Beginnings of France

Clovis to the invasion of Naples

France Part Three

France Part Four

France Part Five

France Part Six

France Part Seven

France Part Eight

France Part Nine

France Part Ten

France Part Eleven

Bourbons

Louis XIV

The French Revolution

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A History Of France

The emergence of France

History Of Europe During The Middle Ages
Author: Hallam, Henry

 

While this page contains a general overview of the beginnings of France, the selections on the left provide a more detailed account

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A General Overview

From the 9th to the 11th century the peoples and lands dominated by west Frankish kings were transformed. The Carolingian protectorate of local order collapsed under the pressures of external invasions and internal usurpations of power. Growing populations and quickening economies were reorganized in principalities whose leaders struggled to carry on the old programs of kings, bishops, and monks; one of these lands, centered on the Paris-Orléans axis and later known as the Île-de-France, was the nucleus of a new dynastic kingdom of France. This kingdom may be spoken of as Capetian France (the first king of the new dynasty having been Hugh Capet), but it was not until the 13th century that this France came to approximate the modern nation in territorial extent. The emergence of a greater France as a social and cultural entity preceded the political expansion of Capetian France; already in the 12th century crusaders, when speaking of "Franks" from Romance-speaking lands, meant something like "Frenchmen," while the persistence of old boundaries between populations of Romance and Germanic speech perpetuated the idea of a greater west Frankland. 

France, 1180 to c. 1490

The kings and the royal government

The French monarchy was greatly strengthened by Louis VII's successor, Philip II Augustus (ruled 1180-1223), who could claim descent from Charlemagne through his mother. Philip proved to be the ablest Capetian yet to reign. He was practical and clear-sighted in his political objectives; the extension of territorial power and the improvement of mechanisms with which to govern an expanded realm were his consistent policies. Perhaps it was not accidental that royal documents began to refer to the king of France (rex Franciae) instead of using the customary formula king of the Franks (rex Francorum) within a year or two of Philip's accession.

Philip Augustus

The growth of the French royal domain, 1180-1328. 

Philip's outstanding achievement was to wrest control from the Plantagenets of most of the domains they held in France. Intervening in struggles between Henry II of England and his sons, Philip won preliminary concessions in 1187 and 1189. He acquired strategic lands on the Norman borders following wars with Henry's sons, King Richard and King John (1196 and 1200). And when, in 1202, John failed to answer a summons to the vassalic court of his lord, Philip Augustus confiscated his fiefs. Normandy, invaded in 1204, submitted to the Capetian in 1208. Maine, Anjou, and Touraine fell rapidly (1204-06), leaving only Aquitaine and a few peripheral domains in the contested possession of England. By the Truce of Chinon (Sept. 18, 1214), John recognized the conquests of Philip Augustus and renounced the suzerainty of Brittany, although the complete submission of Poitou and Saintonge was to take another generation.

Philip's other acquisitions of territory, if less spectacular, were no less important for consolidating the realm. In the north he pressed the royal authority to the border of Flanders. Artois, which came under his control as a dowry with his first wife, was fully secured in 1212. Vermandois and Valois (1213) and the counties of Beaumont-sur-Oise and Clermont-en-Beauvais were annexed during his last years. On the southern limits of the Île-de-France Philip rounded out prior possessions in Gâtinais and Berry. Much of Auvergne, whose suzerainty had been ceded by Henry II in 1189, passed to royal control in 1214, while in the more distant south Philip extended his influence by gaining lordship over Tournon, Cahors, Gourdon, and Montlaur in Vivarais. As the reign ended, only Brittany, Flanders, Champagne, Burgundy, and Toulouse, among principalities later annexed, lay outside the royal domain.

Because the territorial expansion was accomplished through traditional means--dynastic, feudal, and military--the curial administration was, outwardly, little changed. Household officers such as the butler and the constable continued to function as in the past but Philip Augustus was even more suspicious of the seneschalship and chancellorship than his father had been; he allowed both offices to fall vacant early in his reign, entrusting their operations to lesser nobles or to clerics of the entourage. Although their activity is obscure, some of these men were beginning to specialize in justice or finance. The curia as such, however, remained undifferentiated; characteristically, the committee of regents, appointed in 1190 to hold three courts yearly while the king was absent on crusade, was expected to function in both justice and administrative review on those occasions. Prelates and nobles of the curia also served as counselors; enlarged councils convened, at the king's summons, on festivals or when major political or military issues were contemplated.

