Charles was born in Évreux. Since his father was first cousin to King Philip VI of France, and his mother, Joan II of Navarre, was the only child of King Louis X, Charles of Navarre was ‘born of the fleur de lys on both sides’, as he liked to point out, but he succeeded to a shrunken inheritance as far as his French lands were concerned. Charles was raised in France during childhood and up to the moment he was declared king at 17, so he probably had no command of the Romance language of Navarre at the moment of his coronation.
In October 1349, he assumed the crown of Navarre. In order to take his coronation oath and be anointed, Charles II visited his kingdom in summer 1350. For the first time, the oath was taken in a language other than Latin or Occitan as it was customary, i.e. Navarro-Aragonese. Apart from short visits paid the first 12 years of his reign, he spent his time almost entirely in France; he regarded Navarre principally as a source of manpower with which to advance his designs to become a major power in France. He hoped for a long time for recognition of his claim to the crown of France (as the heir-general of Philip IV through his mother, and a Capetian through his father). However, he was unable to wrest the throne from his Valois cousins, who were senior to him by agnatic primogeniture.
The murder of Charles de la Cerda and relations with John II (1351–1356) Charles II served as Royal Lieutenant in Languedoc in 1351 and commanded the army which captured Port-Sainte-Marie on the Garonne in 1352. The same year he married Joan of Valois, the daughter of King John II of France. He soon became jealous of the Constable of France, Charles de La Cerda, who was to be a beneficiary of the fiefdoms of Champagne, Brie, and Angoulême. Charles of Navarre felt he was entitled to these territories as they had belonged to his mother, the Queen of Navarre, but they had been taken from her by the French kings for a paltry sum in compensation.
After publicly quarrelling with Charles de la Cerda in Paris at Christmas 1353, Charles arranged the assassination of the Constable, which took place at the village of l’Aigle (8 January 1354), his brother Philip, Count of Longueville leading the murderers. Charles made no secret of his role in the murder, and within a few days was intriguing with the English for military support against his father-in-law King John II, whose favourite the Constable had been. John II was preparing to attack his son-in-law’s territories, but Charles’s overtures of alliance to King Edward III of England led John instead to make peace with the King of Navarre by the Treaty of Mantes of 22 February 1354, by which Charles enlarged his possessions and was outwardly reconciled with John II. The English, who had been preparing to invade France for a joint campaign with Charles against the French, felt they had been double-crossed: not for the last time, Charles had used the threat of an English alliance to wrest concessions out of the French king.
John the Good, king of France, ordering the arrest of Charles the Bad, king of Navarre; from the Chroniques of Jean Froissart.
Relations between Charles and John II deteriorated afresh and John invaded Charles’s territories in Normandy in late 1354 while Charles intrigued with Edward III’s emissary, Henry of Grosmont, 1st Duke of Lancaster at the fruitless peace negotiations between England and France held at Avignon in the winter of 1354–55. Once again Charles changed sides: the threat of a renewed English invasion forced John II to make a new agreement of reconciliation with him, sealed by the Treaty of Valognes on 10 September 1355.
This agreement, too, did not last. Charles befriended and was thought to be trying to influence the Dauphin, and was apparently involved in a botched coup d’état in December 1355 whose purpose appears to have been to replace John II with the Dauphin. John amended matters by making his son Duke of Normandy, but Charles of Navarre continued to advise the Dauphin how to govern that province.
There were also continued rumours of his plots against the king, and on 5 April 1356 John II and a group of supporters burst unannounced into the Dauphin’s castle at Rouen, arrested Charles of Navarre and imprisoned him. Four of his principal supporters (two of whom had been among the assassins of Charles de la Cerda) were beheaded and their bodies suspended from chains. Charles was taken to Paris and then moved from prison to prison for greater security.
Charles against the Dauphin (1356–1358) Charles remained in prison after John II was defeated and captured by the English at the Battle of Poitiers. But many of his partisans were active in the Estates General which endeavoured to govern and reform France in the power-vacuum created by the King’s imprisonment while much of the country degenerated into anarchy. They continually pressed the Dauphin to release him. Meanwhile his brother Philip of Navarre threw in his lot with the invading English army of the Duke of Lancaster and made war on the Dauphin’s forces throughout Normandy. Eventually on 9 November 1357 Charles was sprung from his prison in the castle of Arleux by a band of 30 men from Amiens led by Jean de Picquigny. Greeted as a hero when he entered Amiens, he was invited to enter Paris by the Estates General, which he did with a large retinue and was ‘received like a newly-crowned monarch’.
He addressed the populace on 30 November listing his grievances against those who had imprisoned him. Étienne Marcel led a ‘demand for justice for the King of Navarre’ which the Dauphin was unable to resist. Charles demanded an indemnity for all damage done to his territories while he had been imprisoned, free pardon for all his crimes and those of his supporters, and honourable burial for his associates executed by John II at Rouen. He also demanded the Dauphin’s own Duchy of Normandy and the county of Champagne, which would have made him effectively ruler of northern France.
