The study of the ebb and flow of monarchial power lies at the center of the historiography of medieval France. The Capetian and Valois kings ruled over a large and regionally diverse kingdom, and the monarchy was one of the few symbols of unity. The great centralizing narrative of the history of premodern France has led historians to see the origins of the modern state in the efforts the kings of medieval France took to impose their authority across the realm. The collapse of the Carolingian Empire led to a breakdown in central authority and a long period of political fragmentation. This...
The study of the ebb and flow of monarchial power lies at the center of the historiography of medieval France. The Capetian and Valois kings ruled over a large and regionally diverse kingdom, and the monarchy was one of the few symbols of unity. The great centralizing narrative of the history of premodern France has led historians to see the origins of the modern state in the efforts the kings of medieval France took to impose their authority across the realm. The collapse of the Carolingian Empire led to a breakdown in central authority and a long period of political fragmentation. This period of decentralization was the era of the castellan, when power was highly localized and where there was an absence of any significant centralized political authority. The early Capetians (the ruling dynasty of France from 987 to 1328) were unable to assert their power over the great nobles, and while there has been some effort to rehabilitate the reigns of these kings, historians largely locate the beginning of the revival in royal power to the reign of Louis VI (ruled 1108–1137), when the monarchy began to emerge as a source of unity. The Capetian monarchs of the 12th and 13th centuries systematically rebuilt monarchial power, first by securing their control over the centers of royal power based around the Île-de-France and then by expanding the scope of their authority. There was a rapid growth in the size of the royal domain under Philip II and Louis IX, and the medieval French monarchy reached its apogee under Philip IV. Yet, the succession problems that dogged Philip IV’s successors initiated a long series of crises that bedeviled the French monarchy and reversed many of the gains made in the 12th and 13th centuries. Under the early Valois kings, the monarchy’s position as a unifying force became much less certain, particularly following the beginning of the Hundred Years’ War and Edward III’s assertion of his claim to the throne of France. This conflict merged with a wider struggle between the king and the great princes of the kingdom. During the 14th and 15th centuries, France fragmented into a number of princely states, whose rulers allied with the kings of England at various times as a means to expand their own powerbase. Charles VII’s eventual victory over the English in the mid-15th century initiated a period of reconstruction, which saw his successors assert their power over the great princes and France emerge as the most powerful monarchy in Christendom by the end of the Middle Ages. Military victories formed only one element in this long process, and the eventual triumph of the monarchy was dependent on a number of key administrative innovations, including the development of permanent taxation and the creation of a standing army. There are a number of resources available to those seeking to go beyond the materials outlined in this article. The two principal anglophone journals of the history of France (French History and French Historical Studies) have excellent reviews sections, as does H-France. The most comprehensive bibliographic resource for the history of France is the Bibliographie annuelle de l’histoire de France. However, copies of this resource can be difficult to locate, and at the time of writing, the long-promised electronic version is not yet available. GALLICA (maintained by the Bibliothèque Nationale de France) is an excellent electronic resource that provides free access to millions of primary and secondary works on all aspects of French history. Similarly, Persée provides open access to a large number of French historical journals, many of which have comprehensive review sections.
Article. 12203 words.
Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500) ; Literary Studies (Early and Medieval) ; Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy ; Byzantine and Medieval Art (500 CE to 1400) ; Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Archaeology
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