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Louis VI and Louis VII


Louis VII
Louis VII

The resurgent economy and church contributed to the slow growth of royal power starting in the reign of Louis VI, who became king in 1108. The expanding economy eventually allowed the kings to tap into new sources of wealth, and they were able to build armies and a new bureaucratic administration. The rising influence of the church and Christian religion strengthened the religious basis of the Capetian monarchy. Henceforth, French kings were crowned in formal ceremonies at Reims, where Clovis had been baptized. They acquired the title Most Christian King. The French kings claimed to have the power to cure a disease related to tuberculosis called scrofula. The Capetians also benefited from the Crusades, the military campaigns called by the church to recapture the Holy Land from the Muslims. Participation in the Crusades enhanced the Capetians’ prestige. It also allowed them to redirect the warring tendencies of the magnates outside the country; approximately half of the magnates participated in the Crusades. Despite occasional differences and disputes, the Capetians were on much better terms with the papacy in the 12th and 13th centuries than were the dynasties ruling England or Germany.

Louis VI and Louis VII, who ruled between 1137 and 1180, pacified their domain, which had been overrun by marauding bandits during the reigns of their predecessors. But the real challenge they faced was the rising power of the Plantagenet dynasty. This aristocratic family had strong bases in both England and France. Henry II, who became the first Plantagenet king of England in 1154, had been duke of Normandy. He had also acquired a claim to all of Aquitaine when he married Eleanor of Aquitaine in 1152. Eleanor had been married to Louis VII, but he had annulled his marriage to Eleanor for her alleged adultery.

In the 1180s the Plantagenets also came to control Brittany. Louis VII’s son, Philip Augustus, ruled as Philip II from 1180 to 1223. He maintained surprisingly cordial relations with both Henry II and his successor, Richard I, until the 1190s, when the rising Plantagenet threat erupted in conflict.

Louis IX
Louis IX

Philip broke with Richard while both were on the Third Crusade. Richard was able to gain the upper hand until his death in 1199, but Philip gained the advantage after Richard was succeeded by his brother, John.

By 1206 Philip had overrun Normandy, Maine, Touraine, Anjou, Poitou, Auvergne, and Brittany. In 1214 he won a crushing victory over John and his allies at the Battle of Bouvines and then nearly invaded England. With the Plantagenets suppressed, the battle determined which dynasty predominated in France for the next two centuries. In that regard, it was a critical event in the long history of national consolidation, even though another desperate struggle with the ruling house of England lay in the future. During Philip’s reign, the royal domain expanded several fold in size, and for a time, the Capetians were the dominant power in Europe. Louis VIII, king between 1223 and 1226, continued to build the royal domain. Philip II had already allowed a group of knights led by Simon IV de Montfort to attack the Albigenses, members of a heretical Christian sect in the south of France.

The campaign against them was blessed by the pope. Louis VIII himself went south to capitalize on Montfort’s bloody assaults and placed all Languedoc, where the sect was strong, under his rule. Although Louis died in 1226, he had established the right of the Capetian kings and their families to rule over much of the south. He had incorporated into the Capetian sphere of influence areas that had been virtually autonomous since the 9th century.

Under Louis IX, who ruled from 1226 to 1270, the Capetians added luster to their power. Louis, a faithful son of the church, was so personally pious that he was eventually made a saint by the church. A committed Crusader, he was a prominent collector of holy relics, which he housed in the luminescent church of Sainte-Chapelle built in Paris under his direction. But he was also an effective administrator. He extended and enforced law and order through the royal courts and the legal system. He stabilized the currency and built the royal bureaucracy. His prestige was so high that for centuries he was held up as a model king, and his sainthood strengthened the cult of the king as a godlike figure.

Louis IX’s successor was Philip III, who became king in 1270. He was a far weaker and paler king, whose reign was dominated by factions. He was followed in 1285 by Philip IV the Fair, who was very different. Philip was the most brutal of the Capetians in using the growing power of the monarchy to bludgeon his enemies. Although generous to religious foundations, Philip came to blows with the papacy in defense of his right to tax church property.

He thereby jeopardized the monarchy’s historic alliance with Rome, one of the principal sources of its success. During this struggle, Philip’s agents broke into the papal residence and sacked it. Soon thereafter, the papacy moved to Avignon, where it stayed for nearly a century. To many contemporaries, the papacy’s agreement to relocate indicated that it had fallen under the control of the French kings, and the papacy’s prestige suffered. Philip IV risked destroying the alliance with Rome over finances because royal power was coming to depend on money. Philip took other measures to gain revenue, including destroying the Knights Templar—a rich crusading order—and expelling the Jews from France. In both cases, the king seized the assets of his victims. In addition, Philip debased the currency. He was succeeded by the last three Capetians—Louis X (1314-1316), Philip V (1316-1322), and Charles IV (1322-1328). "France" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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