Tag Archive: Louis XI


On 25 May 1479, Charles d’Amboise, in the name of Louis XI, took the city of Dole and massacred all of its inhabitants.

All of the contemporary chroniclers agree:  never was a more abominable massacre ever seen.  Never had there been more blood, brains and innards scattered throughout a city’s streets.  It happened on 25 May 1479.  On this day, at six o’clock in the morning, the inhabitants of Dole, who had already been under siege for three months by the royal troops, suddenly heard “great fracas and great rumblings”:  a group of Alsatians had just penetrated their city “by ruse and felony”.

Immediately, the portcullis was raised by these traitors, the drawbridge lowered and the favourite residence of the Dukes of Bourgogne (Burgundy) delivered to the soldiers of Louis XI.

Trembling with fear inside their houses, the Dolois heard horses’ hooves and clicking of armour;  then a terrifying, inhuman voice roaring :  “Kill them all!”

Terrified, most of them went to hide in their cellars.  A few, however, wanted to see the face of this man who was condemning them to death.  Going to the windows, they could see, through the slits in their shutters, a cavalier “with glittering eyes” who, standing in his stirrups, was inciting his men to carnage.

This is how the Dolois saw for the first time this diabolic Prince, known throughout the kingdom for his taste for blood, this great favourite of Louis XI, this human beast whose name made whole provinces tremble with fear :  Charles d’Amboise.

Travelling through the streets on his black horse, screaming his calls for death, he soon arrived before the Notre-Dame Church where some Dolois Companies of Archers and Arquebusiers were attempting to defend themselves.  Then, with a great laugh, he roared:

“Kill them all!.  Let not one remain!…  I want to see the blood of the  Comtois flow like a river in the streets of Dole…  Go on!  Kill them!  Kill them all!…”

The French immediately rushed on the houses, breaking down doors and windows, and the Prince gave the signal for the massacre by slicing off a woman’s head with a blow from an axe.

Immediately, the attack began.  Never had such butchery ever been seen before.  For four hours, they killed, they raped, they eviscerated, they exploded heads with blows from hammers.  Entire families died by the sword, others were burnt alive in the cellars – one of which would be called Cellar of Hell…  There were cadavers everywhere.  The soldiers were trampling around in blood, in bowels and the debris of brains…

Around ten o’clock, the most ferocious of them, the cruellest, began to tire of killing.  But Charles d’Amboise, Charles the Satanical, whose armour was red with blood, urged them on.  His eyes protruding from their sockets, foaming at the mouth, he was screeching :  “Kill, kill!…”

And the butchery continued.  When they had no more swords, they slit throats, stabbed, crushed heads, strangled.  Soon, there was no-one left to exterminate.

Then Charles d’Amboise attacked the cadavers.  As there was no-one alive, he cut off the heads of the dead;  and this appalling work amused him.  He roared with laughter, crying out:  “Look at them, these earthworms!”

While he was busy with his twentieth decapitated body, a soldier came to inform him that a group of Dolois had taken refuge inside a house.  He straightened up, an ugly expression on his face, and was about to rush over there when he changed his mind:

“Leave them there to breed!  They’ll give us some little ones that we’ll take pleasure in coming to kill in ten or fifteen years!…”

***

On the following day and those that followed, Charles d’Amboise, obsessed with murder (his contemporaries would say “possessed by the Angel of Evil”), would continue to burn villages, rape and kill the unfortunate Comtois by hundreds.  Throughout the whole Spring of 1479, and throughout the whole Summer and throughout the whole Autumn, untiringly he would kill “with a wolf’s smile”.

Winter brought him back to the side of Louis XI who would make him his Counsellor and the Governor of Bourgogne.  But, as soon as the good weather returned in 1480, he left again, sword in hand, hungry for cadavers and thirsty for blood.

