King Charles VII of France

Born: February 22, 1403

Paris, France

Died: July 22, 1461

Mehun-Sur-Yevre, France (Age 58)

Charles VII in History

Though he is looked at as one of the most successful kings of France, due to his ultimate defeat of the English in the Hundred Years War, there were several significant factors at the beginning of Charles's life that made it unlikely he would ever become king. By the time Charles was born in 1403, as the eleventh child of King Charles VI and his wife, Isabella of Bavaria, he had already lost two elder brothers, but also had two remaining. For this reason, Charles was given little training in leadership. In addition, it was widely rumored that Charles, and possibly a number of his siblings, was the result of one of the elicit affairs Queen Isabella engaged in while the king was suffering from one of his many bouts of insanity. By 1413, Charles had been betrothed to Mary of Anjou and became increasingly close with his new in-laws, who provided relief from the troubled situation he faced at home with a mad father and an ambitious, flirtatious mother.

Even outside the royal household, times were highly turbulent within France. With Charles VI only sometimes in control of his mind, two political factions were vying for control of the government: the Burgundians (followers of the Dukes of Burgundy, successively uncle and cousin of the king) and the Armagnacs (followers of the Count of Armagnac, father-in-law to the Duke of Orleans, the king's nephew). Charles would ultimately ally himself with the latter. In addition to the civil disputes, France was forced to deal with an English invasion led by King Henry V. By 1415, King Henry had already besieged (and conquered) the town of Harfluer and defeated a much larger French army at Agincourt. Over the next five years, the English dominated the French and conquered large portions of the country. Meanwhile, Charles was moving closer and closer to the throne as time went by, with the death of his two elder brothers, and by 1417, he was heir to the throne of France. Unfortunately, the war was still going poorly for the French. In 1419, Charles met with the Duke of Burgundy in an attempt to cool tensions between their factions so they may concentrate more fully on the English. Instead, the dauphin's men murdered the duke in brutal fashion. It is not known whether the murder was premeditated, but it is clear that this rash deed caused Burgundy's son and heir to ally himself with the English. Without Burgundy's support, the French were forced to sign the Treaty of Troyes with the English, making Henry V the heir to Charles VI's throne and disinheriting the younger Charles in the process.

Given the fact that the dauphin still held the vast majority of southern France, as well as many territories within the north, King Henry had much work to do in bringing his soon-to-be kingdom under his control. With the assistance of the Duke of Burgundy, he was able to conquer the vast majority of Normandy, Champagne, the Ile-de-France and other territories. However, the English king's brother, Thomas of Clarence, was killed in battle against the dauphin's army in 1421, and the king himself succumbed to dysentery the following year. Several months later, King Charles VI died, and the kingdoms of both England and France were under the control of the infant King Henry VI. The new king's uncle John, Duke of Bedford, was awarded the position of regent in France. Meanwhile, Charles was recognized as King Charles VII in southern France, was officially married to Mary of Anjou and produced a son (the future Louis XI) in 1423.

Despite the death of the powerful Henry V, the war continued to go well for the English under Bedford's leadership, as they won significant victories at Cravant (1423) and Verneuil (1424). Just as all hope seemed lost for the French cause, a young teenage girl named Joan la Pucelle (or, as she has come to be known, Joan of Arc) arrived, supposedly being guided by God himself, to repel the English invaders. With Joan's help, the French were able to repel the English siege at Orleans and win a string of victories as part of the Loire campaign of 1429, culminating in Charles's delayed coronation ceremony at Rheims, the ancestral city where French kings were crowned. Joan's momentum, unfortunately, would not last for long, and the French were forced to abandon their siege of Paris in 1430. The following year, Joan was captured, tried and burnt at the stake as a witch.

1432 would show significant (and permanent) improvements for the French in the Hundred Years War. Charles was able to reconcile himself with two men that would be key figures in his future government: Arthur de Richemont, former constable of France; and Philip of Burgundy, the son of the the former duke who had been murdered by Charles's men in 1419. These two allegiances, combined with the death of Bedford in 1435, ultimately allowed the French to retake Paris in 1436. With Paris back in French hands, Charles VII set up the city as his capital and began to enact economic and military reforms that would limit the powers of the clergy, the nobility and even the Pope himself. The nobles (under the leadership of the Duke of Bourbon), in turn, rebelled against the king in 1440. Charles was able to react swiftly to put down the rebellion so that he may concentrate more fully on the English, who were, once again, threatening.

After seeing little or no gain on either side, the Treaty of Arras was agreed to in 1444, between the French and English. The agreement was sealed by the marriage of of the English king Henry VI and Margaret, the daughter of the impoverished Duke of Anjou, who came with no dowry. The biggest consolation prize for the French within the treaty was the ceding of the county of Maine, which the English relinquished all claims to. Although peace was kept for the next five years, the treaty seems to have been a ploy by the French king to bide his time and build up his army. In 1449, Charles set out to rid the duchy of Normandy of English control for good. The strategy proved to be a highly successful one, as town after town went back under French control. By 1450, the English, after losing the highly significant Battle of Formigny, lost all of Normandy. In 1453, the English made one last ditch effort to defend an area of Gascony still under their command (the city of Bordeaux had been captured by the French in 1451 but recaptured by the English the following year) under the leadership of one John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, an experienced veteran who had been fighting in wars since Owen Glendower's Welsh rebellion of the early 1400s. Talbot's forces met the French at Castillon and were decisively beaten, with Talbot himself being killed in the action. The French victory at Castillon officially ended the Hundred Years War and rid France of English control (with the exception of the city of Calais, which would remain under English control until 1558).

With war at at end, Charles was free to concentrate on governing his kingdom and did so by continuing his policies of weakening the powers of the clergy, papacy and nobility, strengthening his own power in the process. Unfortunately, Charles had led a long, stressful life of war and political dissent, and his health was rapidly deteriorating. In addition, the king had been estranged from his eldest son, Louis, for the last fifteen years of his life. In 1461, when Charles was on his deathbed and not even able to eat or drink, he attempted to reconcile himself with his son and heir. Louis promptly refused his father's request and did not return until the old king's death at the age of fifty-eight on July 22. Despite his sad end, Charles was able to unite France after his father's disastrous reign. He won back all the territories that were lost and brought back prestige to the French crown in his nearly forty year reign. It is no wonder that King Charles VII sports the nickname of "the victorious" to this very day.

Charles VII in Shakespeare

Appears in: Henry VI, Part 1

King Charles VII appears in 1 Henry VI as a man who is looking to reclaim his kingdom from the English invaders. Throughout the play he is referred to as the dauphin, or heir to the throne, being that Henry VI is the official King of France under the terms of the Treaty of Troyes portrayed at the end of Henry V. When introduced to Joan of Arc, Charles immediately falls in love with the young French heroine and is even defeated by her in singles combat. Charles attempts to persuade Joan to be his mistress on several occasions but is rejected, with Joan telling him that she must first defeat the English before she can give in to his desires. The relationship between Charles and Joan is completely fictional and is used mainly to show the weakness of character of the French king and the promiscuous nature of the French heroine, who are both frequently demoralized by English writers. Despite the play's episodic nature and its conflation of events, the end result remains true to history, Charles is able to defeat the English and regain control of his kingdom. The complete loss of the French territories is announced within 2 Henry VI (despite the fact that the historical Battle of Castillon that ended the war is portrayed in 1 Henry VI), but Charles himself is not seen. In 3 Henry VI, Charles's son, Louis XI, is king, an obvious implication that Charles has died.


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

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