Louis VI and VII

Forward to Philip II Augustus – Back to William the Conqueror
Back to 1789 and all that!
© Bob Denton 2014

Louis VI   1108-1137

Philip I died in 1108 but his son had progressively taken the helm well before this.  He became Louis VI and earned the epithet le Gros (the Fat); not that unsurprising as he was the progeny from Philip’s ‘fat’ first wife, Bertha of Holland. Louis was twenty-six years old so no regents for him.

He was stopped by his half-brother from reaching Reims so was instead crowned in Orléans. He maintained a strong relationship with the Church and freed them from mendacious nobles and made an alliance with the Pope.

At the age of thirty-five he was prevailed upon to marry Adelaide of Maurienne who gave him six sons and three daughters to secure his succession.

He spent much of his twenty-nine years combatting his own barons. But he managed to exert his authority and his success mean he became the strongest king since the Carolingian descent in to weakness.

He also battled with the king of England Henry I, between 1104 and 1120. He was the fourth son of William the Conqueror and third Norman king of England. Henry was determined to expand the Norman territories in France.

In 1124 he had to withstand an invasion threat from Henry V, the Holy Roman Emperor and used the symbolism of Saint-Denis, the patron saint of France, as on his side; he carried his banner to battle. This rallied those from all over France to come to his aid and Henry withdrew.

By the age of forty-six Louis was too heavy to mount a horse.

The last great achievement of his reign was to arrange the marriage of his son to Eleanor of Aquitaine so that there was the expectation that as Louis VII his son would add this valuable duchy as part of his realm.

Heraldry – the notion of using some symbol to identify an individual or their supporters goes all the way back to Ancient Egypt and their ‘serekh’, an early form of royal cartouche. The bible has the Israelites in Moses time displaying their tribal standards, certainly the Romans used distinct markings on their shields.

But the medieval form of heraldry has its earliest recorded instance when Geoffrey V, the Count of Anjou, was knighted in 1127. He was awarded a blue shield bearing golden lions. Before the end of that century coats of arms were being passed from father to son in England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

The whole process became highly organised with officers of arms regulating their issue and use, a whole language and vocabulary emerged (mostly French) to define and describe the imagery and iconography. It would later expand to show markings as to the various ranks of descendants and to show those born on the wrong side of the blanket. The notion found its way into other forms as for example in an individual’s seal that would be impressed in sealing wax on an agreement or treaty.

Louis VII   1137 – 1180

In 1137 Louis VI died from dysentery at fifty-six years of age. His son Louis succeeded him as Louis VII with the unsurprising epithet of Louis le Jeune (the Younger).

Louis had been the second son and therefore much of his upbringing had been directed towards him taking a career in the church. The accidental death of his elder brother, Philip, meant he had to pursue a different path.

His father had scored something of a coup in arranging that he marry Eleanor, her dowry was the Duchy of Aquitaine which a t a stroke extended his realm to the Pyrenees. They proved to be opposites he learned and monkish individual, she was by all accounts very high-spirited.

Louis VII then became involved in a war with Theobald, the Count of Champagne when he supported a cousin of his father’s, Ralph I Count of Vermandois. Ralph had divorced Theobald’s sister in order to marry a sister of Eleanor.

During this war Louis led his army to take Vitry-le-François and during the action a church was burned to the ground killing a thousand people who were hiding from the assault. Louis was so distraught that he withdrew his troops and declared his intention to atone by going on crusade.

In 1144 the Count of Anjou, Geoffrey the Handsome, completed his control over Normandy and sought recognition of this from Louis VII. He received this by giving half of the Vexin to Louis. The Vexin was a county along the Seine stretching from Pontoise and not quite reaching Rouen. Today perhaps more famous for Claude Monet’s home and garden at Giverny. This was considered as something of a coup for Louis at the time, later it would prove not to be the case.

Second Crusade – first news of the fall of the crusader state of Edessa reached Europe in 1145. Hugh, the bishop of Jabala in Syria, reported this fact directly to Pope Eugene III. Hugh also reported that he had heard of an Eastern Christian King called Prester John. The bishop described Prester John as a priest and a king, he talked of him recording victories in today’s Iran and of a frustrated attempt to march to relieve Jerusalem that was thwarted by a flooded Tigris river. (We will come back to Prester John later.)

Pope Eugene called for a second crusade but everyone agreed it needed to be better organised and this time it should be led by the stronger kings of Europe. Initially it gathered little support. Louis VII appears to have been considering a pilgrimage to the Holy Land but this soon changed to him becoming a leading player in the second crusade. The Papal bull was reissued in 1146 and the crusade was preached throughout Europe to garner support, this gained English and German support.

However the Saxons had problems of their own in fighting neighbouring Slavs. They were given a dispensation the Pope establishing that attacks against the Slavs were as righteous as those going to the Holy Land. Many Danes, Poles and Saxons therefore were left to fight for the subjugation and Catholic conversion of the Slavs. In much the same way, in 1147. The Spanish and Portuguese forces were supported by the Pope to pursue their Reconquista, a Christian battle against the Muslim Moors.

Louis VII of France and Conrad III of Germany reached Constantinople in 1147, the first kings to participate in a crusade. There was a degree of confusion and friction when the Byzantines decided not to lend forces to the kings, who were themselves not communicating well. A northern crusader group along the way had been subborned in to recovering Lisbon from the Moors and so were delayed.

