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Philippe de Commynes

Philippe de Commynes: Memory, Betrayal, Text

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 304
  • Book Info
    Philippe de Commynes
    Book Description:

    This study significantly deepens our understanding of how historical narrative and diplomatic activities are intertwined in the work of this iconic, iconoclastic figure.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-6323-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-28)

    TheMémoiresof fifteenth-century diplomat Philippe de Commynes bear witness to a watershed moment for modern conceptions of both historiography and the individual subject. Commynes, a diplomat specializing in clandestine operations, served the French king Louis XI (1461–83) during his campaign to undermine aristocratic resistance and consolidate the sovereignty of the French throne. Since Commynes had himself abandoned Louis’s rival, Burgundian duke Charles the Bold (1467–77) in order to join the king, he has frequently been seen as a spoil of this war, and as a traitor to his feudal lord. TheMémoiresput forward an account of...

  5. Chapter One The Black Box of Péronne, or Commynes and the Canon
    (pp. 29-49)

    The fateful encounter with Louis XI that would reshape Commynes’s destiny came in October 1468, at the town of Péronne, some fifty kilometres east of Amiens on the river Somme. The significance of the diplomatic crisis that played out in Péronne in the autumn of that year remains, like Commynes’s role in its events, a subject of contention.¹ In 1468, the dust had only just settled on the negotiations that calmed the Guerre du Bien Public. The more energetic of Louis’s opponents continued to swarm around the king’s younger brother, Charles de Guyenne, seeking renewed leverage against the king. As...

  6. Chapter Two Enseignes: What History Writes on the Body
    (pp. 50-77)

    Commynes entered Charles’s service as a teenager and by every indication quickly became one of the count’s favourites. Then Commynes abandoned Charles for reasons which can never be fully known, and which Charles never forgave. For his part, Commynes says nothing, only, “envyron ce temps, je vins au service du Roy (et fut l’an mil CCCCLXXII)” (around this time, I came into the king’s service (and it was the year 1472) [226]). Commynes’s silence forces the reader to confront the inscription of indeterminacy not only asafunction of the narrative but asthefunction of narrative itself. The braided...

  7. Chapter Three Enseignes: Crosses and Coins, Bridges and Fences
    (pp. 78-94)

    This chapter examines two episodes in which the nature and limits of loyalty are put on graphic display. It thus shares a number of concerns with the preceding chapter, including writing on the body, the filters of memory, and the tension between the narrator and his younger self. The wordenseignereturns again, this time as part of the author’s reflections on writing, power, and authority.¹ Commynes’s narrative explores two simultaneous ideas about loyalty made manifest in the dynamic circulation of coins, livery, and graffiti. First, there is something ineffable and lawless about the bonds between individual men. A human...

  8. Chapter Four The Prince of Talmont
    (pp. 95-125)

    Commynes’s narrative conceals two foundational secrets about his relationship with Louis XI. The first concerns how he came to join the king in the late summer of 1472, having disappeared completely for three weeks, and during that time, travelled 400 kilometres from Upper Normandy to Ponts-de-Cé outside Angers. The impassioned judgments so many writers have brought to bear on this journey rely on little more than conjecture. Commynes himself says only, “envyron ce temps, je vins au service du Roy” (around this time, I came into the king’s service [226]). The second secret hides within Commynes’s narration of the king’s...

  9. Chapter Five Paper and Parchment
    (pp. 126-152)

    At the top of a document from the chancellery of Charles V, a historiated initial encloses an ink drawing of the king seated on his throne, sceptre in hand.³ The letter, a C, has been decorated with architectural details to resemble thelit de justice, so that its arching canopy shelters the king’s crowned head. The image of Charles V which adorns these patent letters is meant to depict how the king embodies Justice.⁴ The material parchment text offers the physical embodiment of a mystical relation. The parchment letter, agent of the king’s will as law, affirms through this drawing...

  10. Chapter Six The Treasonous Saint-Pol
    (pp. 153-179)

    Louis de Luxembourg, Count of Saint-Pol,connétableof France, was sentenced to death forlèse-majestéon 16 December 1475, and publicly decapitated three days later, 19 December, on the Place de Grève. Two hundred thousand people attended his execution.¹ Saint-Pol is among the most important characters in theMémoires, and Commynes appears to have had detailed, first-hand knowledge of Saint-Pol’s attempted betrayals. Like Mary of Burgundy, Saint-Pol became a victim of letters he himself wrote. Several of theMémoires’ revelations about Saint-Pol’s treason concern his efforts to turn the marrying of Mary of Burgundy to his own advantage. In this...

  11. Chapter Seven The Voice in the Text
    (pp. 180-206)

    This final, culminating chapter brings an empathic ear to passages from throughout theMémoires, from the first pages of Commynes’s narrative to their last. Having examined institutional, intersubjective, and poetic elements in theMémoires’ engagement with textuality, we arrive at the ends of this study prepared to confront Commynes’s coming to writing. Looking back, we see two “betrayals”: in the first instance, Commynes’s fury-provoking departure from Charles’s court; in the second, Louis XI’s deathbed renunciation of his servant, a betrayal of the man who had betrayed everything for him. The two moments counterbalance one another exactly. Legally, the propriety of...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 207-256)
  13. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 257-286)
  14. Index
    (pp. 287-296)