Page images
PDF
EPUB

of unrelaxed attention, he gained some addition to his own regal authority, or effected some diminution of those by whom it was counterbalanced. Still the king of France was surrounded by doubt and danger. The members of the league "for the public weal," though not in unison, were in existence, and that scotched snake might reunite and become dangerous again. But a worse danger was the increasing power of the duke of Burgundy, then one of the greatest princes of Europe, and little diminished in rank by the very precarious dependence of his duchy upon the crown of France.

Charles, surnamed the Bold, or rather the Audacious, for his courage was allied to rashness and frenzy, then wore the ducal coronet of Burgundy, which he burned to convert into a royal and independent regal crown. The character of this duke was in every respect the direct contrast to that of Louis XI.

The former was calm, deliberate, and crafty, never prosecuting a desperate enterprise, and never abandoning a probable one, however distant the prospect of success. The genius of the duke was entirely different: he rushed on danger because he loved it, and on difficulties because he despised them. As Louis never sacrificed his interest to his passion, so Charles, on the other hand, never sacrificed his passions or even his humour to any other considerations. Notwithstanding the near relation that existed between them, and the support which the duke and his father had afforded to Louis in his exile when Dauphin, there was mutual contempt and hatred betwixt them. The duke of Burgundy despised the cautious policy of the king, and imputed to the faintness of his courage, that he sought by leagues, purchases, and other indirect means, those advantages which, in his place, he would have snatched with an armed hand; and he hated him, not only for the ingratitude he had manifested for former kindness, and for personal injuries and imputations which the ambassadors of Louis had cast upon him, when his father was yet alive; but also, and especially, because of the support which he afforded in secret to the discontented citizens of Ghent, Liege, and other great towns in Flanders. These turbulent cities, jealous of their privileges, and proud of their wealth, frequently were in a state of insurrection against their liege lords the dukes of Burgundy, and never failed to find underhand countenance at the court of Louis, who embraced every opportunity of fomenting disturbance within the dominions of his overgrown vassal.

The contempt and hatred of the duke were retaliated by Louis with equal energy, though he used a thicker veil to conceal his sentiments. It was impossible for a man of his profound sagacity not to despise the stubborn obstinacy which never resigned its purpose, however fatal perseverance might prove, and the headlong impetuosity, which commenced its career, without allowing a moment's consideration for the obstacles to be encountered. Yet the king hated Charles even more than he contemned him; and his scorn and hatred were the more intense, that they were mingled with fear; for he knew that the onset of the mad bull, to whom he likened the duke of Burgundy, must ever be formidable,

though the animal makes it with shut eyes. It was not alone the wealth of the Burgundian provinces, the discipline of the warlike inhabitants, and the mass of their crowded population, which the king dreaded, for the personal qualities of their leaders had also much in them that was dangerous. The very soul of bravery, which he pushed to the verge of rashness, and beyond it— profuse in expenditure—splendid in his court, his person, and his retinue—in all which he displayed his hereditary magnificence of the house of Burgundy. Charles the Bold drew into his service almost all the fiery spirits of the age whose temper was congenial; and Louis saw too clearly what might be attempted and executed by such a train of desperate resolutes, following a leader of a character as ungovernable as their own.

There was yet another circumstance which increased the animosity of Louis towards his overgrown vassal; for he owed him favours which he never meant to repay, and was under the frequent necessity of temporizing with him, and even of enduring bursts of petulant insolence, injurious to the regal dignity, without being able to treat him as other than his " fair cousin of Burgundy." SIR WALTER SCOTT.

HENRY IV. OF FRANCE.

The province of the historian may be said in some measure to stop with the narration of the circumstances attending the death of Henry IV. His character stands little in need of elucidation, and less of panegyric. Whether we consider him as the conqueror of France, or whether we contemplate him in the more amiable light of the legislator and benefactor of his people, he equally excites our admiration. All the great qualities, which, during many years of adversity, were exhibited by the king of Navarre, acquired new lustre, and attained to full maturity on the throne of France. It may be reasonably doubted whether, in any age of the world, a prince has appeared among men, who united in himself more endowments of every kind. We must necessarily regret, but we cannot deny, that they were obscured by material faults and weaknesses. His licentious amours subverted his private felicity, produced public calamity, and were equally contrary to decency, morality, and religion. Nor was his passion for play less violent, though its effects, as confined to himself, were less injurious. We may see in Sully, and in Bassompierre, how much the rage of gaming, encouraged by his example, pervaded the capital and the court. His desire of amassing treasures, though it did not originate in avarice, yet induced him to encourage his ministers, particularly Sully, in exacting from his subjects contributions beyond their strength. The institution of the ' Paulette,' which was a tax on the vacancy or resignation of all legal employments, excited general murmurs, and was productive of the most scandalous venality in the department of the law.

It excites astonishment to reflect that, in the space of only nine years, from the peace with Savoy to his death, he was able to extinguish almost all the domestic and foreign encumbrances of the crown, which were immense; and to lay up in the Bastile above a million sterling. So large a sum in specie could not have been taken out of the national circulation, without great injury to commercial transactions. He was accused, probably with reason, of yielding from his facility, to importunity, the rewards which only ought to have extended to merit, talents, and virtue. Like all princes who have been extricated by the efforts of a party, from a state of adversity and depression, the imputation of ingratitude was laid to his charge. It was said that he forgot and neglected his ancient adherents, in order to enrich and elevate his enemies. But it must be remembered, that he was compelled to purchase the submission of the heads of the league; and we may doubt whether either his courage, his clemency, or his abjuration of the reformed religion, would have extinguished that powerful faction without the aid of money. Those who severely scrutinized his actions asserted that he winked and connived at acts of injustice in the tribunals of law; where the judges found complete impunity, provided that in return they manifested a blind and implicit obedience to his edicts. There is, nevertheless, at least as much malignity as truth in the accusation.

If from his defects we turn our eyes to his virtues, we shall love and venerate his memory. His very name is almost become proverbial, to express the union of all that is elevated, amiable, and good in human nature. Such was his disdain of injuries, that it reached to heroism. The duke of Mayenne became his friend; and the vOL .11. 3 A

« PreviousContinue »