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Chapter Eight— The Legacy of Charles V
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Chapter Eight—
The Legacy of Charles V

After the death of Charles V in 1380 the political situation in Paris changed. Charles VI succeeded to the throne at the age of 12 in a government that violated the ordinance governing the regency drafted by Charles V in 1374. Charles V had planned for a balanced government in which Charles VI's uncles, Philip of Burgundy and Louis of Anjou, would control separate areas and counter each other's ambitions until Charles was 14.[1] Instead, the regency council was dominated by Philip the Bold, duke of Burgundy, after Louis of Anjou departed for Naples in 1381. From Charles V's death until Charles VI finally took control in 1388, the French dukes entrusted with the regency concentrated more on promoting their own interests than on serving the state.

When Charles attained his majority in 1388, the structure of government changed. The young king turned away from the dukes and toward advisors who had worked for his father; these counsellors began to provide stability and continuity in policy. However, shortly after he began to rule independently, Charles was beset by a bout of mental illness in 1392.

This illness was perhaps the most important factor shaping the political climate of Charles VI's reign. He seemed to recover from his first crise by September of 1392 but had a second attack in June of 1393 that lasted until January 1394. This pattern of illness and remission continued; in 30 years Charles had about 43 "absences," as they were euphemistically called in the documents.

Charles's mental illness posed special problems for the court and the government of France. Frequently, when he was "absent," Charles did not know himself or his family. The dilemma that the court faced centered on the fact that, at least in the beginning, Charles seemed capable of governing between his attacks.[2] For a period of approximately 20 years—from the onset of the condition in 1392 until around 1414 when it overcame the king—the members of the French court had no way to gauge whether Charles could govern at any given time. The question of who should govern was of central importance, and there were diverse opinions as to the correct answer.

One solution would have had the royal heir act as regent, but Charles's sons were sickly. His first son, Charles, died in 1386 at the age of three months; his second son, also called Charles, died in 1401 at the age of 9; a third son, Louis of Guyenne, died in 1415 at 18; and a fourth, John of Touraine, died in 1417 at 17. The only son to survive Charles VI, another Charles, was disinherited in 1420. Thus government by the heir was possible only during the second decade of the fifteenth century, when Louis of Guyenne was dauphin.


After the failure of a series of regency councils that governed for the underage dauphins, France succumbed in 1409 to a civil war.[3] With the exception of Louis of Bourbon, an uncle of Charles VI who remained a royalist, most of the king's relatives and the members of the royal court joined one of two factions: the Burgundian, headed at first by Charles VI's uncle, Philip the Bold, and then, after 1404, by Philip's son, John the Fearless; and the Orléanist, initially led by Charles VI's brother, Louis of Orléans, and, after Louis's assassination in 1407, by Louis's son, Charles of Orléans; by Charles's father-in-law, Bernard of Armagnac; and periodically by John of Berry.[4]

By 1404 the political fight for control broadened to include the dauphins—especially Louis of Guyenne, who lived to be almost 19 years old—and the dauphin's mother and primary guardian, Queen Isabeau of Bavaria. Indeed, Louis became so powerful that by 1409 he was empowered to act in the king's stead when Charles was "absent."

The pattern of literary patronage also changed when Charles VI succeeded to the throne. Charles V had been a sophisticated literary patron whose commissions for translations or for the composition of new texts reflected his political thought.[5] Charles VI was very different from his father, apparently sharing none of his concern with political theory. As Monfrin notes, patronage at court during Charles VI's reign was more preoccupied with "responding to the private interest of individual patrons than with serving the intellectual formation of a group."[6] Louis of Orléans, Charles VI's brother, was the only member of the royal family whose patronage was influenced by Charles V's example. Louis commissioned copies of many of the political and literary texts translated for his father, in part to present himself as the logical choice as successor once Charles VI's illness made evident his inability to govern.[7] Even when politically motivated, Louis's commissions also responded to his private interests.

Jacques Krynen demonstrates how the model for the production of political literature during the time of Charles V altered under Charles VI. During the reign of Charles V,[8] members of the royal entourage wrote most of the polemical literature, frequently at the express command of the king. While Charles VI reigned, intellectuals outside the court joined those who worked for the court to produce a literature that focused on the person of the king. Especially noteworthy is the consistency of focus that Krynen found in these writings, whether notarial, courtly, or academic. None questioned Charles VI's ability to rule, despite his increasingly obvious insanity and the dire state of the country, where civil war raged and the Hundred Years' War with England dragged on. Rather, most political writers manifested a loyalty toward the monarchy and the person of the king that impelled them to seek new ways to strengthen the Christian kingship of France and to urge the powers who actually governed France—the princes of the blood, the queen, and the dauphin—to do the same.

