Charles, duc d’Orléans, Prince and Poet

A Brief Biography, with Chronology

adapted from Fortunes Stabilnes: Charles of Orléans’s English Book of Love, ed. M. Arn, 1995.


Named for his uncle Charles VI, Charles d’Orléans (Charles of Orleans, b. 1394) was a prince of the house of Valois, son of Louis d’Orléans and Valentina Visconti of Milan (cousin-german to Louis, thus herself half French). As a member of the royal house of France, as a vitally important pawn in the Hundred Years War as it was played out by the various French and English factions, each of whom seemed to vie with the other for distinction in greed, bad judgment, and vindictiveness, and as an important poet of the French Middle Ages, Charles has been written about and analyzed from many points of view in order to support many kinds of arguments.[1] I shall provide only a few facts, together with a chronology of the events of his life, with the fullest detail for the period during which Charles was a prisoner in England.[2] His childhood was one of extreme wealth and culture.[3] Surrounded by fabulous luxury, he was exposed to learning and learned people from an early age.[4] His mother was not only intelligent and lettered,[5] but attentive to and supportive of her children (including Louis’s son by Mariette d’Enghien, the wife of one of his officers).[6] Charles spent his early years at a number of Valois castles in the Loire region, where he and his brothers were tutored in Latin by Nicole Garbet, bachelor of theology and secretary to Louis. Though more distant than Valentina, Louis provided his sons with a model of princely ambition, charm, largesse, and cunning. Charles’s early life was thus in some ways a “good preparation” for his future captivity in England: a life lived away from the seat of power, in semi-retirement with his mother and siblings, a life monotone, to use Pierre Champion’s descriptor.[7]

Charles was both orphaned and widowed before his fifteenth birthday: his father was assassinated by the Burgundian faction; his mother died, probably of grief; his wife died in childbirth. It was not unusual for the children of royal households to miss out on what we now call childhood, but Charles’s early years, though lapped in wealth, seem in many ways to have been especially hard. In 1415, at the age of twenty-one, he was captured at the battle of Agincourt. Perhaps he was one of the lucky ones—much of the flower of French chivalry died that day—but Charles himself never felt his fate was in any way fortunate. Pulled from under a heap of bodies on the battlefield, he was taken, together with other noble prisoners, to England, a land he had never seen but to which he had already consigned his younger brother, Jean d’Angoulême, at the age of twelve, as a hostage. Charles spent twenty-five years in captivity, shuttled from one English castle to another.

At the approach of his release in 1440, it was clear that not only the French but also many of the English felt that a horrible injustice had been done to the duke. To hold a nobleman captive for decades, to prevent him from effectively administering his lands and exercising the social, legal, and governmental duties of his own culture, bordered on the inhuman. Charles himself spoke in retrospect of his feelings of despair and his desire for death while in captivity.[8] It is no surprise that when he shook the English dust from his feet he cut off all but a very few contacts with the land of his captivity. In spite of talk in the earlier poetry of his narrator’s retirement to the Castle of No Care, Charles did not withdraw from the world around him on his return to France. He campaigned in Italy, rebuilt his domains, fathered a new family, and, above all, wrote and shared poetry with a wide circle of friends and acquaintances.[9]

While in England, Charles had “missed” many of the momentous events of fifteenth-century French history: the death of Charles VI and the accession of Charles VII, the repeated devastation of the north of France by English armies, the siege of Rouen, the murder of Jean Sans Peur (John the Fearless, the murderer of Louis, Charles’s father), the defense of his own lands by his bastard brother, the heroic count of Dunois, and the entire, if short, career of his great champion, Joan of Arc. He had been excluded from much of the peace process between France and England that he longed so deeply to hasten and nurture. He had not as yet met Philippe le Bon (Philip the Good of Burgundy, son of and successor to his father’s murderer, but a future friend and ally) and Burgundy’s gracious but shrewd wife, Isabelle of Portugal.

