Charles V and Joanna of Bourbon Source wikipedia

Daily Life of Charles V, King of France (1338 -1380)

How did a late medieval king conduct his business? What did his daily life look like? Recent studies of Charles V, King of France (1338 – 1380) reveals a way of life that is quite different from what we might first think.

Louve during the time of Charles V Source: Dassault
Louve during the time of Charles V © Dassault Systèmes

Charles V called ‘the Sage’ became regent of France in 1356, when the English captured his father, John II, at the battle of Poitiers. In order to get his release, France had to abandon large portions of south-western France as well as pay a huge ransom.

To meet these demand the future king had to raise taxes and quell a series of rebellions. Nevertheless he succeeded in replenishing his coffers after he was crowned as king in 1364. These funds were channelled into a series of important buildings as well as a magnificent library with more than 1200 volumes, and what we can unfortunately only glimpse, a large treasure of gold and silver.

The fascination with Charles V is that his daily life is very well known. We can actually trace his footsteps through Louvre simply by studying the new organisation of his apartments. However, it is especially due to a famous description by Christine de Pizan [1] that we know how his daily routine looked like – at least ideally.

According to her, the king rose at six of seven, was combed and dressed and said his ‘hours’ together with his personal chaplain. Then around 8 o’clock he descended to the courtyard and from there went to the Royal Chapel to hear Mass. After this he would move out into the Grande Salle, which was located in front of the chapel and further into the courtyard to meet with his people, deliberating their complaints and show himself of as the Lord of the Realm. After this public appearance, he would withdraw to hold the daily meeting with his council. First then, around 10 o’clock he would partake in a light dinner, which would be followed by a general audience with the outer circle of courtiers, ambassadors, diplomats and others. Around 1 PM he would withdraw to his inner sanctum for a rest. The remains of the day would be used in pleasant company with his closest friends and perhaps his family. After vesper, supper and perhaps a walk in the garden, he would go to bed.

When reading her account, it may seem somewhat sketchy and intangible. Luckily, however, we are rather well-informed about the physical setting of Louvre, where it all played out [2]. This helps to flesh it out for us.


Louvre at the time of Charles V
Sketch of Louvre at the time of Charles V. Built on the work of A. Salange:Lecture dune symbolique seigneurale. In: Le Louvre de Charles V. By A. Salamagne. In: Marquer la ville

In general Louis IX stayed away from the fortress at Louvre, built by his grandfather Philippe Auguste. Instead he preferred to stay at the Isle de France, where he built his famous chapel, Sainte Chapelle. Although he did expand the private quarters of Louvre to make it more habitable, this was no major restoration. However, in the 14th century at the time of Charles V, the kings of France once again needed to stay in more secure and defendable locations and the walls surrounding Paris were accordingly strengthened. At the same time Charles V chose to rebuild the old fortress from the 12th century. In 1364, immediately after he had been crowned a Reims, the king engaged his architect, Raymond du Temple, to transform Louvre into a splendid royal residence. Apartments around the central court featured large elaborate windows and to the north, a lovely garden was created. This garden could be seen from the central part of the royal apartment, the new royal ‘salle’. Central to this renovation was the construction of a sumptuous spiralled staircase – the “grande vis” – which the king could use for his majestic processions in and out of the gaze of the public, which was allowed entrance into the open court and into the old ‘grande salle’ at the ground floor to the west. Moving back up, the king entered his private apartments, which consisted of a series of rooms, perhaps gradually becoming more and more private, the further from the “grande vis”, they were located.

From the “grande vis” the Charles V would enter a small, probably open gallery leading into his own or new ‘salle’ [1] located next to the ‘salle de conseil’. Behind this was the king’s ‘garderobe’. To the other side of the ‘salle’ would be the ‘chambre de parement’, where he would meet with his closer retinue and friends. Behind that, to the west, his private chamber was located next to the upper (or private) chapel of the king.Here he might retreat, when not engaged in a public performance. The corner tower would be where he kept his magnificent library (1000 – 1200 volumes). According to Christine de Pizan he would spend the rest of the day in pleasant and more private company with his close friends, his family or simply on his own, studying his impressive collection of illuminated manuscripts or collection of golden artworks.


