Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Far-Reaching Effects of French Royal Sexual Practices, or Why the French Still Rule Europe (Capet, Part II)

Ah yes, my title entices you all to continue this journey into the heart of Capetia (no, that is not a real word...or IS it?). Last week I showed you the questionable and problematic start to perhaps the largest European dynasty in history; this week I will tell the rest of the story...minus the bits about Portugal and Spain and Luxembourg and Italy and Burgundy and, well, pretty much every place else. Oh, did I forget to say that I am planning THREE more posts about the Capetians after this? Yes, I forgot that they need a "Random Other Places They Ruled" post because they ruled a great many places. Today we will discuss the French royal throne and why there are so many branches of the family.

The House of Capet has two meanings in European history. While it can generally mean all those people descended from Hugues Capet, king of the Franks, it also has a more typical meaning: the early Capetian dynasty in France. The family never went extinct in the male line, but historians have used specific years to separate the French monarchy into periods. Now don't get confused, periods are historical constructs and rarely have any actual purpose other than to divide up history into easier-to-remember segments. From 987 until 1792 and from 1814 until 1848, the French monarchy was ruled by a Capetian monarch. Period! What historians have done is separate this period into multiple ones. They did this for YOU, the learner. Here are the major periods in French dynastic history:

Merovingians (c. 457 until 752)
Carolingian (752 until 987)
Capetian (House of Capet) (987 until 1328)
Valois (House of Capet-Valois) (1328 until 1589)
– Senior Valois (1328 until 1498)
- Orléans (1498 until 1515)
– Angoulême (1515 until 1589
Bourbon (House of Capet-Bourbon) (1589 until 1792, 1814 until 1848)
– Senior Bourbon (1589 until 1792, 1814 until 1830)
– Orléans (1830 until 1848)
Napoleonic (1804 until 1815, 1852 until 1870)

Saint Louis IX, King of France
Thus we continue our story with the House of Capet, the first ruling house of the Capetian dynasty in France. Hugh ruled for a short nine years and was succeeded by his son, Robert II, who through his name solidified his great-grandfather, Robert I's, reign in West Francia. A steady progression of father-son succession began and continued unbroken until the death of Jean I in 1316.During that time of 300 years, France reasserted itself as a crusading nation. It established a cadet family in the County of Portugal which broke off and became an independent kingdom. A century later, the Crusades helped elevate three members of the Capetian dynasty to the throne of Byzantium during the Latin Empire period. France continued this pattern, sending Philip Augustus and Saint Louis IX off to war and impoverishing the nation. Philip III successfully married his son into the royal family of Navarre, a former crusader state in northern Spain. A generation later, the Navarre line died out and was inherited by Philip IV of France. The French retained the title until the line split in 1328. Meanwhile, a son of Louis VIII the Lion had gained the thrones of Sicily and Naples in southern Italy, beginning a long legacy of French influence there. All-in-all, things were going well for France. They had asserted themselves regionally, set themselves up for praise by the Catholic Church, and reclaimed the majority of France from those who had gained much in previous centuries, namely the Norman kings of England. Inevitably, a time of troubles was brewing.

France, or rather the Franks, had a long tradition of Salic Law (male-line succession). Yet things had been going so well for the past four hundred years that some had forgotten or disregarded old laws. When Louis X and his infant son, Jean I, died in 1316, the throne passed without problem to Philip V and then Charles IV, both brothers of Louis. However, when Charles died in 1328 without a male heir, things got complicated. There was no obvious heir: Louis X had a daughter, Jeanne, who had the seniority card; Louis had a sister, Isabella, who had the eldest-child card; and Louis had a cousin, Philip, who had the next male-heir card. A compromise was made: Jeanne gets Navarre (since inheritance law there said she should have had it already), Philip gets France (since he was the next Salic heir), and Isabella gets nothing. Isabella didn't like this and neither did her son, Edward III of England, who considered himself Isabella's heir and the legal king of France. So started the Hundred Years War which lasted from 1337 until 1453 (yes, it took a few years for Edward to finally declare war). England pulled a near-complete victory in retaking France, conquering one-by-one each county and duchy of France with the help of Burgundy (Belgium & Netherlands). Henry VI of England was even crowned king in Paris as Henri II! But the tides began to turn with the help of Joan of Arc, and by 1453 Charles VII was finally sovereign of a single unified France. England, meanwhile, fell into the War of the Roses.
Genealogy of the Hundred Years War, circa 1328

