Charles IV of France

Charles IV of France
Charles the Fair
King of France
Reign 3 January 1322 – 1 February 1328
Coronation 21 February 1322
Predecessor Philip V
Successor Philip VI
King of Navarre
Reign 3 January 1322 – 1 February 1328
Predecessor Philip II
Successor Joan II
Spouse Blanche of Burgundy
Marie of Luxembourg
Jeanne d'Évreux
Blanche, Duchess of Orléans
House House of Capet
Father Philip IV of France
Mother Joan I of Navarre
Born 18/19 June 1294
Clermont, Oise, France
Died 1 February 1328 (aged 33)
Vincennes, France
Burial Saint Denis Basilica

Charles IV, known as the Fair (18/19 June 1294 – 1 February 1328), was the King of France and of Navarre (as Charles I) and Count of Champagne from 1322 to his death: he was the last French king of the senior Capetian lineage.


Personality and marriage

Marriage of Charles IV and Marie of Luxembourg, by Jean Fouquet.

Charles IV was the third son of Philip IV; like his father, Charles was known as "the fair" or "the handsome".[1] By virtue of his mother, Joan I of Navarre's, birthright, Charles claimed the title Charles I, King of Navarre. From 1314 to his accession to the throne, he held the title of Count of La Marche, and was crowned King of France in 1322 at the cathedral in Reims. Unlike either Philip IV or Philip V, Charles is usually felt to have been a relatively conservative, "straight laced"[2] king – he was "inclined to forms and stiff-necked in defence of his prerogatives",[3] but disinclined either to manipulate them to his own ends or achieve wider reform.[3]

Charles married his first wife, Blanche of Burgundy, the daughter of Otto IV, Count of Burgundy in 1308, but Blanche was caught up in the Tour de Nesle scandals of 1314 and imprisoned.[4] After Charles assumed the throne he refused to release Blanche, their marriage was annulled and Blanche retreated to a nunnery.[4] His second wife, Marie of Luxembourg, the daughter of Henry VII, the Holy Roman Emperor, died following a premature birth.[5]

Charles married again in 1325, this time to Jeanne d'Évreux: Jeanne was his first cousin, and the marriage required approval from Pope John XXII. Jeanne was crowned queen the following year, in one of the better recorded French coronation ceremonies.[6] The ceremony represented a combination of a political statement, social event and an "expensive fashion statement";[7] the cost of food, furs, velvets and jewellery for Charles' event in 1326 was so expensive that negotiations over the cost were still ongoing in 1329.[7] The coronation also saw the first appearance of the latterly famous medieval cook, Guillaume Tirel, then only a junior servant.[7]

Charles relied heavily during the first half of his reign on his uncle, Charles of Valois, for advice and to undertake key military tasks.[1] Charles of Valois was a powerful magnate in his own right, a key advisor to Louis X,[8] and had made a bid for the regency in 1316, initially championing Princess Joan, before finally switching sides and backing Philip V.[9] Charles of Valois would have been aware that if Charles died without male heirs, he and his male heirs would have a good claim to the crown.[1]

Domestic policy

A Charles IV tournois coin; Charles manipulated the French coinage during his reign, creating some unpopularity.

Charles came to power following a troublesome two years in the south of France, where local nobles had resisted his elder brother Philip V's plans for fiscal reform, and where his brother had fallen fatally ill during his progress of the region.[10] Charles undertook rapid steps to assert his own control, executing the Count of L'Isle-Jourdain, a troublesome southern noble, and making his own royal progress.[1] Charles, a relatively well educated king, also founded a famous library at Fontainebleau.[11]

During his six-year reign Charles' administration became increasingly unpopular.[1] He manipulated the coinage to his own benefit, sold offices[1] and confiscated estates from enemies or those he disliked. He was also closely involved in Jewish issues during the period. Charles' father, Philip IV, had confiscated the estates of numerous Jews in 1306, and Charles took vigorous, but unpopular, steps to call in Christian debts to these accounts.[1] Following the "leper scare" of 1321, numerous Jews had been fined for their alleged involvement in this conspiracy to poison wells across France through local lepers, and Charles worked hard to execute these fines.[1] Finally, Charles at least acquiesced, or at worst actively ordered, in the expulsion of many Jews from France following the leper scare.[12]

