Charles V (France)

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Charles V of France (Musée du Louvre)

Charles V , called the Wise ( French Charles V le Sage ; born January 21, 1338 in Vincennes Castle ; † September 16, 1380 in Beauté-sur-Marne Castle near Paris), was King of France from 1364 to 1380 . He was the third king from the House of Valois , a side branch of the Capetians , and is considered one of the great kings of the French Middle Ages.

He was the eldest son of King John II the Good and his first wife Jutta of Luxembourg .

Crown Prince

First royal dauphin

On March 29, 1349, the Dauphin des Viennois (County of Albon) , Humbert II , appointed Prince Charles as his heir after he had renounced worldly life. The Dauphin could not sell his principality (also called Dauphiné ) directly to the French crown, as the Viennois was a fiefdom of the Holy Roman Empire and neither King Philip VI. Crown Prince Johann wanted to become a direct vassal to the Roman-German Emperor . Therefore, the Dauphiné was sold to the underage Prince Karl; Half of the dowry of Johanna von Bourbon, who was already engaged to him, served as the purchase price .

On July 16, 1349, Prince Karl was able to move into the Dauphiné as ruling prince, where he was married to Johanna von Bourbon on April 8, 1350 in Tain . In the following generations of the French royal family, the Dauphiné was handed over to the respective heir to the throne, which gradually led to the title of “ Dauphin (dolphin) ” for him . Prince Karl himself left the Dauphiné for good after the death of his grandfather in August 1350 and was knighted in Reims on the day of his father's coronation on September 26, 1350 . The Dauphiné was now administered by officials from the French crown.

Duke of Normandy

The capture of King Charles the Evil of Navarre in Rouen. (Miniature from the Chronicle of Jean Froissart , 14th century)

Prince Karl was initially not included in the government by his father. Only after the murder of the Connétable Charles de la Cerda in February 1354 and the resulting conflict between the Crown and the House of Navarra-Évreux was he given responsibility. After a brief interlude as Count of Poitou , he was appointed Duke of Normandy at the end of 1354 . This region was important in several ways. On the one hand, the Norman nobility insisted on extensive autonomy from the royal central administration; the Évreux also owned large estates here, and this land was also under constant threat from England, France's main enemy in the Hundred Years War , which had raged since 1337 .

In March 1355 Charles traveled to Normandy to ask the local estates for subsidies for his father. However, he got there in a conspiracy of the Évreux around his brother-in-law, King Charles II of Navarre (gen: the bad). The favorite of Navarre, Bishop Robert le Coq, tried to take Karl against his father by accusing the king of murdering his wife (and mother of Charles) for an affair. In this way, however, a possible illegitimate descent was suggested to Karl, which is why he not only developed a lifelong hatred of Robert le Coq, but also reported the conspiracy to his father. King John II initially treated the conspirators mildly and granted them a general amnesty in January 1356. On April 5, 1356, however, Charles held a banquet in Rouen , attended by the leading Norman nobility. King John II attacked this festival, had the King of Navarre captured and four Norman nobles beheaded in the presence of Charles.

This act resulted in the open alliance of the House of Évreux under Philip of Navarre with England and thus a resurgence of the war. On September 19, 1356 there was the battle of Maupertuis against the "black prince", Edward of Woodstock , in which France again suffered a heavy defeat against England after the Battle of Crécy (1346). King John II was taken prisoner by the English, while Prince Karl was scorned and scorned by the French knighthood because he had left the field on his father's instructions before the battle began.


On September 29, 1356, Charles moved into Paris, appointed himself deputy to the king ( lieutenant du roi ) and took over the business of government. The royal council convened the estates of northern France on October 17th, from whom Charles hoped to approve new taxes to finance the war. Instead, however, he was confronted with an aristocratic frond around Bishop Robert le Coq, who openly spoke out in favor of the captured King of Navarre as regent. Charles therefore relied more on the bourgeois class around the head of the Paris trade guild Étienne Marcel , who demanded far-reaching reforms of the royal state, but nevertheless supported Charles's governorship. In the winter of 1356 Karl traveled to Metz , where he met with his uncle, Emperor Karl IV . The emperor had been in an offensive alliance with England against France since 1348, although this had not yet been active. In order to continue to guarantee that the emperor would keep still, Karl took the oath of feud for the Dauphiné on Christmas Day and, as the deputy of his underage brother Philip the Bold , for the Free County of Burgundy . On the same day, Karl became a documentary witness of the part of the Golden Bull that was proclaimed in Metz .

