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A COMPARISON OF THE TROUBLES AND SORROWS WHICH
KING LOUIS SUFFERED, WITH THOSE HE HAD BROUGHT UPON OTHER PEOPLE; WITH A CONTINUATION OF HIS TRANSACTIONS TILL THE TIME OF HIS DEATH. — 1483.
He was continually discoursing on some subject or another, and always with a great deal of sense and judgment. His last illness (as I said before) continued from Monday to Saturday night. Upon which account I will now make comparison between the evils and sorrows which he brought upon others, and those which he suffered in his own person ; for I hope his torments here on earth have translated him into Paradise, and will be a great part of his purgatory: and if, in respect of their greatness and duration, his sufferings were inferior to those he had brought upon other people, yet, if you consider the grandeur and dignity of his office, and that he had never before suffered anything in his own person, but had been obeyed by all people, as if all Europe had been created for no other end, but to serve and be commanded by him ; you will find that little which he endured was so contrary to his nature and custom that it was more grievous for him to bear.
His chief hope and confidence was placed in the good hermit I spoke of (who was at Plessis, and had come thither from Calabria); he sent continually to him, believing it was in his power to prolong his life if he pleased, for, notwithstanding all his precepts, he had great hopes of recovering; and if it had so happened, he would quickly have dispersed the throng he had sent to Amboise, to wait upon the new king. Finding his hopes rested so strongly upon this hermit, it was the advice of a certain grave divine, and others who were about him, that it should be declared to him that there was no hope left for him but in the mercy of God; and it was also agreed among them, that his physician, Master James Coctier (in whom he had great confidence), should be present when this declaration was made him. This Coctier received of him every month ten thousand crowns, in the hope that he would lengthen his life. This resolution was taken to the end that he should lay aside all other thoughtɛ and apply himself wholly to the settlement of his conscience. And as he had advanced them, as it were, in an instant, and against all reason, to employments beyond their capacities, so they took upon them fearlessly to tell him a thing that had been more proper for other people to communicate ; nor did they observe that reverence and respect towards him which was proper in such a case, and would have been used by those persons who had been brought up with him, or by those whom, in a mere whim, he had removed from court but a little before. But, as he had sent a sharp message of death to two great persons whom he had formerly beheaded (the Duke of Nemours, and the Count of St. Paul), by commissioners deputed on purpose, who in plain terms told them their sentence, appointed them confessors to arrange their consciences, and acquainted them that in a few hours they must resolve to die; so with the same bluntness, and without the least circumstance of introduction, these imprudent persons told our king : “Sire, we must do our duty; do not place your hopes any longer in this holy hermit, or anything else, for you are a dead man. Think therefore upon your conscience, for there is no remedy left.” Every one added some short saying to the same purpose ; to which he answered, “I hope God will assist me, for perhaps I am not so ill as you imagine.”
What sorrow was this to him to hear this news! Never man was more fearful of death, nor used more means to prevent it. He had, all his life long, commanded and requested his servants, and me among the rest, that whenever we saw him in any danger of death, we should not tell him of it, but merely admonish him to confess himself, without ever mentioning that cruel and shocking word Death ; for he did not believe he could ever endure to hear so cruel a sentence. However, he endured that virtuously, and several more things equally terrible, when he was ill ; and indeed he bore them better than any man I ever saw die. He spoke several things which were to be delivered to his son, whom he called king; and he confessed himself very devoutly, said several prayers suitable to the sacram-nts he received, and called for the sacraments himself. He spoke a judiciously as if he had never been ill, discoursed of all things which might be necessary for his son's instruction, and among the rest gave orders that the Lord des Cordes should not stir from his son for six months; and that he should be desired to attempt nothing against Calais, or elsewhere, declaring that though he had designed himself to undertake such enterprises for the benefit of both the king and the kingdom, yet they were very dangerous, especially that against Calais, because the English might resent it; and he left it in especial charge that for five or six years after his death they should, above all things, preserve the kingdom in peace, which during his life he had never suffered. And indeed it was no more than was necessary; for, though the kingdom was large and fertile, yet it was grown very poor, upon account of the marching and countermarching of the soldiers up and down, in their passage from one country to another, as they have done since, to an even worse extent. He also ordered that nothing should be attempted against Bretagne, but that Duke Francis should be suffered to live in peace; that both he and his neighbors might be without fear, and the king and kingdom remain free from wars, till the king should be of age, to take upon himself the administration of affairs.
