When King Charles IV of France died on 1 February 1328, the nearest male heir in line to the throne was King Edward III of England. Through his mother, Isabella of France, who is sister to Charles IV of France. However, the question arose of whether she should be able to transmit a right that she, especially as a woman, did not possess as only men could be monarch.
An assembly of the French aristocracy decided that the nearest heir through male ancestry was Charles IV’s first cousin, Philip, Count of Valois, and that he should be crowned King Philip VI of France.
The establishment of succession to the French crown was central to the coming war and Edward III and succeeding generations of English monarchs laying claim to it.
After some initial reluctance, seventeen-year-old King Edward III of England and as Duke of Aquitaine, paid homage to King Philip VI of France in 1329.
Gascony formed the ancestral core of English, which had been incorporated into Aquitaine. It was located in south west France just north of the Pyrenees, the Gascons had their own language and customs. A large proportion of the red wine (known as claret) that they produced, was shipped in a profitable trade with the English. The trade provided the English King with a lot of revenue. The Gascons preferred their relationship with a distant English King who left them alone, then to a French King who might interfere in their affairs.
Despite Edward III’s homage to Philip VI, the French continued to interfere in Gascony. There had been a series of skirmishes at some of the walled towns along the Gascon border.
Agenais was an area of Gascony in French hands, and the officials there put pressure on the English administration. A chain of religious houses, although in Edward’s jurisdiction, had cases held by French officials. Philip also contracted with various lords within Gascony to provide troops in the event of war with England.
Gascony was not the only issue, in the 1330s, France’s support for Scotland caused problems for the English. Loyalties in the low countries were split. In Flanders the towns were dependent on supplies of English wool, whereas the aristocracy supported the Philip VI. Another element was the naval power. Philip had intended to go on a crusade and had assembled a fleet off Marseilles. These plans were abandoned in 1336 and the fleet moved to the English Channel off Normandy in an obvious act of provocation against the English.
One of Edward’s influential advisers was Robert III of Artois. Robert was an exile from the French court, having fallen out of favour with Philip VI over an inheritance claim.
In November 1336, Philip issued an ultimatum to the seneschal of Gascony threatening that if Robert of Artois was not extradited to France, then great peril and dissension would follow.
When Philip confiscated the Edward’s lands in Gascony and the county of Ponthieu the following year, he laid emphasis on the case of Robert of Artois as one of the contributing causes.
After the Tour de Nesle affair, because of it and the death of French Kings to come, the Royal house of Capet was in turmoil.
Following the death of King Philip IV of France on 29 November 1314, his eldest son became King Louis X. After the scandal with his wife who he had one daughter with, Louis X remarried to Clementia of Hungary in 1315. She was pregnant with their child when he died on 5 June 1316.
The question of female succession to the French throne was raised after Louis X death. He left only a daughter, Joan, and it wasn’t until Clementia gave birth to a son on 15 November 1316, John, who only lived and was “King” for five days. Furthermore, the paternity of his daughter was in question, as her mother, Margaret of Burgundy, had been exposed as an adulterer in the Tour de Nesle affair.
Louis X brother Philip, Count of Poitiers, positioned himself to take the crown, advancing the stance that the women should be ineligible to succeed to the French throne. Through his political sagacity he won over his adversaries and succeeded to the French throne as Philip V of France. By the same law he passed to get himself onto the throne, when he died on 3 January 1322, his daughters were denied the succession which then passed to his younger brother, Charles IV.
Like his brother before him, on 1 February 1328 Charles IV died leaving a daughter and a pregnant wife. If the unborn child was male, he would become King of France, if it was a girl, the choice of succession will be up to the nobles.
A girl ended up being born, therefore ending male line of the House of Capet.
