Published on February 20th, 2021 | by Ryan Hess0
The Fall of the Capetian Dynasty: The Unknown Royal Family that Changed Modern France. Part III – Now the Crisis Begins
When he took the throne in 1314, Louis X and all those associated with the powerful Capet family must have breathed a sigh of relief. Louis was in the prime of health, seemed to be a dynamic leader. He was healthy and athletic (and avid player of jeu de paume or modern tennis) with a royal education and a pedigree that was unparalleled in Europe at the time. His reign would ensure that the house of Capet was safe, and the country of France was secure. Sure, the last Templar leader cursed his father, Philip IV, as the leaders of the Templars had been burned at the stake alive. His first wife, Margaret of Burgundy, had been caught in a steamy affair with a young knight thereby throwing is his daughter’s parentage into question and embarrassing him, but all that was in the past. He would soon be re-married with Clementina of Hungary and probably have more sons and heirs. His father’s battles with the Templars, the church and other countries of Europe were over. And Louis could turn his focus on improving France and solidifying the Capetian Dynasty. There was no way things could go wrong.
Louis X, known as le Hutin for his quick temper, began his reign with benevolence. It must have given the French people hope for the future under a King who was so willing to look after them. First, he allowed the Jews, who his father had expelled from France, to return. Granted, this allowance was made along with some oppressive laws, but the act was nevertheless an improvement antisemitic attitude of the previous king. Also, in an act that would echo into the future, Louis X abolished slavery within the Kingdom. He “published a decree in 1315, that ‘France signifies freedom’ and that any slave setting foot on (French soil) should be freed.”[i] Though this would not end slavery outside of France, it was again a positive step. Similarly, Louis would allow the serfs to purchase their freedom. Though not all serfs could do so, it too was a first step towards the abolition of an inhumane practice.[ii]
He was also busy taking care of his wife, Margaret’s, “transgression.” Louis could not divorce her, but she passed away soon after he took the throne. Her death was likely due to the poor conditions of her confinement, but as they were still married when he took power, she was queen for a time. Meaning the daughter, they shared, Joan II, was next in line to inherent the throne. That was unless Louis could sire a male heir, which was a goal he set to less than a week after Margaret died, by marrying Clementina of Hungary.
Louis was either very attracted to Clementina, or anxious to ensure the crown did not pass to his (or maybe some random Knight’s) daughter, Joan II, because in less than a year Clementina was pregnant. As summer 1316 began, Louis must have felt pretty good. His first wife was gone, and his new wife was already pregnant. The people liked him and were largely grateful to him for granting their freedoms. There had been a bit of a scuffle with Flanders, but it was nothing he could not handle. Perhaps best of all, Louis’ tennis game was unbeatable. So, as he strutted onto the court on 5 June 1316, he must have been thinking that there were no way things could go wrong for him, for the Capetian dynasty, or for France.
Louis X died on the tennis court that afternoon. Evidently, his tennis game was not quite as unbeatable as he may have assumed. Though perhaps the silver lining for such a lover of the sport is that because of the contemporary accounts of his death, Louis is history’s first tennis player known by name.[iii] Sadly, that was probably small comfort to his wife, as she was still pregnant, and Louis X’s death threw royal succession immediately into doubt.
If Clementina has a son, the baby would be King, but would obviously be unfit to rule until, well, no longer a baby. If she had a daughter, the crown would pass to Joan II, whose parentage and therefore legitimacy was uncertain. Also, there was the whole idea that a woman (gasp) would be ruling France. As Clementina was not due until November, and nothing could be decided until then, it was decided that Louis’ younger brother Philip V would be temporary regent. Though everyone was likely relieved that Philip was able to step in for the moment, the members of the Capet family were probably feeling the unfamiliar sensation we call anxiety. Because it had become quite clear that things could absolutely go very wrong.
[i] Christopher L. Miller, The French Atlantic Triangle: Literature and Culture of the Slave Trade (Durham: Duke University Press, 2008). P 20
[ii] Morris Bishop, The Middle Ages, 1st Mariner Books ed (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co, 2001). P 256
[iii] Heiner Gillmeister, Tennis: A Cultural History (London ; Washington [D.C.]: Leicester University Press, 1997). P 17-21