The twenty-year-old King is presented by Olivier de Clisson in a letter to a Breton baron, as “most agreeable and of good spirits, and young and hearty prince”.

“He is robust and sportive, good with bow and arrows, and good rider.  Five military companions have trained him in outdoor life.  He fears neither bad weather, nor the sea.”

Froissart recounts that he does not suffer from sea-sickness and that he boasts about it to Clisson at the Ecluse camp:

“Connetable, I have already equipped my vessel, I enjoy it very much and believe that I shall be a good sailor;  the sea does not make me sick.”

The Monk of Saint-Denis notes that he is affable and has easy manners.  He has a memory for faces and names.  As well as a memory for both the good and the bad done to him.  He rarely gets angry, speaks gently and in moderation.  The Monk deplores his too great interest in women but adds that the King “never causes scandal nor insult, in his love affairs.”

Seeing him at work, via Froissart, we can add that he knows perfectly the words and gestures of diplomacy and that, in the presence of the Dukes of Brittany and of Gueldre, who reluctantly come to show their submission to him, he knows how to watch and keep quiet.  The portrait of Charles shown in the pages of Songe du Vieil Pelerin – which Philippe de Mezieres writes in 1388-1389 when the King is twenty-years-old – gives us other details.  Charles “has a lovely human form, healthy, beautiful, strong, straight and light”.  He is well-endowed with memory and intelligence, he doesn’t swear but allows those close to him to swear too much in his presence “sans frein et sans vergogne” – that refers to Connetable Olivier de Clisson.  He is not very interested in astrology, sorcery, magic but needs to be wary of them – that refers to his brother Louis.  His fault is to spend the night feasting and dancing, after his day of hard work, and to miss sleep.  He is already suffering from insomnias.  And then, there are the women.  Philippe keeps advising him to “drink the water of his own tank, and to get saintly drunk at Isabeau’s beautiful breasts”, Charles likes the company of other women too much, and the old teacher has to repeat to him that, in this delicate affair, “victory is in flight”.  A portrait where there is no annunciating sign of the drama which will unfold, less than four years later, in Le Mans forest.

***

The grand festivals given in Paris in the Spring and Summer of 1389, the pacifying voyage effected by the sovereign in Languedoc during the following Winter, bode well for the new phase of the reign begun in November 1388.  Unfortunately, things quickly go badly.  An expedition led against the Barbary lair of Mahdia results in defeat.  Then, a project of descent into Italy to install the Avignon Pope, Clement VII, on the pontifical throne and chase from Rome the “usurper” Boniface IX, has to be abandoned:  the King of England, Richard II, is threatening to enter into war against France.  Then, the Duke de Bretagne [Brittany] refuses to recognize the pre-eminence of the King’s Justice.  Only the birth of Isabeau’s little Charles in Hotel Saint-Pol, on 6 February 1392, compensates for the defeats and deceptions of the preceding months.

In March, the meeting which brings to Amiens the King of France, his brother and his three uncles to attempt to negotiate peace with Richard II, comes to nothing.  Certain discouragement prevails when Charles VI leaves the banks of the Somme, on Easter Monday.  Without a real Anglo-French peace, it appears impossible to rapidly restore the unity of the Church, and engage a crusade against Turkey.  The King even falls ill – perhaps typhoid fever – to the point of having to stop for two weeks, in April, at the home of Bishop de Beauvais.  Recovered, he goes to Gisors and immediately goes hunting in the Lyons forest, before returning to Paris in May.

In June of the same year, Connetable Olivier de Clisson is attacked and seriously wounded by Pierre de Craon’s men.  Pierre de Craon seeks refuge with the Duke de Bretagne.  The Royal Council cannot tolerate the offence.  The attack against the Connetable, an officer of the sovereign, is a crime of lese-majeste.  The refusal of the Duke de Bretagne to deliver Craon must therefore be considered as treason.  Louis, Charles’ younger brother, pushes for firmness, for he hopes to recuperate Craon’s possessions, to expand in the direction of Maine and Anjou, the domain that he is starting to constitute for himself in Val-de-Loire.  The marmosets are also partisans of an exemplary punishment, but the uncles engage the King to renounce a costly and disproportionate expedition.  Charles, himself, wants to venge the wounded Connetable.

The royal army therefore begins assembling in Le Mans.  Although not yet completely recovered from the fever which had affected him in Beauvais in April, the sovereign absolutely wants to join the Host.  His uncles’ warnings have no effect on him, even when they mention a well-informed letter which leads them to believe that the guilty Craon is not with the Duke de Bretagne, but in Barcelona.  Convinced that it is his duty to chastise the Duke de Bretagne, and encouraged by the firmness of his faithful counsellors, Charles VI rides toward his destiny on the morning of 5 August 1392…

***

To be continued.

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