Seeing him pass with his green eyes too shiny, his triangular face and his long, slim hands, the people say:  “It’s the Devil!…”

After the appalling massacres led by Charles d’Amboise in Dole and the whole of Burgundy, he was suddenly struck down, at Tours, with a mysterious illness which made him let out “inhuman cries”.

At the end of the year, he decides to go to his castle of Chaumont-sur-Loire to organize a feast there.  But at Tours, he is suddenly struck down by illness.  Transported to a nearby manor, he retires to bed, a fetid perspiration flowing from him, and soon begins to let out horrible cries…  The doctors hurry to his side and want to examine him.  He swears at them and continues to roar with pain.  He jumps and leaps on his bed.  A witness tells us that

“He twists as if he were the prey of flames.”

Finally, he enters into agony.  An agony so strange, so unnatural, that the people who approach him do not stop making the sign of the cross.  However, these gestures seem, not only to terrify him, but to make him suffer.  He emits appalling, inhuman cries which remind them sometimes of horses, sometimes of the cries of a pig being slaughtered.

After which, he roars blasphemous words, insults God, swears at the saints, says outrageous things about the Virgin and curses the Pope, to the consternation of those present.  It is then seriously thought that he is possessed by a demon.  Monks come to exorcise him.  He rudely pushes them away, spits in their faces and pronounces so many sacrilegious words that the unfortunate monks flee, appalled…

Finally, on 14 February 1481, after an attack of convulsions which almost throw him from his bed, Charles d’Amboise dies.  He has on his face an expression so revolting that no-one accepts to stay with his cadaver.

Three days later, they go to bury him.  For this considerably important person who is the King’s intimate Counsellor, Governor General of Ile-de-France, Champagne and Bourgogne, that is to say one of the highest dignitaries in the kingdom, a solemn funeral is held in the Church of the Cordeliers d’Amboise.  There are present, under a dais, the Bishop d’Albi, the dead man’s brother, princes, mitred abbots and penitents in hoods.

At the altar, a Cordelier says the Mass for the Dead.

But suddenly, at the moment of consecration, this monk begins to gesticulate.  Those present, astounded, see him wave his arms as if he is pushing away something or someone invisible.  Several times, he descends and climbs the steps, stumbling.  Then he stops, with his back to the tabernacle, looking terrified.  At this moment – he would later say – a voice that he is the only one to hear clamours in his ear:

“Stop, Priest, stop!  Your mass is useless!  It has no meaning!  Laughable!…  This damned man is already with me, body and soul…  Why bother blessing an empty coffin!…  For this coffin is empty!…  Empty!”

The poor Cordelier, just for an instant, believes that he can see before him a grimacing person.  Trembling, livid, he makes the sign of the cross, descends the altar steps, walks towards the catafalque and cries out:  “Open this coffin!…”

The Bishop d’Albi rises and asks for an explanation.  The Cordelier repeats:

“Open this coffin!  I will only continue to say this Mass after being certain that the body of Lord d’Amboise is really there…”

Then, the guards remove the mortuary sheet and open the coffin.

Those present let out a cry:  it is empty!

Immediately, princes, bishops, mitred priests, monks, penitents and ordinary people, panicked, run towards the door and flee.

And never was the body of Charles d’Amboise ever found…

***

This story can be found in many works, and notably in a book by the Prince de Broglie, La Tragique Histoire du chateau de Chaumont.  The Prince de Broglie was the last inhabitant of the Chateau de Chaumont.  That is to say the descendant – a distant one, but a descendant anyway – of Charles d’Amboise…

There has never been any explanation.  His body was never found.

The first idea which springs to mind, is that someone removed it.  But who?…  And why?…  Louis XI?…  Upon learning of it, he had an attack of apoplexy.  And then, he was too superstitious to commit this sort of action.  Having people hanged and profaning a coffin are two different things…  No, it could not have been Louis XI.  So who?  A member of the Amboise Family?…  For what reason?  There remains – and this is the opinion of a few Historians – the hypothesis of the body being kidnapped by Charles d’Amboise’s enemies, whether they were parents of the unfortunate inhabitants of Dole, or of lords despoiled by Louis XI’s Counsellor.

