Portrait (c.1450-53) of Charles VII by Jean Fouquet (1420-77/81). Musée du Louvre.

Charles VII (1403-1461)
Roi de France (r.1422-1461)
dit le Trésvictorieux

Born as the fifth son to Charles VI of France and his queen, Isabeau de Bavière, the future Charles VII was not expected to become king. However, only two of his older brothers reached maturity, and both died before their father. Charles VII is an enigmatic character in history. Many authors find it difficult to grant him the glorified sobriquet 'the Victorious', used during the last part of his remarkable reign. Charles VII achieved this status from nearly impossible circumstances.
At 19 years of age, he inherited a divided country, torn by civil war and foreign invasion, and without an organized royal army of any distinction. Most histories say little about him, and then usually to cast a negative description. There is a tone of resentment in many works that final victory in the Hundred Years' War was at the hands of a non-warrior king. It is not only English authors who resist giving Charles VII credit for the French victory. Most French historians have elected to credit Jeanne d'Arc's less than two years on the scene with all the triumphs that followed for over two decades after her death. Many who might be sympathetic with the French cause cannot forgive Charles VII for his so-called 'betrayal' of the Maid. These perceptions have been encouraged by the imaginative, unflatering portrayals of Charles VII in many novels and plays relating to Jeanne d'Arc's story. A few works break with the tradition, such as writings by the nineteenth-century French scholar Gaston de Beaucourt and modern English historian Malcolm Vale. [See bibliography]

Upon inheriting the throne of France in 1422, Charles VII appeared helpless and even passive as the English and Burgundian military conquests continued against the inadequate response of the largely mercenary bands that served as 'the royal army'. His mentally demented father, Charles VI 'le Fou' (1368-1422) and mother, queen Isabeau, submitted to Burgundian and English demands in the Treaty of Troyes (1420) to disinherit Charles VII's claim to the French throne in favor of the English king, Henry V, and his heirs. The treaty called for Henry V to marry Catherine de Valois (b. 1401), the daughter of French king and queen. Henry V's death before that of Charles VI, left his young son, Henry VI of England to be the opposing claimant to his uncle, Charles VII. Henry VI's claim was championed by the English Regent in occupied France, the duke of Bedford, brother to the deceased Henry V. Bedford was a very capable military leader and commanded a large English army as well initially enjoying the continued alliance of the duchy of Burgundy. There were many in France and nearby countries that did not see a chance for Charles VII to prevail, and for a long time many derisively referred to him as 'the king of Bourges', for the primary city where he held his court, while the English and Burgundians occupied Paris and most of northern France.
Some authors have been influenced by Burgundian and English propaganda waged against Charles VII that insinuated he was not the legitimate son of Charles VI. It was alleged that his mother, Isabeau, had been the mistress of duc Louis d'Orléans, and that Charles VII was the son of the brother of Charles VI. Contrary to many erronous accounts, the Treaty of Troyes (1420) did not allude to Charles VII's legitmacy. The reason given for disinheriting him was his association with the 1419 murder of Jean the Fearless, duc de Bourgogne. It was not until after the victory of Charles VII's army at the battle of Baugé (1421) that Isabeau, who was now fully beholding to the English for support and was strongly intimidated by Philippe 'the Good', duc de Bourgogne, began to refer to her son as 'the so-called dauphin'. Isabeau obviously believed that her future lay with the English cause and her daughter, Catherine, now the English queen. However, the suggestion of Isabeau having illegitimate children could have compromised Catherine's reputation as well as that of her brother, Charles VII.
One of the most important factors that determined the ultimate fate of Charles VII was his bethroal, in 1413, to Marie d'Anjou in (1404-63), the daughter of Louis II duc d'Anjou and the strong willed Yolande d'Aragón, duchess d'Anjou. Yolande (widowed in 1417) took personal charge of her young, future son-in law and raised him with her own family. As such Charles was removed from the dangerous association his mother, Isabeau, made with the Burgundians. This relationship also made Charles VII an essential rallying symbol for many who sided with the Orléanst-Armagnac faction, which included the very influential house of Anjou. While this association place him in considerable danger, it also provided him the support of the only large source of wealth and political power available to him. For much of his early reign, Yolande d'Aragón maneuvered to surround Charles VII with capable advisors and military leaders. She committed the considerable Angevin resources to support the royal armies; and she appears to have been the constant central figure in weaving a variety of alliances which eventually prevailed to undercut the English-Burgundian alliance with the Treaty of Arras between Charles VII and the duchy of Burgundy.
Another nickname given to Charles VII has been 'the Well-Served'. The title is often applied to allude to the sacrifices of some and service of many in his court. Charles VII was certainly self-serving. While it might be understood that he could not have saved Jeanne, his treatment of others, such as Jacques Coeur, is more condemning of his character. It could be argued that he was one of several of 'the first modern monarchs' as the criteria for such has not been uniformly accepted. However, he is arguably one of the first in terms of being an administrator, a realist politician, and a skillful judge of character in his close associates. Moralizing aside (which has to be done with many in history if one wants to understand their success) he did succeed in war, in mastering the Pope, and in improving the administration of a nation. Hardly any other leader has left a nation so much better improved than when he came on the scene. "Well served" yes, but he saw to it that he was 'well served'.