Chain from the late 14th century or early 15th © Cleveland Museum of Art
Chain from the late 14th century or early 15th © Cleveland Museum of Art

These valuables, a significant part of the royal treasury – were kept in the old Donjon – the ‘tour Maîtresse, which was specifically not torn down by Raymond du Temple. The king would have access to this tower from the galleries constructed on each level and next to the ‘grande vis’ . These entrances would connect to the staircase in the corner behind the tower. The king would thus be able to access all three levels of his treasury with his jewlchamber at the ground-floor, his golden vessels etc. on the second floor and the valuable textiles on the third floor. Here he would be able to walk around and admire his collection of golden chains, crowns, belts, brooches and pins, bottons, salt-cellars, chandeliers, chalices, goblets, liturgical vessels, evangeliaries, golden brocades and costly velvets etc. But perhaps, more correctly: he could walk around with his closest friends and allies and evaluate and choose which goblets, should be presented to whom as a gift in return for what had last been presented by the

It is around this time, the old tradition of giving gifts at New Year develops into a significant royal ritual. And even though we have no accounts, which describe or specify this practice at the time of Charles V, we do possess some fine records from the court of his son, Charles VI. According to the studies of Jan Hirschbiegel, 6403 actual gifts are recorded for the period between 1381 -1422 at the Valois Court or a little more than 156 gifts each year (received and presented). The Burgundian Duke spent on average 6.5 % of his yearly budget on New Year’s gifts [3].

The Business of Kings

To rule was very much a public affair. From the morning ritual, described by Christine de Pizan, where the king smiled and joked pleasantly with his servants, while he was groomed and dressed, to his later afternoon-perusal of his jewels, each moment or activity represented a contact or a liaison to be nursed and nourished though the never-ending ritual of gift-giving and receiving. What we see in this text is a king, who was simply busy with the public affairs of his kingdom until after supper, when he seemed to have “gone for a walk” in his garden or to have spent time with his family.

This view of the king as a “public” person with “little privacy” has recently been explored by Michael Brauer [4], who in a very interesting article has compared the daily routines of Charles V with that of Angela Merkel, noticing the lack of private time in her business day as compared to that of the medieval king. However, what he stresses is the dominant motive of “performance” and its preponderance in the kings’ daily life. What he perhaps forgets is the very real investment in time, a late medieval king had to set aside for his constant evaluation of his treasury and its use for maintaining his social network.

Royal business was perhaps (to quote Christine de Pizan) “what should be done according to what was proposed to him, or [how he] promised to solve some matter in council, forbade what was unreasonable, accorded favors, signed letters with his own hand, gave reasonable gifts, promised vacant offices, or answered reasonable requests”.

Which means that it was definitely also business, when he – after his midday rest in the early afternoon – “spent a time with his most intimate companions in pleasant diversions, perhaps looking at his jewels or other treasures.”

We tend to think of the king and his friends indulging themselves in a fetishistic “study” of his many jewels and treasures while fondling them lovingly. As we perhaps do, when we visit an art museum and peruse the delicate details of some medieval piece of golden art, which miraculously have survived.

No doubt the king and his cronies enjoyed themselves. However, be not mistaken. This activity was also serious business.


[1] See below for the full text, where Christine de Pizan describes the daily routine of the king.

[2] In the 1992 a reconstructions of the remodelled Louvre were published by the art historian, Mary Whiteley in a much cited article: Le Louvre de Charles V: Disposition et fonctions d’une residence royale ( In: Revue de l’Art, Vol. 97, no1: 60 – 71. Recently, however, the historian Salamagne has reworked the sources and presented a new model.
See: Lecture dune symbolique seigneurale: Le Louvre de Charles V. By A. Salamagne. In: Marquer la ville. Signes, traces, empreintes du Pouvoir XIIIe – XVIe Siècle. Sous la Direction de Patrick Boucheron et Jean-Philippe Genet. Publications de la Sorbonne/ École française de Rome 2013, pp. 61 – 81. It is this reworking, which has been used here.

[3] Past Presents: New Year’s Gifts at the Valois Courts, ca. 1400.
By: Birgitte Buettner
In: The Art Bulletin
Vol. 83, No. 4 (Dec., 2001), pp. 598-625

Étrennes. Untersuchungen zum höfischen Geschenkverkehr im spätmittelalterlichen Frankreich der Zeit König Karls VI (1830 -1422).
By Jan Hirschbiegel
München 2003

[4] Politics or Leisure? A Day in the Life of King Charles V of France (1364 – 80)
By Michael Brauer
In: The Medieval History Journal 2015, Vol. 18, note 1, p. 46-63


Christine de Pizan (1364 – c. 1430) was an Italian French late medieval author, daughter to the physician, who treated Charles V. She grew up at the court of the king and new his world intimately. Later, after she was widowed, she served as a court writer for several dukes (Louis of Orleans, Philip the Bold of Burgundy, and John the Fearless of Burgundy) and the French royal court during the reign of Charles VI. She wrote both poetry and prose works such as biographies and books containing practical advice for women. She completed forty-one works during her 30-year career from 1399–1429.

