Agnes Sorel : an influential lady ?
Her entourage, her circle in the King's Council, her influence in the Court
The informal power of the favorite
Did Agnès Sorel play an influential role with the king?
The favourite of Charles VII undoubtedly embodies one of the dimensions of power, that of a real capacity to obtain, from the sovereign, a favourable status for her friends and relations.
Agnès Sorel's accession to the court was finally part of a period of reconquest and reconstruction of the kingdom, after the challenges of the Franco-English war had been overcome. Fate turned in the king's favour after the peace with the Duke of Burgundy (Treaty of Arras, 1435). Charles VII, for a long time indecisive and timid, with a lymphatic and melancholic temperament, is once again a sovereign who makes decisions and governs with firmness and will. It is fair to say that the presence of Agnès Sorel at the king's side during the 1440s was not unrelated to this revival of authority and sovereignty, which marked a turning point in the reign of Charles VII.
It was during these periods that the progressive rebuilding of a royal administration can be observed, correlated with the collection of taxes, the constitution of a permanent army, and the revitalisation of the kingdom's commercial circuits.
A network at the service of the king
The presence of Agnès Sorel at the Court of Charles VII was also a sign of the new place conferred to women, who had been kept on the sidelines during the period of war: 'It was the time when ladies had stature in France', wrote Olivier de la Marche (1425-1502) in his Mémoires (1435-1462).
Beyond her influence on the customs and habits of the Court, it was Agnès Sorel who made Charles VII "the Well Served". She forged a true "network of active loyalties" around the sovereign. The chronicler Olivier de La Marche states that she "brought young men-at-arms and good companions to the king, and since then the king has been well served". In fact, Agnès exercised her influence through trusted men who actively and loyally contributed to the political, military and economic recovery of the kingdom.
In February 1445, the spy Guillaume Mariette drew up a list of 'those who often stand before the king in his retreat' and who all belonged to Agnès Sorel's 'clan', first and foremost Pierre de Brézé, Jacques Cœur, Étienne Chevalier and Guillaume Gouffier.
A diffuse and contested influence
Although it is difficult, given the state of the sources, to establish a direct influence, with a clear political line, of the favourite with the king, some chroniclers affirm that she could occasionally direct the royal will. For example, it was she who, according to what the great chamberlain Jean du Bueil [1406-1478] recorded in his biographical novel Le Jouvencel, in the summer of 1449, pushed for the truce with the English to be broken: "Lead us into war, you will be more valiant and all your company will be more valiant [...] Great kings have great affairs".
Her influence also benefited her siblings, four brothers who, thanks to their sister, enjoyed the protection and the generosity of the king.
At the same time, another clan grew around the Dauphin Louis - who was of the same generation as Agnès Sorel: he was born in 1423 - and which was largely hostile to her: this was the case, in particular, of the chancellor Guillaume Jouvenel (1400-1472), and the chronicler Georges Chastellain. The Dauphin's animosity towards his father's favourite - whom he threatened, if not molested - led him to be exiled to the Dauphiné in December 1446 as a result of other deviations and his mistrust of the king.
Finally, it is possible to see a continuity of the favourite's influence through her posterity. The legitimisation of the three natural children of Charles VII and Agnès Sorel by Louis XI (1458), who bear the nickname Valois, marks the recognition of Agnès Sorel's descent, due to the "royal blood" that passed through the daughters of the favourite - who were taken away from her in their early youth - and of the king.
It is important that their spouses all belong to the Angevin clan, a sign of the continuity of these loyalty bonds from one generation to the next.
- Master of Wavrin, Charles VII and a messenger, Chronicles of England - Gand français 82, fol.98.
- Martial d'Auvergne, Vigils of Charles VII, Pierre de Brézé appointed seneschal of Normandy by Charles VII, c.1484, Paris, BnF, Français 5054 fol.208v, BnF.
- Louis Boudan, Jacques Coeur, sentenced on 19 May 1453 Kings and Queens of France and persons of different standing drawn from the Monuments, Collection Gaignière, 17th century, fol.67.RESERVE OA-14-FOL, BnF.
- Louis Boudan, Figure of a character in long dress... Etienne Chevalier, Treasurer of France (by Jean Fouquet), Recueil de costumes, Collection Gaignières, 17th century, fol.15, BnF.
- Louis Boudan, White & black marble tomb in the middle of the Chapel of the Virgin or Boisy on the left in the nave of the Church of the Cordeliers, 1695, BnF.
- Evrart de Conty, Book of moralized love failures, c.1496-1498, , français 143, fol.9r.BnF
- Jean-Pierre HUGUENIN, Charles VI and Odette de Champdivers, 1839 [inv. n°571] Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dole.
- Letter from Agnès Sorel, Lady of Beauty, to Miss de Belleville, natural daughter of Charles VI and Odette de Champdivers, Inv.898.1.3. Château-Musée de Mehun-sur-Yèvre.