The original inhabitants of the land we now know as France were a motley combination of Celts (called Gauls by the Romans), German tribes, and Basques, later joined by Romans. The Romans controlled the province of Gallia for 500 years, until the Franksnote A successful federation of Germanic tribes which originated in the Middle and Lower Rhine Region., in the person of King Clovis I, defeated the last Roman governor, Syagrius.
Frankish law and tradition had a significant effect on the succession compared to other realms:
Frankish inheritance laws were partible (all heirs had a share in the estate), rather than based on primogeniture. Since the kingdom was considered personal property, the early dynasties often split the realm among all heirs, deigning one as high king. The Capetians would find various ways to game this system until the laws were changed.
Inheritance was only through the male line. Women could not inherit the throne, nor pass a claim to it onto their male descendants. This point of law was cited by French lawyers in the 14th century to deny Edward III of England (a maternal grandson of Philip IV, and his closest blood relative after the death of his last son) any legal claim to the French throne. Most dependent holdings of the French crown were held under different traditional law codes allowing female succession (Frankish practice was that each tribe was governed under its own laws and traditions). This created the appearance that Salic law (the old law of the Salic Franks, to whom the Merovingians had belonged) was altered ad hoc solely to deny the throne to a political opponent. Especially as French lawyers did not invoke it until after Edward III's death.
Clovis's descendants were the Merovingian dynasty, France's first ruling family. Clovis was a great king, though a bit on the Manipulative Bastard side, but he had four sons to split the kingdom he left behind: four sub-realms, each headed by a king, with the High King hanging out in Paris. Naturally, all of Clovis' offspring saw themselves in the top spot. Bloody feuding ensued, even descending to nephew-murdering, as the kings fought for power.
Clovis I (reigned 481/482-511): in addition to uniting France, selecting a backwater Roman outpost (that would eventually become Paris) as his capital, and converting to Catholicism (the first barbarian king to do so; others had converted to the heretical Arian Christian sect), was also famous for bashing in a guy's head because the guy had broken a vase, one year after the fact.
Chlodomer (reigned 511-524). Son of Clovis I. Ruled from Orléans. Led a mostly successful campaign of conquest against the Burgundians, but was killed in the Battle of Vézeronce. His sons were underage and were easy prey for his brothers, who killed most of them and split Chlodomer's realm among themselves. A surviving son became a monk, and was later declared a saint. His brothers continued and completed the conquest of Burgundy.
Theuderic I (reigned 511-534). Son of Clovis I. Ruled from Reims. Led successful campaigns against Thuringia, and married Radegund of Thuringia. Managed to leave a stable succession in his area.
Childebert I (reigned 511-558). Son of Clovis I. Initially ruled from Paris. Led campaigns against the Visigoths of Spain. Successfully annexed Provence to the Frankish realms, though his conquest of Pamplona was short-lived. Besieged but failed to capture Zaragoza. Died with no male heirs, his realm annexed by his surviving brother.
Clotaire I (reigned 511-561). Son of Clovis I. Initially ruled from Soissons. Faimously ruthless. Managed to unite all Frankish areas under his rule, by outliving all the other kings, and by killing some nephews. Late in life, he had to face the revolt of his son Chram, Duke of Aquitaine. Succeeded in defeating and killing the young man.
Theudebert I (reigned 534-548). Son of Theuderic I. Gained a warrior-prince reputation while heir to the throne. As a King, participated in the Gothic War (535–554) and helped ravage Italy. Nominally allied to the Byzantine Empire (one side of the war), but frequently fought against both the Byzantines and the Ostrogoths.
Theudebald (reigned 548-555). Son of Theudebert I. A child ruler initially. Managed to preserve his traditional areas in France, but lost the Frankish-held areas of Italy to the Byzantines. Died in his teens after a prolonged illness. His realm annexed by his surviving great-uncle.
Charibert (reigned 561-567). Son of Clotaire I. Ruled from Paris. Legendary brutal. Had several wives, concubines, and daughters, but no male heirs. His early death resulted in the spilitting of his areas among his brothers. His daughter Bertha married king Æthelberh of Kent (reigned c.590-616) and is credited with bringing Frankish culture and Christianity to Anglo-Saxon areas.
Sigebert I (reigned 561-575). Son of Clotaire I. Ruled Austrasia. Married to influential Queen Brunhilda, a Visigoth princess. He spend most of his reign in a civil war against his brother Chilperic I. He was actually winning the war and at the top of his power, when he was assassinated courtesy of Fredegund, Brunhilda's archenemy.
Chilperic I' (reigned 561-584). Son of Clotaire I. Ruled Neustria. His second wife Galswintha was bumped off by the woman who would become wife #3, Fredegund. Brunhilda, the sister of wife #2 took it badly, and began a quarter-century feud with wife #3. Chilperic was assassinated by unknown assailants.
Guntram (reigned 561-592). Son of Clotaire I. Ruled Burgundy. Famous for his warrior prowess and piety. Considered a champion of the Church. With no children of his own, Guntram designated his nephew Childebert II as his heir.
