Scandalous sisters: how three French princesses brought down the Capetian dynasty (2023)

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Between 1305 and 1308, Philippe IV’s children all married wealthy members of the nobility, which seemingly strengthened dynastic alliances. The eldest son and crown prince Louis – who by this time was king of Navarre, a kingdom between France and Spain that he had inherited from his mother – married Marguerite, heiress to the large duchy of Burgundy. The younger princes, Philippe and Charles, married sisters Jeanne and Blanche respectively: also heiresses from Burgundy. Meanwhile, the king’s daughter Isabella married across the channel, becoming wife to the English prince Edward (the future King Edward II).

While little is known about the early relationships between the three princes and their wives, what came later would have devastating consequences for the royal family.

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A royal scandal erupts

In early 1314, Marguerite and Blanche were accused of committing infidelity with two knights, the brothers Philippe and Gautier of Aunay, while Jeanne was implicated as she allegedly kept watch during the adulterous meetings. When the scandal erupted, Jeanne was around 25 years old while Marguerite and Blanche were young adults. The claims were certainly plausible: the Aunay brothers’ family had aligned themselves with Philippe IV’s brother, Charles de Valois, and so spent much time at court.

There are various theories about where and who these accusations came from. One motive was the power struggle taking place between the king’s influential advisor, Enguerrand de Marigny, and brother. Accusing the Aunays of treason could have been a way for Marigny to destroy Charles de Valois’ faction. The fate of the French princesses was therefore just an unfortunate by-product.

Scandalous sisters: how three French princesses brought down the Capetian dynasty (1)
(Video) Royal Scandal: How Three French Princesses Brought Down The Capetian Dynasty

Another motive may have come from the princes themselves, none of whom had male heirs from their wives. Or there is an alternative: a misogynistic rumor stating that the charges came from the princes’ sister Isabella, who wanted to further her own son’s chances to inherit.

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Regardless of the origins of the charges, Philippe IV seemingly had no trouble believing them. He swiftly had all three women arrested, with Marguerite and Blanche imprisoned in the dungeons of Château Gaillard in Normandy. Jeanne was saved this fate by her husband, Philippe, who advocated for her (the only one of the three princes to do so). She instead lived under house arrest in the Château de Dourdan.

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At the centre of the adultery scandal were a set of coin purses. According to a story put forward by Isabella, she had allegedly gifted them to Marguerite and Blanche, but then noticed during a visit to the French court that the Aunay brothers had them. The princesses must have passed them on to their lovers, was the claim. Isabella immediately informed her father of her suspicions, and Jeanne found herself caught up in the matter.

Scandalous sisters: how three French princesses brought down the Capetian dynasty (2)
(Video) 7: The House of Capet

Under torture, the Aunays confessed to the affairs and found guilty in court. Committing adultery against a person of royal blood was an act of treason, and so in April 1314 Philippe and Gautier were given bloody traitor’s deaths by being hanged, drawn, and quartered.

As for the three women, they languished in their imprisonment. Jeanne continued to be treated remarkably better than her younger sister and sister-in-law. Her husband even visited her during her trial and house-arrest. His reasoning is a matter of speculation, though it is important to note that Jeanne was the richest of the princesses and had been named as heir to the county of Burgundy since her father had no sons. Marguerite and Blanche were entirely dependent on their husbands and had no property or money to their names.

These differences in status could explain why Jeanne received different treatment. What’s more, she and her husband did have at least four surviving children in the early years of their marriage, which could indicate a bond between them.

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A new sovereign

By the end of 1314, Philippe IV had died and his eldest son became king of France, as Louis X. Shortly afterwards, two significant changes occurred for the alleged adulteresses. The charges against Jeanne were dropped, allowing for her release and reunification with her husband; and Marguerite died suddenly in her cell in April 1315. Although rumours swirled of her being strangled so that her husband could remarry, she more likely died of sickness due to the squalid conditions of her dungeon prison – a slower, but equally ruthless murder.

