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|
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|
|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|