Philip Augustus acted vigorously to improve the efficiency of his lordship. He was, indeed, practically the founder of royal administration in France. His chancery began to keep better records of royal activities. Documents were copied into registers before being sent out, and lists of churches, vassals, and towns were drawn up to inform the king of his military and fiscal rights. These lists replaced others lost on the battlefield of Fréteval (1194), a disaster that may have hastened the adoption of a new form of fiscal accountancy. One may draw this conclusion because it is unlikely that the Capetians had previously troubled to record the balances of revenues and expenses in the form first revealed by a record of the year 1202. Its central audit was connected with other efforts to improve control of the domains dominated directly by the king. From early in his reign Philip appointed members of his court to hold periodic local sessions, to collect extraordinary revenues, to lead military contingents, and to supervise the provosts. The new officers, called bailiffs (baillis), at first had no determined districts in which to serve (they resembled the circuit commissioners of Angevin government, whose office may have been the model for the Capetian institution). From the outset the bailiffs were paid salaries; they were more reliable than the provosts, who, by the later 12th century, generally farmed the revenues. In the newly acquired lands of the west and south Philip and his successors instituted seneschals--functionaries similar to the bailiffs, but with recognized territorial jurisdiction from the start.

Philip Augustus' policy toward his conquered domains was shrewd. He retained the deep-rooted customs and administrative institutions of such flourishing provinces as Anjou and Normandy; indeed, the superior fiscal procedures of Normandy soon exercised perceptible influence on Capetian accounting elsewhere. On the other hand, to secure the loyal operation of provincial institutions, Philip appointed men of his own court, typically natives of the Île-de-France. It was a compromise that was to work well for generations to come.

The character of Philip's rule may likewise be deduced from his relations with the main classes of the population. A devoted son of the church, if not unswervingly faithful, he favored the higher clergy in many of their interests. He opposed the infidels, heretics, and blasphemers; he supported the bishops of Laon, Beauvais, Sens, and Le Puy (among others) in their disputes with townspeople; and he granted and confirmed charters to monasteries and churches. Yet he was more insistent on his rights over the clergy than his predecessors had been. He required professions of fidelity and military service from bishops and abbots, cited prelates to his court, and sought to limit the jurisdiction of ecclesiastical courts. He supported papal policies or submitted to papal directives only to the extent that these were consistent with his temporal interests. His reserved support of crusades and his notorious rejection of Queen Ingeborg were cases in point (see below). Toward the lay aristocracy, Philip Augustus acted energetically as suzerain and protector. Indeed, no Capetian was more fully the "feudal monarch." His war with John resulted from a breach of feudal law and was fought with feudal levies. He regarded Flanders and Toulouse as well as Normandy as fiefs held of the crown. As with ecclesiastical vassals, Philip insisted upon the service due from fiefs; he exploited the feudal incidents, notably relief and wardship; and he required his vassals to reserve their fealty for himself alone. He extended his influence by entering into treaties (pariages) with minor lords, often-distant ones; and, by confirming the acts of nobles in unprecedented numbers; he recovered the force of the royal guarantee.

The policy toward the lesser rural and urban populations was to increase their loyalty and contribution to the crown without significantly reducing their dependence on the king and other lords. Philip offered his protection to exploited villages, and, especially during his early years, he confirmed existing "new towns," extended their privileges to other villages, and otherwise favored peasant communities. Townsmen, notably those in semiautonomous communes, gained confirmation of their charters and the king created some new communes. Most of the latter were located in strategic proximity to the northern frontiers of the expanded royal domain; this fact, together with the obligations of service and payment specified in the charters, suggests that military motives were paramount in these foundations. More generally evident in these charters, as in others, was the desire to gain the political fidelity of a prospering class. At Paris Philip Augustus acted, as did no other local lord to promote the civic interest: improving sanitation, paving streets, and building a new wall. Parisian burghers financed and administered these projects; they were associated in the fiscal supervision of the realm when the king went on crusade, but they were not favored with a communal charter.

