The Capetian Kings of France: Philip I, Louis VI and Louis VII

PHILIP I the Amorous

PHILIP I, enormously fat but active and vigorous; excommunicated and unpopular with the clergy as the result of an adulterous marriage (1092) and because of his hostility to clerical reform. He defeated (1079) Duke William of Normandy (the Conqueror) and steadily supported Robert Curthose, William’s son, against Anglo-Norman pressure. His reign was characterized by systematic expansion of the resources of his house and regular annexations to its domains in the face of stubborn feudal resistance. The growth of feudalism tended to diminish anarchy and to improve the general security of life, and ultimately led to decisive economic recovery in western Europe, a trend toward urban economy, and the emergence of a bourgeoisie that was beginning to accumulate capital. This development was a determining factor in the economic, social, and monarchical evolution of the 13th century. The Peace of God and the Truce of God. A period in which the Capetians reduced the great feudatories north of the Loire and began the transformation of the vague ecclesiastical, judicial, and military rights derived from Carolingian tradition into royal powers.

LOUIS VI (the Fat)

A brave soldier of tremendous physique, intelligent, affable; liked by the peasantry, commercial class, and clergy; the first popular Capetian. Consolidation of his Norman frontier (wars with Henry I of England: 1109–12; 1116–20), and steady reduction of his lesser vassals as far as the Loire. His charters to colonizers (hôtes) of waste lands, and frequent if inconsistent support of the communes, especially on the lands of the Church and the baronage, began the long alliance of the Capetians with bourgeois interests; Louis’s charter of Lorris, widely copied in town charters, was a significant sign of the great urban development setting in all over Europe in this period. As protector of the Church, Louis gained a foothold in the lands of his vassals. Careers at court were opened to talented clergy and bourgeois. Louis’s compromise with the Church over feudal patronage and investiture initiated the king of France’s effective role as eldest son of the Church. He was the first Capetian to intervene effectively outside his own feudal lands. He defeated the alliance of Henry I of England with the Emperor Henry V, and stopped a German invasion (1124). The marriage (1137) of his son Louis to Eleanor, heiress of William X of Aquitaine (i.e., Guienne (Aquitania Secunda) and Gascony), marked the Capetian effort to balance the Anglo-Norman menace in the north with additions of territory south of the Loire. The Anglo-Norman danger had appeared in aggravated form when, in 1129, Geoffrey became count of Anjou, Maine, and Touraine. He had married Matilda (daughter of Henry I of England) in 1128 and proceeded (1135) to conquer Normandy.

Development of royal administration under the early Capetians

The court of the king, usually known as the curia regis, consisting as it did of magnates, royal vassals, and court officials (mainly chosen from the baronage), was essentially feudal in spirit and tradition. Meeting on royal summons and relatively frequently, its early duties were undifferentiated, its functions judicial, advisory, legislative. The royal administration was in control of the great officers of the crown, whose aim was to concentrate power in their own hands, a process that culminated in a virtual monopoly of such power by the Garlande family early in the 12th century. Louis VI, after a struggle (1128–30), terminated their dominance, and thenceforth the Capetians relied increasingly on lesser and more docile nobles, clerics, and bourgeois men of affairs. These career men were devoted to the crown rather than to feudal ambitions, and their presence in the curia regis began the differentiation of its functions and its subjection to royal rather than feudal influences. Most notable of these careerists was Suger, Louis’s old tutor, a cleric of peasant origin, who became abbot of St. Denis (1122). An able statesman, his influence was decisive in the reigns of Louis and his son Louis VII. Suger began (c. 1136) the new abbey church of St. Denis, the first edifice Gothic in design.

Rise of towns

The economic revival of western Europe was paralleled by a resumption of town life and development throughout the west, which was most notable in France, where the movement reached its apogee in the 12th century, before the consistent advance of the Capetian monarchy began to retard its progress. Types of town development were by no means uniform, but important general categories can be distinguished. The commune proper, a collective person endowed with legal rights and powers (e.g., financial, judicial), able to hold property. As a feudal person, the commune could have vassals, render and exact homage, establish courts for its tenants, and even declare war and make treaties. Symbols of its independence were the belfry, town hall, and seal. Typical communes of northern France and Flanders were the communes jurées (e.g., Beauvais, St. Quentin (chartered before 1080), Rouen (chartered 1145), and Amiens (chartered in the 12th century)); in southern France the corresponding communes were called consulates, which enjoyed even greater rights than in the north, especially in Roussillon, Provence, Languedoc, Gascony, and Guienne. In the south the nobles took an active part in the formation of consulates and shared in their government. Villes de bourgeoisie (or communes surveillées) had elements of communal powers in varying degrees, but lacked full political independence (i.e., they were privileged but unfree). They were found all over France, but especially in the center, and were the prevailing type in the royal domain. Citizens enjoyed specific privileges, but the crown retained judicial and other powers in varying degrees. Villes neuves (characteristic of the commercial north) and bastides (typical of the south, and usually strongholds) were small rural creations of kings or feudal lords, given a charter from the first that established their status. Peasant associations and village federations (influential in the north), which sought to define and guarantee the rights of their citizens. Governmentally, town development seems to have been hardly the result of conscious effort to introduce a new political dispensation. It was, rather, an attempt to establish and define the rights of nonfeudal groups, and aimed at economic prosperity and personal security. The movement constantly enjoyed royal support, but royal policy toward it was governed by immediate political or financial considerations, and the crown always strove to reduce or control town independence in the interest of its own power. Ultimately monarchy triumphed, but not before the bourgeois groups and the serfs had gained substantial advantages.


LOUIS VII (the Young). Pious and therefore popular with the clergy. He remained
under the influence of Suger until the latter’s death in 1151. A papal interdict on the
royal lands, resulting from Louis’s insistence on his feudal rights, led to intervention by
Bernard of Clairvaux. Louis inspired the Second Crusade (See 1147–49). He induced the German king, Conrad III, and Bernard of Clairvaux to join him, and, leaving the kingdom in the hands of Suger, he set out for the east. He returned (1149) beaten, humiliated, and estranged from his wife, Eleanor, who had accompanied him. The marriage was annulled (1152), probably due to lack of a male heir. This step cost the Capetians the territories of Poitou, Guienne, and Gascony, for Eleanor at once married Henry, duke of Normandy, who in 1151 had succeeded his father as count of Anjou, Maine, and Touraine. The acquisition of Eleanor’s domains made Henry master of more than half of France and put him in a position to bring pressure on the holdings of the king of France both from the north and the south. When Henry in 1154 became king of England, the so-called Angevin Empire
extended roughly from the Tweed to the Pyrenees.