Charles VI, of the House of Valois and the Capetian dynasty, was the fourth king of that line to ascend to the throne of France. His reign would become infamous for the events it saw, but the most famous story of his reign came from the king himself.
Charles ascended to the French throne at the tender age of 11 in 1380. Dynastic power struggles were enjoying a lull at the time and, aided by regents who were largely honest and loyal, he came into his maturity at 21 as the undisputed king of France.
But it was not to last. From his mid twenties Charles experienced bouts of madness, and the people who had previously called him “Charles the Beloved” started to refer to him as “Charles the Mad”.
In 1392, Charles left at the head of his army to attack the rebellious Duke of Burgundy. The king had seemed distracted while speaking to his troops earlier, but nobody was prepared for what was to come next. Startled by a beggar and the clang of a dropped lance near the forest of Le Mans, the king suffered a full psychotic break.
Drawing his sword, Charles wheeled about and attacked his friends, killing several before he could be calmed. Although he seemed to recover at the time, these attacks of madness would continue for the rest of his life.
In an effort to cheer him, his wife Queen Isabeau of Bavaria organized a ball to amuse her distracted husband. This absolutely did not work, for during one of the games at the ball Charles and some of his courtiers were set on fire by an errant torch. Several noblemen died and Charles only escaped by the skin of his teeth, his mind even further destroyed.
He began to believe he was made of glass and prone to shatter at any moment, requiring that his servants and courtiers move with extreme delicacy and care in his presence. This affliction is known to modern science as the Glass Delusion, and it was much more common in medieval Europe, perhaps given the value and mystique of glass at the time.
For the king though, there was no help. His regents were brought back to rule in his stead alongside his queen, and eventually his Dauphin. But Charles’s son would never inherit, for in his late age in 1415 the king send his armies against Henry V of England at Agincourt.
The resulting battle saw the flower of the French nobility destroyed along with the rest of the army, and Charles VI was forced to sign terms with England. While he would remain on the throne until his death, it would be Henry, not his son the Dauphin, who would inherit France.
A troubled end to a troubled life for the king made of glass.
Top Image: Many attempts to cure Charles VI were made, such as this exorcism. Source: François-Auguste Biard / Public Domain.
By Joe Green