The Ball of The Burning Men

Grace Higgins | November 24th, 2019

Known as the Bal Des Ardents, which in English is referred to as the Ball of the Burning Men or the Ball of the Wild Men, it was a masquerade ball held in Paris in 1393 which became famous as the King Charles VI of France nearly died due to a fire while dancing. It is one of the many events that caused problems for Charles VI, who at one point was reported to have suffered an attack of insanity.

wikimedia.org

The dancing and ball were supposed to entertain Charles VI but it all turned into a disaster when his brother Louis, Duke of Orleans, walked in with a flaming torch. By accident, Louis set the whole place on fire, and Charles VI was actually performing a dance with five other members of the French nobility. Immediately four of the dancers were killed in the flames, and Charles narrowly escaped being burnt to death himself. From this point on the young king never really did recover.

The event undermined his whole confidence, and also gave the nobility and wider public immense doubts on his capacity to rule. Parisians consider the disaster to be proof that Charles was incapable of leading the country, and threatened to riot and revolt. They believed the only way they could save the country was by rebelling against the powerful members of the nobility.

Of course, the King did not want this to happen, therefore his brother and himself offered penance to the public for the event. Penance is a sacrament in which a member of the Church will confess his sins to a priest. This was needed to calm to revolt, as Louis was being accused of trying to murder the king and also of being involved in sorcery.

Historians believe the dance was being held by Charles’s wife Isabeau of Bavaria who held the ball to honor the remarriage of one of her ladies in waiting. It is thought that the dancers were performing the traditional charivari dance at the time and that they were disguised as wild men. These are mythical beings that during the medieval ages and especially in Tudor England, were associated with demonology.

This ball even inspired much writing and stories being published around it, such as the illustrated manuscripts of 15th-century painter Master of Anthony of Burgundy or Edgar Allan Poe’s short story Hop-Frog.a

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