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The reign of Charles VII, nearly forty years long (1422-1461), is inseparable from the end of the Hundred Years War. It covers one of the most eventful periods in the history of France and may also be a time when we believed in the disappearance of the Capetian dynasty. The epic of Joan of Arc will allow the "King of Bourges" to regain the throne and legitimacy, and to begin the reconquest of his kingdom from the English. Having become the victorious Charles VII, he will long remain in the shadow of the glory of the virgin of Orléans. This unrecognized ruler now rehabilitated restored the authority of the monarchy in France, reforming and modernizing finances and the military.
Charles, from the little "king of Bourges" ...
Son of Charles VI the Mad and Isabeau of Bavaria, Dauphin in 1417 after the suspicious death of his two older brothers, Charles seems very puny to bear the enormous responsibility of raising the name and prestige of this ailing monarchy. Driven from Paris during the struggle between Armagnacs and Burgundians, he took refuge in Bourges, where he held a small court with his last followers. At the same time, the King of England seizes Normandy and John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy, takes the government by allying himself with his mother, Isabeau of Bavaria, who declared Charles "bastard". John the Fearless tries to obtain the alliance of the dolphin to hold him in his power. But their meeting, in Montereau, degenerates into an altercation. Jean sans Feur is killed. The revenge of the new Duke of Burgundy, Philippe le Bon, and Isabeau of Bavaria descends on Charles. He was deposed and disinherited in favor of the King of England, Henry V, by the Treaty of Troyes (1420), signed by Isabeau and Charles VI, already no longer in possession of his means.
Rather dull in character, Charles is poorly surrounded and places too blind trust in unreliable advisers who cast no shadow on him, unlike the flamboyant lords of the time. Young Charles then finds providential support in the person of Yolande d´Aragon, the wife of the Duke of Anjou, who happens to be his stepmother. It is through patient work that Yolande forges agreements and reconciliations, in order to present a united front to the invader.
... to the "victorious"
On the military level, the situation is then catastrophic. The English won victory after victory near Crevant (1423), near Verneuil (1424). They have just laid siege to Orléans. If the city gives in, the English will be able to reach Berry and reach Charles in his last refuge. It was then that a young Lorraine shepherdess from Domrémy intervened providentially ... Charles did not regain his legitimacy until after his recognition by Joan of Arc who delivered Orleans (1429) and had him consecrated in Reims on July 17, 1429. With Jeanne, he undertakes the reconquest of the kingdom partly occupied by the English and their Burgundian allies. The reconquest of part of the regions north of the Loire was successful, but Joan of Arc was burnt in Rouen (May 30, 1431). Charles VII hardly exposes himself to save her. We speak of "cowardly abandonment".
In order to detach the Burgundians from England, Charles VII granted important concessions to the Duke of Burgundy, Philip III the Good, in the Treaty of Arras (1435). The Anglo-Burgundian alliance is broken. Paris reconquered, the king made a triumphal entry there in 1437 but hardly stayed there, preferring his castles of Berry and Touraine. Normandy then Guyenne (1450-1453) were reoccupied thanks to remarkable men of war. Rouen rose up and opened its doors to Charles VII, who made a triumphal entry alongside Jacques Cœur (1449). The English retaliated by sending an army, which landed at Cherbourg and headed for Caen, but was defeated by the French near Formigny (1450). In Guyenne, it was victory at the Battle of Castillon (1453) that drove the English away. Soon, they only keep Calais in France. With the Hundred Years' War over (although no treaty was concluded), Charles VII dedicated himself to reorganizing his kingdom.
The reforms of Charles VII
He fought against the Flayers, who infested the country, by maintaining permanent troops responsible for restoring security, he summoned the States General in Orleans. Some lords, dissatisfied with the progress of royal authority and encouraged by the Dauphin Louis (later King Louis XI), rose up. Charles triumphed over these revolts, named “Pragueries” in reference to the troubles in Bohemia. He created (1445-1448) a standing army, with a cavalry of ordinance companies, recruited from the nobility, and an infantry of Frankish archers composed of commoners exempted from size (hence their name).
The currency is stabilized, regular taxes levied make it unnecessary to convene the States General and France is experiencing a commercial revival thanks to Jacques Coeur, the king's treasurer. The latter signed the great ordinance of Saumur in the fall of 1443, while various measures were taken to revive trade in a country living in slow motion, privileges were granted to the great fairs of Lyon and Champagne, silk looms were created. Distinguished once again by his ingratitude, Charles VII sacrifices Jacques Cœur to the jealousy of the courtiers (1453) and the grand financier will end his days ruined and banished.
Charles also regulates the affairs of the Church at a national council held in Bourges, in 1438. A "pragmatic sanction" gives the French churches a certain freedom and reduces the tributes collected by the Pope on ecclesiastical profits under the title of annals, reserves, expectations.
He orders that the various customs of the country be written down. This wording announces the unity of laws. He created two new parliaments: Toulouse (1447) and Grenoble (1453). The end of his reign was marked by a commercial revival and the strengthening of royal authority. In the end, only one danger remains: the power of the Duchy of Burgundy.
A favorite and a rebellious son
Innovation called to a long posterity, the reign of Charles VII sees the public appearance of a royal favorite, under the pleasant features of Agnes Sorel. Around 1443, she became the king's mistress, perhaps as a result of maneuvers by Pierre de Brézé, whose influence then extended over royal politics. The king showered her with gifts, making her lord of Loches, lady of Beauté-sur-Marne (hence her nickname "Lady of Beauty"), and Countess of Penthièvre. He legitimizes the three daughters she gives him in the early years of their affair. Agnès Sorel wielded a real (although exaggerated) influence over the royal government, often linked to that of the Brézé.
Charles VII married Marie d’Anjou. He was even brought up at the court of Anjou, which explains the influence that Yolande d'Aragon, Mary's mother, has on him. The royal couple have twelve children, five of whom survive. Among them, the Dauphin Louis and future Louis XI. Quarreled with his father, he stank the life of the Court with his plots, to the point that the king exiled him in 1447. He would never see his son again until his death in 1461.
- Charles VII: a life, a policy, by Philippe Contamine. Perrin, April 2017.
- Charles VII: The Victorious, by Georges Bordonove. Pygmalion, 2006.
- Charles VII and his mystery, by Philippe Erlanger. Gallimard, 1982.