King Louis XI of France

Born: July 3, 1423

Bourges, Berry, France

Died: August 30, 1483

La Riche, Touraine, France (Age 60)

Louis XI in History

The future King Louis XI was born the eldest son of King Charles VII in 1423 in the midst of the Hundred Years War against England, a war that the French, so far, had seen the worst of. With both of his parents constantly busy with the war, Louis was primarily raised by royal servants and did receive a very solid education. From a young age, the dauphin (or heir to the French throne) showed a high intelligence level and an extremely vast interest in matters of state. It is believed that, while furthering his education and political power, he first gained ideas of deposing his father and taking throne himself. Louis experienced his first military activity in 1437 when he aided his father in taking back Paris from the English and was given several independent commands after this, achieving a fair amount of success. By the early 1440s, Louis, taking advantage of his father's alienation of the magnates, joined forces with said lords in rebellion against the king. Unfortunately, the rebellion was quickly put down, and the dauphin was kept under close watch by his father.

Louis, however, would somewhat win his way back into the king's good graces by continuously proving himself in the battlefield. He won a number of victories against the English, and also the Swiss, but continued to plot with the magnates behind his father's back. When Charles VII found out about his son's devious plots he was understandably furious and banned him from the royal presence, forcing him to remain in the Dauphine territory (the land assigned to the heir to the throne, hence the title "dauphin"), with Grenoble as its capital. While in the Dauphine, Louis continued to build up a power base, make friends and set up an economic, judicial and military system. In 1451, he angered his father by marrying Charlotte, daughter of the Duke of Savoy (his first wife, Margaret, daughter of the Scottish King James I, had died six years earlier), whom he knew would produce a powerful ally and a large dowry. Charles VII was finally at his wits end with his son's antics and sent an army to teach him a lesson.

Fortunately for the dauphin, the king's troops were forced to abandon their march to Grenoble when the English (who were soon to be completely defeated) returned to cause trouble. After the English were soundly defeated, Louis attempted to make peace with his father by commanding an army into Italy (which did not turn out well), but their relationship was beyond repair by this point, and the king sent for his son to be arrested. Louis was informed of this and fled to Burgundy where he was kindly accepted by Duke Philip. The dauphin remained there for the next six years, under comfortable living conditions, until the death of Charles VII in 1461. Upon hearing of the old king's death, Louis and his followers rushed to Paris so that he may be crowned without any opposition from his younger brother Charles or anyone else who might be against his accession. Once Louis was crowned as King Louis XI, he immediately began making an impact, dismissing his father's councilors and setting up a very different system of government. In doing so, the new king ended up alienating members of the clergy and nobility even worse than his father had. As a result, Philip of Burgundy, Francis II (Duke of Brittany), the Duke of Bourbon and the king's brother Charles formed the League of the Public Weal against the king. King Louis was in such a weak position that he was forced to sign a humiliating peace treaty with his enemies that ceded the duchy of Normandy to his brother. Luckily, the king experienced a stroke of good luck when the Normans rebelled and seized Charles, forcing him to accept Louis' help, who then asked for the duchy back in return.

Louis XI was then forced to focus his attentions on Francis II, who he was able to defeat, and Charles of Burgundy, who had just succeeded to the dukedom after the death of his father. The king and Burgundy agreed to discuss a truce, and Louis met with the duke in Burgundy but, as was characteristic of the king, he persuaded the people of the city to rise against Charles, prompting the duke to imprison Louis for three days. Burgundy released the king, with the agreement that he would accept his terms in the peace treaty. Once Louis was released, however, he formed an alliance with his brother against Burgundy (this time giving Charles the duchy of Gascony, which he would immediately take back upon his death). The two sides continued to quarrel, and Charles was able to enlist the aid of Edward IV of England, his brother-in-law. Edward was only too happy to go to war against Louis, who had assisted his enemies, the Lancastrians, during the Wars of the Roses.

Louis was able to make peace with the English, in 1475, by sending them on their way with a large cash settlement, but the rivalry between Louis XI and Burgundy continued until the latter's death in battle against a Swiss army at Nancy in 1477. After this incident, a number of territories in Burgundy declared their allegiance for Louis XI, but others declared for Burgundy's daughter and heir Mary. By later in the year, Louis was able to subdue all rebel towns and conquer most of the territory. When Mary married the archduke of Austria, however, war would, once again, erupt over the defense of Flanders which had long been under the control of the Dukes of Burgundy. Finally, when Mary passed away, a treaty was sealed through the marriage of Louis XI's son and heir, Charles, and Mary's daughter Margaret. In the last years of his life, Louis continued to gain more territory towards a united France (thereby abolishing the feudal system which had operated for centuries and consolidating royal authority), but he was clearly in failing health, suffering from frequent strokes. The end came in 1483 when the king was sixty years old and had reigned for twenty-two years; he was succeeded to the throne by his thirteen-year-old son as Charles VIII. Many contemporaries and historians alike will claim that Louis XI was a deceitful and dishonorable man who would do anything to get what he wanted, but the facts are the facts: He united France (with the exception of Brittany) into a single nation and established a strong economy for his successors. These do not sound like the deeds of a dishonorable man.

Louis XI in Shakespeare

Appears in: Henry VI, Part 3

Louis XI is seen in a single scene in 3 Henry VI where he entertains Queen Margaret and Prince Edward at his court. The queen and prince are attempting to receive the king's aid against Edward IV and the Yorkists. Louis claims he will do whatever he can when the Earl of Warwick arrives and suggests a marriage between Edward IV and Bonna of Savoy, Louis XI's sister-in-law. The French king jumps at this opportunity but is angered when a messenger arrives bringing news that Edward IV has already married Elizabeth Grey. Louis then decides to lend assistance to Queen Margaret, and Warwick also switches sides and becomes an ally of the Lancastrians.


Potter, Philip J. Kings of the Seine: The French Rulers from Pippin III to Jacques Chirac. Baltimore: Publish America, 2005.

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