By the early fifteenth century, political theory had become the province of the royal chancery or, less frequently, of the University of Paris. Tracts written by such authors as Jean de Montreuil, a member of the chancery, or by Jean Gerson, chancellor of the university, formulated the political rhetoric of the French government and the factions that battled for power within it.[9] These unillustrated tracts and sermons, rather than contemporary copies of the chronicle, are the successors to the political program of Charles V's Grandes Chroniques .


For example, Jean de Montreuil's Traité contre les anglais of 1413 built upon the political arguments first formulated in Charles V's 1378 speech before the Holy Roman Emperor, adapting almost verbatim its repudiation of English pretensions to the French throne. Summarized in Charles V's Grandes Chroniques and subsequently in families E and F of the Chronique abrégée and Christine de Pizan's biography of Charles V, this speech remained the basis for anti-English treatises throughout the reign of Charles VI. A chancery dossier, the Mémoire grossement abrégée , compiled by Jean de Montreuil in 1390, preserves the inverted chronological structure established by Charles V's speech, discussing Edward III's homage to Philip of Valois before Henry III's homage to Saint Louis. It then cites the "c'est assavoir" clause in the Treaty of Brétigny, which was annotated in Charles V's manuscript, and the Black Prince's killing of Palot and Chaponval, the imprisoned representatives of Charles V. Subsequently, this chancery dossier became one of the sources for the Traité contre les anglais , which exists in two French redactions and one Latin redaction dating between 1413 and 1416.[10]

Other authors, like Christine de Pizan or Philip de Mézières, shared Jean Gerson's firm belief in the monarchy.[11] The work of these royalists exhorted the king to encourage good government and counseled the queen and princes of the fleur-de-lis to work for peace and for the good of France. Christine de Pizan's writings in particular focus on themes that became important in copies of the Grandes Chroniques produced during the second half of Charles VI's reign.

The pictures in Grandes Chroniques manuscripts produced from the 1380s through the first quarter of the fifteenth century parallel the literary development Krynen describes. After an initial period in which royal and courtly manuscripts imitated the chronicle produced for Charles V, books created for all levels of patronage began to concentrate on the monarchy. The sheer number of manuscripts that survive from this era attests to the transformation of the Grandes Chroniques from royal history to national history. Cycles of illustration range from the mass-produced to the carefully crafted, yet all celebrate the religion royale . Although none question Charles VI's ability to govern, a small group recognize the realities of government during the latter years of Charles VI's reign and introduce pictorial models that establish precedents for the involvement of the dukes, queen, and dauphins in government.

A handful of Grandes Chroniques produced in the last quarter of the fourteenth century are conservative, drawing from Charles V's manuscript for both the layout and content of their miniatures.[12] Although closely related, the cycles from these manuscripts differ significantly from Charles V's chronicle. None emulate the sophisticated layering of miniatures that added to the political content in Charles's codex, even though the editor of at least one of them clearly understood the structure of Charles V's book, whose text he copied.

The earliest Grandes Chroniques (B.N. fr. 10135) from this group belonged to Charles VI and was probably painted for him during Charles V's lifetime, since the Master of the Coronation of Charles VI, the artist of the frontispiece of this manuscript, painted several miniatures in the third stage of Charles V's Grandes Chroniques . Its cycle is almost identical to Charles V's as it appeared at the end of the first stage of execution. Of all the manuscripts based on Charles V's book, it alone copies the frontispiece with its anti-imperial overtones and the dense cycle illustrating the life of Saint Louis, the saintly model for French kingship. It thus


shares the emphasis on French independence and on royal models that dominates Charles V's book prior to 1375.

