Capetian Kings of France

Topics: Feudalism, House of Capet, Louis VII of France Pages: 6 (2076 words) Published: November 25, 2012
What factors promoted the authority of the Capetian Kings of France in the Twelfth century? France in the eleventh century had been a fragmented land, divided into federal principalities, or mini-states ruled by princes or dukes. Though they recognized the King of France’s authority they did not expect him to exercise it in their individual territories. Feudalism increased the power of these mini-states in the twelfth century, and was the tool used by the Capetian Kings of France to advance their influence and wealth. Why and how the Capetian dynasty sought to establish and then successfully utilize this particular system will be the main focus of my essay. Feudal law was the customs and relations between lord and vassal in regards to the most valuable medieval commodity; land. Under the ‘oath of fealty’ the lord protected the vassal and gave him land to hold in return for produce, labour services, or military services. The feudal lord could acquire a substantial sum of money if his vassal’s son wished to retain his deceased father’s fiefdom. The potential heir would pay a ‘relief’ to the lord to secure his succession. Other advantages in the feudal arrangement were in cases of the land reverting entirely back to the lord if its vassal died without any successors. The benefits of a feudal society were significant in terms of power and profit for a feudal lord. Therefore, a King who was also feudal lord of his kingdom would hold a strong position of authority. King Louis VI (the fat) sought to establish himself as a feudal monarch, perhaps to regain some of the distinction that had been enjoyed by his predecessor, Charlemagne. Louis VI’s reign was from 1108 – 1137 AD, during which time he sought to consolidate his power as a feudal lord in his demesne. The Capetian King would then have established a base from which to further expand his royal authority in the Kingdom of France. Louis VI felt that he should protect the lands of his vassals well and not appear to be seizing them for himself. It appears that he hoped this would establish a mutual confidence between lord and vassal and would be a great incentive for other subjects in the kingdom to become his vassals voluntarily. “Ceaseless vigilance” was required by the king to assert his royal power and prevent its loss if it was not exercised. Louis VI therefore spent a great deal of his reign travelling from one end of his demesne to the other, quashing petty disputes with vassals and granting permission for festivals and markets. All this was in pursuit of respect for his feudal authority, which he painstakingly achieved. Consequently, the respect of other nobles in the kingdom for Louis increased and with his authority. Evidence of the King’s increased power can be seen in the invasion of France by Emperor Henry V in 1124. Nobles from all over the territory obeyed Louis VI’s summons to stand against the Emperor e.g. those from Soissons, St Denise, the Count of Flanders, the Count of Anjou, and the Duke of Aquitaine. Louis’s grandson, Philip II ‘Augustus’ would continue this practice of exercising royal control over his demesne. Philip invested a great deal in drawing up thorough and precise agreements with vassals old and new. By the time Philip II ‘Augustus’ was in power, the territory under Capetian control had grown significantly. This was due in part to the labours first carried out by Louis VI in first consolidating the royal demesne before enlarging it. Both kings knew the value in treating their subjects justly, as dishonesty or greed was sure to provoke a feudal rebellion and destroy any possibility of a feudal monarch. The relationship between the crown and the church also played a part in promoting Capetian authority. The church lent support to the king in return for protection. The idea of a feudal monarch in Latin Christendom appealed to the clergy who favoured order and obedience which would allow ‘Christian life’ to flourish. The church even supported the...
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