Feudal France (Between 987 and 1108) – Period of State Concentration Part I

By | February 8, 2022

At the beginning of the century. XII France seems to have reached a static situation. The feudal dynasties completely broke all links with the monarchy; and the Capetians of the Isle of France are reduced to the minimum power, to a simple feudal lordship. However, this equilibrium situation is not such that it can last long. If on the one hand the French regions seem to have reached an affirmation of provincial individuality, on the other the dynasties are driven by ambitions and interests in a policy of peace, alliances, wars, which creates a network of interprovincial relations. Tendencies to concentrate around certain nuclei soon appear; some dynasty is pushed to lead these tendencies, affirming a hegemonic claim. The sec. XII sees this polarization of French provincial forces. The area where the sharpest contrast takes place is the old free region between the Somma and the Loire; the states are those of Normandy, Paris, Anjou, Blois.

According to softwareleverage.org, the Capetian state emerged with Louis VI (1108-1137) from a period of inertia and passivity. The dynasty, forced to concentrate in a small territory, hoarded its energies and procured very wide possibilities for action in the short term. Louis VI, taking up some attempts by his father, also adopted a policy of territorial reorganization: to impose his authority on the rebel vassals, to reopen communications between the cities of the dominion, to restore peace in the countryside. The Capetian state proved to be completely renewed after three decades; a small force, but vibrant and organic.

The great enemy of the Capetian is the Norman. William the Conqueror in 1066 had created, with the conquest of England, a state blockade on both sides of the Channel that would cloud the kingdom of Paris. Under Henry I (1100-1135) the union of the two Norman states was redone and soon the fight broke out between the two kings who shared the Seine valley. Normandy concentrates all the feudal forces against the kingdom; he works to break the union between Normandy and England, instigating his relatives against Henry I, but barely manages to keep up with the enemy. In 1127 the heir of Normandy and England, Matilde, married the heir of the county of Anjou, Goffredo il Bello; even the German emperor Henry V allied himself with England, surrounding the Capetian monarchy with an enemy circle. But Louis VI reunited the forces of the state, clung to the clergy and the papacy; against the attacks of the German emperor he advances as far as Metz and poses as a national champion; and, brilliant response to the King of England, in 1137 he married his son and successor the only heir of the Duchy of Aquitaine, Eleonora daughter of William X, who brought Auvergne, Poitou, Limousin, Périgord and Gascony as a dowry to the new king of France. The Capetian dynasty brought its borders to the Pyrenees.

The duel between the Angevin-Norman group and the Capetian-Aquitanian group inevitably had to take place, deploying the French feudal forces in the two camps. Louis VII compromised the results obtained by his father: he imprudently broke off good relations with the Count of Champagne, who formed a league with the counts of Flanders and Soissons. Even more dangerous was the repudiation of the Duchess Eleonora of Aquitaine: the efforts to preserve possession of the great southern state were useless. Henry Plantagenet of Anjou took advantage of the king’s error, hastening to marry Eleonora; in 1154 Henry had already become king of England and master of Normandy, dragging the Norman fiefdom of Brittany into tow. Thus the whole of western France gathered around Anjou, along the Atlantic, from Somma to the Pyrenees: the union with England gave security to this feudal block. A French prince rather than an English one, Henry considered Anjou as the center of his activity; he believed it possible to absorb the feudal states of the south and east, driving the pretentious but weak kings of Paris to the north. For thirty years the Angevin policy invests all of France: Henry II affirms his sovereignty over Brittany, rejects the weak royal advance from Normandy, tries to impose his lordship on the county of Toulouse, allies himself with the Counts of Savoy, establishes relations with the Emperor of Germany and with the King of Castile. But all efforts to accord so many regional states were doomed to fail. Normans and Bretons, Angevins and Gascons, Limousines and Provençals were peoples full of lively life of their own: already in his last years, Henry II had to pay homage to these regionalistic tendencies, creating special governments in various provinces; but it was a temporary solution. The monarchy of Paris, after having unwittingly favored the Angevin projects, benefited from the subsequent failure of all the attempts of Henry II. In 1152 Louis VII gathers against the enemy a league of feudatories who feel threatened by the Anglo-Norman power; to get friends he marries a Castilian princess, later a princess of the house of Champagne; in 1159 he rushed to Toulouse to prevent the city from falling into the hands of the enemy; seeks agreements with the emperor of Germany, directs the rebellion of the sons of Henry II to their father. Thus Henry II’s French possessions are in constant turmoil and the lord’s efforts to organize them fail.

Feudal France (Between 987 and 1108) - Period of State Concentration 1