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Charles V the Wise
Preceded by John II
Succeeded by Charles VI
Personal details
Born (1338-01-21)21 January 1338
Vincennes, France
Died 16 September 1380(1380-09-16) (aged 42)
Beauté-sur-Marne, France
Spouse(s) Joanna of Bourbon
Religion Roman Catholicism

Charles V (21 January 1338 – 16 September 1380), called the Wise (French: "le Sage"), was a monarch of the House of Valois who ruled as King of France from 1364 to his death.

In 1349, as a young prince, Charles received from his grandfather King Philip VI the province of Dauphiné to rule. This allowed him to bear the title "Dauphin" until his coronation, which saw the integration of the Dauphiné into the crown lands of France. From this date, all heirs apparent of France bore the title of Dauphin until their coronation.

Charles became regent of France when his father John II was captured by the English at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356. To pay the ransom, Charles had to raise taxes and deal with the hostility of the nobility, led by Charles the Bad, King of Navarre; the opposition of the French bourgeoisie, which was channeled through the Estates-General led by Etienne Marcel; and with peasant revolts known as Jacqueries. Charles overcame all of these rebellions, but in order to liberate his father, he had to conclude the Treaty of Brétigny in 1360, in which he abandoned large portions of south-western France to Edward III of England and agreed to pay a huge ransom.

Charles became king in 1364. With the help of talented advisers known as the Marmousets, his skillful management of the kingdom allowed him to replenish the royal treasure and to restore the prestige of the House of Valois. He established the first permanent army paid with regular wages, which liberated the French populace from the companies of routiers who regularly plundered the country when not employed. Led by Bertrand du Guesclin, the French Army was able to turn the tide of the Hundred Years' War to Charles' advantage, and by the end of Charles' reign, they had reconquered almost all the territories ceded to the English in 1360. Furthermore, the French Navy, led by Jean de Vienne, managed to attack the English coast for the first time since the beginning of the Hundred Years' War.

Charles V died in 1380. He was succeeded by his son Charles VI the Mad, whose disastrous reign allowed the English to regain control of large parts of France.

Early life[edit | edit source]

Charles was born at the Château de Vincennes outside of Paris, the son of Prince John and Princess Bonne of France.[1] In 1350, his grandfather King Philip VI died and his father ascended the throne as John II. Charles then became Dauphin of France. He was the first French heir to use the title, which is named for the region of Dauphiné, acquired by Charles' grandfather, Philip VI of France, and given to him to rule in 1349. The future king was highly intelligent, but physically weak, with pale skin and a thin, ill-proportioned body. This made a sharp contrast to his father, who was tall, strong and sandy-haired.

The Regency and the uprising of the Third Estate[edit | edit source]

King John was a brave warrior, but a poor ruler who alienated his nobles through arbitrary justice and the elevation of associates considered unworthy. After a three-year break, the Hundred Years' War with England resumed in 1355, with Edward, The Black Prince, leading an English-Gascon army in a violent raid across southwestern France. After checking an English incursion into Normandy, John led an army of about 16,000 men to the south, crossing the Loire in September 1356 with the goal of outflanking the Prince's 8,000 soldiers at Poitiers. Rejecting advice from one captain to surround and starve the Prince, a tactic Edward feared, John attacked the strong enemy position. In the subsequent Battle of Maupertuis (Poitiers), English archery all but annihilated the French cavalry, and John was captured.[2] Charles led a battalion at Poitiers that withdrew early in the struggle; whether the order came from John (as he later claimed), or whether Charles himself ordered the withdrawal, is unclear.[3]

The outcome of the battle left many embittered with the nobility. Popular opinion accused the nobles of betraying the King, but Charles and his brothers escaped blame, and he was received with honor upon his return to Paris. The Dauphin summoned the Estates-General in October to seek money for the defense of the country. Furious at what they saw as poor management, many of those assembled organized into a body led by Etienne Marcel, the Provost of Merchants (a title roughly equivalent to Mayor of Paris today). Marcel demanded the dismissal of seven royal ministers, their replacement by a Council of 28 made up of nobles, clergy and bourgeois, and the release of Charles the Bad, King of Navarre, a leading Norman noble with a claim on the French throne who had been imprisoned by John for the murder of his constable. The Dauphin refused the demands, dismissed the Estates-General, and left Paris.

