Charles the Wise may have killed himself trying to stop prophecy of his own death, study finds

Did Charles V, King of France (1364-80), die from an attempted poisoning, committed 23 years early? Or was his death caused by his own attempts to stop his physician’s warning? A new study weighs in on the case of the ‘weeping fistula’.

France was seemingly inundated with political machinations during the Hundred Years’ War. Many were caused by Charles the Bad, King of Navarre from 1349 to 1387. Among his many deeds was his alleged poisoning of his former friend Charles the Wise, then a prince and heir to the Kingdom of France. The chronicler Froissart reports how a mysterious venom struck the prince, causing “the hairs of his head and the nails of his hands and feet (to) fall off…”


Historians have noted that this illness was very similar to arsenic poisoning, and many people at the time believed that Charles the Bad was responsible. However, Prince Charles survived, but was left with a fistula on his arm that would ‘weep’ – in modern medical terms, drip out pus. His physician prophesized to Charles that if this weeping ever stopped, he would die within 15 days.

Sure enough, 23 years later, Froissart reports that “…when the fistula started drying up and ceased to weep, the terror of death began to stalk him…” Charles, now King Charles V, was dead within days, at the age of 42.


In a new study recently published in Cureus, Matthew D. Turner examines the potential causes of Charles the Wise’s death. Turner ultimately concludes that even if Charles the Bad did poison the prince, that would almost certainly have played no role in his later demise.

Instead, Turner points to several conditions that could have caused the constant production of pus, including a tuberculosis infection. “It is almost certain that the king was exposed to the disease at some point, for tuberculosis was incredibly widespread in the medieval world,” the author notes.

The death of Charles V depicted in a manuscript of Froissarr’s Chronicles – British Library MS Royal 14 E IV f. 64

An even more troubling idea is that Charles V met his end through his attempts to ensure that the fistula was still ‘weeping’ – continuing to drain pus. Weary of his own physician’s warning found ways through mechanical stress to keep the fistula active, years after it could have healed on its own.

Turner concludes that “the ‘pale, thin, and grave’ king who always ‘lived under a sense of urgency’ may have been the author of his own pain.”


The article, “The Terror of Death Began To Stalk Him”: The Mysterious Fistula of Charles the Wise, by Matthew D. Turner, appears in Cureus. Click here to read it.