15th Century France

When we left France last century, they had been through an eventful 14th century with no signs of slowing down. We began the century in the middle of the hundred years war with King Charles VI, who was known first as the Beloved and later as the Mad. He was twelve when he took the throne in 1380, and did not take the reins of his kingdom until 1388. His regency had consisted of four men, his paternal uncles and one maternal one. His father, Charles V, had been frugal with finances and left a decent treasury for Charles VI that his uncles squandered away. The uncles then raised taxes against their deceased brothers wishes, and the people were angry. Charles VI was no longer inheriting a stable kingdom, and to help bring France back to glory, he brought back advisors of his fathers known as the Marmousets. Soon the economy was back on track, and he earned his title the Beloved (besides from the Jews, he decided to force out of his kingdom in 1394). 

His early success would not last, as Charles would begin to suffer mental breakdowns now believed to be schizophrenia. It first began to show when his advisor and friend, Olivier de Clisson, merely barely escaped an assassination attempt. The assassin, Pierre de Craon, fled to Brittany. He became obsessive and ordered a military excursion to deliver the assassin. The trip was long though, and nagged at his impatience. When in the forest near Le Mans, a man interrupted the march with hollow cries that the army had been betrayed and that they were headed for a trap. He was ignored despite following them for some time. When they finally emerged from the forest, Charles was on edge and when a drowsy page accidentally dropped his lance on a soldiers’ helmet. Charles hollered to destroy the traitors. From his horse top, he began swinging his sword on his own comrades. Finally, a chamberlain pulled him from his horse and laid him on the ground where he proceeded to lay still until falling into a coma. The rest of his delusions were not as detailed; he often forgot who he was, his wife and children, but it is detailed how he suffered frequently from what is now known as the glass delusion. Basically, he believed he was glass, and that if he moved incorrectly, he would break. 

During his episodes, his wife, Isabeu of Bavaria, would act as regent. She was often swayed by Charles’ uncle, Philip of Burgundy, who arranged their marriage, and Louis, Duke of Orleans, who was Charles’ brother and suspected lover of the queen. Tensions built as these factions fought harder for power. Philip would die in 1404, and son, John, would take up his cause. In 1407, Louis was murdered, and his son Charles turned to his father-in-law, the Count of Armagnac, for assistance. This led to the Armagnac-Burgundian Civil War. 

The major problem with this war is that the Hundreds Year War is still going on with England, and this infighting only helps them. John tried to end the war by negotiating with the Dauphin (also named Charles). They met and the meeting ended when John was murdered by a supporter of the Dauphin. John’s successor, Philip the Good, took his chances to ally with the English. At this point, the war with England appears futile. By 1415, England is being ruled by Henry V, who is vicious on the battlefield. So much so that he captured the King of France in Paris, and forced him to negotiate peace. The Treaty of Troyes was signed, Charles daughter Catherine was to marry Henry V, and Henry disinherited the dauphin and his heirs. The dauphin, who was regent for his father, did not take this lightly and started his own court in Bourges. When both Charles VI and Henry V died within months of each other in 1422, the throne was supposed to go to Henry’s son, now Henry VI. He was coronated in the Norte Dame in 1431. The dauphin was still desperate to gain his rightful place on the throne of France, and in 1429 Joan of Arc arrived on the scene to help him do exactly that. She would help him win the Battle of Patay, which demolished the English forces on the field. Unfortunately, during the siege of Compiègne, Joan was captured by the troops of Burgundy and handed over to the English. She was tried for heresy and burned at the stake (honestly, this made her immortal and one of the most famous women to have ever lived). The damage she had wrought upon the English was done though. Charles had his confidence back and knew it was possible to defeat the English. Charles relied heavily on his wife, Marie of Anjou’s connections and allies, and in 1435 he signed the Treaty of Arras with the Duke of Burgundy. He spent the next two decades ensuring no other “Princes of the Blood” recognized English sovereignty and recouped all but Calais from the English. Finally, secure in his role as Charles VII, he focused on ruling France, but he would find conflict among John V, Count of Armagnac, who would be convicted of incest and rebellion. The other major conflict was with his son, the dauphin, who wanted more power, and constantly bickering with his mistress and love, Agnes Sorel. When Charles refused, the young Louis fled and refused to see his father. When Charles became ill, Louis hired an astrologer to determine the exact hour his father would die. The king would die in pain. He had a sore believed to be an early version of diabetes that refused to heal, and grew weaker and weaker. His son still refused to go to his deathbed, and Charles’ heart kinda broke. He died of starvation, surrounded by his son’s supporters, with only his youngest son, Charles, to care for him. 

His eldest was now Louis XI, and he had his long awaited throne. Many of his complaints about his father came from the image Louis had of him as weakling. He worked diligently to show himself, and France, as a strong nation. Domestically, he would travel from town to investigate their local governments and promote trade. He made changes to his own government to help make it more efficient. He had the first royal postal roads established, and allowed nobles to participate in trade ventures without losing their privileges. He also worked to restrict the nobles power, and favored men of lower birth and better advice. He is known as the “civil reformer” and most of his work was done to improve efficiency in France. 

