck,â€ (p 30).
All the more impressive is Kendallâ€™s ability to strip away the layers of 19thth century mischaracterization, or as the author quips, â€œa waxworks of horrors â€¦ a gothic monstrosityâ€ (p 375) to reveal both the man of his time and yet a political and administrative visionary, â€œâ€¦ (Louis) came to the throne of a feudal realm racked for a century by invasions, civil strife, popular upheavals, princely ineptitude, plague. He handed on to his successors a national monarchy. To the twentieth century, perhaps his most startling accomplishment is that as a means of destroying the mortal enemy of his crown, he invented cold warâ€¦â€ (p 30)
Before I was a dozen pages in it struck me that Kendall, I think, surprised himself, he truly warmed to his subject and it elevated his prose, his vision, his grasp of events. Louis, you must understand, was never one of those people who could easily gain a readerâ€™s sympathy. He was physically unattractive and as slippery as a weasel. The nickname, â€œuniversal spider,â€ also applies but this was one adept spider, he did not catch himself in his own endless webs of plot and counter-plot, lies and manipulation and espionage on a level not previously wielded with such singular tenacity and effectiveness. Yes, Louis was riddled with contradictions to our 21st C eyes, he was as medieval as any as the stereotype - superstitious , gullible around astrologers and physicians as any simple soul in any of his villages, and yet a man who was done with feudalism, understood finance, maintained relentless expansionist campaigns to secure his incredibly vulnerable boundaries, and formulated a stunning network of informers worthy of any Tudor or Napoleon, (ie. disguised agents, planted spies amongst monks and even a kingâ€™s mistress, a master of rumor, misinformation and distortion; see ppgs 101-7 for just one tidy example of his method).
Kendall has done so much right here that it would take a book to detail all of it so I will break it down â€“ and - where it suits the review I will add paragraphs in Kendallâ€™s words so you can hear something of his â€œvoiceâ€ as Amazon does not have a â€œLook Insideâ€ feature for this book:
Sprinkled throughout the biography are pithy summations of persons both minor and major, many of them mortal enemies of Louis, such as the young Charles, count of Charolais, his cousin from the House of Burgundy, and they are key to the readerâ€™s absorption of these individuals who would play a variety of roles in Louisâ€™ life. We become witness through these profiles what Louis saw, and remembered; he was a connoisseur of human nature from a young age.
Consider Kendallâ€™s paragraph on Charles, who would be a lifelong adversary to Louis, â€œâ€¦ the Count of Charolais was stockier that his father, with a powerful torso and heavy shoulders. He had a shock of black hair, clear blue eyes, and his fatherâ€™s high sensual coloring. He had inherited the Dukeâ€™s temper, too, which he struggled fiercely to master or conceal â€¦ from boyhood he had thrown himself into all violent games â€¦ he loved to take to the sea in a storm and defy the elements. He jousted fiercely, as if he were a landless squire â€¦ he drank little wine, and that watered. He was adept at chess, composed and played music, and made some use of his fatherâ€™s great library. No evidence survives that he experienced delight in being aliveâ€¦â€
From this â€œsmolderingâ€ Charles we get a shorter and perhaps even more effective idea about his father, Philip the Good, duke of Burgundy (the wealthiest, most culturally elite of all the French apanages in the 15thC) â€¦â€ though the Duke never flagged in outward courtesies and though the Dauphin (Louis) sill made efforts to suit his conduct to the Dukeâ€™s humor, suspicion and irritations had eroded the links that united them. Duke Philip was put off by the simplicity of the Dauphinâ€™s manner and the complexity of his thinkingâ€¦â€ (both citations from pps 94-5).
Wherever possible Kendall uses the best documentation of Louisâ€™ opinions, from diplomats to his â€˜comperesâ€™ (closest advisors) to his own daughter, Anne of France, who would marry Pierre de Beaujeu (younger brother of the Duke of Bourbon, yet another royal cousin, and some 20 years her senior), of all his children Anne alone â€œhad inherited much of her fatherâ€™s intelligence and whom Louis enjoyed calling â€˜the least stupid woman in France.â€ This could also be translated as the â€œleast insane woman in Franceâ€ and before you assume Louis was a hopeless misogynist (like the age he lived in) it is to this Anne that he entrusted his lifeâ€™s accomplishments, and regency of his only son, the â€œpleasure loving ninnyâ€ Charles VII until the â€œboyâ€ was twenty! She would weather the revolt of many nobles who backed her cousin, Louis II duc dâ€™Orleans, also young and eager to hold the reins of government as regent. It became an intense scramble for power after Louisâ€™ death in August 1483 through 1488. It is often called La Guerre Folle, the Mad War, and involved an influential group of belligerents who wanted to oust Anne as Regent (including the dukes of Brittany, Lorraine, the Prince of Orange, the Count of Angouleme and of all people the long time intimate advisor to Louis, the memorialist Philippe de Commynes , (see pps 259, 374, and 363, 373-5). Anne outmaneuvered them all until her brother died at 27, childless (despite four children born to his wife Anne of Brittany), and then by French law, saw the throne pass to a male claimant only, and that was Louis XIâ€™s second cousin, the same man behind the Mad War, Louis II duc dâ€™Orleans in 1498.
