Charles V of France

Born: January 21, 1337

Vincennes, France

Died: September 16, 1380

Beaute-sur-Marne, France (Age 43)

Charles V in History

The future King Charles V was born during the reign of his grandfather, King Philip VI, and his childhood was certainly significantly different from that of his father, the future King John II. Whereas John preferred more outdoor activities, such as hunting and jousting, Charles leaned more towards intellectual pursuits. In 1350, when Charles was just thirteen, he was married to Joan of Bourbon and became the first dauphin of France when his grandfather died and was succeeded by Charles's father, John II. The term dauphin became the title for the heir to the throne after the French purchased the county of Dauphine and assigned its keeping to the heir apparent. By the mid-1350s, the dauphin came under the sway of the manipulative Charles II, King of Navarre, an enemy of his father's. Luckily, Charles saved himself when he revealed a plot by Navarre to depose his father, leading to Navarre's imprisonment. The incident did damage the relationship between father and son since the king was aware that the dauphin was willing to go along with the plan at first. 1356 would prove to be a deciding year in Charles's life as France faced yet another invasion from England. A battle broke out at Poitiers between the French army and that of Edward the Black Prince, son and heir of the English King Edward III. Despite having the larger army, the French were decisively defeated. John II was captured but Charles was lucky enough to escape. The king was taken as a prisoner to England, where he would remain for the next four years, leaving the nineteen-year-old Charles as regent of France.

Due to the ravages of both war and plague, France was in a horrible financial state, forcing the dauphin to propose raising taxes in Paris to compensate. The people of Paris had other ideas and rebelled against the regent. After making the mistake of releasing Navarre from prison, Charles now had to deal with him joining the rebels and supplying troops. Furthermore, the dauphin also had to deal with a peasants rebellion in the outer counties, known as the "Jacquerie Revolt." Luckily, the peasants revolt was put down fairly easily, with even Navarre supporting Charles (considering the peasants were on their way to ravage his own lands). With the Jacquerie Revolt brutally put down, Charles now laid siege to Paris, which ultimately surrendered and paid homage to the regent. Now the dauphin drew his attention to Navarre, who had conquered several territories in Normandy already. However, Navarre gradually lost support from the local lords and was forced to make peace with Charles, giving up the territories he had gained. To further complicate matters, Charles now had to face another English invasion. The English were unhappy with the fact that a peace treaty had not been set up, after three years, to ransom John II, and therefore took initiative into their own hands via invasion. However, the dauphin played it passively, simply not engaging the English in battle, and the starved troops were ultimately forced to leave France, accomplishing absolutely nothing.

A truce was finally agreed to between the two countries, and John was returned to France. However, one of the dauphin's brothers (Louis, Duke of Anjou), who had been sent as collateral until the remainder of the ransom was paid, escaped captivity, and John who did not want Edward III to think he was a dishonorable man, returned willingly to England as a prisoner. This time, he would not return to his homeland and died of a sudden illness the following year (1364). At this point, the dauphin ascended the throne as King Charles V. After his accession, the new king faced more civil rebellion, this time against Brittany, who allied itself with Charles's old enemy, Navarre. Charles, however, was able to use his able military commanders to swiftly quell the rebellion, and Navarre was never a significant threat again. The king then dealt with the unemployed English soldiers ravaging the French countryside by sending them to fight in Castile against the tyrant King Pedro "the Cruel," in favor of the French ally, Enrique of Trastamara. As his ally, Pedro had yet another rival of Charles's, Edward the Black Prince. Although the prince was, at first, successful in his attempts to repel the French forces, Charles proved to be the one who came out on top, helping to depose Pedro and place his ally Enrique on the throne of Castile. The Black Prince fled to his territories in Gascony, which he had been assigned to by his father the king, only to have his subjects rebel and appeal to Charles V because of over taxation. War was once again declared and, despite Edward III sending troops to reinforce his son, Charles was able to win back a majority of the territories France had lost to the English during the last thirty years.

A truce was made between the two sides, and the deaths of the Black Prince (1376) and Edward III (1377) and the accession of the late king's ten-year-old grandson, Richard II, practically assured that there would be peace within the realm of France for years to come. Therefore, Charles V spent the rest of his life promoting education and stabilizing the economy throughout the realm and played a role in the papal dispute (1378) that would last some forty years. Charles V died in 1380 at the age of forty-three and was succeeded by his twelve-year-old son, Charles VI. Most of the progress Charles V made during his reign would be undone by his son, but re-accomplished during his grandson's reign.

Charles V in Shakespeare

Appears in: Edward III

Charles V appears in Edward III as the Duke of Normandy and eldest son and heir of King John II. Historically, Charles did not hold this title until after his father ascended the throne, as John II himself held the title during the reign of his own father, Philip VI. Like his father, he displays arrogance towards the English but is portrayed in a positive light when he allows safe passage to Calais for the Earl of Salisbury, an English commander. By the end of the play, Charles is, historically, only nineteen years of age. Despite this fact, he appears throughout the play, taking part in the Battles of Sluys (1337) and Crecy (1346) during which he was only six months and nine years old, respectively, in reality.


Potter, Philip J. Kings of the Seine: The French Rulers from Pippin III to Jacques Chirac. Baltimore: Publish America, 2005.

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