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Agnes Sorel (v. Originally from the Tours region and from the gentry, she took her first steps in the big world by becoming bridesmaid to Isabelle de Lorraine, queen of Sicily. Her meeting with Charles VII in 1444 will change the course of his life. Become the king's favorite, she will be a source of inspiration for the artists of the time. Thus the famous painting by Jean Fouquet, the Virgin and Child surrounded by angels, which was inspired by the figure of the royal mistress.
The meeting with Charles VII
Since his coronation in Reims in 1429, the life ofCharles VII is enamelled with victory over the English and France gradually reconquered at the end of the war which lasted one hundred years (1348-1453). The king, who until then was confined to Bourges with his court, plagued by doubt and the legitimacy of his birth, regained confidence in his destiny. To celebrate these victories, a big party was organized at the Narbonne castle of Toulouse in 1444. Charles VII, accompanied by his wife Marie d 'Anjou and the people of his court, received the homage of his guests. He had no idea that this would be the place for a meeting that would turn his life around.Agnes Sorel, futurebeauty lady, will enter the scene.
In the great hall of the castle, Isabelle of Anjou, sister-in-law of the king, presents Charles her companions, each more beautiful than the next. The king’s gaze is caught by one of them, blonde as a spray, standing out with her glow from the group of her companions.
"Sire," said Isabelle, "allow me to introduce you to the youngest of my young ladies, Agnes Sorel ". She raised a clear face to the king, large almond-shaped eyes, a well-defined mouth, an hourglass figure, bowing in deep reverence. Charles VII is dazzled: "More than beautiful, he murmurs, the most beautiful of all!" ". He turns to his wife, an unattractive and unsympathetic person. Kind and forgiving, she notices his expression and rejoices, not knowing the cause.
Agnès Sorel, Lady of Beauty
The party then took on a special meaning for Charles. Agnes was not long in realizing the emotion she had aroused, which troubled her all the more, as she herself discovered an attraction to this man twenty years her senior. The king, despite an ungrateful and unassuming physique, was not lacking in charm when his keen eyes came alive, revealing his qualities of finesse, sensitivity and intelligence.
Isabelle d'Anjou, who had not escaped it, did everything to promote this meeting, going so far as to install Agnes in a single room furnished with precious furniture (the bridesmaids usually stayed in dormitories), offering her sumptuous dresses. One evening, Messire Etienne Chevalier, private secretary to the king, came to give him, on behalf of his master, a precious jewel in the shape of a fleur-de-lys. Couldn't there be a clearer message?
During an interview with those close to him, Charles courteously declared his feelings to the beautiful young girl, whose scruples melted like snow in the sun, for she realized, to her great agitation, that she was in love. Later, the two lovers will meet again, amazed at each other, in Agnes' room. No one knows anything about this romance yet, except, of course, the accomplices of a mad king.
Discovering the king's entourage, Agnes quickly notices the animosity that reigns between the monarch and the future dolphin Louis XI, the latter constantly intriguing and plotting against a father he has hated since childhood, and again finds in this affair an opportunity to harm him. Charles is fortunately assisted by a few reliable men, such as Etienne Chevalier, Seneschal Pierre de Brézé and above all the king's treasurer, Jacques Coeur.
Industrialist, shipowner, banker, ambassador, and art lover, Jacques Heart is a very influential man at court. He will forge a beautiful friendship between him and Agnès Sorel, who will order many goods of all kinds from him. The great financier of France plans to turn the beautiful young girl into a muse, a symbol of renewal for France, which has suffered greatly during this interminable period of war.
While Agnes is expecting her first child, Charles falls seriously ill in Tours, devastated by an inexplicable illness. Agnès trembles, France trembles… We are talking about poisoning, perhaps of a criminal act by the Dauphin Louis who covets the throne. Everything is done for the salvation of the king who will recover miraculously thanks to the potions, prayers, enemas and other remedies of the time. At the birth of her first daughter in 1444 named Marie de France, Agnès officially became royal favorite, a title that did not exist before, since the mistresses of kings had to remain in the shadows.
First official favorite in French history
A sumptuous life began for her. She is a radiant woman, happy to feel beautiful and to show it. She inaugurated the fashion for necklines that fully reveal the beautiful breasts she has. The king will give him the Manor of Beauté-sur-Marne. He covers her with jewelry, dresses, silverware, furs and rare perfumes, and brings her into the Queen's house to have her near him. He will interest him in the affairs of the kingdom, including him in his council taking into account his opinions. With her, Charles VII transforms, rediscovering a joie de vivre that he so lacked.