You have already heard with what indiscretion and bluntness they acquainted the king with his approaching death; which I have mentioned in a more particular manner, because in a preceding paragraph I began to compare the evils which he had made others suffer, who lived under his dominion, with those he endured himself before his death ; that it might appear that, though they were not perhaps of so long a duration, yet they were fully as great and terrible, considering his station and dignity, which required more obedience than any private person, and had found more ; so that the least opposition was a great torment to him. Some five or six months before his death, he began to suspect everybody, especially those who were most capable and deserving of the administration of affairs. He was afraid of his son, and caused him to be kept close, so that no man saw or discoursed with him, but by his special command. At last he grew suspicious of his daughter, and of his son-in-law the Duke of Bourbon, and required an account of what persons came to speak with them at Plessis, and broke up a council which the Duke of Bourbon was holding there, by his order.
At the time that the Count of Dunois and the said Duke of Bourbon returned from conducting the ambassadors, who had been at Amboise to attend the marriage of the Dauphin and the young queen, the king being in the gallery at Plessis, and seeing them enter with a great train into the castle, called for a captain of the guards, and commanded him to go and search the servants of those lords to see whether they had any arms under their robes, and ordered him to do it in discourse, so as no notice might be taken. Behold, then, if he had caused many to live under him in continual fear and apprehension, whether it was not returned to him again ; for of whom could he be secure when he was afraid of his son-in-law, his daughter, and his own son? I speak this not only of him, but of all other princes who desire to be feared, that vengeance never falls on them till they grow old, and then, as a just penance, they are afraid of everybody themselves; and what grief must it have been to this poor king to be tormented with such terrors and passions ?
He was still attended by his physician, Master James Coctier, to whom in five months' time he had given fifty-four thousand crowns in ready money, besides the bishopric of Amiens for his nephew, and other great offices and estates for himself and his friends; yet this doctor used him very roughly indeed ; one would not have given such outrageous language to one's servants, as he gave the king, who stood in such awe of him that he durst not forbid him his presence. It is true he complained of his impudence afterwards, but he durst not change him as he had done all the rest of his servants; because he had told him after a most audacious manner one day, “I know well that some time or other you will dismiss me from court, as you have done the rest; but be sure (and he confirmed it with a great oath) you shall not live eight days after it;” with which expression the king was so terrified that ever after he did nothing but flatter and bribe him, which must needs have been a great mortification to a prince who had been humbly obeyed all his life by so many good and brave men.
The king had ordered several cruel prisons to be made; some were cages of iron, and some of wood, but all were covered with iron plates both within and without, with terrible locks, about eight feet wide and seven high; the first contriver of them was the Bishop of Verdun, who was immediately put in the first of them that was made, where he continued fourteen years. Many bitter curses he has had since for his invention, and some from me as I lay in one of them eight months together in the minority of our present king. He also ordered heavy and terrible fetters to be made in Germany, and particularly a certain ring for the feet, which was extremely hard to be opened, and fitted like an iron collar, with a thick weighty chain, and a great globe of iron at the end of it, most unreasonably heavy, which engines were called the King's Nets. However, I have seen many eminent and deserving persons in these prisons, with these nets about their legs, who afterwards came forth with great joy and honor, and received great rewards from the king. Among the rest, a son of the Lord de la Grutuse, in Flanders (who was taken in battle), whom the king married very honorably afterwards, made him his chamberlain, and seneschal of Anjou, and gave him the command of a hundred lances. The Lord de Piennes, and the Lord de Vergy, both prisoners of war, also had commands given them in his army, were made his or his son's chamberlains, and had great estates bestowed on them. Monsieur de Richebourg, the constable's brother, had the same good fortune, as did also one Roquebertin, a Catalonian, likewise prisoner of war; besides others of various countries, too numerous to be mentioned in this place.
This by way of digression. But to return to my principal design. As in his time this barbarous variety of prisons was invented, so before he died he himself was in greater torment, and more terrible apprehension than those whom he had imprisoned; which I look upon as a great mercy towards him, and as part of his purgatory; and I have mentioned it here to show that there is no person, of what station or dignity soever, but suffers some time or other, either publicly or privately, especially if he has caused other people to suffer. The king, towards the latter end of his days, caused his castle of Plessisles-Tours to be encompassed with great bars of iron in the form of thick grating, and at the four corners of the house four sparrow nests of iron, strong, massy, and thick, were built. The grates were without the wall on the other side of the ditch, and sank to the bottom. Several spikes of iron were fastened into the wall, set as thick by one another as was possible, and each furnished with three or four points. He likewise placed ten bowmen in the ditches, to shoot at any man that durst approach the castle before the opening of the gates; and he ordered they should lie in the ditches, but retire to the sparrow nests upon occasion. He was sensible enough that this fortification was too weak to keep out an army, or any great body of men, but he had no fear of such an attack; his great apprehension was that some of the nobility of his kingdom, having intelligence within, might attempt to make themselves masters of the castle by night, and having possessed themselves of it, partly by favor, and partly by force, might deprive him of the regal authority, and take upon themselves