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The Life of a Medieval King

One of the current buzz phrases is maintaining our “work/life” balance, but what of Medieval times and if your “work” happened to be ruling the country? While we may have the vision of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries as a time of war and pacts across Europe, this was not the case all the time. A vision of life at the French Court of Charles V who reigned between 1364 and 1380 was chronicled by Christine de Pizan at the beginning of the fifteenth century. She was well-placed to record such things as she was on the periphery of the Royal Court as her father Tommaso di Pizano was a Physician and Astrologer to the Court.

It is thought that as well as being a look back at the King’s life almost as a biography, the work was also intended to be a guide to those who followed. It should also be remembered that France was not the secular country it is today, but was proudly and staunchly Roman Catholic; one of the defining items of the royal routine was a strict observation of prayer at the appropriate time. This being the case, the King rose each day between six and seven, following private prayer, he would be dressed by his servants before receiving the priest for the daily office depending upon the Canonical calendar. The day would follow with the religious theme as the King went to the chapel for mass.

On exiting the chapel and walking through the courtyard, the King received may petitions and supplications from commoners – some he listened to and others were passed to Royal Court officials to attend to. It is interesting that some centuries later this was still the case for the French Kings, and when they were in the Palace of Versailles, they returned from mass through the Hall of Mirrors, it was in here they received petitions. These petitions were sometimes works of great art, and examples exist to this day in places like Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire.

The King would then spend about an hour with the senior officials of his Royal Court before taking a late morning meal and being entertain with music. It was after this in the main part of the day that the King undertook his official business receiving foreign dignitaries, hearing reports of wars abroad, signing any necessary documentation. It should also be remembered that this is way before gas and electricity, and hence work was best done when the sun was at its zenith and giving the most light. He then rested or took recreation including vespers until it was time for “High Supper” which was the main meal of the day. After this, he spent some time with his barons and knights before retiring.

With this known structured way of working, the King not only maintained a balanced life but was also seen to be doing so by all levels within France. Even the commoners knew they could see and if necessary petition the King, he was not this figure that ruled remotely from them. How often, even in these modern days of television and the internet is it a matter of concern when a country’s ruler has not been seen in public for some time.

The recreational time also meant that the King could relax with members of the Court, and during the summer, his wife and family joined him especially when he was at the Hotel of St Paul. It is interesting to look at the itinerary and compare it with today, our Queen still receives documents to be signed on most days of the year. However, petitions are for the most part dealt with by her ministers and, perhaps, pleasing to them not directly in person.

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