Louis VI (1081-1137), Capetian King of France
Louis VI, called Louis the Fat (Louis le Gros in French) reigned from 1108 to 1137. His reign was marked by the rise of communes in France, by increasing identification of the Kings of France with the Abbey of Saint-Denis, and by significant consolidation and expansion of royal power.
Louis was the son of Philip I and Berthe of Holland. In 1098, he was made king-designate, and even before taking the throne began to show himself an effective ruling force. He was married in 1104 to Lucienne of Rochefort, but the marriage was dissolved by the Pope in 1107. He then married Adelaide of Maurienne in 1114, by whom he had eight children. The eldest, Philip, was king-designate from 1129 until his death in 1131. The next eldest was then made king-designate and would rule as Louis VII. Louis VI died on August 1, 1137 and was buried at the Abbey of Saint-Denis.
Louis the Fat and the Rise of the Communes
In the 11th and 12th centuries, population centers began to seek some level of self-administration and the inhabitants began to band together to form communes. Louis' reign coincided with the rise of many communes throughout France. This worked in Louis' favor, since it tended to reduce the power of the fractious nobility by removing some authority over trade and urban production from their hands. Robert Fawtier suggests that while some early historians claimed this was a matter of policy, going so far as to call Louis VI, "the father of the communes," it seems much more likely that he, and his successors, were simply capitalizing on the rise of a power which served royal desires.
Louis the Fat and the Church
Louis' relationship with the Church was generally good, although he would not hesitate to oppose it when he felt royal prerogative was being threatened. His relations with the Abbey of Saint-Denis were particularly good. In 1120 he deposited his father's crown at the Abbey, starting a tradition which his successors upheld, and at his death he was buried at the Abbey. In his campaign against the Emperor, Louis took the oriflamme standard of the County of the Vexin, which he held from the Abbey as Count of the Vexin, and bore it with the army. He granted numerous other rights to the Abbey with respect to justice and revenue. Suger, the Abbot of Saint-Denis, was a confidant and advisor to the King, and was the primary chronicler of Louis' reign.
While his relationship with Saint-Denis was particularly close, on numerous occasions he supported the rights of this church or that against the depredations of the nobility, for example coming to the aid of the Bishop of Clermont-Ferrand in his disputes with Count William VI of Auvergne on two separate occasions. Abbot Suger also makes clear that Louis' campaigns against Thomas of Marle, a "wolf gone mad," in the words of Suger, were in response to pleas for aid from churches in the area where Thomas was rampaging.
Louis the Fat and the Consolidation of Royal Power
Louis laid much of the groundwork for the future consolidation of the power of his dynasty. When he was made king-designate, he inherited a personal demense which included many castles and keeps ruled by castellans. These castellans of the Île-de-France were a powerful independent force, often using their castles as bases from which to exploit the surrounding areas. Louis waged war throughout his career against those who defied his power in the royal principality. Often he would summon them to court, and when they did not present themselves, judgement would be passed against them and Louis would gather an army to bring them to heel. This tactic was utilized effectively against Hugh of Le Puiset and Count Matthew of Beaumont, among others.
Not only did he put his own house in order, as it were, but his willingness to take arms against those who defied his authority led to increased prestige in the rest of France; the French nobles and clergy outside of his personal domain began to call on him to come to their aid, which contributed in turn to his rising influence and power. Suger provides numerous examples of Louis? interference in affairs outside his own fiefs; each petition was an acknowledgement of or submission to Louis? authority, each response reinforced that authority and each one illustrates the exercise of royal prerogative in a region which Louis considered to be on some level ?his.?
Even before his ascension to the throne, he had ridden to the defense of Reims against Ebles, Count of Roucy, far to the northeast. His first clash with Thomas of Marle also took place in the northeast, well outside the royal lands. Next he was petitioned to intervene in Berry, to the south, and either force the lord of Sainte-Sévère castle to give good justice or depose him in accordance with Salic law.
After his coronation, he was no less energetic, waging war against Thomas of Marle in the north at Crécy and Nouvion and later at Coucy, against Haimo Vairevache at the castle of Germigny in Berry, and twice against William VI of Auvergne.
In 1124, one of the most telling campaigns was fought against the Emperor Henry V. Henry had gathered a host from across German lands and was preparing to attack Reims. Louis raised a large combined force from across French lands, a sign both of the magnitude of threat presented by the Emperor, but also of the influence he was gathering. The invasion was turned back and the victory increased the reputation of the King, and that of Saint-Denis (both the Abbey and the Saint himself), under whose banner the King had fought.
In 1127, Louis punished the murder of Charles the Good, Count of Flanders, and installed William Clito as Count. In 1128, Flanders had recovered enough to oppose the election and further conflict resulted in William?s death. Louis accepted the new Count, Thierry of Alsace. Although Thierry was not the man he wanted, Louis? authority was still acknowledged as Thierry did him homage for the county.
Louis clashed with Henry I of England several times as well, as each man attempted to establish or wrest authority from the other over Normandy. This conflict would not be settled until many years after Louis? death.
These ?external campaigns? serve in some fashion as a guidepost to the further expansion of Capetian rule which would come in the reigns of Louis successors. Louis? extension of his power militarily, led to increased Capetian influence in the areas where he was petitioned to intervene. At his death, the monarchy was much stronger than it had been during the reign of his father, and a pattern was being set for further consolidation.
"Louis VI." In Encyclopaedia Brittannica. Encyclopaedia Brittannica Online ed., http://search.eb.com/eb/article-9049059 (accessed 22 September 2009).
Bur, Michael. Louis VI the Fat. Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages, Edited by Andre Vuachez. Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages: (e-reference) ed.Oxford University Press, Columbia University, 2001, http://www.oxford-middleages.com/entry?entry=t179.e1716 (accessed 22 September 2009).
Fawtier, Robert. The Capetian Kings of France; Monarchy