1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Charles V. (King of France)
CHARLES V. (1337–1380), king of France, called The Wise, was born at the château of Vincennes on the 21st of January 1337, the son of John II. and Bonne of Luxemburg. In 1349 he became dauphin of the Viennois by purchase from Humbert II., and in 1355 he was created duke of Normandy. At the battle of Poitiers (1356) his father ordered him to leave the field when the battle turned against the French, and he was thus saved from the imprisonment that overtook his father. After arranging for the government of Normandy he proceeded to Paris, where he took the title of lieutenant of the kingdom. During the years of John II.’s imprisonment in England Charles was virtually king of France. He summoned the states-general of northern France (Langue d’oïl) to Paris in October 1356 to obtain men and money to carry on the war. But under the leadership of Étienne Marcel, provost of the Parisian merchants and president of the third estate, and Robert le Coq, bishop of Laon, president of the clergy, a partisan of Charles of Navarre, the states refused any “aid” except on conditions which Charles declined to accept. They demanded the dismissal of a number of the royal ministers; the establishment of a commission elected from the three estates to regulate the dauphin’s administration, and of another board to act as council of war; also the release of Charles the Bad, king of Navarre, who had been imprisoned by King John. The estates of Languedoc, summoned to Toulouse, also made protests against misgovernment, but they agreed to raise a war-levy on terms to which the dauphin acceded. Charles sought the alliance of his uncle, the emperor Charles IV., to whom he did homage at Metz as dauphin of the Viennois, and he was also made imperial vicar of Dauphiné, thus acknowledging the imperial jurisdiction. But he gained small material advantage from these proceedings. The states-general were again convoked in February 1357. Their demands were more moderate than in the preceding year, but they nominated members to replace certain obnoxious persons on the royal council, demanded the right to assemble without the royal summons, and certain administrative reforms. In return they promised to raise and finance an army of 30,000 men, but the money—a tithe levied on the annual revenues of the clergy and nobility—voted for this object was not to pass through the dauphin’s hands. Charles appeared to consent, but the agreement was annulled by letters from King John, announcing at the same time the conclusion of a two years’ truce, and the reformers failed to secure their ends. Charles had escaped from their power by leaving Paris, but he returned for a new meeting of the estates in the autumn of 1357.
Meanwhile Charles of Navarre had been released by his partisans, and allying himself with Marcel had become a popular hero in Paris. The dauphin was obliged to receive him and to undergo an apparent reconciliation. In Paris Étienne Marcel was supreme. He forced his way into the dauphin’s palace (February 1358), and Charles’s servant, Jean de Conflans, marshal of Champagne, and Robert de Clermont, marshal of Normandy, were murdered before his eyes. Charles was powerless openly to resent these outrages, but he obtained from the provincial assemblies the money refused him by the states-general, and deferred his vengeance until the dissensions of his enemies should offer him an opportunity. Charles of Navarre, now in league with the English and master of lower Normandy and of the approaches to Paris, returned to the immediate neighbourhood of the city, and Marcel found himself driven to avowed co-operation with the dauphin’s enemies, the English and the Navarrese. Charles had been compelled in March to take the title of regent to prevent the possibility of further intervention from King John. In defiance of a recent ordinance prohibiting provincial assemblies, he presided over the estates of Picardy and Artois, and then over those of Champagne. The states-general of 1358 were summoned to Compiègne instead of Paris, and granted a large aid. The condition of northern France was rendered more desperate by the outbreak (May-June 1358) of the peasant revolt known as the Jacquerie, which was repressed with a barbarity far exceeding the excesses of the rebels. Within the walls of Paris Jean Maillart had formed a royalist party; Marcel was assassinated (31st July 1358), and the dauphin entered Paris in the following month. A reaction in Charles’s favour had set in, and from the estates of 1359 he regained the authority he had lost. It was with their full concurrence that he restored their honours to the officials who had been dismissed by the estates of 1356 and 1357. They supported him in repudiating the treaty of London (1359), which King John had signed in anxiety for his personal freedom, and voted money unconditionally for the continuation of the war. From this time the estates were only once convoked by Charles, who contented himself thenceforward by appeals to the assembly of notables or to the provincial bodies. Charles of Navarre was now at open war with the regent; Edward III. landed at Calais in October; and a great part of the country was exposed to double depredations from the English and the Navarrese troops. In the scarcity of money Charles had recourse to the debasement of the coinage, which suffered no less than twenty-two variations in the two years before the treaty of Brétigny. This disastrous financial expedient was made good later, the coinage being established on a firm basis during the last sixteen years of Charles’s reign in accordance with the principles of Nicolas Oresme. On the conclusion of peace King John was restored to France, but, being unable to raise his ransom, he returned in 1364 to England, where he died in April, leaving the crown to Charles, who was crowned at Reims on the 19th of May.
