WTF History: Charles VI

I shouldn’t be blogging. I have too much to do: prepare a 20 minute presentation on something I’ve barely researched (but should have spent months on), write a sentence outline for my 20th Century Architecture term paper, study for a huge exam, read about witchcraft and write an essay on it… amongst other things.

click to enlargeInstead I’m going to blog about Charles VI. He was kind of the Britney Spears of his day. Rich, powerful, loved – despite being batshit insane. This is evident in his nicknames: Charles le Bien-Aimé (the well loved) and Charles le Fou (the mad).
He ascended the throne of France at the age of 11 and ruled from 1380 – 1422. Everything seemed pretty normal at first… Then, in 1392, he was traveling with some companions (to avenge an attempted assassination attempt on his friend) when someone accidently dropped their lance. The clang startled him, he screamed “Forward against the traitors! They wish to deliver me to the enemy!" and started attacking his own friends. With his sword. He killed several people before he was restrained, at which point he went into a coma.
From then on he was continuously plagued by bouts of madness that came in various forms. He once went 5 months without bathing or changing clothes. He went through fits where he didn’t recognize his wife and children, nor his own name or the fact that he was king. He also suffered from "glass delusion" – he thought he was made of glass and was constantly afraid of shattering. This went so far as refusing to poop lest sitting on the privy broke his (glass) bones.

When he wasn’t in a state of insanity, the court (especially his wife) tried to distract him with all kinds of diversions. The most famous of these was quite counter productive. It was later called the "Bal des Ardents" or "Ball of the Burning Men." Basically, Charles VI and all of his BFFs decided it would be fun to dress up as Wildmen (”wood savages”) and do a little dance for the court. To achieve the "Wildman" look they dressed in linen clothes covered in pitch (oil) and “shaggy hemp” so they looked hairy (like Wildmen supposedly were). So – just to be clear: they were covered in pitch and hemp in a torch-filled castle. Luckily, they took the precaution of forbidding any torches in the hall. Everything was going swimmingly with their “Dance of the Savages” until the King’s brother (supposedly unaware of the shenanigans) walked in with a lit torch. Of course, It sparked and the wildmen’s fake howling turned into screams of agony. Charles was saved by a woman who threw her dress over him. Another dancer jumped into a vat of wine. However, the rest of Charles’ besties were not so lucky. They died slow agonizing deaths over a period of days and several other guests were left with permanent injuries from trying to tear the cloth off the burning men.
I’m sure that really helped his mental state!


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