Tag Archive: XIVth Century

A fairytale village

Joan of Arc heard voices and saw “ladies” (that she identified as Saint Margaret and Saint Catherine), near a tree where curious phenomena had been occurring for a long time.

In the XIVth Century, in Champagne, there is a charming little village on the banks of a river of clear water where bleaks and barbels play.  The houses with low rooves which surround the church are not numerous:  ten, at most, the inhabitants of which are fun-loving peasants who like good wine, live simply in God’s grace, cultivating their lands, leading their flocks to the fields and rhythming their days on the Angelus of the morning and the Angelus of the evening…  They are all friendly, straight-talking people, who look healthy and bright-eyed.

Sometimes, enemy troops traverse the countryside.  As soon as they are in view, the curate rings the bells and everyone runs to take refuge, with the animals, in the Ile Castle, built in the middle of the river and belonging to Sieur Bourlemont.

The danger over, the men return to the fields and the women return home to relight the fires and prepare the soup.

Apart from its old castle, this little village possesses nothing which could retain anyone’s attention.  Except a tree.  An extraordinary tree.  It can be found barely half a league from the church, on a little slope at the edge of an oak wood.  It is a beech.  A beech so great, so noble, so marvellous that the good people of the countryside who have travelled, those who have walked the roads or the tracks as far as Troyes, Saint-Dizier and even Chalons-sur-Marne, say that it is the most beautiful one in the world…

It is called the Beau May, and l’Arbre des Dames, or l’Arbre-aux-Fees.  And strange stories are told about it.  It is said that it is haunted and that Lady Fairies meet there.  Some even claim to have seen them and heard them speak.  Which surprises no-one, given that it is of public knowledge that Sir Pierre Granier, Knight of Bourlemont, goes regularly beneath the great beech to meet a fairy and have a conversation with her there.

Some go as far as saying, lowering their voices and making the sign of the cross, that these conversations are sometimes accompanied by a “love commerce”…

But all of the village fairies do not have such flighty comportment.  Most of them are Good Ladies who are invited to baptisms and for whom a table is set in the room next to that of the new mother.  As it is said that they are easily irritated, care is taken not to disturb them or to frighten them with too great a noise.  They then give thanks with a song or a little miracle.

Are these enchanting ladies good or bad genies?  No-one, if the truth be told, could say;  but neither their existence nor the prodigies that they accomplish are contested.  Even by the parishioners who miss neither Mass nor Vespers.  Religion and the fairy world, at this time when people with pure hearts live up to their necks in the marvellous, intimately, tightly intermingle, like branches and the coils of the vine.  To the point that the inhabitants of the village have baptised a fountain near the marvellous tree:  La Fontaine-aux-Bonnes-Fees-Notre-Seigneur

Each year, on the Sunday of loetare – that is to say the Sunday which follows the Thursday of mid-Lent – the young men and young girls of the village, led by Lord de Bourlemont and his Lady, go to honour the Beau May.

The village of Domremy and its castle where, in the XIVth Century, Sieur de Bourlemont, its lord, is said to have strange meetings with “white ladies” at the foot of the Fairy Tree…

The first to arrive decorate it with garlands of flowers.  Then, boys and girls, crowned with daffodils, take each other by the hand and form a circle while singing.  To this circle, succeeds a wild farandol under the branches of the tree, where the Lady Fairies remain hidden, silent and invisible.  After which, Lady de Bourlemont has distributed hard-boiled eggs, bread, little cakes in the shape of the moon, and jars of wine.

After this picnic, a sort of mannequin is fashioned from vegetation which is then carried ritually around the tree to celebrate Spring and thank the Ladies of Light for their kindness.

When evening falls, everyone returns home after a little detour to the sacred fountain of the Bonnes-Fees-Notre-Seigneur where each person must drink a few drops of miraculous water.

That is the end of the Sunday of loetare, half-christian half-fairytale.  But many other ritual festivals unfold in this village, to which the fairies are naturally connected.

