Charles was born at the Château de Vincennes outside of Paris, the son of Prince John and Princess Bonne of France. He was educated at court with other boys of his age with whom he would remain close throughout his life: his uncle Philip, Duke of Orléans (only two years older than himself), his three brothers Louis, John, and Philip, Louis of Bourbon, Edward and Robert of Bar, Godfrey of Brabant, Louis I, Count of Étampes, Louis of Évreux, brother of Charles the Bad, John and Charles of Artois, Charles of Alençon, and Philip of Rouvres.
The future king was highly intelligent but physically weak, with pale skin and a thin, ill-proportioned body. This made a sharp contrast to his father, who was tall, strong and sandy-haired.
First Dauphin of the French Royal House
Humbert II, Dauphin of Viennois, ruined due to his inability to raise taxes after a crusade in the Middle East, and childless after the death of his only son, decided to sell the Dauphiné, which was a fief of the Holy Roman Empire. Neither the pope nor the emperor wanted to buy and the transaction was concluded with Charles’ grandfather, the reigning King Philip VI.
Treaty of Romans, the Dauphiné of Viennois was to be held by a son of the future king John the Good. So it was Charles, the eldest son of the latter, who became the first Dauphin. At the age of twelve, he was suddenly vested power while in Grenoble (10 December 1349 to March 1350). A few days after his arrival, the people of Grenoble were invited to the Place Notre-Dame, where a platform was erected. Young Charles took his place next to Bishop John of Chissé and received the oath of allegiance of the people. In exchange, he publicly promised to respect the community charter and confirmed the liberties and franchises of Humbert II, which were summed up in a solemn statute before he signed his abdication and granted a last amnesty to all prisoners, except those facing the penalty of death.
On April 8, 1350 at Tain-l'Hermitage, the Dauphin married his cousin Joanna of Bourbon at the age of 12. The prior approval of the pope was obtained for this consanguineous marriage (both were descended from Charles of Valois). The marriage was delayed by the death of his mother Bonne of Luxembourg and his grandmother Joan the Lame, swept away by the plague (he no longer saw them after he left for the Dauphiné). The dauphin himself had been seriously ill from August to December 1349. Gatherings were limited to slow the spread of the plague then raging in Europe, so the marriage took place in private.
The control of Dauphiné was valuable to the Kingdom of France, because it occupied the Rhône Valley, a major trade route between the Mediterranean and northern Europe since ancient times, putting them in direct contact with Avignon, a papal territory and diplomatic center of medieval Europe. Despite his young age, the dauphin applied to be recognized by his subjects, interceding to stop a war raging between two vassal families, and gaining experience that was very useful to him.
Mission in Normandy
Charles was recalled to Paris at the death of his grandfather Philip VI and participated in the coronation of his father John the Good on 26 September 1350 in Reims. The legitimacy of John the Good, and that of the Valois in general, was not unanimous. His father, Philip VI, had lost all credibility with the disasters of Crécy, Calais, the ravages of the plague, and the monetary changes needed to support the royal finances. The royal clan had to cope with opposition from all sides in the kingdom.
The first of these was led by Charles II of Navarre, called "the Bad", whose mother Joan II of Navarre had renounced the crown of France for that of Navarre in 1328. Charles II of Navarre was the eldest of a powerful lineage. Ambitious of attaining the crown of France, he managed to gather around him the malcontents. He was supported by his relatives and allies: the House of Boulogne (and their kin in Auvergne), the barons of Champagne loyal to Joan II of Navarre (heir of Champagne, had it not merged into the crown of France), and by the followers of Robert of Artois, driven from the kingdom by Philip VI. He also had the support of the University of Paris and the northwestern merchants where the cross-Channel trade was vital.
A brilliant orator, and accustomed to a monarchy controlled by the Cortes of Navarre (the equivalent of the States General), Charles the Bad championed the reform of a state considered too arbitrary, leaving no voice to the nobility or the cities (John the Good governed with a circle of favorites and officers sometimes of humble extraction). Unlike his father, Charles V thought that a king must have the approval of his subjects and must listen to their advice. This view allowed him to approach the Norman nobles and the reformists, and thus Charles of Navarre.
The power of Navarre was such that, on 8 January 1354, he murdered with impunity his rival Charles de la Cerda (the king's favourite), and openly avowed this crime. He even obtained, through the Treaty of Mantes, territorial concessions and sovereignty by threatening to make an alliance with the English. But in Avignon, the English and French were negotiating a peace that would prevent Charles of Navarre from counting on the support of Edward III. He therefore concluded a treaty with the English in which the Kingdom of France would be partitioned between them. An English landing was planned for the end of the truce, which would expire on 24 June 1355.
King John ordered the Dauphin in March 1355 to organize the defense of Normandy, which required raising the necessary taxes. The task was difficult because of the growing influence of Charles the Bad, who had acquired a status similar to that of a "Duke" under the Treaty of Mantes. He was likely to ally with Edward III and could at any time open the gateway to Normandy to the English. The Dauphin avoided war by reconciling Navarre with the king, which was sealed with a ceremony at the court on 24 September 1355. Edward III was offended at the latest betrayal of Charles of Navarre, and the promised landing did not occur.
