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House of Valois (1328-1589)

The Valois dynasty, the royal house of France from 1328 to 1589, ruling the nation from the end of the feudal period into the early modern age. The Valois kings continued the work of unifying France and centralizing royal power begun under their predecessors, the Capetian dynasty.

Louis X left only one daughter; but the queen, some months after, gave birth to a posthumous son, who was named John, and who lived only eight days. Should his sister wear the crown? It was not desirable that a foreigner should obtain France by marriage, and the States-General, applying to the crown the ancient rule of succession established for Salic lands, excluded the daughter of Louis X from the throne. Thus the right of inheritance allowed to daughters in the case of fiefs was not recognized in the case of the crown. Philip the Long was proclaimed king instead of his niece (1316). This decision proved unfavorable to his own house, for he himself had only daughters, who were set aside in favor of Charles IV, their uncle, and the posthumous daughter of Charles was in turn set aside in favor of Philip of Valois (1328). The way to the throne was thus opened to a new branch of the Capetians, that of the Valois.

With Charles IV, the Fair, 1322-1328 ended the first branch of the Capets, transmitting to that of Valois a magnificent inheritance, acquired either by the arms or policy of the descendants of Hugh Capet. This succession comprised the duchy of France, augmented by the Vexin, Berry, Vermandois, Normandy, Touraine, the county of Blois, Poitou, Languedoc, Lyonnais, Champagne, and many other fiefs vested in the states of the great vassals.

National unity had been growing in France as in England during the thirteenth century, although more slowly and against greater obstacles. One of the results of this growth was to make the possession of southern provinces by the English seem unjust to the French rulers. The English had of course lost Normandy and the central French provinces, but the territories which they still held in the southwest of France made up at least a quarter of that country. The two most important of the provinces held by them were Guienne and Gasconv, which together with some smaller provinces were all frequently spoken of together as Aquitaine. The English king held them only as a vassal of the French king. In 1337 Edward III of England began to make preparations for war and laid open claim to the throne of France - the apparently endless war with France "The Hundred Years' War".

The birth of a genuine national feeling was a greater achievement in the making of the French nation than any which the Capetian kings had yet accomplished, but it was their work, the bringing of the fragments together under a single government, which had rendered it possible. If not miraculously moved herself, the results which Joan of Arc accomplished certainly seem miraculous. Born in a village on the eastern edge of France near the borders of Burgundy, of a family of well-to-do farmers, Joan had passed her childhood where she saw much of the civil strife which was the curse of France. Of a deeply religious nature and with a firm confidence in the goodness of God, she came to believe that it must be his will that these sufferings should cease, and finally that she was herself divinely called to bring them to an end.

Philip VI of Valois, cousin of Charles IV, and grandson of Philip III, came to the throne in 1328 by virtue of the exclusion of women, thrice asserted in twelve years. Never since Charlemagne had the king of France found himself so powerful. Direct master of three-fourths of the kingdom, suzerain of the kings of Majorca, Navarre, and England, as to the fiefs which they possessed in France, and ally of the kings of Bohemia and Scotland. By the close of the Hundred Years' War Feudalism in France was over, and that France had become, partly in spite of the war but more largely by reason of it, not only a great monarchy, but a great nation.

Charles VII, The Victorious, born in 1403, was the son of Charles VI. He became dauphin in 1416, and king in October, 1422, when "malice domestic and foreign levy" grievously afflicted France. Death had just removed his most formidable rival, Henry V. of England ; but the son of the latter was recognized by a powerful French faction, who were masters of the capital. In 1428 the English besieged Orleans, which was bravely defended by the citizens, who were loyal Armagnacs, and, after a long siege, was delivered in 1429 by the heroism of Joan of Arc, the "Maid of Orleans."

Joan set out on what she declared to be her special mission, to lead the dauphin to Rheims to be crowned, and though the task seemed to be impossible, she accomplished it without a check. The enthusiasm which she inspired into the French armies rendered them victorious in many succeeding encounters. On the 6th of March, 1429, she had first appeared at the dauphin's court, on the 17th of July he was crowned [again] in Rheims as King Charles VII. Joan's mission was now accomplished, and she seemed to be conscious of the fact herself, but for some reason she still remained with the army, though she gained no more successes. In May, 1430, she was taken prisoner by the Burgundians, and by them sold to the English.

