Philippe I "The Amorous" shows that all is fair in love in war.
Philippe I "The Amorous" shows that all is fair in love in war.
Philippe I was born on 23 May 1052, a very low point in Capetian rule. That year the newborn’s father Henri I invaded Normandy only to have his forces crushed. While his father warred futilely against the Northmen, Philippe I grew up in the care of his mother and the priests who served as his tutors. Queen Anne of Kyiv was determined that her son should receive a proper education, unlike her husband and his forebears. In 1059 Henri I fell ill. Fearing death, he crowned his son co-king on his seventh birthday. Henri I lingered for another year before passing on 4 August 1060. Philippe I became the sole King of France at the age of 8, the first of the Capetians to ascend as a child. Despite the king’s young age there was no major opposition to his ascendancy; after 73 years House Capet was finally accepted as the legitimate ruling dynasty.
During the youth’s minority his uncle Baldwin V of Flanders served as regent. The Count was a dutiful mentor for the boy and took him on a tour of the royal domain to familiarize him with the major cities he would rule. While Baldwin V was officially in power Queen Anne was de facto co-regent, with one charter stating that, “I [Philippe] assume royal power conjointly with my mother.” In fact, Anne may have been even more powerful than Baldwin V as her name appears on many more royal charters than his.
Anne understood that if she wanted to maintain her relevance and protect her son she would need a powerful ally, which for a woman usually meant a husband. Anne courted Raoul de Crépy, a man who was both powerful in the north and had formerly rebelled against Henri I. Naturally, if the Queen could get Raoul on the royal’s side it would solidify her son’s rule and neutralize a potential enemy. In 1062 Raoul dismissed his wife Haquenez, accusing her of adultery. He then married the Queen in a political union that secured much of the north for the boy-king. Yet, Haquenez would not accept the slanderous accusations against her. Rather than retreating to a nunnery and awaiting death she traveled to Rome and personally appealed to Pope Alexander II. The pope arranged for the French clergy to decide Raoul’s fate. They ruled that the count had dismissed his wife without proper cause and that his relationship with Anne constituted consanguinity given that Raoul was Henri I’s cousin. Raoul refused to accept the decision, prompting the church to excommunicate him. Despite this, count and queen exercised considerable power, vying with Baldwin V for influence at court. Excommunication was a major, yet not fatal blow to a person’s public standing. Damnation was apparently not a disqualification for politics. Moreover, Anne donated heavily to the church, which helped restore her reputation. If the queen had been excommunicated, her money remained as holy as anyone else’s.
In 1066 Philippe I reached his majority and ruled in his own right. On 1 September 1067 the former regent Baldwin V passed away. Baldwin V’s son, Baldwin VI ruled for three years before he died. The count’s death opened up the first major crisis of Philippe I’s reign when the deceased’s son Arnulf III and brother Robert the Frisian each claimed the county. Arnulf III appealed to Philippe I who led an army into Flanders. The French joined their Flemish allies and on 22 February 1071 fought against the rebel forces. At the Battle of Cassel Robert ordered a daring cavalry charge which repulsed his enemies. Philippe I’s forces withdrew from the field, though they had not suffered great losses. However, Robert’s forces managed to kill Arnulf III and capture his mother, Richildis.
Despite losing his casus belli, Philippe I was determined not to walk away defeated. The French king continued the war and eventually captured Robert. Robert escaped his confinement but recognized he needed to come to terms. Philippe I agreed to recognize Robert as Count of Flanders in exchange for the region of Corbie and the release of Richildis. The two cemented the terms when Philippe I married Bertha of Holland, Robert’s step-daughter.
With Flanders in check, Philippe I turned his attention to Normandy. During his minority Duke Guillaume had conquered England, making him the most powerful man in the north. The King of France could not countenance a vassal that was greater than himself and waited for a chance to humble the Duke-turned-King. Opportunity arose in 1075 when a cabal of Bretons rebelled against Norman overlordship and seized the fortress at Dol. Guillaume I led an army to besiege the fortress prompting Philippe I to relieve the castle. The French dealt the Normans a crushing defeat and seized the spoils of their abandoned baggage train. From then on, Norman influence over Brittany waned. The Norman retreat also meant that Philippe I secured the French Vexin, an area which had been hotly contested in his father’s time.
