Charles IV of France

Last updated
Charles the Fair
Charles4 mini.jpg
Gisant of Charles IV by Jean de Liège, c.1372
King of France
Reign3 January 1322 – 1 February 1328
Coronation 21 February 1322
Predecessor Philip V
Successor Philip VI
King of Navarre
Reign3 January 1322 – 1 February 1328
Predecessor Philip II
Successor Joan II
Born18/19 June 1294
Clermont, Oise, France
Died1 February 1328 (aged 33)
Vincennes, France

Jeanne d'Évreux (m. 1324)
Issue Blanche, Duchess of Orléans
House Capet
Father Philip IV of France
Mother Joan I of Navarre
Religion Roman Catholicism

Charles IV [note 1] (18/19 June 1294 – 1 February 1328), called the Fair (le Bel) in France and the Bald (el Calvo) in Navarre, was last king of the direct line of the House of Capet, King of France and King of Navarre (as Charles I) from 1322 to 1328. Charles was the third son of Philip IV; like his father, he was known as "the fair" or "the handsome". [1] [2]


Beginning in 1323 Charles was confronted with a peasant revolt in Flanders, and in 1324 he made an unsuccessful bid to be elected Holy Roman Emperor. As Duke of Guyenne, King Edward II of England was a vassal of Charles, but he was reluctant to pay homage to another king. In retaliation, Charles conquered the Duchy of Guyenne in a conflict known as the War of Saint-Sardos (1324). In a peace agreement, Edward II accepted to swear allegiance to Charles and to pay a fine. In exchange, Guyenne was returned to Edward but with a much-reduced territory.

When Charles IV died without a male heir, the senior line of the House of Capet, descended from Philip IV, became extinct. He was succeeded in Navarre by his niece Joan II and in France by his paternal first cousin Philip of Valois. However, the dispute on the succession to the French throne between the Valois monarchs descended in male line from Charles's grandfather Philip III of France, and the English monarchs descended from Charles's sister Isabella, was a factor of the Hundred Years' War.

Personality and marriage

By virtue of the birthright of his mother, Joan I of Navarre, 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 Philip IV and Philip V, Charles is reputed to have been a relatively conservative, "strait-laced" king [3] – he was "inclined to forms and stiff-necked in defence of his prerogatives", [4] while disinclined either to manipulate them to his own ends or achieve wider reform. [4]

Marriage of Charles IV and Marie of Luxembourg, by Jean Fouquet Mariage de Charles IV le Bel et de Marie de Luxembourg.jpg
Marriage of Charles IV and Marie of Luxembourg, by Jean Fouquet

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. [5] After Charles assumed the throne he refused to release Blanche, their marriage was annulled, and Blanche retreated to a nunnery. [5] His second wife, Marie of Luxembourg, the daughter of Henry VII, the Holy Roman Emperor, died following a premature birth. [6]

Charles married again in 1325, this time to Jeanne d'Évreux: she was his first cousin, and the marriage required approval from Pope John XXII. Jeanne was crowned queen in 1326, in one of the better recorded French coronation ceremonies. [7] The ceremony represented a combination of a political statement, social event, and an "expensive fashion statement"; [8] the cost of food, furs, velvets, and jewellery for the event was so expensive that negotiations over the cost were still ongoing in 1329. [8] The coronation was also the first appearance of the latterly famous medieval cook, Guillaume Tirel, then only a junior servant. [8]

During the first half of his reign Charles relied heavily 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, [9] and he had made a bid for the regency in 1316, initially championing Louis X's daughter Joan, before finally switching sides and backing Philip V. [10] 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 debased the French coinage during his reign, creating some unpopularity. Charles IV maille blanche.jpg
A Charles IV tournois coin; Charles debased 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. [11] 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. [12]

During his six-year reign Charles' administration became increasingly unpopular. [1] He debased the coinage to his own benefit, sold offices, [1] increased taxation, exacted burdensome duties, and confiscated estates from enemies or those he disliked. [2] 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 1321 leper scare, in which numerous Jews had been fined for their alleged involvement in a 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. [13]

Foreign policy

Charles and England

Charles inherited a long-running period of tension between England and France. Edward II, King of England, as Duke of Aquitaine, owed homage to the King of France, [14] but he 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 payment 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 wrested control of Aquitaine from the English; [17] by 1324, Charles had declared Edward's lands forfeit and had occupied the whole of Aquitaine apart from the coastal areas. [18]

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. Isabela Karel Eda.jpg
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.

