Charles VI of France
|Charles VI the Mad|
|Charles VI of France by the painter
known as the Master of Boucicaut (1412).
|Reign||16 September 1380 – 21 October 1422|
|Coronation||4 November 1380|
|Spouse||Isabeau of Bavaria|
|Isabella, Queen of England
Joan, Duchess of Brittany
Louis, Dauphin of Viennois
John, Dauphin of Viennois
Marie, Prioress of Poissy
Michelle, Duchess of Burgundy
Catherine, Queen of England
Charles VII of France
|House||House of Valois|
|Father||Charles V of France|
|Mother||Joan of Bourbon|
3 December 1368|
|Died||21 October 1422
|Burial||Saint Denis Basilica|
Charles VI (3 December 1368 – 21 October 1422), called the Beloved (French: le Bien-Aimé) and the Mad (French: le Fol or le Fou), was a monarch of the House of Valois who ruled as King of France from 1380 to his death.
Charles VI was only 11 when he inherited the throne in the midst of the Hundred Years' War. The government was entrusted to his four uncles: Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy; John, Duke of Berry; Louis I, Duke of Anjou; and Louis II, Duke of Bourbon. Although the royal age of majority was fixed at 14 (the "age of accountability" under Roman Catholic canon law), the dukes maintained their grip on Charles until he took power at the age of 21.
During the rule of his uncles, the financial resources of the kingdom, painstakingly built up by his father Charles V, were squandered for the personal profit of the dukes, whose interests were frequently divergent or even opposing. As royal funds drained, new taxes had to be raised, which caused several revolts.
In 1388 Charles VI dismissed his uncles and brought back to power his father's former advisers, who were known as the Marmousets. Political and economic conditions in the kingdom improved significantly as a result, and Charles earned the epithet "the Beloved". But in August 1392 en route to Brittany with his army in the forest of Le Mans, Charles suddenly went mad and slew four knights and almost killed his brother, Louis of Orléans.
From then on, Charles' bouts of insanity became more frequent and of longer duration. During these attacks, he had delusions, believing he was made of glass or denying he had a wife and children. He could also attack servants or ran until exhaustion, wailing that he was threatened by his enemies. Between crises, there were intervals of months during which Charles was relatively sane. However, unable to concentrate or make decisions, political power was taken away from him by the princes of the blood, which would cause much chaos and conflict in France.
A fierce struggle for power developed between Louis of Orléans, the king's brother, and John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy, the son of Philip the Bold. When John instigated the murder of Louis in November 1407, the conflict degenerated into a civil war between the Armagnacs (supporters of the House of Valois) and the Burgundians. John offered large parts of France to king Henry V of England, who was still at war with the Valois monarchy, in exchange for his support. After the assassination of John the Fearless, his son Philip the Good led Charles the Mad to sign the infamous Treaty of Troyes (1420), which recognized Henry V as his legitimate successor on the throne of France and disinherited his own offspring.
When Charles VI died, he was succeeded by his son Charles VII, who found the Valois cause in a desperate situation.
Early life 
He was born in Paris, the son of King Charles V and Joan of Bourbon. In 1380, at the age of eleven, he was crowned King of France at Reims Cathedral. He married Isabeau of Bavaria in 1385. Until he took complete charge as king in 1388, France was ruled primarily by his uncle, Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. During that time, the power of the royal administration was strengthened and the authority to tax was re-established. The latter policy represented a reversal of the deathbed decision of the king's father Charles V to repeal taxes in response to a tax revolt known as the Harelle. Increased tax revenues were needed to support the self-serving policies of the king's uncles, whose interests were frequently in conflict with those of the crown and with each other. The Battle of Roosebeke (1382), for example, brilliantly won by the royal troops, was prosecuted solely for the benefit of Philip of Burgundy. The treasury surplus carefully accumulated by Charles V was quickly squandered.
