The Mad King
In the summer of 1885 Charles vi., who was not sixteen years of age, married Isabelle of Bavaria, a selfish and cruel princess.
Three years later the king began to rule his kingdom himself, dismissing his uncles from the court, yet thanking them graciously for the trouble they had taken to rule the realm. Their nephew's kind words did not soothe the Lily Princes, who were very angry with the king for sending them away.
His uncles being gone, Charles recalled many of the old ministers who had served his father. But the king's greatest trust was in the Constable Clisson, whom he both loved and admired.
For a time the new government pleased the people, for justice was restored and taxes were lowered. This change lasted only for a short time, for Charles was fond of feast and tournament, and he spent such enormous sums on his amusements that the treasury was soon empty, and once again the taxes had to be raised.
But the king loved war as well as amusements. He began to collect an army to fight against England, and at the same time he ordered a wooden town to be built. This town he intended to carry to England, and set up as a fortress upon her shore.
When his fleet at length set sail, it got no farther than two miles out to sea, for a storm arose and drove it back. As no one save the king had much faith in the expedition, it was not again attempted. But before the orders to unload the fleet and place it in a safe port had been carried out, the English sailed down upon the French, taking many of their ships and the provisions stored up in them. Thus even the king was forced to give up his hope of invading England.
All this time the king's uncles were nursing their anger at the government being taken out of their hands. They hated the constable, as well as the king's other advisers, many of whom were of humble birth. These the Lily Princes, in their scorn, called Marmousets, which means "Monkeys."
It is said that they did more than give those they disliked nicknames. But whether or no it was the doing of the dukes, it is certain that one night Clisson was attacked in the streets of Paris, and wellnigh killed.
Charles, who, as I told you, loved the constable, was very angry when he heard what had happened. He was preparing for bed when tidings of the attack reached the palace, and the king at once insisted on going to see the wounded man.
Clisson was faint but conscious when the king reached him. He whispered to Charles that it was a servant belonging to his brother, the Duke of Orleans, who had attacked him.
The king at once determined to punish the assassin, who had fled to the Duke of Brittany for protection. If the assassin were not given up he would make war on Brittany.
In August 1392 the king therefore set out for the duke's domains with an army. His uncles were with him, although they had no wish to see the assassin given up to justice.
Charles himself was not well. He had had fever, and his physicians had forbidden him to go out in the hot days of August.
Nevertheless, the king would go. He was dressed in a tight velvet jacket, while on his head he wore a scarlet cap, adorned with pearls. His clothing was not suited for the heat, which was intense.
Behind Charles rode two pages, the army being some distance off, so that the dust they raised as they marched might not reach the king.
Just as Charles entered a thick forest, a tall man, dressed in a white smock, with bare head and bare feet, dashed out from behind a tree, and, seizing the king's horse by the bridle, cried, "Go no farther! Thou art betrayed!"
The king was startled, as well he might be, by this strange, wild-looking man, yet he determined to go on.
As the heat grew more intense, one of the pages fell half asleep as he rode slowly along behind the king. Suddenly the lance he carried slipped from his grasp, and fell with a crash against the helmet of the other page.
Charles started, and looked wildly around him. Then, drawing his sword, he set spurs to his horse and dashed forward, crying, "Treason! treason!" He then turned furiously upon his pages, chasing them backwards and forwards. His uncles and lords, hearing the king's voice, hastened up, but before Charles could be secured he had killed four of his escort.
The heat and the fight had made the poor king mad. His people carried him home, and at first his physicians thought that he was dead, so quiet and still he lay. But after a time his body grew strong again, although his mind was never again really well, save for some few short intervals.
Sometimes, usually in spring, the poor king's madness having passed away, he would try to do some good to his people, to put some wrong right. And his subjects, full of compassion for the misery of their king, called him Charles the Well-beloved, and wished that he would live for ever.
But again and again his brain grew weary, and he was forced to leave his kingdom and his people to the care of his uncles, the Lily Princes. Yet for thirty long years, from 1892 until 1422, the crown of France still rested upon the head of the poor mad King Charles vi.
Isabelle, the king's wife, cared nothing for Charles's suffering, and left him alone to the care of his attendants, by whom he was for a time terribly neglected. His children, too, took no notice of their father.
But Valentina, the beautiful Duchess of Orleans, his brother's wife, was always kind to the poor king, who called her "his fair sister,"and was always a little happier on the days that he saw her.
Sometimes the king was able to be amused by a game of cards. The game was little known in France at this time, though Philip of Valois had learned it in his day. The play, where the scenes were usually taken from Bible stories, also interested Charles. These sacred plays were called "Mystery Plays."
At first the Dukes of Burgundy and Berri were sorry for their nephew. And, indeed, to see him was a piteous sight. But soon they could not help being glad that they would once again be able to govern France.
They put aside the claim of the king's brother, the Duke of Orleans, and made themselves regents of the kingdom. Often they would persuade the poor mad king to sign measures which they wished to become law, but which Charles, had he known what he was doing, would never have signed.
Yet the people never lost their trust in their king. They continued to call him the Well-beloved, and believed that were he but able to rule, justice would again be done in the land.