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Charles VII (February 22, 1403 – July 22, 1461), called the Victorious or the Well-Served was King of France from October 21, 1422 to his death on July 22, 1461.

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Charles VII was born at the Hôtel Saint-Pol, the royal residence in Paris, the eleventh child and fifth son of Charles VI of France and Isabeau of Bavaria-Ingolstadt, the eldest daughter of Duke Stephen III of Bavaria-Ingolstadt and Taddea Visconti of Milan. Charles was given the title of comte de Ponthieu at his birth in 1403. His four elder brothers, Charles (1386), Charles (1392–1401), Louis (1397–1415) and Jean (1398–1417) had each held the title of Dauphin of France (heir to the French Throne) in turn. All died childless, leaving Charles with a rich inheritance of titles.

Charles VII inherited the throne of France in the midst of the Hundred Years’ War, under desperate circumstances. Forces of the Kingdom of England and the Duke 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 had disinherited him in 1420 and recognized Henry V of England and his heirs as the legitimate successors to 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 (supporters of the House of Valois-Burgundy allied to the English).

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Marie of Anjou

On December 18, 1422, Charles married his second cousin Marie of Anjou the eldest daughter of Duke Louis II of Anjou, claimant to the throne of Naples, and Yolande of Aragon, claimant to the throne of Aragon. They were both great-grandchildren of King Jean II of France and his first wife Bonne of Bohemia through the male line. They had fourteen children. 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.

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. 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 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 February 23, 1429.

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Joan of Arc

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.

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Joan of Arc at the coronation of Charles VII with her white flag

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 on May 8, 1429, thus turning the tide of the war. The French won the Battle of Patay on June 18, 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 July 17, 1429.

Joan was later captured by Burgundian troops under John of Luxembourg at the siege of Compiègne on May 24, 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 May 30, 1431.