The last and fourteenth king of the Capetian dynasty, he was nicknamed the Fair or Handsome because supposedly he was just that (le Bel in older French). He was born in 1294 and reigned from 1322 to 1328. His first wife was accused of adultery. Would she survive?
To get the big picture, let’s begin with two genealogical tables from the Encyclopedia of Medieval France:
The next three tables explain how Edward I of England and his descendants and Philip V of France and his descendants relate:
Here is Dan Jones’s table from his book the Plantagenets.
Let’s get started with the basic facts and stories.
Charles IV le Bel was the third son of King Philip IV and was born at Creil (Oise) 18 June 1294. He became king after his two older brothers died in quick succession: Louis X in 1316 and Philip V in 1322.
He was crowned at Reims 21 Feb 1322/23. His brother Louis X’s young son John I died in 1316, and his brother Philip V had only daughters. And Salic Law (males only can inherit) would not allow them to succeed.
Charles married (1) Blanche of Artois, but in the last year of his father Philip IV’s reign, he accused her of adultery with one of the two brothers and royal knights of Aulnay, named Philip and Walter. The main initiator and accuser was Isabelle, daughter of Philip IV and their sister, and wife of Edward II of England. On an earlier visit to France, she gave her sisters-in-law gloves. On a subsequent visit, she saw the two knights with the gloves.
Under torture one of the brothers confessed that the affair had gone on for three years. Historian Bradbury: “The brothers were judged guilty, castrated, flayed alive, and burned to death in the Place du Martrai in Pontoise. Their private parts were thrown to dogs and their bodies dragged through the streets and left to hang on a public gibbet.”
Blanche was kept in prison at Chateau-Gaillard for the years, during which time the marriage was annulled in 1322. She took the vows of a nun and died at Maubuisson Abbey on 29 Aug 1326.
Why did Isabelle initiate the accusations that ended so devastatingly for the royal household? Maybe she really believed her observations about the gloves. After her father died in 1314, why keep the charges alive? Maybe she was embittered that she did not receive more power at home; her father had kept in contact with her while she was away in England. Also, she had a very unhappy marriage with Edward, who was having a homosexual affair with a lord named Gaveston.
(2) Charles married at Provins (Seine-sur-Marne) on 21 Sep 1322 Marie of Luxembourg, who bore a son who died in infancy, and then she died in 1324.
Then he married (3) Jeanne or Joan of Evreux. She was born in 1310. They had three daughters: Jeanne (Joan), Marie, and Blanche, wife of Philip, duke of Orléans, Count of Valois.
His achievements were not stellar with the people: He sold offices, manipulated the coinage and pursued Christian debtors who owed money to Jews, whose account book Charles had confiscated. When the Jews returned in 1315, he imposed fines on them. He accused them of plotting with lepers to poison wells in France. In 1322 large numbers of Jews emigrated.
His sister Isabelle aided in the overthrow of her husband Edward II of England in 1327.
He was Count of Guyenne and the war between the French and English resulted in a payment of 50,000 marks (huge) to the French crown, an English loss.
Charles died on 1 Feb 1328, while his wife Jeanne was pregnant. If it was a son, he would inherit the throne. But he died without a male heir and the magnates (large landowners) rallied to his cousin Philip of Valois, who would start the new Valois dynasty as Philip VI.
Joan died 4 Mar 1371, and she and her husband were buried in the Abbey of Saint Denis.
Robert I (r. 922-23) (House of Robertines)
Hugh the Great (r. 938-956)
Hugh Capet (r. 987-996)
Robert II (r. 996-1031)
Henri I (r. 1031-60)
Philip I (r. 1059 or 1060-1108)
Louis VI (r. 1108-1037)
Louis VII (r. 1137-1180)
Philip II Augustus (r. 1180-1223)
Louis VIII (r. 1223-1226)
Louis IX, the Saintly King (r. 1226-1270)
Philip III (r. 1270-1285)
Philip IV (r. 1285-1314)
Louis X (r. 1314-1316)
Philip V (r. 1316-1322)
Charles IV (r 1322-1328) (last Capetian king)
Pippin, Great-Grandson of Charlemagne (transition to the House of Vermandois)
HOUSE OF VERMANDOIS
Jim Bradbury, The Capetians: Kings of France (Continuum, 2007).
René de la Croix (duc de Castries), Kings and Queens of France, trans. Anne Dobell (Knopf, 1979.
Jean Favier, Philippe le Bel (Fayard, 1978). There is a second edition, but this edition is good enough for this post.
Jones, Dan. The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England. Rev. ed. (Penguin, 2014).
Medieval France: An Encyclopedia, eds. William W. Kibler and Grover A. Zinn (New York: Garland, 1995).
Michael Prestwich, Edward I, new edition, Yale English Monarchs (Yale UP: 1997).
Douglas Richardson, Royal Ancestry: A Study in Colonial and Medieval Families, 5 volumes (Salt Lake: Published Privately, 2013).
Joseph R. Strayer, The Reign of Philip the Fair (Princeton UP, 1980).