Book Review: “Louis XI: The Universal Spider” by Paul Murray Kendall

Louis XI book cover

King Louis XI of France has been on my mind a lot lately. I’ve been researching his daughter Anne de Beaujeu who was de facto King of France after the death of her father when she acted as regent for her teenage brother King Charles VIII. She’s a very interesting character, a formidable woman who was very much like her father.

Some time ago I was browsing the used book section of biographies at our locally owned bookstore and just by chance there was a copy of this book on the shelf. I knew nothing about Louis other than he was called “The Spider King” and wove webs of diplomacy around Europe during his reign. So I said, okay, I’ll bite as the price was good. Admittedly the book stayed on my shelf for several years before an interest in Margaret of York, Duchess of Burgundy arose. Margaret’s husband, Charles the Bold, was the sworn enemy of Louis XI. I needed to know more.

Imagine my delight when I started reading this book! I couldn’t put it down. Louis rebelled against his father, King Charles VII at the age of sixteen and was at odds with him until the day Charles died. The Battle of Montlhéry and the defection of the Count of Maine at the critical point of the battle was riveting. The siege of Beauvais and the bravery of the heroine Jeanne Hachette caught my attention. Louis’ marriage to Margaret Stewart was a disaster. Louis conspired with Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick and Queen Margaret of Anjou to restore King Henry VI to the English throne. It’s impossible to make this stuff up.

Kendall relied completely on primary sources, some of which had just become available when he wrote the book and he quotes them liberally. He poured over the sources with a fine toothed comb and really gives us an in depth view of Louis’ character. Admittedly Kendall is an apologist for Louis who had a bit of a bad reputation while he lived and well after he died. But it didn’t matter. With taking this into account, the history of his reign is fantastic reading in and of itself. Louis appears to have had a great sense of humor and the way Kendall describes him makes me wish I could have met him.

Paul Murray Kendall was Professor of English Literature at the University of Kansas in Lawrence and spent several years in Europe doing research for his books. He was the editor of “Dispatches with Related Documents of Milanese Ambassadors in France and Burgundy, 1450-1483, Vol. I and Vol. II: 1450-1460”. A good deal of his biography of Louis came from these works as the Milanese ambassadors lived at Louis’ court. It took Kendall thirteen years to write this book and it was originally published in 1971. Kendall died in 1973. The volume I purchased was a republished paperback edition issued in 2001, the thirtieth anniversary of its original publication.

This edition has a nice section of pictures along with several appendices. These include a genealogical table and a list of rulers and principal lords which is a sort of cast of characters for the time period. There is a preface written by Kendall’s daughter. If anyone choses to read this book, be sure to read the notes. Kendall admits he didn’t have space in the narrative for some of this information so he left it for the notes. I believe this book is out of print but it may be available from a re-seller or in a campus or public library. I highly recommend it if you can find a copy.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: “Louis XI: The Universal Spider” by Paul Murray Kendall

  1. Pingback: Book Review: “Richard the Third” by Paul Murray Kendall | The Freelance History Writer Notes and Reviews

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