Life sometimes seems to imitate art. Just as Charles’s narrator retired from love, at the urging of Age, after the death of his lady, but was later persuaded to take a new lady, so Charles himself mourned the death of his first and second wives, Isabel de France and Bonne d’Armagnac, while captive in England but lived to take a new young wife only weeks after his release from English captivity. They lived together for thirty years, apparently happily;[10] in the last eight years of their marriage Charles fathered three children, one of them the future Louis XII. During his long years in England Charles became anglicisée, according to Champion; he certainly became fluent in the language of his captors.[11]

Charles’s captivity in England is hardly to be equated with imprisonment, even though his movements were limited and his activities observed to some degree.[12] A never-ending stream of goods and servants moved to and fro between the duke and his home, at least in the early years. The captured “property” of Henry V, Charles was a royal “guest” in the households of a number of English noblemen.[13] To be sure, some of his accommodations were more congenial than others, and the ever-present need to raise ransom money for both himself and his brother must have caused him many sleepless nights even in the most pleasant of accommodations.[14] He could never forget for a moment that he was in the hands of his enemies. Nevertheless, in the course of his long captivity he certainly enjoyed many civilized and peaceful days: while at Pontefract he went on outings to the country with his “host,” Robert Waterton, and his family;[15] the earl of Suffolk, Charles’s “host” at Wingfield, was fond of evenings of musical and literary entertainment; some of Charles’s English roundels show clear evidence of having been offered to one or another lady, probably as a compliment in some social setting or other; and Charles took part in lavish entertainments in London on a number of occasions, including the visit of Sigismund, king of the Romans, in 1416.[16]

One of Charles’s guardians stands out from the others as important to his life and work. William de la Pole, earl (later duke) of Suffolk, with whom Charles lodged from 1432 to 1436, played a special role in Charles’s captivity. Suffolk’s life and political career are well documented. He was near Charles’s age (and newly married to Geoffrey Chaucer’s granddaughter Alice) when he requested the custody of the French prisoner in 1432, and the two apparently became friends. He was by all accounts a francophile, sympathetic to the French cause, or, to put it in a more neutral fashion, very interested in making peace between the English and the French. Charles travelled with him to Oxfordshire, where he spent time in and around Ewelme, which came to the earl from the Chaucer family.[17] Charles’s half-brother Jean, count of Dunois had made Suffolk’s acquaintance after the battle of Jargeau, when Suffolk and his brother John were the count’s prisoner (see Chronology); Suffolk was thus acquainted both with Charles’s condition as prisoner and with his family and home. Dunois had earned the earl’s friendship by releasing his brother. The friendship between the the earl and the duke lasted beyond 1440 when Charles returned to France, for Suffolk visited Charles at Blois in 1444.[18]

What kind of man was Charles of Valois, duke of Orleans? Though he was highly thought of in his own time (both as a man and as a poet),[19] scholars who write literary history, after ignoring him for centuries, have often been less than kind to the duke. In the early twentieth century he was seen as refined but ineffectual, weak-willed. and self-centered. His reputation among English readers and even some French scholars was tainted (this is no overstatement) by Robert Louis Stevenson’s condescending essay on his life and works.[20] Unfortunately the editor of Charles’s French poetry and a voluminous writer on both his life and work, Pierre Champion, took his cue from Stevenson.[21] He read the duke’s poetry as a biographie sentimentale and viewed the poet as a kind of Hamlet. He deeply resents the fact that the duke never mentions his champion, Joan of Arc, saying “despit d’un talent charmant et de la bonte reconnue par tous chez l’homme, est vraiment une tare d’une incroyable laideur.”[22] His poetry, too, in an age which cannot easily appreciate obsolete fixed forms, has seemed to some artificial, superficial, and divorced from the realities of life.[23]

It would be possible to counter these negative judgments with positive ones based on historical materials, but a few facts will suffice here. We know, for instance, that Charles was an able administrator and a good politician who worked tirelessly from prison to free his brother, govern his lands, and protect his property, that he was a loyal friend, that he worked for peace between France and England, that he suffered much sorrow in his life (not least because of his long imprisonment), and that he was devout. Charles of Orleans was not a passive prisoner. In comparison with the library of his contemporary Philippe of Burgundy, Charles’s books reveal a serious, reflective turn of mind, one more interested in philosophy, science, and theology than in chronicle and romance.[24] The two works he wrote in Latin demonstrate his seriousness as well as his genuine interest in religion.[25] In addition, we know from his life history that he was well-read in philosophy, medicine, theology, literature (including the classics), and many other subjects,[26] that he had an interest in clocks and other mechanical devices,[27] and that he was a musician. It is evident from his writings as well as his diplomacy that he was always able to see more than one side of a situation and to act as reality dictated when idealism was impracticable.