Regency and the uprising of the Third Estate
King John was a poor ruler who alienated his nobles through arbitrary justice and the elevation of associates considered unworthy.Hundred Years' War with England resumed in 1355, with Edward, The Black Prince, leading an English-Gascon army in a violent raid across southwestern France. After checking an English incursion into Normandy, John led an army of about 16,000 men to the south, crossing the Loire river in September 1356 with the goal of outflanking the Prince's 8,000 soldiers at Poitiers. Rejecting advice from one captain to surround and starve the Prince, a tactic Edward feared, John attacked the strong enemy position. In the subsequent Battle of Poitiers (19 September 1356), English archery all but annihilated the French cavalry, and John was captured. Charles led a battalion at Poitiers that withdrew early in the struggle; whether the order came from John (as he later claimed), or whether Charles himself ordered the withdrawal, is unclear.
After a three-year break, the
The outcome of the battle left many embittered with the nobility. Popular opinion accused the nobles of betraying the king, while Charles and his brothers escaped blame — he was received with honor upon his return to Paris. The Dauphin summoned the Estates-General in October to seek money for the defense of the country. Furious at what they saw as poor management, many of those assembled organized into a body led by Étienne Marcel, the Provost of Merchants (a title roughly equivalent to Mayor of Paris today). Marcel demanded the dismissal of seven royal ministers, their replacement by a Council of 28 made up of nobles, clergy and bourgeois, and the release of Charles the Bad, who had been imprisoned by John for the murder of his constable. The Dauphin refused the demands, dismissed the Estates-General, and left Paris.
A contest of wills ensued. In an attempt to raise money, Charles tried to devalue the currency; Marcel ordered strikes, and the Dauphin was forced to cancel his plans and recall the Estates in February 1357. The Third Estate presented the Dauphin with a Grand Ordinance, a list of 61 articles that would have given the Estates-General the right to approve all future taxes, assemble at their own volition, and elect a Council of 36 (with 12 members from each Estate) to advise the king. Charles eventually signed the ordinance, but his dismissed councillors took news of the document to King John, imprisoned in Bordeaux. The King renounced the ordinance before being taken to England by Prince Edward.
Charles made a royal progress through the country that summer, winning support from the provinces, and winning Paris back. Marcel, meanwhile, enlisted Charles the Bad, who asserted that his claim to the throne of France was at least as good as that of King Edward III of England, who had used his claim as the pretext for initiating the Hundred Years' War.
Marcel used the murder of a citizen seeking sanctuary in Paris to make an attack close to the Dauphin. Summoning a group of tradesmen, the Provost marched at the head of an army of 3,000, entered the royal palace, and had the crowd murder two of the Dauphin's marshals before his eyes. Charles, horrified, momentarily pacified the crowd, but sent his family away and left the capital as quickly as he could. Marcel's action destroyed support for the Third Estate among the nobles, and the Provost's subsequent backing of the Jacquerie undermined his support from the towns. He was murdered by a mob on 31 July 1358. Charles was able to recover Paris the following month and later issued a general amnesty for all, except close associates of Marcel.
Treaty of Brétigny
John's capture gave the English the edge in peace negotiations following the Battle of Poitiers. The King signed the Treaty of London in 1359 that ceded most of western France to England and imposed a ruinous ransom of 4 million écus on the country. The Dauphin (backed by his councillors and the Estates General) rejected the treaty, and English King Edward invaded France later that year. Edward reached Reims in December and Paris in March, but Charles forbade his soldiers from direct confrontation with the English, relying on improved municipal fortifications made to Paris by Marcel. He would later rebuild the wall on the Left Bank (Rive gauche), and he built a new wall on the Right Bank (Rive droite) that extended to a new fortification called the Bastille. Edward pillaged and raided the countryside but could not bring the French to a decisive battle, so he eventually agreed to reduce his terms. This non-confrontational strategy would prove extremely beneficial to France during Charles' reign.
The Treaty of Brétigny, signed on 8 May 1360, ceded a third of western France (mostly in Aquitaine and Gascony) to the English and lowered the King's ransom to 3 million écus. King John was released the following October. His second son, Louis of Anjou, took his place as a hostage.
Though his father had regained his freedom, Charles suffered a great personal tragedy at nearly the same time. His three-year-old daughter Joan and infant daughter Bonne died within two months of each other late in 1360; at their double funeral, the Dauphin was said to be "so sorrowful as never before he had been." Charles himself had been severely ill, with his hair and nails falling out; some suggest the symptoms are those of arsenic poisoning.
John proved as ineffective at ruling upon his return to France as he had before his capture. When Louis of Anjou escaped from English custody, John announced he had no choice but to return to captivity himself. He arrived in London in January 1364, became ill, and died the following April.