Front Matter France Long Ago The Gauls In France The Priests of the Gauls Sailor Stories Conquests of the Gauls Two Great Battles Caesar in Gaul Gaul under the Romans First Christian Martyrs Patron Saint of France Franks Come to Gaul The First Kings Conquests of Clovis Clotaire and His Relatives Two Rival Queens Good King Dagobert The Saracens Checked End of the Merovingians Charlemagne's Wars Charlemagne's Manners Charlemagne, Emperor Feudalism Troublesome Sons The Strassburg Oath Normans Besiege Paris Last of the Carolingians The Year One Thousand Robert's Two Wives Wealth of the Clergy The First Crusade A Love Story The Second Crusade More Crusades The Battle of Bouvines Blanche of Castile The Sixth Crusade The Reign of Louis IX Effect of the Crusades The Battle of the Spurs End of Knights Templar The Hundred Years' War The Siege of Calais The Battle of Poitiers Seven Years of Misery The Brave du Guesclin Achievements of Charles V Charles VI Misrule in France The Disgraceful Treaty Joan to the Rescue Orleans and Rheims Joan's Martyrdom Charles's Successes The Crafty King Louis XI Louis XI's Reign Achievements of Louis XI Charles VIII The Second Italian War Death of Louis XII Francis I Rivalry of Kings Achievements of Francis I End of Francis's Reign Reign of Henry II A Young King and Queen Catherine's Regency The Forced Wedding Massacre of the Huguenots Death of Charles IX An Effeminate King he Battle of Coutras The Murder of the Guises Winning a Crown Conversion of Henry IV Henry IV's Second Marriage Death of Henry IV The Minority of Louis XIII Rule of the Favorites Richelieu and Louis XIII End of Louis XIII's Reign Beginning of a Great Reign Wars of the Fronde Death of Mazarin Versailles The Iron Mask Louis XIV's Campaigns Madame de Maintenon Later Wars of Louis XIV The Spanish Succession The Age of Louis XIV

Story of Old France - Helene Guerber

Charles VI.

Charles V left the throne to his son Charles VI, but as the new ruler was only twelve years of age, four of his uncles undertook to govern the country in his name. Unfortunately, however, each one of these princes thought more of filling his own pockets and of furthering his own interests, than of governing wisely, so you can imagine what the French people had to suffer.

One of these men, having recklessly spent the money found in his dead brother's treasury, proposed to raise more by levying a tax on everything that was sold in the realm. But a poor woman, who had sold a bunch of watercress, raised such an outcry when the tax collector asked her for a share of the price, that it occasioned a riot in Paris.

The rioters madly rushed to the arsenal to seize the iron mallets which had been stored there to use in defending the city against an attack from the King of Navarre, or the Great Companies; hence they were called the Malleters. Once armed with these weapons, which they handled with a will, the rioters promptly slew the tax collectors. This was a breach of law and order for which they might have been sorely punished, had not a worthy citizen interceded with the king to forgive them.

This good man (Desmarets), having incurred the royal displeasure sometime after, was unjustly sentenced to death. Then the people, remembering how eloquently he had pleaded in their behalf, besought him on the way to the scaffold, to ask the king's mercy for himself, too; but he bravely answered, "I have served well and loyally his great-grandfather, his grandfather, and his father, and will now ask mercy of God alone, for if the king had had the age and knowledge of a man, he would never have been guilty of such a judgment upon me."

This great revolt of the Parisians was only a sample of what was taking place in many other parts of France, for everywhere people were growing weary of constant mismanagement, and becoming more and more eager to settle matters to suit themselves. In Flanders, for instance, the citizens rebelled, and setting a leader, Philip van Arteveld, at their head, actually prepared to resist the king's army when it advanced to suppress them.

This war against Flanders—the first in which Charles VI took part—is famous for another hard-fought battle, near Courtrai (1382), in which the French won a great victory, although some say their sacred banner, or oriflamme, was lost during the fray and never seen again. After this battle the French army proceeded to Courtrai, to rescue the French spurs kept there as trophies, and burn down the town, by way of further revenge for a former humiliating defeat.

