Charles VI figures prominently in Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror, a medieval history of the wars between France and England during the 1300s.
Before his madness set in, he was an ardent, inconstant youth. Physically "nature seemed to have been prodigal in her gifts to him" according to the chroniclers of his time. He was above average in height with a robust figure. He wore his blond hair to his shoulders. He was described as frank, energetic, gracious and excessively generous. The monk of St. Denis complained that he was the victim of carnal appetites and became quickly disenchanted.
His father Charles V had been the first King to use the Louvre as a palace and started a collection of art and books that later became the foundation of the musuem. Charles V died when his son was a child and the affairs of state were managed by Charles VIs uncles, Duc de Berry, the Duke of Burgundy, and the Duc de Anjou. All of the Valois men were ardent collectors. The Duc de Berry is most famous for commissioning the beautiful Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, a beautifully illuminated prayer book containing scenes from everyday life. It has the only depiction of the old Louvre before it was demolished and replaced by the current palace.
The duke-uncles were often battling each other for power and their tendency for extravagance made them resented by the common people whose taxes had to pay for it.
Charles VI's wedding to Isabeau of Bavaria almost didn't happen because of a French custom. A requirement for the royal marriage was that the French ladies should view the prospective Queen in the nude and examine her to judge whether she was properly formed for bearing children. The Bavarians refused but the marriage went ahead anyway.
Charles was very anxious to meet his new bride and when he saw her, a courtier asked if she was to become Queen of France. He said, "By my faith, yes!" The marriage later became unhappy. Isabeau was disliked for being German and she apparently never learned French that well.
The most frightening episode in the king's life was the horrible Bal des Ardents. One of the Queen's ladies was getting married for the second time and a chivari or costume party was held to celebrate in the bridal chambers. The King and three of his friends dressed up as savage forest creatures. They covered their entire bodies with sticky tar and dried leaves and twigs. It was a very dangerous costume because of the torches in the palace although torches were banned in the bridal chamber itself. During a dance, the young duc d'Orleans and some friends entered the chamber with torches and when one of them held a torch to one of the wood savages, the costumes were lit afire and because of the sticky tar, they could not pull them off. The Queen and the young duchesse de Berry were the only ones who knew the King was one of the costumed men. The Queen fainted and the duchesse threw her skirts over the King saving his life. The others suffered horrible deaths.
The event was unsettling not least because it came at a time when the King was supposedly recovering from his madness. It first appeared on a long journey on horseback when in the hot sun, he was frightened by a falling lance and then set upon to attack every member of his company. When he was restrained he fell into a coma for several days and many thought he was on his deathbed.
His madness was apparently inherited from his mother, Queen Jeanne, and he passed it on to his daughter, Catherine of Valois, who married Henry V. The madness passed then to Henry's son and heir, Henry VI. Henry V in making a political marriage to secure his acquisition of France unwittingly invited madness into his blood line and his son not only lost the crown of France but the crown of England too.
"One thing we can do is make the choice to view the world in a healthy way. We can choose to see the world as safe with only moments of danger rather than seeing the world as dangerous with only moments of safety."
-- Deepak Chopra