Louis VII of France
Louis VII the Younger (French: Louis VII le Jeune) (1120 – September 18, 1180) was King of France from 1137 to 1180.
A member of the Capetian Dynasty, Louis VII was born in 1120, the second son of Louis VI of France and Adélaide of Maurienne (c. 1100–1154). Construction began on Notre-Dame de Paris in Paris during his reign.
As a younger son, Louis VII had been raised to follow the ecclesiastical path. He unexpectedly became the heir to the throne of France after the accidental death of his older brother, Philip, in 1131. A well-learned and exceptionally devout man, Louis VII was better suited for life as a priest than that of a monarch.
In the same year he was crowned King of France, Louis VII was married on July 22, 1137 to Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122 – March 31, 1204), heiress of William X of Aquitaine (1126–37). The pairing of the monkish Louis VII and the high-spirited Eleanor was doomed to failure; she once reportedly declared that she had thought to marry a King, only to find she'd married a monk. Their daughters were:
- Marie of Champagne (1145 - March 11, 1198), married Henry I of Champagne
- Alix of France (1151 - 1197/1198), married Theobald V of Blois (1151–91).
In the first part of Louis VII's reign he was vigorous and jealous of his prerogatives, but after his crusade his piety limited his ability to become an effective statesman. His accession was marked by no disturbances, save the uprisings of the burgesses of Orléans and of Poitiers, who wished to organize communes. But soon he came into violent conflict with Pope Innocent II (1130–43). The archbishopric of Bourges became vacant, and the King supported as candidate the chancellor Cadurc, against the Pope's nominee Pierre de la Chatre, swearing upon relics that so long as he lived Pierre should never enter Bourges. This brought the interdict upon the King's lands.
Louis VII became involved in a war with Theobald II of Champagne, by permitting Raoul I of Vermandois and seneschal of France, to repudiate his wife, Theobald II's niece, and to marry Petronilla of Aquitaine, sister of the queen of France. Champagne also sided with the Pope in the dispute over Bourges. The war lasted two years (1142 - 44) and ended with the occupation of Champagne by the royal army. Louis VII was personally involved in the assault and burning of the town of Vitry. More than a thousand people who had sought refuge in the church died in the flames. Overcome with guilt, Louis VII declared on Christmas Day 1145 at Bourges his intention of going on a crusade. Bernard of Clairvaux assured its popularity by his preaching at Vezelay (Easter 1146).
Meanwhile in 1144, Geoffrey the Handsome, Count of Anjou, completed his conquest of Normandy, threatening the royal domains. Louis VII by a clever manoeuvre threw his army on the Norman frontier and gained Gisors, one of the keys of Normandy.
In June 1147 Louis VII and his queen, Eleanor, set out from Metz, Lorraine, on the overland route to Syria. Just beyond Laodicea the French army was ambushed by Turks. The French were bombarded by arrows and heavy stones, the Turks swarmed down from the mountains and the massacre began. The historian Odo of Deuil reported:
- "During the fighting the King [Louis] lost his small and famous royal guard, but he remained in good heart and nimbly and courageously scaled the side of the mountain by gripping the tree roots ... The enemy climbed after him, hoping to capture him, and the enemy in the distance continued to fire arrows at him. But God willed that his cuirass should protect him from the arrows, and to prevent himself from being captured he defended the crag with his bloody sword, cutting off many heads and hands."
Louis VII and his army finally reached the Holy Land in 1148. His queen Eleanor supported her uncle, Raymond of Antioch, and prevailed upon Louis to help Antioch against Aleppo. But Louis VII's interest lay in Jerusalem, and so he slipped out of Antioch in secret. He united with Conrad III of Germany (1138 - 52) and King Baldwin III of Jerusalem (1143 - 62) to lay siege to Damascus; this ended in disaster and the project was abandoned. Louis VII decided to leave the Holy Land, despite the protests of Eleanor, who still wanted to help her doomed uncle Raymond of Antioch. Louis VII and the French army returned home in 1149.