His wife Marie d´Anjou suffers from this betrayal displayed in the eyes of all under her own roof, an outrage which shocks her modesty and offends her tenderness towards her husband. She must endure among her ladies-in-waiting this too beautiful, too showy woman, more surrounded than herself! The luxury, the expenses, the lifestyle, the provocations of Agnes, make her the most criticized and jealous woman in France, but some will admire her life force, her inner and outer beauty, her fine and brilliant mind. , his communicative gaiety.
Louis for his part never ceases to insult, even insult him, despises him in the eyes of all, consumed by this hatred towards his father and his mistress, the latter two obstructing his ambitions of reign. One day he finally gives vent to his resentment and chases the beauty through the halls of a royal castle, threatening her with his sword. Agnes must take refuge in the king's chamber, and the latter, exasperated, exiles her in Dauphiné.
As Agnes waits for her second child, Charles continues reforming his kingdom, overhauling the army and appointing tax collectors. Installed in the hotel in the faubourg de Loches, bordered by forests, fields and ponds, she is happy in this rural location. The king settled near his beloved, at the Château de Razilly, far from the gossip and calumnies of the court, giving free rein to his favorite occupations, hunting, walking in the forest, crossbow shooting, tennis and of chess, dances and love games with his beloved.
On a snowy day in January 1446, Charlotte de Valois, second daughter of Agnes, was born. The king, wild with joy, showered her with gifts and titles in Rouergue and Berry. She'll wear the first western cut diamond around her neck, an invaluable gift from Charles. Besides the fashion vertiginous necklines, it will launch those of interminable trains and head attire at the height of a hive. In this era with little emphasis on hygiene, she popularized with the court very refined body treatments, massages, baths and perfumes, according to oriental fashion.
Her happiness is marred only by the incessant plots of the Dauphin which aim to keep her away from the king, and the fact that she has not given the latter a son: "What can I not give to the king of my heart this son whom he would have loved so much »she sighs. For her part, the Dauphin seeks by all means to bring down the two characters she esteems and protects, Seneschal Pierre de Brézé and the great financier Jacques Coeur. A wind of conspiracy and dark betrayal is blowing through the king’s entourage.
The seneschal, who was suspected, among other things, of having an affair with Agnès Sorel, had to file a lawsuit to defend his honor. The "beauty lady" will awkwardly attempt to intercede on behalf of her friend, making her way to Paris, in a crew fit for a queen. The result was contrary to that expected: booed, insulted, and treated of "whore of the king" by the people, she was very hurt and will bitterly regret her initiative. The king, furious and sorry for the welcome given to his precious beloved, will organize parties in her honor to make her forget this affront.
After five years of peace, Charles VII, pushed by Agnès and her entourage, set out again in war to take back the few cities of the kingdom still in English hands. This campaign will be crowned with success and will soon be left with Calais only. While Agnes is expecting a fourth child, she is informed of yet another plot by the dolphin to deliver the king to the English. Mad with anguish, she wants to warn the monarch of the danger that awaits him, despite her difficult pregnancy.
The tragic death of Agnès Sorel
After a grueling journey in the middle of winter, she joined the king at Jumièges. The latter is more alarmed by the condition of his beloved than by the news she brings him: "Rest at the manor of Mesnil, my dear, the Benedictine monks will welcome you there" he said. The king, followed by Jacques Coeur and Etienne Chevalier will come to visit him. As the days go by, they will notice a great weakness and a lack of vitality which hardly resembles Agnès.
The childbirth is declared a month before term, when the young woman, exhausted, can not endure the ordeal. A frail little girl is born who will not survive, leaving her devastated mother with fevers and abdominal pain. Then begins for Agnès, suffering from the "sickness of childbirth", a rapid agony, punctuated by suffering and sanies. Charles VII is aghast, forgetting his nearly over war to stand at the bedside of one who is the essence of his life and who is in danger of death.
Agnès does not want to offer the spectacle of her physical decline. She will condemn her door, her body soiled, emptied, horrifying her. Sensing her end near, she summons her confessor and her friend Jacques Coeur to entrust them with her will. They will witness the last words of the "beauty lady": "It is little, and vile and fetid, that our fragility". She passed away in February 1450, at the age of 28 years old, possibly the victim of poisoning. Mournful, the king orders two magnificent marble tombs, one containing his heart in the Abbey of Jumièges, the other his body in Loches.
Aisni ends a great love story, between a king with a chaotic journey and the most " beautiful beauty " of his time. Her glory lasted only seven years during which this exceptional woman in more than one respect left no one indifferent, imposing her way of life, associating her name with that of Charles VII in the history of France.
- Agnès Sorel: The first favorite of Françoise Kermina. Perrin, 2005.
- The Beauty Lady by Jeanne Bourin. Roman, pocket 1987.
- Charles VII: A Shakespearean King by Georges Minois. Perrin, 2004.