Louis the Cunning, the Prudent, the Universal Spider, the Tudors’ Best Friend

King Louis IX of France was the original Machiavellian monarch, although ironically Niccolò Machiavelli stoutly criticized Louis in Chapter 13 of The Prince, “calling him shortsighted and imprudent for abolishing his own infantry in favor of Swiss mercenaries”. Nonetheless, Louis had a gift for turning situations to his advantage, duplicity, formulating conspiracies, and laying false trails that earned him the moniker Louis the Cunning (Louis le Rusé). The king’s preternatural abilities to spin webs of intrigue to confound his enemies and baffle his friends moreover led to the additional nickname of Louis the Universal Spider (Louis l’universelle aragne). However, he was also known as Louis the Prudent (Louis le Prudent) thanks to his fiscal wisdom and clever ability to sidestep warfare with bargaining. Thus, this sneaky sovereign was able to drag France out of dire straits by bringing all the crown’s disobedient vassals back under royal control, making France a feared European power again, and facilitating a reemergence of economic growth after decades of stagnation due to the damages caused by the English army’s practice of chevauchée (atrocity-level “scorched earth” tactics that destroyed crops and killed peasants).


Louis was born on 3 July 1423, the eldest son of King Charles VII of France and Queen Marie of Anjou, and he was pretty much a royal pain in his father’s ass the minute he hit puberty. Louis, born at the nadir of the French military’s efforts in the Hundred Years War, viewed his father as a weakling (not unreasonably) and had no respect for his sire. When Louis was just 16, he colluded with the Praguerie, a rebellion seeking to force Charles VII’s abdication in favor of his son. The uprising failed, and Charles forgave his heir, but Louis didn’t temper his temper at all. The truculent prince was evicted from his father’s court on 27 September 1446, after which he ruled his own province of Dauphiné as a small, independent kingdom and continued plotting against his father until Charles died and Louis finally took the throne on 25 July 1461.


The French king also had a role to play in the English Wars of the Roses. Louis had several reasons to be interested in this war. He was a cousin to both King Henry VI and Henry’s queen, Margaret of Anjou, and was the bitter enemy of Charles I the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, who supported the Yorkists and King Edward IV. During the first ascendancy of Edward IV to the throne of England, Margaret of Anjou and her son Edward of Westminster/Lancaster took refuge with Louis, and Edward of Westminster was actually was actually a godfather to Louis’s first son, who would one day reign as Charles VIII of France.


Jasper Tudor, son of the widowed Queen Catherine of Valois and her Welsh servant Owen Tudor, half-brother to Henry VI, and uncle to Henry VII, also found refuge in the court of Louis XI whenever the Yorkists were in power. He was fanatically loyal to his half-bother, and therefore spent his time trying to drum up support (in terms of money and troops) for Henry VI to reclaim the throne, or for Henry’s son to take the crown. None of this was easy in a court of a man called “the Cunning”, of course. How could Jasper know who to trust? Nevertheless, Louis proved to be a dependable ally. He not only gave Jasper a place in his court, he officially recognized the former Earl of Pembroke as a royal cousin.


Was Jasper’s young nephew, Henry Tudor, also in the Universal Spider’s court? No, he was with his Yorkist “guardian”, William Herbert, who had captured Pembroke Castle in Jasper’s earlier absence. The young Henry Tudor’s tenuous claim to the throne was considered too weak to consider the boy as a real threat, however, and his main worth was in being his incredibly wealthy mother’s heir. It wasn’t until the reign of Richard III that Henry Tudor was put forward as an alternate king of England, and only then did the boy’s life become truly endangered.

When the Earl of Warwick turned against Edward IV, Louis also let Warwick come to stay in the French court. There, Louis enabled Warwick to form an alliance with the earl’s former nemesis, Margaret of Anjou. The alliance was initially successful, and Edward was temporarily driven out of England. With Henry VI enthroned once more, Louis was able to bid farewell to his guests. Margaret of Anjou and Edward, Prince of Wales, returned home, as their ever-valiant kinsman, Jasper Tudor.

Jasper returned to Wales and resumed guardianship of his nephew Henry, collecting the boy and transporting him to London to visit Henry’s mother Margaret Beaufort, who had not seen her only child in years. Sometime before November 1470, Jasper and Henry returned to Wales to reclaim Jasper’s Earldom of Pembroke from William Herbert’s heir, but the following May the Lancastrians were defeated at the Battle of Tewkesbury and Edward, the Prince of Wales, was killed by Yorkist forces. Edward IV was once again king, and the ‘mysterious’ death of Henry VI shortly thereafter ensured that he would remain king.