Marguerite’s widower (the new king) certainly moved on quickly: Louis remarried that same year, to Clementia of Hungary, bringing renewed vigour to the mission of producing a male heir. Luck was not on Louis’s side. After a lifetime of bad health, he died the following year, survived by his pregnant wife and the young daughter he had with Marguerite, named Jeanne. Though Clementia bore a son five months later, whom she named Jean, the baby survived only five days.

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Scandalous sisters: how three French princesses brought down the Capetian dynasty (3)

What happened next set a precedent for the French royal inheritance up until the abolition of the monarchy. From Hugh Capet (who reigned 987–96 AD) to Louis X’s death in 1316, the Capetian dynasty famously enjoyed an unbroken line of male descent . Each king had a son or grandson to rule after them. With the death of Clementia’s infant son, however, there was no male heir to ascend the French throne; only Louis and Marguerite’s four-year-old daughter.

But the new regent, Louis’s elder brother Philippe was quick to push her to the side. In front of an assembly of noblemen in January 1317, he declared that “women do not succeed to the throne”, bypassed his niece’s claim and – after his infant nephew Jean died – declared himself king of France.

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This exclusion of women continued when Philippe V died in 1322, five years later, as all four of his own daughters were ignored in favour of the last Capetian brother, Charles. The new king, Charles IV, finally annulled his marriage to the still-imprisoned Blanche and married twice more, although both failed to produce a son and heir.

Scandalous sisters: how three French princesses brought down the Capetian dynasty (4)
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When Charles IV died only six years later, in 1328, there were no more brothers to steal thrones from the French princesses. Instead, it was the turn of the cousins. The two closest male heirs were Edward III, now king of England, and Philippe of Valois, the nephew of the former king, and namesake, Philippe IV. The throne passed to the latter, thus founding the Valois dynasty.

The final Capetian kings had been so desperate for male heirs after they had imprisoned their wives, but they had never materialised. Their dynasty’s three-century hold over France dissolved. However, the line did continue outside of France. Jeanne, the daughter of Marguerite and Louis X, inherited the throne of Navarre, which had a history of ruling queens. She went on to rule for 20 years.


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Poetically, her descendants would include fiery, independent queens and, eventually, Henry of Bourbon, who would be the founding member of a new dynasty when crowned as king of France in 1594.


How did the Capetian dynasty end? ›

The direct line of the House of Capet came to an end in 1328, when the three sons of Philip IV (reigned 1285–1314) all failed to produce surviving male heirs to the French throne. With the death of Charles IV (reigned 1322–1328), the throne passed to the House of Valois, descended from a younger brother of Philip IV.

What was the significance of the Capetian dynasty? ›

Capetian dynasty, ruling house of France from 987 to 1328, during the feudal period of the Middle Ages. By extending and consolidating their power, the Capetian kings laid the foundation of the French nation-state.

Who started the Capetian dynasty? ›

Founded by Hugh Capet in 987, the Capetian dynasty was the ruling house of France during the feudal period of the Middle Ages.

What was the miracle of the House of Capet? ›

The Capetian Miracle (French: Miracle capétien) refers to the dynasty's ability to attain and hold onto the French crown. In 987, Hugh Capet was elected to succeed Louis V of the Carolingian dynasty that had ruled France for over three centuries.

How did the Capetian dynasty come to power? ›

The Rise of Capetian Power and its Contribution to the Hundred Years War. The early Capet kings of France were kings without a kingdom; they inherited the Crown from the failing Karling/Carolingian dynasties who ruled as kings from 751 CE to 987 CE, with Hugh Capet being elected the king of the Franks in 987 CE.

What happened to the French royal family? ›

The monarchy was formally abolished, and “Year I” of the French Republic was declared. Louis XVI died at the guillotine on 21 January 1793. He was the last king to live at the Palace of Versailles, and the revolutionaries duly gave him the nickname “Louis the Last”.

How did the Capetians increase royal power in France? ›

The Capetian monarchs of the 12th and 13th centuries systematically rebuilt monarchial power, first by securing their control over the centers of royal power based around the Île-de-France and then by expanding the scope of their authority.