French society in the early Middle Ages

Social and political order

A foremost circumstance of the later 9th and 10th centuries was the inability of the west Frankish kings to keep order. The royal estates that had theretofore supported them, mostly in the north and east, were depleted through grants to retainers uncompensated by new acquisitions. Hindered by poor communications, the kings lost touch with lesser counts and bishops, while the greater counts and dukes strove to forge regional clienteles in fidelity to themselves. These princes (as they were called) were not rebels. More often allied with the king than not, they exercised regalian powers of justice, command, and constraint; it was typically they who undertook to defend local settlements and churches from the ravages of Magyars invading from the east, of Muslims on Mediterranean coasts, and of Vikings from northern waters.

Of these invaders the Northmen, as contemporaries called the Vikings, were the most destructive. They raided landed estates and monasteries, seizing provisions and movable wealth. Striking as far inland as Paris by 845, they attacked Bordeaux, Toulouse, Orléans, and Angers between 863 and 875. From a base in the Somme estuary they pillaged Amiens, Cambrai, Reims, and Soissons. But they were drawn especially to the Seine valley. In 856-860 they laid waste the country around its lower reaches and repeatedly attacked Paris thereafter. Sometimes they were turned back by defenses but more often by payments of tribute. After 896 the invaders began to settle permanently in the lower Seine valley, whence they spread west to form the duchy of Normandy. Maritime raiding continued into the 10th century, then subsided.

Lords such as the counts of Flanders, Paris, Angers, and Provence were well situated to prosper in the crisis. They were often descended from or related to Carolingian kings. Adding protectorates over churches to their inherited offices, domains, and fiefs while acquiring other lordships and counties through marriage, they built up principalities that were as precarious as they were powerful. The lords tried to avoid dismemberment of the patrimony by limiting their children's right of succession and marriage, but it was only in the 12th century that these dynastic principles came to prevail in the French aristocracy. The princes, moreover, found it almost as hard as the kings to secure their power administratively. They exploited their lands through servants valued less for competence than for fidelity; these servants, however, were men who tended to think of themselves as lords rather than agents. This tendency was especially marked among the masters of castles (castellans), who by the year 1000 were claiming the power to command and punish as well as the right to retain the revenues generated from the exercise of such power. In this way was completed a devolution of power from the undivided empire of the 9th century to a checkerboard of lordships in the 11th--lordships in which the control of castles was the chief determinant of success.

This fragmented polity was a feudal regime; at every level lords depended on the services of sworn retainers who were usually rewarded with the tenures of lordship called fiefs (feudum-a). In the 9th century fiefs were not yet numerous enough to undermine the public order protected by kings and their delegates. Indeed, fiefs were at first rewards for public service made from fiscal (royal) lands; this practice persisted in the south into the 11th century. By then, however, castles, knights, and knights' fiefs were multiplying beyond all control, resulting in a fracturing of power that few princes succeeded in reversing before 1100. Counts were unwilling to admit that their counties were fiefs or that they owed the same sort of allegiance to kings or dukes as their vassals did to them. Tainted with servility as well as with the brutality of needy knights on the make, vassalage was slow to gain respectability. The multiplication of fiefs was a violent process of subjugating free peasants and abusing churches.

Economic expansion

The population, still overwhelmingly agrarian, was growing from about 900 AD, probably most rapidly in the north, where more flexible schemes of crop rotation led to better harvests. Some peasants retained their independence, as in the Massif Central and the Pyrenees, but they were not much envied; still, small free properties nowhere entirely disappeared. Most peasants, however, were organized in subjection to lords--bishops, abbots, counts, barons, or knights--whose estates assumed diverse forms. In northern France lords typically reserved the proceeds of a domain worked by tenants, who had their own parcels of land to live on. Among such tenants were free men and slaves as well as a sizable intermediate estate of incompletely free villagers. Increasing productivity stimulated the improvement of roads and bridges, trade, and the growth of towns as well as competition for the profits of agrarian lordship. After about 1050, townspeople, especially merchants, sought to free themselves from the arbitrary lordship of counts and bishops, usually peaceably, as at Saint-Omer, but occasionally in violent uprisings, as at Le Mans and Laon.

