14th Century France

France in the 14th century shows drastic changes after the bitter loss of Acre in 1291 and with it any hope of regaining the Holy Land. Crusades to do so would be planned, but nothing would become of it, mostly due to the greed of the French and English Kings of the time. During the next one hundred years, France will be marked by wealth and blood. 

We enter the century in the middle of the reign of King Philip IV, “the Fair” and his wife Queen Joan I of Navarre (though he pretty much rules for her). If you have ever watched the TV show Knightfall, these names will sound familiar as will numerous of the events we will talk about surrounding their reign. Remember the show is fiction, and that the Queen likely did not have an affair with a Templar, but I would say the actor who played Philip aced the characterization of him. Many historians will say his character is an enigma, an unknown, but this is likely that insufficient direct statements we have about the man. It could be argued we know everything we need to know is judged by his actions, like the expulsion of the Jews in 1506. Actions are what defines a person, are they not?

Named the “fair” for his good looks, it could be said he is not given enough credit for restructuring the economy of France, and began a feudal system where the crown gave land as hereditary titles. He also fought to maintain some level of control over France when Pope Boniface VIII demanded more control over the clergy and their rights in sovereign Christian countries. The breaking point was when he demanded control over taxation of the clergy, and demanded the Princes of Europe ask permission before they did so. Philip accused the Pope of heresy and attempted to hold a trial to condemn him. The trial failed but Boniface did not live more than another month and, with one man between them, was replaced with a French Pope, Clement V. Clement would be Philip’s puppet and a pawn to help the crown of France become wealthy– he even moved the papacy to Avignon for the King. 

You see, France has been spending all its money on conflicts between England and Flanders. As we enter the century, there is a moment of peace. In 1504, Flanders was forced to accept a peace treaty, and in 1308 the issues with England were temporarily healed with the marriage of Philip’s daughter, Isabella of France and Prince Edward of England (future Edward II). While this settled the conflict, it did not fill the royal coffers with gold. This is when he decides to find ways to commandeer some, and his victim of choice: the Knights Templar, who had a reputation for behaving like a bank. 

They were wealthy, in France, and became an easy target due to their defense of the Jews. The Knights were accused of heresy by both the French and English King, for activities like worshiping a false idol and homo-erotic initiation practices. The English knights confessed to nothing, but Philip did not hold the same respect as King Edward I, and the Knights arrested in France were tortured heavily. They often confessed to crimes of heresy. Once the order was condemned, the King’s split the abundance of wealth held by the Knights. 

This was Philip’s final legacy, though the consequences would never be undone. He fought and arrested a Pope, he conquered territory, centralized his power, and gave England a claim to France through his daughter. The last Grand Master of the knights was burned  in March 1314. In April 1314, Pope Clement died. Philip would die during a hunting trip in November of the year, after dealing with the Tour de Nesle affair. (Two of his daughters-in-law were having affairs while the third helped cover the affair. The men were killed and the women arrested). He was the last great leader of the House of Capet and the house would die out with the death of Philip’s last son. 

He was first succeeded by his eldest, Louis X. Louis had already been King of Navarre since his mother’s death in 1305, and decided to start his reign on a high note infuriating his nobles. In what seems a completely different mind set, Louis allows the Jews to return to France and declares all serfs to be free. In fact, he goes as far as to declare, “as soon as a slave breathes the air of France, he breathes freedom.”

There was another motive for this; while every man was to be freed, they also had to buy their freedom. He also created a charter to allow the Jews that made them dependent on the crown as well as forced them to wear bands identifying them. He also left his wife in prison after she had been found guilty, she died in 1515 having had only one daughter. He remarried and had a son who was born in 1516, shortly after Louis died, as John I. 

Louis younger brother, Philip V, would reign then after usurping both France and Navarre from his niece by reviving the Frankish Salic Law. Philip would work to stabilize France’s economy and create cours de comptes, to audit the royal accounts and ensure proper payments were made. He also protected Jews when Leperosy spread through Paris, and they were accused of poisoning the wells. He was known for wanting to lead a crusade which bore the Shepard’s Crusade. It occurred in Northern France and was basically a drunken, anti-Semitic free for all that the Pope, and ultimately Philip, denounced. Ultimately he died a beloved King, though the same law cursed him he stole the crown with. Philip and his wife Joan of Burgandy (whom he supported during the trials of the Tour de Nesle affair) were blessed with four daughters, but one son who died before he saw his first birthday. His brother would succeed him, Charles IV, in 1522. 