Because this chronicle was probably presented to Charles VI while he was dauphin, it provides insights into the education of a prince during the late fourteenth century. Its text offers historical models for the royal heir, while its pictures provide ideological models based on certain concerns of Charles V. These images thus serve a purpose similar to that of Philip de Mézières's Songe du vieil pelerin or Christine de Pizan's Livre des fais et bonnes meurs du sage roi Charles V , which are in part panegyrics on Charles V written during the early years of Charles VI's reign and designed to encourage good government.[13]

Three other copies of the chronicle (B.N. fr. 2608; Vienna, ÖNB 2564; and Lyon, B.M. 880), painted in the 1390s or in the early years of the fifteenth century, show how important the model of Charles V was to Charles VI and the court even 10 to 15 years after his death. On the basis of their iconography, these three books form a group that differs in pictorial content from Charles V's manuscript.

The most important manuscript (B.N. fr. 2608) from this group was painted for Charles VI after he became king. Significantly, it is the only chronicle whose text demonstrably copies Charles V's manuscript, but does not do so indiscriminately. Indeed, the way in which the editor incorporates some of the marginal notes relating to Charles V's speech proves that sophisticated readers understood the complex interrelationship of text and images in Charles V's book but did not necessarily find it relevant to their needs.[14] Because Charles VI's manuscript contains the shortened description of the emperor's visit in 1378, omitting the royal speech, the scribe copied only those notes that were comprehensible in the text of the shortened chronicle. He also transcribed marginal annotations commenting on select clauses in a letter from the English king (Charles V, ch. 13) but omitted the charters about homage and their illustrations, the note recording the deaths of the messengers sent to the Black Prince, and the note concluding that the French were justified in recommencing war with England. These notes and the substituted texts and miniatures on homage in Charles V's manuscript had provided documentation for the content of Charles V's speech; in a manuscript without the summary of the speech they would have been superfluous.

Although the designer of Charles VI's Grandes Chroniques (B.N. fr. 2608) had access to Charles V's complex program and understood it, he chose to omit much of it and focus instead on Saint Louis, as had Charles VI's earlier chronicle (B.N. fr. 10135). He used Charles V's manuscript as a guide for the layout of illustrations. Of the 76 miniatures in B.N. fr. 2608, only 15 do not copy images in Charles V's Grandes Chroniques . Yet, in many ways, what was left out of this illustrative program is as telling as what was included. Most images dealing with Charles V's rise to power and with English strife were omitted, perhaps because France was negotiating peace with England throughout the 1390s. Indeed, the English scenes that do appear are almost laudatory. They include the English encounter with the French outside Reims (fol. 481v); the Treaty of Brétigny (fol. 483v); and the coronation of Richard II (fol. 521v), Charles VI's future son-in-law.[15]

The most innovative aspect of the decorative cycle in Charles VI's second copy of the Grandes Chroniques is its emphasis on Saint Louis, a focus it shares with earlier books produced for Charles V and Charles VI but handles very differently. Two iconic images of Louis IX in this chronicle stress special qualities of French government. The most distinctive is an illustration to the prologue (Fig. 92) in


Figure 92
Presentation of chronicle to Saints Louis and Denis.  Grandes Chroniques de France .
Bibliothèque Nationale, Ms. fr. 2608. fol. 1. Photograph: Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris.


which a monk kneels to present the chronicle to Saint Louis and Saint Denis. Although he is not portrayed in the scene of presentation, Charles VI is alluded to on this folio, since the crowned arms of France moderne appear at the bottom of the page supported by two cerfs volants , winged stags, a favorite emblem of the king in the 1380s and 1390s.[16] The scene of presentation to the two saints is one of the few scenes that do not appear in the model. In fact, among all the copies of the Grandes Chroniques that I have inspected, it is the only scene to represent a presentation of the book to someone other than the king.

On one level the inclusion of these two saints is not surprising. Throughout the Middle Ages, Saint Denis was both a royal and a national saint.[17] Indeed, the prologue that this scene illustrates represents Saint Denis's protection of France as a reward for France's holiness. Even if Saint Louis failed to achieve the same level of national popularity, his cult was strong in the Parisian basin, and he was a royal model for government.[18] The pairing of these saints can thus be seen as an expression of royal and national devotion.

Yet Louis IX had rarely been associated with Saint Denis in a visual context before this image. To my knowledge, the miniature in Charles VI's Grandes Chroniques constitutes one of the earliest secular examples of Saint Denis and Saint Louis paired alone. When they do appear together, they are most frequently portrayed as protectors of the French royal house in politically charged religious images dating from the reign of John the Good to that of Charles VII.[19] In this miniature, however, the saints replace the king, a substitution that must have been particularly appropriate during Charles VI's absences in the 1390s.

