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

The Madness of the King
Charles VI (the Mad) [1380-1422]

Charles VI was only a child when in 1380 he came to the throne. His father was hardly dead before his uncles, the Dukes of Anjou, Bourbon, and Burgundy, began to quarrel as to which of them should be Regent. Hardly were these quarrels settled when revolts broke out both in Paris and in Flanders.

The Flemish leader was Philip van Artevelde, son of that Jacques van Artevelde under whom they had risen once before.

The King's uncles were eager to go to fight the Flemish. One day while they were talking about it the young King came in with a hawk on his wrist.

"Ah, my fair uncles," he said, "of what matter is it that ye speak in so great counsel. I would gladly know if I might."

"Sir," replied one of his uncles, "you know it right well. Sir, behold here your uncle, the Duke of Burgundy, who complaineth greatly of them of Flanders. For these false villains of Flanders have driven out the Earl and all his noblemen. And now they lie besieging the town of Oudenarde, where be many gentlemen. Therefore, sir, how say you. Shall ye aid your cousin of Flanders, and conquer again his heritage, the which these proud villains have taken from him?"

"By my faith," said the King, "fair uncles I have great will thereto. I desire none other thing but to be armed, for as yet I never bare armor."

So the King with a great army set out. At Roosebeke a battle was fought in which the Flemish were utterly defeated and their leader slain. Then the King returned to Paris greatly pleased with the result of his first battle.

But the boy King had not only conquered the Flemish, he had cowed the people of Paris. No sooner had he returned than he began to punish them for their late revolt.

Three hundred of the richest citizens were put to death, the others were gathered together and told of all their misdeeds and the punishments they deserved. Then when they were feeling utterly downcast and afraid, the King's two uncles threw themselves at his feet and begged for mercy for the people of Paris. So the King said he would change the punishments to a fine.

This the King's uncles did for their own profit, for they were greedy of money, and the young King only did as he was told.

Two years after this, still delighted with their success in Flanders, Charles VI, or his uncles, decided to strike a great blow at England. So at Sluys an immense fleet was gathered, fourteen hundred ships, great and small, "enough to make a bridge from Calais to Dover."

The nobles came in crowds. They had no fear of ruining themselves in this expedition, for they knew that they would find ten times as much wealth when they had crossed the narrow seas.

They made no doubt of conquering England, and all their talk was how the realm of England should be utterly vanquished, and all the men, women, and children either killed or led prisoners to France. It was to be a second conquest of England, and the nobles meant to do it splendidly. So they painted the masts of their ships with silver, the prows with gold. Silken tents and awnings were spread on the decks, while pennons and flags, decorated with lions and leopards, dragons and unicorns, and all the strange beasts of heraldry fluttered in every breeze. Gold and silver, it was said, were no more spared than if they had rained out of the clouds, or been thrown up by the sea. Not the oldest man living could remember such great splendor and display.

But day by day passed and the splendid fleet did not set out. For one of the King's uncles was not willing to attack England and so delayed coming day after day and week after week. When at length he set out he travelled as slowly as possible. So when he did arrive it was nearly winter. It was too late to think of crossing the stormy sea that year. The great invasion was therefore given up, and all the soldiers sent home until April of next year. But as soon as there was a calm the English sailed across to Sluys, attacked the French fleet, and captured and destroyed a large part of it. So the great invasion never took place at all, and the immense sums of money spent on getting the fleet ready were wasted.

The King's uncles were blamed for the failure of this expedition. It is even said that one of them had been bribed by English money to break it up. In any case the people were very tired of their misrule and now that the King was twenty he made up his mind to rule himself.

So calling together a great assembly of nobles and bishops he thanked his uncles for the care they had taken of his kingdom and told them that he could now govern for himself. The two dukes were quite taken by surprise. They were also very angry. But seeing no help for it for the time being they went away quietly to their own estates.

Charles then called back many of his father's old advisers, he did away with some of the heaviest taxes, and opened Parliament again. This caused great joy among the people. They blamed the dukes for all their past troubles, and believed now that they were at an end.

But Charles was not really a good ruler. He was fond of show and magnificence, of balls and parties, and he spent enormous sums of money. Soon his treasury was empty, and once more the people had to be taxed to fill it.

Meanwhile his two uncles were becoming more and more angry at the rule of the Monkeys, as they called the King's new advisers. So they leagued with the Duke of Brittany to get one of them killed. This was De Clisson the Constable, whom they had long hated.

So one dark night as De Clisson rode homeward he was set upon by a company of armed men. "Death! death!" they cried. "Here you must die!"

"Who speaks such words?" cried he.

"I am Peter de Craon, your enemy, to whom you have so many times done evil. You shall now pay for it all."

De Clisson defended himself as best he could. But presently, severely wounded, he stumbled against the door of a baker's shop. The door gave way and he fell into the dark shop. Thinking he was dead, the murderers rode off as fast as they could.

But De Clisson was not dead. And when the King heard of this attack on his friend he was very angry. "Constable," he cried, "take care of yourself and think of nothing else but to get well. For never was misdeed so punished or dearly paid for as this shall be. It is my affair."

Then, finding that Peter de Craon had taken refuge with the Duke of Brittany, the King set out to fight the duke. His two uncles dared not oppose him, but they did everything they could to prevent the war.

It was the beginning of August when the King set out and the weather was very hot. He had been ill and his doctors warned him that he was not yet fit to go to battle. But Charles would not listen to their advice.

The day was sultry, the roads were dusty. The King rode alone so that he might not be troubled by the dust of the horses' feet.

Suddenly as he rode through the forest a man with bare head and feet, and clad in a poor rough coat sprang out from among the trees. His hair was long and shaggy, his eyes gleamed with excitement, and dashing at the King's horse he seized the bridle.

"King," he cried, "ride no farther! Turn! Turn! you are betrayed."

These words startled the King. He trembled and knew not what to do. But at once his attendants rode up and forced the man to let the bridle loose. They saw that the man was but a poor mad creature. So they let him go. But for a long time he continued to follow the King at a distance, calling out, "You are betrayed! You are betrayed!"

The King and his followers rode onward. By midday the wood was cleared and they rode through a sandy plain. The sun beat down upon their heads mercilessly.

There was no shelter and the air seemed to quiver with heat. The country round was still and silent save for the hot hum of insects.

Behind the King rode two pages, one carrying his lance, the other his helmet. The heat was so great that the one who held the lance fell asleep as he rode. The lance slipped from his hand and fell clattering against the helmet held by his companion. In the sultry quiet the clash sounded loud and clear.

The King started. Drawing his sword he cried out wildly: "Forward, forward! At the traitors!"

Turning, he rushed madly upon his pages. His eyes were wild and wide and unseeing. He struck about him furiously, killing and wounding several of his followers before he could be disarmed. At length one of them caught him from behind and laid him gently on the grass by the roadside.

The poor King was mad. And so for the rest of his life he remained, now and again coming to his right senses for a short time, only to be plunged once more into deeper darkness.