Philippe supported English rebels, with less success. Edgar Aetheling, the deposed heir to the English throne, took refuge at Montreuil-sur-Mer, where he rallied a force to invade the island, only for it to flounder in a storm. What forces did make it to England could not supplant the Normans and Edgar retreated to Scotland.
Philippe I’s most successful anti-Norman strategy was to turn the Northmen against themselves. By 1077 Guillaume I’s eldest son Robert II, called ‘Courteheuse’ or ‘Short-stockings’ for his small stature, was 26 years old. Robert II wanted power, though Guillaume I did not trust his short, fat and brooding son to rule; which did not help the heir’s already dour mood. Things took a decisive turn for the worse when Robert II got in a fight with his two younger brothers, Guillaume ‘le Roux,’ and Henri. According to one source, the younger siblings pranked their elder by dumping a chamber pot over his head. The outraged and stinking Robert II assaulted his brothers, only for their father to break them apart. Robert II demanded the two be punished, but the Duke did not think the prank warranted a response.
Robert II’s pride was wounded and the heir-apparent was tired of being the butt of so many jokes. If he was not ready to rebel just yet, Philippe I’s pledge of support tipped him over the edge. Robert II led a force to take Rouen where he aimed to rule as the Duke of Normandy. Yet, Guillaume I arrived and defeated his eldest, forcing him to flee to Flanders, where Count Robert shielded him with guarantees of support from Philippe I should Guillaume I attack.
While in exile Robert II raised a new force and seized the fort at Gerberoy, 50 kilometers east of Rouen. In January 1079 Guillaume I rode out to face his troublesome son. When he arrived Robert II caught him off-guard when he led a sortie from the castle. According to the chronicles Robert II unhorsed his father and might have killed him except that he recognized Guillaume I’s voice and showed mercy. The rebels had won and the Duke cut a bitter retreat back to Rouen to nurse his wounds. While Philippe I enjoyed the inter-Norman rivalry, Robert II plundered the region so mercilessly that it forced the French King to unite with the Duke to stop the errant Norman’s brigandage. The two lords brought Robert II to heel. On Easter 1080 Guillaume I and his son were reconciled…for a time.
Somehow, amidst his consistent trouble-making in the north, Philippe I managed to find time for the most important business of medieval statecraft. In 1078 Queen Bertha gave birth to their first child, a daughter who they named Constance, who later married the Italo-Norman Bohemond and became Princess of Antioch. In late 1081 Bertha delivered a boy, the future king Louis VI who was alternatively known as ‘the Battler’ or ‘the Fat.’
The French king supported yet another rebellion by Robert II Courtheuse in 1086 while Guillaume I was busy across the Channel. In response the aging King of England and Duke of Normandy returned to press his claim to the Vexin. Philippe I infuriated his rival, mocking the man for having grown fat in his old age. It was there that the Conqueror fought his last, brutal campaign when, on 9 September 1087, he succumbed to his wounds. Guillaume I’s cross-channel polity died with him; at least for a time. Robert II became Duke of Normandy while Guillaume II became King of England. The division of the Conqueror’s lands meant that for the first time in decades the King of France was once again the most powerful person in the kingdom. Moreover, Philippe I still had a strong hand to play in Normandy, as Robert II considered him his staunchest ally. The Duke of Normandy’s trust allowed Philippe I to turn him against his brother.
Conflict between the two Norman brothers spilled over into the County of Maine. Sandwiched between Anjou and Normandy, Maine had long been a battleground between the two, one which Philippe I was looking to take advantage of. In 1089 the barons of Maine revolted against their Norman overlords. Robert II was busy fighting his brother and asked Fulk IV, Count of Anjou, to subdue the county on his behalf. Fulk IV agreed, but only if Robert II allowed him to marry Bertrade of Montfort. Robert II agreed and Fulk IV repudiated his wife to marry Bertrade. Perhaps she should have seen it coming as Fulk IV had dismissed his previous two wives. Fulk IV was as faithless in marriage as he was in politics: he broke his word to the Duke of Normandy and supported an anti-Norman ruler in Maine.
Fulk IV’s completely unsurprising treachery was born out of desperation, rather than strength. The Count had struggled to hold on to his territory since he first seized it from his brother more than twenty years prior. By 1092 the situation in Normandy stabilized, thanks in part to Philippe I providing his ally with military aid. With Guillaume II beat back across the Channel the King of France marched on Maine.