On September 21, 1435, the Peace of Arras was signed between Charles VII and Philip the Good. France was, at last, in principle, united. The Peace of Arras did not, however, interrupt the war between France and England; but it rendered easier a conclusion of the conflict. To England nothing was left but Calais, with its surrounding territory, and the barren title of King of France; and thus ended the Hundred Years' War.

The prospect of a united France and the ascendency of a strong monarchy excited the jealousy of the great nobles, and the "Praguerie" - a conspiracy between the nobles to prolong the war in the interest of their own independence - became for a time the greatest danger to France. Even the Dauphin, Louis, who was afterward to become the most absolute of kings, joined in this plot to restrict the power of the Crown.

As early as the reign of Charles VII the French nobility had begun to accept and profit by a system that relieved its members of all necessity of paying taxes, allowing the whole weight of the public burden to fall upon the shoulders of the people. Charles VII sought to lessen the anarchy in France at the close of the Hundred Years' War. The attempt to reduce the brigand-soldiery, and especially the ordinances passed by the estates of Languedoul at Orleans in 1430, which not only gave the king an aid of 100,000 francs (an act which was later used by the king as though it were a perpetual grant and so freed him from that parliamentary control of the purse so important in England), but demanded as well royal nominations to officerships in the army, marked a gain in the royal prerogative which the nobility resolved to challenge.

The main instigator of the revolt of the French nobility against King Charles VII in 1440 was Charles I, duke of Bourbon, who three years before had attempted a similar rising, and had been forced to ask pardon of the king. The country was saved from a serious civil war by the energy of the king's officers, and in two months he had subdued the country. The Praguerie [so named because a similar rising had recently taken place in Prague, Bohemia, at that time closely associated with France] was over, except for some final pillaging and plundering in Saintonge and Poitou, which the royal army failed to prevent. Charles VII then attempted to ensure the loyalty of the duke of Bourbon by the gift of a large pension, forgave all the rebellious gentry, and installed his son in Dauphiné, later Louis XI.

Louis XI, King of France, born at Bourses in 1423, was the son of Charles VII. He married Charlotte, a daughter of the Duke of Savoy. Feudalism believed itself saved by the accession of the dauphin, Louis XI, the former ally of the nobles, and at that very time the guest, friend, and intimate of the Duke of Burgundy. The new king could only do in all things the exact contrary of his father. His ambitious and unscrupulous character was early manifested by revolts against his father. He became king in 1461, soon after which the Duke of Burgundy and other nobles formed against him the " League of the Public Good." Besieged in his capital by the army of this league in 1465, he induced them to retire and disband by the large concessions of a treaty which he intended to violate at his own convenience. By crafty policy, superior abilities, and vigorous measures, he greatly increased the royal power at the expense of the nobles, many of whom fell victims to his cruelty. His inveterate enemy, Charles the Bold of Burgundy, having been killed in battle at Nancy in 1477, Louis availed himself of the occasion to seize his large domains, but was resisted with partial success by Maximilian of Austria in a war of several years. Louis had made peace with Edward IV. of England in 1475. He died in 1487, leaving the throne to his son, Charles VIII. The reign of Louis XI is remarkable for the multitude of important events, and for the complete revolution which the monarchy then passed through.

Charles VIII, King of France, surnamed The Affable, was the son of Louis XI and Charlotte of Savoy, and was born at Amboise in June, 1470. During his minority his sister Anne of France was invested with the chief power. In 1491 he married Anne, Duchess of Brittany, who was previously affianced and married by proxy to Maximilian of Austria. The latter, resenting this affront, declared war, and formed a coalition with Henry VII. of England. Charles hastened to settle this difficulty by negotiation, in order that he might be at liberty to pursue his favorite design of the conquest of Naples. Ferdinand of Spain, the emperor, and several Italian powers, combined against Charles, who, after staying a few months in Naples, marched homeward. Charles is represented as having been amiable and gracious in the highest degree. He died in 1498; and, as he left no children, the crown passed to the Duke of Orleans, Louis XII.

