Could the two brothers have been able to conjugate their energies in the service of the Crown? It didn’t happen, for the wariness of the elder will find an echo in the jealousy of the younger. Louis is a brilliant, scheming talker whose personality already announces the one given by Machiavelli to his Prince. As for Charles, at the end of this XIVth Century, he maintains the luminous spirit of traditional chivalry. He possesses the affability, the generosity and the joyful disposition which is typical of the knights of the epoch. Charles VI is gay, even facetious. He loves jousts, farces, tournaments.
An anecdote paints him as an impatient young man, lively, with irresistable charm. On the solemn day of the Queen’s entry into Paris, the ritual dictates that he await his spouse, away from the festival, in the company of elderly family members. The festivities are described to him as they unfold with the progression of the cortege in the streets. Suddenly, he can’t wait any more. He begs his Chamberlain:
“Mount your horse, I’ll mount behind you, and we shall dress in such a way that we shall not be recognized, and we’ll go to see my wife’s entry.”
The Chamberlain gives in to the young seventeen-year-old sovereign’s will. Off they go into the crowd, disguised. But the disorder is great, and the sergeants who have the task of containing the sightseers hit hard. Charles will come back with his shoulders covered in welts.
The adventure does not displease him: he will recount it over and over again that evening at the banquet, to make the ladies laugh. Soon, it will be repeated everywhere as a charming example of the King’s extreme gallantry.
The young King inherits a reasonably healthy France. However, the successes against the English cannot prevent war restarting. The problem of Guyenne, which is still English, is a source of persistent discord. As well as that, although its financial state is satisfactory, the kingdom has suffered the shock of the mortalities connected with the Black Plague and military ravages. Agricultural production is lower, the countryside is emptying and the towns are getting poorer. In these conditions, rejection of the tax stirs up several revolts against the authority of young Charles VI and his uncles. In February 1382, it is the Rouen “Harelle”, which explodes when the re-establishment of the war aids [taxes], imprudently abolished by Charles V shortly before his death, is announced. A few days later, in March, the insurrection of the “Maillotins” unites the little people of Paris against the royal tax collectors. The movement reaches other towns, notably in Languedoc where the Duke de Berry’s government unites everyone against him. Only severe repression – followed however by judicious measures of appeasement – will bring this anti-fiscal agitation to an end.
Less than three years later, on 17 July 1385, the young King’s marriage to Isabeau of Bavaria is celebrated at Amiens. One condition – rare at the epoch, when it concerns a prince of seventeen and a princess of fifteen – was made for the conclusion of the marriage: that the young girl “be in the King’s pleasance”, in other words, that he love her. Charles sees Isabeau, and can’t take his eyes off her. Isabeau of Bavaria, who has a big nose and little eyes, is however attractive. Her dark hair is very beautiful, her round body is appetising, and her timidity excites Charles VI. When he is asked if the young lady is to remain and become Queen of France, Charles replies:
“Faith yes! We want no other!”
So the marriage celebrations are happy and courteous, in honour of an amorous and terribly impatient husband.
“The ladies put the bride to bed, then the King went to bed… you can believe that they had pleasure…”
The climate is tense when, on 3 November 1388, at Reims, Charles thanks his uncles for the trouble and work that his person has caused them, in other words, he takes the decision to do away with his tutors. The Dukes of Burgundy and of Berry are very “discontent” to go back to their respective principalities, but the uncles’ government is finished: Charles has really taken power, eight years, day for day, after his Coronation.
New men are now associated with the throne, mostly former collaborators of Charles V, Bureau de la Riviere, Jean le Mercier, Pierre Aycelin de Montaigu, Cardinal de Laon, or Connetable Olivier de Clisson, a brilliant war lord but also a devoted servant of the State. Later, these counsellors will be called the “marmosets”. Behind this change is the will to give priority to internal politics – we would say today, to gestion. Although certain people said the contrary, it is truly the King’s will which is at the origin of this change: this twenty-year-old sovereign is not a simple Knight-King, frivolous and warrior-like. Charles judges that the time is right to emancipate himself from his uncles’ tutelage, principally that of Philippe of Burgundy, even if the Duke had more than honorably played his role.
A strange episode also partly explains the new direction taken by the King. A hermit from Languedoc says that he has had visions during which the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael appeared to him and told him to carry a message to the sovereign which is to put an end to the kingdom’s sufferings by lightening taxes. The pilgrim’s words strongly impress the King, and his counsellors are even more easily able to convince him to give a new direction to his politics. This is not the reaction of a weak mind, as some have said. In a time when religious mystery and miracles continue to “enchant the world”, the young Knight-King can be only attentive to advice coming to him from Heaven, carried by one of the humblest of his subjects.
To be continued.