The Memoirs of Philippe De Commines

Date: 1855

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Chapter XXXIX Memoirs of a French Courtier



Character of Louis XI


The chief reason that has induced me to enter upon this subject is that I have seen many deceptions, especially in servants toward their masters; and I have always found that proud and stately princes who will hear but few are more likely to be imposed on than those who are open and accessible. Of all the princes that I ever knew, the wisest and most dexterous to extricate himself out of any danger or difficulty in time of adversity was my master, Louis XI. He was very humble in his conversation and habit, and the most careful and indefatigable to win over any man to his side that he thought capable of doing him either mischief or service. Though he was often refused, he would never give over a man that he wished to gain, but still pressed and continued his insinuations, making great promises to him, and presenting him with such sums and honors as he knew would gratify his ambitions. . . .

He was naturally kind and indulgent to persons of mean estate, and hostile to all great men who had no need of him. No prince was more easy to converse with, or more inquisitive, than he, for his desire was to know everybody he could; and indeed he knew all persons of any authority or worth in England, Spain, Portugal, and Italy, in the territories of the dukes of Burgundy and Brittany, and among his own subjects. By these qualities he preserved the crown upon his head, which was in much danger by the enemies he had created for himself upon his accession to the throne. But above all, his great bounty and liberality did him the utmost service; and yet, as he behaved with much wisdom in time of distress, so when he thought himself a little out of danger . . . he would disoblige the servants and officers of his court by mean and petty ways, which were little to his advantage; and as for peace, he could hardly endure the thought of it.

He spoke slightingly of most people, and rather before their faces than behind their backs, unless he was afraid of them, and of that sort there were a great many, for he was naturally somewhat timorous. When he had done himself any harm by his talk, or was apprehensive he should do so and wished to make amends, he would say to the person whom he had disobliged, "I am sensible my tongue has done me a great deal of mischief; but, on the other hand, it has sometimes done me much good; however, it is but reasonable that I should make some reparation for the injury." And he never used this kind of apology without granting some favor to the person to whom he made it, and it was always of considerable amount.

It was certainly a great blessing from God upon my prince to have experienced adversity as well as prosperity, good as well as evil, especially if the good outweighs the evil, as it did in the case of the king, my master. I am of opinion that the troubles he was involved in, while a youth, when he fled from his father and resided for six years1 with Philip, duke of Burgundy, were of great service to him; for there he learned to be complaisant to such as he had occasion to use, which was no slight advantage of adversity. As soon as he found himself a powerful and crowned king, his mind was wholly bent upon revenge; but he quickly discovered the inconvenience of this, repented by degrees of his indiscretion, and made sufficient reparation for his folly and error, by regaining those he had injured.

I am very confident that if his education had not been different from the usual education of such nobles as I have seen in France, he could not so easily have worked himself out of his troubles. For the French nobles are brought up to nothing but to make themselves ridiculous, both in their clothes and discourse; they have no knowledge of letters; no wise man is suffered to come near them, to improve their understanding; they have governors who manage their business, but they themselves do nothing; nay, there are some nobles who, though they have a large income, will take pride to bid you, "Go to my servants, and let them answer you"; thinking by such speeches to imitate the state and grandeur of a prince. I have seen their servants take great advantage of them, giving them to understand they were fools; and if afterwards they came to apply their minds to business and attempted to manage their own affairs, they began so late that they could make nothing of it. It is certain that all those who have performed any great or memorable action, worthy to be recorded in history, began always in their youth; and this is to be attributed to the method of their education or some particular blessing from God.

1 , the translation revised by A. R. Scoble. 2 vols. London, 1855. George Bell and Sons.

2 See page 386.

3 See page 393.

4 Commines, Mémoires, bk. i, ch. 10.

1 1456–1461. Louis XI became king in 1461 , on the death of his father, Charles VII.

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Chicago: The Memoirs of Philippe De Commines in Readings in Early European History, ed. Webster, Hutton (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1926), 407–409. Original Sources, accessed September 29, 2023,

MLA: . The Memoirs of Philippe De Commines, in Readings in Early European History, edited by Webster, Hutton, Boston, Ginn and Company, 1926, pp. 407–409. Original Sources. 29 Sep. 2023.

Harvard: , The Memoirs of Philippe De Commines. cited in 1926, Readings in Early European History, ed. , Ginn and Company, Boston, pp.407–409. Original Sources, retrieved 29 September 2023, from