The Victorious Charles VII., the fifth king of the house of Yalois, born in Paris, Feb. 22, 1403, died at the castle of Mehun-sur-Yevre, near Bourges, July 22, 1461. The fifth son of Charles VI. and Isabella, he became by the early death of his brothers heir apparent to the crown in 1416. In 1417 he was appointed lieutenant of the kingdom, and shortly afterward he assumed the title of regent, without however being able, on account of his indolent habits, to exert any authority; he was but a tool in the hands of his favorites, most of them leaders of the Armagnac faction. On the death of Henry V. and Charles VI. in 1422, Henry VI. of England was proclaimed king of France at St. Denis, and his authority recognized by the majority of the people, while Charles was supported only by a few citizens of central and southern France. He was so poor and powerless that his enemies called him the vol de Bourges, as if this city were the whole of his monarchy. The duke of Bedford, who governed in the name of Henry VI., successfully waged war against Charles, and the English troops, victorious in several encounters, concentrated themselves around Orleans, which was the stronghold of the French king.
His position was utterly helpless, when suddenly a young peasant girl, Joan of Arc, the celebrated " maid of Orleans," came to his rescue. Her enthusiasm, patriotic devotion, and confidence in victory inspired the French troops with new ardor, while terror spread among the English. Orleans was delivered, the enemy repeatedly defeated, and the king triumphantly brought to Rheims, where he received the holy unction. From this time Charles was indeed the real king in the eyes of the whole people, who everywhere rose in his behalf. The Avar became a national one, in which the lower classes, who had until then remained nearly indifferent, took an active part. The capture and death of Joan of Arc, far from damping the popular enthusiasm, kindled a new spirit. The French gained considerable advantages; and finally the treaty of Arras, concluded in 1435, between the king and Philip of Burgundy, insured their ultimate triumph. Henceforth Charles appeared to be a new man; he distinguished himself by wisdom, prudence, and bravery; he achieved the task which had been commenced by others, and partly deserved the glorious appellation which has been attached to his name. Peace was reestablished, order and tranquillity prevailed, and prosperity revived throughout the kingdom.
A regular army was organized from 1439 to 1448; the finance department, the administration of justice, and the other branches of the government were put on a better footing. In many of his reforms Charles was assisted by Jacques Coeur, the richest and most enterprising merchant of the time, whom he had made minister of finance. The improved condition of the country secured the sympathies and, on the renewal of hostilities, the assistance even of those provinces which were still held by the English. Consequently, in the space of a few months, the foreigners were expelled from Normandy and Guienne; and in 1453 the whole of France had returned to its native king, except Calais, which alone remained for another century in the hands of the English. In this great work Charles VII. had been powerfully assisted by the popular feeling, the prominent representatives of which were Joan of Arc, the heroine, and Jacques Coeur, the merchant; to both he proved ungrateful, leaving the former at the mercy of the English, without the slightest attempt at her liberation, and proscribing the latter, to whose financial assistance he was especially indebted.
The celebrated pragmatic sanction, which secured the freedom and privileges of the Gallican church against the encroachments of the Roman see, was negotiated by him in 1438. His later years were embittered by the intrigues and rebellions of the dauphin, the future Louis XI.; his fear of being poisoned by his son became so overwhelming, that he finally refused to take any food, and died of starvation.