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House of Capet

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Title: House of Capet  
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Subject: France in the Middle Ages, History of France, Capetian dynasty, Louis IX of France, Louis X of France
Collection: Capetian Dynasty, European Royal Families, French Noble Families, House of Capet, Navarre History
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House of Capet



The House of Capet or the Direct Capetians (French: Les Capétiens, la Maison capétienne ), also called the House of France (la maison de France), or simply the Capets, ruled the Kingdom of France from 987 to 1328. It was the most senior line of the Capetian dynasty – itself a derivative dynasty from the Robertians. They were sometimes called "the third race of kings", the Merovingians being the first, and the Carolingians being the second. The name is derived from the nickname of Hugh, the first Capetian King, who was known as Hugh Capet. The direct succession of French kings, father to son, from 987 to 1316, of thirteen generations in almost 330 years, was unparallelled in recorded history.

The direct line of the House of Capet came to an end in 1328, when the three sons of Philip IV all failed to produce surviving male heirs to the French throne. With the death of Charles IV, the throne passed to the House of Valois, descended from a younger son of Philip III. It would later pass to another Capetian branch, the House of Bourbon, descended from Louis IX's younger son, and to its cadet branch, the House of Orléans, always remaining in the hands of agnatic descendants of Hugh Capet.

History

Early Capetian kings

The first Capetian monarch was Hugh Capet (c.940–996), a Frankish nobleman from the Île-de-France, who, following the death of Louis V of France (c.967–987) – the last Carolingian King – secured the throne of France by election. He then proceeded to make it hereditary in his family, by securing the election and coronation of his son, Robert II (972–1031), as co-King. The throne thus passed securely to Robert on his father's death, who followed the same custom – as did many of his early successors.

The Capetian Kings were initially weak rulers of the Kingdom – they directly ruled only small holdings in the Île-de-France and the Orléanais, all of which were plagued with disorder; the rest of France was controlled by potentates such as the Duke of Normandy, the Count of Blois, the Duke of Burgundy (himself a member of the Capetian Dynasty after 1032) and the Duke of Aquitaine (all of whom faced to a greater or lesser extent the same problems of controlling their subordinates). The House of Capet was, however, fortunate enough to have the support of the Church, and – with the exception of Philip I (1052–1108), Louis IX (1215–1270) and the short-lived John the Posthumous (1316) – were able to avoid the problems of underaged kingship.

Capetian and Plantagenet

Briefly, under Louis VII 'the Young' (1120–1180), the House of Capet rose in their power in France – Louis married Aliénor (1122–1204), the heiress of the Duchy of Aquitaine, and so became Duke – an advantage which had been eagerly grasped by Louis VI 'the Fat' (1081–1137), Louis the Young's father, when Aliénor's father had asked of the King in his Will to secure a good marriage for the young Duchess. However, the marriage – and thus one avenue of Capetian aggrandisement – failed: the couple produced only two daughters, and suffered marital discord; driven to secure the future of the House, Louis thus divorced Aliénor (who went on to marry Henry II of England (1133–1189), and be known to English history as Eleanor of Aquitaine), and married twice more before finally securing a son, Philippe Dieu-donné ("The God-Given"), who would continue the House as Philip II Augustus (1165–1223), and break the power of the Angevins – the family of Aliénor and Henry II – in France.

Louis VIII (1187–1226) – the eldest son and heir of Philip Augustus – married Blanche of Castile (1188–1252), a granddaughter of Aliénor of Aquitaine and Henry II of England. In her name, he claimed the crown of England, invading at the invitation of the English Barons, and briefly being acclaimed – though, it would later be stressed, not crowned – as King of England. However, the Capetians failed to establish themselves in England – Louis was forced to sign the Treaty of Lambeth, which legally decreed that he had never been King of England, and the Prince reluctantly returned to his wife and father in France. More importantly for his dynasty, he would during his brief reign (1223–1226) conquer Poitou, and some of the lands of the Pays d'Oc, declared forfeit from their former owners by the Pope as part of the Albigensian Crusade. These lands were added to the French crown, further empowering the Capetian family.

Louis IX (1215–1270) – Saint Louis – succeeded Louis VIII as a child; unable to rule for several years, the government of the realm was undertaken by his mother, the formidable Queen Blanche. She had originally been chosen by her grandmother, Aliénor, to marry the French heir, considered a more suitable a Queen of the Franks than her sister Urraca; as regent, she proved this to be so, being associated in the Kingship not only during her son's minority, but even after he came into his own. Louis, too, proved a largely acclaimed King – though he expended much money and effort on the Crusades, only for it to go to waste, as a King of the Franks he was admired for his austerity, strength, bravery, justice, and his devotion to France. Dynastically, he established two notable Capetian Houses:the House of Anjou (which he created by bestowing the County of Anjou upon his brother, Charles (1227–1285)), and the House of Bourbon (which he established by bestowing Clermont on his son Robert (1256–1317) in 1268, before marrying the young man to the heiress of Bourbon, Beatrix (1257–1310)); the first House would go on to rule Sicily, Naples, and Hungary, suffering many tragedies and disasters on the way; the second would eventually succeed to the French thone, collecting Navarre along the way.