Childebert II (reigned 575-595). Son of Sigebert I, and heir of Guntram. Ruled first Austrasia, and then Burgundy. Initially a child ruler, relying on the protection of Queen Regent Brunhilda. Later a ward of Guntram. He showed some military prowess as a youth, renewing the alliance with the Byzantines and campaigning against the Lombards. He died in his twenties.
Clotaire II (reigned 584-629). Son of Chilperic I and Fredegund (the aforementioned wife #3), inherited the feud, and ended it by having Brunhilda ( his mother's mortal enemy) humiliated and gruesomelykilled. Managed to unite all Frankish realms under his rule in 613. His reign is considered the beginning of the end for the dynasty. He won the support of the nobles and church for his wars, by granting them extensive administrative and legislative rights. Weakening the crown and its influence in the process.
Theudebert II (reigned 595-612). Son of Childebert II. Ruled Austrasia. Initially a child ruler under Queen Regent Brunhilda. Assumed full royal power in 599. Mostly spent his reign in wars against his brother Theuderic II and cousin Clotaire II. He lost a couple of major battles in 612, resulting in his deposition by his grandmother Brunnhilda. Deposed by his own grandmother, the powerless Theudebert was assassinated not long after.
Theuderic II (reigned 595-613). Son of Childebert II. Ruled Burgundy, and later took over Austrasia. Initially a child ruler under Queen Regent Brunhilda. She continued serving as his chief councilor for most of his reign. He mostly spent his reign in wars against his brother Theuderic II and cousin Clotaire II. He took out the former, but dysentery send him to an early grave.
Sigebert II (reigned 613). Son of Theuderic II. Nominally ruled Austrasia and Burgundy. He was underage and his great-grandmother Brunhilda held the real authority. But a number of the leading nobles of his areas switched sides to Clotaire II, resulting in defeat in battle for Brunnhilda, and the execution of Sigebert II. His realms passing to the victorious Clotaire.
Dagobert I (co-ruler 623-629. senior ruler 629-639). Son of Clotaire II. Initially appointed by his father as the new ruler of Austrasia, responding to calls for autonomy from the Austrasian nobility. He inherited most of his father's realm, though facing opposition by a half-brother. He won the resulting civil war by 632, briefly uniting all Frankish realms under his control. He later had to appoint a son as co-ruler in Austrasia, to appease the local nobility. There's a childrens' song about him in France, in which he always makes stupid mistakes (like putting his underwear on backwards). Was actually one of the most qualified Merovingians, and underwear didn't exist at the time.
Charibert II (reigned 629-632). Son of Clotaire II. Ruled Aquitaine and claimed Neustria. Successfully expanded his realm to include Gascony and Basque areas, partly by diplomacy and partly by campaigning. Died young, possibly assassinated.
Chilperic of Aquitaine (reigned 632). Son of Charibert II. Briefly the child ruler of Aquitaine, killed by his uncle Dagobert I. His areas were annexed by Dagobert, but local revolts led to them gaining semi-autonomous status.
They're pretty much all throne-warmers after this point. From Sigebert III and Clovis II through the end of the dynasty, the kings were powerless (and rather short-lived) and the REAL power lay with the maires du palais ("mayors of the palace").
Sigebert III (co-ruler 634-639, senior ruler 639-c.656). Son of Dagobert I. Ruler of Austrasia. Initially a child ruler, recorded to have led his army into a failed campaign in Thuringia. Raised into a pious adult, but largely irrelevant in politics. His exact year of death is disputed.
Clovis II (reigned 639-655). Ruler of Neustria. Initially a child ruler. He freed the Anglo-Saxon slave Balthild and married her, making her Queen of France. Now that'sRags to Royalty.
Clotaire III (reigned 655-673). Son of Clovis II. Ruler of Neustria and Burgundy. Briefly took over Austrasia in 661-662. His reign was marked by a plague that depopulated much of France. A contemporary plague in the British Isles is thought to be connected to the Frankish epidemic.
Childebert the Adopted (reigned c. 656-661). Ruler of Austrasia. Adoptive son of Sigebert III. Actually son to Grimoald the Elder, the power-behind-the-throne for both kings. His lack of Merovingian blood was used as a political tool against him, eventually leading to his deposition and death.
Childeric II (reigned 662-675). Son of Clovis II. Ruler of Austrasia. Took over Neustria and Burgundy in 673, through a successful campaign. He united all Frankish realms under his rule and tried to restore royal authority. His corporal punishments of nobles led to his assassination. His wife Bilichild and son Dagobert were also assassinated.
Theuderic III (reigned 673, 675-691). Son of Clovis II. Ruler of Neustria and Burgundy. Succeeded his brother Clotaire III in 673, but was quickly deposed by Childeric II. He reclaimed his thrones in 675. He inherited Austrasia in 679, uniting all Frankish realms under his rule. However Austrasia and Neustria continued having separate Mayors of the Palace, who competed for power. At times even warring against each other.
Clovis III (reigned 675-676). Supposed illegitimate son of Clotaire III, though his origins are disputed. Ruler of Austrasia. A puppet of Ebroin, Mayor of the Palace in Neustria, against his rival Pepin of Herstal. Probably died young.
