Cunning Facts About Charles VII, France’s Victorious King

Rachel Seigel

Charles VII of France ruled from 1422 until his death in 1461. He inherited the throne in the midst of the Hundred Years’ War, and during his reign, he was able to drive the English out of France—with help from no less a figure than Joan of Arc—and re-stabilize the French monarchy which had been severely weakened from the war. Below are 42 victorious facts about the long-serving French king.

1. The Mad King

Charles VII was born to Isabeau of Bavaria and Charles the Mad, also known as the glass king. Throughout his life, his father suffered recurring bouts of madness, which made his role as Dauphin (heir to the throne) and regent that much more difficult.

2. Not My Son

One of the delusions of Charles the Mad was that his son Charles VII was actually illegitimate. His mother Isabeau was said to be of “loose morals,” and due in part to this claim, he removed Charles as heir and named Henry V of England and his future heirs as successor(s).

3. Also Known As…

In medieval times, monarchs were often assigned epithets or cognomina (nicknames) in place of last names, and they were often based on physical appearance or accomplishments. For his victories against the English and his role in ending the Hundred Years War, Charles VII was nicknamed Charles the Well-Served or Charles the Victorious.

Those are definitely better than the ones his father was called!

4. Fierce Rivals

Mad as he was, Charles VI knew to still appoint a guardian for his son the dauphin, but the naming of John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy over his brother Louis, Duke of Orleans did nothing to settle the rivalry that lay between them. Eventually, they stopped even trying to pretend that they didn’t have it in for one another.

Any promise of reconciliation ended when Louis was assassinated in Paris, likely at the order of Burgundy.

5. Opposing Forces

Charles’s mother Isabeau had a political rival in Yolande of Aragon. They both desired different outcomes for the war against England. Yolande wanted peace, but was completely against sacrificing the Mad King or giving up anything to the English. Ironically, despite being the French queen, Isabeau didn’t have any loyalty to the French crown, and wanted to form an alliance with them and the House of Burgundy.

6. Shifting Alliances

In an effort to solidify her alliance with the English and Burgundy, Isabeau double-crossed Yolande and broke off the engagement of her daughter Catherine of Valois to Yolande’s son in favor of the house of Burgundy. Isabeau was rightly ticked that she would side with enemies of France, so to make up for it, they arranged a marriage between Yolande’s daughter Marie de Anjou and Charles instead.

At the time, they had no idea that he would end up being king, so it wasn’t really much of a consolation prize.

7. Foster Mom

After becoming engaged to Marie de Anjou, Charles was sent to Anjou to live under the care of Yolande and her husband Louis II, King of Naples. She was more of a mother to him than his own mother was, and was said to wield a strong and positive influence over the future king. At least somebody was!

8. I Dare You!

Queen Isabeau had been quite happy to leave Charles with Yolande while she still had two older sons, but with their deaths, Charles became Dauphin, and suddenly, Isabeau wanted him back. Yolande resisted her demands and reportedly wrote back: “We have not nurtured and cherished this one for you to make him die like his brothers or to go mad like his father, or to become English like you. I keep him for my own. Come and take him away, if you dare.”

Isabeau didn’t, and Charles stayed.

9. Crisis of Succession

As it happened, Henry V died before Charles the Mad and never got a chance to rule. This threw France into a crisis of succession, with many believing that the Treaty of Troyes, which was signed by Charles the mad, was invalid due to the king being insane, and therefore Charles VII should be King.

10. King of Bourges

After his father’s death, Charles VII conveniently decided to ignore the fact that he’d been disinherited and proclaimed himself King Charles VII of France. Unfortunately for him, with the English and Burgundians controlling most of northern France, he was forced to hang out and keep his court in the southern part of France, where his enemies contemptuously nickname him the King of Bourges—mainly because they were just about the only ones still supporting him.

11. Doing her Duty

Charles’s wife Marie did her royal duty over and over and over again, ultimately giving birth to 14 children, many of whom died young or in infancy. Luckily, Louis, the first-born son, lived to age 60, and he eventually succeeded his father.

12. A New Favorite

As much as the king adored his chief mistress Agnes Sorel, he wasted no time in finding himself a new mistress—her cousin, Antoinette de Maignelais. He first noticed her while he was still involved with Agnes, when she was just 14. Two years later, he took her as his lover, but unlike her cousin, who was recognized as the royal mistress, he never made her position official.

13. Divine Urging

From the time that Joan of Arc was 13, she claimed to be able to be receiving divine messages from St. Michael, St. Catherine of Alexandria, and St. Margaret of Antioch. According to Joan, the messengers were telling her that she needed to seek out the rightful but disinherited king of France, Charles VII, and help him claim his throne.

14. Inspiring Art

Charles VII has long been a favorite subject of playwrights, composers, and authors, making appearances in two of Shakespeare’s plays about Henry VI, in George Bernard Shaw’s play St. Joan, and as a character in operas by Tchaikovsky and Verdi. He even appears as a character in the Broadway musical Goodtime Charley, which portrays his relationship with Joan of Arc.