After the rebellion of Étienne Marcel was put down in 1358, Prince Charles moved into Paris. (Miniature by Jean Fouquet , Grandes Chroniques de France , 15th century)
The treaty of alliance between the Dauphin Charles, the future Charles V, and King David II of Scotland , June 1359. Paris, Archives nationales, J 677, no. 8

In the spring of 1357, Charles was forced to return to Paris after violent unrest broke out there, which was sparked by a coin valuation he ordered. Against the orders of his father, he accepted the reform program of Étienne Marcel's on a new Estates day. He thus allowed the formation of a council composed of the estates, which should be involved in the political decision-making of the crown. The French state thus adopted a constitutional constitution for the first time, for which Karl received a special tax of five million livres from the estates. He also succeeded in negotiating an armistice with England, although northern France continued to be plagued by mercenary gangs ( routiers ). The situation suddenly worsened when the King of Navarre managed to escape from his prison in November 1357. While a large part of the Norman nobility fell to Navarre, Étienne Marcel played himself as the true lord of the state in Paris. After Karl refused to approve further reform measures, the citizens of Paris began to revolt. Under Marcel's leadership, the people stormed the royal palace on September 22, 1358 and slew the marshals of Normandy and Champagne in front of Charles. Karl was forced to be formally recognized by the citizens as regent of the kingdom and to tolerate further personal restructuring of his court.

But soon afterwards he succeeded in fleeing Paris and in May 1359 convened the estates in Compiègne , which showed their loyalty to him. Encouraged by the events in Paris, a short time later, for the first time in French history, an open uprising of the peasantry against the aristocratic manor broke out in the Beauvaisis. The so-called " Jacquerie " (after the nickname Jacques Bonhomme ) quickly spread throughout the Île de France, Picardie, Artois and Champagne as far as Lorraine. Charles remained largely inactive during the uprising, from which initially King Charles the Evil of Navarre benefited. By June 1358, Navarre suppressed the rebellion with all its might and then moved into Paris, where he was received by Étienne Marcel as the new regent. But against Marcel and Navarra a French national opposition formed within the Parisian citizenship, which rose violently on July 31 and murdered Marcel. A few days later, Karl was able to move back into Paris, restored the traditional order and issued a general amnesty. Bishop Robert le Coq died under unexplained circumstances on his way to the monastery exile.

In July 1359, Charles made a formal peace with Charles the Evil of Navarre in Pontoise , although his attitude towards the House of Évreux always remained ambivalent. He wanted to continue the war against England, even against his father's will. When this opposite Eduard III. made far-reaching concessions for his release, Karl received the necessary support from the estates to reject these conditions. The King of England saw this as a breach of peace and felt empowered to wage a "just war" against France. In the autumn of 1359 he landed with a large army in Calais and marched on the Champagne. He intended to take Reims in order to be crowned King of France there. But Karl forbade his generals to seek an open battle against Eduard and strengthened the fortifications of all cities in the country. While Eduard besieged Reims over the winter in vain, Karl ordered a commando operation to free his father. The action in April 1360 on the English coast near Rye failed, but panicked England. Eduard broke off the siege of Reims, moved against Paris and enclosed the city. But here too, thanks to the expansion of the city fortifications by Étienne Marcel, Karl was able to hold out. Edward moved on to Chartres , where he also failed because of the city walls. After a heavy hail shower had inflicted heavy losses on the English army, Eduard expressed his desire for peace to Karl. In view of the severe devastation in the country, Charles was now ready to agree to the terms of 1358 and on May 8, 1360 concluded the unfavorable Peace of Brétigny , in which he raised a ransom of 3 million livres for his father and made far-reaching territorial concessions, especially in Aquitaine and Brittany , had to confirm to the English crown.


After the return of King John II, Charles was again largely excluded from the government. Together with his confidante and field captain Bertrand du Guesclin , he mainly devoted himself to fighting the pay gangs in Normandy. After the death of Philip of Navarre (August 1363) and the enfeoffment of Prince Philip the Bold with the Duchy of Burgundy, there was another dispute with the House of Évreux, Charles used this as an excuse to restart the war against Charles the Evil. He ordered the captain du Guesclin to attack the positions of Navarre in Normandy, where Mantes and Meulan could be captured.

