Burgundians and Armagnacs, 1380-1467 | The Rise of the Nation

The new king, Charles VI (1380-1422), was intermittently insane. During his reign the monarchy was threatened by the disastrous results of the earlier royal policy of assigning provinces called apanages to the male members of the royal family. Such a relative might himself be loyal, but within a generation or two his heirs would be remote enough from the royal family to become its rivals. In 1363 King John II made Burgundy the apanage of his youngest son, Philip. Charles the Wise gave Orleans as an apanage to his younger son, Louis.

During the reign of Charles VI, the dukes of Burgundy and Orleans engaged in a bitter rivalry for influence and power, which was continued by their successors. In 1407 John, who followed his father, Philip, as duke of Burgundy, arranged the assassination of Louis, duke of Orleans. All France was now torn by the factional struggle between the Burgundians and the Orleanists, who were called Armagnacs after their leader, Count Bernard of Armagnac. The Armagnacs commanded the loyalty of much of southern and south western France, while the Burgundians controlled the north and east.

The Burgundians were pro-English and had the support of the upper bourgeoisie in the towns. The careful king of England, Henry V (1413-1422), reopened the war and in 1415 won the battle of Agincourt, where the heavily armored French knights were mired in the mud. The Burgundians took over in Paris, killing partisans of the Armagnacs, whose factions fled south of the Loire River to set up a rival regime. The English took Rouen, the capital of Normandy, in 1419; the Burgundians tried to patch up a truce with the Armagnacs, but John, the duke ofBurgundy, was assassinated, ostensibly to avenge the murder of the duke of Orleans a dozen years earlier.

Next, the unstable Charles VI declared his own son, the dauphin, to be illegitimate. (The title of dauphin and the right to hold the province of Dauphine in southeastern France were reserved for the eldest son of the king.) By the Treaty of Troyes (1420), Charles adopted Henry V of England as his heir and made him his regent during his lifetime. Henry married Charles’s daughter and was allowed to retain the conquests he had made north of the Loire until he should inherit all of France on the death of Charles. Had Henry V lived, it is possible that the entire future of France might have been changed. But in 1422 both Charles VI and Henry V died.

In France the dauphin, excluded from Paris by the Burgundians, ruled at Bourges as King Charles VII (r. 1422-1461) with Armagnac support. When the regent for Henry VI of England prepared to move south against Charles, the mystic Joan of Arc (c. 1412-1431) saved France. The demoralized forces of Charles VII were inspired by the visionary peasant girl from Lorraine who reflected the deep patriotism of the French at a moment when all seemed lost.

Joan told the pitiful dauphin how saints and angels had told her that she must bring him to be crowned at Rheims, traditional coronation place for the kings of France. She was then armed and given a small detachment that drove the English out of Orleans. The king was crowned in 1429, but the next year Joan was taken prisoner by the Burgundians, sold to the English, turned over to the French Inquisition, and burned at the stake for witchcraft and heresy in Rouen in 1431.

Against heavy odds, the French monarchy managed to sustain the impetus provided by the martyred Joan. In 1435 Charles VII and Burgundy concluded a separate peace. Although Charles recovered Paris, for ten years the countryside was ravaged by bands of soldiers; moreover, leagues of nobles, supported by the new dauphin, the future Louis XI, revolted in 1440. Fortunately for the Crown, the Estates General in 1439 granted the king the permanent right to keep a standing army and to levy the taille, a direct tax collected by royal agents.

With these instruments available to him and with loans from the wealthy merchant Jacques Coeur, Charles VII reformed his inadequate military forces. Twenty companies of specialized cavalry were organized under commanders of the king’s personal choice; these companies were assigned to garrison the towns. Professionals supervised the introduction of artillery. The new French force drove the English out of Normandy and Aquitaine (1449-1451), so that only Calais remained in English hands when the Hundred Years’ War finally ended in 1453.

Meantime, Charles had acted against another institution that might have weakened the Crown. In 1438 the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges (a solemn royal pronouncement) laid down the policy known as Gallicanism, claiming for the Gallican (French) church a virtually autonomous position within the Roman Catholic church. It greatly limited papal control over church appointments and revenues in France and asserted the superiority of church councils over popes.

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