Dagobert II (reigned 676-679). Son of Sigebert III. Ruler of Austrasia. He had been disinherited in favor of his adoptive brother Childebert. He had become a monk, spending most of his life in Ireland. Recalled and offered the throne, though not its power. Killed in a suspicious "hunting accident", having no heirs of his own.
Clovis IV (reigned 691-695). Son of Theuderic III. Puppet to Pepin of Herstal. Died young and heirless.
Childebert III (reigned 695-711). Son of Theuderic III. Mostly a puppet to Pepin of Herstal, though he apparently took his judicial duties seriously. Records of the time have him taking "just" decisions in trials, but there is no mention of him having military authority. Aquitaine, Burgundy, and Provence gained increased autonomy in his era. All seeking independence following his death.
Dagobert III (reigned 711-715). Son of Childebert III. Last king controlled by Pepin of Herstal, who died in 714. Various children of Pepin claimed the right to to succeed him, leading to a violent civil conflict. Secession movements started appearing in several Frankish realms, led by powerful nobles and churchmen. Dagobert died young.
Chilperic II (reigned 715-720/721). Son of Childeric II. He had survived the assassination of his family by seeking refuge in a monastery. Spend most of his life as a monk until offered the throne. He proved a decent military leader, initially winning battles against the ambitious Charles Martel. But Charles managed to successfully rest control of Austrasia in 717, using it to recruit new armies and counter-attack into Neustria. He eventually agreed to appoint Charles as his own Mayor of the Palace, but died a few years after that decision.
Clotaire IV (reigned 717-718). His origins are disputed, though often seen as another son of Theuderic III or Dagobert III. Ruler of Austrasia, a puppet of Charles Martel in his struggle against Chilperic II. His convenient death allowed Chilperic and Charles to combine their forces.
Theuderic IV (reigned 721-737). Son of Dagobert III. A puppet for Charles Martel. Spend his "reign" as a prisoner of his Mayor of Palace. Died with no heirs of his own. The throne remained vacant from 737 to 743.
Childeric III (reigned 743-752). Origins disputed, though often seen as a son of Chilperic II or Theuderic IV. Modern historians suspect that he could be a distant relation to previous monarchs or a politically convenient impostor. A puppet for Carloman and Pepin the Short, sons of Charles Martel and co-Mayors of the Palace.
After Charles "It's Hammer Time" Martel, son of a maire du palais and poised to take over the mayorship himself, turned back the Moors at the Battle of Tours in 732, the long-standing mayoral grumblings about having the power of a king but not the title reached a flashpoint. What with the ass-kicking Charles Martel comparing rather favorably with the terminally boring King Theuderic IV. His son Pepin had the idea to become king himself and got the pope to agree. Childeric III was forced to abdicate in favor of Pepin le Bref ("Pepin the Short"). Pepin was a pretty good king, but was overshadowed by his war hero dad and his son: Charlemagne, who was a fantastic king. A state identifiable as France began to form.
Pepin I the Short (reigned 752-768). Son of Charles Martel. His wife was called "Berthe au Grand Pied", or "Big-Footed Bertha". Yes, really. Campaigned in Italy against the Lombards, becoming the protector of the Popes. Created the Papal States. Also campaigned against the Emirate of Cordoba and the Duchy of Aquitaine, successfully annexing Narbonne and setting the stage for further conquests in the Mediterranean coast.
Carloman I (reigned 768-771). Son of Pepin I. Inherited Alemannia, Burgundy, and half of Austrasia. Quarreled with his brother, rival and co-ruler Charlemagne. When Carloman died suddenly, Charlemagne moved to take over his areas. His widow Gerberga and two underage children were forced to flee, seeking refuge with the Lombards. Charlemagne managed to conquer the Lombards by 774. The subsequent fate of Carloman's family is unknown.
Charlemagne (reigned 768-814). Son of Pepin I. In French pop history, he's credited with inventing school, earning him the enmity of French children forever after. Also extended the borders of the kingdom through the conquest of the Lombards, Saxons, Avars etc. and created the first version of the Holy Roman Empire. The battle that would eventually become fictionalized as The Song of Roland took place under his watch, and the musical Pippin is also set in Charlemagne's court. Charles also appears in the lists of German kings and emperors under his German name Karl der Große, which like Charlemagne (and the Latin form it is based on, Carolus Magnus) means Charles the Great.
Louis the Pious (reigned 814-840). Son of Charlemagne. Since his brothers predeceased him, he was able to keep the whole of Charlemagne's empire. The division of his empire led to the formation of West Francia and East Francia, which would ultimately lead to France and Germany respectively.
Charles the Bald (reigned 840/843-877). Son of Louis the Pious, and grandson of Charlemagne. Inherited West Francia after his father divided up his massive kingdom among his many sons. The formal division of the realm took place with the Treaty of Verdun (843). Charles' reign was spent in almost unceasing conflict with his brothers, Vikings, Bretons, and various others.
Louis II (reigned 877-879), usually given the not entirely complimentary name of 'Louis the Stammerer', was Charles' son; he was a meek fellow who died rather young.