Charles VII the Victorious
The House of Valois was the name given to this dynasty and it continued the Capetian tradition of dynastic expansion. From the very beginning, it spread its tentacles across France and Europe. Members of the dynasty were dukes in Anjou, Burgundy, Brabant, Nevers, and Alençon. Burgundy was by far the most important Valois holding outside of France.The dynasty ruled until 1498 when Charles VIII died. The line passed to a cadet line known often as Valois-Orléans which only had one monarch: Louis XII. It then passed to a cadet line of Valois-Orléans known as Valois-Angoulême which ruled France for another seventy years. This house is fairly well known because of its interplay with the House of Tudor and Stewart in England and Scotland. But it was an unfortunate house. Francis II was poised to become a powerful king of France, ruling in personal union with the Queen Mary of Scotland, but died only a year into his reign. His brother, Charles IX, experienced the start of religious wars in France. Henry III, who reigned in Poland-Lithuania for two years before becoming king of France, continued these wars but with increasing pessimism. Henry III of Navarre, Salic heir to France, was fighting for the Protestant Huguenots while Henry, Duke of Guise, was fighting for the Catholic League. King Henry was torn between peace and Catholic pride and it eventually killed him, ending the Valois dynasty.
Louis XIV the Sun King with his son, Louis the Grand Dauphin, grandson, Louis le Petit Dauphin, and great-grandson, later Louis XV of France.

The House of Bourbon arose from the ashes of the religious wars. It descends from the second son of Saint Louis and passed through many of its own cadet lines before one branch took the French throne. It is now the only legitimate branch of the once-vast Capetian dynasty but still has representatives spread across Europe today. Henry III of Navarre became king of France with the compromise that "Paris is worth a mass." His son and grandson turned the French monarchy from a mess of regional laws and religions into a solid Catholic absolute state. Louis XIV the Sun King centralized the French bureaucracy and became a leader in religious wars in the 16- and 1700s. He also became the major protagonist against England and the Netherlands in the Balance of Power in Europe. Louis married a Spanish Habsburg princess and managed to get his grandson placed on the throne of Spain in 1701, although the resulting War of the Spanish Succession stripped his son of many attached domains, especially in Italy. French Navarre was also finally annexed to the French crown, having been brought back into the family by Henry IV's mother. When the Sun King died, his great-grandson inherited the throne, although nearly a decade of regency under Duke Philip II of Orléans passed before Louis XV took power. By the late reign of Louis XVI, France had grown tired of the totalitarian regime of its masters and rebelled, prompting the French Revolution, the beheading and/or death of the immediate royal family, and the elevation of Napoleon Bonaparte, a military general, to the throne as emperor. Twenty-three years transpired between the death of Louis XVI and the restoration of Louis XVIII (Louis XVII having been the uncrowned son of the beheaded Louis XVI).

Louis XVIII should have been more grateful for his restoration, but almost immediately returned to his ancestor's ways. Charles X, his brother, did likewise and the people rebelled a second time, overthrowing the Bourbon monarchs in favor of the Duke of Orléans, a descendant of Louis XV's regent, Duke Philip. The July Revolution (or Revolution of 1830) placed King Louis-Philippe and the House of Orléans on the throne, but even Louis-Philippe wasn't able to avoid his family's habits. Tired and sick of Capetians altogether, the French revolted a third time and dissolved the Capetian monarchy once and for all in the Revolution 1848. With no monarch, Napoleon III, nephew of the first Napoleon, took over France in a coup d'etat in 1852 and ruled for nearly two decades until the Prussians forced his abdication in 1870. The following year, the French considered returning to the Capetians for a king once more in the person of Henry, Duke of Chambord, who was an infant at his grandfather's abdication in 1830. But Henry's impulsive demand that the tri-colored flag of the French Revolution be replaced with the fleur de lis flag of his house ended any further thought of restoration. The Capetian dynasty in France was at an end.
Henri VII, Unionist Claimant to France since 1999
Since 1871, there have been few strong cries for a restored monarchy, although many people are not against the idea. There are two rival lines to the French throne, although only one is accepted by the French. The Legitimist line descends from the Sun King's grandson who inherited Spain, and thus the claimants are Spanish citizens and therefore barred by French law. The other line descends from King Louis-Philippe, whose members have remained French citizens since the time of the king's abdication. The current Unionist claimant is Henri, Count of Paris, who if crowned would be Henri VII of France (since the family would continue numbering claimants that did not reign).


  1. The Legitimist Spanish candidate has now French nationality as well, so that obstacle is removed

    1. Hmm. I should get these image links fixed. I heard that the current Legitimist became a French citizen. Pretty exciting! Now if only a War of the French Succession could break out in the streets of Paris. That would be an interesting event in modern Europe.



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