The expedition came to a great cost to the royal treasury and military. It also precipitated a conflict with Eleanor, leading to the annulment of their marriage at the council of Beaugency (March 1152). The pretext of kinship was the basis for annulment. Its reasons had more to do with quarrels between Louis VII and Eleanor, her scandalous behavior during the Crusades, and the decreasing odds that their marriage would produce a male heir to the throne of France. Eleanor subsequently married Henry, Count of Anjou in the following May, which brought him the duchy of Aquitaine. Louis VII led an ineffective war against Henry for having married without the authorization of his suzerain; but in August 1154 gave up his rights over Aquitaine, and contented himself with an indemnity.
In 1154 Louis VII married Constance of Castile, daughter of Alfonso VII (1126–57), King of Castile. She, too, failed to give him a son and heir, bearing two more daughters:
- Marguerite of France (1158–1197), married (1) Henry the Young King; (2) King Béla III of Hungary (1172–96)
- Adelaide or Alys (4 October 1160– c. 1220), engaged to Richard I of England; she married William III Talvas, Count of Ponthieu
As part of a peace process with Henry II of England (1154–89), Louis VII imprudently pledged his daughter, Marguerite, in the treaty of Gisors (1158) to Henry, Henry II's eldest son, promising as a dowry the Norman Vexin and Gisors.
Constance died in childbirth on 4 October 1160, and five weeks later Louis VII married Adèle of Champagne. Henry II, to counterbalance the advantage this would give the King of France, had the marriage of their children (Henry "the Young King" and Marguerite) celebrated at once. Louis VII understood the danger of the growing Angevin power, however, through indecision and lack of fiscal and military resources compared to Henry II's, Louis VII failed to oppose Angevin hegemony effectively. One of the few military successes of Louis VII, in 1159, was his expedition in the south to aid Raymond V, Count of Toulouse who had been attacked by Henry II. At the same time the emperor Frederick I (1152–90) in the east was making good the imperial claims on Arles. When the schism broke out, Louis VII took the part of the Pope Alexander III (1159–81), the enemy of Frederick I, and after two comical failures of Frederick I to meet Louis VII at Saint Jean de Losne (on the 29th of August and the 22nd of September 1162), Louis VII definitely gave himself up to the cause of Alexander III, who lived at Sens from 1163 to 1165. Alexander III gave the King, in return for his loyal support, the golden rose.
Finally, in 1165 Adèle gave birth to them much longed-for son, along with a two daughters a few years later. Louis VII's and Adèle's children were:
- Philip II Augustus (August 22, 1165 – 1223)
- Agnes of France (1171–1240), who was betrothed to Alexius II Comnenus (1180–83) but married (1) Andronicus I Comnenus (1183–85); (2) Theodore Branas (1204)
Louis VII received Thomas Becket and tried to reconcile him with King Henry II. Louis VII sided with Thomas Becket as a way to weaken Henry II politically. He also supported Henry II's rebellious sons, but the rivalry between Henry II's sons and Louis VII's own indecisiveness contributed to the break up of the coalition (1173–74). Finally in 1177 the Pope intervened to bring the two Kings to terms at Vitry.
His reign was a difficult and unfortunate one, from the point of view of royal territory and military power. Yet the royal authority made progress in the parts of France distant from the royal domains. More direct and more frequent connection was made with distant vassals, a result largely due to the alliance of the clergy with the crown. Louis VII thus reaped the reward for services rendered the church during the least successful portion of his reign. His greater accomplishments lie in the development of agriculture, population, commerce, the building of stone fortresses, as well as an intellectual renaissance. Considering the significant disparity of political leverage and financial resources between Louis VII and his Angevin rival, not to mention Henry II's superior military skills, Louis VII should be credited with preserving the Capetian dynasty.
He was to be succeeded by his son by Adèle, Philip II Augustus and had him crowned at Reims in 1179. However, already stricken with paralysis, King Louis VII himself was not able to be present at the ceremony.
Louis VII died on September 18, 1180 at the Abbey at Saint-Pont, Allier and is interred in Saint Denis Basilica.
|King of France
|Duke of Aquitaine
Henry I and Eleanor
|Count of Poitiers