Foreign policy

Charles and England

A near-contemporary miniature showing the future Edward III giving homage to Charles IV under the guidance of Edward's mother, and Charles' sister, Isabella, in 1325.[13]

Charles inherited a long running period of tension between England and France. Edward II of England, as Duke of Aquitaine, owed homage to the King of France;[14] Edward had successfully avoided paying homage under Charles' older brother Louis X, and had only paid homage to Philip V under great pressure. Once Charles took up the throne, Edward attempted to avoid doing so again.[14] One of the elements in the disputes was the border province of Agenais, part of Gascony and in turn part of Aquitaine. Tensions rose in November 1323 after the construction of a bastide, a type of fortified town, in Saint-Sardos, part of the Agenais, by a French vassal.[15] Gascon forces destroyed the bastide, and in turn Charles attacked the English-held Montpezat: the assault was unsuccessful,[16] but in the subsequent War of Saint-Sardos Charles' trusted uncle and advisor, Charles of Valois, successfully wrestled Aquitaine from English control;[17] by 1324, Charles had declared Edward's lands forfeit and had occupied the whole of Aquitaine apart from the coastal areas.[18]

Charles's sister Isabella was married to King Edward II of England and was sent to France in 1325, with the official mission of negotiating peace with her brother; unofficially, some chroniclers suggested that she was also evading Hugh Despenser the elder and Hugh the younger, her political enemies in England.[19] Charles had sent a message through Pope John XXII to Edward, suggesting that he was willing to reverse the forfeiture of the lands if Edward ceded the Agenais and paid homage for the rest of the lands:[3] the Pope in turn had proposed Isabella as an ambassador. Charles met with Isabella, and was said to have welcomed her to France; Isabella was joined by the young Prince Edward later that year, who paid homage to Charles on his father's behalf as a peace gesture.[19] Despite this, Charles refused to return the lands in Aquitaine to the English king, resulting in a provisional agreement under which Edward resumed administration of the remaining English territories in early 1326 whilst France continued to occupy the rest.[20]

Meanwhile, Isabella had entered into a relationship with the exiled English nobleman Roger Mortimer; she refused to return to England and instead travelled to Hainaut where she betrothed Prince Edward to Philippa, the daughter of the local Count.[21] She then used this money, plus an earlier loan from Charles,[6] to raise a mercenary army and invade England, deposing her husband Edward II,[21] who was then murdered in 1327. Under Isabella's instruction, Edward III agreed a peace treaty with Charles: Aquitaine would be returned to Edward, with Charles receiving 50,000 livres, the territories of Limousin, Quercy, the Agenais and Périgord, and the Bazas country, leaving the young Edward with a much reduced territory.[22]

The revolt in Flanders

Charles faced fresh problems in Flanders. The Count of Flanders ruled an "immensely wealthy state"[14] which had traditionally led an autonomous existence on the edge of the French state; the French king was generally regarded as having suzerainty over Flanders, but under former monarchs the relationship had become strained.[14] Philip V had avoided a military solution to the Flanders problem, instead enabling the succession of Louis as count – Louis was, to a great extent, already under French influence, having been brought up at the French court.[23] Over time, however, Louis' clear French loyalties and lack of political links within Flanders itself began to erode his position within the county itself.[24] In 1323 a peasant revolt led by Nicolaas Zannekin broke out, threatening the position of Louis and finally imprisoning him in Bruges.[24]

At first, Charles was relatively unconcerned as in many ways this could play into the hands of the French crown by weakening the position of the Count of Flanders over the long term.[25] By 1325, however, the situation was becoming worse and Charles' stance shifted. Not only did the uprising mean that Louis could not pay Charles some of the monies due to him under previous treaties, the scale of the rebellion represented a wider threat to the feudal order in France itself and to some it might appear that Charles was actually unable, rather than unwilling, to intervene to protect his vassal.[26] Accordingly, France intervened.

