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.
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.
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.