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Charles VII

Charles VII

The French king Charles VII (1403-1461) ruled from 1422 to 1461. His reign witnessed the expulsion of the English from France and the reestablishment of a strong French monarchy after the disasters of the Hundred Years War, 1337-1453.

Charles VII was born on Feb. 22, 1403, the son of Charles VI. His father, who suffered from recurrent madness, implied that Charles was illegitimate since his mother, Isabelle of Bavaria, was known to be a woman of loose morals. Nevertheless Charles was regarded as heir to the throne until the English victory over the French at Agincourt. By the Treaty of Troyes (1420) his father was forced to disinherit him in favor of the English king, Henry V. After Charles VI's death in 1422, Charles VII was scornfully called the "king of Bourges," since that city was the capital of the small part of France that still recognized Valois royal legitimacy.

Rise to Power

At the beginning of his reign Charles was impoverished, threatened by English armies, and without a loyal nobility. He was also opposed by the powerful nobleman Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, and his followers. At first Charles was not equal to his task; he was not warlike and was sickly, physically weak, and personally unattractive. At Bourges he was ruled by powerful and ruthless favorites, particularly Georges de la Trémoïlle.

From 1422 to 1428 English armies moved toward Bourges through Maine and Anjou, often with the cooperation of the Duke of Burgundy. Popular resentment of English rule, however, remained strong in some places and lacked only a focus, which Charles was as yet unable to become. Such a focus, however, was provided in part by the heroic defense of Orléans during the English siege of 1428-1429. But more important was the appearance of Joan of Arc, who was thought by many to personify French resistance. She succeeded in raising the siege of Orléans in 1429, and Charles was crowned at Reims in the same year. Joan was captured by the English in 1430. Since Charles was unable and unwilling to mount a counteroffensive, in 1431 she was tried and executed as a heretic in the Norman city of Rouen.

Political Accomplishments

Not until 1433 did Charles actively assume personal control of the war with England. In 1434 the Church recognized his legitimacy, and in 1435 he was officially reconciled with Philip the Good. Also by 1435 Charles had freed himself from the control of favorites, and his personal finances had been improved by his financial adviser, Jacques Coeur. Thus the period of his reign characterized by indifference, ingratitude, poverty, and fear came to an end. He began a period of vigorous personal rule characterized by intense legislative activity and close attention to the economy. He was especially concerned with sweeping governmental reforms. In 1444 Charles secured a 5-year truce with England and turned even greater attention to the rebuilding of France.

Charles's political skill was also reflected in his policies. Encouraged by the higher French clergy, who had become increasingly independent of the papacy, he issued the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges in 1438, which sharply limited papal control of the French Church. The Church in France therefore enjoyed greater freedom than any other national body of clergy, and more important to Charles, the papacy's role in French politics was severely curtailed.

But Charles's reign was not free of internal troubles. In 1437, 1440, and 1442, he suppressed internal revolts. His son (later Louis XI) participated in a number of these uprisings and was forced to take refuge with Philip the Good from 1456 until Charles's death.

By 1449 Charles had created a standing army, and in 1449-1450 this force won back Normandy for the Crown. By the end of 1453 Charles had also recovered Gascony, the strongest English possession in France, and for all practical purposes the Hundred Years War had ended. With the return of Normandy, Charles was able to survey the records of Joan of Arc's trial, and in 1456 he had her officially rehabilitated through the annulment of her sentence by the Church.

The last years of Charles's reign were spent in consolidating and strengthening royal authority. At the end of his reign, France was more stable than it had been in more than a century. Charles died on July 22, 1461, leaving a restored kingdom to his rebellious but efficient son, Louis XI.

Further Reading

The standard biography of Charles VII is in French. Although there is no biography in English, useful works include Édouard Perroy, The Hundred Years War (trans. 1951), and Kenneth Fowler, The Age of Plantagenet and Valois: The Struggle for Supremacy, 1328-1498 (1967).

Additional Sources

Vale, M. G. A. (Malcolm Graham Allan), Charles VII, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974. □

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Charles VII (king of France)

Charles VII (Charles the Well Served), 1403–61, king of France (1422–61), son and successor of Charles VI. His reign saw the end of the Hundred Years War. Although excluded from the throne by the Treaty of Troyes, Charles took the royal title after his father's death (1422) and ruled S of the Loire, while John of Lancaster, duke of Bedford, who was regent for King Henry VI of England, controlled the north and Guienne (Aquitaine). Vacillating and easily influenced by corrupt favorites, particularly Georges de La Trémoille, Charles waged only perfunctory warfare against the English. He was prodded into action by the siege of Orléans (1429) in which Joan of Arc helped save the city from the English. After the capture of Orléans, Charles was crowned (1429) at Reims. He reverted to his earlier inactivity until 1433, when La Trémoille was replaced by more scrupulous and energetic advisers, such as the comte de Richemont (later Arthur III, duke of Brittany) and the comte de Dunois. In 1435, Charles agreed to the Treaty of Arras, which reconciled him with the powerful duke, Philip the Good of Burgundy, who had been an ally of the English. He recovered Paris the following year. In 1440, Charles suppressed the Praguerie, and in 1444 a truce was signed with England, which lasted until 1449. By the battle of Formigny and the capture of Cherbourg (1450) the English were expelled from Normandy, and the battle of Castillon (1453) resulted in their withdrawal from Guienne. Charles, although dominated by his mistress, Agnès Sorel, proved an able administrator. He reorganized the army and remodeled French finances, established heavy taxation, particularly through the taille, a direct land tax. In 1438, Charles issued the pragmatic sanction of Bourges, which established the liberty of the French Roman Catholic Church from Rome. In his reign commerce was expanded by the enterprise of Jacques Cœur. The end of Charles's rule was disturbed by the intrigues of the dauphin, who succeeded him as Louis XI.

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Charles VII (Holy Roman emperor)

Charles VII, 1697–1745, Holy Roman emperor (1742–45) and, as Charles Albert, elector of Bavaria (1726–45). Having married a daughter of Holy Roman Emperor Joseph I, he refused to recognize the pragmatic sanction of 1713 by which Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI (his wife's uncle) reserved the succession to the Hapsburg lands for his daughter, Maria Theresa. On Charles VI's death (1740) he advanced his own claim and joined with Frederick II (of Prussia), France, Spain, and Saxony to attack Maria Theresa (see Austrian Succession, War of the). In 1742 he was elected Holy Roman emperor, but Bavaria was overrun by Austrian troops. Shortly before his death he regained his territories. Francis I, husband of Maria Theresa, was elected emperor to succeed him.

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Charles VII

Charles VII ( the Well-served) (1403–61) King of France (1422–61). The son of Charles VI, he was excluded from the throne by the Treaty of Troyes, but gained power as dauphin s of the River Loire when Charles VI died, while the n remained in English hands. With the support of Joan of Arc, he checked the English at Orléans and was crowned king at Reims (1429). The Treaty of Arras (1435) ended the hostility of Burgundy, and by 1453 the English had been driven out of most of France. The king strengthened his authority by re-establishing regular taxation and creating a standing army.

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