Intending to punish those who had reinstated Henry VI, the Edward IV sent Roger Vaughan of Tretower (half-brother of William Herbert) to Wales to capture the attainted Jasper Tudor. Unfortunately for Vaughan, Jasper caught him first. Furthermore, Jasper blamed Vaughan and Herbert for the hasty and brutal execution of Jasper’s father, Owen Tudor. Before taking Henry Tudor and fleeing from Tenby Harbor, Jasper made time to behead Vaughn.


The Tudors were headed back to Louis’s court, but they were blown off course by a storm and wound up in Brittany, where Duke Francis II of Brittany ‘welcomed’ them by making them de facto (albeit well-treated) prisoners to use as bargaining chips against Louis XI and Edward IV. The duke was trying to keep France from annexing Brittany, and he wanted to strong-arm the English into helping him. The threat that the Tudors could be armed and sent back to fight in England was a potent threat to hang over Edward IV’s head, and made the English king relatively biddable to Francis II’s plans. In spite of repeated efforts by Edward VI to have the Tudor’s returned to England and Yorkist retribution, and Louis’s attempts to ransom them back to the French court, Duke Francis II kept Jasper and Henry as pawns in Brittany until 1483.


Meanwhile, Edward IV (who was hella pissed off by Louis’s support of the Lancastrians) invaded France in 1475 with the intent to rampage for revenge. Notwithstanding Edward’s ire, smooth-talking Louis negotiated the Treaty of Picquigny, which basically paid Edward to go away and agree the English crown had no claim to any of the disputed French lands. Edward’s brother, Richard of Gloucester (the future Richard III), was so disgusted by this blatant bribe in exchange for what he saw as a sovereign birthright that he refused to sign the treaty or accept any of the French king’s gifts.) The Hundred Years’ War had finally ended, and Louis had effectively “won” by keeping almost all the continental territories under French rule. Louis would later brag “that although his father had driven the English out by force of arms [aided by Joan of Arc], he had driven them out by force of pâté, venison, and good French wine.”

Louis_XI of France

Louis did not forget his cousin, the doubly-bereaved Margaret of Anjou, while dealing with the Yorkist victors. He ransomed her from Edward IV as part of the Treaty of Picquigny, and brought her back to France to live as one of his dependents. Although Louis has been sneered at for being parsimonious, he clearly valued his family (even those who were not only advantageously placed, but were actively burdens) more than lucre. The king may have been careful with his coin, but he obviously did not love gold above all else, and does not deserved to be remembered as a scrooge.


1483 was a pivotal year for Louis’s Tudor/Lancastrian relations. First, Edward IV died in April, passing on his crown to 12 year old Edward V. The boy-king’s throne was quickly usurped by his uncle, who became Richard III on 26 June. When the Dowager Queen, Elizabeth Woodville, became convinced that Richard had murdered her sons, she began scheming with Margaret Beaufort to put Henry Tudor on the throne and have him marry the eldest daughter of Edward IV, Elizabeth of York. After the failed Buckingham Rebellion in October, the anti-Richardian survivors flocked to Henry Tudor’s standard in Brittany. There, at Rennes Cathedral, Henry Tudor swore an oath to marry, Elizabeth of York.

Henry Tudor was officially a major threat to Richard III, so:

the Yorkist king made several overtures to Francis II to surrender the young Lancastrian. Francis II refused, holding out for the possibility of better terms from Richard. In mid-1484, Francis was incapacitated by illness and while recuperating, his treasurer, Pierre Landais, took over the reins of government. Landais reached an agreement with Richard III to send Henry and his uncle back to England in exchange for military and financial aid. John Morton, a bishop of Flanders, learned of the scheme and warned the Tudors; the Tudors then fled to France.

But Louis XI had died in August, leaving the throne to his 13 year old son, Charles VIII. With their old ally metaphorically six feet under, would the Tudor’s be welcome at the new king’s court? Happily, Charles VIII was under the regency of his sister, Anne of Beaujue, and her husband, Peter II, Duke of Bourbon, and Anne wanted to maintain her late father’s ties to his Lancastrian kinsmen.

Anne_Beaujeu of France

She may also have remembered Jasper from their overlapping time spent in the court of Louis XI. Anne therefore supplied Jasper and Henry with money, arms, and French troops for their 1485 invasion of Yorkist England. This invasion ended at the Battle of Bosworth on 22 August, where Richard III fell and Henry VII arose.

It is interesting to think on how the entire Tudor dynasty came about in large part because the French King Louis XI and his eldest daughter never forsook their familial obligations to their cousins from the Houses of Valois and Anjou.

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