Louis XII of France, born at Blois in 1462, was the son of Charles, Duke of Orleans, and Marie of Cleves. At the accession of Charles VIII (1483) he was the first prince of the blood. Before that date he had been compelled to marry Jeanne, the daughter of Louis XI. He attended his cousin, Charles VIII, in his expedition against Naples, and on the death of Charles VIII on April 7, 1498, who left no issue, the consequent succession of the Duke of Orleans became Louis XII. This was the culminating factor in determining a departure which Louis had long been contemplating - Louis was exceedingly anxious to be divorced from his present ugly and deformed wife, Jeanne, a daughter of Louis XI, and to marry instead Anne, the widow of his predecessor, who would add the Duchy of Brittany to the French Crown. For this wilful act of personal passion and state policy the ratification of the Holy See was necessary, and Pope Alexander was not the man to grant his spiritual authority from mere brotherly love. By a secret treaty it was soon arranged that the price Louis should pay for his religious scruples and the Bull of Divorce was the creation of Cardinal Caesar Borgia, the Pope's sone, as Duke of Valentinois.

Louis XII married Anne de Bretagne, the widow of the late king, thus securing the province of Bretagne for the crown. His army conquered the duchy of Milan, and brought Duke Francis Sforza a captive to France in 1500. He resolved, also, to prosecute the claims of his family to Naples, then ruled by Frederick of Aragon. In 1501 Louis and Ferdinand of Spain agreed to partition between themselves the kingdom of Frederick, who, finding resistance impossible, retired to France and received a pension from Louis. The quarrel that ensued between Louis and Ferdinand ended in 1503 by the expulsion of the French from Naples by Gonsalvo de C6rdova. The pope, Julius II, having formed a league against Louis, the French were defeated at Novara in 1513 and driven out of Italy. At the age of fifty-three he married Mary, a sister of Henry VIII. of England. He died on the 1st of January, 1515, leaving two daughters, Claude and Rene's. He was succeeded by Francis I. Louis XII gained the affection of his subjects by reducing the taxes and promoting justice, and received the surname of "Father of the People."

Francis I, [reigned 1515-47], [Fr. Francois], King of France, born at Cognac September 12, 1494, was the son of Charles, Count of Angou, (a cousin-german of King Louis XII,) and Louise, daughter of Philippe, Duke of Savoy. As Francis had lost his father in infancy, Louu XII took charge of his education, created him Duke of Valois, and gave him his daughter Claude in marriage in 1514. The king dying without any son to survive dim, Francis succeeded to the throne on the 1st of January, 1515. In the same year he despatched an army under Constable Bourbon to conquer the Milanese, defended by a Swiss army, which the French engaged and defeated at Marignano. In 1519 Francis was an unsuccessful candidate for the empire of Germany, which was obtained by his rival, Charles V of Spain. The court of France, which has exerted upon public morals, upon literature, upon the national spirit, and even upon foreign nations so enduring and too often so pernicious an influence, dates from Francis I. Before his time it did not exist. The sober councillors who surrounded Louis XII. and Anne of Brittany permitted only restrained and infrequent fetes. Francis I. liked always to be followed by so numerous a court that it was computed there were rarely less than six thousand and sometimes more than eighteen thousand horses around the royal residence. The nobles came there only to practise the art of obedience under the eye of their master. Francis died in March, 1547, and was succeeded by his son, Henry II. He left a great reputation for gallantry, generosity, and royal accomplishments, but is justly censured for the persecution which the Protestants suffered during his reign.

With the sixteenth century a new era in the history of France begins. During the preceding four hundred years her kings had been engaged on the task which the Carolingians had already once accomplished, of consolidating the state and reviving central authority, of rescuing France and her monarchy from the power of the nobles. The English hindered the accomplishment of this arduous work for a hundred years; they were at last finally expelled, and in most directions the royal demesne was extended to the natural frontiers of the country.

Henry II, [reigned 1547-59], King of France, second son of Francis I. and of Queen Claude, was born at Saint-Germain-en- Laye in 1518, and came to the throne in 1547. He married Catherine de Medici, (or de Medicis.) In 1550 he concluded a peace with England, by which Boulogne was restored to the French. In 1552 he formed an alliance with the Protestant princes of Germany against Charles V., and took Metz, Toul, and Verdun. The Germans having made a separate peace, Henry alone sustained the war against the Spaniards. A truce of five years was signed in 1556 between Henry and Charles ; but the wai was renewed the next year by Philip II. of Spain, whose army gained a great victory at Saint-Quentin. In 1558 Calais was taken by the French, after having been held by the English more than two hundred years. A treat) of peace was signed at Cateau-Cambresis in 1559, by which France retained Calais, Metz, and Verdun, and gave up Savoy. Among the results of this treaty was a marriage between Henry's daughter Elizabeth and Philip II. of Spain. At a tournament given on this occasion, Henry by accident received a mortal wound, in 1559, and was succeeded by his eldest son, Francis II.