For example, on the first day of May, before Dawn, the young men go to cut a few branches of the beautiful beech and bring them back very mysteriously, and silently attach them in front of the houses where there are young, unmarried girls.  When the girls open their doors and discover the branches of the Arbre-aux-Fees, they know that they are loved and that the Good Ladies will soon give them a fiance…

Finally, the fairies, it is said, have, in their goodness, hidden a mandragora under the great tree where they meet.  And everybody well knows that this mysterious and magical plant whose root, in the shape of a human body, bleeds and screams when it is ripped out of the ground, can bring a fortune to the one who dares to dig it up…

This strange, fairytale village where, as far back as the XIVth Century, the peasants hear bizarre things under the trees, this village where it is said that Ladies of the Light sometimes appear under a giant beech and where the Lord of the place has conversations with a fairy, this village is called Domremy…

And it is there that, one hundred years later, Jeanne d’Arc would be born, and it is there, in this fairytale village , that she would hear, one day, strange voices…


Domremy is situated near the border between Champagne and the Barrois.  Therefore, Jeanne d’Arc was either Champenoise or Barroise, but she was absolutely not from Lorraine as is often said.


It is also said that she was a shepherdess, which is false.  She had never guarded sheep, unless it was totally accidentally.  She became Lorraine because of Francois Villon who wrote:

Et Jeanne la bonne Lorraine…

He probably did it because he needed something ending in “aine” for his rhyme.


To be continued.


The legend of the Easter bells that go to Rome from Good Thursday to the evening of Good Saturday is an enigma for folklorists and historians of traditions.

There exists, in the History of folklore, a mystery which has always intrigued the specialists of popular traditions.  It is the one attached to the origin of the “Easter bells”.  When, in the VIIIth Century, the Church, as a sign of mourning, forbids the ringing of the bells during the three days which precede the Festival of the Resurrection, the good people invented a very strange story.  They said:

“From Good Thursday to Good Saturday evening, the bells leave their belfries, fly away and go to Rome…”

With the knowledge that legends nearly always draw their origins from something that really happened, one could ask what strange phenomenon could have led our ancestors to imagine such a fable.  For no-one has ever seen any bells flying in the sky.

Or have they?…

Don’t laugh and let us have a look at a chronicle from the VIth Century which will perhaps furnish us with the explanation that we are seeking.

This chronicle’s author is the monk Gregoire de Tours.  Reporting all the important facts of his epoch in his Histoire des Francs, the worthy man writes that in 584,

“there appeared in the sky brilliant wheels of light which seemed to crash into each other and go past each other;  after which, they separated and disappeared into thin air”.

The following year, he notes:

“In the month of September, certain people saw some signs, that is to say, some of these wheels of light or cupolas that one is accustomed to see and which seem to run with rapidity in the sky.”

Two years later, the monk again writes:

“We saw for two nights in a row, in the middle of the sky, a sort of strongly luminous cloud which had the form of a hood.”

A cupola, a hood, those are objects which resemble bells a lot.  From there, could we not think that these mysterious apparitions, observed by the contemporaries of Gregoire de Tours, are at the origin of the popular fable?

For centuries, city and country children await the “return” of the bells which are supposed to bring them back from Rome eggs in sugar or chocolate.

But what then were these extraordinary engines which were circulating in the atmosphere?

Their description strangely resembles that of our modern UFOs some of which have, very exactly, the form of a cupola, of a hood, in a word, of a bell

Let us listen to a witness who, on 2 October 1954, saw one of these objects above Quinay-Voisin, near Melun:

“The engine passed in the sky at a fast pace.  It was coming from the North and had the form of a cupola…  It made no noise and was shiny like aluminium…  In a few seconds, it stationed over a wood.  I then saw it rocking for a long moment;  then it took off again at astounding speed and disappeared.”

Another testimony:  on 24 June 1962, around 3:00 pm, a man from a garage, who was running an errand in the vicinity of Nice, suddenly sees something luminous in the sky.  Let us listen to him:

“At first, I thought that it was round.  Then when the thing came closer, I saw that it had the form of an upside-down bowl.  This thing circled above the hill, as if it was looking to land.  Then it threw out flashes and rose vertically at great speed.  Then I lost it from sight.”