A contest of wills ensued. In an attempt to raise money, Charles tried to devalue the currency; Marcel ordered strikes, and the Dauphin was forced to cancel his plans and recall the Estates in February 1357. The Third Estate presented the Dauphin with a Grand Ordinance, a list of 61 articles that would have given the Estates-General the right to approve all future taxes, assemble at their own volition, and elect a Council of 36 (with 12 members from each Estate) to advise the king.[4] Charles eventually signed the ordinance, but his dismissed councillors took news of the document to King John, imprisoned in Bordeaux. The King renounced the ordinance before being taken to England by Prince Edward.

Charles made a royal progress through the country that summer, winning support from the provinces, and won Paris back. Marcel, meanwhile, enlisted Charles of Navarre, who asserted that his claim to the throne of France was at least as good as that of King Edward III of England, who used his claim as the pretext for initiating the Hundred Years' War.

Marcel used the murder of a citizen seeking sanctuary in Paris to make an attack close to the Dauphin. Summoning a group of tradesmen, the Provost marched at the head of an army of 3,000, entered the royal palace, and had the crowd murder two of the Dauphin's marshals before his eyes. Charles, horrified, momentarily pacified the crowd, but sent his family away and left the capital as quickly as he could. Marcel's action destroyed support for the Third Estate among the nobles, and the Provost's subsequent backing of the Jacquerie undermined his support from the towns. He was murdered by a mob on 31 July 1358. Charles was able to recover Paris the following month. He later issued a general amnesty for all except close associates of Marcel.

The Treaty of Brétigny[edit | edit source]

John's capture gave the English the edge in peace negotiations following the Battle of Poitiers. The King signed a treaty in 1359 that would have ceded most of western France to England and imposed a ruinous ransom of 4 million écus on the country. The Dauphin (backed by his councillors and the Estates General) rejected the treaty, and King Edward used this as an excuse to invade France later that year. Edward reached Reims in December and Paris in March, but Charles, trusting on improved municipal defences, forbade his soldiers from direct confrontation with the English. Charles relied on improved fortifications made to Paris by Marcel and would later rebuild the Left Bank (Rive gauche) wall and built a new wall on the Right Bank (Rive droite) that extended to a new fortification called the Bastille.

Edward pillaged and raided the countryside, but could not bring the French to a decisive battle, and so he eventually agreed to reduce his terms. This non-confrontational strategy would prove extremely beneficial to France during Charles' reign.

The Treaty of Brétigny, signed on 8 May 1360, ceded a third of western France (mostly in Aquitaine and Gascony) to the English and lowered the King's ransom to 3 million écus. King John was released the following October. His second son, Louis I of Anjou, took his place as a hostage.

Though his father had regained his freedom, Charles suffered a great personal tragedy at nearly the same time. His three-year-old daughter Joan and infant daughter Bonne died within two months of each other late in 1360; at their double funeral, the Dauphin was said to be "so sorrowful as never before he had been." Charles himself had been severely ill, with his hair and nails falling out; some suggest the symptoms are those of arsenic poisoning.[5]

John proved as ineffective at ruling upon his return to France as he had before his capture. When Louis of Anjou escaped from English custody, John announced he had no choice but to return to captivity himself. He arrived in London in January 1364, became ill, and died the following April.

King of France[edit | edit source]

Charles was crowned King of France in 1364 at the Cathedral of Reims. The new king was highly intelligent, but closed-mouthed and secretive, with sharp eyes, a long nose and a pale, grave manner. He suffered from gout in the right hand and an abscess in his left arm, possibly a side-effect of an attempted poisoning in 1359. Doctors were able to treat the wound but told him that if it ever dried up, he would die within 15 days. "Not surprisingly," said historian Barbara Tuchman, "the King lived under a sense of urgency."[6] His manner may have concealed a more emotional side; his marriage to Joan of Bourbon was considered very strong, and he made no attempt to hide his grief at her funeral or those of his children, five of whom predeceased him.