The new king found an able servant in Bertrand du Guesclin, who won a victory over the Navarrese troops at Cocherel and took prisoner their best general, Jean de Grailli, captal of Buch. The establishment of Charles’s brother, Philip the Bold, in the duchy of Burgundy, though it constituted in the event a serious menace to the monarchy, put an end to the king of Navarre’s ambitions in that direction. A treaty of peace between the two kings was signed in 1365, by which Charles of Navarre gave up Mantes, Meulan and the county of Longueville in exchange for Montpellier. Negotiations were renewed in 1370 when Charles of Navarre did homage for his French possessions, though he was then considering an offensive and defensive alliance with Edward III. Du Guesclin undertook to free France from the depredations of the “free companies,” mercenary soldiers put out of employment by the cessation of the war. An attempt to send them on a crusade against the Turks failed, and Du Guesclin led them to Spain to put Henry of Trastamara on the throne of Castile. By the marriage of his brother Philip the Bold with Margaret of Flanders, Charles detached the Flemings from the English alliance, and as soon as he had restored something like order in the internal affairs of the kingdom he provoked a quarrel with the English. The text of the treaty of Brétigny presented technical difficulties of which Charles was not slow to avail himself. The English power in Guienne was weakened by the disastrous Spanish expedition of the Black Prince, whom Charles summoned before the parlement of Paris in January 1369 to answer the charges preferred against him by his subjects, thus expressly repudiating the English supremacy in Guienne. War was renewed in May after a meeting of the states-general. Between 1371 and 1373 Poitou and Saintonge were reconquered by Du Guesclin, and soon the English had to abandon all their territory north of the Garonne. John IV. of Brittany (Jean de Montfort) had won his duchy with English help by the defeat of Charles of Blois, the French nominee, at Auray in 1364. His sympathies remained English, but he was now (1373) obliged to take refuge in England, and later in Flanders, while the English only retained a footing in two or three coast towns. Charles’s generals avoided pitched battles, and contented themselves with defensive and guerrilla tactics, with the result that in 1380 only Bayonne, Bordeaux, Brest and Calais were still in English hands.
Charles had in 1378 obtained proof of Charles of Navarre’s treasonable designs. He seized the Norman towns held by the Navarrese, while Henry of Trastamara invaded Navarre, and imposed conditions of peace which rendered his lifelong enemy at last powerless. A premature attempt to amalgamate the duchy of Brittany with the French crown failed. Charles summoned the duke to Paris in 1378, and on his non-appearance committed one of his rare errors of policy by confiscating his duchy. But the Bretons rose to defend their independence, and recalled their duke. The matter was still unsettled when Charles died at Vincennes on the 16th of September 1380. His health, always delicate, had been further weakened, according to popular report, by a slow poison prepared for him by the king of Navarre. His wife, Jeanne of Bourbon, died in 1378, and the succession devolved on their elder son Charles, a boy of twelve. Their younger son was Louis, duke of Orleans.
Personally Charles was no soldier. He owed the signal successes of his reign partly to his skilful choice of advisers and administrators, to his chancellors Jean and Guillaume de Dormans and Pierre d’Orgemont, to Hugues Aubriot, provost of Paris, Bureau de la Riviere and others; partly to a singular coolness and subtlety in the exercise of a not over-scrupulous diplomacy, which made him a dangerous enemy. He had learnt prudence and self-restraint in the troubled times of the regency, and did not lose his moderation in success. He modelled his private life on that of his predecessor Saint Louis, but was no fanatic in religion, for he refused his support to the violent methods of the Inquisition in southern France, and allowed the Jews to return to the country, at the same time confirming their privileges. His support of the schismatic pope Clement VII. at Avignon was doubtless due to political considerations, as favouring the independence of the Gallican church. Charles V. was a student of astrology, medicine, law and philosophy, and collected a large and valuable library at the Louvre. He gathered round him a group of distinguished writers and thinkers, among whom were Raoul de Presles, Philippe de Mézières, Nicolas Oresme and others. The ideas of these men were applied by him to the practical work of administration, though he confined himself chiefly to the consolidation and improvement of existing institutions. The power of the nobility was lessened by restrictions which, without prohibiting private wars, made them practically impossible. The feudal fortresses were regularly inspected by the central authority, and the nobles themselves became in many cases paid officers of the king. Charles established a merchant marine and a formidable navy, which under Jean de Vienne threatened the English coast between 1377 and 1380. The states-general were silenced and the royal prerogative increased; the royal domains were extended, and the wealth of the crown was augmented; additions were made to the revenue by the sale of municipal charters and patents; and taxation became heavier, since Charles set no limits to the gratification of his tastes either in the collection of jewels and precious objects, of books, or of his love of building, examples of which are the renovation of the Louvre and the erection of the palace of Saint Paul in Paris.
See the chronicles of Froissart, and of Pierre d’Orgemont (Grandes Chroniques de Saint Denis, Paris, vol. vi, 1838); Christine de Pisan, Le Livre des fais et bonnes moeurs du sage roy Charles V, written in 1404, ed. Michaud and Poujoulat, vol. ii. (1836); L. Delisle, Mandements et actes divers de Charles V (1886); letters of Charles V. from the English archives in Champollion-Figeac, Lettres de rois et de reines, ii. pp. 167 seq.; the anonymous Songe du vergier or Somnium viridarii, written in 1376 and giving the political ideas of Charles V. and his advisers; “Relation de la mort de Charles V” in Haureau, Notices et extraits, xxxi. pp. 278-284; Ch. Benoist, La Politique du roi Charles V (1874); S. Luce, La France pendant la guerre de cent ans; G. Clément Simon, La Rupture du traité de Brétigny (1898); A. Vuitry, Êtudes sur le régime financier de la France, vols. i. and ii. (1883); and R. Delachenal, Histoire de Charles V (Paris, 1908).