King of the Franks
July 3, 987: Hugh Capet becomes King of the Franks. He was the first of the House of Capet or the Direct Capetians. It is also sometimes called the House of France. The Capetian dynasty ruled from 987 to 1319 with direct succession of French kings from father to son for 13 generations. The nearly 330 years of rule by direct descendents is unparalleled in recorded history. The House is a derivative of the Robertians and is called the third race of kings with the Merovingians being the first and the Carolingians being the second. The direct line of the House of Capet came to an end in 1328 when all three sons of King Philip IV failed to provide a surviving male heir. The rule went to the House of Valois, then the House of Bourbon, and then the House of Orleans, all agnatic (patrilineal primogeniture) descendants of Hugh Capet.
Hugh was born in 941 to Hugh the Great, Duke of the Franks and Hedwige of Saxony, daughter of the German king Henry the Fowler. He was a seventh-generation descendant of Charlemagne. The rule of the land at the end of the 800s was contested and Hugh the Great had the option of trying to secure the rule for himself. Instead, he supported the return to Louis d’Outremer and became the most important person in France during the first half of the tenth century. Once Louis IV was in power, he granted the title of Duke to Hugh and was claimed (perhaps after the proper pressure was applied) by the king to be “the second after us in all our kingdoms”. His rival, Herbert II, died in 943 and his lands were divided between four sons. Hugh the Great came to dominate much of the region while the Carolingian ruler was confined to rule the area northeast of Paris.
The area today known as France was geographically the same, but kings ruled as rex Francorum or King of the Franks and not of France. What they ruled was only a small part of what was once the Carolingian Empire since lands had been divided between sons repeatedly, leaving many small fiefdoms. The eastern Frankish lands were ruled by the Holy Roman Empire under the Ottonian dynasty. They were hoping to bring new territory under their command. When Louis IV died in 954, rule went to Hugh’s oldest son, Hugh Capet who was 13 years old at the time. Bruno, Archbishop of Cologne and Duke of Lorraine was the brother of King Otto I and he was sent to “help” Hugh rule his lands as well as help out in the Robertian principality.
In 960, Hugh whose father had died in 956, was given the legacy of his father. On his father’s death, he had inherited his estates and was one of the most powerful nobles in West Francia. With a child in charge, there was maneuvering for power and lands. Louis V was ruling the lands when he was killed in a riding accident in May 987 and with him died “the race of Charles” since he was childless. Other relatives were eligible to rise to the throne. As a powerhouse in the region, the now adult Hugh was competing against another distant relative when he was elected and on this day was crowned rex Francorum at Noyon.
All rulers in all ages have tried to impose a false view of the world upon their followers. – George Orwell
The violence and injustice of the rulers of mankind is an ancient evil, for which, I am afraid, the nature human affairs can scarce admit a remedy. – Adam Smith
Do you know that charming part of our country which has been called the garden of France — that spot where, amid verdant plains watered by wide streams, one inhales the purest air of heaven? – Alfred de Vigny
France was long a despotism tempered by epigrams. – Thomas Carlyle
Also on this day: Lady of the Harbor – In 1986, the Statue of Liberty’s newly designed torch was lit.
Great Auks – In 1844, the last two Great Auks were killed.
Speed Record – In 1938, the Mallard steam locomotive reached 126 mph.
Great Reunion of 1913 – In 1913, survivors of the Battle of Gettysburg met there to reenact the events of the battle.
New-Fangled Printing – In 1886, a Linotype machine was first used.