Monday, February 21, 2011
The House of Capet
Let's put our Middle Ages thinking caps back on.
France was originally part of the Roman Empire. The area we call France today was settled by Germanic tribes from central Europe: the Franks, Visigoths, and Burgundians.
Then, in the end of the 5th century, Clovis managed to unite many of the tribes into a Frankish kingdom. Remember those gorgeous kings with the long flowing trademark hair who are perhaps descended from Jesus? The Merovingian Dynasty (see my blog).
This Frankish kingdom was split up with the succession of sons according to Frankish law and tradition.
In the end of the 8th century, Charlemagne was able to bring the Frankish kingdom back together and found an empire. So begot the Carolingian Dynasty (see my blog).
Again, eventually this empire was split upon succession.
Enter High Capet, elected king in 987, beginning the Capetian Dynasty that would rule France until 1328. Hugh Capet was an indirect descendant of the Carolingian Dynasty. Although elected king, Hugh Capet managed to switch that all around by having his son, Robert II Capet, inherit his throne.
Hugh Capet (he looks like a fun guy!)
The Capetian Dynasty ruled from the Ile de France, a small area around Paris, including Orléans and Laon. It was a small and weak kingdom, but they were backed by the church. The rest of what we know today as France was ruled by Dukes: Normandy, Blois, Burgundy, and the famous Aquitaine.
It wasn't until Louis VI "The Fat" (1081 - 1137) married his son off to Eleanor of Aquitaine that things got interesting.
Eleanor of Aquitaine
Louis VII "The Young" didn't stay married to Eleanor, their marriage, full of discord, produced only two girls and, as we all know, she went on to marry Henry II of England and give birth to Richard The Lionhearted among other illustrious children.
Don't miss the spectacular film Lion In The Winter!
Louis VII "The Young", two wives later, managed to secure a male heir: Philip II Augustus.
Louis VIII "The Lion" (1187 - 1226), eldest son of Philip II Augustus married Blanche de Castile, grand daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II of England. Louis VIII "The Lion" unsuccessfully attempted to claim the English crown through his wife.
Blanche de Castile with her son Louis IX"The Saint"
Taking after her grandmother, Blanche de Castile was one tough cookie; her son, Louis IX"The Saint", inherited the throne as a child and Blanche ruled in his stead until he was old enough to take over and again while he was away in the Holy Lands during the Crusades. She broke up a league of the barons, repelled an attack from King Henry III of England, and made terms with Ramon VII of Toulouse during military action in Languedoc.
Louis IX"The Saint"partipated in the 7th and 8th Crusades.
Meanwhile back in France, they were busy with the their own crusade, The Albigensian Crusade, organized by Pope Innocent III to fully and utterly exterminate the Cathars and take over the land from the Counts of Toulouse in the Languedoc region of France.
One of the most murderous epochs in France's history.
Primarily between 1209 and 1229, Louis VIII "The Lion" and Blanche de Castile, along with Pope Innocent III murdered hundreds of thousands of Cathars. The Medieval Inquisition was eventually set in place, torturing the Cathars by placing them on the rack, placing them in scalding water, having their eyes gouged out, forcing the victims to sit on spiked chairs that were then heated until red hot, burning their feet until the bones fell off, placing their feet into big leather boots and pouring molten lead in--you know, the usual Medieval fare. At the time, France wished for no blood to be shed, thus the preferred method of execution was burning the victims at the stake. Hundreds of thousands of Cathars were put to the stake. The Crusades against the Cathars were officially ended with the fall of the Chateau Montsegur in 1244, where 200 people were burned at the stake in one fell swoop. The Cathars were still being burned alive into the 14th century.
For an incredible website on the Cathars, in English, click here.
King Louis IX "The Saint" reigned during the "golden century of Saint Louis" when, politically and economically, France was at its height in Europe.
He was a devout Catholic and built the Sainte-Chapelle (Holy Chapel) in Paris to hold the Crown of Thorns and a fragment of the True Cross, relics King Louis IX bought from Emperor Baldwin II of Constantinople.
To pay for his crusades, King Louis IX "The Saint"ordered the expulsion of all Jews and confiscated their property. In 1243, he burned 12,000 manuscript copies of the Talmud and other Jewish books in Paris.
He also expanded the scope of the Medieval Inquisition, finishing off the Cathar butchery that his father and mother had started.
So why was this guy officially canonized and declared a saint? Because he was considered to be the model of the ideal Christian Monarch. Wow.
Here is Saint Louis, allowing himself to be whipped for penance.
I regress ....
Then came Philip III "The Bold"(1245 - 1285), a shy man who was called bold for his excellent horsemanship.
Then came the illustrious Philip IV "The Fair"(1268 - 1314), famous for conniving and manipulating, it was he who finished off the Knights Templars in 1307. He died less than a year after burning Templar Grand Master Jacques de Molay at the stake, cursed by the Templars and summoned before God in judgement ....
Things fell apart after the death of Philip IV "The Fair". Three of his sons reigned in rapid succession, he locked his daughter-in-laws up for adultery, therefore chaos reigned as there were divorces, bastards born ... all kinds of n'importe quoi (utter nonsense) and squabbling going on. All that were left were the daughters of Philip IV's three sons. It was upon the death of one of these daughters, Blanche, in 1392 that the house of Capet came to an end.
So there we have the first three Dynasties of France: the Merovingians, the Carolingians and the Capetians. Whew!
"Oh, what a tangled web we weave
When first we practice to deceive!"
Sir Walter Scott from his epic poem Marmion. I know, I know, he's an English author, not French! But, when you read about all of these dynasties and their struggle for power, this snippet from Marmion is certainly called to mind!
Bon, ça suffit! Gros bisous de l'histoire et a demain!