His reign was dominated by the war with the English and two major problems: recovering the territories ceded at Brétigny and ridding the land of the Tard-Venus (French for "latecomers"), mercenary companies that turned to robbery and pillage after the treaty was signed. In achieving these aims, Charles turned to a minor noble from Brittany named Bertrand du Guesclin. Nicknamed "the Black Dog of Brocéliande", du Guesclin fought the English during the Breton War of Succession and was an expert in guerrilla warfare. Du Guesclin also defeated Charles II of Navarre at the Battle of Cocherel in 1364 and eliminated his threat to Paris.

In order to lure the Tard-Venus out of France, Charles first hired them for an attempted crusade into Hungary, but their reputation for brigandage preceded them, and the citizens of Strasbourg refused to let them cross the Rhine on their journey. Charles next sent the mercenary companies (under the leadership of du Guesclin) to fight in a civil war in between King Peter the Cruel and his illegitimate half-brother Henry. Peter had English backing, while Henry was supported by the French.

Du Guesclin and his men were able to drive Peter out of Castile in 1365 after the capture of the fortresses of Magallon and Briviesca and the capital Burgos. But the Black Prince, now serving as his father's viceroy in southwestern France, took up Peter's cause. At the Battle of Nájera in April 1367, the English defeated Henry's army. Du Guesclin was captured after a memorable resistance and ransomed by Charles V, who considered him invaluable. The Black Prince, affected by dysentery, soon withdrew his support from Peter. The English army suffered badly during the retreat. Four English soldiers out of five died during the Castillan Campaign. In 1369, du Guesclin renewed the attack against Peter, defeating him at the decisive Battle of Montiel. Henry stabbed the captive Peter to death in du Guesclin's tent, thereby gaining the throne of Castile. Bertrand was made Duke of Molina, and the Franco-Castillan alliance was sealed. Charles V could now resume the war against England under favorable conditions.

War resumes[edit | edit source]

After the Castillan campaign, the Black Prince was invalid and heavily in debt. His rule in Gascony became increasingly autocratic. Nobles from Gascony petitioned Charles for aid, and when the Black Prince refused to answer a summons to Paris to answer the charges, Charles judged him disloyal and declared war in May 1369. Legally, Charles had every right to do this; the renunciation of sovereignty by Charles was never made and therefore Gascony was still legally held by the King.

Instead of seeking a major battle, as his predecessors had done, Charles chose a strategy of attrition, spreading the fighting at every point possible. The French and Castillan navies destroyed an English fleet at La Rochelle in 1372. Then, du Guesclin launched destructive raids against the coasts of England, naval reprisals to the English chevauchées. Bertrand du Guesclin, appointed Constable of France in 1370, beat back a major English offensive in northern France with an unnerving combination of raids, sieges, and pitch battles. He notably crushed Robert Knolles at the Battle of Pontvallain.

Most of the major English leaders were killed in a few months and the Black Prince fled to England, where he died in 1376. By 1374, Charles recovered all of France except Calais and Aquitaine, effectively nullifying the Treaty of Brétigny.

Papal schism[edit | edit source]

In 1376, Pope Gregory XI, fearing a loss of the Papal States, decided to move his court back to Rome after nearly 70 years in Avignon. Charles, hoping to maintain French influence over the papacy, tried to persuade Pope Gregory to remain in France, arguing that "Rome is wherever the Pope happens to be." Gregory refused.

The Pope died in March 1378. When cardinals gathered to elect a successor, a Roman mob, concerned that the predominantly French College of Cardinals would elect a French pope who would bring the papacy back to Avignon, surrounded the Vatican and demanded the election of a Roman. On 9 April, the cardinals elected Bartolomeo Prigamo, Archbishop of Bari, and a commoner by birth, as Pope Urban VI. The new pope quickly alienated his cardinals by criticising their vices, limiting the areas where they could receive income and even rising to strike one cardinal before a second restrained him. The French cardinals left Rome that summer and declared Urban's election invalid because of mob intimidation (a reason that had not been cited at the time of the election) and elected Cardinal Robert of Geneva as Pope Clement VII that September.

