Portrait de Charles VII au 18e siècle par Sergent ; imprimé en 1791 par Blin
Portrait de Charles VII au 18e siècle par Sergent ; imprimé en 1791 par Blin

Charles VII

(1403 - 1461)

Charles VII "the Victorious" reigned over France from 1422 to 1461. The kingdom was then in crisis and became bogged down in the Hundred Years War. Today, Charles VII is often overshadowed by those who served him in the war and in the recovery of the country. His portrait is very mixed: inactive and ungrateful for some, wise and triumphant for others...

Charles, a dauphin in exile

Charles was the eleventh son of the king of France Charles VI and Isabeau of Bavaria. During his childhood, his father's fits of madness weakened the royal power. Family and lordly quarrels were frequent, while France had been engaged in the Hundred Years War against England since 1337.

After the death of his two older brothers, he became the heir to the crown, the Dauphin.

The powerful Duke of Burgundy, John the Fearless, was an ally of the English when his supporters seized Paris and the king in 1418. Charles barely escaped.

However, the king remained under the control of the Burgundians and his madness persisted. Charles therefore proclaimed himself regent and directly governed part of the kingdom from Bourges, where he had taken refuge. His rebellious behaviour served the negotiations of the Treaty of Troyes of 1420, with the king of England Henry V. The agreement declared the latter regent and heir to the kingdom through his marriage to one of Charles VI's daughters, Catherine. The Dauphin found himself excluded from the succession and rumours of bastardy spread to undermine his legitimacy.

Charles and the Hundred Years War

In 1422, the deaths of Henry V and Charles VI brought two kings to the head of France. South of the Loire River (outside English Guyenne), the Dauphin became King Charles VII at the age of nineteen. The territories under English and Burgundian control recognized Henry VI, son of Henry V and Catherine, an eleven-month-old child.

At the beginning of his reign, Charles VII travelled a lot in the Loire Valley and Chinon was a summer residence for him where the court only settled in 1427. The king organized the gathering of the Estates General there in 1428. It was also in Chinon that he met Joan of Arc for the first time, in 1429. She came to convince him to be crowned in Reims, where he could not go because this part of the kingdom was still held by the Anglo-Burgundian clan. After the coronation ceremony on 17 July 1429, Charles VII gradually reconquered his kingdom.

Between 1445 and 1448, the sovereign took advantage of a truce with the English to reform the military system. He created a royal and professional army, better supervised and paid, which became famous with the resumption of the war in 1449. The reconquest of Normandy and Guyenne was completed four years later. Many historians consider that the battle of Castillon, where the army of the king of France was victorious, put an end to the Hundred Years War in 1453.

During the last years of his reign, Charles VII was worried. He travelled less, was always well protected and preferred discreet residences. His health was deteriorating, the disobedient Dauphin Louis was looking forward to his death and England was still a threat.

He died in July 1461 at the age of fifty-eight, suffering from stomach pains and an abscess in his gums.

Portrait de Charles VII - Crédit : Cité royale de Loches / Conseil départemental d’Indre-et-Loire
Portrait de Charles VII - Crédit : Cité royale de Loches / Conseil départemental d’Indre-et-Loire