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© Bob Denton 2014


Hugues Capet (Hugh Capet) was the grandson of Robert I. His mother was a direct descendant of Charlemagne and sister to Otto I, the German Emperor. The name Capet was based on a cape he wore as a young man. He had inherited estates around Anjou, Chartres, Paris and Orléans.

Hugh married the daughter of the Duke of Aquitaine and planned to expand his influence in to the south west, in this he failed. He worked politically and wielded great power against king Lothair II. He worked with successive German emperors, Otto II and Otto III, and with the archbishop of Reims, Adalbero.

Lothair’s successor should have been Charles of Lorraine, a younger son of Louis IV. But he had blotted his copybook by accusing his older brother Lothair II’s wife of adultery with the Bishop of Laon. She was exonerated from the charge but he still maintained the accusation, he was exiled from the kingdom and turned up in Otto II’s court. He too conspired with Otto against his brother and this was judged as clearly treasonable so Lothair’s son succeeded him as Louis V.

Hugh Capet became king in all but name through Louis V’s short reign, when King Louis V died without heir there was some debate about succession. Bishop Adalbero of Reims proposed, ‘The throne is not acquired by hereditary right; no one should be raised to it unless distinguished not only for nobility of birth, but for the goodness of his soul.’ Charles of Lorraine was the only hereditary Carolingian candidate and he was judged as clearly unsuitable. The archbishop announced that Hugh Capet was his preferred candidate for the job. He was duly elected unanimously to the role and crowned in 987.

Hugh’s realm was not militarily powerful and he on a number of occasions had to call on the Normans to back him. When Adalbero died in 989 the new archbishop, Arnoul, under the influence of the German emperors, sought the restoration of the Carolingians. But Hugh managed to have Arnoul deposed and installed Gerbert in 991; this decision did not receive Papal confirmation.

Charles of Lorraine became a constant threat during Hugh’s reign, he was involved in a series of conspiracies.

Hugh’s reign was not one of much achievement, if you disregard his establishment of a new dynasty that lasted for 300 years directly and 800 years all up. Hugh made sure his son would succeed him by crowning him soon after his own coronation in 987.

Hugh’s son succeeded him as Robert II the Pious. His title ‘the Pious’ was awarded because of the zeal with which he punished heretics. Yet his second marriage had breached the Church’s rules on the proximity of relationship, Bertha was his cousin, and he was excommunicated. By Pope Gregory V. Robert II had this removed by the new pope Silvester II and his marriage was annulled, thankfully childless. His first marriage had been to a much older woman and lasted just one year.

Robert II’s third wife was ambitious and gave him a miserable existence but delivered him seven children.

Robert spent much of his reign trying to expand his realm, as territories became vacant he sought to annexe it. For example in 1002 the duke of Burgundy died without heir, Robert enjoined battle against another claimant, it took him until 1016 to secure the duchy.

Robert had followed his father’s example and crowned his eldest son, Hugh. But Hugh and his other sons, Henry and Robert, were soon in conflict with their father with the support of their mother. In one such rebellion in 1025 Hugh was killed. Henry and Robert defeated their father in battle and in 1031 still unreconciled the king died.

His son succeeded him as Henry I for Francia and Burgundy, but facing friction with his brother, Robert, he gave him Burgundy in 1032 to seek to resolve their differences. Like his father he too spent much of his reign trying to expand his domains.

In 1047 Henry I came to the aid of a nephew-in-law who was having some difficulty in securing his newly awarded duchy. The nephew was Duke William of Normandy. Henry and William combined to win the decisive battle of Val-ès-Dunes near Caen. William would later be known as William the Conqueror.

The alliance did not last long when Henry feared William’s growing power. In 1054 and again in 1057 Henry tried to conquer Normandy but each time was defeated.

In between these attempts Henry got in to a squabble with his namesake, Henry III the Holy Roman Emperor over the duchy of Lorraine. In a meeting their argument became heated and Henry I challenged the emperor to single combat to resolve the matter. The emperor was no warrior and fled in the night. Henry I failed to take control of Lorraine. Henry I died in 1060 and was interred at the Basilica of Saint-Denis,

Saint Denis, the cephalophore (a saint who carries his own head) – the Basilica of Saint-Denis is said to be the first ever Gothic church. Located on the site of a Gallo-Roman cemetery, the first building was erected in 475. It was in 636 that king Dagobert I moved the relics of Saint-Denis to the site.

Saint Denis is said to have been the first bishop of Paris in the year 250. The Roman emperor Decius had issued an edict that all his subjects had to worship only Roman gods. Saint Denis rebelled and continued converting people in Paris to Christianity. He was taken to the highest hill in Paris where he was decapitated by sword. The hill became known as Montmartre as a result.

