If the people of France is shocked by the Bal des Ardents, it is because the charivari organized by Louis d’Orleans is a mortal sin.  The custom is tolerated and wide-spread, but the Church rigorously forbids these types of manifestations which constitute an insult to the sacrement of marriage.  As well as this, costumes which change men into animals appear as a challenge to divine authority;  to assimilate to an animal a creature made in God’s image and sanctified by baptism, is a serious offence.  The Hotel Saint-Pol ball therefore has a sacrilegious character to it.  It can only call down upon the kingdom the worst catastrophes.  And although the King’s survival has a miraculous tinge to it, that is not sufficient to avoid the malediction.

Charles, fully recovered from the illness which had attacked him in Le Mans Forest, keeps his wits about him at the moment of the drama.  Saved by the Duchess de Berry, his uncle’s young spouse, he is immediately preoccupied by Isabeau’s state, and accords his pardon to the Duke d’Orleans.  Nothing seems to indicate, therefore, that the Bal des Ardents corresponds to any aggravation of the royal malady, on the contrary.  The sovereign goes back to his normal activities;  he leaves for Picardie in Spring, to negotiate with the English enemy.

A new attack occurs in the middle of June 1393.  This time, it lasts until January 1394.  After a new recovery, another attack confirms the chronical character of the illness.  As early as 1396, the Monk of Saint-Denis speaks of “the King’s usual illness”.  The attacks come back regularly, followed by periods of remission.  They are of varying length, from a few days to several weeks, even several months in the most extreme cases.  Charles no longer recognizes those close to him, no longer knows who he is, succumbs to attacks of fury, during which he hits those who approach him.  He howls, breaks objects.  This violence is followed by long periods of prostration, marked by insomnia, lack of appetite and general melancholy which make the sick man incapable of undertaking anything at all.  The illness then disappears as rapidly and as mysteriously as it came, until the next attack.

If the contemporaries are incapable of giving the slightest explanation for the royal malady, the positivist and Republican scholars of the beginning of the XXth Century do not refrain from giving their interpretations…  all of them detrimental to the Royal Valois dynasty.  Their different researches, which are as confused as they are contradictory, reveal nothing serious on the subject.  The witness reports of former chroniclers are of course scrutinized by scientific criticism, and the facts are established.  However, by limiting themselves to the said “facts”, the “rational” and “materialistic” minds produced by the laic and progressist Republic, obviously condemn themselves to understanding nothing.  These redoubtable clinicians argue in vain about the identification of the illness, based on a pseudo-scientific debate that, in time, will doubtless be considered worthy of the elucubrations of Moliere’s Diafoirus.  It is probable that the abundant literature consecrated to Charles VI’s illness will mostly only serve to enrich future Historical – or Prehistorical – medical manuals.

However, everything in this research is not entirely useless.  It allows us to identify the illness from which the King was suffering upon his return from Amiens, in the 1392 Spring:  apparently typhoid fever.  The diagnosis of “infectious folly” however, imprudently advanced  to explain the attack of Le Mans Forest and its sequels, can only make us smile today.  Some evoke the King’s alcoholism, even though he lived at a time when the still was practically unknown in France, and in the absence of any particular taste for drink on the part of Charles VI…  The young King’s supposed gallantry excesses have made diverse commentators lean toward a venereal disease, but syphilis will only be known in Europe after the great discoveries of the New World.

The most famous of these imaginative doctors is Auguste Brachet.  He is the author of Pathologie mentale des rois de France which was published in 1903.  The collected documentation remains precious, and opens original perspectives, but the theory is afflicting.  Good Dr Brachet tries to demonstrate that Louis XI [Charles VI’s grandson] was mad, and that this madness finds its origin in the heavily flawed heredity leagued by his ancestors.  Our author, attached to the study of the transmission of defects, establishes an impressive catalogue of all the vices and all the weaknesses of the Valois.  With logic worthy of that of Zola tracking the thread of the heavy heredity of the Rougons throughout his works, Auguste Brachet presents a gallery of particularly disquietening portraits:  feeble-minded people, sexually obsessed ones, lymphatics, hypochondriacs, depressives…  The picture is such that France’s very existence, under such government, could pass for miraculous.  In the case of Charles VI, our self-appointed mental illness specialist gives a diagnosis which is as vain as it is definitive:

“The son of double defects, an authentic alienated person, suffering from an infectious heredity folly, with maternal vesanic heredity, and paternal arthritic heredity…”

Today’s psychiatrists smile when reading such affirmations, witnesses of an epoch in medicine when folly was seen as a transmissable disease, hereditary of course, completely outside of any approach through family and social context, without mentioning spiritual or religious environment.  Of course, it is impossible to deny the mental attack suffered by Jeanne de Bourbon, Charles VI’s mother, but this one and only manifestation cannot be sufficient to establish the existence of a defect running tragically from generation to generaton, throughout the whole Valois dynasty.

For good Dr Brachet, Charles VI’s  “infectious folly” is even more greatly aggravated by consanguinity.  His very superficial genealogical approach allows him to see that Saint Louis and Marguerite de Provence are placed three times among the ancestors of Charles, while Philippe III the Hardy and Isabelle d’Artagon are there twice.  Henri V de Luxembourg and Baudoin d’Avesnes are also there twice.  Very distant relations however, and if Brachet had taken the trouble to establish Charles VI’s quarters, that is to say, identify all the ancestors up to the fifth generation, he would have been able to see that, out of the sixty-four ancestors whom such a reconstitution theoretically produces, only seven of them figure several times, which gives a very weak consanguinity…

To be continued.

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