Fictional accounts

Charles d’Orléans’s life has attracted many writers of fantasy, some who knew they were writing “story” and some who did not. One of the most well-known fictional accounts is by Helle Haasse, who wrote Het woud der verwachting: Het leven van Charles van Orléans in Dutch in 1949 (the title alludes to one of the duke’s rondels: En la forêt de longue attente ). It was translated into English in 1989 (In a Dark Wood Wandering: A Novel of the Middle Ages, a title, unfortunately, that alludes to Dante’s Comedy, not to the duke’s poetry).

Norma Lorre Goodrich doesn’t exactly say whether she thinks she is writing fiction or fact, but Charles Duke of Orleans: A Literary Biography (1963) contains more of the former than the latter.

Much more fun is Margaret Frazer’s The Maiden’s Tale, A Sister Frevisse Medieval Mystery (1998). Finding a historical figure in the midst of a good story is always a delight, and Frazer does the real historical work it takes to get the picture right, which makes the account a real treat.

There have been many accounts of the duke’s life in French beginning in the nineteenth century. Emmanuel Bourassin is the author of Charles d’Orléans, prince des poètes (1999). The publisher reproduced on the cover Ange Francois’ romantic image of the duke, and indeed a quick leaf through the pages reveals copious quotation of the duke’s poetry, used to illuminate his biography, a pernicious habit that lives on into the present day.

Another writer who uses the duke’s poetry to explain his life is Enid McLeod, who published Charles of Orleans, Prince and Poet in 1969. Unfortunately, she set out to write a scholarly biography (and uses plenty of archival documents to inform her study), but she cannot resist using the poems as if they were historical documents, and the result is an account that should be used with extreme caution.

For the standard biography of the duke’s life, see Pierre Champion’s Vie de Charles d’Orléans (1394–1465). Published in 1911, it is far from perfect, but it is a monumental piece of work. It is still being mined by scholars of in a number of disciplines, and it will not be superseded soon.