In November 1325 Charles declared the rebels guilty of high treason and ordered them excommunicated, mobilising an army at the same time.[27] Louis pardoned the rebels and was then released, but once safely back in Paris he shifted his position and promised Charles not to agree any separate peace treaty.[28] Despite having massed forces along the border, Charles' military attentions were distracted by the problems in Gascony and he eventually chose to settle the rebellion peacefully through the Peace of Arques in 1326, in which Louis was only indirectly involved.[29]

Charles and the Holy Roman Empire

Charles gave his name to his nephew, Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor, shown here giving homage to his patron.

Charles was also responsible for shaping the life of his nephew Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor. Charles IV, originally named Wenzel, came to the French court in 1323, aged seven, where he was taken under the patronage of the French king. Charles gave his nephew a particularly advanced education by the standards of the day, arranged for his marriage to Blanche of Valois and also bestowed his name upon Wenzel.[30]

Charles and the Crusades

The crusades remained a popular cause in France during Charles' reign. His father, Philip IV, had committed France to a fresh crusade and his brother, Philip V, had brought plans for a fresh invasion close to execution in 1320, their cancellation resulting in the informal and chaotic Shepherds' Crusade.[31]

Charles entrusted Charles of Valois to negotiate with Pope John XXII over a fresh crusade.[1] Charles, a keen crusader who took the cross in 1323, had a history of diplomatic intrigue in the Levant – he had attempted to become the Byzantine emperor earlier in his career.[32] The negotiations floundered, however, over the Pope's concerns over whether Charles IV would actually use any monies raised for a crusade for actual crusading, or whether they would be frittered away on the more general activities of the French crown.[32] Charles of Valois's negotiations were also overtaken by the conflict with England over Gascony.

After Charles of Valois' death, Charles became increasingly interested in a French intervention in Byzantium, taking the cross in 1326.[33] Andronicus II responded by sending an envoy to Paris in 1327, proposing peace and discussions on ecclesiastical union – a French envoy sent in return with Pope John's blessing later in the year, however, found Byzantium beset with civil war and negotiations floundered.[33] Charles' own death the next year prevented any French intervention in Byzantium.[34]

Death and legacy

Charles IV died at Vincennes, Val-de-Marne, and is interred with his third wife, Jeanne d'Évreux in Saint Denis Basilica.

As with his brothers before him, Charles had died without a male heir, thus ending the direct line of the Capetian dynasty. Twelve years earlier, a rule against succession by females, arguably derived from the Salic Law, had been recognised – with some dissent – as controlling succession to the French throne.[9] The application of this rule barred Charles's one-year-old daughter Mary by his third wife, Jeanne d'Évreux, from succeeding as the monarch, but Jeanne was also pregnant at the time of Charles' death. Since she might have given birth to a son, a regency was set up under the heir presumptive Philip of Valois, Charles of Valois's son and a member of the House of Valois, the next most senior branch of the Capetian dynasty.[35]

After two months, Jeanne gave birth to another daughter, Blanche, and thus Philip became King and in May was consecrated and crowned Philip VI. Edward III of England argued, however, that although the Salic law should forbid inheritance by a woman, it did not forbid inheritance through a female line – under this argument, Edward should have inherited the throne, and formed the basis of his claim during the ensuing Hundred Years War (1337–1453).[35]


French Monarchy
Direct Capetians
Arms of the Kingdom of France (Ancien).svg
Philip IV
   Louis X
   Philip V
   Isabella, Queen of England
   Charles IV
    Joan II of Navarre
    John I
    Joan III, Countess and Duchess of Burgundy
    Margaret I, Countess of Burgundy
    Edward III of England
    Mary of France
    Blanche of France, Duchess of Orléans
Charles IV

In 1307, Charles married Blanche of Burgundy, daughter of Otto IV, Count of Burgundy The marriage was dissolved in 1322, they had two children:

  • Philip (1314–22)
  • Joan (1315–20)

In 1322 he married Marie of Luxembourg, daughter of Henry VII, Holy Roman Emperor they had one child:

  • Louis (1324)

On 5 July 1325 he married Jeanne d'Évreux (1310–71)



