Charles VII (22 February 1403 â" 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.
In 1422, Charles VII inherited the throne of France under desperate circumstances. Forces of the Kingdom of England and Duke Philip III 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 âKing of Bourgesâ, because the area around Bourges was one of the few remaining regions left to him. 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 figures 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 the 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.
Born in Paris, Charles was the fifth son of Charles VI of France and Isabeau of Bavaria. His four elder brothers, Charles (1386), Charles (1392â"1401), Louis (1397â"1415) and John (1398â"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 from Paris in May 1418 after the soldiers of Duke John the Fearless of Burgundy attempted to capture the city. By 1419, Charles had established his own court in Bourges and a Parlement in Poitiers. The same 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 to this day. 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 a 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 OrlÃ©ans, 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 OrlÃ©ans
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 OrlÃ©ans 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, RenÃ©. The French lords and soldiers loyal to Charles were becoming increasingly desperate.
But then, in the little village of DomrÃ©my, on the border of Lorraine and Champagne, a teenage girl named Joan of Arc (French: Jeanne d'Arc), demanded that the garrison commander at Vaucouleurs, Robert de Baudricourt, collect the soldiers and resources necessary to bring her to the Dauphin at Chinon, stating that visions of angels and saints had given her a divine mission. Granted an escort of five veteran soldiers and a letter of referral to Charles by Lord Baudricourt, Joan rode to see Charles at Chinon. She arrived on 23 February 1429.
What followed would become famous. When Joan appeared at Chinon, Charles wanted to test her claim to be able to recognise him despite never having seen him, and so he disguised himself as one of his courtiers. He stood in their midst when Joan 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 "Noble 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.
After her encounter with Charles in March 1429, Joan of Arc set out to lead the French forces at OrlÃ©ans. She was aided by skilled commanders such as Ãtienne de Vignolles, known as La Hire, and Jean Poton de Xaintrailles. They compelled the English to lift the siege on 8 May 1429, thus turning the tide of the war. The French won the Battle of Patay on 18 June, at which the English field army lost about half its troops. After pushing further into English and Burgundian-controlled territory, Charles was crowned King Charles VII of France in Reims Cathedral on 17 July 1429.
Joan was later captured by the Burgundians at the siege of CompiÃ¨gne on 24 May 1430. The Burgundians handed her over to their English allies. Tried for heresy by a court composed of pro-English clergy such as Pierre Cauchon, who had long served the English occupation government, she was burned at the stake on 30 May 1431.
As important as Joan of Arc in the cause of Charles was the support of the powerful and wealthy family of his wife Marie d'Anjou, particularly his mother-in-law, Queen Yolande of Aragon. 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, AgnÃ¨s 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.
Over the following two decades, the French recaptured Paris from the English and eventually recovered all of France with the exception of the northern port of Calais and the Channel Islands.
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 up dissent and fomented plots in attempts to destabilise his father's reign. He quarrelled with his father's mistress, AgnÃ¨s 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 caused by 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-YÃ¨vre, 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.
Although Charles VII's legacy is far overshadowed by the deeds and eventual martyrdom of Joan of Arc and his early reign was at times marked by indecisiveness and inaction, he was responsible for successes unprecedented in the history of the Kingdom of France. He succeeded in what four generations of his predecessors failed to do â" the expulsion of the English and the conclusion of the Hundred Years' War.
He had created France's first standing army since Roman times. In The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli asserts that if his son Louis XI had continued this policy, then the French would have become invincible.
Charles VII secured himself against papal power by the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges. 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:
- AgnÃ¨s Sorel, by whom he had three illegitimate daughters.
- Antoinette de Maignelais, cousin of AgnÃ¨s 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 AgnÃ¨s Sorel) among the dramatis personÃ¦. These are Pyotr Tchaikovsky's The Maid of OrlÃ©ans and CÃ©sar 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 GrÃ¼ndgens (1935), Emlyn Williams (1935), Max Adrian (1944), JosÃ© Ferrer (1948), Paul Colline (1955), Richard Widmark (1957), Daniel GÃ©lin (1978), Keith Drinkel (1979), Oleg Kulko (1993), John Malkovich (1999), Neil Patrick Harris (1999)
- Hanawalt, Barbara (1998). The Middle Ages: An Illustrated History. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBNÂ 0-19-510359-9.Â
- Taylor, Aline (2001). Isabel of Burgundy: The Duchess who played Politics in the Age of Joan of Arc, 1397â"1471. Madison Books. ISBNÂ 1-56833-227-0.Â