This could have been done so that Charles d’Amboise would be damned by preventing him from benefiting from:  (1) the religious ceremony called absolution;  (2) a burial in holy ground…

***

The thing that remains inexplicable is that the Cordelier asked that the coffin be opened, for it is very certain that, if the body had been removed by Charles d’Amboise’s enemies, these people did not go to the monk to tell him about it…  even in Confession!…  But there is another hypothesis.  It could be supposed that someone, who had had knowledge of the kidnapper’s secret, hid behind the altar and spoke to the Cordelier monk.  Who, troubled and appalled, thought to have had a vision…  But this is only an hypothesis…

So, the conclusion is an enormous question mark…

***

During Charles d’Amboise’s funeral service, a Cordelier monk suddenly asked for the coffin to be opened. It was and everyone present screamed in terror: the coffin was empty. His body was never found.

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Everyone, from the top to the bottom of the social ladder, uses surnatural therapies at one time or another.  Bonesetters are called for Charles VI of France, to try to cure his madness.  They are unsuccessful, and are executed as sorcerers.

However, the same fate is reserved for the doctor who hasn’t done his work properly.  The doctor of Jean de Luxembourg (1296-1346), King of Bohemia, is unable to cure his sovereign’s blindness, and is sewn into a sack and thrown into the Oder.

Even in the XVIIIth Century, Louis XIV receives a village healer during his last illness.  The courtiers laugh at his appearance.  Saint-Simon recounts:  “A sort of Provencal manual labourer, very coarse, learned of the King’s extremity and came this morning to Versailles, with a remedy which he says cures gangrene.  The King was so ill and the doctors so at the end of their tether, that they consented with no difficulty.  The King was therefore given ten drops of this elixir in Alicante wine, at eleven o’clock in the morning… ”  It doesn’t work.

Louis XI

The warmest partisan of this magical medicine is definitely the rather frightening Louis XI.  He is as devout as he is superstitious, and an adept of therapeutic practices which frighten everyone.  Legend has amplified its darkness.

This King skips rather than walks.  He is hunched over, and his gaze is in turn cruel or stupid.  He usually wears a curious pointed hat with a long shade over his eyes.

At the age of fifty-five, he presents behavioural problems which are suddenly more serious:  suspicion, arbitrary measures, isolation, paranoia even, when he prefers the company of animals to that of his contemporaries, absence of auto-critique and overblown pride…

He has several strokes.  In 1480, he is unable to speak for several days.  In 1481, he has another attack.  Halfway through March 1482, he begins a pilgrimage to Saint-Claude, in the mountains of the Franche-Comte.  He wants to pray before the altar where he has been sending offerings for many years.

Then he locks himself up in Plessis-les-Tours Castle, where no person of note is henceforth allowed to enter, and devotes himself to experimenting with anything susceptible of prolonging his life.  His delirium takes sadistic forms.  He has iron cages made for his prisoners, although we don’t know if they are used.

During the last year of his life, he spends several hundreds of thousands of francs in offerings, which he distributes to favourite chapels and churches in France, but also in the whole of Europe, like Notre-Dame d’Aix-la-Chapelle or Saint Jacques de Compostella.

He adds sacred objects to the medicine, astrology and religion with which he treats himself.  He procures all of the relics and all of the remedies known in the West.

From the Pope, he borrows the caporal, the altar cloth on which Saint Peter is reputed to have chanted Mass.  From the Reims treasury, he claims the Holy Oil which is used at coronations and which, like everyone else, he thinks has preservative virtues.  Laurent the Magnificent sends him the pastoral ring of Bishop Zenobius, the patron saint of Florence, which is supposed to heal leprosy.  The King is convinced that he has caught this disease.