By proximity of blood, the nearest male relative of Charles IV was his nephew, Edward III of England. Edward was the son of Isabella, the sister of Louis X, Philip V and Charles IV, but the question rose whether she should be able to transmit a right to inherit that she did not herself possess. I’m also guessing that they also didn’t want an English King on the throne of France, no matter who his mother is. The French nobility also balked at the prospect of being ruled by Isabella and her lover, Roger Mortimer, who were widely suspected of having murdered the previous English King and her husband, Edward II.
The assemblies of the French barons and prelates and the University of Paris decided that males who derive their right to inheritance through their mother should be excluded. Thus, the nearest heir through male ancestry was Isabella’s first cousin, Philip, Count of Valois, and it was decided that he should be crowned Philip VI of France. In 1340 the Avignon papacy confirmed that under Salic Law, males should not be able to inherit through their mothers.
Eventually, Edward III of England reluctantly recognised Philip VI and paid him homage for his French fiefs. He made concessions in Guyenne, but reserved the right to reclaim territories arbitrarily confiscated. After that, he expected to be left undisturbed while he made war on Scotland.
The Tour de Nesle affair was a scandal that rocked the French royal family in 1314. King Philip IV’s daughters-in-law were accused of adultery, brought to light by Philip IV’s daughter, Isabella.
The adultery was said to have occurred in Tour de Nesle, a guard tower in Paris, bought by Philip IV in 1308.
Not only do I believe this is what led to the final years of the Capetian dynasty, but the rise of the hundred years’ war.
To get a sense of the scene, we must first look at the players involved.
In 1313, Isabella and her husband, Edward II of England, visited her family in France. After the puppet show her brothers, Louis and Charles, arranged for them, she had given specially made embroidered purses to her sisters-in-law. I’ve heard she had also given them to her brothers as well, but I’m not too sure if this is true or not.
Whether Isabella had her suspicions, or they were just genuine gifts, is up for debate.
It wasn’t until later in the year, some suggest at a dinner party held for Isabella and Edward II’s return to England, that Isabella noticed two Norman Knights, brothers Gautier and Philippe d’Aunay, wearing the exact same purses she had given to her sisters-in-law.
You might be thinking, they might’ve bought the same purses as she did? Don’t worry, I was thinking the same, but like I said earlier, Isabella had these specially made. This is where we are thinking, did she set this all up knowing the outcome? Or was she truly shocked?
Whatever the circumstances, this led to Isabella to conclude that her sisters-in-law were unfaithful, but didn’t bring it up until her next visit to France in 1314, when she informed her father.
To see if his daughter was telling the truth, Philip IV had spies keep an eye on Margaret, Blanche, Joan, and the two Norman Knights. It didn’t take long before the scandal was revealed true. Margaret and Blanche were accused of adultery and misconduct with Gautier and Philippe d’Aunay in the Tour de Nesle over a period of time. Joan was rumoured to have been present, some say involved, but because of the love and support from her husband, Philip, she was released from a year of house arrest and returned to court.
After Philip IV broke the news and arrested all involved, the Paris Parliament had Margaret, Blanche and Joan tried, with only Margaret and Blanche found guilty, they had their heads shaved and sentenced to imprisonment for life.
Gautier and Philippe d’Aunay were interrogated and tortured by French officials, both confessing to adultery, which then led to their horrible execution.
There are many theories on how this was performed. They were either first castrated then either drawn and quartered or flogged alive. None pleasant.
I begin to wonder; did these accused really love each other? Or was it all fun?
We are free thinking today, well, we don’t imprison and execute someone for cheating, no matter how the hurt spouse feels. But during a time where women, especially in the positions Margaret and Blanche were in, they were to be faithful, an image of an obedient wife. Knowing the risks, what were they thinking?
What I’m trying to say; even though I applaud female bravery and doing what majority of the male population were doing back then, I still need to question their stupidity. Maybe they knew the risks and didn’t care anyway?
Whatever the reasons, their actions had affected the French royal family and the succession to the throne. But that’s a whole other story I’ll be talking about in a future post…