The two nations’ forces set off with different target cities in mind and this allowed the Turks to harry both columns without becoming engaged in a set-piece battle. The kings united to siege Damascus, this too failed. The Kings had to return home with just a few thousand who had survived the crusade, Jerusalem was left barely protected.

During the crusade the relationship between Eleanor and Louis was badly damaged. She was accused of having an affair with an uncle, Raymond of Poitiers. Raymond had tried to engage Louis in an assault on Aleppo but the king appeared more interested in the pilgrimage aspects of his trip than the military goals. The failure in the Holy Land had severely hit the royal purse and the military

Back in France the fact that their marriage had failed to produce an heir (there were two daughters) was the excuse for an annulment in 1152. This was further justified by revealing that they had a less than fourth-degree consanguinity. Their daughters were formally declared legitimate and handed over to Louis, Eleanor was given back her lands, Aquitaine.

It was adding insult to injury when she remarried Henry, the Duke of Normandy within two months of the annulment, insult because of the speed and the fact that he was her third cousin. They had eight children, five of them sons. He added Aquitaine to an already impressive realm that included Anjou, Brittany, Maine and Normandy. Two years later he became Henry II of England and Lord of Ireland, he also controlled Wales and Scotland. This would therefore prove to be one of the first events that would see England and France locking horns for many years.

Louis was influenced by one of his key advisors he inherited from his father, Abbot Suger. It was Suger who rebuilt the Church of Saint Denis from 1137. He took inspiration from Roman architecture, for example the Arch of Constantine was his model for the façade. He had finished by 1144 and his work was considered to be the first Gothic building. It would be emulated in many northern French abbeys, churches and cathedrals.

Notre-Dame de Paris – this is perhaps the most famous Gothic cathedral. It was concluded in 1160s that the current cathedral in Paris, St Etienne built back in the 4th century, was no longer appropriate as the Paris church for the kings of France.

Pope Alexander II laid the foundation stone and it was the first church to use flying buttresses. It was essentially completed until the 1240s, but work continued until the middle of the 14th century.

Henry led a military action against Henry on the basis that Henry did not obtain the necessary approvals before marrying Eleanor, but this failed with great embarrassment to Louis’ allies.

In 1154 Louis married Constance of Castile, the daughter of Alfonso VII of Castile, but she too failed to deliver a son and heir, again delivering two daughters.  Henry II began to believe that Louis would never have a heir and saw his opportunity. He sent Thomas Becket, then his chancellor, to propose that his son, also called Henry, to be betrothed to the daughter of Louis, Princess Marguerite.

Louis agreed to this and proposed her dowry as the Norman territories of Vexin and neighbouring Gisors. When Louis’ wife Constance died in childbirth in 1160, the king married for a third time, to Adèle of Champagne re-opening the possibility of him achieving an heir. Henry II therefore rushed to have the marriage of their children celebrated to forestall any potential heir.

Louis began to realise the growing danger of Henry’s power. Henry ii was the founder of the Angevin royal house (the name derived from their original territory of Anjou). After three kings – himself, Richard I and John – the dynasty would become the Plantagenets from Henry III onwards.

In the 1160s and 1170s Louis was active in the support of Pope Alexander III against Frederick I, the Holy Roman Emperor Alexander, grateful for his support, awarded him a golden rose.

Papal golden roses – Popes have presented these ornaments fabricated from gold each year,. Its value depended on which Pope presented it, because some Popes saw it merely as a token, others a more luxurious gift.

It is regularly presented to illustrious Catholics or institutions to mark affection or reverence. The practice has been observed certainly from 1050, perhaps earlier. Blessing them annually on the fourth Sunday of Lent began from the mid-13th century.

Recipients include many sovereigns and it was therefore often used for political objectives. St Peter’s Basilica has received five roses. The most recent was awarded to Charlotte, the Grand Duchess of Luxembourg by Pope Pius XII in 1956. Since then most Golden Roses have been presented to places, usually shrines; all of those presented by Pope Benedict XVI were to Marian shrines.

In 1165 there was bad news, from Henry II’s viewpoint, when Louis’s third wife delivered a son and heir, Philip.

Louis began to scheme against Henry II, first by supporting Thomas Becket as the Archbishop of Canterbury, though this achieved little of substance.

Louis then sought to support Henry’s sons who were becoming rebellious against their father, reputedly encouraged to do so by their mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine. They all travelled to the court of Louis where they swore loyalty to the king. He confirmed the sons as the feudal overlords of the Angevin territory and not their father.

However the sons were constantly at odds with each other and Louis was not decisive enough to resolve matters. They rather blundered in to a two-year war in the early 1170s which Louis eventually lost. The terms of the Treaty of Montlouis in 1174 completely removed any part of Henry’s inheritance for his son Richard. Two weeks later Richard went to his father’s court in Poitou and begged his forgiveness.

He and his brothers were reconciled with their father, though he arrested Eleanor to maintain their commitment to him. They were reinstated in Henry’s will but at much worse terms that they had previously enjoyed. Geoffrey was awarded half of Brittany, Henry the Young King received two castles in Normandy and Richard two in Poitou but would receive half of Aquitaine’s income.

Louis was unwell and virtually paralysed when he had his son crowned as Philip II, aka Philippe Auguste (Philip Augustus) at Reims in 1179; Louis VII died in 1180. His remains would be moved to the Basilica of Saint-Denis in 1817.

Forward to Philip II Augustus – Back to William the Conqueror
Back to 1789 and all that!
© Bob Denton 2014