Charles VI (France)

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CHARLES VI (HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE) (16851740; ruled 17111740)

CHARLES VI (HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE) (16851740; ruled 17111740), Holy Roman emperor and ruler of the Habsburg Monarchy. Charles VI's greatest claim to historical fame is his role as father to Maria Theresa (ruled 17401780), one of the great rulers of the eighteenth century. Historians often point to the Pragmatic Sanction of 1713, a document that guaranteed the succession of his daughter to the traditionally male Habsburg inheritance, as the issue that dominated his reign. This document had its roots in 1703 when Leopold I (ruled 16581705), Charles's father, wished to regulate the order of succession if his two sons, Charles and Joseph (ruled 17051711 as Joseph I), should have no male issue. In the early agreements, Joseph's female heirs were to succeed to Habsburg authority, but in 1713 Charles changed that to provide for the succession of his own daughters. By 1720 Charles had embarked on an extensive campaign to secure recognition for his daughter's succession first from his own crownlands and then from the European powers generally. He achieved that recognition, but upon his death Prussia, Bavaria, and France renounced their commitment to it. This renunciation was followed by the War of the Austrian Succession, which would, after considerable suffering, enhance the Europe-wide fame of and respect for Maria Theresa.

In his younger years, Charles had his own wars to fight. When the Spanish King Charles II died in 1700, Louis XIV of France laid claim to the Spanish throne, a prospect that frightened other great powers, already experienced in struggles against the ambitions of the Sun King. In the ensuing War of the Spanish Succession (17011714), the allied powers opposed to Louis (Britain, Austria, Holland, Prussia) adopted Charles as their candidate for the Spanish throne. Charles achieved some success in Catalonia, but, when his brother died in 1711, and he became ruler of the Habsburg possessions, the British and Dutch insisted that he abandon his claim to Spain, and he did so. He oversaw the Austrian role in bringing the War of the Spanish Succession to a close.

Politically Charles fits into the group of late-seventeenth- and early-eighteenth-century monarchs who understood that success of the state depended upon administrative centralization and economic advancement. He was not a thoroughgoing reformer in the stamp of Louis XIV or Peter the Great of Russia, but he did introduce changes that he believed would enhance the development of his state. In Silesia and Bohemia cloth production increased, and he aided the city of Linz in reviving its woolen mills. In 1717 the first cotton plant opened in the town of Schwechat, near Vienna, and in 1718 Charles approved the establishment of a porcelain factory modeled on the Meissen plant that had opened in Dresden just a few years earlier.

To assist these and other establishments, Charles built new roads connecting some of the Habsburg cities, including those from Vienna to Prague and Vienna to Brno. Probably the most famous was the road over the Semmering Pass, which connected the Austrian heartland to Italy. In addition, he declared as free ports Fiume and Trieste, the principal Habsburg cities on the Adriatic Sea, in hopes that they could compete successfully with Venice for Adriatic and eventually Mediterranean trade. His most famous venture was the incorporation of the Ostend Company in his Belgian lands, which was designed to compete with the British and the Dutch for trade in East Africa and in the East and West Indies. This company enjoyed a few years of success until, under considerable pressure from the British and the Dutch, it was changed into a bank in the 1730s.

Charles was less aggressive in war and diplomacy, with the notable exception of his pursuit of recognition of the Pragmatic Sanction. Still, in 17161718 his armies, under the brilliant leadership of Europe's foremost military commander, Prince Eugene of Savoy, crushed the armies of the Ottoman Empire and in 1718 imposed upon the Turks the Peace of Passarowitz (Pozerevac), which ceded to the monarchy the mighty fortress of Belgrade at the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers and its surrounding countryside. This acquisition left Austria poised to advance far into the Balkans, but the backwardness of the area gave Charles and his advisers pause. From 1717 to 1737 the government invested considerable resources to develop Belgrade and the area north of the fortress, called the Banat, but the yields were disappointing, as were additional Habsburg efforts in the Banat in the 1760s and 1770s.

Charles's reign ended in disappointment. Austria entered another war against the Turks in 1737, this time not to win territory for itself but to curb the Balkan ambitions of its ally, Russia. Although the Ottomans were not formidable opponents, poor leadership, logistical problems, and missed opportunities led to the Austrian cession of Belgrade and the lands south of the Danube to the Ottomans. Charles hoped, however, that his success in securing recognition of the Pragmatic Sanction would atone for this defeat by guaranteeing the peaceful accession of his daughter. That accession, however, was far from peaceful.

See also Austrian Succession, War of the (17401748) ; Habsburg Dynasty: Austria ; Holy Roman Empire ; Maria Theresa (Holy Roman Empire) ; Passarowitz, Peace of (1718) ; Polish Succession, War of the (17331738) ; Spanish Succession, War of the (17011714) .


Henderson, Nicholas. Prince Eugen of Savoy. New York, 1964. Reprint, New York and London, 2002.

Ingrao, Charles. The Habsburg Monarchy, 16181815. 2nd ed. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 2002.

Wangermann, Ernst. The Austrian Achievement, 17001800. New York, 1973.