Third testimony, even more precious:  On 19 June 1971, a former American officer was driving along a road in Georgia when he noticed above a wood an enormous scintillating object slipping under the clouds.  He says:

“This object had the form of a German helmet or of a bell.  It was fairly high, but I think that its diameter could be equal to the width of a Boeing.  Intrigued, I stopped and turned off my engine.  The object continued to advance slowly without making any noise.  Then it began to circle around a point which seemed to me to be a little lake situated not far from the place where I was.  While it was circling, some red lights appeared on its sides, as if some windows were lighting up.  Then everything went out and the object suddenly took off and disappeared into some clouds.”

So, what do we conclude?

This very curious story that parents still tell children could have at its origin the apparition in the sky of a mysterious flying object.

That the men of the VIth Century had perhaps received the visit of an engine comparable to these UFOs which roam around our sky, the strange evolutions of which are periodically reported by the newspapers?

In this case, the “Easter bells” would have entered into our traditions because of an object in the form of a cupola which perhaps came from another world and had caused the men of the year 584 to marvel…


Guy Breton, whose work I have translated, underlines that this explanation is only an hypothesis which he submits to the folklorists, nothing more…


Flying bells are very often in legends and popular tales.  In all of the world’s folklores, bells have a magical character.  We see them as special objects – almost living beings – since we baptise them.  And we lend them strange faculties:  they ring on their own to announce a catastrophe, they make storms flee, they stop hail.  Finally – and we come back to our subject – they roam around the sky at fantastic speeds.  In certain tales, they are described, brilliant or glowing red, flying over fields or villages.  In others, they stop for a few instants in a point in the air before taking off again like a flash of lightning…  Which is, according to the witnesses cited by the newspapers, one of the characteristics of our modern UFOs.


There is an enormous amount of apparitions of unidentified celestial objects in the Middle Ages.  The chronicles are full of them.  They speak of mysterious round objects, flying shields, lances of fire, in other words, objects whose description again corresponds with what we read today in the press…  Listen to what Gregoire de Tours wrote in 590:

“During this year, a light so bright shone in the night that one could believe that it was noon;  one saw as well globes of fire travelling often across the sky at nighttime and illuminating the world.”

Here is what the chronicler Matthieu de Paris writes in his Historia Anglorum, on the subject of a phenomenon which occurred at twilight on 24 July 1239:

“While the stars were not yet lit and while the sky was still very light, serene and brilliant, a great star appeared like a torch.  It rose from the South and climbed in the sky emitting a very big light.  When it was high in the sky, it turned toward the North, slowly, as if it wanted to occupy a position in the sky.  But when it was about in the middle of the firmament, in our boreal hemisphere, it left behind it some smoke and some sparks.  This had the form of a big head, the front part was sparkling and the back part was emitting smoke and flashes…”

For the date 1290, one finds in the chronicles of William of Newburgh this text:

“As Abbot Henry, Prior of Byland Abbey, in England, was about to read the “Benedicite”, Joannes, one of the friars, came to announce that a prodigy was showing outside.  Everyone then went outside and there they saw a big silver thing, round like a disc, fly slowly above them, provoking the most lively terror…”

Thirty years later, Robert of Reading, who was a Benedictin at Saint Peter of Westminster, notes in his chronicle that in 1322,

“in the early hours of the night of 4 November a pillar of fire the size of a little boat, of pale colour, was seen in the sky above Uxbridge (Middlesex);  it rose to the South, crossed the sky in a slow, majestuous movement and left towards the North.  At the front of the pillar, a bright red flame was burning throwing out great rays of light.  Its speed increased and it disappeared into space…  Several witnesses saw a sort of collision and a noise like a fearsome combat was heard.”

Phenomena of this kind are signalled throughout the whole of Europe.  In Sicily, the Minor Brothers of Ragusa watched, on 8 January 1388, the passage of several “very luminous and aligned” objects above their convent.  And the Cronica Albertina indicates that in 1394,

“the second day of the month of September, at the second hour of the night, appeared to some men who were on the public square of Forli and to others, in other places assembled, a great asud [name given at the time to celestial objects] which traversed the sky very slowly and which stayed in space the time of two Pater Nosters, and which was as long as one step, and which, at its disappearance – the men who were on the square reported it – gave out an odour of burning wood, and we heard other people who assured that the said asud on fire travelled through the air in its own fashion, but after it remained motionless for a bit of time in space, and after this time it disappeared little by little leaving in its place a sort of cloud, and the rest of the vapours had taken the form of serpents, a rather admirable thing.”

