Charles' Coat of Arms
Charles' Coat of Arms

Character Information

Charles is the Dauphin from Henry V. The primary conflict in 1 Henry 6 is between Charles who claims the French throne, and Henry VI who also claims the throne. During the course of the play both are crowned king in Paris. Charles and his nobles’ actions can be seen as comic in the play. The play takes a very English view of France. Charles tends to be a weak ruler, letting Joan lead his troops after she joins their army.

Historical Information

Charles VII (22 February 1403 – 22 July 1461), called the Victorious (French: le Victorieux) or the Well-Served (French:le Bien-Servi), was King of France from 1422 to his death, though he was initially opposed by Henry VI of England, whose servants ruled much of France from Paris.

He was a member of the House of Valois, the son of Charles VI, whose succession to the throne was left questionable by the English occupation of northern France. He was, however, famously crowned in Reims in 1429 through the endeavours of Joan of Arc to free France from the English. His later reign was marked by struggles with his son, the eventual Louis XI.

Early life

Born in Paris, Charles was the fifth son of Charles VI of France and Isabella of Bavaria-Ingolstadt. His four elder brothers — Charles (1386), Charles (1392–1401), Louis (1397–1415) and John (1398–1417) — had each held the title of Dauphin of France, heir to the French throne, in turn; each had died childless, leaving Charles with a rich inheritance of titles, and little else besides.

Almost immediately after his accession to the title of Dauphin, Charles was forced to face the threat to his inheritance, being forced to flee Paris in May 1418 after the soldiers of John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy attempted to capture the city. In the following year, Charles attempted to make a reconciliation between himself and the Duke, meeting him and swearing peace on a bridge at Pouilly, near Melun, in July 1419. This proving insufficient, the two met again on 10 September 1419, on the bridge at Montereau. The Duke, despite previous history, proved over-trusting in his young cousin, assuming the meeting to be entirely peaceful and diplomatic, and bringing with him only a small escort; the Dauphin's men reacted to the Duke's arrival, however, by setting upon him and killing him. Charles's level of involvement remained questionable ever afterwards: although he claimed to have been unaware of his men's intentions, it was considered unlikely by those who heard of the murder, and furthered the feud between the family of Charles VI and the Dukes of Burgundy. Charles himself was later required by treaty with Philip the Good, John's son, to pay penance for the murder, but he never did so; nonetheless, it is claimed, the event left him with a lifelong phobia of bridges.

In his adolescent years, Charles was noted for his bravery and style of leadership: at one point after becoming Dauphin, he led an army against the English, dressed in the red, white and blue that represented France; his heraldic device was a mailed fist clutching a naked sword. However, two events in 1421 broke his confidence: he was forced, to his great shame, to withdraw from battle against Henry V of England (Dramatized as the Battle of Agincourt in Shakespeare’s Henry V); and his parents then repudiated him as the legitimate heir to the throne, claiming that he was the product of one of his mother's affairs (for which she was notorious). Humiliated, and in fear of his life, the Dauphin had fled to the protection of Yolande of Aragon, the so-called Queen of the Four Kingdoms, in southern France, where he was protected by the forceful and proud Queen Yolande, who married him to her daughter, Marie.

On the death of Charles's insane father, Charles VI, the succession was cast into doubt: if the Dauphin was legitimate, then he was the rightful heir to the throne, but if not, the heir was the Duke of Orleans, in English captivity; in addition to which, the Treaty of Troyes, signed by Charles VI in 1421, ordered that the throne pass to Henry VI of England, the son of the recently deceased Henry V by Catherine of Valois, daughter of Charles VI. None of the three candidates had an unquestionable claim to the throne; the English, however, being already in control of northern France, including Paris, were able to enforce their King’s claim in those parts of France they occupied. Northern France was thus ruled by an English regent to Henry VI based in Normandy.

Charles, unsurprisingly, refused to allow his nephew to succeed rather than himself, and claimed the title King of France for himself; however, by indecision and a sense of hopelessness, he failed to make any attempts to throw the English out. Instead, he remained in southern France, where he was still able to exert some small amount of power, maintaining an itinerant court in the Loire Valley at castles such as Chinon, being customarily known as "Dauphin" still, or derisively as "King of Bourges" (Bourges being the region where he generally lived), periodically considering flight to the Iberian Peninsula, and allowing the English to advance in power.

