Charles VI leads a completely normal king’s life… but it is haunted by the spectre of a relapse. During his calm periods, Charles acts in a friendly way with his brother. He “speaks to him gently”. He never refuses him anything, doesn’t hesitate to pardon his unfortunate initiatives, as he does after the Bal des Ardents, even quashing the rumours which mention cases of sorcery in which the imprudent Duke d’Orleans is said to have dabbled.
Of course, the words pronounced during his attacks forge the People’s conviction that Louis is not innocent. This rumour spreads to the provinces and the big foreign cities. In Italy, it is written:
“The King wants to know the reason for his illness… It seems that it is to be looked for among his own.”
The accusation is all the more easy to make because it is evident that the Duke d’Orleans wants the crown, and that the legitimate sovereign’s illness gives him hope.
Is the King a victim of some sort of poisoning or spell? He seems to think so, himself. At least, that is what the Monk de Saint-Denis leads us to understand when he reports the words pronounced by the sick man on 14 July 1397, in front of Philippe de Bourgogne and all the important Court people:
“Feeling that he was losing his mind, he ordered that his knife be taken from him and asked his uncle, the Duke de Bourgogne, to do the same for all the people of the Court… The next day, he sent for the Duke and the other princes and declared to them in tears that he hoped to die rather than to suffer such a Calvary. He drew tears from all those who were present by repeating to them:
” ‘For the love of Jesus Christ, if there are any who are accomplices to this evil, I beg them not to torture me any longer, but that they bring on, as quickly as possible, my last day!’ “
When the poison rumour is born, one of the King’s barbers and a concierge of Louis d’Orleans are thrown into prison. They had been found loitering near the gibbet at a suspicious hour, possibly looking for a few pieces of a hanged man destined for the fabrication of an evil philtre… But the suspects are found to be innocent.
There is a major objection to blaming the Duke d’Orleans: when Louis dies assassinated in 1407, by order of the Duke de Bourgogne, Jean the Fearless, the King does not get better. However, the illness does seem to evolve. Its manifestations are a lot less violent. There is no longer the destructive fury of its beginnings but rather a state of prostration, a deep melancholy. The patient withdraws inside himself, no longer washes, refuses to eat, does not care if it is day or night. One night, it takes ten men to forcibly wash and change him, he was so “full of lice and vermin” – he had refused all toilette for several weeks. The Agincourt disaster will aggravate the King’s absences even more. From then on, he has trouble recuperating all of his normal faculties during his periods of remission. He seems indifferent to everything. At the conclusion of the Treaty of Troyes, the Equerry Pierre de Fenin reports that “the King was content with everything, with both the Bourguignons and the Armagnacs, and he didn’t care how everything was going”.
Those close to the sovereign, the ones who, because of his illness, are in charge of the destinies of the kingdom, are unable to remain indifferent to the royal misfortune. Guillaume de Harcigny, who treated Charles after the attack of Le Mans Forest, dies and, according to Froissart, “the princes didn’t know where to find a prudent doctor who understood the King’s illness”. The principal doctors of the time, consulted, are only able to admit their powerlessness. The Duke de Bourbon calls in a charlatan he met in Lyon but the cataplasms placed on the patient’s head have no effect. Worried by the lack of results shown by his medications, Regnault Freron wisely prefers to leave the Court in 1395 to take refuge at Cambrai in Empire land, for fear that his incompetence would be reproached him. In 1399, bewildered by six successive attacks, the uncles again invite the Masters from the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Paris to study the problem. They ask questions, exchange arguments and, “we don’t know what to conclude” is the final result, to the Dukes’ great disappointment.
The modest science of the time is unable to bring satisfactory answers to the questions raised by the royal malady; therefore, supernatural reasons for it are sought. Public rumour is convinced that Louis d’Orleans and his wife have bewitched Charles. The King, who seems to forget the existence of his wife during his attacks, swears only by Valentine, his sister-in-law; isn’t this proof that the young woman has put a spell on him? And Juvenal des Ursins confirms all this when he writes that
“as there are often nasty rumours, some were saying and publishing that she had bewitched him through her father who was a Lombard and that in her country, such things were used”.
Recourse to a wizard from Guyenne remains without effect, but this failure is interpreted as proof that the spells working against the King are of the strongest type and, therefore, are done by Valentine Visconti, a princess accused of possessing a magic mirror and using a poisoned apple… To stop the rumour, two Augustinian Brothers who, claiming to cure the King, openly accuse the Duke d’Orleans of mortal spells, are beheaded. The rumour persists in spite of everything. And anguish mounts.
Even worse, the King’s illness is soon attributed to divine anger; the sins of the subjects of the kingdom of France explain the sovereign’s suffering. This is what Christine de Pisan says, on several occasions:
“Because of our sins, he bears the penance, Our Good King who is ill from it.”
To be continued.