The Strange Tale of Bal des Ardents – “Ball of Burning Men”

This is the strange and interesting tale of Bal des Ardents – Ball of Burning Men. A masquerade wedding event that quickly turned tragic back in 1393…

At the ripe young age of only 11 years old, Charles VI inherited the throne in the midst of the Hundred Years’ War.


Later in his mid 20’s, Charles began to go mad with bouts of schizophrenia and was often found running naked through the halls of his palace howling like a wolf. Unable to sometimes even identify his own wife, he started to become known as Mad King Charles.


Medieval mindset dictated a proper diagnosis, Charles VI was in the hand of the devil… As a result of his frequent bouts of madness, the King was bedridden until a solution was found.


While under care, it was suggested that the king’s attention be diverted from his royal duties so jesters and fools were brought in to keep him amused. And it worked, but, unfortunately indirectly brought on chaos and tragedy…


To celebrate the wedding of one of the queen’s ladies-in-waiting, a suggestion to make the event more festive was passed on: Men would dress like monsters “in costumes of linen cloth sewn onto their bodies and soaked in resinous wax or pitch to hold a covering of frazzled hemp, so that they appeared shaggy & hairy from head to foot” Even their faces were covered so they would not be recognized.


Unbeknownst to attending guests, the king would also be dressed in costume as one of the 6 dancing monsters. Due to the highly flammable garments worn by the entertainers, it was ordered that no torches be lit in the main hall during the ceremony.


The king’s brother Louis of Valois, Duke of Orl√©ans, who had arrived late and drunk, approached with a lighted torch in order to discover the identity of the masqueraders, and he set one of them on fire.


The fire began to spread, panic set in…


Guests began to try and help the burning victims. The Duchess of Berry used her dress to cloak over one of the burning dancers to smother the flame, unknowingly saving the Charles VI’s life. Several knights and guests were all severely burned trying to put out the fire and the other dancers. Only one other dancer survived the fire…

Bal des Ardents was even remember by Edgar Allen Poe in 1845 in his short story, Hop-Frog. October 18th, 2014, Bal des Ardents is remembered at the 8th installment of Masque.

By: Pat Hanavan


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