XI. FRANCE: 1060–1328

1. Philip Augustus

At the accession of Philip II Augustus (1180) France was a minor and harassed state, hardly promising any grandeur to come. England held Normandy, Brittany, Anjou, Touraine, and Aquitaine—a domain thrice the size of that directly controlled by the French king. Most of Burgundy adhered to Germany, and the flourishing county of Flanders was in effect an independent principality. So were the counties of Lyons, Savoy, and Chambéry. So was Provence—southeastern France—rich in wine, oil, fruit, poets, and the cities of Aries and Avignon, Aix and Marseille. The Dauphiné, centering about Vienne, had been bequeathed to Germany as part of Burgundy; it was now independently ruled by a dauphin who took his title from the dolphin that was an emblem of his family.

France proper was divided into duchies, counties, seignories, seneschalties, and bailliages (bailiwicks) governed—in order of increasing dependence upon the king—by dukes, counts, seigneurs, seneschals (royal stewards), and bailiffs. This loose aggregation, already called Francia in the ninth century, was in diverse degrees, and with many limitations, subject to the French king. Paris, his capital, was in 1180 a city of wooden buildings and muddy streets; its Roman name, Lutetia, had meant the town of mud. Philip Augustus, shocked by the smell of the thoroughfares that ran beside the Seine, ordered that all the streets of Paris should be paved with solid stone.59

He was the first of three powerful rulers who in this age raised France to the intellectual, moral, and political leadership of Europe. But there had been strong men before him. Philip I (1060–1108) made a secure niche for himself in history by divorcing his wife at forty and persuading Count Fulk of Anjou to cede to him the Countess Bertrade. A priest was found to solemnize the adultery as marriage, but Pope Urban II, coming to France to preach the First Crusade, excommunicated the King. Philip persisted in sin for twelve years; at last he sent Bertrade away and was shriven; but a while later he repented his repentance, and resumed his Queen. She traveled with him to Anjou, taught her two husbands amity, and seems to have served both of them to the best of her charms.60

Having grown fat at forty-five, Philip handed over the major affairs of state to his son Louis VI (1108–37), himself known as Louis the Fat. He deserved a better name. For twenty-four years he fought, finally with success, the robber barons who plundered travelers on the roads; he strengthened the monarchy by organizing a competent army; he did what he could to protect the peasants, the artisans, and the communes; and he had the good sense to make the Abbot Suger his chief minister and friend. Suger of St. Denis (1081–1151) was the Richelieu of the twelfth century. He managed the affairs of France with wisdom, justice, and farsight; he encouraged and improved agriculture; he designed and built one of the earliest and finest masterpieces of the Gothic style; and he wrote an illuminating account of his ministry and work. He was the most valuable bequest left by Louis the Fat to his son, whom Suger served till death.

Louis VII (1137–80) was the man of whom Eleanor of Aquitaine said that she had married a king only to find him a monk. He labored conscientiously at his royal tasks, but his virtues ruined him. His devotion to government appeared to Eleanor as marital neglect; his patience with her amours added insult to negligence; she divorced him, and gave her hand and her duchy of Aquitaine to Henry II of England. Disillusioned with life, Louis turned to piety, and left to his son the task of building a strong France.

Philip II Augustus, like a later Philippe, was a bourgeois gentilhomme on the throne: a master of practical intelligence softened with sentiment, a patron of learning with no taste for it, a man of shrewd caution and prudent courage, of quick temper and ready amnesty, of unscrupulous but controlled acquisitiveness, of a moderated piety that could be generous to the Church without allowing religion to countermand his politics, and of a patient perseverance that won what bold adventurousness might never have attained. Such a man, at once prosaic and auguste,* amiably inflexible and ruthlessly wise, was what his country needed at a time when, between Henry II’s England and Barbarossa’s Germany, France might have ceased to be.

