Friday, March 20, 2009

The Legitimacy of Charles VII

Charles VII

It is a common historical tale that Charles VII, better known has Joan of Arc’s Dauphin was disinherited at the Treaty of Troyes, (1420 C.E.) and declared a bastard by his own mother who publicly declared that he was fathered on her by one of her lovers, the most likely being Louis Duke of Orleans, Charles VI's brother. That Charles VII was racked by doubt about his legitimacy. It further is said that Joan gained Charles VII’s confidence by assuring him that he was indeed legitimate. For example:
By the terms of the treaty the English King became - Haeres et Regens Franciae – Heir to the French Throne and Regent of France – Isabeau cheerfully claiming that the Dauphin was a bastard by one of her lovers.1
The Dauphin [Charles VII] was rudely thrust aside, since this “so-called Dauphin” was, by his mother’s confession - a somewhat belated one to be sure – nothing but a bastard , born in adultery: his father’s name was not disclosed.2
The number of books that use this so called “fact” is legion.3
Queen Isabeau
The problem with this story is that it is simply false. Or to put it less politely a lie. Let us start with the Treaty of Troyes that disinherited Charles VII in favour of Henry V.

The pertinent terms are as follows:
6. After our death, and from that time forward, the crown and kingdom of France, with all their rights and appurtenances, shall be vested permanently in our son [son-in-law], King Henry, and his heirs.

7… The power and authority to govern and to control the public affairs of the said kingdom shall, during our life-time, be vested in our son, King Henry, with the advice of the nobles and the wise men who are obedient to us, and who have consideration for the advancement and honor of the said kingdom. …

22. It is agreed that during our life-time we shall designate our son, King Henry, in the French language in this fashion, Notre tres cher fi1s Henri, Roi d' Angleterre, heritier de France,· and in the Latin language in this manner, Noster praecarissimus filius Henricus, rex Angliae, heres Francais.

24. ... It is agreed that the two kingdoms shall be governed from the time that our said son, or any of his heirs, shall assume the crown, not divided between different kings at the same time, but under one person, who shall be king and sovereign lord of both kingdoms; observing all pledges and all other things, to each kingdom its rights, liberties or customs, usages and laws, not committed in any manner one kingdom to the other.

29. In consideration of the frightful and astounding crimes and misdeeds committed against the kingdom of France by Charles, the said [also translated as “so called”] Dauphin, it is agreed that we, our son Henry, and also our very dear son Philip, duke of Burgundy, will never treat for peace or amity with the said Charles.4
There is no mention in the Treaty of Troyes that Charles VII was illegitimate. Queen Isabeau further never said in any contemporary official document that he was not her and Charles VI’s son. The nearest thing in the document to the claim that Charles VII was not Charles VI’s son is the comment, “soy disant dauphin de viennois” translated into English as “said Dauphin” or “so called Dauphin”, it does not indicate illegitimacy at all it was instead a common form of insult. In 1408 for example Charles, the Duke of Orleans, described Jean, Duke of Burgundy, as “soy disant duc de Bourgogne”, i.e., the “so called” or “said” “Duke of Burgundy”.5

Instead the Treaty claims that the Dauphin crimes and misdeeds of the Dauphin legally and legitimately entitled Charles VI to disinherit Charles VII and to make Henry V his heir. In letters issued by Charles VI, or at least in his name, in January 1420, Charles VI disinherited Charles VII for breaking the peace and for Charles VII’s involvement in the murder of the Duke of Burgundy (Jean), in 1419. Also Edward Hall a chronicler of the time has Henry V acknowledge Charles VII as “the kynges sone”, but further declares that Charles VII was deprived of his rights because “contrary to his promise & against all humaine honestie, (he) was not ashamed to polute & staine him selfe with the blood and homicide of the valeant duke of Burgoyn.”. On December 23, 1420 Charles VI and Henry V issued a joint lit de justice declaring for those reasons Charles VII disinherited.6
Charles VI

The story that Charles VII had doubts about his legitimacy is a charming tale but it seems to have only a very weak basis. It appears that in 1516 an author by the name of Pierre Sala in a book called Rois et Empereurs, heard from the Lord of Bisey who heard it from someone else who etc… the following tale:
The king … went one morning alone in his oratory and there made a humble silent request in the prayer to Our lord within his heart, in which he begged him devoutly that if it were true that he was his heir, descendant of the noble House of France, and that the kingdom should in justice belong to him, might it please God to protect and defend him, or at the very worst, allow him the grace of escaping alive and free from imprisonment so that he might find solace in Spain or in Scotland, which were from times long past brothers-in-arms and allies of the kings of France.7
Supposedly Joan of Arc told him about this secret event and thus won Charles VII over. The problem is not only is this attested long after the event in a so and so told so and so who told so and so manner, but it is frankly dubious. Firstly Charles VII’s legitimacy was never in doubt until it became politically convenient to do so. Also given that the alleged father was Louis, Charles VI brother, Charles VII would still have had a good claim to the French throne. Certainly better than Henry V’s. Finally there is also the simple fact that no contemporary source mentions Charles VII having doubts about his legitimacy.8