Charles's sister Isabella was married to King Edward 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. [20] 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. [4] 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. [20] 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. [21]

Meanwhile, Isabella had entered into a relationship with the exiled English nobleman Roger Mortimer and refused to return to England, instead travelling to Hainaut, where she betrothed Prince Edward to Philippa, the daughter of the local Count. [22] She then used this money, plus an earlier loan from Charles, [7] to raise a mercenary army and invade England, deposing her husband Edward II, [22] who was then murdered in 1327. Under Isabella's instruction, Edward III agreed to 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 county, leaving the young Edward with a much reduced territory. [23]

Revolt in Flanders

Charles faced fresh problems in Flanders. The Count of Flanders ruled an "immensely wealthy state" [14] that 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. [24] Over time, however, Louis' clear French loyalties and lack of political links within Flanders itself began to erode his position within the county itself. [25] In 1323 a peasant revolt led by Nicolaas Zannekin broke out, threatening the position of Louis and finally imprisoning him in Bruges. [25]

Charles was relatively unconcerned at first, since in many ways the revolt could help the French crown by weakening the position of the Count of Flanders over the long term. [26] 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. [27] 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. [28] Louis pardoned the rebels and was then released, but once safely back in Paris he shifted his position and promised Charles not to agree to any separate peace treaty. [29] Despite having amassed 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. [30]

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. Wenceslaus IV Charles V of France Emperor Charles IV.jpg
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 Wenceslaus, 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 renamed him. [31]

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 plans were cancelled, however, leading to the informal and chaotic Shepherds' Crusade. [32]

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. [33] The negotiations floundered, however, over the Pope's concerns 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. [33] Charles of Valois's negotiations were also overtaken by the conflict with England over Gascony.

After the death of Charles of Valois, Charles became increasingly interested in a French intervention in Byzantium, taking the cross in 1326. [34] 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. [34] The death of Charles the next year prevented any French intervention in Byzantium. [35]

Death and legacy

Charles IV died in 1328 at the Château de Vincennes, Val-de-Marne, and is interred with his third wife, Jeanne d'Évreux, in Saint Denis Basilica, with his heart buried at the now-demolished church of the Couvent des Jacobins in Paris.

Like his brothers before him, Charles died without a surviving 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. [10] The application of this rule barred Charles's one-year-old daughter Mary, by 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, son of Charles of Valois and a member of the House of Valois, the next most senior branch of the Capetian dynasty. [36]

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 III, son of Queen Isabella, wife of Edward II and daughter of Philip IV, should have inherited the throne, forming the basis of his claim during the ensuing Hundred Years War (1337–1453). [36]

Family and succession

Charles married three times and fathered six legitimate children. In 1307, he married Blanche of Burgundy, daughter of Otto IV, Count of Burgundy. The marriage was dissolved in 1322. They had two children:

  1. Philip (January 1314 March 1322)
  2. Joan (1315 17 May 1321).

In 1322, Charles married Marie of Luxembourg, daughter of Henry VII, Holy Roman Emperor. They had a son:

  1. Louis (born and died March 1324).

On 5 July 1324, Charles married Jeanne d'Évreux (1310–71). Their children were:

  1. Jeanne (May 1326 January 1327)
  2. Marie (1327 6 October 1341)
  3. Blanche (1 April 1328 8 February 1393).

Thus, five of Charles' six children (including two sons) died young, and only his youngest daughter, Blanche, survived to adulthood. Incidentally, Blanche was born posthumously, two months after Charles died. During those two months, Charles' first cousin, Philip the fortunate, served as regent pending the birth of the child. Once a female child was born, the regent, who was the nearest male heir of the late king, succeeded to the throne and became the first king of France from the House of Valois.

In fiction

Charles is a character in Les Rois maudits (The Accursed Kings), a series of French historical novels by Maurice Druon. He was portrayed by Gilles Béhat  [ fr ] in the 1972 French miniseries adaptation of the series, and by Aymeric Demarigny  [ fr ] in the 2005 adaptation. [37] [38]



  1. In the standard numbering of French Kings, which dates to the reign of Charlemagne, he is actually the fifth such king to rule France, following Charlemagne (Charles the Great), Charles the Bald, Charles the Fat, and Charles the Simple.