Religious and cultural life
The Christian church was badly disrupted by the invasions. In Normandy five successive bishops of Coutances resided at Rouen, far from their war-torn district, which had lapsed into paganism. Elsewhere standards of clerical deportment declined, threatening the moral leadership by which Carolingian prelates had supported public order. Renewal came in two influential forms. First, monks in Burgundy and Lorraine were inspired to return to a strict observance of the Benedictine rule and thereby to win the adherence of lay people anxious to be saved. The monastery of Cluny, founded in 910 by a duke of Aquitaine with a bad conscience, not only stimulated a newly penitential piety that radiated beyond its walls but also encouraged reforms in other monastic houses. In the 11th century Cluny came to direct an order of affiliated monasteries that extended throughout France and beyond. Cluny's religious hegemony was challenged only in the 12th century with the rise of a yet more ascetic Benedictine observance, of which St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) was the great proponent. Centred at Cîteaux in Burgundy (whence the appellation Cistercian), this movement combined ascetic severity with introspective spirituality and economic self-sufficiency. A newly personal devotionalism was diffused from monastic cloisters into lay society.

Second, the bishops, in the absence of royal leadership, renewed Carolingian sanctions against violence. The Peace of God was instituted in synods of southern France in the later 10th century. It was an effort, solemnized in ritual processions and oaths, to restrain the increasing number of knights from pillaging peasants and churches. It was supplemented from the 1020s by the Truce of God, which forbade fighting on certain days or during certain seasons of the year and which helped to mold a new conception of the knight as a Christian warrior prohibited from shedding the blood of Christian people. Warmly embraced by the Cluniac pope Urban II when he preached the First Crusade at Clermont in 1095, this idea contributed to a new ideal of knighthood as an honourable estate of Christian leadership. When young princes were dubbed to knighthood in the 12th century, they assumed a mode of respectability fashioned by the church; this eased the way for lesser knights to be recognized as nobles as well.

The growing wealth and stability of regional societies, as in Burgundy, Flanders, and Normandy, encouraged new impulses in the arts and letters. Cathedral churches supported scholars who revived the traditional curriculum of learning, stressing reading, writing, speaking, and computation. Fulbert of Chartres (d. 1028) was fondly remembered as a humane teacher by students who often became teachers themselves. A century later famous masters could be found at Laon and Paris as well as (probably) at Chartres, attracting young clerics to their lectures in swelling numbers. The Breton Peter Abelard (1079-1142) taught and wrote so brilliantly on logic, faith, and ethics that he established Paris' reputation for academic excellence. Traditional pursuits of contemplative theology and history gave way to new interests in logic and law. Men trained in canon and Roman law found their way increasingly into the service of kings, princes, and bishops.

Everywhere churches in Romanesque style were built, and they continued to be built in the south long after some architects, like Suger at Saint-Denis in the 1140s, introduced the new aesthetic of Gothic style. Lay culture found expression in vernacular epics, such as The Song of Roland in Old French, and the Provençal lyrics of southern France. These poems witness to diverse zones of linguistic evolution from spoken Latin; by the 12th century the langue d'oïl north of the Loire was broadly differentiated from the langue d'oc to the south. The cultural cleavage so marked ran deeper than language and was not entirely overcome by the spread of modern French from the langue d'oïl.

The political history of France (c. 850-1180)

France, history of: France in 987.
The fragmentation of political power meant that the kings of France were forced into rivalries, alliances, and conflicts with the princes, who were for many generations the real rulers of France.


Principalities north of the Loire
Outside of the dynastic royal domain (centered around Paris) the foremost northern powers were Flanders, Normandy, Anjou, Brittany, Blois-Champagne, and Burgundy.

The northernmost of these was Flanders, whose founder, Baldwin I Iron-Arm (862-879), managed not only to abduct the Carolingian king's daughter and marry her but also to win that king's approval as count of Ghent. His authority was consolidated under his son Baldwin II (879-918) and grandson Arnulf (918-965), the latter a violent and ambitious prince who undertook to restore the Flemish church as if he were an emperor. Fertile and precocious in trading activity, Flanders well supported such energetic lords; monks at Saint-Bertin and Ghent celebrated the dynastic feats of the counts.