At the beginning of 1364 Karl became regent of the kingdom again when King John II voluntarily returned to captivity in England after Prince Ludwig of Anjou, who had remained hostage there, fled. The king died in London shortly afterwards, on April 8, 1364.


First years of government

Before his anointing, Charles V receives the Archbishop of Reims and the Bishop of Beauvais in his bedchamber, who are to escort him to the cathedral. Illumination in the manuscript made in 1365 London, British Library, Cotton Tiberius B. VIII, fol. 44v
above: coronation of King Charles V .; below: Bertrand du Guesclin wins the battle of Cocherel (illustration from La Toison d'or by Guillaume Fillastre , 15th century)

On April 17, 1364, the king's death became known in France, and on the following day Charles had his documents certified as king. He inherited a country torn by war and plague , whose productivity fell due to the destruction. The simple rural folk fled from the marauding pay gangs to the safe cities, which also led to a collapse in agricultural yields. The French kingship had lost a lot of power under the Valois due to the past defeats and the social and economic crises that accompanied them. Among other things, the appanage of the younger king's sons with large fiefdoms, which were thus lost to the royal domain , had also contributed to this. Karl's younger brothers received the regions of Anjou , Maine , Touraine and Berry, among others . Although the crown retained important sovereign rights such as the minting and judicial system in these areas, this resulted in powerful principalities that exerted a significant influence on French politics. Together with the already existing duchies of Bourbon and Alençon , they formed a so-called second feudality. The Duchy of Burgundy in particular later achieved a prominent position.

The little soldierly King Charles V, whose health was impaired by chronic consumption throughout his life, wanted to resume the war against England immediately after he came to power. His first goal, however, was the final submission of King Charles the Evil of Navarre. On May 16, 1364, Bertrand du Guesclin was able to achieve a decisive victory over a Navarre army in the battle of Cocherel . Just three days later, Charles was crowned and anointed in Reims Cathedral. Next he set out to seek a military decision in the War of the Breton Succession , which was ultimately a proxy war between France and England. But here the army of du Guesclin was defeated on September 29, 1364 in the battle of Auray , Guesclin was taken prisoner, and the French pretender to Brittany , Charles of Blois , fell. However, Charles was able to largely compensate for this defeat through diplomatic skill by recognizing the English pretender, John of Montfort , as Duke of Brittany in the first Treaty of Guérande (April 12, 1365) and in return he gave up his alliance with England and the French king paid homage. A ten-year peace was also achieved with Charles the Evil with a treaty concluded in Pamplona (May 1365), which largely neutralized Navarre in French politics.

After these successes, Charles V set about eliminating the mercenary problem. The gangs of soldiers (also known as Grandes Compagnies ), which had become unemployed since the Peace of Brétigny, represented a constant danger with their looting, especially for the rural population. A cousin of Charles, Jacques de Bourbon , had lost his life in the fight against them. Karl commissioned Guesclin to collect the mercenaries and take them to Spain. There they were supposed to support the Castilian pretender to the throne Heinrich von Trastámara in the fight against his half-brother, King Peter the Cruel . As in Brittany, an important secondary theater of war in the Hundred Years' War and the largest war fleet in Western Europe was to be won here for France, since Peter the Cruel enjoyed the support of England. After a successful campaign, Guesclin was able to move into Burgos in 1366 and have Heinrich von Trastámara crowned king there. Another defeat and imprisonment of Guesclin in the Battle of Nájera in 1367 against the "black prince" could be made up for in the Battle of Montiel in 1369. Trastámara personally killed Peter the Cruel and made Castile a reliable ally of France.

War with england

France during the reign of King Charles V

Charles V now felt strong enough to face a direct confrontation with England. The occasion gave him in December 1368 a lawsuit by Count John I of Armagnac against a special tax from the "black prince". This ruled since the Peace of Brétigny 1360 as a sovereign English prince in Aquitaine ( Guyenne ) and considered Armagnac as one of his vassals. Charles, however, was able to rely on a legal opinion from the universities of Bologna , Toulouse and Montpellier , which confirmed the legality of the Count of Armagnac's action before his court. In the Peace of Brétigny far-reaching cedings of territory and sovereignty from the French crown to England were agreed, but the Treaty of Calais, which was supposed to confirm the waiver, had not yet been signed by 1369. After the "black prince" had not complied with several summons before the royal parliament in Paris, Karl had him outlawed as a lawbreaker and declared war on him.