If you believe the medieval chronicles, what happened next was that the sexually insatiable French king abducted Bertrade of Montfort and forced her to marry him. However, historian Matthew Gabriele casts doubt on this narrative, which comes to us via Abbot Suger of Saint-Denis, one of the monarch’s noted enemies. Instead, Gabriele argues that Bertrade actually led peace negotiations between Fulk IV and Philippe I. Fulk IV would dismiss Bertrade, at which point Philippe I would repudiate his own wife Bertha. Philippe I would then marry Bertrade. The marriage would give the French king powerful allies that controlled land across the north while Bertrade would gain the queenship. In exchange, Philippe I would abandon his campaign against the Angevins. The arrangement benefitted everyone, except for the mother of Philippe I’s children. Bertha of Holland had little political connections or wealth, she was nearing 40 and was unlikely to produce any more children. Philippe I had no more use of Bertha and he dismissed her on the grounds that she had grown fat. There was really a lot of fat-shaming in the 11th century. It’s especially rich coming from Philippe I; as he entered his 40s he suffered from an unknown illness which led to him growing remarkably overweight to the point that he struggled to ride a horse. Regardless of who was cheating on their diet, the king had the final say and he repudiated Bertha for Bertrade.
The French nobility accepted Philippe I’s second marriage; for the male aristocracy casting aside old wives for new brides was just a part of the political game. Raoul de Crépy had put aside his first wife to marry Queen Anne of Kyiv and Fulk IV of Anjou had repudiated four of his five or six wives! Moreover, the majority of French bishops accepted the marriage and upheld it in multiple synods. The French clergy was, after all, part of the aristocracy, as they held secular roles and responsibilities.
While the majority of the church tolerated the scandal, a vocal minority condemned the lax morality of the king. These called upon Pope Urban II who sent a representative to France in 1094. The Pope’s emissary called upon the King of France to repudiate Bertrade and retake Bertha as his wife. Philippe I refused and was excommunicated. The following year at the Council of Claremont Urban II again proclaimed the king outside of divine favor.
Ironically, even as the Pope condemned Philippe I’s wickedness, the king increased his hold over the French church. His marriage to Bertrade brought the noted monasteries of Marmoutier and Saint-Magloire into his control. Meanwhile he made Bertrade’s brother Bishop of Paris. Medieval Catholic monarchs were then engaged in the Investiture Controversy as the popes claimed the right to appoint bishops even as European kings fought to retain their privileges. Much of the existing French clergy acquired their positions through royal patronage and in turn supported Philippe I’s right to invest men of the cloth. Those who did not support the king he deposed. Philippe I saw himself as a great patron of religion, as he and his wife made grants to monasteries and churches. He also promoted reforms from Cluny Abbey, which dominated French Catholic theology during this time.
Still, excommunication is no laughing matter and Philippe I promised on multiple occasions to dismiss Bertrade. Each time he did his excommunication was lifted, but he never actually cast her aside and he was re-condemned. His excommunication meant that he could not directly engage in the Peace of God or Truce of God movements, or in the First Crusade. When he or his wife entered a church the services stopped which became a major embarrassment. In one instance a church at Sens refused to house the queen, at which point Bertrade ordered her guards to break down the doors so her own priests could enter and perform the service. In another notable incident, a church council in Poitiers reaffirmed the excommunicated of the king in 1099, prompting the Duke of Aquitaine to barge in with his guard, demanding that they rescind their decision. The situation became heated and one of the guards threw a rock at a cardinal only to miss and strike a clerk, killing him.
The marriage between Philippe I and Bertrade colors the chronicles. This affair gave Philippe I the moniker ‘the Amorous,’ a title which is not at all a compliment. Medieval authors repeatedly demonized the king as lecherous, immoral and yes, fat and prone to belching. Yet, Philippe I remained married to Bertrade for the rest of his life. She bore three of his children. She played an active role as political and religious advisor whose name appears on numerous charters. Unlike his grandfather Robert II, Philippe I was strong enough to withstand excommunication. The marriage did not even hurt him politically; while the Count of Flanders was not at all pleased at Bertha’s dismissal there was little he could do about it given Philippe I’s own power and his numerous allies in the north.
Speaking of the north: if Philippe I had survived his greatest spiritual challenge his greatest political challenge was always the threat from Normandy. The Norman situation suddenly changed in 1096 when Robert II left the duchy to fight in the First Crusade. With big brother gone, Guillaume II seized Normandy the following year, reuniting the realms after a decade of separation. Guillaume II wanted to prove himself worthy of his namesake and invaded the Vexin, besieging Chaumont. Yet, Guillaume II “Roux” was no Guillaume le Conquérant and his forces were mowed down by the defending archers. Then, in 1100 Guillaume II died in a hunting accident. Henri, the third of the Conqueror’s children, seized England even as Robert II returned form the Holy Land and retook Normandy.