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Kibler, p.201.
  2. ^ Sumption, p.101.
  3. ^ a b c Sumption, p.97.
  4. ^ a b Echols and Williams, p.87.
  5. ^ Echols and Williams, p.328.
  6. ^ a b Lord, p.47.
  7. ^ a b c Lord, p.48.
  8. ^ Kibler, p.210.
  9. ^ a b Wagner, p.250.
  10. ^ Nirenberg, p.55.
  11. ^ Hassall, p.99.
  12. ^ Kibler, p.201; Nirenberg, p.67.
  13. ^ Ainsworth, p.3.
  14. ^ a b c d Holmes, p.16.
  15. ^ Neillands, p.30.
  16. ^ Neillands, p.31.
  17. ^ Holmes, p.16; Kibler, p.201.
  18. ^ Kibler, p.314.
  19. ^ a b Lord, p.46.
  20. ^ Kibler, p.314; Sumption, p.98.
  21. ^ a b Kibler, p.477.
  22. ^ Neillands, p.32.
  23. ^ TeBrake, p.47.
  24. ^ a b TeBrake, p.50.
  25. ^ TeBrake, p.93.
  26. ^ TeBrake, p.94.
  27. ^ TeBrake, p.95.
  28. ^ TeBrake, p.97.
  29. ^ TeBrake, p.98.
  30. ^ Vauchez, Dobson and Lapidge, p.288.
  31. ^ Housley, p.22.
  32. ^ a b Kibler, p.206.
  33. ^ a b Geanakoplos, p.48.
  34. ^ Geanakoplos, p.49.
  35. ^ a b Sumption, p.106.


  • Ainsworth, Peter. Representing Royalty: Kings, Queens and Captains in Some Early Fifteenth Century Manuscripts of Froissart's Chroniques. in Kooper (ed) 2006.
  • Echols, Anne and Marty Williams. (1992) An Annotated Index of Medieval Women. Princeton: Markus Wiener.
  • Geanakoplos, Deno. (1975) Byzantium and the Crusades: 1261–1354. in Hazard (ed) 1975.
  • Given-Wilson, Chris and Nigel Saul (eds). (2002) Fourteenth Century England, Volume 2. Woodridge: Boydell Press.
  • Hassall, Arthur. (2009) France Mediaeval and Modern: a History. BiblioBazaar.
  • Hazard, Harry H. (ed), (1975) A History of the Crusades: The Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries, Volume 3. Wisconsin: Wisconsin Press.
  • Holmes, George. (2000) Europe, Hierarchy and Revolt, 1320–1450, 2nd edition. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Housley, Norman. (1986) The Avignon papacy and the Crusades, 1305–1378. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Kibler, William W. (1995) Medieval France: an Encyclopedia. London: Routledge.
  • Kooper, Erik (ed). (2006) The Medieval Chronicle IV. Amsterdam: Rodopi.
  • Lord, Carla. (2002) Queen Isabella at the Court of France. in Given-Wilson and Saul (eds) (2002).
  • Neillands, Robin. (2001) The Hundred Years War. London: Routledge.
  • Nirenberg, David. (1996) Communities of Violence: Persecution of Minorities in the Middle Ages. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Sumption, Jonathan. (1999) The Hundred Years War: Trial by Battle. Philadelphia: Pennsylvania University Press.
  • TeBrake, William Henry. (1994) A Plague of Insurrection: Popular Politics and Peasant Revolt in Flanders, 1323–1328. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
  • Vauchez, André, Richard Barrie Dobson and Michael Lapidge. (2000) Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages, Volume 1. Cambridge: James Clark.
  • Wagner, John. A. (2006) Encyclopedia of the Hundred Years War. Westport: Greenwood Press.

Further reading

  • Weir, Alison (2006). Queen Isabella: Treachery, Adultery, and Murder in Medieval England. Ballantine Books. ISBN 978-0-345-45320-4. 
Charles IV of France
Born: c. 1294 Died: 1 February 1328
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Philip the Tall
King of France
3 January 1322 – 1 February 1328
Title next held by
Philip the Fortunate
King of Navarre
3 January 1322 – 1 February 1328
Succeeded by
Joan II
Count of Champagne
3 January 1322 – 1 February 1328
Merged in the crown
Title last held by
Guy of Lusignan
Count of La Marche
1314 – 3 January 1322
Title next held by
John the Good

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