Surprisingly, Charles very rapidly accords his pardon to his brother’s assassin, the Duke de Bourgogne, Jean the Fearless, who is given letters of remission on 9 March 1408. And, if Queen Isabeau and the Duke de Berry decide to remove Charles from Paris, in November 1408, it is to avoid him giving too great a welcome to the Bourguignon Duke. What does all this mean? Charles VI is not mixed up in his brother’s death, but the least we can say is that he hardly mourns him. How can such an attitude be explained? Is it the result of a hidden hate of confused origin, or the conviction that Louis is, directly or not, responsible for the illness that he has been suffering for the last fifteen years?
Here are the most serious clues: a few days before the sinister Bal des Ardents, Charles VI had accorded the Regency of the kingdom to his brother, in the case of a return of a similar attack to that of Le Mans Forest. And it is Louis who organizes the Ball; it is he who takes the torch… For his second attempt, it is not poison, but fire, that is used by the ambitious brother… No proof exists, but these facts, these rumours, even the King’s words, constitute a body of fairly convincing presumptions.
The second attack, which begins on 13 June 1393 in Abbeville, where Charles has gone to meet the King of England, and ends in January 1394, is visibly of a different nature to that of Le Mans. Less violence and no manifestation of fury. The King goes to Saint-Denis to hear Mass and behaves, according to the Monk, “without any extravagance”. It is during his illness that he decides to go on a pilgrimage to Mont-Saint-Michel. His mind is therefore not as continuously clouded as Juvenal des Ursins leads us to believe. After an eighteen-month respite, another attack occurs in September 1395, which will last until the following February. This is when the accesses of violence, of destructive rage occur, while at the same time, he no longer recognizes the Queen or his children… But these moments are separated by periods of calm, during which he attends Council and holds completely normal conversations.
The hostility toward Isabeau has perhaps origins which have nothing to do with madness. The rumours which are circulating about the Queen’s behaviour could have provoked rather banal aggressive furies. All these are questions to which it will always be impossible to give satisfactory answers.
The hallucinations suffered by the patient attain their maximum intensity in the years 1398-1399 – which alone count thirteen attacks, or one third of all those noted. Then they become less violent, and the royal “illness” is transformed into that “melancholy” which is manifestly of a different nature to the first attacks. An hallucinogenic poison with recurring effects could explain the attacks which happened between 1392 and 1399. The attacks of 1408 and 1409 would therefore be only the sequels of the preceding ones, before the illness is transformed into that much more serene “absence” which characterises the end of the reign. This is why, after a while, when he is supposed to be in a period of relapse, Charles is still able to receive Ambassadors or take decisions which are capital for the kingdom. As time passes, the visions which terrify him lose their strength and their violence, until the moment when the hallucination is only a memory, constantly feared, then finally buried. It is curious that a relapse occurs in March 1408, for on this particular night,
“the King slept with the Queen, and he came out of it more ill than he had been ten years before”.
Charles hadn’t been sleeping with his wife for several years; it was therefore sufficient to be in Isabeau’s presence to make all the anguish and terror of the past resurge. In the same way, after Louis d’Orleans’ assassination, the visits of Valentine Visconti seem to engender attacks for which, there too, the origin is to be sought in the memory of past attacks…
An interpretation of the 1405 attack, where Charles is “covered in lice and vermin”, should be presented. The King no longer washes, eats, or sleeps, and wears a piece of iron between his flesh and his clothes. Why not see this as his wish for typically religious mortification? This attitude, incomprehensible for our contemporaries, is not exceptional at this epoch. It is known that Cardinal Pierre de Luxembourg inflicted such mortifications on himself, and that
“in the luxury of the Court of Bourgogne, he lived in the blackest filth, devoured by vermin, continually confessing sins which he had perhaps not committed”.
In this hypothesis, it is the great piety of the very Christian King, the mediator between God and his people, the designated victim of divine anger, that should be seen. And this piety is recorded by the Monk de Saint-Denis:
“This unfortunate prince, in the middle of the cruel sufferings that he had to endure, always showed a lot of patience and resignation; he was good, gentle and pious, devoted and affectionate for his people, serving God each day with the greatest devotion, despite the harassments, the injustices and the constraints exercised against him, against his State, and against his family.”
This religious attack of 1405 would explain the new form which the royal “folly” seems to take; it should be connected to the crisis of the Church, with the great schism in the West.
By continuing his father’s politics, by supporting the Avignon papacy, Charles has perhaps committed a major sin against the necessary unity of Christianity, at the moment when the Turk menaces. If the kingdom’s problems “are caused by the faults and sins of us and of our people”, ascesis and prayers accomplished by the King, the intermediary between God and his subjects, in charge of transmitting divine grace, justice and clemency, are the natural means, at this time, for soliciting the misericord of the Most High. During this attack in 1405, the King’s comportment appears normal several times: he receives Ambassadors, forbids the factions to take up arms, which doesn’t stop him from removing himself from the rules of everyday life, to better obtain from Heaven the graces that he expects for his people…
Whether we turn to psychology, or to the hypothesis of an initial poisoning in which the Duke d’Orleans is involved, we cannot content ourselves today with the image, left to us by Michelet, of a mentally deranged man, abandoned in a room of the castle. Despite the horrors of civil war and foreign invasion, Charles finally reinforced royal majesty, in the measure that his sufferings, far from alienating his subjects’ fidelity, permitted, through analogy with Christ’s Passion, to make France God’s chosen land. Saint [the Archangel] Michael’s kingdom will gradually become conscious of itself in a sort of founding chaos, from which the shining banner of the young saint from Domremy [Joan of Arc] will surge. Each in his or her own way, the suffering King and the Rouen martyr participate in the painful birth of a new epoch in the long History of the Kingdom of the Lilies [fleurs-de-lis].