Related Research Articles

Year 1328 (MCCCXXVIII) was a leap year starting on Friday of the Julian calendar.

Isabella of France 14th-century French princess and queen of England

Isabella of France, sometimes described as the She-Wolf of France, was Queen of England as the wife of Edward II, and regent of England from 1327 until 1330. She was the youngest surviving child and only surviving daughter of Philip IV of France and Joan I of Navarre. Isabella was notable in her lifetime for her diplomatic skills, intelligence, and beauty. She became a "femme fatale" figure in plays and literature over the years, usually portrayed as a beautiful but cruel and manipulative figure.

House of Valois cadet branch of the Capetian dynasty

The House of Valois was a cadet branch of the Capetian dynasty. They succeeded the House of Capet to the French throne, and were the royal house of France from 1328 to 1589. Junior members of the family founded cadet branches in Orléans, Anjou, Burgundy, and Alençon.

Philip VI of France King of France, the first of Valois

Philip VI, called the Fortunate and of Valois, was the first King of France from the House of Valois. He reigned from 1328 until his death.

Philip III of France King of France, 1270 to 1285

Philip III, called the Bold, was King of France from 1270 to 1285.

Philip V of France King of France and Navarre

Philip V, known as the Tall, was King of France and Navarre. He reigned from 1316 to 1322.

Odo IV, Duke of Burgundy Duke of Burgundy

Odo IV or Eudes IV was Duke of Burgundy from 1315 until his death and Count of Burgundy and Artois between 1330 and 1347. He was the second son of Duke Robert II and Agnes of France.

Charles, Count of Valois Emperor of Constantinople

Charles of Valois, the third son of Philip III of France and Isabella of Aragon, was a member of the House of Capet and founder of the House of Valois, whose rule over France would start in 1328.

Louis I was Count of Flanders, Nevers and Rethel.

<i>The Accursed Kings</i> novel series by Maurice Druon

The Accursed Kings is a series of historical novels by French author Maurice Druon about the French monarchy in the 14th century. Published between 1955 and 1977, the series has been adapted as a miniseries twice for television in France.

Philip III of Navarre King of Navarre

Philip III, called the Noble or the Wise, was King of Navarre from 1328 until his death. He was born a minor member of the French royal family but gained prominence when the Capetian main line went extinct, as he and his wife and cousin, Joan II of Navarre, acquired the Iberian kingdom and a number of French fiefs.

House of Capet Rulers of the Kingdom of France from 987 to 1328

The House of Capet or the Direct Capetians, also called the House of France, or simply the Capets, ruled the Kingdom of France from 987 to 1328. It was the most senior line of the Capetian dynasty – itself a derivative dynasty from the Robertians. Historians in the 19th century came to apply the name "Capetian" to both the ruling house of France and to the wider-spread male-line descendants of Hugh Capet. Contemporaries did not use the name "Capetian". The Capets were sometimes called "the third race of kings". The name "Capet" derives from the nickname given to Hugh, the first Capetian King, who became known as Hugh Capet.

War of Saint-Sardos war

The War of Saint-Sardos was a short war fought between the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of France in 1324. The war was a clear defeat for the English, and led indirectly to the overthrowing of Edward II of England. The war can also be seen as one of the precursors of the Hundred Years' War.

Robert III, Count of Flanders Count of Flanders

Robert III, also called Robert of Béthune and nicknamed The Lion of Flanders, was the Count of Nevers from 1273 and Count of Flanders from 1305 until his death.

Robert III of Artois French noble

Robert III of Artois was Lord of Conches-en-Ouche, of Domfront, and of Mehun-sur-Yèvre, and in 1309 he received as appanage the county of Beaumont-le-Roger in restitution for the County of Artois, which he claimed. He was also briefly Earl of Richmond in 1341 after the death of John III, Duke of Brittany.

Joan of Valois, Countess of Hainaut Countess of Hainaut, Holland, and Zeeland

Joan of Valois was a Countess consort of Hainaut, Holland, and Zeeland. She was the second eldest daughter of the French prince Charles, Count of Valois, and his first wife, Margaret, Countess of Anjou. As the sister of King Philip VI of France and the mother-in-law of Edward III, she was ideally placed to act as mediator between them.

