1902 Encyclopedia > Charles V of France

Charles V
(1337-80)
King of France




CHARLES V. (1337-1380), king of France, born in 1337, was the son of John II. His physical weakness, precluding him from the usual ambitions of his rank, led him to cultivate the taste for literature and the political ability which gained for him the title of " the Wise." From the age of nineteen to that of twenty-three, during the exile of his father, a period of great disturbance and difficulty, he ruled as lieutenant of the kingdom. The first States-General which he summoned, led by Stephen Marcel, president of the tiers-état, and Robert le Coq, president of the clergy, refused to raise levies or subsidies, and demanded, first, the trial before judges nominated by themselves of the ministers of justice and of finance, whom they accused of corruption ; secondly, the establishment of a council chosen from the three chambers to be consulted in all cases by the dauphin ; and lastly, the release of the king of Navarre. Next year (1357) they were equally determined; they forced the dauphin to give his assent to an ordinance which greatly extended the authority of the States, and the commission appointed to carry it out ruled for some time with dictatorial power. The authority of Marcel also was such that he was bold enough to enter the palace of the dauphin, and slay two of his chief officers,—the marshals of Champagne and Normandy. At the same time another enemy, Charles, the king of Navarre, was enjoying unbounded popularity among the people of Paris, and maintaining their cause. France, indeed, seemed ripe for revolution, for its condition was wretched in the extreme. The heartless ravages of the English, of the free companies, and of the French nobles themselves had laid waste the country, and maddened the peasantry till, under the name of La Jacquerie, they burst into hideous revolts, in which they committed the most brutal outrages against the hated nobility. But after a few months, by the assassination of Marcel, and the support of the nobles and of the provincial States, Charles regained the supremacy. When he again appealed to the States-General, in order to obtain the rejection of the ruinous treaty of London, which John had signed in his eagerness to procure his own release, he also received from them troops and money to carry on the war in Picardy. But he never again convoked them, ex-cept on one occasion (in 1369), when they are said to have proved extremely submissive. Ever after he had recourse to assemblies of notables, or to the provincial States, which never ventured to offer him serious opposition.

From 1360 to 1364 John, ransomed by the treaty of Bretigny, ruled in person ; but in the latter year, to save his honour, he returned to London, and in April he died there, leaving the crown to Charles.

Charles at once set himself vigorously to the task of binding up the wounds of the kingdom, and preparing to expel the English. He employed Duguesclin, an able soldier of Brittany, to lead 30,000 men of the free com-panies into Spain, and to set Henry of Transtamare upon the throne. Thus he not only freed the country from a grievous scourge, but also obtained the friend-ship of the Spanish king. He had already made alliances with the king of Castile, with the count of Flanders, with Scotland, and even with Charles of Navarre; and after having carefully fortified the principal towns, he provoked a renewal of the war with England. The wise policy on which he had resolved was carried out with great firmness. Pitched battles were avoided, and the enemy, being repulsed by the towns, had nothing left but to ravage the country, with the result of deepening the hatred of the people. The Bretons were gained over, and soon all the land to the north of the Garonne ceased to belong to the English (1373). In 1380 the conquest of Guienne by the French left them only Bayonne, Bordeaux, Brest, and Calais.

At the same time Charles crushed his other great enemy, the king of Navarre. After accusing him of various plots against himself and other members of the royal family, he took his two sons as hostages, executed two of his ministers, and raised up enemies against him who seized great part of his territory, and forced him to give up twenty places as security for peace.

But Charles's last aggressive attempt was not equally successful He summoned the duke of Brittany before him, and when he failed to appear, declared his dukedom confiscated to the crown. The result, however, was that the people recalled the duke, who had previously been banished, and formed an alliance with England. While affairs were in this condition Charles died at Vincennes, on the 16th September 1380.

His reign had left many important results. The country had been freed for a time—though, unfortunately, only for a time—from its two great scourges, the free companies and the English. The residence of a pope at Avignon under the influence of the king tended to make the Gallican Church more independent. The privileges of the nobility were somewhat invaded by Charles's favour to the burgesses of Paris. Something was done to increase the purity of the administration of justice, and the parliament of Paris was allowed to become self-elective,—a reform which, however, was only temporary, a retrogressive change being made under Charles VII. On the other hand, the States-General were silenced; the personal power of the king was increased ; and the weight of taxes, often from their nature peculiarly oppressive, was greatly multiplied, for, notwithstanding the grievous war expenses, Charles set no limit to the free indulgence of his tastes: He left several cost'y specimens of the expensive art of architecture, including the splendid palace of Saint Paul and the strong walls of the Bastille; and he distinguished him-self still more honourably by founding the royal library at Paris.

See Froissart, Roy's Histoire de Charles V. (1849), and The
Chronicle of St Denis.







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