The literature about her work is immense. However, a good as any place to start is in the work of Charity Cannon Willard, who wrote a seminal biography about her in 1984.

Christine de Pizan her life and works CoverChristine De Pizan: Her Life and Works
by Charity Cannon Willard
Persea Books 1984
ISBN-10: 0892550848
ISBN-13: 978-0892550845

She also edited a collect of Christine de Pizan’s writings


the writing of Christine de Pizan coverThe Writings of Christine de Pizan
Ed. Charity Cannon Willard
Persea 1994
ISBN-10: 0892551887
ISBN-13: 978-0892551880



Excerpt from Christine de Pizan, The Book of the Deeds and Good Character of King Charles V the Wise, ed. by Charity Cannon Willard, pp. 236-38:

Banquet at the French Court in a manuscript made for Charles V 14th century
Banquet in the honor of Charles IV at the Palais de Cité. From the translation of the Grandes Chronique, made for Charles V.
From: Grandes Chroniques de France, ms. fr. 2813, fol. 473v, fin XIVe s., Paris, Bnf

“I find a comparable order in the case of our own wise King Charles, so that it seems to me reasonable to recount his agreeable habit of leading a life well-regulated in all respects, which should be an example to all who may follow be it in empires, kingdoms, or important lordships for a well-ordered life.

The hour of his rising in the morning was normally six or seven o’clock, and indeed anyone who wanted to make use here of the language of poets might say that just as the goddess Aurora, by her rising, rejoices the hearts of those who see her, so the king gives pleasure to his chamberlains and other servants appointed to attend his person at that hour, for, regardless of anything that might make it otherwise, his face was joyous. Then, after making the sign of the cross, and very devoutly addressing his first words to God in prayer, he exchanged with his servants, in agreeable familiarity, some pleasant and happy remarks, so that his kindness and gentleness would encourage even the least of them to joke and enjoy themselves with him, / p. 237 however humble they might be. They all enjoyed these comments and exchanges. When he had been combed, dressed, and outfitted according to the demands of the day’s program, his chaplain, a distinguished person and honorable priest, brought him his breviary and helped him to say his hours, according to the canonical day of the calendar. Around eight o’clock he would go to mass, which was celebrated each day with glorious, melodious, solemn singing. In the retirement of his oratory low masses were sung for him.

As he came out of the chapel, all sorts of people, rich or poor, ladies or maidens, widows or others who had problems, could make their petitions to him and he very kindly would pause to listen to their supplications, responding charitably to those that were reasonable or piteous. More doubtful cases he turned over to some master of requests to examine. After this, on appointed days, he would meet with his council, and then with some noblemen of his own blood or some clergymen who happened to be present. If some particular lengthy matter did not prevent him, he would go to the table around ten o’clock. His meal was not long, for he did not favor elaborate food, saying that such food bothered his stomach and disturbed his memory, He drank clear and simple wine, light in color, well cut, and not much quantity nor great variety. Like David, to rejoice his spirits, he listened willingly at the end of his meals to stringed instruments playing the sweetest possible music. When he had risen from table after his light meal, all sorts of strangers and others who had come with request could approach him. There one might find several kinds of foreign ambassadors, noblemen, and knights, of whom there was often such a crowd, both foreign and from his own realm, that one could scarcely turn around. Nevertheless, the very prudent king received them all and replied to them in such a civil manner and received each one so justly with the honor due him, that all considered themselves content and left his presence happily…. [H]e arranged what should be done according to what was proposed to him, or promised to solve some matter in council, forbade what was unreasonable, accorded favors, signed letters with his own hand, gave reasonable gifts, promised vacant offices, or answered reasonable requests. He occupied himself with such details as these for perhaps two hours, after which he withdrew and retired to rest for about an hour. After his rest period, he spent a time with his most intimate companions in pleasant diversions, perhaps looking at his jewels or other treasures. He took this recreation so that excessive demands on him would not damage his health…. Then he went to vespers, after which, if it was summertime, he sometimes went into his gardens where, if he was in his Hotel of Saint Paul, sometimes the queen would join him with their children. There he spoke with the women of the court, asking news of their children. Sometimes he received curious gifts from various places, perhaps artillery or other armaments and a variety of other things, or merchants would come bringing velvet, cloth of gold, and all sorts of beautiful, exotic objects, or jewels, which he had them show to the connoisseurs of such things among members of his family.

In winter, especially, he often occupied himself by having read to him fine stories from the Holy Scriptures, or the Deeds of the Romans, or Wise Sayings of the Philosophers and such matters until the hour of supper, where he took his place rather early for a light meal. After this, he spent a short period in recreation with his barons and knights before retiring to rest. And thus in continual good order, this wise and well-bread king followed the course of his life.”



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