Charles VI of France was, to put it politely, nuts. At various points he forgot he had a wife and children, nearly murdered his brother, and thought he was made of glass. During that spell, Charles forbade anyone to touch him in case he shattered and had rods sewn into his clothes to protect him. It’s never a good time for the leader of a country to be insane, but this was a particularly bad one. France was embroiled in the Hundred Years War with England.
Charles came to the throne as an eleven year old child. While he was in his minority, the duchies of Burgundy, Anjou and Berry functioned as separate countries with nominal allegiance to the crown. Burgundy’s heir was John the Fearless, so nicknamed during a battle with the Turks in 1396. Burgundy contained Flanders, which was rich from the wool and weaving trade, and had more money than the crown. John was also Charles’ first cousin, so John took the initiative to help his younger cousin by practically running the government. He thought he had it made. Not so.
When Charles came of age at fourteen, he attempted to take over management of the kingdom. However, he was crippled by his first attack of madness. More and more the reins of government were falling to his brother, Louis d’Orleans. Duties and privileges that once went to John were going to Louis. That could not stand.
The two kept uneasy peace with the help of Charles’ queen, Isabeau of Bavaria. The peace held until John’s father died and John became Duke of Burgundy in his own right in 1404. Then things started to get dirty. Rumors started to pop up that Louis and Isabeau were closer than brother and sister-in-law, and that her last child was Louis’ not the king’s. The rumors continued saying this was only to be expected from a man who kept nude portraits of all of his conquests locked in a room. Rumor also accused Louis of making a pass at John’s beautiful wife and when she said no he tried to rape her.
Then Louis raised taxes to arm the garrisons to defend against the English because the Hundred Years War was still going on. People threw back their heads and howled. It took little to convince them Louis was lining his own pockets. More whispers insinuated everyone would be better off under a tried and true war hero. Where could we get one of those? Say…John the Fearless?
Matters came to a head on November 23, 1407. Louis went to dine with the queen at her private residence. His valet came and told him the king had recovered from his latest spell of madness and wished to speak to him. Louis left at once for the palace. This was a lie.
On the way to the palace, Louis and his attendants were attacked by twenty masked men screaming, “Kill him! Kill him!” They attacked Louis and cut his hand he put up to fend off a blow then cleaved his head in twain. The assailants then beat his head until the brains were all over the cobblestones. Ouch.
Someone scooped up the carnage and Louis d’Orleans was buried church of the Celestin with John the Fearless ostentatiously mourning. No one bought it. He was suspect number one. Three days later, he admitted he hired Raoul d’Anquetonville to do the deed and fled Paris. Raoul was then given a handsome payday.
You would think vengeance would rain down on the killer of the king’s beloved brother. Well, you would be wrong. In a move that would make Machiavelli blush, he accused Louis of trying to kill the king by black magic. So really John was the hero here. John’s biographer Richard Vaughan called this “one of the most insolent pieces of political chicanery” in history.
But the king bought it. I mentioned he was crazy, right? A full pardon was issued and John and Louis’ heir were formally reconciled at Chartres Cathedral. Advisers were afraid to charge John would court civil war. However, ten years later Charles’ son would kill John. It’s the circle of life in the game of thrones.
Sources available on request