His marriages disturbed Europe. His first wife, Isabella, died in 1189; and four years later he married Ingeborg, a princess of Denmark. These marriages were political, and brought more property than romance. Ingeborg was not to Philip’s taste; he ignored her after a day; and within the year he persuaded a council of French bishops to grant him a divorce. Pope Celestine III refused to confirm the decree. In 1196, defying the Pope, he married Agnes of Meran. Celestine excommunicated him, but Philip remained obstinate; “I had rather lose half my domains,” he said in a moment of tenderness, “than separate from Agnes.” Innocent III commanded him to take back Ingeborg; when Philip refused, the invincible Pope interdicted religious services in Philip’s domain. Philip, in a rage, deposed all bishops who obeyed the interdict. “Happy Saladin!” he mourned, “who had no pope above him”; and he threatened to turn Mohammedan.61 After four years of this spiritual war the people began to grumble with fear of hell. Philip dismissed his beloved Agnes (1202), but kept Ingeborg confined at Étampes till 1213, when he recalled her to his bed.

Amid these joys and tribulations Philip reconquered Normandy from England (1204), and in the next two years annexed Brittany, Anjou, Maine, Touraine, and Poitou to his directly ruled terrain. He was now strong enough to dominate all the dukes, counts, and seigneurs of his realm; his baillis and seneschals supervised local government; his kingdom had become an international power, not a strip of land along the Seine. John of England, so shorn, was not resigned; he persuaded Otto IV of Germany and the counts of Boulogne and Flanders to join him against this swelling France; John would attack through Aquitaine (still England’s), the others from the northeast. Instead of dividing his forces to meet these separate assaults, Philip led his main army against John’s allies, and defeated them at Bouvines, near Lille (1214). That battle decided many issues. It deposed Otto, secured the German throne to Frederick II, ended German hegemony, and hastened the decline of the Holy Roman Empire. It reduced the counts of Flanders to French obedience, added Amiens, Douai, Lille, and St. Quentin to the French crown, and in effect extended northeastern France to the Rhine. It left John helpless against his barons, and forced him to sign Magna Carta. It weakened monarchy and strengthened feudalism in England and Germany, while it strengthened monarchy and weakened feudalism in France. And it favored the growth of the French communes and middle classes, which had vigorously supported Philip in peace and war.

Having trebled the royal domain, Philip governed it with devotion and skill. Half the time at odds with the Church, he replaced ecclesiastics in council and administration with men from the rising lawyer class. He gave charters of autonomy to many cities, encouraged trade by privileges to merchants, alternately protected and plundered the Jews, and fattened his exchequer by commuting feudal services into money payments; the royal revenue was doubled from 600 to 1200 livres ($240,000) a day. In his reign the façade of Notre Dame was completed, and the Louvre was built as a fortress to guard the Seine.62 When Philip died (1223) the France of today had been born.

2. St. Louis

His son Louis VIII (1223–6) ruled too briefly to accomplish much; history remembers him chiefly for having married the admirable Blanche of Castile, and begetting by her the one man in medieval history who, like Ashoka in ancient India, succeeded in being at once and in fact a saint and a king. Louis IX was twelve, his mother was thirty-eight, when Louis VIII died. Daughter of Alfonso IX of Castile, granddaughter of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, Blanche lived up to her royal blood. She was a woman of beauty and charm, energy, character, and skill; at the same time she impressed her age by her untarnished virtue as wife and widow, and her devotion as the mother of eleven children; France honored her not only as Blanche la bonne reine, but equally as Blanche la bonne mère. She freed many serfs on the royal estates, spent great sums on charity, and provided dowries for girls whose poverty discouraged love. She helped to finance the building of Chartres Cathedral, and it was through her influence that its stained glass showed Mary not as virgin but as queen.63 She loved her son Louis too jealously, and was ungenerous to his wife. She trained him sedulously to Christian virtue, and told him that she would rather see him dead than have him commit a mortal sin;64 but it was not her doing that he became a devotee. She herself rarely sacrificed policy to sentiment; she joined in the cruel Albigensian Crusade to extend the power of the crown in southern France. For nine years (1226–35), while Louis grew up, she governed the realm; and seldom has France been better ruled. At the outset of her regency the barons revolted, thinking to recapture from a woman the powers they had lost to Philip II; she overcame them with wise and patient diplomacy. She resisted England ably, and then signed a truce on just terms. When Louis IX came of age and assumed the government, he inherited a kingdom powerful, prosperous, and at peace.

