King Charles VII’s Response to the Concerns of His Son the Dauphin Louis

Adoration of the Magi, attributed to Jean Fouquet, from the “Hours of Etienne Chevalier” depicting King Charles VII as the first of the Three Kings

The tensions between King Charles VII of France and his son the Dauphin Louis had existed for many years. There was a long list of incidences in their relationship that started when Louis was a child. When he was two, he was sent to the fortress of Loches mostly for his own safety. He stayed there in isolation and without the love of his family until he was ten years old. He went to court and was finally treated according to his rank. But then he was forced to marry Margaret Stewart of Scotland when he was thirteen and his father blatantly insulted him at the wedding.

When Louis was seventeen, he joined a group of men from the French nobility in an open rebellion against his father. The king managed to put down the uprising and Louis made his peace with his father. When his wife died in 1445, Louis grew restless and in 1447 he requested permission to go to his property in the Dauphiné. He left with the promise that he would return in a few months. In 1450, he was still there and requesting permission to marry Charlotte of Savoy. The king refused this request more than once.

In March of 1451, Louis married Charlotte without the king’s permission. Charles was furious. The two men argued back and forth until Charles lost his patience. In 1455, he sent an army to force Louis to return to France and Louis fled to the court of his uncle, Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy. In the spring of 1461, King Charles was ill. He was desperate to have Louis return to court. Louis sent an envoy to France requesting certain assurances from his father before he returned. On March 21, Charles dictated this missal to his secretary in response to Louis’ envoy.

“I have heard what you told me yesterday on behalf of my son the dauphin, and today I have seen what you have given me in writing concerning the said business, which I’ve had read in the presence of those of my council who are here; and I’m amazed that you said that my son has taken the reply which I gave you last time so strangely, and that he has been angered and displeased by it. For it seems to the lords of the blood and the people of my council that the said reply was so sweet, so gracious and so reasonable, that he ought to welcome it, be content with it, and accept it.

You have touched on two points in the things you’ve said to me; and it seems to me that it’s just the same old story again, and that my son wishes that I approve of his absence and of the reasons which he holds for not returning to me, which would be to nourish the error which has existed in this kingdom for a long time, where people say that I don’t wish him to come back; this, as anyone ought to know very well, doesn’t come from me, and I’d have been very happy if, some time ago, he’d been here to lend a hand with the others in recovering the kingdom and in booting out its enemies, having his share of the honour and the spoils, just like the others. And I’ve wanted him back not so much for myself as for him; because, although it would be a very great joy and pleasure for me if he was here so that I could see him and talk to him, and say…those things that I would not write to him nor command him through someone else, I believe that he’d be very happy and contented, and would never want to go away again; and if it so happened that he did want to go away after I’d spoken to him, he could certainly do so, as I’ve told you before. And also, if it so happens that he doesn’t wish to come, but wishes to absent himself for ever from me, as he’s done up to now, I’d rather that he did it himself and of his own free will, and by the advice of those who recommend it, than give my consent to it. And I’m puzzled as to where these fears of which you’ve spoken come from; because it seems to me that, all the time he’s been away from me, he’s had plenty of time to make himself sure and provide for his case. How has this [fear] come about? And one must say that it’s a true devilry that he refuses to come to him from whom good things and honours should flow….Alas, he has the finest estate of this realm, after me, and still has capable hands – which I have not- and when he comes back here, my good and loyal subjects, who have so honourably and bravely conducted themselves in the recovery, and to the profit, of this kingdom, resisting the enterprises of its ancient enemies and others, will all be comforted and overjoyed; and, because he is so far away, and they cannot have any conversation with him, they cannot have the love for him which they should have….

My enemies trust my word and my bond, and, when I have had them in my power – and when they were abandoned by their own side – everyone knows that I did nothing cruel to them. And now my own son doesn’t trust my word to come back to me, in which it seems to me that he does me little honour: for there’s no great lord in England, although they are my enemies, who doesn’t trust me so well. And I’d be most displeased if, under my surety, anything was done which was harmful to him. And even if I should have such a wish, do you think that I’m so powerless, and my kingdom so badly provided for, that I couldn’t have done it to him where he now is? How does it seem to you? Think about it! You tell me that I should take such surety as I wish from my son, after the things that you’ve told me. I’ve had no need of it so far, and I still can’t see that it would be necessary to do so, thank God.

As to the provision which you’ve asked for him, as I’ve told you previously, when he comes to me to do his duty, or even less than duty, and to take his share for the good of the public weal, as he should, I shall…give him such good provision that he’ll be very contented with it; and if I should do as you ask, that would be to nourish the separation which he’s had for so long… and I’ll not do that at all. And when the lords of the blood and the people of the Three Estates will be with me soon, I think that they won’t advise me to do that; but if they do advise it, then I’d rather that they did it by themselves than give my consent to it. And it’s up to those who advise it and are of this opinion to give him such provision, not to me.”

An illuminated page from the Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry featuring an image of the Château de Mehun-sur-Yèvre, Folio 161v

This gives us remarkable insight into the mind of King Charles. It is almost as if he is speaking to us. Louis and his father had gone back and forth regarding his return to court. Charles was insisting Louis give up some of his servants, attendants and advisors which he refused to do. Louis was a suspicious and paranoid personality and worried about the possibility of assassination by his enemies at court. This was a natural fear. Louis I, Duke of Orleans had been assassinated in 1407 and King Charles was present when John the Fearless, the Duke of Burgundy was killed in 1419. Charles himself was under threat of being killed during the Hundred Years War before he was crowned king.

In any event, Louis stubbornly remained in Burgundy. He received a steady stream of updates on his father’s condition from his network of spies and messengers, including letters from his mother Queen Marie of Anjou. Before the Three Estates had a chance to meet, King Charles died on July 22 at the Château de Mehun-sur-Yèvre.

Louis received the news on about July 25 at Genappe. He traveled to Avesnes in Hainault on the French border as soon as possible. Waiting for him there was a large company of the lords of France and their retainers, royal officers and civil servants, all hoping to retain their offices with his confirmation. Louis was crowned King Louis XI at Reims on August 15, 1461. Purgings and sackings of his father’s servants began immediately. These hasty decisions would come back to haunt Louis when he was faced with an internal rebellion in the summer of 1465.

Further reading: “Charles VII” by M.G.A Vale, “Louis XI: The Spider King” by Paul Murray Kendall

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Mimi Matthews

Mimi Matthews

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