Charles V., the Wise, the third king of the family of Valois, son of John II., born Jan. 21, 1337, died at Vincennes, Sept. 16, 1380. He was a prince of very little military genius, but with much taste for learning. Being in command of a body of the French army at the battle of Poitiers, he deserted the field at an early period, while his father and younger brother fought bravely. On the captivity of the former (1350), he was appointed his lieutenant, and had to contend against a formidable popular rebellion, headed by Stephen Marcel, provost of the merchants of Paris, and Robert Le-cocq, bishop of Laon. At length, after having succeeded in getting rid of the principal leader, who was murdered by one of his adherents, he assumed the title of regent, and concluded in 1360, with the English, the treaty of Bretigny for the liberation of the king. By this treaty, Edward III. was to remain in independent possession of all the provinces of the Loire, comprised under the general name of Aqui-taine, with Ponthieu and the country around Calais; but he was to renounce his claims to the crown of France, as well as those to Normandy, Touraine, Anjou, Maine, Brittany, and Flanders; the ransom of John was fixed at 3,000,000 gold crowns, while two of his sons and several great lords of the kingdom were to be given as hostages.
John was liberated; but the terms of his liberation not having been complied with, he returned to England, leaving for the second time the regency in the hands of Charles, who succeeded him on his death in 1364. Charles was now at full liberty to display the shrewdness of his policy, and soon worsted Edward III., who had defeated both his father and grandfather. Being greatly assisted by the valor and prudence of his great constable Du Guesclin, he destroyed several armies of the English, and wrested from them the French provinces which they had held for years. On the death of Edward, the only places still left in their hands were Bordeaux, Bayonne, Cherbourg, Calais, and a few other fortresses. By timely assistance to Henry of Trastamare against Pedro the Cruel, king of Castile, Charles had secured for himself an ally who was of great service in his naval contests, and consequently instrumental in his final success over England. Meanwhile, tranquillity, order, and prosperity had been restored to France; and several important learned institutions were founded, among the number the king's library, now the great national library in Paris. In his reign the Bastile was also erected, mainly with a view to hold the Parisians in submission.
Charles V. was, if not one of the greatest, at least one of the most useful of French kings.