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From the Emperor’s Desk: Yesterday I featured Louis I, Duke of Orléans On the anniversary of his murder. Today I am featuring his son, Charles, Duke of Orléans Orléans, on the anniversary of his birth.

Charles of Orléans (November 24, 1394 – January 5, 1465) was Duke of Orléans from 1407, following the murder of his father, Louis I, Duke of Orléans. He was also Duke of Valois, Count of Beaumont-sur-Oise and of Blois, Lord of Coucy, and the inheritor of Asti in Italy via his mother Valentina Visconti

He is now remembered as an accomplished medieval poet, owing to the more than five hundred extant poems he produced, written in both French and English, during his 25 years spent as a prisoner of war and after his return to France.


Charles was born in Paris, the son of Louis I, Duke of Orléans and Valentina Visconti, daughter of Gian Galeazzo, Duke of Milan and his first wife Isabelle of Valois, a daughter of King Jean II the Good of France by his first wife, Bonne of Bohemia.

Charles acceded to the Duchy of Orléans at the age of thirteen after his father had been assassinated on the orders of Jean the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy. Charles was expected to carry on his father’s leadership against the Burgundians, a French faction which supported Jean the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy.

The latter was never punished for his role in Louis’ assassination, and Charles had to watch as his grief-stricken mother Valentina Visconti succumbed to illness not long afterwards. At her deathbed, Charles and the other boys of the family were made to swear the traditional oath of vengeance for their father’s murder.

During the early years of his reign as duke, the orphaned Charles was heavily influenced by the guidance of his father-in-law, Bernard VII, Count of Armagnac, for which reason Charles’ faction came to be known as the Armagnacs.


After war with the Kingdom of England was renewed in 1415, Charles was one of the many French noblemen at the Battle of Agincourt on October 25, 1415. He was discovered unwounded but trapped under a pile of corpses. He was taken prisoner by the English, and spent the next twenty-four years as their hostage. After his capture, his entire library was moved by Yolande of Aragon to Saumur, to prevent it from falling into enemy hands.

He was held at various locations, moved from one castle to another in England, including the Tower of London, and Pontefract Castle – the castle where England’s young King Richard II, cousin once removed of the then incumbent English King Henry V, had been imprisoned and died 15 years earlier at the age of 33.

The conditions of his confinement were not strict; he was allowed to live more or less in the manner to which he had become accustomed, like so many other captured nobles. However, he was not offered release in exchange for a ransom, since the English King Henry V had left instructions forbidding any release: Charles was the natural head of the Armagnac faction and in the line of succession to the French throne, and was therefore deemed too important to be returned to circulation.


It was during these twenty-four years that Charles would write most of his poetry, including melancholy works which seem to be commenting on the captivity itself, such as En la forêt de longue attente.

The majority of his output consists of two books, one in French and the other in English, in the ballade and rondeau fixed forms. Though once controversial, it is now abundantly clear that Charles wrote the English poems which he left behind when he was released in 1440. Unfortunately, his acceptance in the English canon has been slow. A. E. B. Coldiron has argued that the problem relates to his “approach to the erotic, his use of puns, wordplay, and rhetorical devices, his formal complexity and experimentation, his stance or voice: all these place him well outside the fifteenth-century literary milieu in which he found himself in England.

One of his poems, Is she not passing fair?, was translated by Louisa Stuart Costello and set to music by Edward Elgar. Claude Debussy set three of his poems to music in his Trois Chansons de Charles d’Orléans, L.92, for unaccompanied mixed choir. Reynaldo Hahn set six of them : Les Fourriers d’été, Comment se peut-il faire ainsi, Un loyal cœur (Chansons et Madrigaux – 1907) ; Quand je fus pris au pavillon, Je me mets en votre mercy, Gardez le trait de la fenêtre (Rondels – 1899).


Finally freed in 1440 by the efforts of his former enemies, Philippe the Good and Isabella of Portugal, the Duke and Duchess of Burgundy, he set foot on French soil again after 25 years, by now a middle aged man at 46 and “speaking better English than French,” according to the English chronicler Raphael Holinshed. Philippe the Good had made it a condition that the murder of Charles’ father Louis of Orleans by Philip’s own father, Jean the Fearless, would not be avenged (Jeann himself had been assassinated in 1419.)

Charles agreed to this condition prior to his release. Meeting the Duchess of Burgundy after disembarking, the gallant Charles said: “M’Lady, I make myself your prisoner.” At the celebration of his third marriage, with Marie of Cleves, he was created a Knight of the Golden Fleece. His subsequent return to Orléans was marked by a splendid celebration organised by the citizens.

He made an unsuccessful attempt to press his claims to Asti in Italy, before settling down as a celebrated patron of the arts. He died at Amboise in his 71st year.

Marriage and children

Charles married three times. His first wife Isabella of Valois (daughter of Charles VI of France and Isabeau of Bavaria, and widow of Richard II of England), whom he married in Compiègne in 1406, and died in childbirth. Their daughter, Joan married Jean II of Alençon in 1424 in Blois.

Afterwards, in 1410 he married Bonne of Armagnac, the daughter of Bernard VII, Count of Armagnac and his wife Bonne of Berry. Bonne died before he returned from captivity. The couple had no mutual children
On his return to France in 1440, Charles married Marie of Cleves in Saint-Omer (daughter of Adolph I, Duke of Cleves and Maria of Burgundy, Duchess of Cleves (1393 – 1466) who was the second child of Jean the Fearless and Margaret of Bavaria, and an elder sister of Philippe the Good.

Maria of Burgundy became the second wife of Adolph, Count of Mark in May 1406. He was made the 1st Duke of Cleves in 1417. They were the grandparents of King Louis XII of France and the great-grandparents of Johann III, Duke of Cleves, father of Anne of Cleves, who was fourth Queen consort of Henry VIII of England. By their daughter, Catherine, they were ancestors of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Charles and Maria had three children:

Marie of Orléans (1457 – 1493). Married Jean of Foix in 1483.

Louis XII of France (1462–1515)

Anne of Orléans (1464–1491), Abbess of Fontevrault and Holy Cross Abbey Poitiers.