Christine de Pisan evokes

“the health problems, the whip, the sword descended onto him, not for his sins, but for those of his people punished through his person.  How marvellous is God’s vengeance!  In this way, as in former times God punished David’s sin by striking his people, God wants perhaps to plague our chief because of our sins.”

Prayers, offerings and pilgrimages are therefore multiplied.  They want to purify the kingdom of evil to please the God of Misericord from Whom the sovereign’s cure is expected.  The King makes a pilgrimage to Mont-Saint-Michel and gives decisive impetus to the cult of the Archangel Michael, who will soon be substituted for Saint George as the incarnation of Chivalry.  The expulsion of the Jews, decided in 1394, inserts itself into this same idea of purification of the kingdom.  Some think that God is making France pay for the part played by Charles V in the Church’s great schism when he supported, in 1378, the Avignon Pope against the restoration of the Church’s unity, at the Council of Constance.

Before the general powerlessness concerning their sovereign’s illness, the French gradually assimilate his suffering to Christ’s Passion, and his relapses to the stages of the Carrying of the Cross on the road to Calvary.  In these times of pain, the King’s subjects feel themselves to be in communion with his sufferings.  Far from weakening, their affection grows, takes on a sacred character.  In Charles’ painful image, the People sees the face of Christ at Golgotha.  This Passion incarnated by Charles VI corresponds of course to a major crisis in France’s History, but it contributes also to the slow ripening of a national sentiment, confused at this time with fidelity to the suffering monarch who has placed the kingdom under the protection of Saint [the Archangel] Michael.

From 1400, there are fewer attacks, which also become shorter and less violent.  Unfortunately, other miseries affect the “Jardin des lis”  [Garden of the Lilies].  The little Dauphin, Charles, dies at the age of nine in January 1401.  During the following months, the tension with Louis d’Orleans reaches its peak.  Named Gouverneur des aides pour la guerre en pays de langue d’oil, Louis raises war taxes which increases his unpopularity.  In July 1402, Charles VI removes from his brother the powers that he had accorded him during his periods of  “absence” and entrusts them to the Queen and his uncles, the Dukes of Berry and of Bourbon.  The climate becomes even heavier when the King of England reveals the alliance that he has concluded with Louis d’Orleans, and openly accuses him of having damaged his brother’s health, of having something to do with the King’s madness.  The death of the Duke de Bourgogne, Philippe the Hardy, leaves the way clear for the Duke d’Orleans, who has obtained the public and scandalous support of Queen Isabeau.

Until now, Isabeau has been a silent queen.  Not speaking French when she arrives in France, she appears, compared to the agreeable Valentine Visconti, mute, absent, ignorant of the French games of courtesy and eloquence.  However, from 1402, according to the terms of the royal Order, the Queen receives the custody of the Dauphin and the Presidency of the Council during the King’s “absences”.

This is when Louis gets closer to her.  Is it weakness on Isabeau’s part?  Or more?  From then on, they will be seen everywhere together.  They stay at the Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle together.  They go together to the Garden of the Celestins for long conversations.  They hunt together and, one stormy day, Louis takes refuge in Isabeau’s litter.

It is not certain, however, that the Queen is “scandalous”.  It can be imagined that alone, frightened, she puts herself under the protection of the man who is then the closest one to the King.

In 1405, the antagonism between the new Duke de Bourgogne, Jean the Fearless, and his cousin d’Orleans goes up a notch;  the Duke takes under his protection the Dauphin, future Charles VII, born in February 1403, against Queen Isabeau and Louis who want to take the child  away from Paris.  Only Charles VI’s intervention prevents the antagonists from taking up arms.  Finally, Louis d’Orleans is assassinated on 23 November 1407 by order of the Duke de Bourgogne.  Valentine Visconti will come to the King to demand Justice, before leaving France.  At the moment of his sister-in-law’s departure, in January 1408, Charles will have another attack, after a respite of one whole year.  Then he accords his pardon to Jean the Fearless, who justifies the murder of his cousin by having it qualified as tyrannicide by the clerics.

In March 1409, the Chartres peace treaty establishes an appearance of agreement but, in April 1410, the Armagnac Party is born.  This is the Party of the House of Orleans which takes the name of Bernard VII, Count d’Armagnac, Louis’ son’s father-in-law.

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From now on, France will be torn between two factions which Charles VI will desperately try to reconcile.  The Armagnacs arm troops and contact the English to obtain their support.  Charles has to lay siege to Bourges, in June 1412, to finally impose royal authority.  In 1413, the etats generaux contest the size of the tax, then Paris rises up at the call of the butcher Caboche and imposes, in May, the promulgation of the “cabochian” laws of State reform.  They are abolished in September, when the balance swings in favour of the Armagnacs.  Unable to durably establish civil peace, Charles VI marches against the Duke de Bourgogne in 1414.  However, the preliminaries for a peace treaty are signed at the beginning of September:  Charles is still trying to find a way of reconciling the two opposing Parties.  On 5 January 1415, he has a funeral service celebrated in Notre-Dame in memory of Louis d’Orleans.

This same year, war breaks out again with the King of England, Henry V.  On 25 October, the English win the crushing victory of Agincourt.  The King is in Rouen when he learns of the disaster.  He returns to Paris on 29 November, “in little company”.  Juvenal des Ursins reports that

“the People was discontented to see that his hair was down to his shoulders and that he was dressed in the same robe that he had been seen to wear continually for more than two years and the hat as well”.

A pitiful return which augures ill for the future of the kingdom.

To be continued.

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