The Monk de Saint-Denis designates the King’s illness as mente captus, which means “occupied in his mind” and not “deprived of reason”, as it was later translated… The Monk speaks several times of “alienated mind”, of “troubled brain”, but a simple diagnosis evidently seems well and truly out of reach of the contemporaries. The royal illness is, above all, mysterious. Juvenal des Ursins even enigmatically evokes it as “most marvellous”, while the Monk defines it as “astonishing and unheard-of”. Unable to give a satisfactory explanation, the doctors often affirm, as Froissart says, that “the King was poisoned and in herbs”.
It must also be remarked that both contemporary chroniclers and modern historians only use five big attacks to analyse the phenomenon of the royal illness: that of August 1392 in Le Mans Forest, that of June 1393 in Abbeville, that of 1395, that of 1397 and the 1405 one, whose manifestations are noticeably different. We dispose of very few precisions on the numerous attacks in 1398 and 1399. It seems as if the royal madness is accepted, without historians using the considerable apparatus of witness reports, susceptible of confirming the image of a wandering sovereign, who has become completely detached from the world surrounding him. Dominique Revel can therefore state that
“if we read attentively the texts of the epoch, several evidences appear. On the one hand, of the authors who recount the period of the reign posterior to 1400, like the Bourgeois of Paris, Monstrelet, most of the “Bourguignon” chroniclers practically never mention the illness, or simply refer to it, without details. The extravagant or violent details are to be found, on the other hand, with the authors who treat the whole reign, like the Monk or Juvenal des Ursins, or Froissart whose chronicle stops at the year 1400. There is an explanation for this: from 1400, except for the curious facts reported in 1405 or the serious attack in 1409, none of the King’s cited gestures, words or thoughts could have anything to do with the violent manifestations mentioned in 1400. This is one of the elements, and not the least, even if it is fairly general, which permits us to get an idea of the evolution of the King’s illness”.
If we return to the episode of Le Mans Forest, we can see that the apparition of the tramp is given an importance that it perhaps doesn’t really have. We know that Charles VI received a Languedoc hermit who had come to tell him about his visions. The apparition of these sorts of people is just a banality at a time which can only conceive of Historical events as announced by premonitory messages, apparitions of saints, or diverse miracles… The Monk de Saint-Denis also tells us of a comet appearing in the Maguelonne sky to announce, in July 1396, the terrible disaster which the Crusade army was going to suffer at Nicopolis, from the Ottoman troops of Sultan Bajazet the Lightning Bolt. If all the attention is not fixed on the strange person met in the forest, the hypothesis of a poisoning can find a certain validity. The aggression shown toward the Duke d’Orleans is a certitude, particularly as we know that the King, a few days earlier, had suddenly left his oratory upon reading his Livre d’Heures, to slap his brother, apparently without reason. A gesture which is even more surprising in that Louis, unlike the three uncles, was a warm partisan of the Brittany expedition. When the attack erupts, it is feared to be fatal. Monstrelet also says “that death rather than life was expected”. According to the Monk, the King remains several days unconscious. He cannot move his arms and legs. Immediately after the violent attack, his state worsens and his body starts to become cold. The only signs of life are breathing in the chest and a slight heart-beat. The Duke de Bourgogne “does not stop embracing the King’s body which he believes to be inanimated, repeating: ‘Say a word to ease my pain’.”
All the witnesses believe him to be dying. Three days later, his reason returns. The patient asks forgiveness for all his sins and draws up his Will on 9 August. The Will of a dying man, not of a mad one:
“While we are in possession of our mental faculties and are enjoying healthy reason, in spite of the physical illness with which we are seriously afflicted…”
We can then question the continuity of the illness given to the unfortunate sovereign by the contemporary chroniclers and by the historians who later used their witness reports. Is the violent attack of Le Mans Forest, born of an hallucination which is perhaps consecutive to the absorption of a poison, part of an “illness” which will manifest itself, in diverse forms, over the next thirty years? Are the periods of melancholy or of absence, mentioned after 1410, of the same nature as the manifestations of fury in the 1390’s? It seems legitimate to ask the question, and it can be thought that the contemporary witnesses, who are not experts in psychiatric matters, to say the least, perhaps conferred a rather too-rapid unity to symptoms of affections of a different nature?
There is one certitude, poison is currently used at this epoch. And, Louis is attracted to witchcraft [sorcery]. He is connected through his wife to Lombardy where his father-in-law, Giovanni Galeas Visconti, has shown his competence in this domain. He therefore appears as a likely culprit, particularly as he is very clearly designated during the King’s violent attacks of “madness”, along with anything that can remind the King of him. His uncles, who keep him at a distance, know perhaps that he is not a stranger to the curious attacks of madness which strike Charles. Jealousy, pride, ambition, the refusal of the King to engage himself too far with the Duke of Milano in Italian affairs, perhaps pushes the younger brother – who does not in any way resemble his elder brother’s image of a valiant knight – to premeditate a crime susceptible of opening new horizons, which would allow him to avoid remaining an eternal second.
To be continued.