Carloman II (co-ruler 879-882, sole ruler 882-884). He was another son of Louis II, and succeeded his childless brother. He died during a hunting accident.
Charles the Fat (reigned 885-888). He was a grandson of Louis the Pious and a cousin to Louis III and Carloman II. Also reigning as king of East Francia. He's best known for bribing the Vikings not to attack Paris - but he didn't mind letting them burn down Burgundy. Which they did. He lost the throne because of that decisionnote Actually Charles the Fat isn't counted amongst the "real" kings of France. He counts as a regent..
Eudes of Orleans (reigned 888-898) was the son of the count of Anjou, and was elected king in 888. When he died, he left the throne to Charles the Simple, the Carolingian heir.
Charles III the Simple (reigned 898-922) was yet another son of Louis the Stammerer who managed to be crowned king as a teenager in 898. His barons rebelled against him and he died in prison. Best known for the Treaty of St Clair sur Epte, where he gave part of his kingdom to a Viking clan chief. This part would eventually be known as Normandy, and his descendants (after William the Conqueror) would become kings of England.
Robert I (reigned 922-923). Younger brother of Eudes. At first stepped aside and allowed a Carolingian claimant, Charles the Simple, to be crowned king. About twenty five years later, Robert rebelled against Charles. He took the throne, but was killed the following year. Fighting in battle against the deposed Charles III, who was attempting to reclaim his throne.
Raoul of Burgundy (reigned 923-936), son-in-law of Robert I, was elected by an assembly of the nobles on the aftermath of Charles the Simple's defeat. He left no children behind.
Louis IV (aka Louis from Overseas, reigned 936-954) was Charles III's son, and sent into exile when his father was captured. His mother, an Anglo-Saxon princess, took him to England where he was raised (on his mother's side, he was a great-grandson of Alfred the Great). The French nobles summoned him back in 936. He died from a fall from his horse.
Lothair (reigned 954-986) was Louis IV' son, and became king at the age of 13 on his father's sudden death. He constantly waged war on his own vassals, on the count of Flanders, on the HRE Otto II, and probably some others.
Unexpectedly kingless, the nobles got together and elected a new king: a guy named Hughes ("Hugh"), who liked to wear a little cape. (And lo, the secret origins of Superman are revealed.) The people called him Hughes Capet, Hughes of the Little Cape. His descendants were the Capetians, who, between one branch of the family or another, would rule for nearly a thousand years.
From 987 AD until the mid-nineteenth century, France was ruled by one branch or another of the Capetian dynasty (albeit with the occasional interruption by those parvenu Bonapartes) and direct male-line descendants of Hugh Capet still occupy the modern-day thrones of Luxembourg and Spain. Due to Salic law, France was strictly part of the Heir Club for Men.
Les Capétiens directs
Hugh Capet (reigned 987-996). Grandson of Robert I. He had been a major mover-and-shaker in France from the reign of Louis IV until his own election as king in 987. His dynasty, the Capetians, is the oldest continuously reigning dynasty in European history; Capetians still sit on the thrones of modern-day Spain and Luxembourg. Something of a Magnificent Bastard; although the powers of the French King had been weak (Capet himself risked being held for ransom if he left his bailiwick of the Ile-De-France), he was able to have his son Robert crowned as co-monarch during his own rule; this practice (which continued for quite some time) kept the throne away from the Frankish partible-inheritance laws and enabled his successors to gradually centralize power (if there is one king, and he dies, then the land is divided among his sons; but if there are two kings, and one dies, the surviving one keeps the whole thing—talk about Loophole Abuse!). His nickname comes from the fact that he often wore a cope (chape in French) because he was lay abbot of Saint-Martin-de-Tours.
Robert II the Pious (reigned 996-1031) was Hugh's son, and best known for his marital problems. His first wife was a much older Italian princess, Rozala, whom he dumped as soon as his father died. His second wife was Bertha of Burgundy, a marriage that got him excommunicated for consanguinity (marriage within forbidden bounds of kinship). He finally divorced her in 999 after their only child was born deformed, and remarried to Constance of Arles. Constance was known to be vicious, to say the least, and had a friend of Robert's murdered right in front of him when she suspected the man of getting between her and Robert. Enraged, Robert tried to divorce her and remarry Bertha, but was unable, and finally took Constance back. She incited wars between him and three of their sons, and he died in 1031 while fighting his children.
Henri I (reigned 1031-1060) was Robert's son, and began his reign in open warfare with his own mother. His most notable achievement was marrying the exotic and cultured Russian princess Anna of Kiev (famously, she signed their marriage contract in neat Cyrillic letters, while her illiterate husband signed with an 'X'.) He died in 1060. He is the only french king named Henri to die peacefully.
Philippe I (reigned 1060-1108) was Henri's son, and became king at the age of seven upon his father's death. He is best known for eloping with the beautiful Bertrade de Montfort in 1092; their marriage was illegal due to the slight problem that both the bride and the groom had living spouses. He was excommunicated several times but refused to leave Bertrade. He died in 1108, and was buried at the church of Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire instead of at the royal tombs at St. Denis because he felt he was not worthy to be buried with his ancestors.