Neither Robert II nor Henri I were content with their partial inheritance and the brothers each supported rebellions in each others’ realms. In 1105 open war broke out between the two. On 28 September 1106 Henri I’s forces won a decisive victory at the Battle of Tinchebrai. The Anglo-Normans captured Robert II and held him as prisoner in Wiltshire before moving him to Cardiff Castle, where he would remain until his death 28 years later. Henri I had reunited England and Normandy, reviving the greatest threat to French royal power.
Like most of the early Capetians, Philippe I’s reign centered on the north. However, his rule marked an important turning point as the monarch extended his power southward. Throughout his reign, the king acquired small bits of territory around the royal domain. His most significant southern acquisition was Bourges in the center of France. In 1096 many French lords wanted to go crusading but could not afford to equip and transport all their men. Odo, the Viscount of Bourges, was one such man, and he turned to Philippe I for a loan. Philippe I granted the loan & the Viscount went crusading. When Odo returned he could not repay the loan and Philippe I seized Bourges, forcing Odo to retire to Cluny Abbey.
In 1106 the aging king hosted one of the last people he ever expected to grace his doorstep. Pope Paschal II had fled Italy during the Investiture Controversy as the Holy Roman Emperor had flexed his military power against his Holiness. In desperation, Paschal II appealed to Philippe I for aid. Luckily for the French monarch, his first wife had recently died, meaning that there was less imperative for him to dismiss his queen. Philippe I met Paschal II at Nîmes where the king agreed to cast aside Bertrade in exchange for forgiveness and reacceptance into the church. Paschal II accepted and this time when Philippe I ignored his vow and remained with his wife His Holiness simply bit his tongue.
One area that Philippe I truly excelled in was administration, a talent he no doubt acquired from his mother and her commitment to education. Philippe I developed the French state more than any of his family’s predecessors. The king appointed far more prévôts, in English ‘provosts,’ to represent him throughout the kingdom. These royal representatives exercised power in areas that had not been made a fief, thus granting the king power over a much wider area. The prévôts were often from the lower nobility as the monarchy angled to supplant aristocratic power. Philippe I also expanded the royal household staff. As Jim Bradbury writes, “We now find an arch-chancellor, chancellors, seneschals, chamberlains, butlers and constables as well as a royal chapel staffed by clerks,” in the king’s service.
Philippe I was in poor health in his old age. He was morbidly obese, he suffered from scabies, a rash caused by mites that burrow under the skin, and he had rotten teeth which gave him horrible toothaches. On 29 July 1108 he passed away of an unknown illness. Unlike most rulers of France he was not buried at Saint-Denis because its abbot condemned his marriage to Bertrade. His body was instead interred at Fleury.
Medieval chroniclers depicted Philippe I ‘the Amorous’ as a paragon of sin. They condemned him as gluttonous, impious and above all, lustful. For centuries this view predominated. However, modern historians have been far kinder to the French king. Philippe I succeeded in virtually every facet of rulership. He significantly expanded his power by seizing important territory in all directions. He divided and defeated his enemies. He developed savvy political alliances which made him much stronger than any prior Capetian. He expanded the bureaucracy, ordering and coordinating his new territories. He maintained control over the church even in the face of repeated excommunication. He patronized monasteries and spread Clunaic reforms. He married his daughter to Bohemond and she became a Middle Eastern princess. When he died he was able to pass all his territory to his son Louis VI, rather than dividing his inheritance. This last act is extremely important as it meant power remained in the hands of the monarch.
If the measure of a king is whether he left behind a stronger kingdom than he inherited then Philippe I was a successful king. Like his father Henri I, Philippe I’s triumphs have been often overlooked while his faults were exaggerated. Under Philippe I the French monarchy finally went on the offensive and successfully asserted its power across the kingdom it claimed to rule.
Jim Bradbury, The Capetians: Kings of France 987-1328, 2007.
Matthew Gabriele, “Not so strange bedfellows: new thoughts on King Philip I of Francia’s marriage to Bertrada of Montfort,” Journal of Medieval History, 46:5 (2020), 499-512