The dismissal of the king's uncles from the royal administration in 1388 and the restoration to power of the highly-competent advisors of Charles V (known as the Marmousets) ushered in a new period of high esteem for the crown that resulted in Charles VI being widely referred to as Charles the Beloved by his subjects.
The early successes of the sole rule of Charles VI quickly dissipated as a result of the bouts of psychosis he experienced beginning in his mid-twenties. Once Charles the Beloved, he became known as Charles the Mad in his later reign.
Charles's first known episode occurred in 1392 when his friend and advisor, Olivier de Clisson, was the victim of an attempted murder. Although Clisson survived, Charles was determined to punish the would-be assassin, Pierre de Craon, who had taken refuge in Brittany.
Contemporaries said Charles appeared to be in a "fever" to begin the campaign and appeared disconnected in his speech. Charles set off with an army on 1 July 1392. The progress of the army was slow, which nearly drove Charles into a frenzy of impatience.
As the king and his escort were travelling through a forest on a hot August morning, a barefoot leper dressed in rags rushed up to the King's horse and grabbed his bridle. "Ride no further, noble King!" he yelled. "Turn back! You are betrayed!" The king's escorts beat the man back, but did not arrest him, and he followed the procession for half an hour, repeating his cries.
The company emerged from the forest at noon. A page who was drowsy from the sun dropped the king's lance, which clanged loudly against a steel helmet carried by another page. Charles shuddered, drew his sword and yelled "Forward against the traitors! They wish to deliver me to the enemy!" The king spurred his horse and began swinging his sword at his companions, fighting until one of his chamberlains and a group of soldiers were able to grab him from his mount and lay him on the ground. He lay still and did not react, but fell into a coma. The king had killed a knight called "The Bastard of Polignac" and several other men, the number of which varies among contemporary chronicles.
The king continued to suffer from periods of mental illness throughout his life. During one attack in 1393, Charles could not remember his name and did not know he was king. When his wife came to visit, he asked his servants who she was and ordered them to take care of what she required so that she would leave him alone. During an episode in 1395–96 he claimed he was Saint George and that his coat of arms was a lion with a sword thrust through it. At this time, he recognized all the officers of his household, but did not know his wife or children. Sometimes he ran wildly through the corridors of his Parisian residence, the Hôtel Saint-Pol, and to keep him inside, the entrances were walled up. In 1405, he refused to bathe or change his clothes for five months. His later psychotic episodes were not described in detail, perhaps because of the similarity of his behavior and delusions. Pope Pius II, who was born in the middle of the reign of Charles VI, wrote in his Commentaries that there were times when Charles thought that he was made of glass, and this caused him to protect himself in various ways so that he would not break. This condition has come to be known as glass delusion.
The Bal des Ardents 
On 29 January 1393, a party was held to celebrate the wedding of one of the queen's ladies-in-waiting at the Hôtel Saint-Pol known as the Bal des Ardents (the "Ball of the Burning Men"). At the suggestion of Huguet de Guisay, the king and four other lords dressed up as wild men and danced about. They were dressed "in costumes of linen cloth sewn onto their bodies and soaked in resinous wax or pitch to hold a covering of frazzled hemp, so that they appeared shaggy & hairy from head to foot". At the suggestion of one Yvain de Foix, the king commanded that the torch-bearers were to stand at the side of the room. Nonetheless, the king's brother Louis of Valois, Duke of Orléans, who had arrived late, approached with a lighted torch in order to discover the identity of the masqueraders, and he set one of them on fire. There was panic as the fire spread. The Duchess of Berry threw the train of her gown over the king. Several knights who tried to put out the flames were severely burned. Four of the wild men perished: Charles de Poiters, son of the Count of Valentinois; Huguet de Guisay; Yvain de Foix; and the Count of Joigny. Another - Jean, son of the Lord of Nantouillet - saved himself by jumping into a dishwater tub.