Francis II, King of France, born at Fontainebleau in January, 1543, was the eldest son of Henry II and of Catherine de Mcdicis. In 1558 he married the beautiful Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, and on the 10th of July, 1559 he succeeded to the throne of his father. In consequence of his youth and feeble character, he relinquished the power of the state into the hands of the Duc de Guise and Cardinal Lorraine, who were uncles of Mary Stuart, and zealous Catholics. Antoine de Bourbon, King of Navarre, the Prince of Condi, and other nobles, jealous of the influence and impatient of the domination of the Guises, formed a coalition with the Protestants, who were then objects of a violent persecution. In 1560 a conspiracy was discovered by the Guises, which was the prelude of the civil wars that afterwards raged in the kingdom. The States-General were assembled at Orleans, and the Prince of Conde was condemned to death; but he escaped this penalty in consequence of the death of the king, December 5, 1560. There is scarcely anything to tell of Francis II. He only reigned a year and a half, and died at the age of eighteen. Francis II was succeeded by his brother, Charles IX.

Charles IX, King of France, the second son of Henry II and Catherine de Medicis, was born at Saint- Germain-en-Laye in 1550. Succeeding his brother, Francis II, he ascended the throne in December, 1560. During his minority his mother was the master-spirit of the government, and Antoine de Bourbon, King of Navarre, was lieutenant-general. Before his accession the question of religious reform had arrayed against each other two powerful parties, the Catholics and the Huguenots, the latter of whom had been persecuted in the preceding reign and were determined to assert by force their religious liberty. The Duke of Guise was the leader of the Catholic party, which was supported by the court and the people of Paris. The Protestants, led by the Prince of Conde, by Coligni, etc., formed the majority in the south and west of France. Catherine, who was jealous of the influence of the Guise family, adopted the subtle policy of holding the balance of power; and her intrigues tended rather to foment civil war, which began in 1562. In February 1563 the Duke of Guise was assassinated while pressing the siege of Orleans ; and a few weeks later a treaty of peace was signed. The Duke of Anjou, appears to have been one of the prime managers of the plot, After suffering the agonies of remorse, Charles died, without issue, in 1574, and was succeeded by the Duke of Anjou as Henry III.

Henry III, (often called in French Henri De Valois, i.e. "Henry of Valois"] King of France, third son of Henry II and of Catherine de Medicis, was born at Fon- tainebleau in 1551, and succeeded his brother, Charles IX., in 1574. Previously to this he was styled Duc d'Anjou, had defeated the Calvinists at Jarnac and Moncontour, and in 1573 was elected King of Poland, the people of which country made unavailing efforts to retain him. He found his French kingdom a prey to a civil or religious war between two factions, the Catholics under Henry of Guise, and the Huguenots under Henry of Navarre, the founder of the Bourbon dynasty. In 1575 he married a French lady, Louise, daughter of the Count of Vaudesmont Henry having issued an edict of pacification favourable to the Protestants in 1576, the Catholics formed a general league, sworn to defend the interest of their Church even with the sacrifice of their loyalty to the king, who seems to have been justly distrusted by both parties, but thought it his policy to declare himself the head of the League. His court was disgraced by favouritism, intrigues, bigotry, and licentiousness ; and his personal character was not such as to command the popular respect. Henry's brother, the Duke of Alencon, died in 1584, and, as the king had no children, the question of the succession assumed great importance; and it is thought that the Duke of Guise aspired to the throne. In 1587 Henri of Navarre gained the battle of Coutras; and soon after the Duke of Guise took arms at Paris against the king, who was compelled to flee to Rouen. In 1588 the Duke of Guise was assassinated, probably by the order of Henry, who for this crime was excommunicated by the pope. The king then applied to Henry of Navarre for aid against the League, which was generously granted, and they were pressing the siege of Paris, when Henry III was assassinated by a monk named Jacques Clement; in 1589. He was the last king of the house of Valois.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:58:34 ZULU