Were The Early Capetian Monarchs Of Medieval

Frace Merely Primus Inter Pares Essay, Research Paper

The suggestion that the Capetian kings of the tenth and eleventh century were weak and merely Primus inter pares, appears a valid one. There has been a trend ever since the age of Charlemagne for the position of the kings of the Frankish State to be fragile. There are some historians however; who would refute this description of the Capetian kings of this period, most notably the historian Fawtier, who suggested that the king was truly a powerful medieval leader in the mould of the modern notions of kingship. The other view is that of the historians Lemarignier and Duby, suggesting that the Capetian kings of this time only had a localised powerbase, meaning that they were indeed little more than first amongst equal Primus inter pares. The question however should also centre upon why the Capetian kings of this period were first amongst equal, whilst the kings of Saxon-Salian Germany at this time were so powerful.

Let us first then consider the argument of Fawtier that the Capetian kings of the tenth and eleventh century were not first amongst equals, but rather powerful kings similar to those of Saxon-Salian Germany. Fawtier reasoned that the king was a powerful for several reasons, all of which help to provide the king with theoretical power. They could call upon the support of the church, as the church themselves would back the legitimate lord in order to ensure stability. This effectively meant that the Capetian kings had the backing of God, which would theoretically place them in a great advantage over the other lords such as those of Flanders, Anjou and Normandy. The king also held legal rights, including being the font of justice and keeper of the peace. Theoretically these legal rights meant that the king should be obeyed and that essentially everything revolved around the king. Yet was this necessarily true? After all if the rulers of this time are supposedly first amongst equals, then surely this cannot be the case.

Indeed the arguments for the Capetian leaders being Primus inter pares suggest that the view held by Fawtier is wrong. One must understand that during the tenth and eleventh centuries, the forces of feudalism were inherent within the Frankish State. The arguments regarding feudal power put forth by Bloch and Ganshof would suggest that the nature of the medieval state means that power is wielded through one s military capacity, not through theoretical power. As such the Capetian s power would be derived from the land held by themselves, meaning that their power is highly localised particularly due to the relatively small landholdings of the Capetians. The historian Lemarignier exerts such an argument regarding the state of power within the early Capetian State. Essentially the form of rule at this time is effectively the same as that of during the time of Charlemagne. There was no governmental structure, and equally no concept of abstract leadership within the Frankish State. Leaders had to rule through their own personal dynamism and military capacity. Unfortunately, for the Capetians of this period, their capacity for drawing vassals to fight for them was severely limited, especially compared to those of the surrounding grand duchies.

One can attribute the notion of the Capetians being first amongst equals at this time primarily at the strength of the surrounding duchies. The prime example of which would be the Norman duchy. The weakness of the Capetian leaders of the Frankish State at this time is highlighted by the fact that the Normans saw themselves as an independent kingdom from the rest of Frankia. The fact that the Norman s were able to call themselves such with little or no action from the Capetian leaders, save for re-titling the Norman duke a count, emphasises the strength of Normandy in relation to the Capetian State. Indeed if we were to believe the Fawtier argument, then one would expect the state of Normandy to comply with all orders given by the Capetian leaders. This is however not the case, in fact the opposite almost appears to be the case. There is a fine example of the Capetians having to compromise for the Normans in the oath of homage to the leader of the state, as normally one goes to the leader s stronghold to give allegiance. In the case of the Normans up to the 1060 s however, the oath of homage was made on the Norman-Franco border. Again this would indeed suggest that the Lemarignier thesis, supported by Longman, that all power during the tenth and eleventh century derived from the territories one controlled and could gain vassals from, was true. After all, if this were not the case, and the effects of feudalism were not at work in the Frankish State, then therefore theoretical power would play a far more important role.

Thus one must conclude that the Capetian rulers of the tenth and eleventh century were indeed Primus inter pares. The reasons for this being partially due to the strength of the surrounding duchies and the opposition received from areas such as Flanders and Normandy. The most important factor however would be the role of feudalism during this age, and the fact that the Capetian State had relatively little land from which to draw vassals from compared to the other duchies. The actual nature of power during this period was important also, as in the tenth and eleventh century power revolved around the military strength of a state. There was at this time no notion of abstract leadership and the nature of feudalism encouraged political fragmentation. For any change in the nature of power, one must wait until 1226 and the reign of Philip Augustus.


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