He was a handsome lad, taller by a head than most of his knights, with finely cut features, clear skin, and rich blond hair; elegant in tastes, fond of luxurious furniture and colorful clothes; no bookworm, but given to hunting and falconry, amusements and athletic games; not yet a saint, for a monk complained to Blanche of the royal flirtations; she found him a wife, and he settled down. He became a model of conjugal fidelity and parental energy; he had eleven children, and took an intimate share in their education. Gradually he abandoned luxury, lived more and more simply, and consumed himself in government, charity, and piety. He had a kingly conception of monarchy as an organ of national unity and continuity, and as a protection of the poor and weak against the superior or fortunate few.

He respected the rights of the nobles, encouraged them to fulfill their obligations to serfs and vassals and suzerain, but would brook no feudal infringements of the new royal power. He interfered resolutely to repress injustices of lord to man, and in several cases severely punished barons who had executed men without due trial. When Enguerrand de Coucy hanged three Flemish students for killing some rabbits on his estate, Louis had him locked up in the tower of the Louvre, threatened to hang him, and released him on condition that he build three chapels where Masses were to be said daily for his victims; that he give the forest where the young scholars had hunted to the abbey of St. Nicholas; that he lose on his estates the rights of jurisdiction and hunting; that he serve three years in Palestine; and pay the King a fine of 12,500 pounds.65 Louis forbade feud vengeance and private feudal war, and condemned the judicial duel. As trial by evidence replaced trial by combat, the baronial courts were progressively superseded by the royal courts organized in each locality by the bailiffs of the King; the right of appeal from baronial judges to the central royal court was established; and in France, as in England, the thirteenth century saw feudal law give way to a common law of the realm. Never since Roman days had France enjoyed such security and prosperity; in this reign the wealth of France sufficed to bring Gothic architecture to its greatest abundance and perfection.

He believed and proved that a government could be just and generous in its foreign relations without losing prestige and power. He avoided war as long as possible; but when aggression threatened he organized his armies efficiently, planned his campaigns, and—in Europe—carried them through with energy and skill to an honorable peace that left no passion for revenge. As soon as the safety of France was assured, he adopted a policy of conciliation which accepted the compromise of opposed rights while rejecting the appeasement of unjust claims. He restored to England and Spain territory that his predecessors had seized; his councilors mourned, but peace endured, and France remained free from attack even during the long absences of Louis on crusades. “Men feared him,” said William of Chartres, “because they knew that he was just.”66 From 1243 to 1270 France waged no war against a Christian foe. When her neighbors fought one another Louis labored to reconcile them, scorning the suggestion of his council that such strife should be fomented to weaken potential enemies.67 Foreign kings submitted their disputes to his arbitration. People marveled that so good a man should be so good a king.

He was not “that perfect monster whom the world ne’er knew”—the completely faultless man. He was occasionally irritable, perhaps through ill health. The simplicity of his soul sometimes verged upon culpable ignorance or credulity, as in the ill-conceived crusades and maladroit campaigns in Egypt and Tunisia, where he lost many lives besides his own; and though he was honest with his Moslem enemies he could not apply to them the same generous understanding that had succeeded so well with his Christian foes. His childlike certitude of belief led him to a religious intolerance that helped to establish the Inquisition in France, and it quieted his natural pity for the victims of the Albigensian Crusade. His treasury was swelled by confiscating the goods of condemned heretics,68and his usual good humor failed him toward the French Jews.