Denis is then claimed to have picked up his head and walked ten kilometres while preaching a sermon. Canonised he became one of a number of Catholic cephalophores or head-carriers. These saints provided something of a challenge for artists and sculptors. Where does the halo go? Above where the head had been, or does the saint carry both the head and its halo?

The basilica was and is an important pilgrimage site, particularly as almost every French king from the 10th to 18th centuries is buried there.

Henry’s eldest son, just seven-years-old, succeeded him as Philip I in 1060, with his mother Anne of Kiev acting as his regent. Anne’s parents had been the Grand Prince of Kiev and a Swedish noblewoman, it was Anne that had proposed her son be given an unusual Greek name. She was also the first queen to act as a regent in France.

While Philip was growing to his maturity William of Normandy was earning his sobriquet ‘the Conqueror’.

Philip I l’ Amoureux (The Amorous) reached his maturity at 14 years old, he soon had to meet military challenges and rebellions. He was called to assist in Flanders defeating the Frisians who had invaded.

He reached an agreement in 1077 with William the Conqueror who had been trying to seize Brittany. But Philip had some success towards the end of the century by annexing Vexin and Bourges.

He discarded his first wife whom he had married in 1072, she had produced the necessary heir, but he rudely gave his reason for the divorce that she was too fat. His real reason was that he had fallen in love with Bertrade de Montfort and love it must have been because he would be twice excommunicated for this second marriage.

The second excommunication had been ordered by Pope Urban II at the Council of Clermont in 1095. This was also the meeting that called for the First Crusade. Philip because of his spat with Pope Urban did not support the crusade, but his brother was a major player in it.

The First Crusade – The expansion of the Umayyad Empire had rather compressed Christian territory in to Europe and Anatolia. The progress of the Reconquista in Spain, against their Moorish occupiers, was an inspiration for other action against the Muslim world.

The catalyst for the first crusade was when Pope Urban II was approached by the Byzantine emperor to despatch help for him to defend himself against the Sunni Muslim Seljuq Turks. The Pope saw an opportunity to heal the schism between Rome and the Eastern Orthodox Church and used the Council of Clermont to seek local commitment.

The goal soon expanded into a bid to recapture Jerusalem and the Holy Land that was occupied by the Arab Shi’ite Fatimid Caliphate. His appeal rallied support, primarily from France, Normandy and the Holy Roman Empire, who responded by travelling to Constantinople from 1096 onwards.

The first wave became known as the People’s Crusade because it was no more than a disorganised rabble of peasants and minor nobles. On their way to Constantinople they were more of a hindrance than a help. They fought with Hungarians in Belgrade, squabbling over food supplies. One separate group from Bohemia and Saxony did not even make it to the far side of Hungary before they had broken up. When they did finally get ferried across the Bosporus in to Asia Minor they blundered in to the experienced Turkish armies and were massacred.

The second wave was led by four princes with pedigree, including Hugh I, Count of Vermandois, the brother of King Philip I. Their four armies began arriving from late in 1096, they totalled some 35,000 men, which included some 5,000 cavalrymen.

They moved off in 1097 and linked up with those of the People’s Crusade that had managed to survive. They had a protracted siege of Nicaea while having to fight relief troops seeking to assist the city. They had captured it by the middle of June and handed it over to the Byzantines as agreed completely unplundered; they were paid generously by the Byzantine Emperor for this.

They moved on to Antioch and tried to lay siege on it. They did not have enough men to encircle it until a Saxon Crusade reached them with more men and vital supplies. The protracted siege meant that supplies ran very short and a plague broke out among their ranks. Some were reduced to cannibalism to survive.

Their resolve wandered somewhat. Baldwin of Boulogne’s wife had died and this meant he had little reason to return to Europe and resolved to create territory for himself in the Holy Land. By March 1098 he had manipulated the inheritance of Edessa in Mesopotamia, thus establishing the first crusader state.

With Antioch still not taken many of the crusaders moved on Jerusalem. They couldn’t face another siege so decided on an assault.  By now they had been reduced to 12,000 men with just 1,500 cavalry. They eventually captured it by summer 1099 and massacred the inhabitants. They created a new kingdom of Jerusalem to be ruled by Godfrey of Bouillon. Godfrey died in 1100 and was succeeded by his brother, Baldwin of Edessa, who took the title King of Jerusalem.

A new crusade in 1101 arrived to provide vital reinforcements for the original crusaders had been decimated. The following year Italian merchants began establishing trading posts at Syrian ports to more readily sustain them. Baldwin later established the orders of the Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller that inspired support and funding.

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