Author Topic: Louis XI, The Spider King Of France (1461-1483) And His Pet Turkeys  (Read 296 times)

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Offline WillieBoyd2

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In January 2019 I found a book in the local library entitled Louis XI, The Universal Spider, a biography of France's King Louis XI, written by Paul Murray Kendall and published in 1971.

It looked like an interesting book so I took it home and read it.

Louis XI was King of France from 1461 to 1483 whose main accomplishments were unifying most of France and ending the Hundred Years War with England.

Near the end of the book was a section about the king's private zoo which listed some of the animals and birds that he kept, including Turkey birds or wild turkeys.

Soon this arrived from VCOINS dealer NumisCorner (Comptoir des Monnaies Anciennes) in France:

France Louis XI Medal - Kings of France
Copper-nickel, 34 mm, 21 gm
Louis XI right
Reverse (text only):
55 / NE 1423 / SUCCEDE 1461

A medal like this one is listed in "Spink & Son's Numismatic Circular, Catalogue of Coins and Medals for Sale", December 1895, under "List of French Medalets of Kings by Petit and Caque", Page 1492, item 29005, Louis XI.

France had lots of kings named Louis and what was special about Number 11?

Louis (the 11th) was born in 1423 and was king of France from 1461 to his death in 1483. His father, King Charles VII, once introduced him to Joan of Arc when he was a child.

He became known as the "Spider King" or "Universal Spider" because he had a "web" of diplomats and spies all throughout Europe.

Using diplomacy, money, and some military force, he managed to close down most of the independent duchies and baronies in France and unite them with the kingdom.

The Duchy of Burgundy was a special problem because the English would ally themselves with Burgundy and both their armies would go on looting expeditions in France. In 1477 the Swiss defeated Burgundy in a battle which killed the duke of Burgundy causing the duchy to unite with France.

Louis was King of France for about the same period that Edward IV was King of England, 1461 to 1483. In 1475 King Louis made a treaty with England's King Edward IV to end the Hundred Years War between England and France. Part of the deal included the payment of 50,000 gold crowns to King Edward. Louis died two months into the reign of England's Richard III.

Some coins of Louis XI:

From the introduction to Kendall's Louis XI, The Universal Spider:

In the France of Louis XI a standard unit of money (to simplify) was the "livre tournois", i.e., the pound of Tours, equivalent of the "franc", which was divided into twenty "sols" (sous); and the gold coin most often mentioned, the "ecu", crown, was worth about a livre and a half, or thirty sols. An English pound of the time would buy approximately five French crowns.

A French gold ecu or crown of Louis XI:

France Louis XI Ecu d'or
Gold, 27 mm, 3.34 gm, Perpignan Mint
Shield with three fleur-de-lis on it and crown above
Cross with fleur-de-lis at ends, mintmark 'P' in center (Perpignan Mint)
XPS VINCIT XPS REGNAT XPS IMPERAT (Christ conquers, Christ reigns, Christ commands)

The gold ecu weighed at 3.34 gm thus was a little lighter than the European ducat at 3.50 gm.

A couple of silver coins of Louis XI:

France Louis XI Gros de Roi
Silver, 30 mm, 3.27 gm, Lyon Mint
Three fleur-de-lis
Cross fleur-de-lis

A gros was also know as a groschen or groat. A French livre (pound or 2/3 ecu) was worth 20 gros or 20 sols.

France Louis XI Blanc a la Couronne (blanc with crown)
Silver, 26 mm, 2.54 gm, Lyon Mint
Shield with three fleur-de-lis on it
Cross potent with two fleur-de-lis and two crowns at corners

A French livre (pound or 2/3 ecu) was worth 24 blancs, but this varied.

A 19th century picture of King Louis:

Louis XI with his Order of Saint-Michel medal
Georges Alexandre Lucien Boisselier (1876–1943) from Wikimedia Commons

The cap or hat was a peculiar head covering of his, with leaden images of saints fastened all around the band. He would pray to the saints and would sometimes add new images and retire the old ones.

Louis XI has been a character in a few books and films, including Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Louis XI portrayed by actor Harry Davenport in the film "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (1939)

In the film, Cedric Hardwicke portrays Frollo, an evil church official. In this scene, set around 1482, Louis mentions a letter that he received from a Christopher Columbus asking for sponsorship of a venture to sail ships west to the Indies. Frollo, a conservative, states that the world is flat, but Louis replies "I'm greatly tempted to endow the venture". The real Columbus apparently worked for Louis at one time.

And this tidbit: King Louis kept wild turkeys as pets:

In the last years of his life, which ended in 1483, King Louis retired to his castles in France.

From Kendall's Louis XI, The Universal Spider again:

He had warrens and cages and pens in all his retreats in the valley of the Loire; and in the forest of Amboise he lodged his
menagerie - an elephant, dromedaries, leopards, ostriches, and other fierce and exotic beasts.

Birds included turtledoves, pigeons, peacocks, magpies, canaries by the hundreds, goldfinches, chaffinches, egrets, herons, linnets, quail, partridges, gulls, even crows and owls, Turkey birds, ...

California wild turkeys

Turkey birds or wild turkeys are native to North America so how did the French King Louis XI get them in 1482?

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Offline THCoins

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Re: Louis XI, The Spider King Of France (1461-1483) And His Pet Turkeys
« Reply #1 on: June 16, 2019, 12:24:33 PM »
Thanks for this interesting reading for a drowsy Sunday morning !

In Medieval history this king seems to have been a bit of a game changer. His nickname of "spider"may be just an expression of envy because he ascertained power by intrigue and not by physical power as the many local rulers were acustomed to.
Looking at the paintings and the discription of his physique as frail, it might also have been inspired by his bodily appearance ?

The question of the Turkey birds should likely be reversed ? The American settlers probably called the birds they saw "Turkeys" because of the similarity with the "Turkey fowl" they had known in Europe. Since then, we just got used to this misnomer.

Offline Figleaf

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Re: Louis XI, The Spider King Of France (1461-1483) And His Pet Turkeys
« Reply #2 on: June 17, 2019, 10:59:31 AM »
Fun write up, Willie Boyd. Thank you. This is exactly the reason real coin collectors never get bored with their hobby. There is so much to find out and it's all much more entertaining than TV and video games.

An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.