King Charles II Died a Horrible, Unfortunate Death

King Charles II Died a Horrible, Unfortunate Death

Natasha sheldon - June 8, 2017

Charles II, Count of Evreux, was King of Navarre from 1349. Almost as soon as he became King, he earned, through his duplicitous dealings and ruthless pursuit of power a further title: Charles the Bad.

Driven by a hunger for revenge and a disproportionate sense of entitlement, Charles the Bad attempted to expand Navarre’s territory into France and Spain, murdering and scheming to get his way. Ultimately he failed and ended up marginalized and alone.

If legends surrounding his death are to be believed, Charles the Bad’s death was equally as unpleasant as his life.

Born to the Throne of France

Charles II of Navarre was the son of Philip, Count of Evreux and Jeanne, the only surviving child of Louise X of France and Navarre. Charles’s grandfather died before his birth on October 10, 1332. But Jeanne did not inherit his throne. Instead, her Uncle by marriage and father’s cousin, Philip de Valois claimed the crown as the only direct male heir, claiming Jeanne was disqualified by her sex. Having paid off his niece with lands in Champagne and Brie, he settled down to rule as King Philip V.

King Charles II Died a Horrible, Unfortunate Death
Charles the Bad, King of Navarre. Google Images

In 1322 when Philip died, the nobles of Navarre declared Jeanne the rightful monarch. This meant that in 1349, as well as inheriting his father’s lands in Normandy, Charles inherited the crown of Navarre from his mother.

Charles hoped that once he was King of Navarre; his claim to the throne of France would be recognized. But under the Salic law, his right to the throne was diminished because his right of inheritance came from a woman. So the crown of France passed to Philip’s son, John II, also known as John the Good.

It became Charles’s life’s work to reclaim what he believed was rightfully his. So, the 17-year-old King of Navarre turned his back on his homeland and set his sights on France. Charles largely ignored Navarre for the next twelve years, using it as a resource for his campaigns in France.

King Charles II Died a Horrible, Unfortunate Death
John the Good, King of France. Google Images

Going “Bad’

Family wrangles were central to events in fourteenth century Europe. This was the time of the Hundred Years War, actually a series of wars between the English House of Plantagenet and the French House of Valois over the throne of France. Like Charles the Bad, Edward III of England and John II of France were descended from Philip III of France. Edward III was descended from the sister of Charles’s grandfather, Louis X, while John II was descended from Charles de Valois, Philip’s youngest son.

In 1352, three years after he became King of Navarre, Charles was married to Joan, the daughter of John II. The French King probably hoped that this would take the mind of the King of Navarre off the French throne while keeping him on Frances’s side in the ongoing dispute with their English relative.

John the Good was wrong. Almost immediately, Charles began to use his new position in France to earn his defining title ‘The Bad’. When John declined to return Champagne and Brie to Charles, (they were sold by his mother before her death) which John had awarded to his favorite, Charles de la Cerda, constable of France, Charles arranged for La Cerda to be assassinated – and then coolly admitted responsibility for his death.

But John continued to placate his murderous son in law- probably because he was fearful Charles would join the English. So in 1354, he awarded him lands in Normandy through the Treaty of Mantes. But Charles wasn’t satisfied. He began to plot with the English in order to acquire more land in France, so incensing his father in law that in 1356 he had him imprisoned in Rouen. Charles escaped and continued to undermine King John – and attempt to dupe Edward III.

King Charles II Died a Horrible, Unfortunate Death
Edward III of England. Google Images

A Duplicitous Monarch

When he found out that John and Edward had made peace, Charles set about creating anarchy in Paris. He opened all the prisons and generally plagued John’s son, the Dauphin. When a peasant revolt broke out, Charles the Bad used it as an excuse to raid the countryside and win the favor of the people of Paris until finally in 1360 he made his peace with John once again.