15. There’s Someone You Need to Meet

Yolande of Aragon may have been one of the few people who genuinely had Charles’s interests at heart (or at least France’s) and she wasn’t without her own political skill. She is rumored to have orchestrated the meeting between Charles VII and Joan of Arc, recognizing her ability to stir up French resistance to the English.

When Charles agreed to allow her to lead his army, Yolande was in charge of gathering the troops and the military preparations for Joan’s battle at Orleans.

16.  Picking Him Out of a Crowd

The first meeting between Joan of Arc and the Dauphin Charles has grown into a famous story. It is said that Joan claimed to be able to recognize Charles without having ever met him, and Charles, wanting to put that claim to the test, disguised himself as a courtier. Despite the disguise, and his attempts to claim that a different man was the king, she apparently made a beeline for Charles the moment she entered the chamber.

Needless to say, he was impressed, and it earned her a private audience with him.

17. Killing His Way In

If you want a place at the King’s table, one way to accomplish that is by murdering the guy who currently holds that place. In 1427, that’s exactly what Georges de La Tremoille did when he and Constable de Richemont had the King’s favorite advisor Pierre de Giac kidnapped and drowned. Following his death, Tremoille married Giac’s widow—who had likely conspired with him to kill her husband.

He then took his place on the King’s council and forced Richemont to leave the court once he’d been named Grand Chamberlain. That’s a whole lot of scheming!

18. King’s Confessor

In 1420, Georges Machet became tutor and later, confessor to King Charles VII, a position which he maintained for 28 years until his death. Most notably, he convinced Charles that Joan of Arc’s arrival had already been prophesied and came out in favor of Joan of Arc during her trial.

19. A Limiting of Power

In the time of Charles VII, the Pope and the Catholic Church pretty much reigned supreme, but with his issuing of the 1438 Pragmatic Sanctions of Bourges, Charles introduced some reforms to the way things worked. The Sanctions introduced the notion of Gallicanism, which limited the powers of the church over the state and made the Pope accountable to a General Church Council with authority superior to his own.

It also prohibited the Pope from accepting rewards for favor and limited his power in France.

20. Turning the Tide

With Charles’s victory at the siege of Orleans and other key cities on the Loire river, the defeated English troops were forced to disband. The people of Reims switched sides to support Charles VII and enabled him to well-and-truly be crowned king in 1429.

21. Renewed Claim

Joan of Arc was quite inconvenient for the English, and was one of the primary reasons why they lost the Hundred Years’ War and why Charles VII became king. At the same time, they also saw a path to reclaiming the French throne through her. If they could get her to admit to using witchcraft to win the battles, they could claim that Charles VII became king because of heresy, and he could be declared illegitimate, leaving them to take back the throne.

22. Disassociation

The entire time that his ally and savior Joan was being tortured and tried by the English, Charles VII did exactly opposite of what you’d expect—nothing! Perhaps sensing that his crown was in danger, or possibly feeling threatened by her power, he sat back and let them capture her and didn’t’ even try to negotiate for her release. With friends like that, who needs enemies?

23. Too Little Too Late

20 years after Joan’s death, Charles finally lifted a finger to do something for her. He ordered a new trial and cleared her name, but since she was already long dead, all it really did was contribute to her fame and her mythology.

24.  Diplomatic Efforts

The Congress of Arras in 1435 was the first attempt between representatives from France, Burgundy, and England to end the Hundred Years’ War once and for all. The English proposed a truce between France and England, which included marrying one of Charles VII’s daughters to King Henry VI. Since the English weren’t willing to renounce their claim to the French crown, it went nowhere.

Did they really think it would?

25. Switching Sides

With all of the attention being paid to the English at Arras, the discussions with the Burgundians proved of equal importance. Burgundy, which remained an independent estate from France had been aligned with the English since the murder of Philip the Good’s father in 1419, but at the urging of the clergy and the French delegation, Philip was convinced to reconcile with France.

By the time the English returned to the table, the Burgundians had switched sides and aligned with France. Good for France, not so good for England.

26. Tit for Tat

The strides made at the Congress of Arras led to the signing of the Treaty of Arras in September 1435, which officially ended the feud between Charles VII and Philip the Good, and called for Philip to officially recognize Charles as King of France. In exchange, Charles exempted Philip from having to pay homage to the crown as long as they both lived, and Charles agreed to punish the murders of Philip’s father—while also denying any responsibility for the murder.

27. The Nobles Rebel

The Praguerie, so named for a similar uprising that had taken place in Prague, Bohemia, was a short-lived uprising of the French princes and nobility against Charles VII in 1440. The tensions between the princes and Charles began as early as 1437, with their exclusion from the royal council, and their failure to regain their power.

A couple of years later, a group of Mercenary captains who felt threatened by some of Charles VII’s reforms joined with the princes in rebellion.