Do the French still have a royal family? ›

France is a Republic, and there's no current royal family recognized by the French state. Still, there are thousands of French citizens who have titles and can trace their lineage back to the French Royal Family and nobility.

Who defeated the French king and established the Capetian line of ruler in France? ›

A branch of the Carolingian dynasty continued to rule until 987, when Hugh Capet was elected king and founded the Capetian dynasty.

What does the name Capetian mean? ›

/ (kəˈpiːʃən) / noun. a member of the dynasty founded by Hugh Capet, which ruled France from 987–1328 ad.

Are there any Capetians left? ›

The Capetian dynasty is the largest dynasty in Europe, with over 120 living male members descended in the legitimate agnatic line. Since the extinction of the House of Courtenay in 1733, the House of Bourbon is the only remaining branch of legitimate descent.

What is the oldest dynasty in the world? ›

^ The Imperial House of Japan, or the Yamato dynasty, is the world's oldest continuous dynasty.

Are the Capets related to Charlemagne? ›

Hugh was descended from Charlemagne's sons Louis the Pious and Pepin of Italy through his mother and paternal grandmother, respectively, and was also a nephew of Otto the Great.
Hugh Capet
PredecessorLouis V
SuccessorRobert II
Born939 Paris, West Francia
Died14 October 996 (aged 56–57) Paris, France
12 more rows

What is Capetian vs Plantagenet? ›

The Capetian–Plantagenet rivalry was a series of conflicts and disputes that covered a period of 100 years (1159–1259) during which the House of Capet, rulers of the Kingdom of France, fought the House of Plantagenet (also known as the House of Anjou), rulers of the Kingdom of England, to suppress the growing power of ...

Who was the first Capetian king? ›

Hugh Capet, French Hugues Capet, (born 938—died October 14, 996, Paris, France), king of France from 987 to 996, and the first of a direct line of 14 Capetian kings of that country. The Capetian dynasty derived its name from his nickname (Latin capa, “cape”).

Who would be king of France today? ›

His claim to the defunct French throne is based on his descent from Louis XIV (r. 1643–1715) through his grandson Philip V of Spain.
Louis Alphonse de Bourbon
Tenure30 January 1989 – present
PredecessorAlfonso, Duke of Anjou and Cádiz
Heir apparentLouis, Dauphin of France
12 more rows

Where did the name Capet come from? ›

Family Crest Download (JPG) Heritage Series - 600 DPI

Capet is an ancient Norman name that arrived in England after the Norman Conquest of 1066. The Capet family lived in London, settling there after the Norman Conquest of 1066 when they came from Capes, near Calvados, Normandy.

What is the armorial of the Capetian dynasty? ›

Armorial of the The Capetian dynasty, also known as the House of France, is among the largest and oldest European royal houses, consisting of the descendants of King Hugh Capet of France in the male line.

What was the name of the last French royal family? ›

Louis XVI, sometimes known as The Last (French: [lwi sɛːz]; Louis-Auguste; 23 August 1754 – 21 January 1793) was the last King of France before the fall of the monarchy during the French Revolution. He was addressed as Citizen Louis Capet during the four months before he was executed by guillotine.

What were Marie Antoinette's last words? ›

Found guilty by the Revolutionary Tribunal on three counts - depletion of the national treasury, conspiracy against the internal and external security of the State, and intelligence with the enemy - Antoinette's final words were "Pardon me, sir, I meant not to do it.”

Who was the first French royal family? ›

The Carolingian Dynasty would be the first true French monarchy. The great and extended kingdom of Pippin's son, the legendary Charlemagne, was split by Louis I (Louis the Pious). In 843, while Louis's son Lothair was in power, the great Frankish kingdom was split.

Where did the Plantagenets come from? ›

The House of Plantagenet (/plænˈtædʒənɪt/ plan-TAJ-ə-nit; French: Plantagenêt [plɑ̃taʒənɛ]) was a royal house which originated from the lands of Anjou in France. The family held the English throne from 1154 (with the accession of Henry II at the end of the Anarchy) to 1485, when Richard III died in battle.

