1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Charles VII. (King of France)

CHARLES VII. (1403–1461), king of France, fifth son of Charles VI. and Isabeau of Bavaria, was born in Paris on the 22nd of February 1403. The count of Ponthieu, as he was called in his boyhood, was betrothed in 1413 to Mary of Anjou, daughter of Louis II., duke of Anjou and king of Sicily, and spent the next two years at the Angevin court. He received the duchy of Touraine in 1416, and in the next year the death of his brother John made him dauphin of France. He became lieutenant-general of the kingdom in 1417, and made active efforts to combat the complaisance of his mother. He assumed the title of regent in December 1418, but his authority in northern France was paralysed in 1419 by the murder of John the Fearless, duke of Burgundy, in his presence at Montereau. Although the deed was not apparently premeditated, as the English and Burgundians declared, it ruined Charles’s cause for the time. He was disinherited by the treaty of Troyes in 1420, and at the time of his father’s death in 1422 had retired to Mehun-sur-Yèvre, near Bourges, which had been the nominal seat of government since 1418. He was recognized as king in Touraine, Berry and Poitou, in Languedoc and other provinces of southern France; but the English power in the north was presently increased by the provinces of Champagne and Maine, as the result of the victories of Crevant (1423) and Verneuil (1424). The Armagnac administrators who had been driven out of Paris by the duke of Bedford gathered round the young king, nicknamed the “king of Bourges,” but he was weak in body and mind, and was under the domination of Jean Louvet and Tanguy du Chastel, the instigators of the murder of John the Fearless, and other discredited partisans. The power of these favourites was shaken by the influence of the queen’s mother, Yolande of Aragon, duchess of Anjou. She sought the alliance of John V., duke of Brittany, who, however, vacillated throughout his life between the English and French alliance, concerned chiefly to maintain the independence of his duchy. His brother, Arthur of Brittany, earl of Richmond (comte de Richemont), was reconciled with the king, and became constable in 1425, with the avowed intention of making peace between Charles VII. and the duke of Burgundy. Richemont caused the assassination of Charles’s favourites Pierre de Giac and Le Camus de Beaulieu, and imposed one of his own choosing, Georges de la Trémoille, an adventurer who rapidly usurped the constable’s power. For five years (1427–1432) a private war between these two exhausted the Armagnac forces, and central France returned to anarchy.

Meanwhile Bedford had established settled government throughout the north of France, and in 1428 he advanced to the siege of Orleans. For the movement which was to lead to the deliverance of France from the English invaders, see Joan of Arc. The siege of Orleans was raised by her efforts on the 8th of May 1429, and two months later Charles VII. was crowned at Reims. Charles’s intimate counsellors, La Trémoille and Regnault de Chartres, archbishop of Reims, saw their profits menaced by the triumphs of Joan of Arc, and accordingly the court put every difficulty in the way of her military career, and received the news of her capture before Compiègne (1430) with indifference. No measures were taken for her deliverance or her ransom, and Normandy and the Isle of France remained in English hands. Fifteen years of anarchy and civil war intervened before peace was restored. Bands of armed men fighting for their own hand traversed the country, and in the ten years between 1434 and 1444 the provinces were terrorized by these écorcheurs, who, with the decline of discipline in the English army, were also recruited from the ranks of the invaders. The duke of Bedford died in 1435, and in the same year Philip the Good of Burgundy concluded a treaty with Charles VII. at Arras, after fruitless negotiations for an English treaty. From this time Charles’s policy was strengthened. La Trémoille had been assassinated in 1433 by the constable’s orders, with the connivance of Yolande of Aragon. For his former favourites were substituted energetic advisers, his brother-in-law Charles of Anjou, Dunois (the famous bastard of Orleans), Pierre de Brézé, Richemont and others. Richemont entered Paris on the 13th of April 1436, and in the next five years the finance of the country was re-established on a settled basis. Charles himself commanded the troops who captured Pontoise in 1441, and in the next year he made a successful expedition in the south.