28. Winning Him Over

The primary instigator of the Praguerie was Charles I, Duke of Bourbon, and he managed to win over the king’s eldest son, the 16-year-old Louis (future Louis XI) with the promise of removing the king and appointing Louis as regent. The uprising failed, and Louis was forced to submit to the king, who, luckily for Louis, forgave him for his part.

29. Banished

By 1446, the hostility between Charles and his son Louis came to a head and resulted in Charles banishing Louis to Dauphine. After this, Louis refused to answer his father’s demands that he return to court, and the pair never met again. It was probably just as well.

30. Master of the Mint

When Charles became king, France’s finances were in quite a jumble, so in 1436, he summoned the trader Jacques Coeur to Paris to be made Master of the Mint and a member of the king’s council. Over time, he managed to use his role to further himself and his family, marrying his daughter to a nobleman, securing the archbishopric of Bourges for his son, and the Bishopric of Lucon for his brother.

Coeur also managed to acquire a great deal of property, totaling about 40 manors and a palace. Not bad for the son of a merchant.

31. Downfall

As his wealth and influence grew, a large number of the aristocracy and the king found themselves in debt to Coeur. As a rule, rich and powerful people didn’t generally like owing money to anyone, which put Coeur in a precarious position. He was falsely accused of poisoning the king’s mistress Agnes Sorel, and of having engaged in dishonest trading.

In 1451, he was tossed into jail, and ordered to stay there until he paid off a huge fine for his alleged activities.

32. Don’t Trust Him!

Charles VII was said to be a pretty forgiving guy, but eventually, he’d had enough of Louis’ constant plays against him. In 1456, he sent an army to Dauphine to deal with Louis once and for all, and Louis fled to Burgundy, where the Duke of Burgundy (who wasn’t really loving the king) gave him shelter. Charles demanded that he hand him over, and when the Duke refused, he warned him that he was “giving shelter to a fox who will eat his chickens.”

33. The Beginning of the End

In 1458, Charles became ill with a severe fever caused by a sore on his leg that just wouldn’t heal. He called for his son Louis to come home, but Louis refused, even hiring an astrologer to tell him the exact moment his father would die. Louis must have been disappointed by the answer because it took another two years before he finally passed away.

34. Cause of Death

About a month before his death, the king suffered from delirium, becoming convinced that everyone around him were traitors who were only loyal to his son Louis. At the same time, he was also suffering from an infection in the jaw that caused a large abscess in his mouth. It was so badly swollen that he was unable to eat or drink for the final week of his life, causing him to starve to death.

Not the way you’d expect a king to go. Louis went on to succeed his father as Louis XI.

35. Under Threat

From the moment he became heir to his father’s throne, Charles VII found himself in constant danger. In 1418, the soldiers of John the Fearless captured Paris, forcing Charles to flee the city for Bourges.

36. A Fateful Meeting

The assassination of the Duke of Orleans led to all-out civil war in France between the two factions, the Burgundians (led by John the Fearless) and the Armagnacs (led by the son of Louis of Orleans). In September 1419, the Dauphin Charles and John the Fearless agreed to meet on the bridge at Montereau to resolve the tension between them. However, the meeting went south, and John the Fearless was assassinated by Charles VII’s men.

37. Did He, or Didn’t He?

What Charles VII did or didn’t know about the murder of John the Fearless is a subject of debate. Some historians believe that the murder was premeditated and an innocent action by Fearless was deliberately misconstrued, while others (including Charles himself) insist that it was an unfortunate misunderstanding and he had nothing to do with it.

38. Apart from the Crowd

Charles VII loved the ladies, and allegedly always had a traveling harem of mistresses around him. One woman, Agnes Sorel, was different. She caught the king’s eye while serving as a lady-in-waiting to his wife Marie d’Anjou, and he was so taken with her that he started lavishing her with jewels and castles, and possibly even the first cut diamond.

39. If You’ve Got it, Flaunt It!

Sorel knew exactly how to show off her assets, and she found a rather bold way of wearing her new diamond. She supposedly wore it with a low-cut gown right between her breasts where it would be sure to be noticed, and noticed it was. It was highly scandalous at the time.

40. The Official Mistress

In medieval France, a mistress was about as powerful a position as a woman could get, next to the queen, but prior to the reign of Charles VII, she held no official status. Charles VII changed all that by recognizing Sorel as his official mistress, causing a huge scandal in the court.

41. Murder!

The official cause of Sorel’s death at age 28 was dysentery, but there were whispers that she had in fact been poisoned. As to who the culprit could have been, Charles’ son the future King Louis XI was a prime suspect, as he would have seen her as an obstacle to securing the crown.

42. Secret Words

The second part of the initial meeting between Joan and Charles involved a private conversation where Joan supposedly told him a secret about him that finally convinced him she was who and what she claimed. Neither Joan nor Charles ever revealed exactly what she said to him, but whatever it was, it did the trick!

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28

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