Saint Denis had long been considered the protector of royal health, a responsibility in which Saint Louis, as royal saint, participated. As early as 1335 when Charles VI's grandfather, John, duke of Normandy, was ill, relics of Christ and Saint Louis preserved at Saint-Denis were credited with his cure.[20] In 1392 Charles VI himself gave a châsse to house relics of Saint Louis to the abbey of Saint-Denis in thanks for intervention in his illness. Thus while the substitution of these saints for the king in the scene of presentation in Charles VI's book certainly evokes the idea of holy sponsorship of the history contained in the manuscript, it may also evoke the idea of heavenly protection for the king who was so often "absent"—both from this picture of presentation and from his people.

The second picture of Saint Louis (Fig. 93) at the beginning of Louis's life simultaneously glorifies the holy patron of France and sacred character of French kingship. Nimbed and crowned, Saint Louis sits on a faldstool and holds a scepter topped by a fleur-de-lis as two praying angels hover to either side. Although it is customary for kings to hold scepters when enthroned in state, the gesture is given special importance in this picture where Saint Louis clasps his scepter in a cloth-draped hand.

No precise textual source explains Louis's gesture, which signals the sacredness of the symbol of his rule. Although the second chapter of Louis's life describes his coronation, the description does not explain the presence of the angels, the halo, or the holiness of the symbol of government—the scepter topped by a fleur-de-lis. The closest source in the chronicle for this picture is a passage in Louis's life that explains the significance of the fleur-de-lis and describes how crucial the virtues symbolized by its three leaves are for good government: "The leaf which is in the middle symbolizes Christian faith for us, and the other two beside it


Figure 93
Saint Louis enthroned.  Grandes Chroniques de France .
Bibliothèque Nationale, Ms. fr. 2608. fol. 311v.
Photograph: Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris.

symbolize learning and chivalry which should always be prepared to defend the Christian faith. And as long as these three—faith, learning, and chivalry—reside in France, the realm of France will be strong and firm, full of wealth and honor."[21]

The image at the beginning of Louis's life thus merges two ideas: the concept that the French king was the rex christianissimus who governed a holy realm and the idea that the fleur-de-lis, miraculously given to the French, confirmed God's favor. Both ideas had formed part of French political theory since the reign of the last Capetians, but they emerged with special power in the writings of the university community during the reign of Charles VI, most notably in Jean Gerson's letters and sermons written during the 1390s.[22]

The theme of France's holy kingship and the exhortation to good government implicit in this iconic miniature differ from the emphasis on Louis's life as a model of kingship presented by the pictures in Charles V's manuscript and in Charles VI's earlier copy of the Grandes Chroniques (B.N. fr. 10135). Both earlier books present several facets of Louis's life as models. For instance, the inserted frontispiece to the life of Saint Louis in Charles V's manuscript (Fig. 87) presents Louis as a model of kingship, of devotion, and of charity and is thus an appropriate introduction to the pictorial cycle in that chronicle. The iconic picture of Saint Louis from Charles


VI's later copy of the chronicle, on the other hand, draws the reader's attention to the themes of good government and the ideals of kingship that were important in the era when Charles VI took control of the government only to fall ill.

A brief consideration of the other two manuscripts from this group of three reinforces the special nature of the representations of Saints Denis and Louis in the king's Grandes Chroniques . One of the manuscripts (Vienna, ÖNB 2564) that copied Charles VI's book belonged to John of Montaigu, the grand-maître of France under Charles VI.[23] The second (Lyon, B.M. 880) was probably also a courtly commission and may have been the direct model for John of Montaigu's book.[24] Although the pictorial layouts of these chronicles are almost identical to that in the king's manuscript, their individual miniatures differ significantly in content. Thus a traditional image of a monk composing the text replaces the presentation miniature with Saint Louis and Saint Denis, and many of the supernatural and holy elements of the miniature from the beginning of Saint Louis's life are suppressed. Clearly, the images featuring Saint Louis were seen as particularly appropriate for the king, since in the rest of their cycles these two manuscripts copied Charles VI's book closely. Indeed, the interrelationship of the cycles in these three copies of the Grandes Chroniques signals the continued authority of royal copies of history early in the reign of Charles VI.


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