Finally, here is another text that Guy Breton found in the Memoires of a bourgeois from Arras written by Jacques Duclerq, Counseller to Philippe le Bon.  He writes:

“In the night of the All Saints [31 October night] 1461, was noticed in the sky an ardent thing, like a very long bar of iron, very fat like half a moon.  For a quarter of an hour, we could see very clearly.  And then, suddenly, this strange thing twisted and climbed into the skies.  Each remained stunned by it.”

You see, the sky of the Middle Ages is criss-crossed by unidentified flying objects…  It is possible that these mysterious apparitions have given birth to other myths.  Which would perhaps explain why, when the Church forbade the ringing of the bells for three days, the good people found it quite natural to tell their children that the bells – which had the form of some of these objects circulating in the sky – had flown away.  And as they could imagine them better close to the Pope, they added that they had left for Rome…


Louis XIV in his coronation robes.

On this Sunday of the year 1660, at La Celle-Roubaud, a minuscule village in Provence which is preparing to live a prodigious event, there is great joy in the air…

In a moment, King Louis XIV in person is going to make his entrance into the church, accompanied by Madame his Mother, the religious Anne of Austria, and a brilliant and numerous suite.  It is the Queen Mother who has advised this detour via La Celle-Roubaud.  But why go into this isolated village when, at a short distance from there, the venerable walls of Thoronet, the pearl of Roman Abbeys, is ready to welcome the young King and his suite for their Vespers?

Using his long walking stick with the engraved pommel, the King has just entered the church and is now walking slowly towards the main altar.  He bows, imitated by the whole suite, as he passes in front of the tabernacle, then, guided by the parish’s Curate, he approaches a shrine situated to the right of the choir.  A heavy chest in gilded wood, entirely covered by a plate of glass, shelters an open coffin.

Certain bodies remain intact after death. This is the head of Saint Sebastien, in his glass coffin, at Puebla, Mexico.

In the coffin is the cadaver of a sixty-year-old woman.

The skin of the face is smooth and satiny, a slightly pink coloration tints the surface of the cheekbones and hands.  The long, slim, ivory-coloured hands appear alive.  The lowered eyelids, the pink mouth slightly open, the supreme calm of her features, all appear to indicate that this woman dressed in a nun’s habit, is plunged into a sort of lethargic sleep.

Is it really a cadaver?  Has a supremely gifted embalmer succeeded in conserving this appearance of unheard-of freshness to the body?  The young King, who for the moment is alone with his mother looking at it, is astonished, amazed.  He questions the Curate, and then a member of his suite who is dressed in a severe, black suit.  He is again told that the cadaver of this nun, Roseline de Villeneuve, has been in this state of conservation since 17 January 1329 precisely.  For more than three centuries.

The fascinated King has trouble dragging himself from his contemplation.  He slowly moves in the direction of the sacristy.

There, the Curate who has preceded him again, presents a silver reliquary to him…

Lying on a small cushion of pale silk, there are two spheric objects whose view provokes a brief backward movement in the Queen Mother.  These two objects are the dead woman’s eyes…  They have the exact appearance of eyes that have just been taken from a living face:  slightly shiny, they have a completely limpid brilliance.  And above all, they appear to show a human sentiment, whose precise meaning remains mysterious, however.

Troubled, the King turns toward his doctor and murmurs:

“Do you think that it is possible?…”

“For God, nothing is impossible,”

replies in an oppressed voice, the King’s doctor, Antoine Vallot, who shortly beforehand had saved the life of the seriously ill King.

The King remains motionless for a moment then suddenly straightens.

“I want this eye, the left one, to be pricked twice…  And then we shall truly see if they are real eyes!”

Despite his repugnance, Vallot scarcely tergiverses.  For the last few months, all of Louis’ injunctions are delivered in a new tone of voice…  The one which is suited to the most absolute monarch in the History of France.

He pricks twice on either side of the iris.  Which immediately shrivels and loses its brilliance while a bit of pink humour escapes from the eye.

Appalled, the King takes a step backwards.  He has to admit the miracle.  This nun’s body, like the eyes which had been detached from it, has remained for three hundred years in a state of total incorruptibility.