But with these deductions he came nobly close to the Christian ideal. “On no day of my life,” reports Joinville, “did I ever hear him speak evil of anyone.”69 When his Moslem captors accepted by mistake a sum 10,000 livres ($2,000,000) short of the ransom promised for his release, Louis, restored safely to freedom, sent to the Saracens the additional payment in full, to the disgust of his councilors.70 Before leaving on his first crusade he bade his officials, throughout his realm, to “receive in writing, and to examine, the grievances that may be brought against us or our ancestors, as also allegations of injustices or exactions of which our bailiffs, provosts, foresters, sergeants, or their subordinates may have been guilty.”71 “Ofttimes,” says Joinville, “he would go, after Mass, and seat himself against a tree in the wood of Vincennes, and make us sit around him. And all those who had any cause in hand came and spoke to him without hindrance or usher.” He would settle some cases himself, and turn others over to the councilors seated about him, but he gave each pleader the right of appeal to the king.72 He founded and endowed hospitals, asylums, monasteries, hospices, a home for the blind, and another (the Filles-Dieu) for redeemed prostitutes. He ordered his agents in each province to search out the old and poor and provide for them at the public expense. Wherever he went he made it a principle to feed, every day, 120 poor people; he had three of them join him for dinner, served them himself, and washed their feet.73 Like Henry III of England, he waited on lepers, and fed them with his own hands. When famine struck Normandy he spent an enormous sum getting food to the needy there. He gave alms daily to the sick, the poor, widows, women in confinement, prostitutes, disabled workingmen, “so that hardly it would be possible to number his alms.”74 Nor were these acts of charity spoiled by publicity. The poor whose feet he washed were chosen from the blind; the act was done in private, and the recipients were not told that their attendant was the king. His ascetic self-lacerations were unknown to others until revealed on his flesh after his death.75

In the campaign of 1242 he contracted malaria in the marshy regions of Saintonge; it brought on pernicious anemia, and in 1244 he was near death. Perhaps such experiences turned him more and more to religion; indeed, it was on recovering from that illness that he took the oath to crusade. He weakened himself with ascetic self-mortification. When he returned from his first crusade, aged only thirty-eight, he was already bent and bald, and nothing remained of his youthful beauty except the radiant grace of his simple faith and good will. He wore a hair shirt under a monk’s brown robe, and had himself scourged with little iron chains. He loved the new monastic orders, Franciscans and Dominicans, gave to them without stint, and was with difficulty dissuaded from himself becoming a Franciscan. He heard two Masses daily, recited the canonical prayers of tierce, sext, none, vespers, and compline, said fifty Ave Marias before retiring, and rose at midnight to join the priests at matins in the chapel.76 He abstained from marital intercourse in Advent and Lent. Most of his subjects smiled at his devotions, and called him “Brother Louis.” One bold woman told him: “It would be better that another should be king in your place, for you are only king of the Franciscans and the Dominicans…. It is an outrage that you should be king of France. It is a great marvel that they don’t put you out.” Louis replied: “You tell the truth … I am not worthy to be king, and if it had pleased our Saviour, another would have been in my place, who would have known better how to govern the kingdom.”77

He shared with enthusiasm in the superstitions of his time. The abbey of St. Denis claimed to have a nail from the True Cross; one day the nail was mislaid after its ceremonial exhibition to the people; a great furore arose; the nail was found, and the King was much relieved; “I had rather,” he said, “that the best city in my kingdom had been swallowed up.”78 In 1236 Baldwin II of Constantinople, appealing for funds to rescue his ailing state, sold to Louis for 11,000 livres ($2,200,000) the crown of thorns worn by Jesus during His Passion. Five years later Louis bought from the same auctioneer a piece of the True Cross. Possibly these purchases were intended as grants in aid to a Christian kingdom in distress. To receive the relics Louis commissioned Peter of Montreuil to build Sainte Chapelle.

