The Capetians are by far the oldest continually-reigning dynasty in Europe. Throughout their lifespan they have ruled France, Spain, Portugal, Navarre, Luxembourg, Burgundy, Jerusalem, Poland, and other countries. If you spread the family out from its actual founders, even Austria is considered a family heirloom. That is because unlike most other dynasties, Salic Law ensured their continuation rather than destroyed the dynasty. The kings procreated until they had a few sons, or at least tried to, and then nourished cadet lines rather than neglected them. It was a perfect system that had many flaws, but survives to this day.
|The Frankish Realms of Gaul, c. 850|
The dynasty has its ancient roots in Austrasia, the realm of the Eastern Franks centered on the Abbey of Lorsch near Worms, Germany. From there the family divided between the eastern branch, which became known as the Popponids (after their founder, Poppo) and then the Babenbergs (although there is no proven connection between the two), and the western branch which became known as the Robertians. The eastern branch stayed in Germany and Burgundy and eventually became the early dukes of Austria. Due to the speculative nature of their connection to the Capetians, they will not be discussed further in this series of notes. The Robertians migrated westward into France when the Carolingians took control and established themselves around the county of Paris.
The Robertians achieved an early claim-to-fame when one of their members married Emperor Louis the Pious, son of Charlemagne. The family then fell into relative obscurity until dynastic troubles in the Frankish Empire presented them with an opportunity to excel. Robert the Strong was the first notable member of the western branch and the true founder of the western Robertian dynasty. Robert was placed in charge of a region of France roughly equivalent to the whole of modern-day northern France (north of Aquitaine). He was placed there to help defeat the Viking menace that had been slowly taking control of Normandy. Through rebellions, threats, and blackmail, Robert managed to eke out a segment of France and Burgundy for himself and his posterity. Robert was eventually killed by the very Bretons whom he had supported during his rebellious years. His sons would carry on his business.
|Robert I, king of the West Franks (922-923)|
|Raoul, king of the West Franks (923 – 936)|
His son, Hugh Capet, would become the first official Capetian and helped transition the dynasty from the Dark Ages into the High Middle Ages. After his father died, Hugh Capet allied himself with the Holy Roman Empire to help control the politics of the realm. While he accepted the Carolingian, Lothair, as king he was himself the de Facto ruler of France. When Lothair died in 987 and his son, Louis V the Child, later that year, Hugh convinced the Archbishop of Reims to crown Hugh king in spite of surviving members of the Carolingian dynasty. Although he did this in order to legitimize his military authority against the Moors in Spain, it closely mirrors the coronation of Pepin the Short two centuries earlier which brought the Carolingians to the Frankish throne. The story of Hugh, and that of his immediate descendants, is the topic of next week's note.