Charles V was born in 1338 in France. Eldest son of John II the Good who was captured in the Hundred Years War at Poitiers in 1356 and held hostage in England by King Edward III until his death in 1364. Charles' mother, Bonne of Luxemburg was to give him powerful support from her family.

John the Good
John II "the Good"

Charles V not only lived during the beginning of the Hundred Years War, but also through the rebellion in Paris led by Etienne Marcel, provost of merchants; peasant uprisings, as well as the plotting of his cousin, Charles the Bad, king of Navarre. Charles V delicately handled each problem he was dealt.

During the reign of Charles V, noted urban and architectural projects were undertaken. Major improvements in the defensive system of Paris were undertaken including a new wall around the city. Vincennes was completed. The Bastille was constructed as well as the remodeling of the Louvre and the hotel Saint-Pol. The great sculptor, Andre Beauneveu was commissioned to design the royal tombs at Saint-Denis. Charles V excelled in his support of literature, encouraging the updating of the Chronicles of France as well as encouraging the French translations in areas of theology, philosophy, political philosophy, morals, history, natural science, astronomy and astrology, history and geography. Charles managed to accumulate a massive book collection which took up three floors of the Louvre in the northwest tower called the Falconry. The first inventory of these books in 1380 indexed some 910 volumes. Another royal library was collected at Vincennes and was stored with other royal art objects. In 1367, he became the founder of the French library.

Charles V was a very capable monarch bringing a temporary cessation of hostilities during the Hundred Year War. Charles relied upon innovative technology in war such as the cannon, which led to his military success. He also had a keen eye in selecting subordinates without looking to heavily upon their noble credentials.

He strengthened the French monarchy by defeating several rebellions during his rule. Upon the capture of his father by the English at Poiters in 1356, Charles became dauphin of France. The Estates General defied the king and met in Paris under the leadership of Etienne Marcel, a cloth merchant, who had assumed control of the government. They imposed the Great Ordinance upon the dauphin in 1357 which granted great power to the Estates General. In 1358, pressed by famine, plague and mercenaries, the peasants revolted and for two weeks, northern France was terrorized until the aristocracy crushed the Jacquerie. This led to a resurgence of royalist feeling and eradicated support for the constitutionalists. In the summer of 1358, Etienne Marcel was killed and the Great Ordinance was declared null and void.

Coat of Arms Charles V
Coat of Arms for Charles V

Charles V reversed the fortunes of the Hundred Years War and by 1380 the English were forced to temporarily abandon further military advances. Charles V was then free to turn his attention to strengthening his power and expanding the Crown's revenues.

Charles V died in 1380, suffering from severe gout in both his hands and feet. He married Princess Joan of Bourbon when she was 12 years of age. After her seventh child was born in 1373, Joan suffered a mental breakdown, having always been considered slightly unstable.

Tomb of Charles V in St. Denis

St. Denis, Saint Denis, France


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