What do the documents say?

The body of Sister Catherine Laboure, which has not been embalmed, shows no trace of corruption, after more than a century.

The nun, Roseline de Villeneuve, dies on the morning of 17 January 1329, without leaving any exceptional memories behind her.  During the few days that her remains are exposed, some spontaneous cures apparently occur.

But what particularly strikes the observers, is the cadaver’s appearance.

This sixty-year-old woman has been dead for days, and her cadaver conserves all its suppleness, the eyes have kept all their brilliance, and none of the usual signs of the decomposition which follows death can be seen.

Roseline is buried anyway in the little, sloping cemetery of La Celle-Roubaud, but this prodigy is of course discussed in the surrounding countryside.

However, it takes five years before the decision is taken to exhume her on 11 June 1334.

When the extremely damaged oak lid is taken off, there is stupefaction and fear:  despite the great humidity of the ground which lines the tomb, the cadaver appears to be in a state of perfect conservation.  It is even rapidly discovered that it had absolutely not changed since the moment of her funeral.  Her eyes, which are still as limpid, are then removed and placed in a reliquary.  The body itself is placed in the shrine which is contemplated three centuries later by Louis XIV.

During the Revolution, this singular relic escaped the destruction ordered by the Comite de Salut public.

Around one hundred years later, Roseline de Villeneuve’s body, which is still in this state of unlikely conservation, will be transferred, this time into a marble and glass shrine.

Abbot Arnaud, the Curate of Arcs, the big town of which La Celle-Roubaud is a dependency, recounts in a book which he publishes in 1887, how this operation unfolded.

The Bishop of the Var, Monsignor Michel, assisted by four doctors, lengthily notes the suppleness of the members, the perfect freshness and elasticity of Roseline’s skin.  The medical report notably indicates:

“The cadaver’s foot is fresh and flexible, the flesh depresses and rises again under pressure from fingers.”

And then suddenly, in 1887, insects attack this body which was so fabulously conserved.

Embalmers and chemists are rushed from Rome;  but on 6 July 1894, it is a poor mummy, shrivelled and dry, that is placed in the new, hermetically sealed shrine.  And that is what can be seen today.

The eyes that had been placed in the reliquary decomposed at the same rhythm as the body before the intervention of the embalmers…

Everything is therefore over, there is no more miracle.

But how do we explain this body’s prodigious resistance to all corruption for five hundred-and-sixty-five years?

To be continued.

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].


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.

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.


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.

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.

Charles VI is convinced that his younger brother Louis, Duke d’Orleans, wants to kill him.  An opinion also held by the People, which loves Charles and detests Louis.  However, this cannot be written, even if certain passages from the Monk de Saint-Denis indirectly confirm the connection between the King’s “folly” and his brother’s person:

“In time, his mind was covered in darkness so thick that he completely forgot even things of which Nature should have reminded him.  For example, by a strange and inexplicable bizzareness, he claimed not to be married and never to have had children;  he even forgot his own person and his title of King of France, maintaining that he wasn’t called Charles, and disowned the fleurs-de-lis.  When he saw his arms or those of the Queen engraved on the gold plates or elsewhere, he effaced them in fury.”

This is confirmed by the Silver Accounts, which note damages suffered by the armoried plates, the stained-glass windows, the curtains, the cushions or the embroideries with fleurs-de-lis.

“When Queen Isabeau approached, he pushed her away, saying gently to his people:  ‘what is this woman whose view obsesses me?  Find out if she needs something and deliver me from her persecutions and her importunities however you can, so that she doesn’t follow me everywhere like this.’.”

Charles’ aggressivity toward the Queen is such that the King is prevented from “sleeping with her”, for fear that he would attempt to kill her.  In 1404, the danger is so great that Isabeau envisages fleeing France.  But once more the attack passes and she remains.

Is it in the hope of a cure that, “with the Queen’s consent”, a concubine for the King is sought?  Not a great deal is known about her except that she was discrete and faithful, so much so, that she was nicknamed “the little queen”.  Her name is Odette de Champdivers.  She is a member of one of the great servant families of the royal Hotel.  “Beautiful, gracious and charming”, she partially succeeds in the task given to her:  she remains near the King until his death, in 1422, and will give him a daughter.  However, although she brings love and loyalty to the unhappy, tortured sovereign, she remains powerless to cure him.

