Charles VII was born on February 22, 1403 in Paris, France. As the eleventh child of King Charles VI, Prince Charles wasn’t expected to inherit the French throne. During his childhood, King Charles suffered from periods of insanity. As a result, the government became unstable and a civil war erupted. In 1413, Prince Charles married Marie of Anjou and began living in her duchy.
During 1417, Charles became more important. In April, the prince’s older brother, Louis, unexpectedly died. Following his death, Charles became his father’s heir. Despite becoming heir, the prince had little reason to celebrate. A civil war had engulfed France, and threatened the monarchy’s stability.
During the early 1400s, a civil war began between two factions of the royal family: the Burgundians and the Armagnacs. With an insane king in charge, France needed a strong regent to lead it. However, instead of uniting, both factions viciously fought each other for control. In August 1415, the civil war got even worse when King Henry V of England invaded. The king sought to renew the Hundred Years’ War with France.
As Henry V began capturing French towns, the Burgundians and Armagnacs continued to fight each other. Charles joined the Armagnacs, and with their backing, became regent in 1418. Shortly after, the prince attempted to make peace with the Duke of Burgundy. Unfortunately for Charles, his efforts would be ruined by his supporters.
On September 10, 1419, the Armagnacs murdered the Duke of Burgundy. The duke had planned on meeting with Charles. When he arrived, Armagnac supporters killed him in front of the prince. In retaliation, the new duke, Philip, allied himself with Henry against Charles. To Charles’ chagrin, the new Anglo-Burgundian alliance helped bolster Henry’s claim to the French throne.
On October 25, 1415, Henry V won a stunning victory against the French at the Battle of Agincourt. As Henry’s victories increased, Charles’ likelihood of becoming king decreased. By May 1420, the English king had enough power to force Charles VI to agree to the Treaty of Troyes. As part of the treaty, the French king disinherited his son in favor of Henry. Henry also married Princess Catherine to seal the agreement and secure his position as heir.
On August 31, 1422, Henry V died from dysentery. In October 1422, the insane Charles VI also died. Despite the death of Henry and Charles’ accession, the Anglo-Burgundian alliance continued. As a result, Charles VII remained uncrowned and an exiled claimant to the throne.
Joan of Arc
During the first several years of Charles VII’s reign, he struggled with gaining necessary funds, failed at reconciling with the Duke of Burgundy, and was unable to break the Anglo-Burgundian alliance. To make matters worse, England continued to gain territory. Distressed at his failures, the king seriously considered submitting to the English. However, Charles’ confidence would be restored after a meeting with Joan of Arc.
Originally a peasant girl from Lorraine, Joan of Arc had received a vision from God in May 1428. God instructed Joan to help Charles VII expel the English from France. Although uncertain, Joan accepted her mission and sought out the king. In February 1429, she met with Charles. Impressed by her, the king provided Joan with military aid and allowed her to fight.
Joan of Arc had an inspirational effect on French troops. As a result, the French began to experience military success. After many victories against the English, Joan escorted Charles VII to Reims to be crowned. On July 17, 1429, Charles officially became the King of France. Shortly after, Joan became known as the Savior of France.
Reconciliation with Burgundy
On May 23, 1430, Joan of Arc was captured by Philip, Duke of Burgundy. Since Charles VII wanted peace with Philip, the king made no effort to rescue her. Due to this, Joan burned to death in May 1431. On September 20, 1435, Charles and Philip concluded the Peace of Arras. In exchange for the king condemning his father’s murder, the duke recognized Charles as his monarch. The king had finally broken the powerful Anglo-Burgundian alliance.
The War Ends
In 1437, Charles VII arrived in Paris for the first time in years. Upon his return, the king began reforming the French army. Recruitment became more efficient while discipline improved. In 1441, Charles resumed the war with England. During 1444, the English made a truce with France. In exchange for peace, King Henry VI would marry Charles’ niece, Margaret of Anjou. Despite this agreement, fighting resumed in August 1449.
Unlike prior times in the war, France dominated the English. In contrast to Henry V, his son, Henry VI of England, proved to be an incompetent leader. With the Wars of the Roses developing in England, the English were unable to focus on France entirely. Because of this, Charles VII faced less resistance in taking Normandy and Guyenne.
By 1453, the war was coming to an end. England had lost all of its French lands, except for the port city of Calais. Although England had been defeated, a peace treaty was never signed. Despite the odds, Charles VII had emerged victorious. He could now focus on rebuilding his kingdom.
Charles VII spent the remainder of his reign engaged in conflict with his heir, the future Louis XI. Both men often disagreed with each other. A cunning and ruthless prince, Louis tended to intrigue behind the king’s back. Charles eventually reached a breaking point with his son after Louis refused to submit to him. To escape his father’s wrath, Louis fled to Burgundy for protection. The two men remained estranged until Charles’s death on July 22, 1461.
Charles VII proved to be one of France’s most important kings. Inheriting a chaotic kingdom, Charles managed to rise from an exiled claimant to a crowned king. By creating peace with Burgundy, Charles gradually turned the tide of war in France’s favor. In 1453, the king finally emerged victorious against the English. With his kingdom secured, Charles focused on rebuilding it for his successors.
Knecht, R. J. (2008). The Valois: Kings of France, 1328-1589. London: Hambledon and London.
Lanhers, Y. (2020, February 18). Charles VII. Retrieved May 07, 2020, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Charles-VII-king-of-France