The French cardinals quickly moved to get Charles' support. The theology faculty of the University of Paris advised Charles not to make a hasty decision, but he recognised Clement as Pope in November and forbade any obedience to Urban. Charles' support allowed Clement to survive as pope and led to the Papal Schism, which would divide Europe for nearly 40 years.

Death[edit | edit source]

Charles' last years were spent in the consolidation of Normandy (and the neutralisation of Charles of Navarre). Peace negotiations with the English continued unsuccessfully. The taxes he had levied to support his wars against the English caused deep disaffection among the working classes.

The abscess on the King's left arm dried up in early September 1380 and Charles prepared to die. On his deathbed, perhaps fearful for his soul, Charles announced the abolition of the hearth tax, the foundation of the government's finances. The ordinance would have been impossible to carry out, but its terms were known, and the government's refusal to reduce any of the other taxes on the people sparked the Maillotin revolt in 1381.

The King died on 16 September 1380 and was succeeded by his 12-year-old son, Charles VI. He is buried in the Basilica of St Denis in the city of Saint-Denis, some five miles north of Paris.

Legacy[edit | edit source]

The Château du Louvre, shown in this early fifteenth century illumination, representing the month of October in Les très riches Heures du duc de Berry, was rebuilt during the reign of Charles V – inaugurating a new era of royal architecture

Charles' reputation was of great significance for posterity, especially as his conception of governance was one that courtiers wished his successors could follow. Christine de Pizan's biography, commissioned by Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, in 1404, is a source of most of the intimate details of the king's life of which we are aware, but also provides a moral example for his successors. It draws heavily on the work of Nicole Oresme (who translated Aristotle's moral works into French) and Giles of Rome. Philippe de Mézières, in his allegorical "Songe du Vieil Pèlerin," attempts to persuade the dauphin (later King Charles VI) to follow the example of his wise father, notably in piety, though also to pursue reforming zeal in all policy considerations.

Of great importance to Charles V's cultural program was his vast library, housed in his expanded Louvre, and described in great detail by the nineteenth-century French historian Leopold Delisle. Containing over 1,200 volumes, it was symbolic of the authority and magnificence of the royal person, but also of his concern with government for the common good. Charles was keen to collect copies of works in French, in order that his counsellors had access to them. Perhaps the most significant ones commissioned for the library were those of Nicole Oresme, who translated Aristotle's Politics, Ethics, and Economics into eloquent French for the first time (an earlier attempt had been made at the Politics, but the manuscript is now lost). If the Politics and Economics served as a manual for government, then the Ethics advised the king on how to be a good man.

Other important works commissioned for the royal library were the anonymous legal treatise "Songe du Vergier," greatly inspired by the debates of Philip IV's jurists with Boniface VIII, the translations of Raol de Presles, which included St. Augustine's City of God, and the Grandes Chroniques de France edited in 1377 to emphasise the vassalage of Edward III.

Charles' kingship placed great emphasis on both royal ceremony and scientific political theory, and to contemporaries and posterity his lifestyle at once embodied the reflective life advised by Aristotle and the model of French kingship derived from St. Louis, Charlemagne, and Clovis which he had illustrated in his Coronation Book of 1364, now in the British Library.

Charles V was also a builder king, and he created or rebuilt several significant buildings in the late 14th century style including the Bastille, the Château du Louvre, Château de Vincennes, and Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, which were widely copied by the nobility of the day.

While he was in many ways a typical medieval king, Charles V has been praised by historians for his pragmatism, which led to the recovery of the territories lost at Brétigny.

His successes, however, proved ephemeral. Charles' brothers, who dominated the regency council that ruled in the king's name until 1388, quarrelled among themselves and divided the government. Charles VI, meanwhile, preferred tournaments to the duties of kingship, and his descent into madness in 1392 put his uncles back in power. By 1419, the country was divided between Armagnac and Burgundian factions and Henry V was conquering the northern part of France. The hard-won victories of Charles V had been lost through the venality of his successors.

