Front Matter Gauls Defeat Romans Vercingetorix Saints of France Attila, Scourge of God Story of Clovis Sons of Clovis Mayors of the Palace Charles the Hammer Pepin the Short Charlemagne in Lombardy Defeat at Roncesvalles Emperor of the West Louis the Pious War of Three Brothers Louis the Stammerer Paris defies the Sea Kings Rollo the Viking Hugh Capet Becomes King Bishop Betrays the Duke Robert the Pious The Peace of God Harold Visits Duke William William Sails to England The Battle of Hastings Peter the Hermit First War of the Cross Louis the Fat and Laon King Fights his Vassal Second War of the Cross French Queen of England How Normandy Was Lost Albigenses War Battle of Bouvines Story of Hugh de La Marche Reign of St. Louis St. Louis's last Crusade Peter the Barber Knights vs. Weavers Pope vs. Philip the Fair Sons of Philip the Fair Philip VI vs. Flanders Battle and Plague King vs. Charles the Bad The Jacquerie Stephen Marcel Betrays Paris Charles V and du Guesclin Du Guesclin Fights for France The Madness of Charles VI The Battle of Agincourt The Maid of Orleans End of Hundred Years' War King vs. Charles the Bold Troubles of Duchess Mary Charles the Affable Knight Without Reproach Battle of the Spurs Francis I, Gentleman King King Taken Prisoner Duke of Guise Defends Metz Calais Returns to France The Riot of Amboise Huguenot and Catholic St. Bartholomew Massacre War of the Three Henries The Protestant King Edict of Nantes Reign of Favorites Taking of La Rochelle Power of the Cardinal-King Reign of Louis XIV The Man in the Iron Mask The Height of Power Edict of Nantes Revoked War of Spanish Succession

History of France - H. E. Marshall

How Hugh Capet Became King of France

Raoul was not a great King, and Hugh, Duke of France, was by this time far the most powerful man in the country, being indeed called Hugh the Great. So when Raoul died in 936, leaving no son, Hugh might again have been King, but he again refused. He thought it was wiser to allow some one else to have the appearance of power, while he had it in reality. So instead of becoming King himself he sent over the sea to England for Louis, the young son of Charles the Simple. Louis was now a boy of sixteen, and Hugh hoped he would be easily led, as his father had been.

Louis-d'outre-mer, or Louis-from-over-the-Sea as he was called, came and was greeted by the nobles with great joy. But it was soon seen that he was by no means like his father. Although still so young, he was clever, and of a proud and headstrong will. He determined to rule himself, and not be a mere King of show. This was by no means what Hugh wanted. From being Louis's friend he became his enemy, and soon France was once more torn by civil war.

The young King made a brave fight, but all his courage was useless against the skill and wisdom of Hugh, who took and held him prisoner for a year. He was only set free after he had yielded the town of Laon to the Duke. This was almost the last possession remaining to the unhappy King, and with the loss of it his power sank to a mere shadow. Then he appealed for help to the Pope and to the Emperor of Germany, and at last Hugh was forced to make peace with him. He came to the King, once more put his hands between the King's hands, and promised to be his faithful vassal.

But even after this there was no real peace in the land, and all the reign of Louis-from-over-the-Sea was spent in fighting his nobles. For eighteen years he struggled on, then one day while chasing a wolf he was thrown from his horse and died.

Louis-from-over-the-Sea left two sons, the eldest of which, Lothaire, was only thirteen. And for a third time the crown was offered to Hugh, Duke of France. For a third time he refused it, and Lothaire was crowned. Two years later Hugh died, but his son, also named Hugh, succeeded him as Duke. He, like his father, was of great power. "Lothaire is King in name," said a writer of the time, "Hugh is King in fact."

King Lothaire reigned for thirty-two years in troublous times. He was succeeded by his son Louis V, who is called Louis Do Nothing. Perhaps the name was undeserved, for he had scarcely time to do anything, as his reign lasted little more than a year. In 987 he had a fall from his horse and died. He left no son and with him ended the great Carolingian line, although Louis Do Nothing had an uncle, Charles of Lorraine. He was the younger brother of King Lothaire, and according to our ideas he was heir to the throne. But in those far-off and warlike times these ideas had not yet become fixed. The great nobles had grown very powerful. Most of them did not want to have Charles to reign over them, for he was a vassal of the German Emperor, and had married a lady beneath him in birth. So they resolved to choose a King from among themselves.

At the time of Louis's death it happened that many of the nobles were met together in council. Among them was the powerful Bishop named Adalberon, and of course Duke Hugh. They began to talk of who should be King. Then the Bishop rose in his place and stood beside the Duke.

"It seems to me," he said, "that we ought to put off for some time the choosing of our King so that each one of us may think over it carefully. Then on an appointed day let us again meet together to choose our leader. Will you swear to me and to our noble Duke to do naught in the matter until that day?"

To this all those gathered there agreed. They put their hands between the hands of the Duke and swore to keep faith. And when they had fixed the time at which they should meet again they separated and went to their own homes.

Meanwhile Charles of Lorraine came to the Bishop and sought his help. "All the world knows, reverend father," he said, "that I ought to succeed to my brother and my nephew. Why should I be cast out of my inheritance? I am a man, and have birth, and courage, and all that is needed in a King."

But the Bishop had no wish to help Charles and answered him in a few words.

'You have always made friends with low, wicked folk," he said. "Even now you will not give them up. How can you expect to reach the throne in company with such men, and by the help of such men?"

"I cannot forsake my friends," replied Charles. "I hope to win others."

"I can do nothing without the consent of the nobles," said the Bishop, as he turned coldly away.

Very sadly, with no hope of the throne, Charles went back to Lorraine, which he held as vassal of the German Emperor.

At the time appointed the nobles met again together. Again the Bishop spoke. "It is true Charles has his followers," he said. "But we must set on the throne one who is not merely noble of birth, but noble in mind. Charles has so far forgotten himself as to have no shame in serving a stranger king. He has married a wife taken from the rank of his vassals. How is it possible that you should bend the knee to her as Queen? Think well. If you wish to bring unhappiness on our land, make Charles King. If you wish happiness for it, choose Hugh, the illustrious Duke."

When the Bishop had finished speaking, all the nobles cried out with one consent, "Let Hugh, the great Duke, be King.

Thus a new line of Kings came to the throne of France, a line which was to hold it for eight hundred years.

At once Hugh was crowned, and, in order to make his kingdom more sure, the new King asked the Archbishop to crown his son Robert as King and successor. At first the Archbishop said it was impossible to crown two kings in one year. But after a little he yielded. So with great ceremony Robert, son of Hugh, was crowned.

But although Hugh was careful thus to make sure that his son would reign after him it is said that he himself never wore the crown except upon the day of his coronation. It is hard to tell why he refused to wear his crown. Whatever the reason may have been, some people say that he received his surname Capet because of this, from the Latin word caput, a head, his being a head without covering. Others say that he received the name because he had a large head, or because he wore a chape or cope. Still others say that Capet was already a family name in the time of his father, Hugh the Great, In any case, the name clung to the family, and the whole line of Kings is known as the Capetians.