Charles VII of France
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|Charles VII the Victorious|
|Portrait of Charles VII, by Jean Fouquet, tempera on wood, Louvre Museum, Paris, c. 1445–1450|
|Reign||21 October 1422 – 22 July 1461|
|Coronation||17 July 1429|
|Spouse||Marie of Anjou|
|Louis XI of France
Yolande, Duchess of Savoy
Magdalena, Princess of Viana
Charles, Duke of Berry
Joan, Duchess of Bourbon
Catherine of Valois
|House||House of Valois|
|Father||Charles VI of France|
|Mother||Isabeau of Bavaria|
22 February 1403|
|Died||22 July 1461
|Burial||Saint Denis Basilica|
Charles VII (22 February 1403 – 22 July 1461), called the Victorious (French: le Victorieux) or the Well-Served (French: le Bien-Servi), was a monarch of the House of Valois who ruled as King of France from 1422 to his death, although his legitimacy was initially contested by Henry VI of England.
In 1422, Charles VII inherited the throne of France under desperate circumstances. Forces of the Kingdom of England and the Duchy of Burgundy occupied Guyenne and northern France, including Paris, the most populous city, and Reims, the city in which the French kings were traditionally crowned. In addition, his father Charles VI the Mad had disinherited him in 1420 and recognized Henry V of England and his heirs as the legitimate successors of the French crown instead. At the same time, a civil war raged in France between the Armagnacs (supporters of the House of Valois) and the Burgundian party.
With his court removed to Bourges, south of the Loire River, Charles was disparagingly called the “King of Bourges”. However his political and military position improved dramatically with the emergence of Joan of Arc as a spiritual leader in France. Joan of Arc and other charismatic military leaders led French troops to several important victories that paved the way for the coronation of Charles VII in 1429 at Reims Cathedral. This long-awaited event boosted French morale as hostilities with England resumed. By 1453, the French had expelled English from all their continental possessions, except for the Pale of Calais.
The last years of Charles VII were marked by conflicts with his turbulent son, the future Louis XI of France.
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Born in Paris, Charles was the fifth son of Charles VI of France and Isabeau of Bavaria. His four elder brothers, Charles (1386), Charles (1392–1401), Louis (1397–1415) and John (1398–1417) had each held the title of Dauphin of France, heir to the French throne, in turn. Each died childless, leaving Charles with a rich inheritance of titles.
Almost immediately after his accession to the title of Dauphin, Charles had to face threats to his inheritance, and he was forced to flee Paris in May 1418 after the soldiers of John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy, attempted to capture the city. In the following year, Charles attempted to reconcile with the Duke. First he met him on a bridge at Pouilly, near Melun, in July 1419, but this proved insufficient to conclude peace, so the two met again on 10 September 1419 on the bridge at Montereau. The Duke assumed that the meeting would be entirely peaceful and diplomatic, thus he brought only a small escort with him. The Dauphin's men reacted to the Duke's arrival by attacking and killing him, however. Charles' level of involvement has remained uncertain ever afterward. Although he claimed to have been unaware of his men's intentions, this was considered unlikely by those who heard of the murder. The assassination only naturally exacerbated the feud between the family of Charles VI and the Dukes of Burgundy. Charles himself was later required by treaty with Philip the Good, John's son, to pay penance for the murder, but he never did so.
In his adolescent years, Charles was noted for his bravery and flamboyant style of leadership. At one point after becoming Dauphin, he led an army against the English dressed in the red, white, and blue that represented France; his heraldic device was a mailed fist clutching a naked sword. However, two events in 1421 broke his confidence: first, he was forced to withdraw from battle against Henry V of England, to his great shame, and then his parents repudiated him as the legitimate heir to the throne, claiming that he was the product of one of his mother's notorious extramarital affairs. Humiliated, and in fear of his life, the Dauphin fled to the protection of Yolande of Aragon, the so-called Queen of the Four Kingdoms, in southern France, and married her daughter, Marie of Anjou.
On the death of Charles' insane father, Charles VI, the succession was cast into doubt. The Treaty of Troyes, signed by Charles VI in 1420, mandated that the throne pass to the infant King Henry VI of England, the son of the recently deceased Henry V and Catherine of Valois, daughter of Charles VI; however, many Frenchmen regarded the treaty as invalid on grounds of coercion and the French king's diminished mental capacity. For those who did not recognize the treaty and believed the Dauphin Charles to be of legitimate birth, he was considered to be the rightful heir to the throne. For those who did not recognize his legitimacy, the rightful heir was recognized as Charles, Duke of Orléans, cousin of the Dauphin, who was in English captivity. Only the supporters of Henry VI and the Dauphin Charles were able to enlist sufficient military force to press effectively for their candidates. The English, already in control of northern France, were able to enforce the claim of their king in the regions of France that they occupied. Northern France, including Paris, was thus ruled by an English regent based in Normandy. (See Dual monarchy of England and France.)