Struggles for power 
With the king mad, his uncles Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, and John, Duke of Berry, took control of the royal government and dismissed the various advisers and officials Charles had appointed. Another contender for power was the king's brother Louis, Duke of Orléans. This was to be the start of a series of major feuds among the princes of royal blood that would cause chaos and conflict in France even beyond Charles' reign.
The first major feud was between Philip the Bold and the Duke of Orléans, both of whom tried to fill the power vacuum left by the king's condition. Philip's death in April 1404 did not bring an end to Louis' problems. John the Fearless, the new Duke of Burgundy took over the political aims of his father, and the feud escalated. In 1407, the Duke of Orléans was murdered in the streets of Paris. John did not deny responsibility, claiming that Louis was a tyrant who squandered money.
Charles VI's secretary Pierre Salmon spent much time in discussions with the king while he was suffering from his intermittent psychosis. In an effort to find a cure for the king's illness, stabilize the turbulent political situation, and secure his own future, Salmon supervised the production of two distinct versions of the beautifully illuminated guidebooks to good kingship known as Pierre Salmon's Dialogues.
The English invasion 
Charles VI's reign was marked by the continuing conflict with the English known as the Hundred Years' War. An early attempt at peace occurred in 1396 when Charles' daughter, the almost seven-year-old Isabella of Valois, married the 29-year-old Richard II of England. By 1415, however, the feud between the French royal family and the house of Burgundy led to chaos and anarchy throughout France that Henry V of England was eager to take advantage of. Henry led an invasion that culminated in the defeat of the French army at the Battle of Agincourt in October.
With the English taking over the country, John the Fearless sought to end the feud with the royal family by negotiating with Charles, the Dauphin of France, the king's heir. They met at the bridge at Montereau on 10 September 1419, but during the meeting, John was killed by Tanneguy du Châtel, a follower of the Dauphin. John's successor, Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, threw in his lot with the English.
In 1420, King Charles signed the Treaty of Troyes, which recognized Henry of England as his successor, disinherited his son, the Dauphin Charles, claiming he was illegitimate, and betrothed his daughter Catherine of Valois to Henry (see English Kings of France). Many historians have misinterpreted this treaty and the disinheriting of the Dauphin Charles. The Dauphin sealed his fate, in the eyes of the king, by committing treason: he declared himself regent, usurped royal authority, and refused to obey the king's order to return to Paris. It is important to remember that when the Treaty of Troyes was finalized in May 1420, the Dauphin Charles was only 17 years' old. He was then a weak figure who was easily manipulated by his advisors.
Charles VI died in 1422 in Paris and is interred with his wife Isabeau of Bavaria in Saint Denis Basilica. Both their grandson, the one-year-old Henry VI of England, and their son, Charles VII, were proclaimed King of France, but it was the latter who became the actual ruler with the support of Joan of Arc.
Charles VI appears to have passed on his mental illness to his grandson Henry VI of England, whose inability to govern led England to a civil strife of its own known as the Wars of the Roses.
|Ancestors of Charles VI of France|
Marriage and issue 
Charles VI married:
Isabeau of Bavaria (ca. 1371 – 24 September 1435) on 17 July 1385.
|Charles, Dauphin of Viennois||25 September 1386||28 December 1386||Died young. First Dauphin.|
|Joan||14 June 1388||1390||Died young.|
|Isabella||9 November 1389||13 September 1409||Married (1) Richard II, King of England, in 1396. No issue.
