CHARLES VI. (1368–1422), king of France, son of Charles V. and Jeanne of Bourbon, was born in Paris on the 3rd of December 1368. He received the appanage of Dauphiné at his birth, and was thus the first of the princes of France to bear the title of dauphin from infancy. Charles V. had entrusted his education to Philippe de Mézières, and had fixed his majority at fourteen. He succeeded to the throne in 1380, at the age of twelve, and the royal authority was divided between his paternal uncles, Louis, duke of Anjou, John, duke of Berry, Philip the Bold, duke of Burgundy, and his mother’s brother, Louis II., duke of Bourbon. In accordance with an ordinance of the late king the duke of Anjou became regent, while the guardianship of the young king, together with the control of Paris and Normandy, passed to the dukes of Burgundy and Bourbon, who were to be assisted by certain of the councillors of Charles V. The duke of Berry, excluded by this arrangement, was compensated by the government of Languedoc and Guienne. Anjou held the regency for a few months only, until the king’s coronation in November 1380. He enriched himself from the estate of Charles V. and by excessive exactions, before he set out in 1382 for Italy to effect the conquest of Naples. Considerable discontent existed in the south of France at the time of the death of Charles V., and when the duke of Anjou re-imposed certain taxes which the late king had remitted at the end of his reign, there were revolts at Puy and Montpellier. Paris, Rouen, the cities of Flanders, with Amiens, Orleans, Reims and other French towns, also rose (1382) in revolt against their masters. The Maillotins, as the Parisian insurgents were named from the weapon they used, gained the upper hand in Paris, and were able temporarily to make terms, but the commune of Rouen was abolished, and the Tuchins, as the marauders in Languedoc were called, were pitilessly hunted down. Charles VI. marched to the help of the count of Flanders against the insurgents headed by Philip van Artevelde, and gained a complete victory at Roosebeke (November 27th, 1382). Strengthened by this success the king, on his return to Paris in the following January, exacted vengeance on the citizens by fines, executions and the suppression of the privileges of the city. The help sent by the English to the Flemish cities resulted in a second Flemish campaign. In 1385 Jean de Vienne made an unsuccessful descent on the Scottish coast, and Charles equipped a fleet at Sluys for the invasion of England, but a series of delays ended in the destruction of the ships by the English.
In 1385 Charles VI. married Elizabeth, daughter of Stephen II., duke of Bavaria, her name being gallicized as Isabeau. Three years later, with the help of his brother, Louis of Orleans, duke of Touraine, he threw off the tutelage of his uncles, whom he replaced by Bureau de la Rivière and others among his father’s counsellors, nicknamed by the royal princes the marmousets because of their humble origin. Two years later he deprived the duke of Berry of the government of Languedoc. The opening years of Charles VI.’s effective rule promised well, but excess in gaiety of all kinds undermined his constitution, and in 1392 he had an attack of madness at Le Mans, when on his way to Brittany to force from John V. the surrender of his cousin Pierre de Craon, who had tried to assassinate the constable Olivier de Clisson in the streets of Paris. Other attacks followed, and it became evident that Charles was unable permanently to sustain the royal authority. Clisson, Bureau de la Rivière, Jean de Mercier, and the other marmousets were driven from office, and the royal dukes regained their power. The rivalries between the most powerful of these—the duke of Burgundy, who during the king’s attacks of madness practically ruled the country, and the duke of Orleans—were a constant menace to peace. In 1306 peace with England seemed assured by the marriage of Richard II. with Charles VI.’s daughter Isabella, but the Lancastrian revolution of 1399 destroyed the diplomatic advantages gained by this union. In France the country was disturbed by the papal schism. At an assembly of the clergy held in Paris in 1398 it was resolved to refuse to recognize the authority of Benedict XIII., who succeeded Clement VII. as schismatic pope at Avignon. The question became a party one; Benedict was supported by Louis of Orleans, while Philip the Bold and the university of Paris opposed him. Obedience to Benedict’s authority was resumed in 1403, only to be withdrawn again in 1408, when the king declared himself the guardian and protector of the French church, which was indeed for a time self-governing. Edicts further extending the royal power in ecclesiastical affairs were even issued in 1418, after the schism was at an end.
The king’s intelligence became yearly feebler, and in 1404 the death of Philip the Bold aggravated the position of affairs. The new duke, John the Fearless, did not immediately replace his father in general affairs, and the influence of the duke of Orleans increased. Queen Isabeau, who had generally supported the Burgundian party, was now practically separated from her husband, whose madness had become pronounced. She was replaced by a young Burgundian lady, Odette de Champdivers, called by her contemporaries la petite reine, who rescued the king from the state of neglect into which he had fallen. Isabeau of Bavaria was freely accused of intrigue with the duke of Orleans. She was from time to time regent of France, and as her policy was directed by personal considerations and by her love of splendour she further added to the general distress. The relations between John the Fearless and the duke of Orleans became more embittered, and on the 23rd of November 1407 Orleans was murdered in the streets of Paris at the instigation of his rival. The young duke Charles of Orleans married the daughter of the Gascon count Bernard VII. of Armagnac, and presently formed alliances with the dukes of Berry, Bourbon and Brittany, and others who formed the party known as the Armagnacs (see Armagnac), against the Burgundians who had gained the upper hand in the royal council. In 1411 John the Fearless contracted an alliance with Henry IV. of England, and civil war began in the autumn, but in 1412 the Armagnacs in their turn sought English aid, and, by promising the sovereignty of Aquitaine to the English king, gave John the opportunity of posing as defender of France. In Paris the Burgundians were hand in hand with the corporation of the butchers, who were the leaders of the Parisian populace. The malcontents, who took their name from one of their number, Caboche, penetrated into the palace of the dauphin Louis, and demanded the surrender of the unpopular members of his household. A royal ordinance, promising reforms in administration, was promulgated on the 27th of May 1413, and some of the royal advisers were executed. The king and the dauphin, powerless in the hands of Duke John and the Parisians, appealed secretly to the Armagnac princes for deliverance. They entered Paris in September; the ordinance extracted by the Cabochiens was rescinded; and numbers of the insurgents were banished the city.
In the next year Henry V. of England, after concluding an alliance with Burgundy, resumed the pretensions of Edward III. to the crown of France, and in 1415 followed the disastrous battle of Agincourt. The two elder sons of Charles VI., Louis, duke of Guienne, and John, duke of Touraine, died in 1415 and 1417, and Charles, count of Ponthieu, became heir apparent. Paris was governed by Bernard of Armagnac, constable of France, who expelled all suspected of Burgundian sympathies and treated Paris like a conquered city. Queen Isabeau was imprisoned at Tours, but escaped to Burgundy. The capture of Paris by the Burgundians on the 20th of May 1418 was followed by a series of horrible massacres of the Armagnacs; and in July Duke John and Isabeau, who assumed the title of regent, entered Paris. Meanwhile Henry V. had completed the conquest of Normandy. The murder of John the Fearless in 1419 under the eyes of the dauphin Charles threw the Burgundians definitely into the arms of the English, and his successor Philip the Good, in concert with Queen Isabeau, concluded (1420) the treaty of Troyes with Henry V., who became master of France. Charles VI. had long been of no account in the government, and the state of neglect in which he existed at Senlis induced Henry V. to undertake the re-organization of his household. He came to Paris in September 1422, and died on the 21st of October.