Charles, unsurprisingly, claimed the title King of France for himself, but he failed to make any attempts to expel the English from northern France out of indecision and a sense of hopelessness. Instead, he remained south of the Loire River, where he was still able to exert power, and maintained an itinerant court in the Loire Valley at castles such as Chinon. He was still customarily known as "Dauphin," or derisively as "King of Bourges," after the town where he generally lived. Periodically, he considered flight to the Iberian Peninsula, which would have allowed the English to advance their occupation of France.
The Maid of Orléans
Political conditions in France took a decisive turn in the year 1429 just as the prospects for the Dauphin began to look hopeless. The town of Orléans had been under siege since October 1428. The English regent, the Duke of Bedford (the uncle of Henry VI), was advancing into the Duchy of Bar, ruled by Charles's brother-in-law, René. The French lords and soldiers loyal to Charles were becoming increasingly desperate.
But then, in the little village of Domrémy, on the border of Lorraine and Champagne, a teenage girl named Joan of Arc (French: Jeanne d'Arc), demanded that the Duke of Lorraine collect the soldiers and resources necessary to bring her to Chinon and the Dauphin after hearing the voices of angels charge her with a divine mission. Granted an escort of five veteran soldiers and a letter of referral to Charles by Robert de Baudricourt, governor of Vaucouleurs, Joan rode to Chinon, where Charles was in residence. She arrived on 10 March 1429.
What followed would later pass into legend. When Joan appeared at Chinon, Charles wanted to test Joan's claim to be able to recognise him despite never having seen him and disguised himself as one of his courtiers. He stood in their midst when Joan (who was herself dressed in men's clothing) entered the chamber in which the court was assembled. Joan identified Charles immediately. She bowed low to him and embraced his knees, declaring "God give you a happy life, sweet King!" Despite attempts to claim that another man was in fact the king, Charles was eventually forced to admit that he was indeed such. Thereafter Joan referred to him as "Dauphin" or "Gentle Dauphin" until he was crowned in Reims four months later. After a private conversation between the two (Charles later stated that Joan knew secrets about him that he had voiced only in silent prayer to God), Charles became inspired and filled with confidence. Thereafter, he became secure in his intention to claim his inheritance by travelling to Reims.
After her encounter with Charles in March 1429, Joan of Arc set out to lead the French forces at Orléans. She was aided by skilled commanders such as Étienne de Vignolles, known as La Hire, and Jean Poton de Xaintrailles. They compelled the English to lift the siege, thus turning the tide of the war. After the French won the Battle of Patay on 18 June, Charles was crowned King Charles VII of France in Reims Cathedral on 17 July 1429.
Joan was later captured by the Burgundians, who handed her over to the English. Tried for heresy by a French court, she was burned at the stake on 30 May 1431. In spite of her invaluable assistance to his cause, Charles VII did nothing to try to save her, even though he probably could have engineered her release.
As important as Joan of Arc was in helping Charles achieve the ultimate success of claiming the throne of France, support from the powerful and wealthy family of his wife Marie d'Anjou, particularly his mother-in-law, Queen Yolande of Aragon, was also crucial. But whatever affection he may have had for his wife, or whatever gratitude he may have felt for the support of her family, the great love of Charles VII's life was his mistress, Agnès Sorel.
Charles VII and Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, then signed the 1435 Treaty of Arras, which allowed the Burgundians to return to the side of the French just as things were going badly for their English allies. With this accomplishment, Charles attained the essential goal of ensuring that no Prince of the Blood recognised Henry VI as King of France.
Close of reign
Charles' later years were marked by hostile relations with his heir, Louis, who demanded real power to accompany his position as the Dauphin. Charles consistently refused him. Accordingly, Louis stirred dissent and fomented plots in attempts to destabilise his father's reign. He quarrelled with his father's mistress, Agnès Sorel, and on one occasion drove her with a bared sword into Charles' bed, according to one source. Eventually, in 1446, after Charles' last son, also named Charles, was born, the king banished the Dauphin to the Dauphiny. The two never met again. Louis thereafter refused the king's demands to return to court, and he eventually fled to the protection of Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, in 1456.
In 1458, Charles became ill. A sore on his leg (an early symptom, perhaps, of diabetes or another condition) refused to heal, and the infection in it caused a serious fever. The king summoned Louis to him from his exile in Burgundy, but the Dauphin refused to come. He employed astrologers to foretell the exact hour of his father's death. The king lingered on for the next two and a half years, increasingly ill, but unwilling to die. During this time he also had to deal with the case of his rebellious vassal John V of Armagnac.
Finally, however, there came a point in July 1461 when the king's physicians concluded that Charles would not live past August. Ill and weary, the king became delirious, convinced that he was surrounded by traitors loyal only to his son. Under the pressure of sickness and fever, he went mad. By now another infection in his jaw had caused a tumor or abscess in his mouth. The swelling of this became so large that, for the last week of his life, Charles was unable to swallow food or water. Although he asked the Dauphin to come to his deathbed, Louis refused, instead waiting at Avesnes, in Burgundy, for his father to die. At Mehun-sur-Yèvre, attended by his younger son, Charles, and aware of his elder son's final betrayal, the King starved to death. He died on 22 July 1461, and was buried, at his request, beside his parents in Saint-Denis.