Charles was originally married to Blanche of Burgandy, but he refused to release her after she was found guilty in the Tour de Nesle affair, and their marriage was annulled. He would marry Marie of Luxemburg, who would be lost to childbirth, and then Jeanne D’Êvreux, but he would die with only a daughter by her who would be born posthumously: Blanche, Duchess of Orléans. During his reign he would push for the expulsion of the Jews again, faced revolts in Flanders, and tried to plan another crusade. He mentored the future Holy Roman Emperor, Charles IV, and he is known for giving his sister, Isabella, the freedom to earn the title She-Wolf of France. 

French Kings had long been fighting over the pride of the English King, who happened to owe the French King’s homage as Duke of Aquitaine. He did his best not to pay a dime to France, and Charles decided to pull his title from Edward II. Edward decided, or more accurately persuaded by the pope, that the best course of action was to send his wife, Isabella, home to France to negotiate on his behalf. 

They truly underestimated how little Isabella cared for her husband, and when negotiations fell apart, she refused to return home. She instead begins an affair with a man named Roger Mortimer, and convinces Edward to send their son Edward to France to pay the fealty owed as Duke of Aquitaine on his father’s behalf. The English King agreed and the prince did as he was told. The plan failed, and she dashed off to Hainaut with Roger and her son where she married him to Phillipa of Hainaut before launching a mercenary army in England. She deposed her husband and had her son sign a peace treaty with France, ceding several lands to maintain Aquitaine. 

When Charles died in 1328 without an heir, the crowns of France and Navarre were split, and it was the end of the Capet dynasty in France. In Navarre, his niece and daughter of Louis, Joan II, succeeded him, because they did not have the Salic Law. France could not go to Joan, and was instead inherited by the first Valois king, and his cousin, Philip VI. The other major claimant? Edward III of England. 

In 1337 tensions with England came to a boil, and the Hundred Years War began and plagued much of Philip’s reign as they fought back and forth over territory. He reigned until 1350 when his son succeeded him, John II, who was Duke of Normandy. In 1355, he was captured by the English. He was known to have been taken care of well, but in 1360 he was exchanged for his son Louis. His son escaped in 1363 and John felt dishonored by this, so he voluntarily returned to England as a prisoner where he died in 1364. The war would also dominate his reign until 1378 when French cardinals decided to elect their own Pope, Clement VII, creating the Great Schism. He was known for his ever expanding libraries and the luxurious palaces he built, including the Chàteau de Saint-Germain-en-Lay. 

He died in 1380 and was succeeded by his 11 year old son, Charles VI. His four uncles were his regents, but Philip the Bold took the reins until he turned 21 and declared his majority where he began earning the title of “the beloved” (though he also forced the Jews from France in 1394). In 1393, he began suffering from mental illness and his wife, Iseabeu of Bavaria, began acting as his regent, though she had to fight to keep it. It is that power struggle we find in the succeeding century as well as heroes like Joan of Arc to save them from the never ending war. 

Notable Sources:

  • The National Archives. “The Templars’ ‘Curse’ on the King of France.” The National Archives Blog, The National Archives, 29 Nov. 2014, blog.nationalarchives.gov.uk/templars-curse-king-france/. 
  • Marvin, Laurence W. “Philip IV of France (‘the Fair’) (1268–1314).” Wiley Online Library, American Cancer Society, 13 Nov. 2011, onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/9781444338232.wbeow487. 
  • Courtenay, William J. “Between Pope and King: The Parisian Letters of Adhesion of 1303.” Speculum, vol. 71, no. 3, 1996, pp. 577–605. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/2865794. Accessed 23 Feb. 2021.
  • “Capetian France 987-1328.” Google Books, Google, books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=lang_en&id=1lzJAwAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PP1&dq=philip%2Biv%2Bof%2Bfrance&ots=H0eoxCoC4R&sig=qTqbhlwMoNoMKgmbYn6qQz1ryI0#v=onepage&q=philip%20iv%20of%20france&f=false. 
  • Ordonnances des Roi de France, V, p.1311, as quoted in Travers Twist. “The Extraterritoriality of Public Ships of War in Foreign Waters”, The Law Magazine and Review: A Quarterly Review of Jurisprudence, Volume 1, No. 219, Saunders and Benning (February 1876)

“The Hundred Years War.” Google Books, Google, books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=wwpT6Ch367QC&oi=fnd&pg=PT4&dq=hundred%2Byears%2Bwar&ots=9I1KDYwqmd&sig=gkApNEBlttFjbMiZxAff_1yCOOs#v=onepage&q=hundred%20years%20war&f=false.