With all his deep piety Louis was no tool of the clergy. He recognized their human shortcomings, and chastised them with good example and open rebuke.79 He restricted the powers of ecclesiastical courts, and asserted the authority of the law over all citizens, lay or clerical. In 1268 he issued the first Pragmatic Sanction, limiting the power of the papacy in ecclesiastical appointments and taxation in France: “We will that no one may raise or collect in any manner exactions or assessments of money, which have been imposed by the court of Rome … unless the cause be reasonable, pious, most urgent… and recognized by our express and spontaneous consent, and by that of the Church of our realm.”*

Despite his monastic propensities Louis always remained the king, and preserved the royal majesty even when, as Fra Salimbene describes him, “spare and slender, having the face of an angel, and a countenance full of grace,”81 he appeared on foot, in pilgrim’s habit and with pilgrim’s staff, to begin his first crusade (1248). Queen Blanche, whom he left, despite her sixty years, as regent with the fullest powers, wept as they parted: “Most sweet fair son, fair tender son, I shall never see you more.”82 He was captured in Egypt, and was held for a ransom that Blanche with great difficulty raised and paid; but when, defeated and humbled, he returned to France (1252), he found his mother dead. In 1270, weak with illness, he set out again, this time for Tunisia. It was not so quixotic an enterprise as its failure made it out to be. Louis had allowed his brother, Charles of Anjou, to lead a French army into Italy not only to check German domination there, but also in the hope that Sicily might be made a base for a French invasion of Tunisia. Shortly after reaching Tunisia the great crusader, older in body than in years, died of dysentery. Twenty-seven years later the Church canonized him. Generations and centuries looked back to his reign as the Golden Age of France, and wondered why an inscrutable Providence would not send them his like again. He was a Christian king.

3. Philip the Fair

France was strengthened by the Crusades, in which she took a leading part. The long reigns of Philip Augustus and Louis IX gave her government continuity and stability, while England suffered the negligent Richard I, the reckless John, and the incompetent Henry III, and while Germany disintegrated in the wars between the emperors and the popes. By 1300 France was the strongest power in Europe.

Philip IV (1285–1314) was called le Bel for his handsome figure and face, not for his subtle statecraft and pitiless audacity. His aims were vast: to bring all classes—nobles and clergy as well as townsmen and serfs—under the direct law and control of the king; to base French growth on commerce and industry rather than on agriculture; and to extend the boundaries of France to the Atlantic, the Pyrenees, the Mediterranean, the Alps, and the Rhine. He chose his aides and councilors not from the great ecclesiastics and barons who had served French kings for four centuries past, but from the lawyer class that came to him impregnate with the imperial ideas of Roman law. Pierre Flotte and Guillaume de Nogaret were brilliant intellects careless of morals and precedents; under their guidance Philip rebuilt the legal structure of France, replaced feudal with royal law, overcame his foes by shrewd diplomacy, and in the end broke the power of the papacy, and made the pope in effect a prisoner of France. He tried to detach Guienne from England, but found Edward I too strong for him. He won Champagne, Brie, and Navarre by marriage, and bought with hard cash Chartres, Franche-Comté, the Lyonnais, and part of Lorraine.

Always needing money, he spent half his wits and time inventing taxes and raising funds. He commuted for money the military obligations of the barons to the crown. He repeatedly debased the coinage, and insisted on taxes being paid in bullion or in honest coin. He exiled the Jews and the Lombards, and destroyed the Templars, to confiscate their wealth. He forbade the export of precious metal from his realm. He laid heavy taxes upon exports, imports, and sales, and a war tax of a penny upon every livre of private wealth in France. Finally, without consulting the pope, he taxed the wealth of the Church, which now owned a quarter of the land of France. The results belong to the story of Boniface VIII. When the old Pope, broken by the struggle, died, Philip’s agents and money secured the election of a Frenchman as Clement V, and the removal of the papacy to Avignon. Never had any layman won so great a victory over the Church. Henceforth, in France, the lawyers ruled the priests.