Charles VII on a Franc à cheval from 1422–23.
Although Charles VII's legacy is far overshadowed by the deeds and eventual martyrdom of Joan of Arc and his rule as a monarch was at times marked by indecisiveness and inaction, he was responsible for successes unprecedented in the history of the Kingdom of France. When he died, France controlled the territories traditionally governed by England and possessed its first standing army, which in time would yield the powerful gendarme cavalry companies, notable in the wars of the sixteenth century. He also established the University of Poitiers in 1432, and his policies brought some economic prosperity to his subjects.
Charles married his second cousin Marie of Anjou on 18 December 1422. They were both great-grandchildren of King John II of France and his first wife Bonne of Bohemia through the male-line. They had fourteen children:
|Louis||3 July 1423||30 August 1483||King of France. Married firstly Margaret of Scotland, no issue. Married secondly Charlotte of Savoy, had issue.|
|John||19 September 1426||Lived for a few hours.|
|Radegonde||after 29 August 1428||19 March 1444||Betrothed to Sigismund, Archduke of Austria, on 22 July 1430.|
|Catherine||after 29 August 1428||13 September 1446||Married Charles the Bold, no issue.|
|James||1432||2 March 1437||Died aged five.|
|Yolande||23 September 1434||23/29 August 1478||Married Amadeus IX, Duke of Savoy, had issue.|
|Joan||4 May 1435||4 May 1482||Married John II, Duke of Bourbon, no issue.|
|Philip||4 February 1436||11 June 1436||Died in infancy.|
|Margaret||May 1437||24 July 1438||Died aged one.|
|Joanna||7 September 1438||26 December 1446||Twin of Marie, died aged eight.|
|Marie||7 September 1438||14 February 1439||Twin of Joanna, died in infancy.|
|Magdalena||1 December 1443||21 January 1495||Married Gaston of Foix, Prince of Viana, had issue.|
|Charles||12 December 1446||24 May 1472||Died without legitimate issue.|
- Agnès Sorel, by whom he had three illegitimate daughters.
- Antoinette de Maignelais, cousin of Agnès Sorel.
Charles VII in the arts
- Appears as Charles, The Dauphin in Jean Anouilh's play The Lark
- Appears as Charles the Dauphin in George Bernard Shaw's play Saint Joan
- Appears as the Dauphin in Maxwell Anderson's Joan of Lorraine
- Appears as a significant character in Thomas Keneally's novel "Blood Red, Sister Rose".
- Appears as 'The Dauphin' in William Shakespeare's Henry VI Part 1, and as 'King Charles' in Henry VI Part III.
- Two Russian operas from the late 19th century portray Charles VII (and Agnès Sorel) among the dramatis personæ. These are Pyotr Tchaikovsky's The Maid of Orléans and César Cui's The Saracen.
- Appears as a main character in Giuseppe Verdi's opera Giovanna d'Arco (1845). His part is written for a lyric tenor. The libretto is by Temistocle Solera.
- Charles VII's relationship with Joan of Arc is imagined fancifully in the 1975 Broadway musical Goodtime Charley.
- Charles VII has been represented in the movies by Raymond Hatton (1917), Jean Debucourt (1929), Gustaf Gründgens (1935), Emlyn Williams (1935), Max Adrian (1944), José Ferrer (1948), Paul Colline (1955), Richard Widmark (1957), Daniel Gélin (1978), Keith Drinkel (1979), Oleg Kulko (1993), John Malkovich (1999), Neil Patrick Harris (1999)
- Hanawalt, Barbara, The Middle Ages: An Illustrated History
- Taylor, Aline, Isabel of Burgundy
References and notes
- Wagner, John A., Encyclopedia of the Hundred Years War, (Greenwood Press:Westport, 2006), 89.
- Cawley, Charles, France, Capetian Kings, Foundation for Medieval Genealogy ,[better source needed][page needed]
- Wagner, 89.
- Wagner, 90.
- Brady, Thomas A., Handbook of European History 1400–1600, Vol.2, (E.J.Brill:Leiden, 1994), 373.
Charles VII of France
Cadet branch of the Capetian dynastyBorn: 22 February 1403 Died: 22 July 1461
|King of France
disputed with Henry VI of England, 1422-29
21 October 1422 – 22 July 1461
John of Valois
|Dauphin of Viennois
5 April 1417 – 3 July 1423
|Duke of Touraine
Count of Poitou
1417 – 21 October 1422
Merged in the crown
|Duke of Berry
1417 – 21 October 1422
Merged in the crown
Title next held byCharles II
|Count of Ponthieu
1417 – 21 October 1422
Merged in the crown
Title next held byCharles II