Today’s Royal Mistress underneath the Hisdoryan spotlight is Odette de Champdivers, the mistress of Charles VI of France. This is a sad tale that makes me feel sorry for all the main characters involved. Trust me – get those tissues ready.
Charles VI (born 1368) was King of France from 1380 to 1422. Charles VI was 11 when he inherited the throne in the midst of the Hundred Years’ War, and remained only a figurehead until the age of 21. When he finally took power he restored his father’s advisors and ushered in a new period of high esteem for the crown. Charles VI became known as Charles the Beloved.
Charles was married to Isabeau of Bavaria in 1385. To say their relationship wasn’t plain sailing is a bit of an understatement. Firstly, Isabeau had 12 children, most of whom died young. And then Charles became increasingly plagued by bouts of insanity (modern historians think it may have been paranoid schizophrenia). It started suddenly in 1392, with an incident that saw Charles kill four of his own knights and attempt to murder his own brother! Other episodes included;
- Not knowing who his wife and children were
- Thinking he was St George
- Not bathing for five months
- Believing he was made of glass
- Refusing to eat because he though his food was poisoned
- Smashing furniture into bits
Instead of Charles The Beloved Charles now became known as Charles The Mad.
According to Caroline Rogers in her book Victorious Charles: A Ladies Man Charles VI ‘developed a loathing for the frivolous Isabel, and during his increasingly frequent lapses from sanity he hurled any object within reach and screamed lunatic abuse at the queen or anyone else within a convenient distance‘. Isabeau became the victim of terrible tirades and beatings. Something had to be done.
Queen Isabeau took the unusual step of allowing the King to take a mistress. In fact, some sources say Isabeau even arranged the mistress for Charles!
Little Odette de Champdivers was only 17 when she began an approved affair with the King in early 1407. She was a minor member of the Burgandian gentry, and was gentle and patient with her afflicted monarch.
Odette and Charles had a very close relationship – he nicknamed her “La Petite Reine” or “the little queen”. He showered her with gifts and estates (which you can do when you are king!).
Odette is also credited with introducing playing cards to France, which she used to entertain Charles.
In 1407 Charles and Odette had one daughter, Marguerite de Valois (unflatteringly also known as Margaret the Bastard).
Charles’ son and heir Charles VII openly acknowledged Margaret as his sister. He also arranged a good marriage for her and gave her an ample dowry.
Faithful Odette stayed with Charles until the very end. She was at his side when he died on the 21st October 1422. Charles VI’s last words were “Odette, Odette“. In stark contrast, Queen Isabeau didn’t even attend her husband’s funeral.
After his death, Odette lost her royal pension and was reduced to poverty. She earned some money as a spy for the Dauphin Charles, but ultimately died with nothing in 1425.
Royal Mistress Rankings
I think Odette’s sad ending says it all – she was completely reliant on her king and when he was no longer around there was no-one to help or protect her.
Contemporary sources don’t seem to praise Odette’s beauty, but at the same time they’re not saying she fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down.
Odette and Charles were together for a grand total of 19 years. It’s not quite a lifetime, but it definitely wasn’t a flash in the pan either. Based on her behaviour, Odette seemed to develop a real affection for Charles.
Certainly the least scandalous mistress we have looked at so far (remember Alice Perrers?!) but given the back story and the fact Queen Isabeau may have arranged the entire affair in the first place, it was hardly going to be front page material with that degree of compliance.
Overall Mistress Rating **
In my opinion Odette is a royal mistress that would have been overlooked by history if it wasn’t for the fact she was concubine to a mad king. During her lifetime she was not noted for her beauty, wit or scandalous actions.
I do feel very sorry for her though. Firstly, she probably never wanted to enter into an affair with Charles in the first place – I mean, who would willingly enter into a relationship with an actual mad man?! Secondly, based on the fact that Charles physically abused Isabeau I think it likely he was at the very least aggressive towards Odette at some point. Thirdly, if she did develop a real affection for Charles – which I think is likely based on the evidence – how sad is it that the man she loved was that ill? And lastly, Odette was very much used and then discarded when Charles was no longer around, dying in poverty.
Altogether I think it’s a very tragic tale. What do you think?