Ancestors[edit | edit source]

Marriage and issue[edit | edit source]

  • 8 April 1350 to Joan of Bourbon (3 February 1338 – 4 February 1378); producing:
    1. Joanna (Jeanne) of France (September 1357 – 21 October 1360), interred at Saint-Antoine-des-Champs Abbey, France)
    2. John of France (1359–1364)
    3. Bonne of France (1360 – 7 December 1360, Paris, France), interred beside her sister, Jeanne
    4. John (Jean), Dauphin of France (Vincennes, 7 June 1366 – 21 December 1366)
    5. Charles VI of France, Dauphin of France (3 December 1368 – 22 October 1422)
    6. Mary (Marie), Princess of France (Paris, 27 February 1370 – June 1377, Paris)
    7. Louis of Valois, Duke of Orleans (13 March 1372 – 23 November 1407)
    8. Isabella (Isabelle), Princess of France (Paris, 24 July 1373 – 13 February 1377, Paris)
    9. Catherine, Princess of France (Paris, 4 February 1378 – November 1388, buried at Abbaye De Maubuisson, France), m. John of Berry, Count of Montpensier (son of John, Duke of Berry)

It is rumored that he had a bastard son with Biette de Casinel: Jean De Montaigu (or Montague) (1363–1409)[7]

Sources[edit | edit source]

  • Christine de Pisan, Livre des faits et bonnes mœurs du sage roy Charles V
  • Delisle, Léopold, Recherches sur la librairie de Charles V, roi de France, 1337-1380, H. Cahmpion, Paris.
  • Philippe de Mézières, Songe du Vieil Pèlerin
  • Autrand, Françoise, Charles V le Sage, Fayard, Paris, 1994.
  • Cazelles, Raymond, Société politique, noblesse et couronne sous Jean le Bon et Charles V, Librairie Droz, Switzerland.
  • Delachenal, Roland, Charles V, Picard, Paris, 1909.
  • Henneman, John Bell, Olivier de Clisson and Political Society in France Under Charles V and Charles VI, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 1996.
  • Henneman, John Bell, Royal taxation in Fourteenth Century France, The Development of War Financing 1322-1356, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1971.
  • Quillet, Jeannine, Charles V, Le Roi lettré, Librairie académique Perrin, Paris, 2002.
  • Tuchman, Barbara, A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century, Ballantine Books, New York, 1978.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Charles V the Wise, John Bell Henneman Jr., Key Figures in Medieval Europe:An Encyclopedia, ed. Richard K. Emmerson, (Routledge, 2006), 127.
  2. David Nicolle, Poitiers 1356: The Capture Of A King, (Osprey Publishing, 2004), 28.
  3. Jonathan Sumption, The Hundred Years War: Trial by Fire, (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001), 241.
  4. Thomas Ertman, Birth of the Leviathan: Building States and Regimes in Medieval and Early Modern Europe, (Cambridge University Press, 1997), 85-86.
  5. Jean-Sébastien Laurentie, Histoire de France, divisée par époques depuis les origines gauloises jusqu'aux temps présents, Tome IV, Deuxième époque, (Lagny Frères, Libraires, Paris, 1841), p. 61
  6. Barbara Tuchman, A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century, (Random House Publishing, 1978), 238.
  7. (FR) Mémoires de la Société de l'histoire de Paris et de l'Île-de-France, Vol.11, (Imprimerie G. Daupeley, 1885), 221.
Charles V of France
Cadet branch of the Capetian dynasty
Born: 21 January 1338 Died: 16 September 1380
Regnal titles
Preceded by
John II
King of France
8 April 1364 – 16 September 1380
Succeeded by
Charles VI
Royal domain
Title last held by
John I
Duke of Normandy
1355 – 8 April 1364
Merged into the crown
Title next held by
Charles II
Preceded by
Humbert II
Dauphin of Viennois
22 August 1350 – 7 June 1366
Succeeded by
John III
Preceded by
John III
Dauphin of Viennois
21 December 1366 – 3 December 1368
Succeeded by
Charles II

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