In the time of Robert the Frisian (1071-93) efforts were made to systematize the count's lordship over castles as well as his fiscal rights, but the results fell short of giving the count effective sovereign power. When the foreign-born Charles the Good (1119-27) tried to pacify the county at the expense of lesser knightly families, he was murdered. Stability together with a new and centralized mode of fiscal accountancy was achieved by Thierry of Alsace (1128-68) and his son Philip (1163-91). Toward 1180 Flanders was a major power in northern France.

The duchy of Normandy was created in 911, when the Viking chieftain Rollo (Hrolf) accepted lands around Rouen and Evreux from King Charles III the Simple. With its pastures, fisheries, and forests, this old land was a rich prize, and Rollo's successors extended their domination of it aggressively. Early Norman history, however, is more obscure than Flemish, lacking the records that only Christian clerics could write. The acquisitions of the second duke of Normandy, William I Longsword (927-942), were threatened when he was murdered by Arnulf I of Flanders in 942. It was only in the reign of his son Richard I (942-996) that something like administrative continuity based on succession to fiscal domains and control of the church was achieved. The dukes (as they then came to be styled) allied with the ascendant duke Hugh Capet had little to lose from the latter's accession to the kingship in 987; it was at this time that a new Norman aristocracy in ducal control took shape. Under Robert I the Devil (1027-35) agrarian and commercial prosperity favoured the multiplication of castellanies and knights, and Duke William II (1035-87; William the Conqueror) had to put down a dangerous rising of Norman barons and castellans in 1047 before proceeding, surely in deliberate consequence, to establish a firmly central control of castles that was without precedent in France. His conquest of England in 1066 made William the most powerful ruler in France. At the same time knights from lesser elite families in Normandy were establishing territorial lordships in southern Italy.

Norman ducal lordship was crude but effective. Under Henry I (1106-35) a unified exploitation of patronage, castles, and revenues was developed for the kingdom of England and the duchy of Normandy alike. Normandy passed to Henry's son-in-law Count Geoffrey of Anjou in 1135 and to his grandson Henry II (1154-89), in whose time it became the heartland of an Angevin dynastic empire.

Anjou, in the lower Loire valley, was among the lands delegated to Robert the Strong in 866. In the 10th century a series of vigorous counts established a dynastic patrimony that expanded under the great Fulk Nerra (987-1040) and his son Geoffrey Martel (1040-60) to include Maine and Touraine. Strategically situated, this principality prospered in its early times of external danger, but it was surrounded by aggressive dynasts; the control of castles and vassalic fidelities were the count's somewhat precarious means of power.

Brittany, to the west of Anjou and Normandy, was set apart by its strongly Celtic tradition. It achieved identity in the 9th century under the native leader Nomenoë, who seized Nantes and Rennes in defiance of Charles the Bald. His successors, badly battered by the Vikings, were recognized as dukes in the 10th century but were unable to consolidate their power over lesser counts and castellans. With little more than an unenvied independence, the duchy persisted in the 12th century when a series of succession crises enabled King Henry II of England to subject it to the Plantagenet domains. Only after 1166 were the Bretons to feel the impact of systematic territorial administration.

The area around Blois, to the east of Touraine, had also been entrusted to Robert the Strong and remained in his family's hands until about 940, when Theobald the Old seized control of it and founded a line of counts of Blois. His successors, notably the fearsome Eudes II (996-1037), annexed the counties of Sancerre (1015) and Champagne (1019-23), thereby creating a principality comparable in strength to Flanders and more threatening to the king, whose patrimonial domains it encircled. A dynastic aggregate lacking natural cohesion, Blois-Champagne achieved its greatest strength under Theobald IV the Great (II of Champagne, 1125-52), who was a formidable rival of Kings Louis VI and Louis VII. The main lands were divided under his sons Theobald V (1152-91) and Henry (1152-81), themselves prestigious lords; and the Champagne of Henry the Liberal was among the richest, best organized, and most cultured French lands of its day.

Finally, there was Burgundy, to the south of Champagne (not to be confused with the old kingdom and the later imperial county of Burgundy), which first achieved princely identity under Richard the Justiciar (880-921). Defeating Magyars and Vikings as well as exploiting the rivalries of his neighbours, Richard was regarded (like his near contemporary Arnulf of Flanders) as virtually a king. Ducal power was contested and diminished thereafter, but it survived as the patrimony of a Capetian cadet family until 1361.