These facts of Charles’s life are not irrelevant to an understanding of him as a poet. They should, at the very least, help in dissociating the poet from his narrator, the sometimes foolish and ineffectual but devoted lover. Charles did not spend his years in England either mooning over English ladies or idly “wasting his time” writing love lyrics in an attitude of “No Care.” His reputation in his own lifetime as le plus grand des amoureux was based, not on notorious sexual exploits, nor yet on a state of continuous love-longing, but on his poetry and speech as a highly refined form of luf-talking, a discourse that displayed at once his nobility and refinement, his skill as a poet, and his ability to turn the stuff of everyday life into elegant verse.[28]

There was some interplay between life and art in the case of this work, as there is in most if not all works of art, but speculation as to which poem refers to which lady (wife or mistress) and at what period of time remains just that.[29] It is not simply the conventionality of this poetry, however, that militates against the presentation of the narrator’s histoire as autobiography:

One can only wonder at the strength of a poetic tradition which made this prince of the royal blood bewail twenty-five years of captivity in a foreign land almost solely in terms of separation from his mistress, and in a manner so veiled and indirect that it is not even known for certain whether or not the lady in question was an imaginary figure [i.e., France itself], his first wife, Isabelle. . . , his second wife, Bonne. . . , an acquaintance in England, or sometimes the one, sometimes the other, or even an amalgam of all four![30]

As John Burrow has convincingly argued, life may imitate art; the traditional and conventional may as likely be real as fictional.[31] It will not do to deny the “truth” of a narrative or lyric because it does not seem sincere, nor will it to affirm its facticity because it does seem so.[32]

These [French] ballades should be taken as they stand. . . . They are essentially literary in nature . . . . That they are altogether devoid of autobiographical elements is, indeed, unlikely, but the evidence the texts supply is scant and does not enable us to reach beyond surmise. That they have kept their secrets over the centuries is, in a way, a measure of their success, for had he so desired, Charles could easily have been more specific.[33]

Fox might equally well have been speaking of the English poems. Premature efforts to read the facts and feelings of the duke’s captivity out of his poetry, far from giving us a deeper understanding of his work, have simply thrown up pseudo-factual barriers to a real understanding of what he wrote, when he wrote it, and why he wrote it.

Charles crafted poetry as an ivory carver crafts a diptych: perhaps a believer in the religious scene he is carving, perhaps not, the craftsman is thoroughly at home with the vocabulary of his art and devoted to composing and executing an object which is beautiful, intellectually interesting, and sometimes affecting. Charles took his poetry very seriously as a craft and at the same time valued it lightly as only one (self-imposed) task among a hundred others. This also disqualifies him as a writer of straightforward autobiography. Champion saw this when he said of the duke, “Voila le tour d’esprit du maitre, a la fois reel et faux”[34] and “C’est la une des principales difficultes que nous rencontrons pour entendre une oeuvre aussi sincere qu’artificielle, aussi artificielle que sincere.”[35]

Charles’s was both a serious and a playful mind, and he had a sense of humor to match his wit. He loved subtle and complex ideas, techniques, and images. His utterly remarkable lack of self-importance led him to indulge in self-mockery and to play elaborate games with art and reality.[36] All of these traits and tendencies manifest themselves in his love poetry. Poetry, for Charles, was a kind of play, but it was also a serious pursuit, both technically and aesthetically. His primary subject was love—love, that is, of the highly-wrought, artificial, rule-bound sort popular in the poetry (and in the courtly mythology) of his age. This love was his training ground for learning his craft, but his purview broadened over the years to include subjects of all sorts—and, more importantly in regard to his English poems, to include attitudes of all sorts toward that love which had been his first theme. He began writing poetry before his capture by the English, and he was still composing poetry when he died at seventy. That many attitudes toward love would emerge in the course of such a long career is hardly surprising. It is often difficult to discern in his love poetry the degree to which he is being genuinely serious or genuinely playful, or whether in fact he is being both at one and the same time. The latter is often the case.

It is more useful in the context of this edition to consider the kind of poet Charles is. It is possible to state some indisputable facts about him as a poet (in both French and English): He is extremely fond of word play and word patterning and acutely aware of the language he uses; he is deeply responsive to the cadence of language (Charpier speaks more than once of his musicalité).[37] He is daring in his use of imagery and in his use of different registers. He is fond of proverbs and sententious sayings, of the paraphernalia of courtly verse, and of fixed forms. He is more interested in micropoetics than macropoetics (and though he often revises his work in both French and English, he does not do so meticulously). Anything but sentimental or romantic, he is a master of wit; his sense of humor is frequently in evidence, especially in his later poetry (and it sometimes borders on the risque). He is as avant-garde in his imagery and use of language as he is retardataire in his themes and forms. His experiments in English poetry display more than a poet’s attempt to write in a foreign language; the English poems are an experiment in the English manner and in English forms as well.

