Post-classical history

Philip IV of France (1267/1268-1314)

King of France (1285-1314), known as the Fair (Fr. Le Bel).

The second son of Philip III of France and Isabella of Aragon, Philip IV ascended the Capetian throne at the age of seventeen, already an accomplished statesman and very scrupulous about his Christian duties. Following the precedent of his grandfather Louis IX (whose sanctification he promoted in 1297), Philip IV became the most devout apostle of the cult of the French monarchy. His reign was further characterized by a deliberate attempt to enlist all political forces in support of royal policy; first and foremost the townspeople, whose representatives he summoned for the first time to the Estates General in 1302. Inasmuch as Philip was influenced by his lawyers (Pierre Flotte, Guillaume de Nogaret, Guillaume de Plaisians, Enguerrand de Marigny) his reign heralded the bureaucratization of royal administration, which lost much of its former feudal character.

Philip’s reign was further influenced by a continuous state of war in Guyenne and Flanders. Exploiting feudal quarrels, Philip in 1294 invaded Guyenne, the last remnant of the Angevin Empire, thus initiating a ten-year period of conflict, which did not bring about any territorial gain. The peace treaty between France and England in 1303 stipulated the marriage of Philip’s daughter Isabella to Edward II, the future king of England, thus bringing about a short respite in the long conflict between the leading monarchies of Christendom.

Philip was less successful in Flanders, where socioeconomic unrest was accompanied by waves of separatist tendencies that called for an uprising against Capetian rule. After suffering the reverses of the Matins of Bruges and Courtrai (1302), Philip’s victory at Mons-en-Pévèle (1304) reversed the shaky equilibrium in the northern county. The peace treaty at Athis-sur-Orge one year later further acquired all the characteristics of a French vendetta, thus prolonging the Flemish crisis up to the outbreak of the Hundred Years’ War.

The continuous state of war and the bureaucratization of royal administration left their mark on the continuous deficit that affected royal finances throughout the reign. Royal exactions, which did not spare the clergy, provided the main catalyst for the conflict between Philip and Pope Boniface VIII, the core of which was the royal threat to ecclesiastical immunity. The struggle between pope and king came to a dramatic turning point when Philip’s main counselor, Guillaume de Nogaret, seized the pope at Anagni on charges of heresy (7 September 1303). Although released after three days, the pope died shortly afterward; but the Capetian court did not withdraw its allegations. After years of endless delays and scandalous gatherings Pope Clement V formally cleared Boniface’s memory, while in a clear quid pro quo he also abrogated former apostolic decisions that could be detrimental to the kingdom of France and its king (1311).

The problematic nature of the relationship between church and state during the reign of Philip the Fair was further exemplified on 13 October 1307, when all Templars in the kingdom of France were arrested and their property was seized by royal officers. Charges of heresy provided the Capetian court with a useful means of prevailing over the privileged status of the order. Manipulation of public opinion and a propaganda campaign of unprecedented scope eventually gained papal cooperation, and all Templars were arrested and subjected to inquisitorial investigation throughout Christendom. Although the heresy of the Templars was never satisfactorily proved, royal pressure forced the prelates at the Council of Vienne to pronounce the suppression of the order by apostolic mandate (Vox in excelso, 1312).

The compromises reached by Clement V on the problematic trials of Boniface VIII and the Templars eventually paved the way for the active participation of France and its king in the forthcoming crusade, which was proclaimed at the Council of Vienne. After knighting his sons, his son-in- law Edward II of England, and many nobles, Philip took the cross in one of the most magnificent festivals that Paris had ever witnessed. The king, however, died in Fontainebleau on 30 November 1314, before the crusade materialized.

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