Thus, by the later 12th century, France north of the Loire consisted of several large principalities (some of them associated with the English crown), coexisting with each other and with the king, who struggled to impose his lordship on them.

The principalities of the south
South of the Loire emerged another set of lands: Provence, Auvergne, Toulouse, Barcelona, and Aquitaine.

Provence lay in what is now the southeastern corner of France; it was not part of the west Frankish domains. Included in the Middle Kingdom from 843, it passed to the kings of Burgundy after 879 and to the emperors in the 11th century. But it was local counts once again who won prestige as defenders against pillagers, in this case the Muslims, and profited from urban growth to establish a dynastic authority of their own. This authority was fractured in the early 12th century, when the houses of Barcelona and Toulouse secured portions by marriage; a cadet dynasty of Barcelona continued to rule the county until 1245.

The county of Barcelona, formed from a delegation of Frankish royal power in 878, came to dominate all other east Pyrenean counties in the 11th century. Prospering at the expense of the Muslims, Count Ramon Berenguer I (1035-76) reduced his castellans to submission (like his contemporary William in Normandy). His great-grandson Ramon Berenguer IV (1131-62) organized the strongest principality in the south. He and his successors acted as fully independent sovereigns, although the king of France retained a theoretical lordship over Barcelona until 1258.

Auvergne is the best example of a region whose masters failed to subordinate rival counts and castellans. Only a tradition of superior comital unity survived in the claims of two related counts whose patrimonies were absorbed by the crown in the 13th century.

Toulouse had been a center of delegated Frankish power from the 8th century, but its pretension to princely status dated from 924, when Raymond III Pons (924-after 944) added control of coastal Gothia to that of Toulouse and its hinterland. Dynastic continuity, here as elsewhere, however, was badly interrupted, and none of the succeeding counts was able to organize a coherent lordship. Raymond IV of Saint-Gilles (1093-1105) acquired the crusader land of Tripoli (Syria), but he and his successors were weakened at home by conflicts with Barcelona and Aquitaine.

The duchy of Aquitaine might at first have seemed the most promising of all these principalities. A kingdom in the 9th century, it was reconstituted under William the Pious (d. 926) and again, more imposingly, under William V (995-1029), who was acclaimed as one of the greatest rulers of his day. Yet his power depended on lordships and alliances rather than on administration, and so the situation remained in the 12th century, when the vast but flabby duchy was conveyed by the marriages of its heiress Eleanor successively to the kings of France and England.

Of these principalities only Barcelona had achieved territorial cohesion and cultural unity by the later 12th century; it was then becoming known as Catalonia. The others, less toughened by external invasion and less resistant to the Cathari (or Albigensian) religious heresy from within, were vulnerable to an expanding Capetian monarchy.

The monarchy
The kingdom of France was descended directly from the west Frankish realm ceded to Charles the Bald in 843. Not until 987 was the Carolingian dynastic line set aside, but there had been portentous interruptions. The reunited empire of Charles the Fat (884-888) proved unworkable: the Viking onslaught was then at its worst, and the king proved incapable of managing defenses, which fell naturally to the regional magnates. Among these was Eudes, son of that Robert the Strong to whom counties in the lower Loire valley had been delegated in 866. Eudes's resourceful defense of Paris against the Vikings in 885 contrasted starkly with Charles the Fat's failures, and in 887 the west Frankish magnates deposed Charles and later elected Eudes king. In so doing they bypassed an underage grandson of Charles the Bald, also named Charles, who was crowned at Reims in 893 with the support of the archbishop there. Although gaining undisputed title to the crown upon Eudes's death in 898, Charles the Simple (as he was called) was unable to recover the undivided loyalty of his great men. Having ceded Normandy to a Viking band in 911 and having sought to reward the service of lesser men, he lost the crown in 922 to Eudes's brother Robert, who was killed in battle against Charles in 923. Thereupon Robert's son-in-law Raoul of Burgundy was elected king and Charles the Simple was imprisoned, to die in captivity in 929. Yet, when Raoul died in 936, the Robertian candidate for the crown, Robert's son Hugh the Great, stood aside for another Carolingian restoration in the person of Louis IV, son of Charles the Simple and called d'Outremer ("from Overseas") because he had been nurtured in England since his father's deposition. Louis IV acted energetically to revive the prestige of his dynasty, leaving the crown undisputed at his death in 954 to his son Lothaire (954-986). But Lothaire's dynastic resources were too seriously impaired to command the full allegiance of the magnates. When his son Louis V (986-987) died young, the magnates reasserted themselves to elect Hugh Capet king. This time, despite the survival of a Carolingian claimant, Charles of Lorraine, the dynastic breach was permanent.

