Front Matter Gauls Defeat Romans Vercingetorix Saints of France Attila, Scourge of God Story of Clovis Sons of Clovis Mayors of the Palace Charles the Hammer Pepin the Short Charlemagne in Lombardy Defeat at Roncesvalles Emperor of the West Louis the Pious War of Three Brothers Louis the Stammerer Paris defies the Sea Kings Rollo the Viking Hugh Capet Becomes King Bishop Betrays the Duke Robert the Pious The Peace of God Harold Visits Duke William William Sails to England The Battle of Hastings Peter the Hermit First War of the Cross Louis the Fat and Laon King Fights his Vassal Second War of the Cross French Queen of England How Normandy Was Lost Albigenses War Battle of Bouvines Story of Hugh de La Marche Reign of St. Louis St. Louis's last Crusade Peter the Barber Knights vs. Weavers Pope vs. Philip the Fair Sons of Philip the Fair Philip VI vs. Flanders Battle and Plague King vs. Charles the Bad The Jacquerie Stephen Marcel Betrays Paris Charles V and du Guesclin Du Guesclin Fights for France The Madness of Charles VI The Battle of Agincourt The Maid of Orleans End of Hundred Years' War King vs. Charles the Bold Troubles of Duchess Mary Charles the Affable Knight Without Reproach Battle of the Spurs Francis I, Gentleman King King Taken Prisoner Duke of Guise Defends Metz Calais Returns to France The Riot of Amboise Huguenot and Catholic St. Bartholomew Massacre War of the Three Henries The Protestant King Edict of Nantes Reign of Favorites Taking of La Rochelle Power of the Cardinal-King Reign of Louis XIV The Man in the Iron Mask The Height of Power Edict of Nantes Revoked War of Spanish Succession

History of France - H. E. Marshall

How an Ugly Little Boy Became a Great Knight
Charles V (the Wise) [1364-1380]

Charles V was twenty-seven when in 1364 he came to the throne. It could hardly be called a new reign, for already he had ruled for several years. He was a weak and sickly man, and to begin with had not shown himself a wise ruler. He was nothing of a soldier. He had been among the first to flee at Poitiers. He seemed nothing of a statesman, for during the revolt in Paris he had been unable to hold his own.

But Charles had learned many things since first he tried to rule. Now he earned for himself the name of Charles le Sage, or the Wise. He had need of all his wisdom, for he had three great enemies to fight, the King of England, the King of Navarre, and the Free Companies.

These Free Companies were the result of the many wars which had wasted France. When Kings and Princes went to war they no longer trusted only to their own vassals. They hired soldiers who were willing to fight for any king or country so long as they were paid. When the war was over these men were paid off. Their trade was war, and in peace there was nothing left for them to do. So they banded together under their chosen captains, and calling themselves Free Companies roved the country, a terror to all.

In these companies was to be found the very dregs of the armies. There were among them Englishmen, Dutchmen, Germans, Italians, Bretons, Spaniards, indeed people of almost every nation of Europe. They were of every class too. There were nobles among the leaders. Even in the ranks, outcast nobles fought side by side with thieves and cut-throats, runaway priests, peasants, laborers, and all the riff-raff of the towns.

They were absolutely lawless and pitilessly cruel. And as they grew rich in their spoils they lived lives of savage luxury, liking best the richest parts of France, where there was fine pasture for their horses, and good wine for themselves.

Charles fought his three great enemies with his brain. He it was who first taught the knights of France that reckless valor is not enough if one would win. He taught them that it was not enough to dash madly onward with spur in side and lance in rest. He taught them that cunning must be met with cunning, stratagem with stratagem.

Yet Charles never led his army himself. He was the first King who sat at home and from there directed his men. It was his good fortune to know how to choose his generals, and choose them well.

Chief among them was a Breton gentleman, Bertrand du Guesclin, whom Charles made Constable or Commander-in-Chief. du Guesclin was a true knight. Yet no one could be more unlike our ideas of the splendid knights of old. He was not tall and handsome, he was an ugly, broad, thick-set man with a dark-brown face, a flat nose, and green eyes. When he was a little boy he was so ugly that even his mother would not look at him. Although he was the eldest, she would not let him sit at table with his brothers, but made him eat at a small table in a corner of the great hall.

As you may imagine, to be treated like this made Bertrand feel very sore and angry in his little heart. He could not help his ugly face, and it seemed hard to him to be punished for it. And as he was always treated rudely he too became rude and rough.

One day there was a great feast, and as usual Bertrand was seated by himself in the corner eating his heart out with rage at seeing his younger brothers seated at the high table beside their mother. But when he saw her help them first he could no longer contain his fury. Rising from his seat he darted at his brothers. "You eat first while I have to wait like a servant!" he cried. "Get up! This is my place, for I am the eldest."

Quite frightened at the angry tones and fierce flashing eyes of their big brother, the younger ones moved, and Bertrand took his proper place.

As soon as he was seated he began to eat so greedily that the lady Jeanne, his mother, was shocked.

"Bertrand," she cried, "if you do not leave the table at once I shall beat you."

That was more than Bertrand, proud and hurt as he was already, could stand. He rose quickly, and with a great push overturned the table so that bread, and meat, and wine, plates and dishes went rolling on the floor.

Amidst all the confusion an old wise woman came into the hall. "What is it all about?" she asked.

"Ah," replied the lady, "it is my ugly, wicked boy, and I wish he had never been born."

The old wise woman looked kindly at Bertrand, and spoke to him gently. But Bertrand was not used to kindly looks and speech. He thought she was making fun of him. He glared at her darkly from underneath his rough hair. "Let me alone," he said. "If you make fun of me I have a stick, so you had better look out." When his mother heard Bertrand speak so rudely she was more distressed than ever, and began to scold him afresh. But the wise woman stopped her.

"Lady," she said, "you are wrong. This child here whom you treat so badly will be greater than any of his forefathers. There shall not be his equal under heaven, and he shall be loaded with honors by the King of France. They may burn me alive if I speak not the truth."

Bertrand was so pleased to hear any one speak well of him that he was at once sorry for his rudeness. The table being again spread, he seized the dishes from the servants, and himself waited upon the old wise woman. He poured out wine for her to drink, but so clumsily that it ran all over the table. Yet for once Bertrand was not scolded, and from that day he began to take his proper place among the family.

As he grew older his greatest joy was to collect forty or fifty of the village children and make them fight tournaments. Sometimes these mock battles were so fierce that Bertrand returned home with his clothes all torn and blood-stained. And from playing soldier as a boy he grew up to be a soldier and leader of men. One could fill a whole book with stories about du Guesclin, for this ugly Breton knight was full of courage and wisdom. He too, like Charles the Wise, saw that war was not a game, that blind bravery was not enough, and that to succeed one must fight with the brain as well as with the sword. He was as brave as a lion and as true as steel. The Bretons had always been the most rebellious people of France, but in du Guesclin, Breton though he was, Charles found a most faithful friend.

And it was really by his help that Charles got the better of all his three great enemies. The very day that Charles was crowned du Guesclin fought and defeated the King of Navarre. After this he was no longer to be dreaded as he had been. Thus at the very beginning of his reign Charles was well-nigh rid of one enemy.