Louis VI the Fat (reigned 1108-1137) was Philippe's son by his first wife, Bertha of Holland. Allegedly his evil stepmother Bertrade tried to murder him with poison and sorcery to make way for her own sons to inherit the crown, to no avail. Before becoming, well, large-sized, he was a proud warrior, and the first king to use the battlecry "Montjoie ! Saint-Denis !" He died in 1137.
Louis VII the Young (reigned 1137-1180) was Louis VI's son. Originally intended for the clergy, he was plucked from his monastery and made heir after his elder brother was killed when his horse was tripped by a "diabolical pig". He married the beautiful heiress Eleanor of Aquitaine but she found him 'more monk than king'. After several childless years, a war sparked by her sister running off with his cousin, a disastrous trip on the Second Crusade (because he felt guilty after burning down a church and all the inhabitants of a little town called Vitry-en-Perthois), and accusations that Eleanor was cheating on him with her own uncle, Louis and Eleanor divorced. She married the future king of England; he remarried twice and finally got his long-desired son and heir in 1165. He died in 1180.
Louis VIII the Lion (reigned 1223-1226) was Philippe's only surviving son by his first queen, Isabelle of Artois. He died in 1226 at age 39, having ruled France for only three years. His widow, the able and intelligent Blanche of Castile, served as regent for their young son.
Saint Louis (Louis IX) (reigned 1226-1270) was Louis and Blanche's eldest son, and the only French king to be canonized as a saint. He married Marguerite of Provence; her sisters were the queen of England, the queen of Germany, and the queen of Sicily. Extremely pious, he considered it his duty to lead two Crusades to the Holy Land, both of which ended in complete disaster — in 1250 his army was destroyed and Louis himself was captured by the Egyptians. He died in 1270 at Tunis during the Eighth Crusade.
Philippe III (reigned 1270-1285) was Louis IX's son. He was personally timid, but a magnificent fighter once on the battlefield, for which he was called le Hardi, the bold. Dante placed him in Purgatory in his Divine Comedy. He died in 1285.
On a side-note, legend states he also cursed the king's descendants to the seventh generation. The next seven kings all had short reigns and brutal deaths, and none left surviving sons which led to the throne going to the Valois.
This is the subject of a series of books by Maurice Druon, Les Rois Maudits (The Accursed Kings), adapted twice for TV.
Jean I (reigned 1316) was Louis X's posthumous son by Clemence of Hungary. He lived and reigned only five days.
Philippe V the Tall (reigned 1316-1322) was Louis X's brother and succeeded his short-lived nephew (whom some suspected died on his orders). He had several daughters but no surviving sons, and so when he died in 1322 the throne went to his younger brother, Charles.
Charles IV the Fair (reigned 1322-1328) was the last surviving son of Philippe IV, and succeeded both of his brothers. His first wife, Blanche of Burgundy (a sister of Marguerite who was married to Louis X) was accused of adultery and imprisoned in 1314. After he became king Charles refused to free her, and she died in captivity. He remarried twice before dying in 1328, leaving a pregnant wife who then gave birth to a daughter, and so the throne passed from the senior branch of the Capetians to the junior branch, the Valois. Inherited his father's hansomeness, hence his nickname.
Philippe VI (reigned 1328-1350). Grandson of Philip III, and cousin to Louis X, Philippe V, and Charles IV. After the extinction of the senior male line, he became king. Tensions between him and his cousin Edward III of England erupted into the Hundred Years War (which actually lasted 116 years. Or 126, depending on who you ask). A series of military defeats and the Black Death crushed France during his reign and left the realm divided at his death in 1350.
Jean II the Good (reigned 1350-1364) was Philippe's son and heir. His nickname doesn't mean he was The Good King, it's more akin to the Brave. In 1356 he was captured during the Battle of Poitiers and taken to England as a hostage. He stayed in the Tower of London until 1360. He died in 1364. Usually viewed as one of the worst king France ever had.
Charles VI the Beloved or the Mad (reigned 1380-1422) was Charles's son by his queen, Jeanne de Bourbon. Insanity ran in his mother's family, and throughout his life Charles suffered bouts of psychosis. He would randomly murder men out of paranoia, believed he was made of glass, and even underwent an exorcism. His grandson Henry VI of England was also insane. When the English invaded France, he signed a treaty disinheriting the dauphin and recognizing Henry V of England as his successor. The people of France thought Charles VI was cursed and suffered insanity because of their sins, hence the Beloved nickname. He died in 1422.
Charles VII (reigned 1422/1429-1461) was officially Charles VI's son, but his own mother, the beautiful Isabeau of Bavaria, claimed that he'd been fathered by Charles' brother, Louis of Orleans. He's best known for his alliance with Joan of Arc. He had a phobia of bridges after watching John the Fearless murdered on a bridge. His later years were marred by a feud with his eldest son and the growth of a tumor on his jaw that prevented him from eating. He starved to death in 1461.