Charles born 22 February at Paris.
Charles was betrothed to Marie d'Anjou, daughter of Louis II, duc d'Anjou and Yolande d'Aragón.
Charles is taken to Provence with the Angevin household, associating himself closely with Yolande and her children. In October, the French royal army was defeated at the battle of Agincourt. Henry V of England began a conquest of much of northern France.
Charles became dauphin when his second eldest brother, Jean, died in April. His first older brother, Louis, had died in December 1415.
The Burgundian faction siezed Paris and killed many in the Orleanist-Armagnac camp. The dauphin Charles escaped to Melum and then to Bourges. He assumed the title of lieutenant-general in the name of his father, Charles VI, who suffered fits of madness.
Charles met with the duc de Bourgogne, Jean 'the Frearless', on a bridge at Montereau. Jean was assassinated by members of Charles' party. Jean's son, Philippe 'the Good', quickly agreed to an alliance with the English against the dauphin Charles.
The Treaty of Troyes (21 May) is forced upon Charles VI by the Burgundians and English. The terms called for Henry V of England to marry Charles VI's daughter, Catherine, to be Regent of France until the death of Charles VI, and to be king of France afterwards.
Charles VI officially disinherited his son Charles. The dauphin Charles' army won a battle at Baugé (22 March).
Burgundian force defeated dauphin Charles' army at Mons-en-Vimeu (31 August).
Henry V died 31 August and Charles VI died 21 October. Dauphin Charles claimed the crown as Charles VII of France. His title is contested by the English Regent, Bedford, who leads English and some Burgundian forces in the name the young son of Henry V, Henry VI, now king of England and claimant to the French throne.
Charles VII maried Marie d'Anjou 18 December.
Charles VII's army was defeted by the English at Cravant (31 July)
Charles VII's army was defeted at Verneuil (17 August)
Arthur de Richemont accepted the position of Charles VII's constable (7 March).
Siege of Orléans begun by the English (12 October).
French force defeated in the 'Battle of the Herrings' (12 February 1429), near Rouvray-Saint-Denis.
Jeanne d'Arc met with Charles VII at Chinon in late February.
Siege of Orléans raised (8 May).
Coronation of Charles VII at Rheims (17 July).
Jeanne d'Arc tried and burnt at the stake (January-May).
The duc de Bourgogne and the Angevins make a treaty of alliance (February).
La Trémoïlle, the scheming advisor to Charles VII, is overthrown, and Charles [IV] d'Anjou, son of Yolande assumed the position.
Jean Bureau joined the service of Charles VII.
Duke of Bedford died (14 September).
In September 1435 the Bologna university law school null and voided the Treaty of Troyes disinheritance of Charles VII. It was noted that Charles was given the Dauphiné in 1417, and this was an open acknowledgment of his legal status. His father could not accuse and also judge against his declared rightful heir at that point. Treaty of Arras (10 December) established peace between Philippe, duc de Bourgogne, and Charles VII.
Constable Richemont recovered Paris (13 April).
Jacques Coeur, was appointed Director of the Paris Mint.
Charles VII entered Paris 12 November.
Jacques Coeur became 'Argentier' (personal treasurer) to Charles VII.
Charles VII issued the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges, establishing a 'Gallican Church' virtually free of papal control.
In November, Charles VII issued an ordonnance [royal edict] that denied anyone other than the king to raise troops. This in effect outlawed all the freelancers -- the écorcheurs. Though Charles VII did not have an army to enforce it, it marked the beginning of French military reform.
Charles, duc de Bourbon, led some nobles in a failed uprising, the Praguerie (15 February- 17 July), against Charles VII.
Pontoise is taken by the royal army after a long artillery siege directed by Jean Bureau.
Truce of Tours suspended hostilities between England and France (lasted until 1449).
Charles VII sent his son, the dauphin Louis, to lead an expedition against the Swiss in Alsace and Lorraine (summer and autumn, 1444). The expedition resulted in a costly French victory over the Swiss at Saint Jacob-en-Birs (24 August), but managed to divert the écorcheurs from marauding French territory.
Agnès Sorel was admitted to the court of Charles VII.
Charles VII issued various military ordonnances between January and June that created and defined a standing force of companies de ordonnance, essentially companies of men-at-arms (heavy cavalry). Each company consisted of 100 lances. Each lance comprised 6 men. Initally, there were to be 15 companies; the number was increased to 20 a few years later.
French court experienced intrigues; many instigated by the dauphin, Louis.
French court was distracted by Orleanist and Angevin factions attempting to establish dynastic claims in Italy.
Charles VII issued an ordonnancesestablishing the franc-archers. This was an attempt to created a more reliable infantry to supplement the companies de ordonnance. The franc-archers were exempt from taxation; in turn for which they were supposed to practice archery and to acquire necessary arms so that they could be quickly mobilized from their respective communities.
Charles VII used a small English raid (in March) against a fortress in Brittany as an excuse to break the truce. He ordered a well prepared French army to invade Normandy (31 July).
Charles VII's army reconquered Normandy. The decisive Battle of Formigny (15 April) destroyed the English main army in Normandy; Caen was captured (24 June) and Cherbourg (12 August).
Charles VII launched his first campaign to reconquer Guyenne (6 May - 21 August). Comte de Dunois, accompanied by Bureau's artillery, quickly siezed English held towns in Guyenne. Bordeaux surrendered 30 June.
The city of Bordeaux opened its gates to an English army led by John Talbot, earl of Shrewsbury.
Charles VII allowed Jacques Coeur to be imprisoned in May for questionable crimes.
Charles VII deployed an army to reconquor Guyenne. The English force under Talbot was destroyed outside the town of Castillon (17 July).
Bordeaux finally submitted 19 October.
Some members of Charles VII's bodyguard (the 'Scots Archers') were condemned to death for plotting (in 1450, at the Siege of Caen) to kill the French king.
Charles VII began to show signs of a serious illness.
Dauphin Louis fled to the protection of the duc de Bourgogne.
Tension developed between Burgundy and France. Divisions developed in the French court as factions form between supporters of the dauphin Louis and many who feared him and the plotting by the duc de Bourgogne.
Charles VII died at Mehun-sur-Yèvre (22 July).

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