Although Charles VI is unable to stand his wife during his attacks, he is very happy in the company of his sister-in-law, the Duchess d’Orleans, Valentine Visconti, married to Louis in 1389:

“He called her his beloved sister and went to see her every day”,

which awakens the suspicions of certain people, prompt to remember that

“In Lombardie, which was the Duchess’ part of the country, poisons and spells were used more than in any other”.

All the objects which set off the patient’s fury have in common that they are marked with his initials or his arms, or that they have been given to him by his brother Louis.  He breaks a gold, enamelled goblet given to him by Louis in 1396 as if he fears one day to drink poison from it.  On the other hand, the King has some of his outfits embroidered, rather curiously, with the arms of his sister-in-law Valentine…

Louis’ shadow is therefore omnipresent in the King’s words and in his comportment when he falls back into the illness’ clutches.  Obsessively, this evidence endlessly reappears:  the King believes that his brother wants to kill him.  Even in the words which are apparently totally detached from reality, the trail of the brother exists, encrypted:

“He claimed to be called Georges, and that his armories were a lion traversed by a sword.”

The references to Saint George and to the lion send us to the chivalry universe in which the tormented mind of the King evolves, where we find its meaning.  The lion, in the Books of Hours, is the ornament of the initial L, which sends us to the name of Louis, “that he must kill if he doesn’t want to be killed by it”.  Saint George, who symbolises the spirit of chivalry, is perhaps also an image of the faithful Olivier de Clisson, the Connetable who was born on the day of the Feast of Saint-Georges, was made a knight on the day of the Feast of Saint-Georges and who died on the day of the Feast of Saint-Georges in April 1407…  The lion pierced by the sword, is also Flanders vanquished at Roosebeke, the first great feat of arms accomplished by the young Knight-King…  None of these symbols should be neglected, for the Middle Ages knight is accustomed, from his earliest years, to live surrounded by these signs in images, which are the language of his function.  Imprecise images, troubled interpretations which send the mind back to events, to feelings, to convictions which it would be vain to hope to completely reconstitute today.  We have become strangers to the forest of symbols and signs inseparable from the mental universe of Mediaeval Man.  The sword that the patient says pierces him, the sword which kills the lion, is it Du Guesclin’s sword?  The hero gave it solemnly to little Louis on the day of his baptism, invoking Saint George.  Is it the one that Louis pointed toward Heaven while walking in front of his elder brother on the day of his Coronation?  These diverse paths of reflection, if they cannot totally explain the mystery which surrounds Charles VI’s madness, allow us to go infinitely further than the strictly “clinical” interpretations in vogue at the beginning of the XXth Century.


The King’s “folly” is astonishing in that it explodes in brusque and limited attacks;  the sick man’s capacity for recuperation is total.  When he comes back to his senses, Charles accomplishes his mission of King, and returns to the intellectual qualities that this implies.  Affable and generous, he is liked by all who approach him.  He is present at Council, accomplishes his Christian duties, regularly receives, like all of the sovereigns in the Middle Ages, those of his subjects who come to solicit a favour.  He closely follows the debates pertaining to the crisis of the Church and meets the Ambassadors, which in no way prevents him from consecrating part of his time to jousting or hunting…  However, he is conscious of the chronical nature of his illness.  He lives in fear of an attack which can occur at any time.

To be continued.

Neglecting hereditary defects, mysterious microbes, hypothetical intoxications or improbable poisonings, XXth Century historians prefer to turn to psychology to explain the King’s illness.  It is easy to imagine the excesses to which the Freudian interpretation of events in Charles’ early childhood or supposed troubles in his sexuality, which, by the way, was totally fulfilling, can lead.  However, the strange relationship between Charles and his younger brother, Louis, whom he loves during his calm periods, and hates during his attacks, must be mentioned.