The failure of critics to see the “play” in his English poetry has resulted in many unappreciative remarks about the duke and his work. Charles’s is a mind that never lapses, a mind darting here and there, taking in information from the outside world and guarding it carefully, acting always in a state of high consciousness, manipulating the world around it. Even when his English poetry fails as poetry, it is often possible to see and appreciate the patterning force in the poet who was wrestling with the English language, attempting to force meaning to march in step with fixed form. The faults in his English poetry are faults caused by lack of skill in a foreign language and lack of time for revision—or perhaps lack of interest in it. Charles is not the confused, helpless narrator, torn by his emotions, paralyzed by his compact with the God of Love, endlessly spinning out his eloquent but dolorous rhetoric because he is powerless to do anything else. It is easy to underestimate Charles as a man and as a poet, and paradoxically it is Charles himself who has made it so easy for us to do so.


NB: for references in the notes, see the bibliography in Fortunes Stabilnes.

1. For a concise biography, see Fox, Lyric Poetry, 1–31, or Purcell, 1–19.

2. The most complete and reliable biography of Charles’s life is Pierre Champion’s, Vie de Charles d’Orleans (1394–1465). I have leaned most heavily on Champion’s work, both his life of the duke and his other valuable publications, with occasional recourse to the work of Enid McLeod, who has treated much of the same material in English (with much unfounded supposition about the poetry). Many hundreds of documents in libraries on both sides of the Channel (especially in London and Paris) have provided the material for each of them. In addition Charles figures in many of the histories (political, martial, and social) of the France and England of the late Middle Ages. Hella S. Haasse wrote a novel in Dutch based on the life of the duke. The first of her many novels, it proved so popular that it has never gone out of print in Holland since its first publication in 1949. The recently published English version is titled, not The Forest of Long Awaiting (La forest de Longue Actente [Dutch: Het woud der verwachting], a phrase taken from the famous opening of Ballade 105, which has no English counterpart), but In a Dark Wood Wandering, in order to call forth Dantean associations.

3. For a succinct account of the fabulous luxury into which Charles was born, including a detailed description of the Hotel St.-Pol (the “townhouse” on the Seine where Charles was born), a description of Valentina’s progress through France to marry Louis, and many other fascinating details, see Graves, 1–57. De Laborde’s documentary account of the dukes of Orléans, of which Charles and his father, Louis, take up three-quarters, names, among others, 60 different doctors and surgeons; 39 painters and illuminators; 8 stained glass artists; 16 scribes; 17 sculptors and stonemasons; 60 architects, masters of the works, and master masons; 113 goldsmiths, enamellers, and engravers; 20 booksellers and binders; 98 minstrels, musicians, and clowns; 19 choristers; 16 embroiderers; and 26 fools and dwarves.

4. In 1401 Charles’s mother gave him and his brother Philippe books illuminated with gold, azure, and vermilion and covered with Cordovan leather; they were seven and four-and-a-half-years old, respectively (De Laborde, no. 5941). For more detail on Charles’s early education, see Champion, Vie, 19–22; McLeod, 21–22.

5. She played the harp, owned a number of books, played at tables, and was very fond of equestrian activities (De Laborde, nos. 5813, 6432, 5773, 5865, 5925; for a list of her books, see Champion, La Librairie, xvi–xvii). She also owned a silver astrolabe (Graves, no. 387, 103). “Valentine est destinee au siecle d’or: chez elle, cette curiosite intellectuelle du XIVe siecle semble se resoudre en une fine comprehension et en un entendement critique. Elle est douee de la forte intelligence et de l’esprit souple de sa race; et elle est tres belle femme” (Graves, 19).

6. Champion, Vie, 23. I have no idea where N. L. Goodrich got the idea that Valentina “repudiated her son Charles on her deathbed” (Themes, 188).

7. “Prince des lis,” 8. His comparatively frequent references to childhood in his poetry (both French and English), a subject that does not spring immediately to mind in relation to love poetry in the courtly mold, may be due to his vivid memories of these years and their stark contrast to what befell him thereafter (see the introductory French allegory, the first dream vision, Roundel 65, etc.).