What was the royal dynasty name of the House of French kings after the Capetians? ›

Valois Dynasty, the royal house of France from 1328 to 1589, ruling the nation from the end of the feudal period into the early modern age. The Valois kings continued the work of unifying France and centralizing royal power begun under their predecessors, the Capetian dynasty (q.v.).

When did royals stop speaking French? ›

French (specifically Old French) was the mother tongue of every English king from William the Conqueror (1066–1087) until Henry IV (1399–1413). Henry IV was the first to take the oath in (Middle) English, and his son, Henry V (1413–1422), was the first to write in English.

How do you address a French princess? ›

Queens and princesses were plain Madame. Nobles of the rank of duke used Monsieur le duc/Madame la duchesse, non-royal princes used Prince/Princesse (without the Monsieur/Madame), other noblemen plain Monsieur and Madame. Only servants ever addressed their employer as Monsieur le comte or Madame la baronne.

What religion is the French royal family? ›

Louis, and other brave French kings, more than the other kings of Christendom, have upheld the Catholic Faith, the kings of France are known among the kings of Christendom as 'Most Christian'."

What happened to Marie Antoinette's children? ›

She died in 1851, still in exile. Marie's second child, Louis Joseph, died at age 7 of tuberculosis. The third child, Louis Charles, died at age 10 while in prison from medical complications. Their final child, Sophie, died while still in infant.

Who was the last queen of France? ›

It's the 18th century at the Court of Versailles, the residence of the last queen of France, Marie Antoinette, a figure who is still controversial today. Born 1755 in Vienna, at the tender age of 14 Marie Antoinette marries heir to the French throne Louis-Auguste, who later became King Louis XVI of France.

Who was the best king of France? ›

Louis XIV, king of France (1643–1715), ruled his country, principally from his great palace at Versailles, during one of the country's most brilliant periods. Today he remains the symbol of absolute monarchy of the classical age.

What is the surname French in Irish? ›

Ffrench or ffrench is a relatively rare surname found in Ireland, a variant of the name French. The name originated in France and was brought by the Normans, who landed in Bannow Bay, County Wexford, Ireland in 1169.

What French surname means brave? ›

Vaillant. Derived from the Old French word vaillant, this surname means 'brave' or 'sturdy'.

What Gaelic name means from the fairy palace? ›

Shayla is a baby girl name of Gaelic origin meaning “from the fairy palace”. Throughout the years, Irish people have spoken about Irish fairy lore, which includes the—somewhat—infamous leprechauns and púcas. Nevertheless, the baby girl name Shayla carries the meaning of a supernatural place, home to enchanted people.

Which is the oldest royal family in Europe? ›

In Denmark, the monarchy goes back to the legendary kings before the 10th century and the Danish monarchy is the oldest in Europe (with the first attested historical king being Ongendus around the year 710). Currently, about 80 percent support keeping the monarchy. The current monarch is Margrethe II.

Are there any living descendants of the Bourbon family? ›

All legitimate, living members of the House of Bourbon, including its cadet branches, are direct agnatic descendants of Henry IV through his son Louis XIII of France.

Are there any descendants of Louis XIV alive today? ›

The current heir-male of Louis XIV and the representative of the rights of Philip V of Spain to the French throne is Louis Alphonse, Duke of Anjou, who is the second cousin of the present king of Spain, Felipe VI.

What was the shortest dynasty ever? ›

Its 15 years was the shortest major dynasty in Chinese history, consisting of only two emperors.
Qin dynasty.
Qin 秦
GovernmentAbsolute monarchy
• 221–210 BCQin Shi Huang
• 210–207 BCQin Er Shi
22 more rows

What was the shortest lived dynasty? ›

The Qin unified China, reformed the ruling system, standardized the language, and left behind the Great Wall and famous Terracotta Army. It was also the shortest-lived dynasty.

Are all French people descendants of Charlemagne? ›

In 2013, geneticists Peter Ralph and Graham Coop showed that all Europeans are descended from exactly the same people. Basically, everyone alive in the ninth century who left descendants is the ancestor of every living European today, including Charlemagne, Drogo, Pippin and Hugh.

