English Kings of France

The English claims to the French throne have a long and complex history between the 1340s and the 19th century. From 1340 to 1801, with only brief intervals in 1360–69 and 1420–22, the kings and queens of England (and, later, of Great Britain) also assumed the title of King or Queen of France.

The title was first assumed in 1340 by Edward III of England, the Kingdom of England being ruled by the French Plantagenet dynasty at the time. Edward III claimed the throne of France after the death of his uncle Charles IV of France. At the time of Charles IV's death in 1328, Edward was his nearest male relative through Edward's mother Isabella of France. Since the election of Hugh Capet in 987, the French crown had always passed based on male-line relations (father to son until 1316). There was no precedent for someone succeeding to the French throne based on his maternal ancestry, nor had there needed to be. There had been no shortage of sons and brothers for more than three centuries from the inception of the House of Capet until the early 14th century, when new precedents concerning female inheritance finally had to be introduced. On the death of Philip IV the Fair's son Louis X in 1316, immediately followed by that of his posthumous son John I, it had to be decided whether his young daughter Joan or his brother Philip would succeed to the throne. This was later said to have been based on the 5th century Salic law but some researchers assert that the Salic Law was rediscovered later and used to cloak the 1316 decision with an additional aura of authenticity.[1]

At the time of Charles's death in 1328, there was once again a dispute over the succession. Although it had come to be accepted that a woman could not possess the French throne in her own right, Edward III, the nephew of the deceased king and thus the nearest relative who was a grown man, based his claim on the theory that a woman could transmit a right of inheritance to her son. This claim was rejected by French jurists however, under the principle Nemo plus juris ad alium transfere potest quam ipse habet (no one can transfer a greater right to another than he himself has), and the throne was given to the male line heir, Philip, Count of Valois, a first cousin to the deceased king. At the time, Edward accepted this result, and paid homage to Philip VI for his Duchy of Aquitaine. However in 1337, Edward, in his capacity as Duke of Aquitaine, refused to pay homage to Philip. The French king's response was to confiscate what was left of lands in English held Aquitaine, namely Gascony, thus precipitating the Hundred Years' War and Edward's revival of his claim to the throne and title of King of France in 1340.

Edward continued to use this title until the Treaty of Brétigny on May 8, 1360, when he abandoned his claims in return for substantial lands in France. After the resumption of hostilities between the English and the French in 1369, however, Edward resumed his claim and the title of King of France. His successors also used the title until the Treaty of Troyes on May 21, 1420, in which the English recognised Charles VI as King of France, but with his new son-in-law King Henry V of England as his heir (disinheriting Charles VI's son, the Dauphin Charles). Henry V then adopted the title Heir of France instead.

Henry V and Charles VI died within two months of each other in 1422, and Henry V's infant son (Charles VI's grandson) Henry VI became King of France. He was the only English king who was de facto King of France, rather than using the style as a mere title of pretense. However, by 1429 Charles VII, with the support of Joan of Arc, had been crowned at Reims and begun to push the English out of northern France. In 1435, an end to the French civil war between Burgundians and Armagnacs allowed Charles to return to Paris the following year, and by 1453 the English had been driven out of their last strongholds in Normandy and Guyenne. The only French territories left to the English were Calais and the Channel Islands, the former of which was held until 1558.

Nonetheless the kings and queens of England (and, later, of Great Britain) continued to claim the French throne for centuries, through the early modern period. The words "of France" was prominently included among their realms as listed in their titles and styles, and the French fleur-de-lys were included in the royal arms. This continued until 1801, by which time France had no monarch, having become a republic.

The original claimants

"Kings of France" (1340)

"Kings of France" (title resumed 1369)

Heir of France de jure (1420)


Kings of France (1422)

  • Henry VI, King of England (reigned, from England, October 21, 1422 – March 4, 1461; October 31, 1470 – April 11, 1471) was de facto King of northern France (crowned December 16, 1431) from 1422 to 1435, and continued to hold onto significant portions of France until 1453. The de facto King of southern France was Charles VII since 1422. After 1453, the only remaining English holding in France was Calais. Henry, though deposed in England by Edward IV on March 4, 1461, continued to be recognized as King by supporters of the House of Lancaster, and was briefly restored to the English throne in 1470.