8. For his own record of his despair, see Champion, “Prince des Lis,” 19, and Vie, 547.

9. Even a cursory look at the Itineraire at the end of Champion’s account of Charles’s life makes this abundantly clear. See also, e.g., McLeod, 326–30.

10. It is worth noting that Marie took an active part in the literary life of the court at Blois. She wrote poetry and collected books. The inventory of her library made in 1487 reveals a select but impressive collection, made no doubt with encouragement from her bibliophile husband (see Champion, La Librairie, 115–16, and his “Liber Amicorum.” “Charles d’Orleans presided over a brilliant and flourishing Puy or Court of Love at Blois after his return from exile: the ancient traditions of poetic debate were fostered there, above all in the ballade and rondeau forms. At banquets minstrels sang, mystery plays were performed, and there was juggling and tableaux-vivants” (Wilkins, One Hundred Ballades, 141 n. 92).

11. “Prince des lis,” 20. Edward Halle (from whom Holinshed derived much of his information) wrote in 1548: Imagin you that a prince of a bloud royal, brought into thraldome, restrained from liberty and liuyng farre from kyn and father, & farther from frendes, would not geue his diligent care to that mocion, by the whiche he might be restored, bothe to his auncient preheminence, possession and seigniory? Yes, yes, you maie be sure, he neither consulted on the matter, nor deferred the aunswere, but therunto gently agreed. What should I saie more? As some writers affirme, foure hundred thousande Crounes were paied for his deliueraunce, although other saie, but thre hundred thousande: and so he was deliuered out of Englande into Fraunce at that tyme, bothe speakyng better Englishe then Frenche, and also swearyng, neuer to beare Armure against the Kyng of Englande.” (fols. 139v–140r)

12. Champion (Vie) provides a great deal of information on this point, as does (perhaps not always so reliably) McLeod. See, e.g., Champion, chap. 8: “La ‘Prison’ Anglaise.” A fellow prisoner, the duke of Bourbon, sent to France for four of his falconers, implying that he was permitted to ride and hunt during his captivity (McLeod, 134).

13. He would hardly have ordered six hundred pipes of wine to be sent to him from France if he were not entertaining as well as being entertained by his hosts (Rymer, 10.263–65). Although Enid McLeod, in her biography of the duke, would have us believe that his need to administer his lands and raise the ransom for both himself and his brother Jean all but drove Charles into poverty, “poverty” in this context is a decidedly relative term.

14. Any reading of Charles’s life will give the lie to the romantic idea that he was passed from “guardian to guardian, one more solicitous of his welfare than the next” (Spence, French Chansons, xiv).

15. See Champion, Vie, 171–72, and Fox, Lyric Poetry, 10–12. Waterton is hardly to be numbered among the “servants and ruffians” with whom Goodrich associates him, nor is there evidence that Charles was held “in an almost solitary confinement” (Themes, 46). On the contrary, the duke had horses brought from France, presumably so that he could travel with his “hosts” when necessary or perhaps as gifts. Waterton, the constable of Pontefract, had his own estate, Methley Hall, six miles away, where Charles was a frequent visitor (see Ellis, 2, where Methley Hall is referred to in a letter from Henry V as “Robertis place”; see also Hall). The parish church at Methley, where Charles would have worshipped, is still standing, and contains a chapel with fine tomb effigies of Waterton and his wife.

16. See Poirion, Le Poete et le prince, 287. On the possible social context for Charles’s verse, see Strohm, esp. 18-19.

17. See “Chronology,” below, and McLeod, 187.

18. The long duration of this apparently quite genuine friendship argues against the insinuation of a number of critics that Charles was involved in some sort of affair with the duchess of Suffolk, for which there is not a shred of evidence.

19. Even Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, his greatest and most vocal enemy, never once underestimated his intellect or his cunning. The chronicler Olivier de la Marche, in referring to a journey to Burgundy with the duke in 1447, termed Charles a mould bon rhetoricien (Champion, Vie, 361). On his reputation as a poet, see Champion, “Du Succes.”

20. “For one who was no great politician, nor (as men go) especially, wise, capable or virtuous . . .,” he begins (Familiar Studies of Men and Books [London, 1905], 164); “his birth—if we are to argue from a man’s parents—was above his merit,” he continues (165); and so on (164–201). This essay follows a highly opinionated biographical sketch and literary appreciation of Francois Villon (“His eyes were indeed sealed with his own filth”), during which he nevertheless concludes that Villon is “the one great writer of his age and country” (158–59). Late in Charles’s life, Villon was a guest at Blois, where he composed a poem on the birth of Charles’s daughter Marie (see Frank).