Vermandois was a French county that appeared in the Merovingian period. Its name derives from that of an ancient tribe, the Viromandui. In the 10th century, it was organised around two castellan domains: St Quentin (Aisne) and Péronne (Somme). In today's times, the Vermandois county would fall in the Picardy region of northern France.

Philip, Duke of Orléans Duke of Orléans

Philip of Orléans was a Duke of Orléans, Touraine, and Count of Valois, the fifth son of King Philip VI of France and his wife Joan the Lame.

Hundred Years War Series of conflicts and wars between England and France during the 14th and 15th-century

The Hundred Years' War was a series of conflicts from 1337 to 1453, waged between the House of Plantagenet, rulers of England and the French House of Valois, over the right to rule the Kingdom of France. Each side drew many allies into the war. It was one of the most notable conflicts of the Middle Ages, in which five generations of kings from two rival dynasties fought for the throne of the largest kingdom in Western Europe. The war marked both the height of chivalry and its subsequent decline, and the development of strong national identities in both countries.

Tour de Nesle affair

The Tour de Nesle affair was a scandal amongst the French royal family in 1314, during which Margaret, Blanche, and Joan, the daughters-in-law of King Philip IV, were accused of adultery. The accusations were apparently started by Philip's daughter, Isabella. The Tour de Nesle was a tower in Paris where much of the adultery was said to have occurred. The scandal led to torture, executions and imprisonments for the princesses' lovers and the imprisonment of the princesses, with lasting consequences for the final years of the House of Capet.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Kibler, p.201.
  2. 1 2 "Charles IV (of France)". Encarta. Microsoft Corporation. 2008.
  3. Sumption, p.101.
  4. 1 2 3 Sumption, p.97.
  5. 1 2 Echols and Williams, p.87.
  6. Echols and Williams, p.328.
  7. 1 2 Lord, p.47.
  8. 1 2 3 Lord, p.48.
  9. Kibler, p.210.
  10. 1 2 Wagner, p.250.
  11. Nirenberg, p.55.
  12. Hassall, p.99.
  13. Kibler, p.201; Nirenberg, p.67.
  14. 1 2 3 4 Holmes, p.16.
  15. Neillands, p.30.
  16. Neillands, p.31.
  17. Holmes, p.16; Kibler, p.201.
  18. Kibler, p.314.
  19. Ainsworth, p.3.
  20. 1 2 Lord, p.46.
  21. Kibler, p.314; Sumption, p.98.
  22. 1 2 Kibler, p.477.
  23. Neillands, p.32.
  24. TeBrake, p.47.
  25. 1 2 TeBrake, p.50.
  26. TeBrake, p.93.
  27. TeBrake, p.94.
  28. TeBrake, p.95.
  29. TeBrake, p.97.
  30. TeBrake, p.98.
  31. Vauchez, Dobson and Lapidge, p.288.
  32. Housley, p.22.
  33. 1 2 Kibler, p.206.
  34. 1 2 Geanakoplos, p.48.
  35. Geanakoplos, p.49.
  36. 1 2 Sumption, p.106.
  37. "Official website: Les Rois maudits (2005 miniseries)" (in French). 2005. Archived from the original on 15 August 2009. Retrieved 25 July 2015.
  38. "Les Rois maudits: Casting de la saison 1" (in French). AlloCiné. 2005. Archived from the original on 19 December 2014. Retrieved 25 July 2015.
  39. 1 2 Anselme, pp. 83–85
  40. 1 2 3 4 Anselme, pp. 87–88
  41. 1 2 Bulletin de la Société de l'histoire de France (in French). J. Renouard. 1855. p.  98.
  42. 1 2 Anselme, p. 90
  43. 1 2 Anselme, pp. 381–382


Charles IV of France
Born: c. 1294 Died: 1 February 1328
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Philip V & II
King of France
1322 – 1328
Title next held by
Philip VI
King of Navarre
1322 – 1328
Succeeded by
Joan II
Philip III
French nobility
Title last held by
Guy of Lusignan
Count of La Marche
1314 – 1322
Title next held by
John II