Louis XI (reigned 1461-1483), called 'l'universelle araignée', the universal spider, because he had everyone caught in his webs. He was the eldest son of Charles VII but despised his father and after a failed rebellion, was banished from court. His distant cousin Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, was his main opponent during the main part of his reign (and was initially far more powerful than him), but a combination of treachery and bribery - he never fought a battle against Charles - made him win, the Duke being finally killed after a defeat against the Swiss army.note According to James Burke, Charles the Bold's unfortunate encounter with the Swiss—itself the result of the invention of banking, as Charles was invading Switzerland to get a more direct route to his Italian bankers' HQ—gave us (among other things) the modern concept of the army, canning, refrigeration, the thermos, and orbital rocketry. He engineered his cousin Henry VI's return to the English throne, and ended the Hundred Years War once and for all by bribing and charming the English into leaving the country. Not altogether an attractive character — he called his daughter Anne "the least stupid woman alive" — he united a wartorn country, dealt cleverly with anyone who got in his way, and left France stronger and healthier than he found it.
Charles VIII (reigned 1483-1498) was Louis' only son, and nothing like his father. Amiable, weak-minded, and foolish, he gained nothing in his wars. His death (by falling in the stairs of the castle of Amboise) extinguished the senior line of the Valois, and a cousin inherited his throne and his queen.
Louis XII (reigned 1498-1515), "the Father of the People" (French: Le Père du Peuple), was Duke of Orleans, a great-grandson of Charles V, and cousin to Charles VIII. He married Charles' widow, Anne of Brittany, upon becoming king, following a seedy divorce from his first wife (allegations of witchcraft and deformities flew thick and fast from both sides). He and Anne had two daughters, but no sons. After his queen died, the 52-year-old Louis married the 18-year-old Mary Tudor, sister of the notorious Henry VIII of England, and died three months later, allegedly worn out by his new bride.
François I (reigned 1515-1547), Count of Angoulême before becoming King, was yet another cousin, also descended from Charles V. He was also married to Louis XII's eldest surviving daughter. Cultured, sophisticated, and a patron of the arts (he invited Leonardo da Vinci to live in France, owned the 'Mona Lisa', and spent lots of money to upgrade numerous castles). He got involved in disastrous wars and was held hostage in Madrid for awhile. He occasionally appears in fiction and media about Henry VIII, as the two knew each other and liked to wrestle. He died in 1547.
Henri II (reigned 1547-1559) was François' eldest surviving son. As a boy, he spent 3 years as a hostage in Spain, and when returned to France only spoke Spanish. He's best known for his notorious wife, Catherine de Medici, and his beautiful mistress, Diane de Poitiers. He was killed in 1559 during a tournament, when a lance pierced through his eye into his brain (according to the legend, this event was earlier predicted by Nostradamus, which gave him prominent position in the court). He is also quite possibly the unluckiest man in the history of the Heir Club for Men. Having three surviving sons, all of them succeeded to the throne, and none had surviving male heirs. Oops.
François II (reigned 1559-1560) was Henri and Catherine's eldest son. Sickly and uninspiring, he married Mary, Queen of Scots before dying of an ear infection after reigning a year and a half.
Charles IX (reigned 1560-1574) was the younger brother of François II, and succeeded him in 1560, aged ten - his mother Catherine being the real sovereign until his death. He's best known for the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre. He became a lunatic and suffered delusions until his death in 1574.
Henri III (reigned 1574-1589) was the last surviving son of Henri II and Catherine de Medici, and his mother's favorite. He loved fashion and crossdressing, and famously attempted to court Queen Elizabeth I of England. His two most famous rivals were also both named Henri: his cousin Henri de Guise, known as 'le balafre', meaning Scarface; and his brother-in-law Henri of Navarre. In 1588, Henri had Scarface assassinated, and was himself murdered a year later by a monk, uttering "Ah, le méchant moine ! Il m'a tué !" ("Ah! The evil monk! He killed me!"). He had no children, and the throne passed to Henri of Navarre.
Henri IV (reigned 1589-1610), known to this day in France as le bon roi Henri (Good King Henry), was the king of Navarre, and the cousin and brother-in-law of the three last Valois-Orleans kings. His claim to the throne came through being the senior, male-line descendant of Louis IX; by the Salic Law, he had been the heir-presumptive to the throne since the death of Charles IX, and it was mostly politics that clouded the question of his succession. Specifically, he was a Protestant, which the powerful Catholic League led by Henri de Guise found distinctly disturbing. However, Henri of Navarre proved to be a politique—in the parlance of the time, a pragmatist more interested in the stability and power of the state than in religious purity, and thus willing to change religious affiliation for political reasons. Henri did so, converting to Catholicism, twice: once to save his skin during the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, and once when he was about to take the throne, famously saying Paris vaut bien une messe: "Paris is well worth a Mass." He had his first childless marriage with the infamous Marguerite de Valois annulled, and then married an Italian princess, Marie de Medici. He was stabbed to death by a fanatic in 1610. He really, really loved women, being nicknamed Le Vert-Galant because he was very energetic with his mistresses - before his death, he was about to start a war against Spain to free a young woman he wanted in his bed. He was assassinated by the Catholic fanatic François Ravaillac, who stabbed him while stuck in traffic during the Queen's coronation ceremony.