Meanwhile the princes of the blood and the great nobles resented the ascendancy of councillors and soldiers drawn from the smaller nobility and the bourgeoisie. They made a formidable league against the crown in 1440 which included Charles I., duke of Bourbon, John II., duke of Alençon, John IV. of Armagnac, and the dauphin, afterwards Louis XI. The revolt broke out in Poitou in 1440 and was known as the Praguerie. Charles VII. repressed the rising, and showed great skill with the rebel nobles, finally buying them over individually by considerable concessions. In 1444 a truce was concluded with England at Tours, and Charles proceeded to organize a regular army. The central authority was gradually made effective, and a definite system of payment, by removing the original cause of brigandage, and the establishment of a strict discipline learnt perhaps from the English troops, gradually stamped out the most serious of the many evils under which the country had suffered. Pierre Bessonneau, and the brothers Gaspard and Jean Bureau created a considerable force of artillery. Domestic troubles in their own country weakened the English in France. The conquest of Normandy was completed by the battle of Formigny (15th of April 1450). Guienne was conquered in 1451 by Duncis, but not subdued, and another expedition was necessary in 1453, when Talbot was defeated and slain at Castillon. Meanwhile in 1450 Charles VII. had resolved on the rehabilitation of Joan of Arc, thus rendering a tardy recognition of her services. This was granted in 1456 by the Holy See. The only foothold retained by the English on French ground was Calais. In its earlier stages the deliverance of France from the English had been the work of the people themselves. The change which made Charles take an active part in public affairs is said to have been largely due to the influence of Agnes Sorel, who became his mistress in 1444 and died in 1450. She was the first to play a public and political rôle as mistress of a king of France, and may be said to have established a tradition. Pierre de Brézé, who had had a large share in the repression of the Praguerie, obtained through her a dominating influence over the king, and he inspired the monarch himself and the whole administration with new vigour. Charles and René of Anjou retired from court, and the greater part of the members of the king’s council were drawn from the bourgeois classes. The most famous of all these was Jacques Coeur (q.v.). It was by the zeal of these councillors that Charles obtained the surname of “The Well-Served.”

Charles VII. continued his father’s general policy in church matters. He desired to lessen the power of the Holy See in France and to preserve as far as possible the liberties of the Gallican church. With the council of Constance (1414–1418) the great schism was practically healed. Charles, while careful to protest against its renewal, supported the anti-papal contentions of the French members of the council of Basel (1431–1449), and in 1438 he promulgated the Pragmatic Sanction at Bourges, by which the patronage of ecclesiastical benefices was removed from the Holy See, while certain interventions of the royal power were admitted. Bishops and abbots were to be elected, in accordance with ancient custom, by their clergy. After the English had evacuated French territory Charles still had to cope with feudal revolt, and with the hostility of the dauphin, who was in open revolt in 1446, and for the next ten years ruled like an independent sovereign in Dauphiné. He took refuge in 1457 with Charles’s most formidable enemy, Philip of Burgundy. Charles VII. nevertheless found means to prevent Philip from attaining his ambitions in Lorraine and in Germany. But the dauphin succeeded in embarrassing his father’s policy at home and abroad, and had his own party in the court itself. Charles VII. died at Mehun-sur-Yévre on the 22nd of July 1461. He believed that he was poisoned by his son, who cannot, however, be accused of anything more than an eager expectation of his death.

Authorities.—The history of the reign of Charles VII. has been written by two modern historians,—Vallet de Viriville, Histoire de Charles VII . . . et de son époque (Paris, 3 vols., 1862–1865), and G. du Fresne de Beaucourt, Hist, de Charles VII (Paris, 6 vols., 1881–1891). There is abundant contemporary material. The herald, Jacques le Bouvier or Berry (b. 1386), whose Chronicques du feu roi Charles VII was first printed in 1528 as the work of Alain Chartier, was an eye-witness of many of the events he described. His Recouvrement de Normandie, with other material on the same subject, was edited for the “Rolls” series (Chronicles and Memorials) by Joseph Stevenson in 1863. The Histoire de Charles VII by Jean Chartier, historiographer-royal from 1437, was included in the Grandes Chroniques de Saint-Denis, and was first printed under Chartier’s name by Denis Godefroy, together with other contemporary narratives, in 1661. It was re-edited by Vallet de Viriville (Paris, 3 vols., 1858–1859). With these must be considered the Burgundian chroniclers Enguerrand de Monstrelet, whose chronicle (ed. L. Douët d’Arcq; Paris, 6 vols., 1857–1862) covers the years 1400–1444, and Georges Chastellain, the existing fragments of whose chronicle are published in his Œuvres (ed. Kervyn de Lettenhove; Brussels, 8 vols., 1863–1866). For a detailed bibliography and an account of printed and MS. documents see du Fresne de Beaucourt, already cited, also A. Molinier, Manuel de bibliographie historique, iv. 240-306.