Who is the rightful heir to Charlemagne? ›

So if you start with Charlemagne, you go to his son Louis the Pious, then his son Lothair, then his son Louis II. Louis II had one child — a daughter named Ermengard.

Is Queen Victoria related to Charlemagne? ›

Surprisingly, The Queen is not descended from Charlemagne in her patrilineal line. The earliest known ancestor in her male line (joining the British Royal Family through Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Queen Victoria's Consort) was Theodoric of Wettin, who lived around 916 – 976. 4.

Who was the last Plantagenet heir? ›

Richard III, also called (1461–83) Richard Plantagenet, duke of Gloucester, (born October 2, 1452, Fotheringhay Castle, Northamptonshire, England—died August 22, 1485, near Market Bosworth, Leicestershire), the last Plantagenet and Yorkist king of England.

Who was the most powerful Capetian king? ›

Among the most notable of the Capetians was Philip II (reigned 1180–1223), who wrested from the Angevin rulers of England much of the empire that they had built up in western France.

Is Tudor a Plantagenet? ›

Yes, the Tudors and the Plantagenets were related. Two houses which belonged to the House of Plantagenet were York and Lancaster. The first Tudor king, Henry VII, was the great great grandson of the founder of the House of Lancaster, John of Gaunt. He married Elizabeth of York.

What happened to the Capetian dynasty? ›

The direct line of the House of Capet came to an end in 1328, when the three sons of Philip IV (reigned 1285–1314) all failed to produce surviving male heirs to the French throne. With the death of Charles IV (reigned 1322–1328), the throne passed to the House of Valois, descended from a younger brother of Philip IV.

Who was the last king of the House of Capet? ›

The senior line ruled in France as the House of Capet from the election of Hugh Capet in 987 until the death of Charles IV in 1328. That line was succeeded by cadet branches, the Houses of Valois and then Bourbon, which ruled without interruption until the French Revolution abolished the monarchy in 1792.

Which Capetian king regained Normandy? ›

A rallying force of nationalism, Charles VII captured Normandy and Guyenne between 1441 and 1453, and drove the English definitively out of France. It is during this period, in a gesture of filial piety, that he ordered the completion of the tomb of his great-uncle Jean de Berry (17.190. 386).

When was Citizen Capet executed? ›

After voting unanimously to find the King guilty, the deputies held a separate vote on his punishment. By a single vote, Louis was sentenced to death, "within twenty–four hours." Thus, on 21 January 1793, Louis Capet, formerly King of France was beheaded by the guillotine.

How did dynasty rule end in Europe? ›

Dynastic politics has declined over time, owing to a decline in monarchy as a form of government, a rise in democracy, and a reduction within democracies of elected members from dynastic families.

How many French royals were executed? ›

Louis XVI and his wife were executed by guillotine in 1793, while their son died of tuberculosis while being held in prison in 1795. The only surviving member of the royal family was his sister, Marie Thérèse, who was sent to Austria in a prisoner swap in 1795 and went on to live until 1851.

Where were French royalty executed? ›

One day after being convicted of conspiracy with foreign powers and sentenced to death by the French National Convention, King Louis XVI is executed by guillotine in the Place de la Revolution in Paris.

What famously long war raged between the French Capetians and the English Plantagenets each claiming the French throne? ›

The Capetian–Plantagenet rivalry was a series of conflicts and disputes that covered a period of 100 years (1159–1259) during which the House of Capet, rulers of the Kingdom of France, fought the House of Plantagenet (also known as the House of Anjou), rulers of the Kingdom of England, to suppress the growing power of ...

Which French king gave the Vikings Normandy? ›

Finally the French king Charles III the Simple ceded the territory around Rouen and the mouth of the Seine River to Rollo, the chief of the largest band of Vikings, in the Treaty of St. Clair-sur-Epte (911).

Where do Normans originate from? ›

The Normans (from Nortmanni: “Northmen”) were originally pagan barbarian pirates from Denmark, Norway, and Iceland who began to make destructive plundering raids on European coastal settlements in the 8th century.


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