The king's uncles, who had made so many mistakes already, were now very busy, one of them in conquering the kingdom of Naples,—for which enterprise France had to furnish both money and men,—the others in taking possession of estates newly fallen to their share in Languedoc and in Flanders. Because they were thus deeply engaged, King Charles was allowed to assume the government at a very early age. Still, young as he was, he showed far more sense than his experienced uncles, for he soon recalled his father's capable ministers, and for the first few years of his personal reign honestly tried to do his best for people and country.

Now, it was customary in those days for kings to marry very early, so when Charles VI, at seventeen, beheld the fourteen-year-old Isabella of Bavaria, and was charmed by her beauty, he proposed, was accepted, and married,—all in the course of a few days. Charles's wife was very beautiful, but so young and untrained that she thought of nothing but dress and pleasure; and as she was unfortunately placed in the midst of a court noted for its depravity, it is not surprising that she soon learned all the evil there was for her to absorb, and none of the good.

Still, during the first few years, Isabella and her husband seemed to agree very nicely, for she taught Charles VI to take almost as much pleasure in her favorite pastimes as she did herself. In fact, nothing seemed to break the continual round of royal amusements, not even the death of the king's uncle who had gone to Italy, or the loss of his French army, or the horrible death of Charles the Bad, who, feeling ill, had been wrapped in a sheet saturated with alcohol, which one of his servants accidentally set afire by coming too close with a light.

Isabella of Bavaria


Having finally triumphed over rebellious Flanders, the French became eager to resume the old Hundred Years' War; so they began by preparing a large and sumptuous fleet to carry them over to England. By some mismanagement, however, the right moment was missed, so all the money lavished upon this undertaking was simply wasted.

To forget this disappointment, the king now plunged more recklessly than ever into fetes and dissipations. He celebrated with unwonted magnificence the marriage of his brother, the Duke of Orleans, with a princess from Milan, and his own interview with the uncles of the English king proved another occasion for festivities.

The following year, when only twenty-four, Charles VI, already weakened by excesses, was suffering an attack of low fever, when he heard that an attempt had been made to murder his general in chief, as the man was leaving the palace one evening. Infuriated by this insult, the king rose from his sick bed to pursue and punish the murderers, although his uncles and physicians besought him to wait until he felt stronger, and the intense summer heats were over.

Charles was riding through a forest with a small escort, when an old, disheveled, half-clad man suddenly sprang out of a thicket and seized the bridle of the king's horse, crying in awful tones, "Turn back, O king! Thou art betrayed!"

This apparition then vanished as suddenly as it had appeared, and the king—who was very superstitious—rode slowly on, wondering what such a strange warning might portend. He had just left the forest and was riding across a plain, when, overcome by the heat, one of the pages following him suddenly dropped the lance he carried, so that it clashed against his companion's armor.

The sharp click of weapons, breaking the summer stillness behind him, and falling upon a nervously apprehensive ear, startled the poor king into sudden insanity. He fell upon his escort, attacked his own brother, and was disarmed only when utterly exhausted by mad efforts to kill all around him.

For most of the time during the next thirty years, Charles VI was insane, and was kept locked up in his palace, where he was often sorely neglected; we are told that for months his clothes were never changed, and that he ate and slept more like a wild beast than like a human being. His wife, who did not wish to be bothered with his care or amusement, soon picked out a peasant girl to act as nurse and share his solitude, and this ignorant girl proved more faithful and compassionate than his own kin or consort, for she always watched over him tenderly.

When the king was moderately well, he took great pleasure in seeing plays, which were then called "mysteries," "moralities," or "passions," according to the subjects of which they treated. He also indulged in cards, and we are told this well-known game was either invented or improved for his express benefit. Each card was symbolical, hearts representing the clergy; spades (pikes), the soldiers; diamonds (tiles), the workmen; and clubs (clover-leaves), the peasants. The four kings were dubbed David, Alexander, Caesar, and Charles VI, and the four queens and knaves also bore names well known in the history and romances of the period.

The king's illness was probably made considerably worse by the extraordinary remedies used to cure him, and by the lack of proper hygiene in his care. You see, in those days, many people thought that the insane were possessed by demons, and believed that sane people could easily be driven crazy by magic arts. To eject the evil spirit, therefore, and cure the king, all kinds of queer remedies were tried. Once, for instance, the poor man was made to drink a potion concocted out of ground pearls. But all the remedies proved futile, for it was only at times, and for a brief season, that he recovered his senses and feebly tried to govern his realm, which, during his insane periods, was misgoverned by his wife, his brother, and his uncles.