Once upon a time there was this king who had everything one could ever wish for. He was rich, young, and had lots of power.
He lived in the picturesque city of Amboise, France, in one of the most beautiful castles in all of Europe.
This king was Charles VIII, or as many called him, “Charles The Affable.” The year was 1498 and Charles had just returned a few years earlier from leading a 25,000 man army in a series of battles against what is today’s Italy.
(This portion of Charles’ life has been recreated on the cable TV series, The Borgias.)
One day Charles, while in Amboise, decided to attend a tennis match. While going there, he passed through a door and hit his head on the lintel overhead. It packed a wallop, but didn’t keep him from attending the match.
After the match, however, he died about nine hours later. His death was determined to have been caused by the collision he had with the door’s lintel.
Renting A House With Short Doors
I read this story about Charles as my wife and I, along with another couple, moved into an eighteenth century home, near Charles’ Amboise Castle. We had rented the home for a two week stay. I distinctly remember taking note of Charles’ accident, because the lintels in our home were low, very low.
For example, when I passed through the doors of our bedroom, hallway and bathroom, If I didn’t duck my head, it was a certainty I was going to hit my head.
The first night we were there, I got up in the middle of the night, put on my head lamp and proceeded slowly down the hall to the bathroom. I would be passing through three doors.
Door 1, I ducked. Door 2, I ducked. Door 3, I ducked. With each duck I thought of Charles.
On my return to the bedroom, I walked through door 3 with my head light on. But I forgot to duck. “Thud,” I hit my head and fell backward and had to work to regain my balance. I became light headed. I asked myself, “How in the world could I have forgotten to duck?”
With a small knot rising on my forehead, I slowly made my way back to my bed. “Is this it?” I asked myself. “Am I going to die like Charles did?”
The next morning, I woke up. I was alive.
I promised myself that would not happen again. Over the next nine days, it happened at least five more times. I had little knots all over my head.
I concluded, from this experience, Charles did not die from just one single hit on a door’s low lintel. Most likely he had hit his head many times on lintels over a lifetime. (My supposition of course.)
I was glad to end my visit in Amboise. No telling what might have ultimately happened had I stayed there much longer.
Before the end of our stay, I observed that no one else in our group had hit their heads on the lintels.
I also realized that no one else in history had died from hitting their head on overhead lintels.
What was it about Charles and me? Why were we so susceptible to hitting our heads on the lintels overhead?
Well, upon further investigation, I found that Charles was nicknamed “Affable” for a reason. He was sickly as a child. And although he was nice and very likable, he was not considered to be cut out for leadership and administration. In other words, Charles was considered too “foolish” or fun loving for such serious work.
Charles also bankrupted France while he was in charge.
However, he is given credit for improving cultural ties with Italy by supporting Renaissance art and letters in France.
Last, he has the dubious distinction of starting the Italian Wars which lasted the first half of the sixteenth century.
So, what does that say about me? Well, for one, I didn’t grow up in homes and villages with short doors like Charles did. As a result, Charles died at 27, while I’m still around at 67.
Thank goodness, I haven’t bankrupted any businesses I’ve owned.
On the other hand, like Charles, I like Renaissance art and music. In fact, I deeply appreciate the joy that the spirit of The Renaissance brought to the otherwise mundane lives of average citizens throughout the 15th-17th centuries.
For example, my philosophy is that when you win, you need to celebrate. And when you lose, you should find some reason to celebrate. In other words, celebration should be the rule not the exception in life.
Renaissance philosopher Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) put the same sentiment in these words, “The most manifest sign of wisdom is a continual cheerfulness.”
Even though our lives often experience unfair moments, we should exert every ounce of will inside us to not let a spirit of woe overwhelm us. We are too capable of overcoming challenges to let dread rule our lives. Such is one of the life enhancing truths that Renaissance philosophy has contributed to human existence.
Back To Charles
But, how foolish was Charles really? He was able to lead a 25,000 man army over long distances and into bloody wars, and stay alive in the process.
Maybe his only true weakness was, he couldn’t remember to duck when he came to a short door. Neither could I.