Louis XIII (reigned 1610-1643) was Henri and Marie's eldest son, and became king at the age of eight. His marriage to Anne, daughter of King Felipe III of Spain, was childless for an astonishing 23 years before Anne surprised everyone by giving birth to two sons. The elder, of course, was heir apparent; the younger was given the title Duke of Orléans and founded a cadet branch of the House of Bourbon that proved to be very important about 200 years later. Cardinal Richelieu became his lawful first minister, even if fictions often portray him as a traitor - to be fair, he could be very evil with his opponents. At the end of his reign, Louis had a passionate relationship with the Marquis de Cinq-Mars, who tried to stir up shit with Richelieu and got beheaded for his trouble. Louis XIII and his queen appear as characters in Dumas' The Three Musketeers and the movies based on the novel. He died in 1643.
Louis XIV (reigned 1643-1715) , known as "The Sun King", is the one French king almost everyone knows the name of, mostly due to his love of having portraits and statues made of himself, naming places after himself, and his remarkable 72-year-long reign, a record for a European monarch. Came to the throne at a time when France was suffering from noble rebellions and a long-running war with Spain, both of which Mazarin skilfully ended before proceeding to vastly expand France's cultural, military and territorial power, although he almost bankrupted the country in doing so. The title of this page is derived from a quote attributed to him, but probably not something he ever actually said (Though it does illustrate his view of power). When he appears in media, expect references to The Man in the Iron Mask (who may or may not have been his identical twin brother) and lots of hot chicks in low-cut ballgowns. By the time he died in 1715, just short of his 77th birthday, he had outlived his eldest son, grandson, and great-grandson, and was succeeded by a five-year-old great-grandson. Currently the only French king to have his own TV Tropes page.
Louis XIV proved to be a master of the Vetinari Job Security, decisively putting an end to noble plots against the crown and transferring power to royal ministries. France thrived under this system in large part due to Louis' skills at recruiting talented ministers and managing their work, as well as his Workaholic tendencies (he was in the habit of getting up early in the morning to handle a substantial portion of the national paperwork, before officially getting up at the lever several hours later). Unfortunately, everything depended on a strong, decisive king to make the government work. And with that, we come to...
Louis XV (reigned 1715-1774). Great-grandson to Louis XIV, unexpectedly became heir to the throne at the age of five years. He reigned until his death in 1774, aged 64. Timid, apathetic, and luxury-loving, he kept a parade of mistresses who bore him a small army of illegitimate children, in addition to the ten his queen, a Polish princess named Marie Leczinska, gave him. She described her marriage as "forever bedded, forever pregnant, forever in childbed". The most famous of his mistresses was Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, aka Madame de Pompadour (by whom, ironically, he had no children), followed by Madame DuBarry. Has been played by a lot of people over the years and featured in a Steven Moffatepisode of Doctor Who. His eldest son predeceased him, so his grandson succeeded him to the throne. Proved to be a rather lousy king, as he did nothing to fix the financial problems left by his great-grandfather and kept getting France involved in expensive wars that yielded little gain.
The phrase "Après moi, le déluge" (After me, the Deluge) is attributed to him, suggesting he foresaw the Revolution after his death.
Louis XVI (reigned 1774-1792) was unable to fix France's failing finances left by his grandfather Louis XV. Unrest erupted throughout the country, resulting in The French Revolution. Louis and his family were arrested. He was guillotined in 1793. Married to Marie Antoinette. Noteworthy for providing important aid to the American colonists during The American Revolution, sending money, supplies and troops to support the rebels, although this hastened France's eventual bankruptcy which led to...
The French Revolution, which removed him from the throne and forced to take the family name "Capet", which as you can see, was not actually right for his dynasty. Not that the revolutionaries cared, since they were about to execute him.
Louis XVII (claimant 1793-1795) was Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette's eldest son. Arrested along with his family, he officially became king upon his father's execution. He died in prison in 1795, aged ten. For centuries, rumors flew that he had not died, and as many as 100 men claimed to be him—but, in 2000, DNA taken from the heart of a ten-year-old boy claimed to be that of Louis XVII was tested, and found to match the DNA of Marie Antoinette.
Napoléon I (reigned 1804-1814, 1815) needs no introduction. Josephine, Napoleon Complexes, Austerlitz, Elba, and Waterloo are all fairly well ingrained in the popular imagination. Began as an officer in the French revolutionary army. He called himself the Emperor of the French, was defeated in 1814 then 1815, and died in exile in Saint Helena. Aside from being one of the most brilliant generals of all time, Napoleon rebuilt France into a major European power, and created a system of law (the Code Napoléon) that proved instrumental in the development of many countries' modern legal systems. Contrary to popular rumor, he wasn't actually short, either — a misconception caused by conversion errors between the English and French measuring systems of the time. As it turns out, he was of average height for a man of his era. Go figure.
Napoleon II (reigned 1815) was Napoleon's son by his second wife, a Habsburg princess. After his father's death, he lived at his maternal grandfather's palace in Austria and never really ruled in France. He died in 1832, aged twenty-one. The ill-fated Emperor Maximilian of Mexico was rumored to be his biological son.