Married (2) Charles, Duke of Orléans, in 1406. Had issue.
|Joan||24 January 1391||27 September 1433||Married John VI, Duke of Brittany, in 1396. Had issue.|
|Charles, Dauphin of Viennois||6 February 1392||13 January 1401||Died young. Second Dauphin. Engaged to Margaret of Burgundy after his birth.|
|Mary||22 August 1393||19 August 1438||Never married – became an abbess. No issue. Died of the Plague|
|Michelle||11 January 1395||8 July 1422||Married Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, in 1409. Had no surviving issue.|
|Louis, Dauphin||22 January 1397||18 December 1415||Married Margaret of Burgundy. No issue. Third Dauphin.|
|John, Dauphin||31 August 1398||5 April 1417||Married Jacqueline, Countess of Hainaut, in 1415. No issue. Fourth Dauphin.|
|Catherine||27 October 1401||3 January 1438||Married (1) Henry V, King of England, in 1420. Had issue.
Married (?) (2) Owen Tudor. Had issue.
|Charles, Dauphin of Viennois||22 February 1403||21 July 1461||The fifth Dauphin became Charles VII, King of France, after his father's death.
Married Marie of Anjou in 1422. Had issue.
|Philip||10 November 1407||November 1407||Died young.|
Cultural references 
- Christine de Pisan dedicates a poem to King Charles VI "Prière pour le roi Charles" in which she pleas for the health of her king.
- The Romantic French poet Gérard de Nerval wrote a poem dedicated to the king: "Rêverie de Charles VI".
- The novel The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge by Rainer Maria Rilke describes the old age of Charles VI at length.
- King Charles VI, and his madness, are mentioned at length in the historical novel In a Dark Wood Wandering (1949) by Hella S. Haasse.
- The historical novel, "Blood Royal" aka "The Queen's Lover" by Vanora Bennett, about Charles Vi's daughter, Catherine of Valois, refers to the King, his reign, family and his madness at length.
- R.C. Famiglietti, Royal Intrigue: Crisis at the Court of Charles VI, 1392–1420, New York, 1986, p. 4, citing the chronicle of the Religieux de Saint-Denis, ed. Bellaguet, II, pp. 86–88.
- R.C. Famiglietti, Royal Intrigue: Crisis at the Court of Charles VI, 1392–1420, New York, 1986, p. 5, citing the chronicle of the Religieux de Saint-Denis, ed. Bellaguet, II, pp. 404–05.
- R.C. Famiglietti, Royal Intrigue: Crisis at the Court of Charles VI, 1392–1420, New York, 1986, p. 6, citing the chronicle of the Religieux de Saint-Denis, ed. Bellaguet, III, p. 348
- Enea Silvio Piccolomini (Papa Pio II), I Commentarii, ed. L. Totaro, Milano, 1984, I, p. 1056.
- Froissart Chronicles, ed. Johnes, II, p.550
- Barbara Tuchman, A Distant Mirror, 1978, Alfred A Knopf Ltd. See the chronicle of the Religieux de Saint-Denis, ed. Bellaguet, II, pp. 64–71, where the squire's name is given correctly as de Guisay.
- Chronicles ... by Sir John Froissart, ed. T. Johnes, II (1855), pp. 550–52
- Froissart, "Chronicles", ed. Johnes, II, p.550. Note that Froissart and the Religieux de Saint-Denis differ as to when the four men died. Huguet de Guisay had held the office of cupbearer of the king.
- R.C. Famiglietti, Royal Intrigue: Crisis at the Court of Charles VI, 1392–1420, New York, 1986, Chapter X.
- (French) Gérard de Nerval. Rêverie de Charles VI
- Famiglietti, R.C., Royal Intrigue: Crisis at the Court of Charles VI, 1392–1420, New York; AMS Press, 1986.
- Famiglietti, R.C., Tales of the Marriage Bed from Medieval France (1300–1500), Providence; Picardy Press, 1992.
- Tuchman, Barbara, A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century, New York; Ballantine Books, 1978.
Charles VI of France
Cadet branch of the Capetian dynastyBorn: 3 December 1368 Died: 21 October 1422
|King of France
16 September 1380 – 21 October 1422
contested by Henry VI of England
|Dauphin of Viennois
3 December 1368 – 26 September 1386
|Dauphin of Viennois
28 December 1386 – 6 February 1392