The grand master of the Templars, as he went to the stake, predicted that Philip would follow him within a year. It so befell; and not only Philip but Clement too died in 1314—the triumphant King aged only forty-six. The French people had admired his tenacity and courage, and had upheld him against Boniface; but they cursed his memory as the most grasping monarch in their history. France was almost broken by his victory. His debased currency disordered the national economy, high rents and prices impoverished the people, taxation retarded industry, and the banishment of the Lombards and the Jews crippled the sinews of commerce and ruined the great fairs. The prosperity that had mounted under Louis the Saint declined under the master of every trick of law and diplomatic craft.83

Three sons of Philip mounted the throne and descended into the grave within fourteen years of his death. None of them left sons to inherit his power. Charles IV (d. 13 28) left daughters, but the old Salic law was invoked to refuse them the crown. The nearest male heir of the royal family was Philip of Valois, nephew of Philip the Fair. With his accession the direct line of the Capetian kings ended, and the rule of the House of Valois began.

A coup d’oeil of France in this period shows remarkable advances in economy, law, education, literature, and art. Serfdom was rapidly disappearing as the growth of urban industry lured men from the farms. Paris in 1314 had some 200,000 inhabitants, France some 22,000,000.84 Brunetto Latini, fleeing from the political violence of Florence, marveled at the peace and security that reigned in the streets of Paris under Louis IX, the busy handicrafts and commerce of the towns, the fruitful fields and vineyards of the pleasant countryside around the capital.85

The rise of the business and professional classes, almost rivaling the nobility in wealth, compelled their representation in the États généraux, or States-General, which Philip IV summoned to Paris in 1302 to give him moral and financial support in his conflict with Boniface. Such general assemblies of the three estates or classes—nobles, clergy, commons—were called only in emergencies (1302, 1308, 1314 …), and were cleverly guided by the lawyers who served the king as a conseil d’état or Council of State. The Parlement of Paris, which took form under Louis IX, was not a representative assembly, but a group of some ninety-four lawyers and clerics apppointed by the king, and meeting once or twice a year to serve as a supreme court. Its ordonnances built up a body of national law based upon Roman rather than Frank codes, and giving the monarchy the full support of the classical legal tradition.

The intellectual excitement of the age of Philip IV is preserved for us in the political treatises of one of his supporters—Pierre Dubois (1255–1312), a lawyer who represented Coutances in the States-General of 1302. In a Supplication du peuple de France au roi contre le pape Boniface (1304)–An Appeal of the People of France to the King against Pope Boniface—and in a tract On the Recovery of the Holy Land (1306), Dubois threw out suggestions that reveal the sharp division that now separated the legal from the ecclesiastical mind in France. The Church, said Dubois, should be disendowed, should no longer receive financial support from the state; the French Church should be separated from Rome; the papacy should be divorced from all temporal power; and the authority of the state should be supreme. Philip should be made emperor of a united Europe, with Constantinople as his capital. An international court should be set up to adjudicate the quarrels of nations, and an economic boycott should be declared against any Christian nation that warred upon another. A school of Oriental studies should be established at Rome. Women should have the same educational opportunities and political rights as men.86

It was the age of the troubadours in Provence, of the trouvères in the north, of the Chanson de Roland and other chansons de geste, of Aucassin et Nicolette and the Roman de la Rose, of the first outstanding French historians—Villardhouin and Joinville. In this period great universities were organized in Paris, Orléans, Angers, Toulouse, and Montpellier. It began with Roscelin and Abélard, and culminated in the zenith of the Scholastic philosophy. It was the age of the Gothic ecstasy—of the majestic cathedrals of St. Denis, Chartres, Notre Dame, Amiens, and Reims, and of Gothic sculpture in its most spiritual perfection. Frenchmen were forgivably proud of their country, their capital, and their culture; a national unifying patriotism was replacing the provincialism of the feudal era; already, as in the Chanson de Roland, men spoke lovingly of la douce France, “sweet France.” It was in France, as in Italy, the climax of Christian civilization.

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