Kendall also uses the Appendix format to great effect and begins with the excellent question of this aforementioned â€˜eye witnessâ€™ Philippe de Commynesâ€™ veracity in his â€œmemoirs.â€ Kendall proceeds to provide a very helpful guide to the Rulers and Principal Lords across the Continent and England (pp 385- 88) and then the best of all, we have 57 pages of Notes, each tied to a specific chapter for easy reference, wherein he just relaxes and fills in a few gaps that the text itself could not support without losing his narrative thread.
I particularly liked the back-stories of many of the personages in the Notes too lengthy to add to the text itself, for example, meet the Sire de Giac, â€œa blustering, brutal fellow of no capacity. After he had poisoned his pregnant wife, Giac wooed the widowed Countess of Tonnere, Louisâ€™s godmother; as a condition of marriage, the ambitious Countess made him disinherit his children and turn over to her all his goods. With the King and the Kingâ€™s purse firmly in his grip, the arrogant favorite rode roughshod over everybody, until he made the mistake of giving the lie direct to Georges de La Tremoille, a lord who had powerful connections and insatiable appetites. Giacâ€™s wife, tiring of her empty headed husband and attracted by a climber even more unscrupulous that Giac, had begun an affair with himâ€¦ in February of 1427, Giac was wrenched from his marital bed by a band of armed men â€“ his wife leaping naked form the sheets to save her silver â€“ (while Giac was) quickly condemned to death by a drumhead courtâ€¦ (and) trussed up and cast into a river, Georges de La Tremoille riding his horse on the bank to see him drownâ€¦â€ P 391, note 1. Yes, the fair widow of Giac readily married La Tremoille, and brought along Giacâ€™s ill-gotten treasure.
Another keen back- story concerns Rene, duke dâ€™Anjou, Bar, and Lorraine â€œâ€¦ addicted to chivalric display, he had led a cavalry charge against murderous cannon and archer fire at the battle of Bulgneville, 1431, and promptly got himself captured. He whiled away his prison hours painting on glass, reading, writing poety, until in 1437, the Duke of Burgundy set his ransom at 400,000 gold crowns and allowed him to sail for the Kingdom of Naples, which was under attack from Alfonso V, King of Aragon, another claimant to that realmâ€¦â€ p. 393, note 1. Presumably good Rene of Anjou was cured of his chivalric addiction by the time he pursued his erstwhile kingdom of Naples .
Lastly Kendall provides a luscious, copious Bibliography, a treasure trove of material, primarily French sources but nonetheless vital, some of the authors may even be familiar to English speaking readers. In an age of knocked out 'scholarly' histories usually dripping with bias or trendy biographies slim on research but chock full of descriptive (nuisance) details about furniture and folk songs and such that the subject MIGHT have heard or seen or used do yourself a favor and sit down with Kendall, he took on one of the most difficult of all 15thC (maybe of all French rulers) and allowed a modern audience to see a modern man, which is controversial all on its own, as Louis was â€œa precursor and one of the shapers of the modern world; and with the modern world we have grown somewhat disenchantedâ€ (p 375). And Kendall wrote this in 1971, how would he assess our modern world as it is in 2015?
Surprisingly, there aren't many books out there on French Royalty, specifically books based on individual kings like there are for their English brothers, but, as Kendall writes, Louis XI was the wizard of the age. He outmaneuver his English rivals, absorbed Burgundy, and was master of the european stage.
He bought out Edward till Burgundy submitted, then discarded with the Yorks like they were yesterdays news, which they became. He didnt care for the pomp and triviality of other courts, but that was his most dangerous weapon, his ability to be underappreciated.
OF THE HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION.
Louis is called the "Universal Spider" I guess because he could spin his webs of intrique (and win mostly) all over the Continent and even unto the British Isles. Louis XI came out on top of many foreign diplomats in negotiations without the other party even realizing how badly they'd been outfoxed. In particular Louis maintained he defeated the British Army of Edward IV with a "few venison pies and some good pipes of wine." The French King had finally defeated the English Army and avenged Agincourt and Crecy through negotiations and not by warfare. Louis XI would however fight even in person if the situation relegated it however-He preferred council instead of combat. Still however he does come off in Kendalls' book as a tyrant but no more than any other of the numerous tyrants of the age. As a lot of the powerful rulers of the age Louis also had his tomb plundered in a later age when some people looked down on the rulers of the past ages who seemed at least to them as "tyrants" even though somewhat enlightened tyrants. Kendall writes a great deal on this age and all of his books are highly recommended, as a matter of fact that's how I found out about it. His book on the Yorkist Age is also a great one and important to understanding how people thought (and didn't think much) of this Age.
Most recent customer reviews
Charles the Bold: The Last Valois Duke of Burgundy (History of Valois Burgundy)