Rulers of Calais

Following an episode of insanity on the part of Henry VI of England in 1453 and the subsequent outbreak of the Wars of the Roses (1455–87), the English were no longer in any position to pursue their claim to the French throne and lost all their land on the continent, except for Calais.

Calais was ruled by eight more English Kings and Queens of France until 1558:

Rest of Tudor claimants

Ill feeling between the two nations continued well into the 16th century. Calais was captured by French troops under Francis, Duke of Guise on January 7, 1558. Mary and Philip continued, however, to be styled Queen and King of France for the rest of her reign, as did Mary I's half-sister and successor Elizabeth I, despite her abandonment of her claims to Calais in the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis of 1559. Elizabeth I revived England's claims to Calais and took the French port of Le Havre in 1561. French forces ejected the English in 1563, and the Treaty of Troyes (1564), recognized French ownership Calais, in return for payment to England of 120,000 crowns.[2] A little portion of the ancient Kingdom of France, the Channel Islands, remain British to this day.

The Stuart dynasty claimants

Elizabeth died childless. Her successor was her cousin James VI of Scotland. The thrones of England and Scotland were joined in a dynastic union until 1707. The seven monarchs of this period continued to use the style King/Queen of France, though their claim was merely nominal. None of them was willing to engage in military campaigns for France against the actual Kings of France Henry IV, Louis XIII and Louis XIV of France. Indeed, Charles I married a sister of Louis XIII, and his son Charles II spent much of his exile during the Interregnum in France (at which time, even if not formally abandoning his claim for its throne, he certainly did not emphasize it).

The claimants of Great Britain

The Act of Union 1707 declared the joining of the Kingdom of England with the Kingdom of Scotland to a new Kingdom of Great Britain. The Kingdom had four Monarchs until 1801. They also styled themselves Queen/King of France; however, none of them actually questioned the rights of Louis XIV and his successors Louis XV, Louis XVI, Louis XVII and Louis XVIII:

Ending the claim

The French Revolution overthrew the monarchy on September 21, 1792 and replaced it with the French First Republic. During the peace negotiations at the Conference of Lille, lasting from July to November 1797, the French delegates demanded that the King of Great Britain abandon the title of King of France as a condition of peace.

In 1800, the Act of Union joined the Kingdom of Great Britain with the Kingdom of Ireland to a new United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. George III chose to drop his claim to the French throne, whereupon the fleurs de lis, part of the coat of arms of all claimant Kings of France since the time of Edward III, were also removed from the British royal arms. Britain recognised the French Republic by the Treaty of Amiens of 1802.

The change was not acknowledged by then Jacobite claimant Cardinal Henry Benedict Stuart. He continued to formally style himself King of England, Scotland, France and Ireland until his death on July 13, 1807.

Although the fleurs-de-lis were completely removed from the Royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom, they were later included in the arms of Canada, the former British dominion, where they symbolise the foundation of Canada by France, not the former British claim to the French throne.[3]

The Jacobite pretenders

The Jacobite pretenders were James II of England and his successors, continuing to be styled "Kings of England, Scotland, France and Ireland" past their deposition in 1689. All four pretenders continued to actively claim the title King of France as well as that of King of England, Scotland and Ireland from 1689 till 1807:

  • James II and VII (February 12, 1689 – September 16, 1701).
  • James Francis Edward Stuart (September 16, 1701 – January 1, 1766), styled James III and VIII, also known as the Chevalier de St. George or as the Old Pretender.
  • Charles Edward Stuart (January 1, 1766 – January 31, 1788), styled Charles III, also known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Young Chevalier, or as the Young Pretender.
  • Henry Benedict Stuart (January 31, 1788 – July 13, 1807), styled Henry IX and I.

Several of these pretenders, notably James II for the last 12 years of his life and his son, the Old Pretender, until the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, were actually pensioners of Louis XIV at the very time they were claiming his title.

The Jacobite successors

The Jacobite succession has continued since 1807 but none of the eight subsequent holders of the claims has actively pursued them. They continue to be customarily known as "King (or Queen) of France" by the Jacobites.

Failed claimants

In addition two failed claimants to the throne of England were also styled King of France. They are usually omitted from regnal lists.

See also

References

External links

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