21. He speaks with approval of Stevenson’s essay repeatedly in “Prince des lis.” Goodrich summarizes the published attitudes of a number of scholars toward Charles as a man and as a poet (Themes, 14–24).

22. Champion, “Prince de lis,” 4–6.

23. “Charles d’Orleans n’est poete ni par la passion, ni meme par l’imagination” (Mornet, 23). “In spite of an occasional sentiment or graceful phrase . . ., the [English] poems tend to become tiresome in their repetition of a few stock themes. . . . Such poetry is something of an anachronism in the second quarter of the fifteenth century” (Baugh, 294). See also Fox, Lyric Poetry, 126.

24. Doutrepont, Inventaire. This inventory is admittedly early; for Richard Vaughan’s description and estimate of Philippe’s library, see his Philip the Good, 156–58, and his Valois Burgundy, 171–73. On the library of Charles’s brother Jean, see Crow, 92–93.

25. Because his library was established by his father and contained many books acquired from his parents, it is useful to consult the much smaller list of books that he brought back to France from England in 1440. This collection of nearly seventy books contains many religious and moral works in addition to works on government, medicine, geometry, and philosophy (Champion, La Librairie, xxv–xxix; Gilbert Ouy, La Librairie des frères captifs: les manuscrits de Charles d’Orléans et Jean d’Angoulême. Texts, Codex & Contexte, 4. Turnhout: Brepols, 2007, 45–52). According to Gilbert Ouy, Thomas Wynchelsey, Master of Theology (d. 1437), who founded the library at Greyfriars, London (and was, perhaps, “le directeur de conscience du prisonnier”), dedicated his Instructorium providi peregrini to the duke (“Un poeme mystique,” 64-69).

26. Jacques Charpier suggests that if he had lived a century later he would have been a humanist, but “il est pour son temps un ‘intellectuel’ aussi complet qu’on pouvait l’etre” (64).

27. Champion, Vie, 654.

28. See Foulet, 378, Green, Poets and Princepleasers, and Stevens.

29. See, for instance, Goodrich’s summary of hypotheses and statement of her own (Themes, chap. 4 and passim), and Champion, “A propos.” Many scholars have fortunately refused to speculate on the “real” identities of the ladies of Charles’s poetic world, but a number of scholars have given rein to their imaginations in providing Charles with feminine companionship during his years in England. Ethel Seaton’s discovery of anagrammatical evidence for Charles’s romantic encounters and other friendships has been generally dismissed by scholars (Studies in Villon, esp. “Charles d’Orleans and Two English Ladies,” 20-35; “Charles d’Orleans and Some French Ladies,” 36–44). Besides Anne Molins (who appears anagrammatically in one of the English poems in Charles’s “autograph” manuscript), scholars have named the duchess of Suffolk or the wife of Robert Waterton (Champion,Vie), and even (in a coy sort of way) the duchess of Burgundy (Isabelle; see van Altena, 81)—in short, any woman known to have come into contact with the duke between 1415 and 1440. Would that such scholarly energy had been put toward investigating the duke’s poetry.

30. Fox, Lyric Poetry, x; see also 152–56).

31. “Autobiographical Poetry.” Much has been written on autobiography and pseudo-autobiography in medieval literature. See, e.g., Gybbon-Monypenny, Zumthor, and the references in Burrow’s article.

32. See Goodrich, Themes, 112–13.

33. Fox, Lyric Poetry, 156.

34. Vie, 647.

35. “Prince des Lis,” 44.

36. He wrote pseudo-autobiography on the one hand, and on the other displayed his poetry in public. One of the most charming details about his early life—a period when very few charming things befell him—concerns his attitude toward poetry. In 1414 he paid “276 liv. 7 s. 6 den. tour.” for 960 pearls to be used to embroider on the sleeves of a robe the words and music of his chanson “Madame je suis plus joyeulx.” Five hundred and sixty- eight of the pearls were used to make the 142 notes, four pearls “en quarre” for each note (De Laborde, entry 6241, 267; this work contains, in spite of its title, an invaluable inventory of the possessions of Charles’s family, including book inventories). On this robe and others like it, see Michel 110–11 (on the conspicuous wealth of his family, see 392–93).

