A Duplicitous Monarch
When he found out that John and Edward had made peace, Charles set about creating anarchy in Paris. He opened all the prisons and generally plagued John’s son, the Dauphin. When a peasant revolt broke out, Charles the Bad used it as an excuse to raid the countryside and win the favor of the people of Paris until finally in 1360 he made his peace with John once again.
In fact, it was common for Charles to play on the fear and mistrust between his enemies and allies, to move from one side to another with duplicitous ease. He first employed the tactic between the English and the French, switching sides in his quest for French territory. In 1360, after his reconciliation with John the Good, he promptly offered to recognize Edward III as King of France- if they shared French territory between them.
In 1361, Charles returned to Navarre, his schemes in tatters and the pope refusing to recognize his rights to the Duchy of Burgundy. But Charles continued plotting. Raising an army, he planned to invade France on two fronts: the first led by himself through Normandy, the second army, led by his brother Louis would attack Burgundy and central France.
The invasion failed. So Charles turned his attention to acquiring territory in Spain. He began to make alliances with various opposing Spanish Kings- once again dabbling in double-dealing in an attempt to increase his territories. In 1365, he was officially the ally of Pedro of Castile. But that did not stop him doing a deal with Pedro’s adversary, Pedro IV of Aragon, who Charles agreed to allow to pass through Navarre as a way of invading Castile.
The Unsuccessful King
But for all his scheming, murdering and double-dealing, Charles was actually hugely unsuccessful. His double-dealings with France and England quickly played against him and by 1360, Edward III would no longer deal with him and froze him out of negotiations.
Even his machinations with the Spanish failed. After duping both his official and unofficial allies over the invasion of Castile by trying to close Navarre’s borders against both sides, the Spanish simply invaded anyway- and Charles the bad had to pay to ensure Spanish plunder was kept at a minimum.
In 1370, Charles’s old rival John the Good died and the Dauphin ascended the throne as Charles V. Charles the Bad plotted to remove the new King of France by having him poisoned. But once again, Charles’s plot was foiled. It resulted in the execution of two of the King of Navarre’s ministers, and two of his sons seized as hostages. Worse yet, Navarre’s territories of Montpellier, Navarre itself and Normandy were attacked and seized and Charles the Bad had to pay security to regain his lands.
His final humiliation came when Charles tried to profit from Pedro of Castile’s attempts to reclaim his Kingdom. Pedro had allied himself with the English Black Prince and once again the King of Navarre agreed to keep the mountain passes of Navarre open for them- for a price. But he also promised Henry of Trastamara he would hold the passes closed.
The Black Prince discovered Charles’s treachery and invaded Navarre to ensure its King kept to his deal. And to teach Charles a lesson, the Black Prince had double-dealing King ‘ambushed’ and held until Castile was under Pedro’s control. Charles the Bad was the laughing stock of Europe.
By 1378, although still King of Navarre, Charles was essentially finished. At the treaty of Briones in March 1379, he had to surrender 20 fortresses in southern Navarre to Castilian garrisons. He had impoverished his kingdom through war and was essentially a client of France, England, and Spain.
A Bad Death
Even Charles of Navarre’s death was a bad one- if the stories are to be believed. By 1387, 54-year-old Charles was seriously ill and infirm and confined to his palace at Pamplona –worn out by his wicked life or so his critics claimed. Doctors were summoned, and the bedridden King was prescribed a ‘body wrap’ of linen soaked in brandy or aqua vita. The king was to be sewn into this alcoholic shroud at bedtime so that the supposed curative properties of the alcohol could work their magic.
When she had finished her task, the maid charged with stitching the King into his wrappings looked for something to cut the thread. No scissors were at hand. So the woman used a candle flame instead.
Unsurprisingly, the alcohol soaked cloth was immediately set ablaze. The maid, terrified by events as well as her own stupidity fled, leaving Charles the Bad to burn alive in his own bed.
Would anyone really have been so stupid as to hold a naked flame against flammable linen? Other versions of the King’s death attribute the fire to another source, namely a coal from a warming pan in his bed. But the Bishop who attended Charles’s end claimed that the bad King of Navarre- although he did indeed die in his bed, did so in a peacefully saintly manner.
But the horrific tale of Charles the Bad’s horrific death stuck- probably because all of Europe believed it was a suitably just end for such a bad King.