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Louis The Politic And Charles The Bold
by [?]

In the latter half of the fifteenth century Europe had two notable sovereigns, Louis XI. of France and Charles the Bold, or Charles the Rash, of Burgundy; the one famous in history for his intricate policy, the other for his lack of anything that could fairly be called policy. The relations between these two men ranged from open hostility to a peace of the most fragile character. The policy of Louis was of the kind that was as likely to get him into trouble as out of it. The rashness and headstrong temper of Charles were equally likely to bring trouble in their train. In all things the two formed a strongly contrasted pair, and their adjoining realms could hardly hope for lasting peace while these men lived.

The hand of Charles was ever on his sword. With him the blow quickly followed the word or the thought. The hand of Louis–“the universal spider,” as his contemporaries named him–was ever on the web of intrigue which he had woven around him, feeling its filaments, and keeping himself in touch with every movement of his foes. He did not like war. That was too direct a means of gaining his ends. It was his delight to defeat his enemies by combinations of state policy, to play off one against another, and by incessant intrigue to gain those ends which other men gained by hard blows.

Yet it is possible for a schemer to overdo himself, for one who trusts to his plots and his policy to defeat himself by the very neatness and intricacy of his combinations, and so it proved on one occasion in the dealings between these two men. The incident which we propose to relate forms the subject of “Quentin Durward,” one of the best-known novels by Sir Walter Scott, and is worth telling for itself without the allurements of romance.

“Louis had a great idea of the influence he gained over people by his wits and his language,” says one of his biographers. “He was always convinced that people never said what ought to be said, and that they did not set to work the right way.” He liked to owe success to himself alone, and had an inordinate opinion of his power both of convincing and of deceiving people. In consequence, during one of his periods of strained relations with Charles of Burgundy, which his agents found it impossible to settle, this royal schemer determined to visit Charles in person, and try the effect on his opponent of the powers of persuasion of which he was so proud.

It was as rash a project as Charles himself could have been guilty of. The fox was about to trust himself in the den of the angry lion. But Louis persisted, despite the persuasions of his councillors, sent to Charles for a letter of safe-conduct, and under its assurance sought the Duke of Burgundy in his fortified town of Peronne, having with him as escort only fourscore of his Scotch guard and sixty men-at-arms.

It was a mad movement, and led to consequences of which Louis had not dreamed. Charles received him civily enough. Between rash duke and politic king there was every show of amity. But the negotiations went on no more rapidly now than they had done before. And soon came news which proved that Louis the schemer had, for once at least, played the fool, and put himself in a position of the utmost danger.

The policy of the royal spider had been stretched too far. His webs of plot had unluckily crossed. In truth, shortly before coming to Peronne, he had sent two secret agents to the town of Liege, to stir the unruly citizens up to rebellion against the duke. Quite forgetting this trifle of treachery, the too-hasty plotter had sought the duke’s stronghold with the hope of placating him with well-concocted lies and a smooth tongue. Unluckily for him, his agents did not forget their orders.