1902 Encyclopedia > Charles VII of France

Charles VII
King of France

CHARLES VII. (1403-1461), king of France, the son of Charles VI., was betrothed at ten to Mary of Anjou, daughter of Louis, king of Sicily, whom he married nine years after. He became dauphin at the age of thirteen ; and while only fourteen, on account of the insanity of his father, he held the position of lord-lieutenant of the king-dom. At first the strong hand of Bernard of Armagnac, the constable, guided the government; but the triumph of the Armagnacs, crowned by the murder of John of Burgundy in the very presence of the dauphin, brought the most serious trouble upon France. Aided by the Burgundians, the English soon gained a mastery so complete that in 1420 the treaty of Troyes conferred the succession upon their king, Henry V., who had married Catherine, the daughter of Charles VI. In August 1422, however, Henry died, and Charles VI. a few weeks after. Bedford became English regent of France ; and the ability of his administration resisted all hostile attempts. The defeats of the French at Crevant (1423) and Verneuil (1424) were disastrous, and their successes were few and unimportant. It was plain that Charles, intent upon nothing but a round of frivolous dissipation, would never effect the independence of the country. Though he was capable of being roused to energy, the weakness of his character was conspicuous. He was dependent upon a succession of advisers, which included both the worst and the greatest men and women of his day. No king was ever cursed by more worthless favourites than Charles during his youth, and no French court was ever in a state of more miserable anarchy than that of the first years of his reign; but yet to none could the title of " Well-Served " have been more fitly applied, for none has borrowed more undeserved glory from the great men who surrounded him. Favourite at first rapidly followed favourite,—Tannegui Duchatel, the lawyer Louvet, Pierre de Giac, the haughty Lecamus de Beaulieu, and La Tré-mouille.

But France was not entirely left to these selfish courtiers. A national spirit was rising, and she possessed many bold soldiers who were willing to fight her battles. The constable Bichemont, though violent, and though he unfortunately laboured under a superstitious terror of heresy and sorcery, was honest and capable. Under him fought Dunois the bastard of Orleans, La Hire, Xaintrailles, Brézé, Jean and Gaspard Bureau, and the three brothers Chabannes. But the greatest impulse was given to the French arms by the noble country maiden, Joan of Arc, who, after placing the king firmly on the throne, received from him as reward nothing but jealousy and the most heartless desertion (see JOAN OF ARC). The benefit which she wrought for France did not end with her life. The English were still forced to give way. In 1435, by the treaty of Arras, Philip the Good of Burgundy broke with them, and joined the French; the death of Bedford in the same year left them no chance of rallying, and soon Paris received its rightful sovereign.

In the meantime a great change had come over the court and the king. Charles had fallen into better hands. A most beneficial influence has been ascribed to Yolande of Aragón, his mother-in-law, Isabel of Lorraine, his sister-in-law, and Agnes Sorel, his mistress. And, more important still, a great revolution had taken place in the royal council, a large part of which now consisted, not of nobles, but of commoners. The greatest of these was Jacques Cceur, who, having amassed a vast fortune by financial speculations and commerce, had become the argentier of the king, and gradu-ally acquired power in all the branches of administration. Surrounded by men of energy and patriotism, Charles's facile nature reflected both these virtues, and he appeared in the battle-field among his troops. Normandy was re-covered by Dunois and Bichemont (1449) ; the English were driven out of Guienne; and in 1453 there remained to them nothing but the single fortress of Calais. Among the other important events that had meanwhile taken place may be mentioned the ratification in 1438 of the "Pragmatic Sanction," and extensive army reforms whereby both privates and officers became immediately dependent upon the sovereign.

In 1450 Agnes Sorel died Soon after, and in connec-tion with her death, occurred Charles's second great act of ingratitude. Jacques Coeur, by aid of whose abilities and money much of the success of the reign had been achieved, was accused of intrigues with the dauphin, and charged with poisoning Agnes at his instigation. He cleared himself of these charges, but others were immediately substituted, which, so far as they were true, afford no excuse for Charles. He was condemned to death ; and though his life was spared, his property was confiscated, and himself banished from the country (1453).

Towards the close of Charles's life his condition became even more scandalous and wretched than it had been in the troublous times of his youth. With the death of Agnes all show of dignity and decency was cast aside, and the king at length died, the miserable victim of his own faults. Bitter ill feeling had arisen between him and the dauphin ; the latter had fled ; his father's repeated entreaties could not induce him to return ; and Charles, insane through his fear that his son would seek to get rid of him by means of poison, refused to eat, and on the 22d July 1461 died at Mehun of starvation.

During this reign there had taken place three events of the first importance to France,—the expulsion of the English and of the free companies, the establishment of a standing army, supported by a large permanent tax, and the enactment of the Pragmatic Sanction. Besides these, the university of Paris has been brought under the jurisdiction of the Parliament, and other reforms, such as the shortening of the legal processes, and the strict prohibition of all presents to members of the court, had been effected. In case of vacancies it was decreed that the Parliament should nominate two or three persons, from whom the king should select one. The Court of Aids was also instituted, to decide all cases connected with the levying of taxes ; but its constitution was extremely faulty, as it gave to the same persons, viz., the treasurers, the power of extortion and of trying for extortion.

See Vallet de Viriville, Charles VII. et son époque (1862-5), and Clément, Jacques Cœur et Charles VII. (1873).

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