Karl A. Roider

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Charles VI

The French king Charles VI (1368-1422), who ruled from 1380 to 1422, is also known as Charles the Mad. His reign was marked by political disorder and a series of defeats by the English that culminated in their overwhelming victory at Agincourt in 1415.

The son of Charles V, Charles VI was born in Paris on Dec. 3, 1368. On his father's untimely death in 1380, he ascended the troubled throne of France. Charles's minority was marked by the rivalry and struggles for power of his uncles, the dukes of Berry, Burgundy, and Bourbon.

In 1385 Charles married Isabelle of Bavaria, and in 1389 he finally assumed personal control of his kingdom. French court life in the 14th century was a joyous world of public revelry and grandiose diplomatic designs. It was brusquely shattered in August 1392, when Charles was stricken with the first of the spells of insanity which afflicted him—and France—for the rest of his life.

The King's madness did not immediately have a disastrous effect on French foreign policy. France and England were observing one of their many truces during the Hundred Years War, and the continuation of their armistice was aided by the marriage of Charles's daughter Isabelle to Richard II of England in 1396. England was then weakened by the struggles which accompanied Henry IV's deposition of Richard II in 1399.

The most important consequence of the King's in-capacity was internal political strife. The governance of France again became the object of princely dispute, and two major groups sought control. The Burgundian faction was led by the dukes of Berry and Burgundy, while the Orleanist faction was headed by the King's brother Louis, Duke of Orléans. The King's uncle Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, gradually asserted his ascendancy over Charles. After Philip's death in 1404, his son and successor, John the Fearless, became leader of the Burgundians and continued their feud with the Duke of Orléans. With the duke's murder in 1407, his son Charles inherited his title. The Orleanist partisans then became known as Armagnacs because they were led by the duke's father-in-law Bernard VII, Duke of Armagnac. A series of murders and disputes between 1407 and 1410 caused both the Burgundian and Armagnac factions to seek the aid of the English.

When the English invaded France in 1415, the Burgundians allied with the invaders, and the Armagnacs became the nationalist party. The English king, Henry V, defeated the French at Agincourt and in 1420 forced the Treaty of Troyes upon Charles VI. By the terms of this treaty Henry was to marry Charles's daughter Catherine, act as regent for his mad father-in-law, and eventually succeed to the French throne.

When Charles VI died on Oct. 21, 1422, his legacy was discord and chaos. France was divided internally and faced with the prospect of being ruled by an English king. Although Charles VI's son was crowned Charles VII in 1429, strife continued until 1453, when the French expelled the English and ended the Hundred Years War.

Further Reading

The best account of the reign of Charles VI is in French. Although there is no biography in English, the period is well covered in Jean Froissart's 14th-century Chronicles (many English translations); Édouard Perroy, The Hundred Years War (trans. 1951); and Kenneth Fowler, The Age of Plantagenet and Valois: The Struggle for Supremacy, 1328-1498 (1967).

Additional Sources

Famiglietti, R. C., Royal intrigue: crisis at the court of Charles VI, 1392-1420, New York: AMS Press, 1986. □

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Charles VI (Charles the Mad or Charles the Well Beloved), 1368–1422, king of France (1380–1422), son and successor of King Charles V. During his minority he was under the tutelage of his uncles (particularly Philip the Bold, duke of Burgundy), whose policies drained the royal treasury and provoked popular uprisings in France and in Flanders. Charles freed himself of this influence in 1388, took as his counselor his brother Louis, duc d'Orléans, and recalled his father's ministers, the Marmousets. After 1392, Charles suffered from recurrent insanity and was not active in the government. Philip of Burgundy returned to power. His rule was challenged by Louis d'Orléans and the conflict eventually resulted in war between Philip's successor, John the Fearless, and supporters of the Orleanists, known as Armagnacs (see Armagnacs and Burgundians). The struggle was complicated by the invasion of France by King Henry V of England. In 1420, under the influence of the Burgundians, who were allied with Henry V and his wife Isabel of Bavaria, Charles accepted the Treaty of Troyes, recognizing Henry V as his successor.

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Charles VI ( the Mad) (1368–1422) King of France (1380–1422). Until 1388 he was controlled by his uncle, Philip the Bold of Burgundy, whose policies drained the treasury and provoked uprisings. After ruling effectively for four years, Charles suffered recurrent bouts of insanity. Philip and Louis d'Orléans, the king's brother, fought for control of the kingdom. Louis was murdered in 1407, and Philip allied himself with Henry V of England. English victories at Agincourt (1415) and elsewhere forced Charles to sign the Treaty of Troyes (1420), acknowledging Henry as his successor.

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Charles VI (1685–1740) Holy Roman Emperor (1711–40) and King of Hungary as Charles III. His claim to the Spanish throne against the grandson of Louis XIV, Philip V, supported by the powers opposed to Louis, caused the War of the Spanish Succession. After his election as Emperor (1711), he gave up his Spanish claim as international support for it fell away. He spent much of his reign trying to secure the succession of his daughter, Maria Theresa, to his Austrian possessions.