Apogee of royal power

At the death of Louis IX (who shortly after was set upon the road to beatification), France under the Capetians stood as the pre-eminent power in Western Europe. This stance was largely continued, if not furthered, by his son Philip III (1245–1285), and his son Philip IV (1268–1314), both of whom ruled with the aid of advisors committed to the future of the House of Capet and of France, and both of whom made notable – for different reasons – dynastic marriages. Philip III married as his first wife Isabel (1247–1271), a daughter of King James I of Aragon (1208–1276); long after her death, he claimed the throne of Aragon for his second son, Charles (1270–1325), by virtue of Charles' descent via Isabel from the Kings of Aragon. Unfortunately for the Capetians, the endeavour proved a failure, and the King himself died of dysentery at Perpignan, succeeded by his son, Philip IV.

Philip IV had married Jeanne (1271–1305), the heiress of Navarre and Champagne. By this marriage, he added these domains to the French crown. He engaged in conflicts with the Papacy, eventually kidnapping Pope Boniface VIII (c.1235–1303), and securing the appointment of the more sympathetic Frenchman, Bertrand de Goth (1264–1314), as Pope Clement V; and he boosted the power and wealth of the crown by abolishing the Order of the Temple, seizing its assets in 1307. More importantly to French history, he summoned the first Estates General – in 1302 – and in 1295 established the so-called "Auld Alliance" with the Scots, at the time resisting English domination. He died in 1314, less than a year after the execution of the Templar leaders – it was said that he had been summoned to appear before God by Jacques de Molay (died 1314), the Grand Master of the Templars, as the latter was burnt at the stake as a heretic; it was also said that de Molay had cursed the King and his family.

The succession crisis

It was Philip IV who presided over the beginning of his House's end. The first quarter of the century saw each of Philip's sons reign in rapid succession: Louis X (1314–1316), Philip V (1316–1322) and Charles IV (1322–1328).

Having been informed that his daughters-in-law were engaging in adultery with two knights – according to some sources, he was told this by his own daughter, Isabella – he allegedly caught two of them in the act in 1313, and had all three shut up in royal prisons. Margaret (1290–1315), the wife of his eldest son and heir apparent, King Louis I of Navarre (1289–1316), had borne her husband only a daughter at this time, and the paternity of this girl, Joan, was with her mother's adultery now suspect. Accordingly, Louis – unwilling to release his wife and return to their marriage – needed to remarry. He arranged a marriage with his cousin, Clementia of Hungary (1293–1328), and after Queen Margaret conveniently died in 1315 (strangled by order of the King, some claimed), he swiftly remarried to Clementia. She was pregnant when he died a year later, after an unremarkable reign; uncertain of how to arrange the succession (the two main claimants being Louis' daughter Joan – the suspected bastard – and Louis' younger brother Philip (1293–1322), Count of Poitiers), the French set up a regency under the Count of Poitiers, and hoped that the child would be a boy. This proved the case, but the boy – King John I (1316), known as the Posthumous – died after only 5 days, leaving a succession crisis. Eventually, it was decided based on several legal reasons (later reinterpreted as Salic Law) that Joan was ineligible to inherit the throne, which passed to the Count of Poitiers, who became Philip V. He, however, produced no surviving sons with his wife, Joan II, Countess of Burgundy (1291–1330), who had been cleared of her charges of adultery; thus, when he died in 1322, the crown passed to his brother, Charles (1294–1328), Count of La Marche, who became Charles IV; the County of Burgundy, brought to the Capetians by the marriage of Joan and Philip V, remained with Joan, and ceased to be part of the royal domains.

Charles IV swiftly divorced his adulterous wife, Blanche of Burgundy (c.1296–1326) (sister of Countess Joan), who had given him no surviving children, and who had been locked up since 1313; in her place, he married Marie of Luxembourg (1304–1324), a daughter of Emperor Henry VII (c.1275–1313). Marie died in 1324, giving birth to a stillborn son. He then remarried to his cousin, Jeanne d'Évreux (1310–1371), who however bore him only daughters; when he died in 1328, his only child was Marie, a daughter by Jeanne, and the unborn child his wife was pregnant with. Philip of Valois (1293–1350), Count of Anjou and Valois, Charles' cousin, was set up as regent; when the Queen produced a daughter, Blanche, Philip by assent of the great magnates became Philip VI, of the House of Valois, cadet branch of the Capetian Dynasty.

Last heirs

The last of the direct Capetians were the daughters of Philip IV's three sons, and Philip IV's daughter, Isabella. Since they were female, they could not transmit their Capetian status to their descendants. The wife of Edward II of England (1284–1327), Isabella (c.1295–1358) overthrew her husband in favour of her son (Edward III, 1312–1377) and her co-hort (Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March, 1287–1330), only for Edward III to execute Mortimer and have Isabella removed from power. On the death of her brother, Charles IV, she claimed to be her father's heiress, and demanded the throne pass to her son (who as a male, an heir to Philip IV, and of adult age, was considered to have a good claim to the throne); however, her claim was refused, eventually providing a cause for the Hundred Years' War.

Joan (1312–1349), the daughter of Louis X, succeeded on the death of Charles IV to the throne of Navarre, she now being – questions of paternity aside – the unquestioned heiress. She was the last direct Capetian ruler of that kingdom, being succeeded

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