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The Age of King Charles V

The Age of King Charles VThe Bibliothèque Nationale de France presents: The Age of King Charles V. "Charles V, born in 1338, king of France from 1364 to 1380, was the eldest son of John II the Good, who reigned from 1350 to 1364. A descendant of the royal Capetian dynasty (named for its founder, Hugh Capet), Charles was the third sovereign to issue from the Capetian branch of the Valois, successors to the direct-line Capetians who died out with Charles IV the Fair in 1328. (The problem of succession that arose on that occasion was a principal cause of the long conflict between France and England known as the Hundred Years' War). As duke of Normandy and dauphin of Viennois from 1350 to 1364, the young prince lived through the particularly trying and politically troubled period that marked the onset of the Hundred Years' War. In its first phase, French troops suffered two very serious setbacks : at Crécy (1346) and more especially at Poitiers (1356), where King John the Good was taken captive by the English . Save for a brief interval on the Continent from 1361 to 1364, the French king spent his final years in England and died while still the hostage of King Edward III in 1364. Though young and inexperienced, Charles as dauphin had to deal with the consequences of France's defeat and the ensuing crisis of the monarchy in particularly daunting circumstances, including a rebellion in Paris led by Etienne Marcel , provost of merchants ; peasant uprisings (" Jacqueries " ) in the countryside ; and the endless plotting of his cousin, Charles the Bad, king of Navarre . Thus when he ascended the throne in 1364 , Charles V was already a precociously mature ruler. He managed the conflict with Edward III prudently, preferring to temporize and to alternate legal proceedings with a war of attrition which he waged quite successfully. He entrusted his armies to the Breton nobleman Bertrand du Guesclin, victor of the battle of Cocherel (1364), who rid the kingdom of the mercenary Free Companies by marching them off to make war on Spain. On the diplomatic front in Europe, Charles cemented alliances with Milan, which was ruled by his brother-in-law Gian Galeazzo Visconti. His kinship with the Luxemburg family (through his mother, Bona of Luxemburg, he was the nephew of Emperor Charles IV) secured him the benevolent neutrality of the Empire. The closing years of Charles V's reign were dulled by the return to Rome in 1378 of the papacy which, when it move to Avignon in 1309, touched off the Great Western Schism, a momentous event that split European Christendom asunder until well into the fifteenth century.

In the cultural sphere, the reign of Charles V marked a high point. Sweeping urban and architectural projects were undertaken, including major improvements in the defensive system of Paris such as the new wall surrounding the city, the completion of Vincennes, the construction of the Bastille, and the remodeling of the Louvre and the hôtel Saint-Pol. The sculptor Andre Beauneveu was invited to court and commissioned to design the royal tombs at Saint-Denis. Charles V was an especially active patron of literature. He had texts of historical interest such as the Grandes Chroniques de France (Great Chronicles of France) continued and brought up to date ; moreover, in the interest of his subjects the sovereign, known also as Charles the Wise, instituted a sagacious policy of commissioning French translations of important texts in a variety of intellectual fields : theology, philosophy and political philosophy, morals, history, natural sciences, astronomy and astrology (the latter was regarded as a useful guide in political matters), history, and geography. To carry out the translation project, he called upon a group of intellectuals of the first rank (Raoul de Presles and Nicolas Oresme most notably, but also Jean Corbechon, translator of the encyclopedist Bartholomaeus Anglicus). At the same time, Charles amassed an unprecedented book collection, with volumes housed in all the royal residences but installed mainly at the Louvre on three floors of the northwest tower, called the Falconry. The first inventory of the library at the Louvre was drawn up in 1373 by Gilles Malet, keeper of the king's books. A verification of this inventory in 1380 described 910 volumes. Another portion of the royal library, made up of the most luxurious volumes, formed a kind of memorial to the dynasty's glory and was kept within the thick walls of the keep at Vincennes along with other precious art objects from the king's collections. A detailed inventory was prepared in 1380, the year of the king's death. Some one hundred manuscripts from Charles V's various libraries have survived : two of the most precious are the Grandes Chroniques de France and the Catalan Atlas. Royal patronage stimulated manuscript painting in Paris, where the art flourished anew at the close of the fourteenth century. Charles V's opulent tastes were imitated by his brothers, Louis of Anjou, Philip the Bold, duke of Burgundy, and especially John of Berry. And following the royal example, certain great lords also encouraged translations : Gaston Phoebus for example, to whom an Occitan translation of Bartholomew the Englishman's Liber de proprietatibus rerum was dedicated. The court's artistic activity was copied all over Europe ; its influence extended as far as Barcelona, in the Breviary of Martin of Aragon."

 

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