On 6 August 1392, the day after the King’s attack, the Duke de Bourgogne decides to disperse the army assembled at Le Mans, not without generous pay “so that each one returns gently and courteously to his hotel, without wreaking any violence on the countryside”. He takes the responsibility of removing the unhappy sovereign’s bad counsellors. Bureau de la Riviere, le Mercier and Montaigu are sent away. At the same time, a close guard of perfectly sure knights are installed at the sick King’s bedside, among them Guillaume Martel who had managed to restrain the King, several hours beforehand. Officially, it is said that “the King is not very well”. By attenuating the gravity of the sick man’s condition, the uncles, Bourgogne, Bourbon and Berry want, above all, to prevent dangerous rumours spreading about the patient being poisoned or bewitched. The uncles have, however, rapidly started an enquiry. An investigation into what the King had eaten before his departure for Le Mans sets the ball rolling: the cup-bearers who had tasted his wine immediately offer to drink what is left in the bottles, and they are rapidly cleared of suspicion. But, as Froissart reports,”you can’t forbid people talking” and the rumour swells.
Back on his feet after a few days at Le Mans Abbey, Charles returns to Paris by small stages and is installed at Creil Castle, on the banks of the Oise, guarded by his brother and his uncle Bourbon. They wonder about the appropriate treatment for the patient, and a Laon doctor, Guillaume de Harcigny, is called. For him, things are simple: the King’s sudden attack of madness is accidental, doubtless connected to the subject’s great nervous fatigue at the moment of the attack, but there is also a congenital origin – the mental illness, which had temporarily affected Jeanne de Bourbon, the sovereign’s mother, in 1373, is mentioned. Guillaume de Harcigny is however optimistic and thinks that calm and rest will suffice to bring the patient back to health.
Charles gets better fairly fast; his appetite returns and so does sleep, which had partially deserted him since April. He now recognizes the people who come to see him, but remains frail. He accomplishes his religious duties again and has Masses said for the poor victims of Le Mans Forest. The doctor encourages him to gradually start riding again, to consecrate himself to hunting, to profit from the fresh air of these lovely September days. Once he is cured, Guillaume de Harcigny warns the princes that overwork must be avoided.
The King’s recovery does not however supply any answers to the questions asked, or calm the rumours. Some sort of sorcery is feared, or a divine vengeance which will perhaps, in turn, make the kingdom suffer. Just about everywhere, prayers and processions accompany the sovereign’s convalescence, notably in the towns which had revolted against his authority – or more precisely against that of his preceptors – ten years before. The 1392 Summer episode is scarcely forgotten than a new drama comes to upset the Court and shock the people of France. It is the sadly famous Bal des Ardents.
Perfectly recovered, Charles has come back to settle in Paris near the Queen, at Hotel Saint-Pol. The long Winter evenings are traditionally the occasion for numerous festivities. In this way, the wedding of Catherine, a lady-in-waiting of Isabeau of Bavaria, is celebrated on Tuesday, 28 January 1393. The Lady is a widow, and this marriage is a second marriage – a circumstance which, in the Middle Ages, is the occasion for a customary “charivari”, a sort of grotesque and impertinent mascarade, strongly tinted with paganism. The whole Court has spent the day in festivities and banquets and everyone is preparing to participate in the ball planned for the evening. The musicians have begun to play when the mascarade begins: six men disguised as savages, hairy like animals, irrupt into the middle of the dancers. They are dressed in tightly-fitted costumes covered in flax and hemp fibres, and are masked. They growl, leap and run, pretending to frighten the guests. Among them is the King, himself, as joyful and facetious as usual. This curious saraband unfolds in the shadows for, by Charles’ order, the torches have been moved away, as they risk setting fire to the costumes. Apart from the King, there are behind the masks Count de Joigny, Baron de Nantouillet, Yvain de Foix – a bastard of Gaston Phoebus – Charles de Poitiers – a son of Count de Valentinois – and Hugues de Guisay. Louis d’Orleans, Charles’ brother, arrives, accompanied by his guards carrying torches. This is when the tragedy occurs. Louis seizes one of these torches and approaches it to the face of one of the “savages”… to see him better. Immediately, the costume of the unfortunate man goes up in flames and, in an instant, the fire spreads to his companions. The scene is horrible. Four of the “savages” burn alive in front of the guests. A fifth, Nantouillet, rushes to the kitchens and plunges into water. The Duchess de Berry has the reflex of wrapping Charles in her long train to suffocate the fire: he is safe. Isabeau, three months pregnant, faints, but when she comes to, the King has already had time to dress in his habitual clothes and is beside her to reassure her. The four other “savages” are dead from their burns.
As soon as the news is known, Paris grumbles: the sovereign had been very close to being among the victims. The Dukes of Bourgogne and of Berry are furious. They give Louis d’Orleans, the organizer of the mascarade and clumsy causer of the drama, a severe dressing-down. The next day, everyone goes to Notre-Dame to hear Mass; the King’s brother will have an expiatory chapel built in the church of the Celestins, where Masses will be celebrated every day for the memory of the four victims of this sad adventure.
To be continued.