Foreign policy came with more difficulty. While he was in Burgundy, Louis negotiated to give Philip enough money to launch a new crusade in exchange for territory. When Philip died, his son, Charles the Bold, felt he had been cheated from his inheritance and meant to fix this. He joined Louis’ brother Charles, Duke of Berry, in what is known as the League of Public Weal, and eventually boiled over into the Wars of Liège. Charles the Bold and Louis XI decided to meet and negotiate with Louis, placing himself at Charles’ mercy. During this, there was an uprising by the people of Liège (who Louis’ had been supporting) and the Burgundian governor was murdered. Charles was furious and had to be restrained from attacking the King. Louis was forced to sign a treaty, which he refuted the second he was out of Charles’ grasp. He vowed to ruin Burgundy and worked to ensure France seemed better than them– he even created the Order of St. Micheal to that extent. Charles would be his own undoing though, having attempted to conquer Switzerland, he died in battle in 1477. 

On the bright side, England had become entrapped in the War of Roses, giving France a brief repose from the Hundreds Year War before its final conclusion. Charles the Bold supported Edward, so Louis supported Henry VI. While I understand the rivalry between Charles and Louis, this seemed like a bad idea. If Henry VI had won, he would have maintained his father, Henry V’s claim to France, and the Hundreds of Years War would continue. *Spoiler alert for England* Edward wins. He then invades France with hopes to revive the English claim, but settles for a peace treaty with Louis. The Treaty of Picquigny effectively ended the Hundreds Year War, as the English gave up most of their claims to French lands, including Normandy. Louis would brag about how he only needed wine and venison to drive the English out while his father needed an army. The death of Charles the Bold and the conclusion of fighting with the English brought much-needed peace to France, and allowed Louis to focus his attention elsewhere.

He spent time building relationships in Italy. He had married Charolette of Savoy years before as the Dauphin, reopened a relationship between France and the Pope, signed a peace treaty with the Republic of Venice, and attempted marriage negotiations with the Kingdom of Naples. He was close to the Sforza’s in Milan, but they eventually sought to remove the influence they had on their court, and issues arose. At least until the conflict with Burgundy ceased, and they wanted French protection again. He would not get to do much more though in Italy before his death in 1483. He had been ill for some time, and his wife Charolette followed him a few months later.

They had three children live to adulthood. Two daughters, Anne and Joan, and a son, Charles VIII. Anne and Joan were only a few years apart, but Anne was 10 years Charles senior and chosen as her brothers regent (alongside her husband Peter, Duke of Bourbon) as he was only 13 at his father’s death. Anne was the dominating figure in her marriage, and as regent, known as one of the most powerful women in the 15th century. Before we get into the details of her reign as regent, she is responsible for many of the powerful women we learn about in the next century. She educated many of the children of the aristocracy, but some of note are: Louise of Savoy, Diane de Poitiers, and Mrgaret of Austria. Her times as regent were not easy though. The nobles thought they could use the opportunity to bully powers taken by Louis XI back, especially Louis, Duke of Orléans. He tried to take control of the regency, and when that failed, he married Anne of Brittany, who was heir to the Duchy of Brittany. He then came back and tried again, but was thwarted. It would eventually dissolve into the Mad War, which began in 1485 and ended in 1488 when his forces were thoroughly defeated. Charles signed the Treaty of Sablé with Francis, Duke of Brittany (though this would not be the end of their conflicts). 

She also slightly renewed the Hundreds Year War when she supported competitor to the English throne: Henry Tudor. This officially ended both the Hundreds Year War and the War of Roses. She also arranged for the marriage of Anne of Brittany and Charles VIII, but by 1491 Charles was seeking to rule on his own, and his regent had a daughter of her own. She began phasing out as regent of France and began focusing on her husband’s lands in Bourbon in 1491. Charles made peace with the Duke of Orléans in 1492, and she left for the Bourbon lands. Charles married Anne of Brittany despite her being married by proxy to Maximilian of Austria and her clear disgust for the alliance. She knew this alliance was detrimental to her Duchy’s sovereignty. He had gained independence from his family and began ruling to his own accord. He turned his sights to Italy. Step one was buying the neutrality of Maximilian of Austria and England. In 1489, he got lucky. The Pope was no longer getting along with the King of Naples and offered the country to Charles, and he jumped like a tiger catching his food. He moved swiftly with the help of Swiss mercenaries, opening the Renaissance in full swing to France as he moved through Italy. Soon the Italian countries began to band together, and in 1495, the League of Venice formed, supported by Aragon and Castile. They drove Charles out of France that same year, and he would not return before his death in 1498, but it would not be the last time France made a play for Italy. We will learn more about that in the next century. Charles had six children with Anne, but none of them lived past the age of 3, so when he died, his cousin Louis, Duke of Orléans, inherited his throne. We will also learn about his reign as Louis XII in the next century.