In fact, it was common for Charles to play on the fear and mistrust between his enemies and allies, to move from one side to another with duplicitous ease. He first employed the tactic between the English and the French, switching sides in his quest for French territory. In 1360, after his reconciliation with John the Good, he promptly offered to recognize Edward III as King of France- if they shared French territory between them.

In 1361, Charles returned to Navarre, his schemes in tatters and the pope refusing to recognize his rights to the Duchy of Burgundy. But Charles continued plotting. Raising an army, he planned to invade France on two fronts: the first led by himself through Normandy, the second army, led by his brother Louis would attack Burgundy and central France.

The invasion failed. So Charles turned his attention to acquiring territory in Spain. He began to make alliances with various opposing Spanish Kings- once again dabbling in double-dealing in an attempt to increase his territories. In 1365, he was officially the ally of Pedro of Castile. But that did not stop him doing a deal with Pedro’s adversary, Pedro IV of Aragon, who Charles agreed to allow to pass through Navarre as a way of invading Castile.

The Unsuccessful King

But for all his scheming, murdering and double-dealing, Charles was actually hugely unsuccessful. His double-dealings with France and England quickly played against him and by 1360, Edward III would no longer deal with him and froze him out of negotiations.

Even his machinations with the Spanish failed. After duping both his official and unofficial allies over the invasion of Castile by trying to close Navarre’s borders against both sides, the Spanish simply invaded anyway- and Charles the bad had to pay to ensure Spanish plunder was kept at a minimum.

In 1370, Charles’s old rival John the Good died and the Dauphin ascended the throne as Charles V. Charles the Bad plotted to remove the new King of France by having him poisoned. But once again, Charles’s plot was foiled. It resulted in the execution of two of the King of Navarre’s ministers, and two of his sons seized as hostages. Worse yet, Navarre’s territories of Montpellier, Navarre itself and Normandy were attacked and seized and Charles the Bad had to pay security to regain his lands.

His final humiliation came when Charles tried to profit from Pedro of Castile’s attempts to reclaim his Kingdom. Pedro had allied himself with the English Black Prince and once again the King of Navarre agreed to keep the mountain passes of Navarre open for them- for a price. But he also promised Henry of Trastamara he would hold the passes closed.

The Black Prince discovered Charles’s treachery and invaded Navarre to ensure its King kept to his deal. And to teach Charles a lesson, the Black Prince had double-dealing King ‘ambushed’ and held until Castile was under Pedro’s control. Charles the Bad was the laughing stock of Europe.

By 1378, although still King of Navarre, Charles was essentially finished. At the treaty of Briones in March 1379, he had to surrender 20 fortresses in southern Navarre to Castilian garrisons. He had impoverished his kingdom through war and was essentially a client of France, England, and Spain.

A Bad Death

Even Charles of Navarre’s death was a bad one- if the stories are to be believed. By 1387, 54-year-old Charles was seriously ill and infirm and confined to his palace at Pamplona -worn out by his wicked life or so his critics claimed. Doctors were summoned, and the bedridden King was prescribed a ‘body wrap’ of linen soaked in brandy or aqua vita. The king was to be sewn into this alcoholic shroud at bedtime so that the supposed curative properties of the alcohol could work their magic.

King Charles II Died a Horrible, Unfortunate Death
Death of Charles II of Navarre. Google Images

When she had finished her task, the maid charged with stitching the King into his wrappings looked for something to cut the thread. No scissors were at hand. So the woman used a candle flame instead.

Unsurprisingly, the alcohol soaked cloth was immediately set ablaze. The maid, terrified by events as well as her own stupidity fled, leaving Charles the Bad to burn alive in his own bed.

Would anyone really have been so stupid as to hold a naked flame against flammable linen? Other versions of the King’s death attribute the fire to another source, namely a coal from a warming pan in his bed. But the Bishop who attended Charles’s end claimed that the bad King of Navarre- although he did indeed die in his bed, did so in a peacefully saintly manner.

But the horrific tale of Charles the Bad’s horrific death stuck- probably because all of Europe believed it was a suitably just end for such a bad King.