Charles the Mad, Duke of Burgundy, House of Valois, Isabeau of Bavaria-Ingolstadt, King Charles VI of France, Kingdom of France, Philip the Bold, Pope Pius II
Charles VI (December 3, 1369 – October 21, 1422), called the Beloved and later the Mad, was King of France for 42 years, from 1380 until his death in 1422. He is known for his mental illness and psychotic episodes which plagued him throughout his life. Charles’s reign would see his army crushed at the Battle of Agincourt, leading to the signing of the Treaty of Troyes, which made his future son-in-law Henry V of England his regent and heir to the throne of France. However, Henry would die shortly before Charles, which gave the House of Valois the chance to continue the fight against the English, leading to their eventual victory and the end of the Hundred Years’ War in 1453.
Charles was born in Paris, in the royal residence of the Hôtel Saint-Pol, on December 3, 1368, the son of the king of France Charles V, of the House of Valois, and of Joanna of Bourbon. As heir to the French throne, his elder brothers having died before he was born, Charles held the title Dauphin of France.
At his father’s death on September 16, 1380, he inherited the throne of France. His coronation took place on November 4, 1380, at Reims Cathedral. Charles VI was only 11 years old when he was crowned King of France. During his minority, France was ruled by Charles’ uncles, as regents. Although the royal age of majority was 14 (the “age of accountability” under Roman Catholic canon law), Charles terminated the regency only at the age of 21.
The regents were Philippe the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, Louis I, Duke of Anjou, and Jean, Duke of Berry – all brothers of Charles V – along with Louis II, Duke of Bourbon, Charles VI’s maternal uncle. Philippe took the dominant role during the regency. Louis of Anjou was fighting for his claim to the Kingdom of Naples after 1382, dying in 1384; Jean of Berry was interested mainly in the Languedoc, and not particularly interested in politics; and Louis of Bourbon was a largely unimportant figure, owing to his personality (showing signs of mental instability) and status (since he was not the son of a king).
Charles VI brought the regency to an end in 1388, taking up personal rule. He restored to power the highly competent advisors of Charles V, known as the Marmousets, who ushered in a new period of high esteem for the crown. Charles VI was widely referred to as Charles the Beloved by his subjects.
Charles VI’s early successes with the Marmousets as his counselors quickly dissipated as a result of the bouts of psychosis he experienced from his mid-twenties. Mental illness may have been passed on for several generations through his mother, Joanna of Bourbon. Although still called by his subjects Charles the Beloved, he became known also as Charles the Mad.
Charles’s first known episode occurred in 1392 when his friend and advisor, Olivier de Clisson, was the victim of an attempted murder. Although Clisson survived, Charles was determined to punish the would-be assassin, Pierre de Craon, who had taken refuge in Brittany. Jean V, Duke of Brittany, was unwilling to hand him over, so Charles prepared a military expedition.
Contemporaries said Charles appeared to be in a “fever” to begin the campaign and disconnected in his speech. Charles set off with an army on July 1, 1392. The progress of the army was slow, driving Charles into a frenzy of impatience. As the king and his escort were traveling through the forest near Le Mans on a hot August morning, a barefoot leper dressed in rags rushed up to the King’s horse and grabbed his bridle. “Ride no further, noble King!” he yelled: “Turn back! You are betrayed!” The king’s escorts beat the man back, but did not arrest him, and he followed the procession for half an hour, repeating his cries.
The company emerged from the forest at noon. A page who was drowsy from the sun dropped the king’s lance, which clanged loudly against a steel helmet carried by another page. Charles shuddered, drew his sword and yelled “Forward against the traitors! They wish to deliver me to the enemy!” The king spurred his horse and began swinging his sword at his companions, fighting until one of his chamberlains and a group of soldiers were able to grab him from his mount and lay him on the ground. He lay still and did not react, but then fell into a coma. The king had killed a knight known as “The Bastard of Polignac” and several other men.
Periods of mental illness continued throughout the king’s life. During one in 1393, he could not remember his name and did not know he was king. When his wife came to visit, he asked his servants who she was and ordered them to take care of what she required so that she would leave him alone. During an episode in 1395–96 he claimed he was Saint George and that his coat of arms was a lion with a sword thrust through it. At this time, he recognized all the officers of his household, but did not know his wife nor his children. Sometimes he ran wildly through the corridors of his Parisian residence, the Hôtel Saint-Pol, and to keep him inside, the entrances were walled up.
In 1405, he refused to bathe or change his clothes for five months. His later psychotic episodes were not described in detail, perhaps because of the similarity of his behavior and delusions. Pope Pius II, who was born during the reign of Charles VI, wrote in his Commentaries that there were times when Charles thought that he was made of glass, and thus tried to protect himself in various ways so that he would not break. He reportedly had iron rods sewn into his clothes so that he would not shatter if he came into contact with another person. This condition has come to be known as glass delusion.
Charles VI married Isabeau of Bavaria (ca. 1371 – 24 September 1435) on July 17, 1385. She gave birth to 12 children. Isabeau of Bavaria (or Isabelle; also Elisabeth of Bavaria-Ingolstadt; c. 1370 – 1435) was queen of France between 1385 and 1422. She was born into the House of Wittelsbach as the eldest daughter of Duke Stephen III of Bavaria-Ingolstadt and Taddea Visconti of Milan. At age 15 or 16, Isabeau was sent to the young King Charles VI of France; the couple wed three days after their first meeting.