Firstly, my apologies for the extraordinary length of time that it has taken to complete this post.  It is mostly due to being very busy, but partly due to wanting to make sure that I had something fabulous to say about Hugh Capet.  After all, he is the first ancestral King that I get to talk about.  He is also the father of the dynasty of Capetian kings that ruled France for many centuries.

Royal Domain 987

Last time I mentioned that Hugh the Great (my 36th Great Grandfather) died in 956 (or 950 according to at least one book) leaving three sons: Hugh Capet, Odo and Otto-Henry – all minors to be taken under the protection of Richard I of Normandy.  As the eldest son, Hugh Capet was to succeed his father as Duke of France, a small but increasingly powerful region of West Francia that covered the areas of Paris, Orleans, Senlis and Dreux, as well as some other smaller, less significant areas.

Side Note: Richard I of Normandy (of Viking decent) was not very popular with the English at this time as he was letting Danish raiding parties through to plunder English villages – much to the disgust of the (none too popular) English King Aetheled ‘the Unready’.  This relationship between Normandy and England becomes increasingly important later

– as some of my ancestors also appear in English royalty.

Hugh Capet and King Lothar

As Hugh Capet grew into his ancestral position, he followed the path set by this father (Hugh the Great) and aligned himself with King Lothar, the Carolingian King.  This placed him at odds with Charles of Lower Lorraine, the brother of the King, who had aligned himself with Otto II, Holy Roman Emperor (this is important a little later in the story).

King Lothar (with Hugh), in the West, and the Otto II, Holy Roman Emperor (with Charles), in the East, battled over territory and power for many years until peace was agreed in 980.  Unfortunately for King Lothar and the Carolingian dynasty, Hugh Capet was bitterly offended by the fact that the King failed to consult him (as leading counsellor) before the peace deal was struck.  Not to be outdone (and with wounded pride), Hugh arranged his own meeting with Otto II in Rome.

Otto II and wife Theophano

There is a fabulous story about the meeting of Hugh and Otto II that captures the feudal tensions of the time.  To quote The Capetians: The History of a Dynasty:

[during the meeting]…Otto II left his sword on a chair and asked Hugh to pass it to him.  Hugh was about to do so when his companion Arnulf bishop of Orleans forestalled him, snatching up the sword and passing it to Otto.  The point was that handing the sword could have been construed as making him Otto’s vassal.

Otto was not upset that his trick failed and Otto and Hugh openly reconciled – causing great concern for King Lothar.

King Lother did what any mature, confident King would do under similar circumstances and decided to attack Hugh, take his lands and have him arrested.  By dressing as a servant, however, Hugh evaded capture and returned safely to his Duchy, whereon he recovered his lands and his title and made peace with the King.

If only King Lothar has consulted his leading counsellor, Hugh, this mess may have been avoided.  Whilst King Lothar and Hugh had made peace, the trust in the relationship had all but vanished.

In May 985, for reasons beyond the detail of this story, King Lothar called an assembly in Compiegne to try an ally of Hugh Capet, Archbishop Adalbero, for treason.  Hugh Capet objected to this trial and arrived with an armed force to rescue Adalbero and disperse the assembly.  King Lothar was clearly displeased but had little opportunity to respond before he died in March 986.

Hugh Capet and the last of the Carolingian Dynasty

For the sake of the story, I need to take a quick stpe back to 978 when, with the agreement of Hugh Capet (before their tiff), King Lothar named is son Louis as his future successor.  Louis therefore become King Louis V on the death of his father in 986.  On all counts, the short rule of King Louis V was not  very successful one.

In 987, King Louis V attempted to repeat the assembly in Compiegne to try Archbishop Adalbero (rather than befriending Hugh Capet) but died whilst hunting on 22 May of that year (some say that he was poisoned).  Hugh Capet took charge of the assembly and had the Archbishop acquitted.

So the throne was empty and a new assembly was summoned to Senlis to elect a new King of West Francia.  The choice was clear – elect Charles of Lower Lorraine as the last surviving Carolingian claimant, or Hugh Capet.

Charles was not in the best position to persuade his peers.  Charles had not endeared himself to the Church.  He had abandoned West Francia by supporting Otto II against King Lothar, but then offended the East by switching sides and supporting King Lothar against Otto III.  He had also personally insulted the current Queen by claiming her to be an adulteress.

Unsurprisingly, Archbishop Adalbero showed little favour towards continuing the Carolingian line with Charles and described him as a man ‘without honour, without faith, without character’.  He exclaimed that Charles had married beneath him and, if the nobles wanted the country to prosper, they should crown ‘the illustrious duke of the Franks’ – Hugh Capet.  And so they did.

Hugh Capet was proclaimed king and crowned by his friend Adalbero, Archbishop of Reims at Noyon on 1 June 987.

Not everyone, however, records these events as heralding the arrival of an illustrious King.  A History of France from the Earliest Times to the Treaty of Versailles  (23) describes Hugh Capet as the Duke of France that was:

…wealthy, ambitious, tactful, and above all supported by the great influence of the Church…[but]…thanks to bribing the other great nobles by heavy gifts out of his possessions, and therefore compromising his future authority, he gained their consent…[to be crowned]…as King of the Gauls, the Bretons, the Normans, the Aquitanians, the Goths, and the Gascons.

Doubtless many of the Dukes and Counts who did homage to him at Reims, silently expected that the new dynasty would soon perish as had that of other upstarts.

Clearly they were wrong!

Gustave Masson, in Medieval France from the Riegn of Hughes Capet to the Beginning of the Sixteenth Century (22) suggests that:

“…at the time of his accession, Hugh Capet was no more than the equal of most of the lords between whom the territory of France was divided, and even inferior in power to some of them”.

So there we have it.  A new King is made – my 35th great grandfather – and a dynasty is launched.

This is as good a place as any to leave the story for the moment.  The next time that I touch on this line in the story I will be focus on the reign of King Hugh and his transition to his son and successor, King Robert II the Pious.