The election of 987 coincided with a more general crisis of power. The pillaging of Vikings gave way to that of castellans and knights; the inability of kings (of whatever family) to secure professions of fidelity and service from the mass of people in lands extending beyond a few counties shows how notions of personal loyalty and lordship were replacing that of public order. Just as castellans were freeing themselves from subordination to counts, so the monks claimed exemption from the supervision of bishops: in a famous case the bishop of Orléans was opposed by the learned Abbo of Fleury (d. 1004). There was a new insistence on the virtue of fidelity--and on the sin of betrayal.

Hugh Capet (987-996) and his son Robert (996-1031) struggled vainly to maintain the Carolingian solidarity of associated counts, bishops, and abbots; after about 1025 Robert and his successors were hardly more than crowned lords, and their protectorate was valued by few but the lesser barons and churches of the Île-de-France. Neither Henry I (1031-60) nor Philip I (1060-1108) could match the success (such as it was) of their rivals in Normandy and Flanders in subordinating castles and vassals to their purposes.

Yet even these relatively weak kings clung to their pretensions. They claimed rights in bishops' churches and monasteries far outside their immediate domain, which was concentrated around Paris, Orléans, Compiègne, Soissons, and Beauvais. Henry I married a Russian princess, whose son was given the exotic name of Philip; and the choice of Louis, a Carolingian name, for Philip's son was even more obviously programmatic. Louis IV (1108-37) spent his reign reducing the robber barons of the Île-de-France to submission, thereby restoring respect for the king's justice; he worked cautiously to promote the royal suzerainty over princely domains. It was a sign of newly achieved prestige that he secured the heiress Eleanor of Aquitaine as a bride for his son Louis VII (1137-80). But Louis VI was less successful in border wars with Henry I of Normandy; these conflicts became more dangerous when, upon the failure of her first marriage, Eleanor married Henry of Anjou, who came thereby to control lands in western France of much greater extent than the Capetian domains. Louis VII proved nonetheless a steady defender of his realm. He never relinquished his claim to lordship over the Angevin lands, and he allowed lesser men of his entourage the freedom to develop a more efficient control of his patrimonial estate. Not least, he fathered--belatedly, by Queen Adele of Champagne, his third wife, amid transports of relieved joy--the son who was to carry on the dynasty's work.

The early Capetian kings thus achieved the power of a great principality, such as Normandy or Barcelona, while harbouring the potential to reestablish a fully royal authority over the greater realm once ruled by Charles the Bald. The princes were their allies or their rivals; they sometimes did homage and swore fealty to the king, but they were reluctant to admit that their hard-won patrimonies were fiefs held of the crown. Royal lordship over peasants, townspeople, and church lands was for many generations a more important component of the king's power in France. It was exercised personally, not bureaucratically. The king's entourage, like those of the princes, replicated the old Frankish structure of domestic service. The seneschal saw to general management and provisioning, a function (like that of the mayors of the palace) with the potential to expand. The butler, constable, and chamberlain were also laymen, the chancellor normally a cleric. The lay officers were not agents in the modern sense; their functions (and incomes) were endowed rewards or fiefs, for which they seldom accounted and which they tended to claim as by hereditary right. In a notorious case, Stephen of Garland tried to claim the seneschalsy as his property and for a time even held three offices at once; but this abuse was soon remedied and taught caution to Louis VI and his successors. The chancellor drafted the king's decrees and privileges with increasing care and regularity. He or the chamberlain kept lists of fiscal tenants and their obligations on the lord-king's estates and in towns for use in verifying the service of provosts who collected the rents and profits of justice. But this service was hardly less exploitative than that of the household officers; the royal domain lagged behind the princely ones of Flanders and Normandy in the imposition of accountability on its servants. The abbot Suger of Saint-Denis (d. 1151), once a provost on his monastery's domains, was instrumental in furthering administrative conceptions of power in the court of Louis VII.

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