Ever wondered how you could create a dynasty of kings that last (with a couple of minor breaks) for over 900 years? Hugh Capet did exactly that. Heres how he did it.
Step 1 – Live at the time of an imploding reign
In 768, Charles the Great (or Charlemagne) took over as King of the Franks from his father, Pepin the Short. According to his contemporary biographer, he was “…large and robust, and of commanding stature and excellent proportions. The top of his head was round, his eyes large and animated, his nose somewhat long…His walk was firm and the whole carriage of his body manly”(7).
From the moment that Charlemagne took control, he dedicated his life to expanding his empire and improving the lives of his subjects. Through 46 years of reign, Charlemagne grew to become one of the greatest Monarchs of all time.
In 785, Charlemagne came up against, and subdued Wittekin, the last great King of the Saxons (and my 35th Great Grandfather – but that’s a story for another day). By 800, Charlemagne (now also the Holy Roman Emperor) controlled an empire that included all of modern France, Belgium, Holland, and Switzerland. It also included a large part of modern Germany and Italy, and some of the western portion of Austria-Hungary and the north-eastern corner of Spain(7).
It is a pity (for him) that Charlemagne’s skills at Empire building did not extend to building family loyalty and capability.
Charlemagne handed his empire to his only surviving son, Louis, when he died in 814. Even before Louis death in 840, Louis’ sons were undermining the empire to grab some of the power for themselves. By 884, Charlemagne’s empire had been handed on to Charles “the Fat” who has been described as “…incapable and lazy, with undoubted imperial blood as his chief if not sole asset”(7).
As the grip on the empire waned, local Counts took more and more control of their own affairs and started appearing more like minor king’s than servants of the Crown. Perhaps the only saving grace for the King at this time was that it was easier for the Counts to organise themselves under a lame monarch than to fight over which one was to take charge.
Charles “the Fat” was eventually deposed by his ‘high nobles” in 887 and, after a few attempts at ruling from some ‘pretenders’, handed his crown to Charles “the Simple” – an equally impressive title – in 893 (7). The most significant achievement of Charles “the Simple” was to do a deal with invading Vikings to give them a strip of land along the English Channel. These Viking settlers would become the Normans in their land of Normandy.
By 987, the dynasty that reached its heights with Charlemagne had all but died out. The only remaining real representative was Charles, Duke of Lorraine – and many accused Charles of simply being a vassal of the German Emperor.
Step 2 – Have Credibility
Enter Hugh Capet, “Duke of France” and descendant (actually just great nephew) of Count Eudes.
I mentioned before that Charles “the Simple” had given the Vikings the land that was to become Normandy. Well, before being granted this land, the Vikings did what all good Vikings do and burned, pillaged and murdered their way around areas that we now know as France. In 885-86 they laid siege to Paris, a town of increasing importance at the time.
Had they taken Paris, the Vikings would have most probably conquered France permanently (as they had done in England). However, the courageous defence by its Bishop Gozlin and Hugh’s Great Uncle, Count Eudes (also recorded as Count Odo), meant that the Vikings did not conquer Paris and eventually settled for a much smaller and less significant area of land – Normandy (7).
Step 3 – Be Godly and Wealthy
Hugh Capet was well supported by the Church at the time(7). This was, however, clearly not enough as his ascendancy required many bribes for other great nobles. Of course, these bribes lessened further the power of the King compared to feudal lords (a trend that would spread throughout Europe and set European Kings apart from the very authoritative and powerful English Kings).
On 1 July 987, Hugh Capet, the Duke of France (an area surrounding Paris) was crowned in Reims as the “King of Gauls, the Bretons, the Normans, the Aquitanians, the Goths and the Gascons”. In essence, the “Franks” are dead, long live the “French” (7).
So starts the dynasty which reigns uninterrupted until 1792, and with some interruptions in 1848.