Away from all systems and theories, let us follow a path which has the merit of sticking to the established facts, and places them in the reconstituted social, psychological and spiritual environment of the epoch.  Without this, nothing about this royal tragedy can really be understood.  Francoise Autrand writes:

“It is better to stay with a simple description of the illness, without choosing among the different diagnoses which might have been suggested by medical science.  Instructed, however, by modern psychiatry, we know that science is not ashamed of being attentive to the words of the patient during an attack, and to the comments of his entourage.  We need not censure our sources, even if they report the most irrational words.  We can then, with science’s blessing, listen to this man from past times and his words, which better suits the historian than guessing at doubtful diagnoses.”

First evidence:  the King’s illness does not affect his physical health.  He conserves throughout his whole life, the robustness which was his at twenty.  Endowed with good eyesight, skilful in his gestures, the only other degradation suffered by him will be slight baldness.  At over forty years old, he remains capable of riding for hours.  At almost fifty, he participates in tournaments, which is a sign of solid health and excellent general condition.  As a hunter, he pursues his prey untiringly, and consecrates himself to this favourite activity until the eve of his death.  He plays chess and also cards;  tradition even credits him with the introduction of this divertissement into France.  These are all activities which necessitate a good intelligence and a sure memory.  Nothing in his signature indicates any alteration of his intellectual faculties.  If we exclude the attacks which affect his health, Charles is never ill.  None of the illnesses which normally accompany an individual’s existence – infections, indigestions, passing indispositions, benign fevers – seem to have affected him, if the information furnished by the Silver Accounts are to be believed.  These Accounts report the smallest purge or the use of the tiniest dressing…  We know only that in October 1422, the King goes to bed and dies a few days later, at almost fifty-four, doubtless from catching cold too brutally.  At an age which we can place very largely above the average life expectancy of the men of the time.

The King’s general health therefore appears to be satisfactory…  if we except the appearance at irregular intervals, of serious mental troubles.  At this moment, it is said that “the King isn’t well or is stopped by malady”.  Just as quickly, “he returns to health and again finds good sense and understanding”.  The attacks and remissions succeed each other very quickly sometimes, which bewilders both the entourage and the King, who can feel himself coming back from his attacks of “folly”.  For example, the King is ill during the first two weeks of July 1397.  Fully recovered, he relapses again after one week.  From Easter 1399 to Easter 1400, he has seven attacks.  The illness appears and disappears for inexplicable reasons.  The year 1402 is one of the most difficult:  affected in May, recovered in June, relapsed in July until 1 October, the poor man comes out of this state to plunge back into it two days later.  In 1398, it is from March to May that the King is ill, at the moment of the visit of the King of Germania, Wencelas de Luxembourg.  In 1405, the illness lasts six months, from July to December.

Doctor Brachet tried to establish a detailed calendar of the attacks, the remissions and the relapses, highlighting forty-three during the thirty years from the attack of Le Mans Forest to the sovereign’s death.  It is impossible to detect any sort of cycle for them.  The seasons, the cold, the heat do not seem to play any role…  Sometimes, long periods of calm separate the attacks.  In 1412 and 1414, Charles is able to spend the whole Summer in the country without being in any way affected by the fatigues of the adventure.

The length of the period during which the attacks were counted and described permits however to show a certain evolution in their manifestation.  The first attacks are a lot more violent;  Charles believes himself to be attacked by enemies.  He screams and hurls as if he is wounded, “as if he were stung by a thousand iron spikes”.  He attacks those present, stabs them with a knife – we have seen that, in Le Mans Forest, his attack costs the lives of four cavaliers who are accompanying him…  crockery, tapisteries, furniture suffers the effects of the royal fury.  This violence is accompanied by words about which the chroniclers of the time – for good reason – say little, as they directly blame the sovereign’s brother, Louis d’Orleans.  The Equerry, Pierre de Fenin, recounts the attack of Summer 1393:

“The truth is that this sad accident started in this way:  as he was hearing Mass, one of his servants came to give him a Book of Hours;  upon which, straight after looking inside it to read his prayers, he rose, becoming and appearing as if all troubled and out of his senses;  then he suddenly leaped in fury from his oratory and began to fight all those he met;  he even hit his own brother the Duke d’Orleans”…

like eleven months before in Le Mans Forest…

In 1408, Jean Petit reports the words uttered by Charles, in the throes of another attack:

“For God!  Take this sword which is piercing my heart away from me!  What has the beautiful brother d’Orleans done to me?  I must kill him.”

To be continued.

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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