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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Virtues of the Duke of Burgundy and the Time of His House’s Prosperity
By Philippe de Commines (c. 1447–1511)
 
From the ‘Memoirs of Philippe de Comines’

I SAW a seal-ring of his after his death at Milan, with his arms cut curiously upon a sardonyx, that I have often seen him wear in a riband at his breast; which was sold at Milan for two ducats, and had been stolen from him by a varlet that waited on him in his chamber. I have often seen the duke dressed and undressed in great state and formality, and by very great persons; but at his last hour all this pomp and magnificence ceased, and both he and his family perished on the very spot where he had delivered up the Constable not long before, out of a base and avaricious motive. But may God forgive him! I have known him a powerful and honorable prince, in as great esteem and as much courted by his neighbors (when his affairs were in a prosperous condition) as any prince in Europe, and perhaps more so; and I cannot conceive what should have provoked God Almighty’s displeasure so highly against him unless it was his self-love and arrogance, in attributing all the success of his enterprises and all the renown he ever acquired to his own wisdom and conduct, without ascribing anything to God: yet, to speak truth, he was endowed with many good qualities. No prince ever had a greater desire to entertain young noblemen than he, or was more careful of their education. His presents and bounty were never profuse and extravagant, because he gave to many, and wished everybody should taste of his generosity. No prince was ever more easy of access to his servants and subjects. Whilst I was in his service he was never cruel, but a little before his death he became so, which was an infallible sign of the shortness of his life. He was very splendid and pompous in his dress and in everything else, and indeed a little too much. He paid great honors to all ambassadors and foreigners, and entertained them nobly. His ambitious desire of glory was insatiable, and it was that which more than any other motive induced him to engage eternally in wars. He earnestly desired to imitate the old kings and heroes of antiquity, who are still so much talked of in the world, and his courage was equal to that of any prince of his time….  1
  I am partly of the opinion of those who maintain that God gives princes, as he in his wisdom thinks fit, to punish or chastise their subjects; and he disposes the affections of subjects to their princes as he has determined to exalt or depress them. Just so it has pleased him to deal with the house of Burgundy; for after a long series of riches and prosperity, and sixscore years’ peace under three illustrious princes, predecessors to Duke Charles (all of them of great prudence and discretion), it pleased God to send this Duke Charles, who continually involved them in bloody wars, winter as well as summer, to their great affliction and expense, in which most of their richest and stoutest men were either killed or taken prisoners. Their misfortunes began at the siege of Nuz, and continued for three or four battles successively, to the very hour of his death; so much so that at the last the whole strength of the country was destroyed, and all were killed or taken prisoners who had any zeal or affection for the house of Burgundy, or power to defend the state and dignity of that family; so that in a manner their losses equaled if they did not overbalance their former prosperity: for as I have seen these princes puissant, rich, and honorable, so it fared with their subjects; for I think I have seen and known the greatest part of Europe, yet I never knew any province or country, though of a larger extent, so abounding in money, so extravagantly fine in their furniture, so sumptuous in their buildings, so profuse in their expenses, so luxurious in their feasts and entertainments, and so prodigal in all respects, as the subjects of these princes in my time; and if any think I have exaggerated, others who lived in my time will be of opinion that I have rather said too little.  2
  But it pleased God at one blow to subvert this great and sumptuous edifice and ruin this powerful and illustrious family, which had maintained and bred up so many brave men, and had acquired such mighty honor and renown far and near, by so many victories and successful enterprises as none of all its neighboring States could pretend to boast of. A hundred and twenty years it continued in this flourishing condition, by the grace of God; all its neighbors having in the mean time been involved in troubles and commotions, and all of them applying to it for succor or protection,—to wit, France, England, and Spain,—as you have seen by experience of our master the King of France, who in his minority, and during the reign of Charles VII. his father, retired to this court, where he lived six years and was nobly entertained all that time by Duke Philip the Good. Out of England I saw there also two of King Edward’s brothers, the Dukes of Clarence and Gloucester (the last of whom was afterwards called King Richard III.); and of the house of Lancaster, the whole family or very near, with all their party. In short, I have seen this family in all respects the most flourishing and celebrated of any in Christendom; and then in a short space of time it was quite ruined and turned upside down, and left the most desolate and miserable of any house in Europe, as regards both princes and subjects. Such changes and revolutions of States and kingdoms, God in his providence has wrought before we were born and will do again when we are dead; for this is a certain maxim, that the prosperity or adversity of princes depends wholly on his divine disposal.  3
 
 
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