Memoirs of Phillipe de Commynes
January 9, 2007 6:17 PM   Subscribe

Memoirs of Phillipe de Commynes. A first-hand account of the 15th-century military and diplomatic struggle between Louis XI of France, a master of intrigue, and his most powerful rival, Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. "At that time the subjects of the house of Burgundy were very rich because of the long peace which they had enjoyed and the great moderation of the prince under whom they lived, who taxed his subjects little. It seems to me that then his territories could well have been described as the Promised Land, more so than any others on earth. They were overflowing with wealth and they had a peace which they have not since experienced during the last twenty-three years. ... But today I do not know in this world a people so desolate, and I fear that the sins of the time of their prosperity have brought them their present adversity; most of all because they did not recognize that all these favours came from God who distributes them as it pleases him."
posted by russilwvong (6 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds like the Burgundy serfs wanted [more inside].
posted by anthill at 7:09 PM on January 9, 2007

Cool. I wonder if The I Tatti Renaissance Library will come out with a bluebook version. I recently read the 15th century auto-biography of Pope Pius II ("Commentaries") which was very entertaining. The late 14th and 15th centuries were a period of famine, Black Death, 100 years war, peasants wars, Renaissance, etc.. lot of contrasts between violence, crime, death - and new beginnings. A vision of what a Dystopian world future might be like, as the old order crumbles and a new culture emerges.
posted by stbalbach at 7:41 PM on January 9, 2007

Charles the Bold was a fascinating character.

Thanks for the link!
posted by winna at 9:14 PM on January 9, 2007

Barbara Tuchman's book from 20 years or so ago, A Distant Mirror, is sorta related -- there's probably a copy at the library, if anybody's interested.
posted by pax digita at 5:19 AM on January 10, 2007

A Distant Mirror is great. Commynes was writing about a hundred years later, though: Louis XI was picking up the pieces after the Hundred Years' War, during which England had carved up France.

To provide more context, I should have mentioned that Burgundy was an ally of England during the Hundred Years' War: it was the Burgundians (led by Charles' father Phillip the Good) who captured Joan of Arc and sent her to the English to be burned. Louis XI was the son of Charles VII--played by John Malkovich in The Messenger--who was crowned by Joan of Arc. The Wars of the Roses were going on at the same time; Edward IV died and Richard III was subsequently overthrown by Henry VII around the time Commynes was writing.

The I Tatti Renaissance Library probably deserves its own post! (Especially the New York Review article linked to the Wikipedia entry.) But Commynes' memoirs were written in French, not Latin. (Well, dictated, which is probably why he digresses a bit from time to time.)

stbalbach: A vision of what a Dystopian world future might be like, as the old order crumbles and a new culture emerges.

Actually the reason I posted this was that I think it conveys what politics might be like in a place like Afghanistan or Iraq: a weak central government contending with powerful warlords with their own armies, the importance of violence in politics, assassinations, hostage-taking, intrigue, etc.

For example, compare the Duke of Burgundy's dilemma described here with the current situation of Pakistan, caught between the United States and the Taliban:
[King Edward IV, having fled from England] came to the duke of Burgundy at Saint-Pol and strongly urged him to assist his return, assuring him that [Edward] had much support in England, and, for God's sake, not to abandon him, seeing that he had married his sister and they were brothers in each other's Order. The dukes of Somerset and Exeter advocated exactly the opposite course on King Henry's behalf. The duke did not know which side to favour; he feared he would alienate both parties, and he already had a dangerous war [with Louis XI] on his hands. Finally he favoured the duke of Somerset and the others and extracted from them certain promises against the earl of Warwick, whose old enemies they had been. When King Edward, who was present, saw this he was disturbed. Yet he was given such assurances as were possible. He was told that these dissimulations were being practised so that the duke would not be at war with both kingdoms simultaneously, because if the duke were defeated he would not be able to help him afterwards as he wished. Yet the duke, seeing that he could no longer stop King Edward going to England (and for several reasons he dared not anger him over anything), pretended to publicly to give him no aid and made a proclamation that no one should go to his help. But privately and secretly he gave him fifty thousand St. Andrew's Cross florins and hired three or four great ships for him, which he equipped in the free port of Veere in Holland, and he secretly paid for fourteen well-armed Easterling boats which promised to serve him until he had crossed over the England and been there a fortnight. This help was very expensive considering the general situation.
posted by russilwvong at 11:33 AM on January 10, 2007

Embarrassed now: I misspelled Commynes' first name. It's Philippe, not Phillipe.
posted by russilwvong at 9:31 AM on January 16, 2007

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