From “Charles the mad” to the downright “wicked Catherine de’ Medici”. The French monarchy certainly saw some of the worst kings and queens of France. These French monarchs were disastrous for their subjects and the Kingdom of France.
Let’s take a look at the worst French kings and queens of all time.
1) Charles VI- A French king who went from being beloved to ‘mad’
Charles VI was the king of France for 42 years. He was crowned king at the age of 11 and ascended the throne at the age of 21. During his rule, he kept a highly competent group of advisors known as the Marmousets. Via them, he assimilated lots of success which gave him the nickname ‘Charles the beloved’. But this changed soon. During his mid-twenties, Charles VI became a victim of mental illnesses, which resulted in him having bouts of psychosis, earning him the nickname ‘Charles the mad’.
When the king was lucid he was a fine ruler, but those instances became rare over the years. He started forgetting his own name and once even failed to recognise his own wife! Charles VI’s even suffered from glass delusion, which drove him to not bathing for days and threatened anyone who tried to touch him. Simply put, France was in an economical and military decline during his reign. The way he handled the affairs of the country deems him as one of the worst kings of France.
2) Isabeau of Bavaria- An adulterer and traitor to the French crown
Isabeau of Bavaria was the wife of the mad king Charles VI. During the peak of his mental illness, he could not remember her and often banished her from his chambers. In spite of this, he made her act on his behalf and named her regent of France to the heir apparent of France. As regent, she was involved in the signing of the ‘Treaty of Troyes’, which ensured that the English King Henry V and his heirs would inherit the French throne after the death of Charles V. This was seen as an act of treason on her part because it was her duty to ensure that there were French successors to the throne.
Additionally, she committed acts of adultery and allegedly slept with her brother in law. She wore extravagant clothes and she was labelled as a spendthrift and a luxurious queen. Moreover, her moral corruption, political aspirations and involvement in politics make her one of the worst queens of France.
3) Francis II- An incompetent ruler
Francis II was the ruler of France from 1559 to 1560. His was one of the shortest reigns in the French monarchy. Francis II was also the King Consort of Scotland by his marriage to Mary, Queen of Scots. He was made king of France at the age of 15. The French law dictated that as he was of legal age, he did not require a regent. However, Francis was young and inexperienced hence he delegated his power to his uncles at the House of Guise.
The House of Guise were mistrusted and were seen as foreigners. At the time the debt of France stood at 48 million livres, and the King’s own annual income was 12 million livres. The Guise then implemented policies of austerity which contributed to their unpopularity. Additionally, during Francis II’s reign, Protestanism was repressed and protestants were persecuted in the kingdom. These policies were seen as one of the first stirrings of the French Wars of Religion. Hence, the reign of Francis II was dominated by religious wars. These factors made him one of the worst kings of France.
4) Catherine de’ Medici- The wicked queen
Catherine de’ Medici was an Italian noblewoman who became the Queen Consort of France. She was married to King Henry II. She was the mother of French kings Francis II, Charles IX and Henry III. The reign of her children is called the ‘the age of Catherine de’ Medici’ as she was largely involved in the political life of France at the time.
Cathrine de’ Medici was known for her ruthless nature and she is responsible for most of the bad decisions of the crown. One of the darkest incidents in French monarchy, the ‘St. Bartholomew’s day massacre’ is also linked to her. During this massacre around 30,000 French protestants were slaughtered throughout Paris. Her involvement in this incident labelled her as a wicked Italian queen. Moreover, it was due to her heartless nature that she went down as one of the worst queens of France.
5) Louis XV- A king who went from being well-loved to well-disliked among his subjects
Louis XV ruled over France for almost 59 years and it was his rule which set the stage for the French Revolution. Initially, he had the admiration of his subjects. Due to his involvement in the War of Austrian Succession, he had earned the respect of the people and was nicknamed ‘Louis the well-loved’. But these admirations did not last long as this war had proved to be costly for France. Furthermore, France’s involvement in the ‘Seven Years War’ proved to be detrimental to it. Louis XV tried to repair the damages but it was too late. Louis XV lacked leadership and was infamous for having numerous mistresses. Moreover, allegedly his mistresses often had an influence over the politics of the kingdom.
The French monarch’s stubborn personality and detrimental political actions earned him the contempt of his subjects. Additionally, he was a spendthrift and during his reign, France had lots of financial problems. These factors make him one of the worst kings of France.
6) Marie Antoinette- The most hated monarch of France
We cannot list the worst queens of France without including Marie Antoinette. She is one of the most hated French monarchs in history. Marie Antoinette was wedded to the French king Louis XVI. Even though initially she was given a warm welcome by the Parisians it did not last long. She was subjected to gossips which tarnished her reputation. The people started believing false rumours about her which further made them hate her. Marie Antoinette is most famous for uttering ‘let them eat cake’ in response to the lack of bread for the French subjects, but like many other rumours about her, this one is not entirely true either.
Her association with the scandal ‘affair of the Queen’s diamond’ further damaged her reputation and increased her unpopularity. Moreover, at the time France’s finances were in a dire state, instead of being frugal Marie Antoinette was a spendthrift who bought extravagant gowns. Her profligacy earned her the nickname ‘Madame Deficit’.
For many revolutionary figures, Marie Antoinette became the symbol of all that’s wrong with the old regime of France. Her death was seen as a necessity to complete the French Revolution. Marie Antoinette was executed on October 1793. During her trial, she was charged with accounts of high treason, for the depletion of the national treasury and for conspiracy against the state.
7) Charles X- The radical French King
Charles X was a deeply unpopular French monarch and ruled over France for almost 6 years. He was coronated in 1825 and he advocated a number of unpopular policies under his reign. Charles X infamously tried to revive the royal touch, and the people he enlisted under him increased the power of the Catholic Church and reimposed capital punishment for sacrilege. Additionally, he initiated the Conquest of Algeria which blinded his subjects from the domestic affairs of the kingdom.
He also infamously formed a highly conservative government which was headed by Prince Jules de Polignac. Subsequently, he proclaimed a series of decrees in which he reimposed press censorship and disbanded the Chamber of Deputies. These radical acts of his culminated in the July Revolution. This revolution resulted in his abdication and Louis Philippe I was crowned king of France. The extreme acts of the king make him one of the worst kings of France.