Right from the day of the Coronation, Anjou and Bourgogne dispute the first place at the King’s side.  Ambitious and devoid of scrupules, Anjou dreams of a crown;  he will disappear in Italy four years later, in a vain attempt to conquer the Kingdom of Naples.  Soon, an accord is finally concluded between the rivals for the organization of the Council, presided over by the Duke of Anjou.  He has already taken advantage of the two-month Regency which followed the death of Charles V, to seize the King’s secret treasure, which the new sovereign will only be able to build up again at the price of an over-heavy fiscality, badly supported by his subjects.

Throughout his childhood, Charles receives lessons from his preceptor, Philippe de Mezieres.  Although he is drawn to jousting and physical exercises, he also has a brilliant mind, and is not the idiot that a certain historiography, written afterward, will do its best to describe, so as to track down in his early years traces of the “folly” to come.  Francoise Autrand, the author of a brilliant biography, underlines that he knows, “at twenty, enough Latin to be able to read and follow, without getting lost, the interminable speeches that the crisis of the Church inspires to the masters of the University of Paris”.  But, like his father, he understands that everyone around him is not at his level and, when the discourse is finished, he doesn’t hesitate, before the perplexed expressions of some of his counsellors, to ask the orator for a translation into French…  When he takes power and begins his personal reign, Philippe de Mezieres establishes for him an appropriate library, and he will form his ideas on government with the Bible, antique philosophy, Aristotle, Seneca and Boerce, with Titus Livus and Valerus Maximus for the History of Christian emperors, of Charlemagne and of the Crusades…  He reads also the political treatises of Jean de Salisbury and Gilles de Rome, as well as Saint Augustin’s Cite de Dieu…  A reading programme which is not destined for a light mind, as can be seen.  At the other end of the spectrum, the preceptor – and this reveals his pupil’s tastes – advises him not to waste his time reading stories of chivalry.  Pious, Charles attends Mass every day, especially honours the celebration of Epiphany, maintains a particular devotion to the Virgin and lives very intensely the memory of Christ’s Passion, at Easter.  Like numerous princes of his time, he dreams of crusades.  Robust and fond of physical exercises, he is drawn to war and hunting at an early age.  As a child, he already declares “to prefer harnesses” to riches and, his father asking him one day “if he would prefer to be crowned king of the crown or have the basinet and be subject to the perils and fortunes of war”, he replies that he chooses the basinet, “from which those present saw that he would be chivalrous”.

That is how the child learns his job of king, by becoming a strong and clever warrior, a courteous prince in a luxurious court, a knight devoted to the Cross…  The criticisms addressed to the sovereign by Christine de Pisan, by the Monk of Saint-Denis and by Philippe de Mezieres in his Songe du Vieil Pelerin, can be explained like this:  at this time, there are two models of the ideal prince, that of the clerics, lengthily demonstrated in the books of certain critics by Charles V the Wise, the King of lawyers and intellectuals, and that of warriors, dear to young Charles VI, who resembles the heroes of chivalry stories.  If the thinkers prefer the qualities of a “wise” king, the people are passionate about kings who are knights, and give them surnames such as Beautiful, Hardy, Good – that is to say brave – or Fearless…

***

The future King has received the affection of his parents during his early childhood, and nothing, at this time, permits to forsee the later “madness”.  However, his mother suffered from a mental illness – although it is impossible today to identify either its nature or its seriousness – during the year 1373, when Charles was only five:

“The Queen of France was ill through poisoning, so that she lost her good sense and her good memory.  The King, who loved her much made her make many pilgrimages, and, thanks to Our Lord, she came back in good health and in good sense.”

A breakdown or a “depression” which we must be careful not to interpret in the light of the strange disease which would attack her son later on.  Charles is raised with his brother Louis, with whom he remains inseparable all through his childhood.

The King’s only brother, three years younger than he, Louis doesn’t leave him and receives the same education.  No advice is given to the King that is not given to Louis, too.  Not one gift is made to the first that is not made to the second.  At Mardi Gras, a candle is painted for Charles and another for Louis.  Knives, combs, musical instruments are bought in pairs.  It is in the same piece of material that the same piece of clothing is cut twice, and even the embroidery and the ornaments are identical.  When one was aged eighteen and the other fifteen, they were still dressed the same…  Was this intimacy desired, or was it forced upon them?

At first, Count of Valois, Louis will become the Duke of Orleans in 1392, by his brother’s wish.  On the day of Charles VI’s Coronation, Louis, aged eight, walks in front of his brother.  He is given the task of carrying upright the sword of Charlemagne:  his destiny, decreed by his uncles, is to be a military chief, the sovereign’s sword arm.  But the child is as delicately built as his brother is solid.  He likes to read and discuss things.  He’s a good talker.  He also likes the sciences, but, at the time, sciences also meant astrology, and, sometimes, occultism, magic, herbs…  For Christine de Pisan, who finds in this prince “so wise in his young age” the portrait of his father Charles V, Louis is a typical example of an intellectual.

To be continued.

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