The king whom Joan of Are caused to be crowned at Reims has been the subject of much contemptuous speech. Nothing is easier than to reproach the monarch who abandoned to her fate the heroine to whom he owed his throne. Not without reason is he condemned for his disorderly life. To this is added ridicule because of his supposed personal appearance, his neglect of his royal functions, his lack of soldierly vigor. All this is not quite just.
Charles was born February 22nd, 1403. His two brothers, elder than he, died young and left no issue, though married. Owing to the unfortunate custom of the time, he was affianced at the age of eleven to a near relative, a child two years younger, Marie of Anjou; and because of his dissolute mother, passed into the family of his future mother-in-law, Yolande, an Arragonese princess, styled Queen of Sicily. He was married in April, 1422. He had won back Languedoc to his allegiance, but after the defeat of Verneuil, his party was terror stricken, and continued to disintegrate in every sense until the coming of Joan of Arc. Many of the princes went over to the English side, others retired to their own principalities as independent rulers; others extorted portions of
the Dauphin's domains. His revenues were robbed; even former friends calumniated him; scarcely one of his own obeyed him. A saying was current, that in France any one might take what he could hold. The Dauphin's house lacked necessaries, as did he and the queen, in matters of food and clothing. Things grew steadily worse. But, according to the testimony of Archbishop Gelu, his friend and counselor, the prince's patience and confidence failed, and he relied much on prayer and alms.
Yolande now negotiated the appointment of Arthur, Duke of Richemont, as Constable. He had inclined to the English side with his brother, the Duke of Brittany; but he loved them little. His rule in the name of the Dauphin was a tyrannical one, and equivalent to the latter's abdication. Richemont appointed Giac, a ruffian, as first chamberlain. Amongst other crimes, Giac had murdered in a manner not to be described his pregnant wife in order to marry a handsome and wealthy widow. The Bishop of Poitiers protested against the robbery of the treasury; and Giac proposed to throw him into the river; but another chief counselor of the Dauphin imprisoned the Bishop, nor could the prince obtain his release until he paid a ransom of a thousand crowns. Personal encounters occurred at the very door of the Dauphin's apartment. At last Richemont took Giac and drowned him. Such crimes in his presence caused the unfortunate prince to utter loud cries of anguish.
The Constable next put Tremoille over the royal household against the royal protest. This traitorous scoundrel continually blocked the enterprises of Joan of Arc; and, in the end, probably betrayed her. He was eighteen years older than the Dauphin, over whom he ruled for six years, until, at last, taken from his bed in the king's castle of Chinon, he was stabbed, though not to death, and hurled from power. A favorite of Jean sans Peur, he married, in cold-blooded calculation, the Countess of Auvergne, widow of a royal prince, and ten years older than himself. He quickly got possession of her towns and fortresses, abandoned her in poverty, and when she died in 1423, his henchmen ravaged Auvergne in the name of the Burgundian cause. Tremoille was believed, with great probability, to have instigated the murder of Giac, in order to marry his widow; which he did five months later. He turned the Dauphin against Richemont, whose promises and administration had failed, and bought off for a large sum taken from the royal treasury the assassins employed by Richemont to kill him. The funds of the Dauphin disappeared rapidly under the hands of Tremoille, while he advanced to the prince sums at an enormous interest. He alienated portions of the royal domain, prevented taxation on his own estates, collected money on all merchandise passing his castles, employed common brigands in order to share their profits, and obtained from the unfortunate
Dauphin letters of amnesty for all his misdeeds. The prince was reduced to misery so, extreme, that he pawned his mirror, after his cincture and helmet, and was in debt to his servants and tradesmen.
Early training and later misfortune had made Charles religious, pious, and moral. There is no serious authority to contradict the proofs of his piety and morality at this early epoch. The flippant historians who say that Charles used to pray for hours and go to confession daily in the midst of his excesses are in opposition with the chroniclers who knew the matter best - Gelu, Duclerc, Brehal, etc. His latest and best historian, de Beaucourt, accepts and sustains this view. The scandalous disorders of the last twenty years of his life had not yet been foreshadowed. Nor would Joan of Arc, who reproached the Duke of Lorraine as a prophetess, have gone to the court stained by the presence of the Sorel concubine. According to Beaucourt, it was only in 1442 or 1443 that Charles began his disorderly course; all his early years are illustrated with good deeds. His faith, piety, and sufferings were the cause of the laudatory titles bestowed on him by Joan of Are, and of her touching loyalty. In her last hour, under the shadow of death in the cemetery of Rouen, the friendless Maid interrupted with virile courage the unworthy preacher who blackened unjustly the fair fame of her "gentle Dauphin."