One of the diplomatic preparations for the war was the marriage of the heiress of the county of Flanders to his younger brother, Duke Philip the Bold of Burgundy, initiated by Charles in June 1369 . Flanders, which had served as a continental bridgehead for England since the beginning of the Hundred Years War, could thus be brought closer to France. In 1370 Karl appointed Guesclin as his connétable and agreed with him and the Marshals Sancerre and Blanville on the strategy of a small war, in which open field battles should only be dared if there was a clear numerical superiority. In addition, Karl ordered the expansion of the fortifications of the larger cities and the construction of a fleet of canals, which was destroyed by an attack by the Duke of Lancaster . By the end of 1370, the Limousin , Rouergue , Quercy , Agenais and Périgord could be permanently recaptured from the English occupation; the “black prince” took revenge for this with a massacre of the people of Limoges . A campaign by Robert Knolles , which ran from Calais past Paris to the Anjou, was repulsed with a victory by Guesclin in the Battle of Pontvallain in December 1370. With the help of a Castilian fleet, the seaport of La Rochelle was conquered in September 1372 and the English fleet suffered a severe defeat, which largely cut off the "Black Prince" from England. Then Charles sent the Connétable Guesclin to Brittany, where Duke Johann V had committed himself to a new alliance with England. Since the duke had also paid homage to the English king, the Paris parliament condemned him for felony , which allowed Charles to withdraw Brittany as a settled fiefdom. By the end of 1373, Guesclin was able to conquer the whole of Brittany with the exception of four coastal towns; Duke Johann V had fled to England. A campaign by the Duke of Lancaster from Calais through Champagne and Berry to Gascony in 1373 had largely no consequences for France.

With the mediation of Count Ludwig II of Flanders , a two-year truce with England was negotiated in Bruges in 1375 . Since both the "black prince" and King Edward III. of England died and with Richard II, an underage king ascended the throne in England, the Hundred Years War came to a largely standstill from this side. Charles V had thus achieved the revision of the Peace of Brétigny and expelled the English from almost all of France. Only a few coastal towns such as Calais , Guînes and Brest as well as areas around Bordeaux were left to them on the mainland . This also favored the maritime theater of war, and in the following years France with its fleet under Admiral Jean de Vienne was able to take offensive action against England. At the same time as he made up for the defeats of his father and grandfather, Karl had helped the kingship of the Valois family to achieve a decisive breakthrough in acceptance among the French estates.

King Charles V of France (center) receives Emperor Charles IV (left) and his son King Wenceslaus (right). (Miniature by Jean Fouquet, Grandes Chroniques de France, 15th century)

The great occidental schism

In January 1378, Charles V received his uncle, the Roman Emperor Charles IV, and his son, the Roman King Wenceslaus in Paris. The occasion for this meeting was, among other things, the upcoming question of succession in Poland , where the imperial dynasty of the Luxembourgers was in conflict with the House of Anjou , a cousin of the French royal family. But there were also unresolved legal questions regarding Provence and the Free County of Burgundy to be discussed. The emperor appointed the eldest son and heir to the throne of Charles V as vicar for the entire kingdom of Burgundy (Arelat), i.e. as the de facto regent of this imperial country, which was thereby tied even more closely to the French crown. It is not known what concessions Charles V made in return, presumably he merely gave his formal approval to the return of the papacy from Avignon to Rome the year before .

Pope Gregory XI. , the last Pope of the Babylonian exile , died in Rome in March 1378. The Curia initially selected the Italian Bartolomeo Prignano as Urban VI. the new head of the church. After an uprising by the urban population of Rome, however, a group of Italian and French cardinals declared the election invalid and elected Count Robert of Geneva as Clement VII to be their pope. Urban VI. however, had already received the recognition of Emperor Charles IV and was able to assert himself to a large extent in Italy against Clement VII, who had fled to Avignon with his supporters. After detailed consultation with legal scholars from the universities of Paris and Orléans as well as the clergy of his country, Charles V recognized Clement VII on November 16, 1378 as the rightful Pope; the so-called great occidental schism began with it. Urban VI., Which was recognized in Germany and England, Charles explained to schismatics and took him with excommunication . Above all, however, Charles V was jeopardizing the good understanding he had just achieved with his imperial uncle. But he died in Prague on November 29, 1378 , and his subsequent son, King Wenzel, did not have the authority to assert himself with his German princes and to endanger France.