The Maid of Orleans

Contemporary image of Charles VII
Contemporary image of Charles VII

In 1429, however, came a change. Orleans had been under siege since October 1428; the English regent, the Duke of Bedford (uncle of Henry VI) was advancing into the Duchy of Bar, ruled by Charles's brother-in-law, Rene; the French lords and soldiers loyal to Charles were becoming increasingly desperate; and in the little village of Domremy, on the border between Lorraine and Champagne, a teenage girl named Jeanne d'Arc ("Joan of Arc"), believing she had been given a divine mission by God, demanded of the Duke of Lorraine the soldiers and resources necessary to bring her to Chinon, and the Dauphin. Granted an escort of five veteran soldiers and a letter of referral to Charles by the governor of Vaucouleurs, Robert Baudricourt, Jeanne rode to Chinon, where Charles was in residence, arriving there on 10 March.

What followed would later pass into legend. When Jeanne arrived at Chinon, Charles—testing Jeanne's claim to recognize him despite having never seen him—disguised himself as one of his courtiers, and stood in their midst when Jeanne (who was herself dressed in men's clothing) entered the chamber. Jeanne, immediately identifying him, bowed low to him and embraced his knees, declaring "God give you a happy life, sweet King!" Despite attempts to claim that another man was in fact the King, Charles was eventually forced to admit that he was indeed such. Thereafter Jeanne referred to him as "Dauphin" or "Gentle Dauphin" until he was crowned in Reims four months later. After a private conversation between the two (during which, Charles later stated, "Joan the Maid of Lorraine"—so-called because she united France under one King—revealed herself to know secrets about himself that he had voiced only in silent prayer to God, Charles became inspired, and filled with confidence. Thereafter he became secure in his intention to claim his inheritance by traveling to Reims.

One of the important factors that aided in the ultimate success of Charles VII was the support from the powerful and wealthy family of his wife Marie d'Anjou (1404–63), particularly his mother-in-law the Queen Yolande of Aragon. Despite whatever affection he had for his wife, the great love of Charles VII's life was his mistress, Agnès Sorel.

After the French won the Battle of Patay, Charles was crowned King Charles VII of France on July 17, 1429, in Reims Cathedral. Over the following two decades, King Charles VII recaptured Paris from the English and eventually recovered all of France with the exception of the northern port of Calais.

Close of reign

Charles's later years were marked by increasing hostility between himself and his heir, Louis. Louis demanded real power to accompany his position as the Dauphin; Charles refused. Accordingly, Louis stirred dissent and made plots in attempts to destabilise his father, and quarrelled with his father's mistress, Agnès Sorel, on one occasion driving her with a bared sword into Charles's bed, according to one source. Eventually, in 1446, after Charles's final son, also named Charles, was born, the King banished the Dauphin to the Dauphiny. The two never met again; Louis thereafter refused the King's demands that he return to court, eventually fleeing to the protection of Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, in 1456.

In 1458, Charles became ill: a sore on his leg (an early symptom, perhaps, of diabetes or syphilis) refused to heal, and the infection in it caused a serious fever. The King summoned his son, the Dauphin, to him from his exile in Burgundy; the Dauphin refused, and employed astrologers to foretell the exact hour of his father's death. The King lingered on for the next two and a half years: increasingly ill, but unwilling to die.
Finally, however, there came a point in the July of 1461 when the King's physicians concluded that Charles would not live past August. Ill and weary, the King became delirious, convinced that he was surrounded by traitors loyal only to his son; under the pressure of sickness and fever, the King went mad. By now another infection in his jaw had caused a tumour or abscess in his mouth; the swelling of this became so large that, for the last week of his life, Charles could swallow no food or water. Although he asked the Dauphin to come to his deathbed, Louis refused, instead waiting for his father to die at Avesnes, in Burgundy. Thus, at Mehun-sur-Yèvre, attended by his younger son, Charles, and aware of his son's final betrayal, the King starved to death. He died on 22 July 1461, and was buried, at his request, beside his parents in St Denis.

Although Charles VII's legacy is far overshadowed by the deeds and eventual martyrdom of Joan of Arc, he himself was also responsible for successes unprecedented in the history of the Kingdom of France. When he died, France was for the first time since the Carolingian Emperors united under one ruler, and possessed its first standing army, which in time would yield the powerful gendarme cavalry companies, notable in the wars of the sixteenth century; he had also established the University of Poitiers in 1432, and his policies had brought some economic prosperity to his subjects. His rule as a monarch had at times been marked by indecisiveness and inaction, and his ending years marked by hostility between himself and his son; nonetheless, it is to his credit that he left his kingdom in condition better than he had found it in.


The following is a timeline of Charles’ life.


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 seized 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 Fearless', 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 defeated by the English at Cravant (31 July)


Charles VII's army was defeated 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 ordinances 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. Initially, 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 ordinance establishing 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 seized 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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