37. Charles d’Orleans, 90; this is a useful little book. Jean Tardieu likens the French rondeaux to “[les] danses de mots” (Charpier, 94).

38. Entries in italics refer to shorter trips, usually known from the existence of dated documents. These “trips” do not represent all of Charles’s travels in England, and the dates are not intended to be inclusive; they serve merely as markers of some of the duke’s movements in England in an attempt to give the lie to the idea that he simply “pined away” for decades in one or another castle, as if in a kind of luxurious solitary confinement. His years in England were often very busy ones, though he certainly suffered from time to time from long periods of inactivity. For a parallel (but not identical) itinerary, see Champion, Vie, 659–87.
Charles was initially held in the Tower of London. John Fox chose as the frontispiece for his Lyric Poetry a reproduction of the beautiful miniature from British Library MS. Royal 16 F ii of Charles as a prisoner in the Tower with London Bridge in the background (also in Champion, Vie, 161).

39. Lucy de Angulo provides a useful map of the places Charles was held (80f.). See H. Armstrong Hall. Information on all Charles’s keepers is available in Rymer, Foedera. More work needs to be done on all of Charles’s movements and acquaintances in England during this period.

40. It is unclear exactly when Charles left Pontefract or whether he lodged with Montgomery, but as Burton was warden of Fotheringay Castle, perhaps he moved at this time (see Champion, Vie, 172; McLeod, 151).

41. De Laborde records the date as 1427 (no. 6437); Champion, as 1428 (Vie, 670).

42. The question of when and how often the two brothers might have seen each other is a matter of dispute. Gilbert Ouy has written very persuasively in favor of the view that they spent a significant amount of time together in England (“Recherches”). Lucy de Angulo has written an extremely romanticized but largely unsubstantiated article elaborating on the findings of Ouy. Enid McLeod took issue with the findings of both. In turn, Cecily Clark (rightly, in my view) takes McLeod to task for a misplaced scepticism of Ouy’s work, as well as for a certain “slackness” (“Some English Perspectives,” 254–55; McLeod cites the duke’s poetry throughout as though it were historical evidence).

43. Apparently no record of Bonne’s death has survived. Some confusion has been caused by the death of her mother, for whom she was named, in 1435.

44. These are all estates belonging to Suffolk (Ewelme and Wallingford via his duchess; see Smith, 112) to which Charles apparently often travelled with Suffolk. For general backgrounds, see Napier.

45. Though Ouy (“Recherches”) has argued that the brothers spent time together and shared books, he makes no attempt to establish when during their captivity this was likely to have happened. It is to be hoped that more work will be done on this question.

46. On the relation of the Stourtons to the Chaucers, see Manly and Rickert (hereafter Manly-Rickert), 614–15. Germaine Dempster suggests that Stourton was a close associate of Thomas Chaucer (407). See Joseph Stevenson, 1:432–33.

47. For a reproduction of this device, with “Karolus,” the form he used in his Latin manuscripts, see Charpier, 209.

48. His brother was a man of a serious turn of mind (Champion calls him l’erudit), as the comments he wrote in the copy of the Canterbury Tales he had made for him during his years in England makes clear (see Crow; Champion, “Liber Amicorum,” 321).



1394 On 24 November Charles is born, the first son (to survive past infancy) of Louis d’Orléans (brother of Charles VI) and Valentina Visconti of Milan, at the royal Hôtel de Saint-Pol in Paris (but grows up largely outside the capital at various residences).
1406 At the age of eleven, Charles marries a sixteen-year-old cousin, Isabelle (daughter of Charles VI and Queen Isabeau of France), widow of Richard II of England.
1407 Louis d’Orléans is assassinated in Paris by the Burgundians under Jean sans Peur (John the Fearless) (23 November).
1408 Valentina dies at Blois at the age of thirty-eight (4 December); Charles comes into his inheritance (and becomes duke of Orléans) at the age of fourteen.
1409 Isabelle bears Charles a daughter, Jeanne, but dies within a few days (13 September). Charles turns fifteen.
1410 Charles allies himself with the Armagnac faction and marries the eleven-year-old Bonne, daughter of Bernard, count of Armagnac, and niece of the duke of Berry (15 August).
1412 Charles sends his twelve-year-old brother, Jean d’Angoulême, to England as a hostage in the custody of the duke of Clarence (14 November).