Suffering also from epileptic fits, he uses hematotherapy, on the advice of the doctors of the time who recommend bathing in blood for epilepsy.  The blood is from giant sea turtles which his best sea captain Georges Bissipal, known as Georges the Greek, goes to hunt, with three ships, as far away as the Cap-Vert Islands, at the edge of the then known world.

After the King’s death, it is frequently said that he also drank the blood of babies.  Was Louis XI an ogre?  It might be enough that he was depressive, hypochondriac, persecuted and, above all, seated in this state on the throne of France.

To be continued.

Kings who are usually parcimonious with regard to their subjects, spare no expense when it comes to their fools.  Apart from their mistresses, no-one is more sumptuously kept.

A fool treated with so much munificence must be indispensable.  When King Jean le Bon is taken prisoner at the Battle of Poitiers on 20 September 1356, and is taken by the English to Bordeaux, his buffoon keeps him company.

Charles le Sage is signalled as one of the princes who take pleasure in keeping fools.  He bestows his favour on no less than three marotte bearers, the most famous being Theverin de Saint-Legier.  The King has a magnificent mausoleum raised to his memory when he dies.

Charles VI, of fragile mental health, likes the company of fools.  After the terrible accident in which he almost burns to death, the presence of buffoons becomes indispensable to chase away his dark thoughts.

One of his buffoons, Heinsselicoq (or Hainselin Coq) amuses him by wrestling with him or by ripping his own shirt into tiny pieces.  Heinsselicoq is a poor devil, not really able to look after himself, and placed, for this motive, in the care of a valet.  This particularly agitated fool wears out no fewer than forty-seven pairs of shoes in one year!

Did Charles VII keep buffoons at his court?  His passion for the beautiful Agnes is so complete and so exclusive that the facetious behaviour of a buffoon seems out of place in the little Bourges court, where all is tenderness and sensuality.

It seems therefore that, under his reign, the fools do not re-conquer their prerogatives.  Charles, prematurely aged and sad, plays chess, fires his crossbow and hears three Masses a day.  When he eats, his doctor, his inner-circle and his chamber-valets are present.  He doesn’t care about any “wise fools”.

However, documents do show the presence of fools at the court of Charles VII, but they only come occasionally to the King’s home, and are not included on his payroll.  They only receive small sums of money and sometimes clothes.  They are fools from the public square or from fairs.

With Louis XI, successor to Charles VII, the marotte bearing officers do not regain their lost territory.  His doctor Coictrier, his barber, Olivier le Daim his astrologist, who is also a doctor, are sufficient distraction for the royal neurasthenic.

On the other hand, Louis XII possesses several buffoons, the most famous of whom is certainly Triboulet.

This name is thought to have come from the ancient verb “tribouler” which has left us the word “tribulation”, identical in both French and English.  Some people think that Triboulet means “troubled brain”.  Another origin could be the Provencal word tribo, which means “trepan”, and “triboulet” could therefore be translated by “trepanned”.

Some Spaniard or Italian, some treasury clerk, or perhaps some of the town’s scholars, might have given the King’s buffoon this name which, borrowed from the Italian language or from Latin, expresses the idea of displeasure, of torment, at the same time as it alludes to the thistle, whose head, armed with little spikes, stabs those who touch it.

Why would anyone look for such a complicated explanation, when a much simpler one is on our doorstep?

The name of Triboulet did exist.  It was even the name of a lawyer, a goldsmith, a master apothecary.  Why couldn’t our fool have belonged to the same family?

What we do know is that Triboulet, whom Francois I inherited from Louis XII, at the same time as the other charges and benefits of the crown, is not from Paris, but from the Blesois.  He is only a poor bewildered man, a native of Foix-les-Blois.

“Because the pages, the lackeys and the children took advantage of his misery, King Louis XII was charitable enough to commit him to the care of a man who stopped people from hurting him.”  Michel Le Vernoy is named as Triboulet’s assistant and governor.

Fifth part (including more about Triboulet) tomorrow.

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