Henry V

Another question is; was Isabeau, Charles VII’s mother, a promiscuous woman? Here is where “fact” clashes with fact. The evidence for her alleged affairs turns out to be, too put it mildly, very dubious. Like the stories of her being ugly and fat, a bad wife and bad mother; it appears that the basis for such stories is less than paper thin.9

It is true that various songs and documents accused Isabeau and / or the people around her of corruption etc., but the same sources do not accuse Isabeau of adultery. In fact some of them praise Isabeau for her Christian behavior. None accuse her of adultery until there was political motive for doing so and long after the death of Louis, Duke of Orleans. (which occurred, by assassination in 1407 C.E.)10

Two sort of contemporary documents mention the alleged adultery. The first is a allegory called the Pastorelet, written after the assassination of Jean Duke of Burgundy in 1419 C.E., which depicts important people at the time has shepherds and shepherdesses, in it Charles VI learns of Louis and Isabeau’s affair and swears revenge and Jean Duke of Burgundy says he will take care of the matter. Louis’ murder by Jean is thus excused. The problem with the story is that at the time (1407 C.E.) Jean never even hinted at this affair and instead accused Louis of tyranny to justify the assassination. The political purpose of this piece of satire is so obvious, to promote the Burgundian cause, in the context of the Treaty of Troyes, it can be discounted. The chronicle Jean Chartier, writing after 1437 C.E., records in describing the death of Isabeau, that the English shortened the life of Isabeau by spreading this slander because it upset her very much.11 The reliability of this source is of course also questionable, although its of interest that a source that describes the accusation of adultery has a slander is used as evidence of its truth!

It is interesting that even after the Treaty of Troyes Isabeau tried to keep in touch with Charles VII and apparently was trying to mediate a solution despite being involved in the disinheriting of her own son.12

All of this would seem to indicate that the story of the alleged illegitimacy of Charles VII is a later legend, so too are the stories of him doubting his legitimacy and even the “fact” of the promiscuity of Isabeau, at least at the time of Charles VII’s birth is similarly a myth.

Isabeau never publicly, or privately, it seems, declared Charles VII a bastard. The public reason given for Charles VII’s disinheritance was his involvement in intrigues and the murder of Jean Duke of Burgundy. If Charles never doubted his legitimacy, which seems to be the case, then what “secret” did Joan of Arc tell Charles VII at Chinon to convince him of her mission? The answer is we do not know.13

Joan of Arc
Some myths should be laid to rest and Isabeau’s public declaration that her son Charles VII was a bastard is one of them.
1. Seward, Desmond, The Hundred Years War, Athenum, New York, 1978, p.182.

2. Perroy, Edouard, The Hundred Years War, Capricorn Books, New York, 1965, p. 243.

3. For example Given-Wilson, Chris, & Curteis, Alice, The Royal Bastards of Medieval England, Routledge, 1984, p. 46, Marius, Richard, Thomas More, Fount Paperbacks, London, 1986, p. 109, refers to:
Queen Isabeau of France, wife to the mad King Charles VI a century before More wrote his History, claiming that her son Charles VII was not fathered by her lawful husband,…
Those can be easily multiplied.

4. Ogg, Frederic Austin, A Source Book of Medieval History, American Books Company, New York, 1907, p. 443.

5. Gibbons, Rachel, Isabeau of Bavaria, Queen of France (1385-1422): The Creation of an Historical Villainess, Transactions of the Royal Society, Sixth Series, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1996, pp. 51- 73, at. pp. 69-70, Seward, Desmond, Henry V as Warlord, Penguin Books, London, 1987, pp. 143-145.

6. IBID. Gibbons, pp. 70-71.

7. Pernoud, Regine, & Clin, Marie-Veronique, Joan of Arc, St. Martin’s Griffin, New York,1998, p. 24.

8. IBID. pp. 23-25, Warner, Marina, Joan of Arc, Penguin Books, 1981, pp. 72-75.

9. See Gibbons, Rachel for many examples.

10. IBID. pp. 64-67.

11. IBID. 67-68.

12. IBID. p. 68.

13, Warner, pp. 70-77.
Pierre Cloutier

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