Beginning of captivity.

1415 Charles, dressed in a suit of Milanese armor and newly knighted, is captured at the battle of Agincourt (25 October) and taken to England. He is nearly twenty-one. November 1415–June 1417, London/Westminster/Windsor
1417 In June Charles is sent to Pontefract (Yorks), in custody of Robert Waterton.
1419 On 7 December Charles is given into the custody of Sir Nicholas Montgomery. 1419, Peterborough (Northants, now Cambs)
1420 Charles’s brother Philip, count of Vertus, dies at the age of 24; his half-brother Jean (later count of Dunois and commonly referred to, by himself and others, as the Bastard of Orleans), the only remaining male sibling in France, is sixteen. The custody of the duke is given to Sir Thomas Burton, warden of Fotheringay Castle (Northants). June, London
1422 Charles is moved to Bolingbroke (Lincs), in custody of Thomas Comberworth. Henry V of England and Charles VI of France both die. In 1427 Joan of Arc, supported by Charles’s valiant and faithful bastard brother, Jean, count of Dunois, takes up the cause of freeing France and the duke of Orleans from the control of the English. In 1429 Henry VI of England is crowned at the age of eight. London: at least once a year, except possibly 1426 17–18 March 1427, Canterbury (Kent) 29 March 1427, Bourne (Lincs) 4 September 1428, Peterborough (Northants, now Cambs)
1429 In December Charles is moved to Ampthill (Beds), in custody of Sir John Cornwall, Lord Fanhope, who also held his brother Jean. William de la Pole, earl of Suffolk (two years Charles’s junior), is a prisoner of Charles’s brother, count of Dunois, for some months after the battle of Jargeau in May 1429. Cornwall’s house in London repeatedly during 1430
1431 Henry VI is crowned king of France in the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris on 16 December. On 29 May Joan of Arc is burned at the stake.
1432 Charles’s daughter Jeanne dies at the age of twenty-three; Charles’s second wife, Bonne, dies at some point between 1430 and 1435.[43] Suffolk requests custody of Charles on 21 July. 17 June, London, December, Dorrington (Lincs)
1433 Charles moves to Wingfield (Suffolk), in the custody of the earl of Suffolk (and his wife Alice Chaucer). He is involved in peace negotiations with France which come to nothing. Wingfield/Ewelme (Oxon)/Wallingford and Donnington (Berks), 12 February 1433, Ewell (Surrey) 27 May 1433, Westminster June 1433, Dover (Kent) 6 August 1433, London (with Suffolk) September 1435, Calais
1436 In May Charles moves to Sterborough (now Starborough, Surrey) near the village of Lingfield, in the custody of Sir Reynold Cobham. In 1437 Charles and his brother Jean meet briefly, perhaps for the first time since 1412. London frequently between 1436 and 1439 13 July 1437 Peterborough (Northants, now Cambs) 28 October 1437 Sheen (Surrey)
1438 In July Charles moves to Stourton (Wilts), in the custody of Sir John Stourton (Sturton). 25–26 May, 16 July 1438, London 28 July 1438, Winchester (Hants) 8 March 1439, London 25 May 1439, London May-October 1439, Calais, Gravelines May–July 1440, London/Westminster
1440 On 28 October Charles is formally released from captivity in a solemn ceremony in Westminster Abbey, from which Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, storms out in a rage. Charles sails for Calais on 5 November, where he is greeted by the duke of Burgundy and his wife, Isabelle of Portugal, of the house of Lancaster, chief author of his release. He subsequently adopts the device XL and 40 to commemorate the year of his release.

Charles’s captivity ends.

1440 Charles, just turned forty-six, marries the fourteen-year-old Marie de Clèves, niece of Isabelle, duchess of Burgundy (27 November).
1445 Charles’s brother, Jean d’Angoulême, is released from English captivity after thirty-three years.
1457 At thirty-two, after seventeen years of marriage, Marie bears Charles a daughter, Marie (later the wife of Pierre, sire de Beaujeu).
1460 Francois Villon, a guest at Blois, writes a poem to celebrate the birth.
1461 Charles VII dies; Louis XI ascends the throne.
1462 Marie bears Charles a son, the future Louis XII, known during his reign as the Father of his People.
1464 Marie bears Charles a daughter, Anne, later to become the Abbess of Fontevrault.
1465 Charles of Orleans dies at the age of seventy (4 January), at Amboise.


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