Cultural activity

Jean Corbechon presents his translation of the Livre des propriétés des choses (miniature from the 15th century, Bibliothèque Nationale de France) to King Charles V
Illumination in a manuscript from the library of Charles V: The history of Livy in the French translation by Pierre Bersuire (Petrus Berchorius). Depicted are scenes of the founding of Rome and its prehistory. Paris, Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, Ms. 777, fol. 7r (around 1370)

King Charles V was considered a patron devoted to the sciences and arts. His court was a meeting point for scholars such as Eustache Deschamps and Philippe de Mézières or astrologers such as Tommaso di Pizzano . In his daughter Christine de Pizan he found a grateful biographer to whom he owed his nickname, among other things. Furthermore, Charles V was known as a reader and collector of books, for example he had translations of the works of Aristotle from Nikolaus von Oresme and of the Civitate Dei des Augustine commissioned from Raoul de Presles. In the Hôtel Saint-Paul , which he expanded , he set up a library that became the basis of today's French national library . Other buildings from his rule were the Palais du Louvre , which was expanded into a representative residence, and the Bastille fortress .

Death and Succession

Charles' longtime friend and loyal general Bertrand du Guesclin died in July 1380; Charles granted him burial in the royal abbey of Saint-Denis . Once again seriously ill himself, Karl retired to the castle of Beauté-sur-Marne near Paris; he did not oppose a campaign by the Earl of Buckingham through northern France. On September 16, he called his councils together for the last time and again spoke out in favor of Pope Clement VII. He withdrew a stove tax that his father had introduced. He died the following night, allegedly in the arms of his chamberlain, Bureau de la Rivière . On September 26th, he was buried in the tomb of the French kings, the cathedral of Saint-Denis , his organs were buried at the side of his mother in the Abbey of Maubuisson and his heart in Rouen. When the royal tombs of Saint-Denis were sacked during the French Revolution , his grave was opened and looted on October 16, 1793, and his remains were buried in a mass grave outside the church.

Karl left his underage son, King Karl VI. , an empire far better ordered and stronger in relation to England than he had inherited from his father. However, no formal peace had yet been reached with England, and the country's economic problems had not yet been entirely resolved. Its strong centralization and the high tax pressure also aroused discontent, so that in 1379 rebellions broke out in Brittany, Flanders and Languedoc , which had not ended when he died. In order to enable a change of rule to his son as quickly as possible, Charles V had legally anchored the age of consent of French kings at fifteen years in 1375. Nevertheless, after his death, his brothers took over in the so-called government of the dukes for Charles VI. the reign until his twentieth birthday.


King Charles V of France with his family. (Miniature from the 14th century)

From his marriage to Johanna von Bourbon (* February 3, 1338 - † February 6, 1378) the following children were born:

  • Johanna (September 1357 - October 21, 1360)
  • Johann (1358-1358)
  • Bonne (1360-7 November 1360)
  • Johanna (* / † June 7, 1366)
  • Charles VI (* December 3, 1368; † October 21, 1422) ⚭ July 17, 1385 with Isabeau de Bavière
  • Marie (February 27, 1370 - June 1377)
  • Ludwig (March 13, 1372; † November 23, 1407), Duke of Orléans, ⚭ August 17, 1389 with Valentina Visconti
  • Isabelle (* July 24, 1373; † March 13, 1377)
  • Katharina (* March 4, 1377; † August 1388) ⚭ August 5, 1386 with Jean de Berry, Comte de Montpensier

He was also the father of the illegitimate sons Oudard d'Attainville (* 1360; † 1415), and - from his relationship with Biette Cassinel - Jean de Montaigu (* 1363; † October 17, 1409).


  • Françoise Autrand: Charles V: le Sage. Paris 1994.
  • Roland Delachenal: Histoire de Charles V. 5 vols., Paris 1909-1931. [fundamental, although out of date in individual questions]
  • François Sarindar: Charles V le sage. Dauphin, duc et régent (1338–1358) , Paris: L'Harmattan Editions Distribution 2019, ISBN 978-2-343-17371-9 .

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Commons : Charles V of France  - collection of images, videos and audio files
predecessor Office successor
Humbert II Dauphin von Viennois
Charles VI
Ludwig of Anjou Count of Poitou
French crown domain
French crown domain Duke of Normandy
French crown domain
Johann II the good King of France 1364-1380
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Charles VI