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987-1328 - Capetian Kings

Louis V, who succeeded his father in 986, bore but one year the vain title of king, and with him concluded the Carlovingian / Carolingian dynasty, although not yet extinct, in 987. Hugh Capet, duke of France, assumed the title of king. Before the election of Hugh Capet, there existed seven great fiefs or peerages directly dependent on the king. These were afterwards reduced to six, by the reunion of the duchy of France to the crown. The hereditary transmission of benefices had caused the ruin of the first dynasty, and that of governments the fall of the second. The Heristals, the mayors of the palace, had prepared the decline, and possessed themselves of the succession of the Merovingians ; the dukes of France, or counts of the palace, following their example, obtained similar advantages. The commencement of the Carlovingians had been brilliant, but although that of the Capetians was attended with less pomp, this family offers the only example of a dynasty existing through thirty-two generations of kings.

During the early reigns of this dynasty the actual dominions of the French king were of but small extent, a large part of the territory having been usurped by the ambitious nobles and held only by the feudal tie. The most important of these provinces were Brittany, in the northwest; Normandy, in tLe north; Aquitaine, or Guienne, and Anjou, in the west; Gascony and Navarre, in the southwest; Provence, in the southeast; Burgundy and Champagne, in the east. Robert succeeded in annexing Burgundy to his dominions. During this reign the year 1000 arrived, which, as the date of the millennium, had been very generally predicted as the " end of the world." Robert died in 1031, leaving the throne to his son Henry.

The reign of Henry I is noted for the repeated wars which Henry waged with the Duke of Normandy - William, afterward the Conqueror of England - who successfully defended his dominions against the attacks of the French king. Thus was produced that aversion between the English and French monarchs that occasioned so many wars during the following reigns.

Louis VII, by marrying Eleanor, became possessed of Guienne and Poitou; but during the expedition which he undertook to the Holy Land, and in which he was accompanied by his queen, he was so provoked by the freedom and levity of her conduct that he divorced her, and thus lost her great possessions. These he had the mortification of seeing annexed to the dominions of Henry, Duke of Normandy, of England (Henry II.), whom Eleanor married after her divorce from the French king. In this way the English monarch came into possession of more extensive territories in France than those of the French king himself. Louis was succeeded by his son Philip (1180). France continued to be triumphant over the English, who, during the reign of Henry III., made repeated attacks upon the French territories. Another crusade was undertaken against the Albigenses by Louis VIII. by request of the Pope. With a large army he laid siege to Avignon.

The feudal revolution had its rise in Germany, but it settled in France. It was the feudalism of France that implanted itself in England with William the Conqueror; in southern Italy with Robert Guiscard ; in Portugal with Henry of Burgundy ; in the Holy Land with Godfrey de Bouillon. These are the great Frenchmen who rearranged the true charter of feudalism; who instituted the tournaments, the military orders, chivalry, and heraldry; who together set up the ideals of courage, of purity, of devotion, and of gallantry which have left such lasting traces on modern customs and morals. It was in France that feudalism and chivalry, the aristocracy of society, found their highest expression.

The age of the Capetians was the age of the Crusades. These romantic expeditions, while stirring all Christendom, appealed especially to the ardent, imaginative genius of the Gallic race. Three Capetian kings, Louis VII, Philip Augustus, and Louis IX, themselves headed several of the wild expeditions. It is the influence of the Crusades on the French monarchy that we alone need to notice in this place. They tended very materially to weaken the power and influence of the feudal nobility, and in a corresponding degree to strengthen the authority of the crown and add to its dignity.

The mortality attending the last crusade, opened a source of profit to the crown in the numerous successions by which it was followed. John Tristan bequeathed to the throne, Valois, and the Lands of Auvergne. The county of Poitiers devolved to the crown by the death of Alphonso; and his widow of a day, having no posterity, the county of the Raymonds was also added to the royal domain by the treaty of Meaux. The Venaissin, which formed part of this inheritance, was afterwards made over to the Holy See. Finally, the contagion which terminated the days of Thibaut II on his return from an expedition to Tunis, produced events, the result of which was the reunion of the crowns of Champagne and Navarre. By the acquisition of this kingdom and of the county of Toulouse, the French king's found themselves suddenly possessed of vast power in the south of France, and also brought into contact with Castille, Aragon and Provence, whose sovereigns were about to engage in a complicated contest which should involve the greater part of the southern provinces of Europe. Thus, the entire foreign policy of the reign of Philip the Hardy, and the earlier parts of that of Philip le Bel, is comprised of wars, alliances, and negotiations relative to the three christian kingdoms of Spain.

During this age of religious enthusiasm holy wars were directed as well against heretics as infidels. In the South of France was a sect of Christians called Albigenses, who had departed so far from the faith of the Church, and had embraced such dangerous social heresies, that Pope Innocent III. felt constrained to call upon the French king and his nobles to lead a crusade against them from 1207-1229. The outcome was the almost total extirpation of the heretical sect, and the acquisition by the French crown of large and rich territories. Louis IX. (Kaint Louis), son and successor of Louis VIII, was but a youth at the time of his accession, and the government was administered by his mother, Blanche of Castile), during whose regency the war against the Albigenses was closed by the complete submission of Count Eaymond, and the cession, by formal treaty, of Languedoc to the crown of France (1229).

Philip IV (le Bel - the Fair) succeeded at the age of seventeen. His reign is one of the most important in French history. He carried on a war of seven years with Edward I. of England, in order to obtain Guienne; but finally consented to a treaty relinquishing his claims to that duchy. He obtained possession of Flanders, but governed it so oppressively that the people (called Flemings) rose in revolt and massacred the French to the number of 3000. Philip endeavored to reduce the Flemings to submission, but this brave War with England. people successfully defended their liberties against his assaults.

One of the most remarkable events of this reign was the suppression of the famous order of Knights Templars. Philip's measures were harsh and summary. He ordered all the Templars in France to be arrested on the same day; and the Grand Master and others, having been condemned for sacrilege and immorality, were burnt to death. This order of knights was also prosecuted and condemned in other parts of Europe. Philip died in 1314.

On the death of the king (1316), the government was administered by his brother Philip, as regent; and, the infant son of Louis X. having died, Philip V. (le Long-the Tall) became king (1317). Charles IV became king (1322) by the operation of the Salic law, for Philip V. had left daughters but no sons. His reign is almost a blank, being only noted for his invasion of Guienne, to which he was invited by the troubles of Edward II of England. It was in France that the wicked Queen Isabella, sister of Charles IV, plotted with Mortimer for the destruction of her unfortunate husband. Charles afterward restored Guienne to Edward III. On the death of Charles without male heirs (1328), the direct line became extinct, and Philip of Valois, nephew of Philip the Fair, succeeded to the throne. This introduces a collateral line of kings, called the Houese of Valois.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:58:31 ZULU