The Dauphin was virtually powerless, but he and Charles were still in negotiations when news reached them that Edward III and John II had reached a peace agreement at Windsor. Knowing this could only be to his disadvantage, Charles had all the prisons in Paris opened to create anarchy and left Paris to build up his strength in Normandy. In his absence the Dauphin tried to assemble a military force of his own, but Charles meanwhile gave his executed followers a solemn state funeral in Rouen Cathedral on 10 January 1358 and effectively declared civil war, leading a combined Anglo-Navarrese force against the Dauphin’s garrisons.
Charles, the Paris Revolution and the Jacquerie (1358)
Charles II having the leaders of the Jacquerie executed by beheading. Illustration from the Chroniques de France ou de St Denis, BL Royal MS. 20 C vii, f. 134v, made after 1380.
Meanwhile Paris was in the throes of revolution. On 22 February the Dauphin’s chief military officers, the marshals Jean de Conflans and Robert de Clermont were murdered before his eyes by a mob led by Etienne Marcel, who made the Dauphin a virtual prisoner and invited Charles of Navarre to return to the city, which he did on 26 February with a large armed retinue. The Dauphin was forced to agree to many of Charles’s territorial demands and to promise to finance for him a standing army of 1,000 men for his personal use. However illness prevented Charles from escorting the Dauphin to meetings demanded by the nobility at Senlis and Provins, and the Dauphin was thus able to escape his Parisian and Navarrese guardians and open a campaign from the east against Charles and against revolutionary Paris.
Etienne Marcel implored Charles to intercede with the Dauphin but he achieved nothing and the land around Paris began to be plundered both by Charles’s forces and by the Dauphin’s. In the last days of May the peasant rebellion of the Jacquerie erupted to the north of Paris as a spontaneous expression of hatred for the nobility that had brought France so low. Etienne Marcel publicly declared Parisian support for the Jacquerie. Unable to get help from the Dauphin, the knights of northern France appealed to Charles of Navarre to lead them against the peasants.
Although he was allied with the Parisians, Charles was no lover of the peasantry and felt Marcel had made a fatal mistake. He could not resist the chance to appear as a leader of the French aristocracy and led the suppression of the Jacquerie at the Battle of Mello, 10 June 1358 and the subsequent massacres of rebels. He then returned to Paris and made an open bid for power urging the populace to elect him as ‘Captain of Paris’.
This move lost Charles the support of many of the nobles who had supported him against the Jacquerie, and they began to abandon him for the Dauphin while he recruited soldiers – mainly English mercenaries – for the ‘defence’ of Paris, though his men, picketed outside the city, raided and plundered far and wide. Realizing the Dauphin’s forces were much stronger than his, Charles opened negotiations with the Dauphin, who made him substantial offers of cash and land if he could induce the Parisians to surrender. They, however, distrusted this deal between princes and refused the terms outright; Charles agreed to fight on as their captain but demanded that his troops be billetted in the city.
Before long there were anti-English riots in the city and Charles, with Etienne Marcel, was forced by the mob to lead them against the marauding garrisons to the north and west of the city – against his own men. He led them (no doubt deliberately) into an English ambush in the woods near the bridge of Saint-Cloud and about 600 Parisians were killed.
Charles capitulates (1359–60) After this debacle Charles stayed outside Paris at the Abbey of St Denis and left the city to its fate while the revolution burned itself out, Etienne Marcel was killed, and the Dauphin regained control of Paris. Meanwhile he opened negotiations with the English King, proposing that Edward III and he should divide France between themselves: if Edward would invade France and help him defeat the Dauphin, he would recognize Edward as King of France and do homage to him for the territories of Normandy, Picardy, Champagne and Brie. But the English king no longer trusted Charles and both he and the captive John II regarded him as an obstacle to peace. On 24 March 1359 Edward and John concluded a new treaty in London whereby John would be released back to France on payment of a huge ransom and would make over to Edward III large tracts of French territory – including all of Charles of Navarre’s French lands. Unless Charles submitted and accept suitable (undefined) compensation elsewhere, the Kings of England and France would jointly make war on him. However the Estates General refused to accept the treaty, urging the Dauphin to continue the war. At this Edward III lost patience and decided to invade France himself. Charles of Navarre’s military position in Northern France had deteriorated under attacks from the Dauphin’s forces throughout the spring, and with the news of Edward’s impending invasion Charles decided he must reach an accommodation with the Dauphin. After protracted haggling the two leaders met near Pontoise on 19 August 1359; on the second day Charles of Navarre publicly renounced all his demands for territory and money, saying he wanted nothing more than what he had at the beginning of hostilities and ‘wanted nothing more than to do his duty to his country’. It is unclear whether he was actuated by patriotism in the face of an imminent English invasion, or had decided to bide his time until a more favourable juncture to renew his campaign. After the comparative failure of Edward’s campaign in the winter of 1359–60 (the Dauphin did not offer battle and pursued a ‘scorched earth’ policy with the populace seeking shelter in the walled towns while the English endured terrible weather) a final peace treaty was agreed between Edward III and John II at Brétigny, while John II concluded a separate peace with Charles of Navarre at Calais. Charles was forgiven his crimes against France and restored to all his rights and properties; 300 of his followers received a royal pardon. In return he renewed his homage to the French crown and promised to help clear the French provinces of the marauding companies of Anglo-Navarrese mercenaries, many of which he was responsible for releasing in the first place.