The French king Charles V (1337-1380) ruled from 1364 to 1380. He skillfully governed France during a critical phase of the Hundred Years War.

Son of John II and Bonne of Luxemburg, Charles V was born at Vincennes on Jan. 21, 1337. He was the first heir apparent to the crown of France to bear the title Dauphin. Although nothing is known of his education, his later activities as a patron of the arts, theoretician of monarchy, and founder of the royal library at the Louvre indicate an early interest in learning. In 1350 Charles married his cousin Jeanne de Bourbon.

Charles was born, grew up, and reigned in the shadow of the great Anglo-French conflict called the Hundred Years War (1337-1453). When he was 16, Charles was made Duke of Normandy by his father and was thus entrusted with one of the most vulnerable areas of warfare. At the age of 19, on Sept. 19, 1356, Charles with his father and two younger brothers led the French army, which was cut to pieces by the English at Poitiers. During the battle John II was taken prisoner and held for ransom. Charles, lacking power and financial resources, had to assume the office of regent during his father's captivity, which lasted until 1360. During this period Charles weathered the threat of an English invasion and, faced with domestic discontent, put down a number of internal revolts, among them the Jacquerie, a peasant uprising. Only his astute political judgment and diplomatic skill saved the crown of France. With the Treaty of Brétigny in 1360 he arranged the terms of his father's ransom and established a temporary truce with the English.

When Charles became king on his father's death in 1364, his experience as regent had prepared him to take on his first great task—undoing the disastrous results of the political ineptitude of his father and grandfather. Although he was not a good general and was always in ill health, he devoted intense energy to ruling. He chose able advisers and was fortunate in securing a number of effective military commanders, including Bertrand du Guesclin, to counter the continuing threat from England. Charles resumed the war in 1369, and by his death in 1380 he had fought the English to a standstill.

Apart from his activities against the English, Charles's last years were spent in strengthening the defenses of France and organizing matters of law and finance. For the first time since the death of Philip V in 1314, France had an effective and intelligent ruler. But Charles's early death on Sept. 16, 1380, brought far less able men to the throne, kings who would preside over even greater defeats at the hands of the English and who would witness the further disintegration of French society.

Further Reading on Charles V

There is no biography of Charles V in English; the standard works are in French. The period is well depicted in Jean Froissart's 14th-century Chronicles (many English translations), as well as in Édouard Perroy's standard study, The Hundred Years War (trans. 1951), and Kenneth Fowler's well-illustrated work, The Age of Plantagenet and Valois: The Struggle for Supremacy, 1328-1498 (1967).