Les Bourbons, ça recommence!
Louis XVIII (claimant 1795-1814, reigned 1814-1815, 1815-1824) was Louis XVI's brother (it had become tradition for all princes to be given the name Louis). He escaped France in 1791. He returned after Napoleon's defeat in 1814 and secured himself on the throne. He died childless in 1824, leaving the throne to his surviving brother.
Charles X (reigned 1824-1830) was a younger brother of Louis XVI and Louis XVIII. He'd left France in 1789 and thus escaped Madame Guillotine. Unlike Louis XVIII, he hadn't learned the lessons of the Revolution and the people revolted against him. He abdicated in favor of his grandson, but the Chamber of Deputies preferred to put a cousin, Louis-Philippe, on the throne.
Louis XIX was Charles' son, and reigned as king for twenty minutes in 1830. He was married to his cousin Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte, the surviving daughter of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, but they had no children. He and his family were disinherited during the July Revolution in favor of his cousin, Louis-Philippe. He died in 1844.
Henri V was Charles X's grandson, the posthumous child of his assassinated son Charles, duc de Berry. His grandfather abdicated in his favor in 1830, but Henri only reigned seven days before being driven into exile in Switzerland; he went by the title comte de Chambord, after one of the royal family's estates.
He had a very good chance of finally becoming king after the end of the Second Empire, but he wanted a meaningful monarchy and did not want to serve under the Republican tricolour. Most French—including all but the most die-hard conservative monarchists (the right wing of the "Legitimists")—agreed that the monarch ought to be a constitutional figurehead and wanted to keep the tricolour. More frustrating than anything, however, is that the count was an elderly bachelor by this point, meaning that the Orléanist pretender, Louis-Philippe, comte de Paris, would become king upon his death under the Salic Law the Legitimists recognized (as modified by the Treaty of Utrecht). The younger count, a liberal and democrat (like his father) who had fought on the side of the Union in The American Civil War, was more than happy to be a figurehead under the tricolour. As a result, the Third Republic was established while waiting for the comte de Chambord to die already, but six years before he could do that the people decided that monarchy really wasn't on anymore. He died in 1883.
Louis-Philippe I and Only (reigned 1830-1848) was the last king of France (at least, so far).note Technically, he was king of the French (as Louis XVI had been between 1789 and 1792), not king of France His particular branch of the Bourbons, the most senior after the ruling line and that of Spain, was descended from a younger son of Louis XIII, the fabulous and effective generalPhilippe, duc d'Orléans. The Orléans branch was long famous for its cultivation of the arts and culture, and the Dukes of Orléans were generally noted as being far more liberal than most of the nobility, let alone the royal family; the ruling line was always suspicious of them, particularly as they would inherit the throne should the senior branch die out (the Spanish line had been excluded by the Treaty of Utrecht). They were right to be suspicious: Louis Philippe's father had been one of the few aristocratic supporters of the Revolution, even renaming himself "Philippe Égalité" ("Philip Equality") and voting in favor of the death penalty for his cousin the King, but was nevertheless guillotined during the Reign of Terror when the Jacobins found him insufficiently radical. Louis Philippe himself fought with distinction in the early Revolutionary Wars, but got caught up in a plot with the Austrians to restore the constitutional monarchy established in 1791. He spent the next several years in exile, at first in Switzerland, but later went to America (!) before settling in England. He returned from exile after Napoleon's defeat. The Chamber of Deputies proclaimed him King in preference to Charles X's descendants in 1830, establishing a constitutional monarchy with some but highly limited powers for the King. The July Monarchy—as Louis-Philippe's regime was called—is considered to be an era in which the cautious, liberal bourgeoisie was most firmly in control of the country, slowly building a slightly more democratic regime, with the King acting as slow-builder-in-chief. Slightly, because censorship was very active, and only the rich people could vote. It should come as no surprise that the prototypical tale of boring balanced bourgeois rationality, Madame Bovary, is set during Louis Philippe's reign. So self-consciously bourgeois was the era that the King himself was known to stroll around Paris with his own rolled-up umbrella. The building proved to be too slow, and despite the umbrella-carrying, another revolution in 1848 forced Louis-Philippe to abdicate in favor of his grandson Philippe; the Deputies were willing to keep the constitutional monarchy and install Philippe as King, but public opinion forced the abolition of the monarchy and the establishment of a Second Republic.
This era can be resumed with two quotes: Prime minister François Guizot's bourgeois motto "Enrich yourselves!" (Enrichissez-vous !) and romantic poet Lamartine's "France is bored" (La France s'ennuie).
Les Bonapartes, ça recommence!
Napoleon III (reigned 1852-1870) was both the first president and last emperor of France. A nephew of Napoleon I, he got himself elected president in 1848, and then Emperor of the French in 1852. In 1870 he was deposed and died in exile three years later. Was a successful domestic leader, building a lot of important public works and infrastructure, but proved to be an international blusterer and sometimes blunderer. He more than any other French monarch helped catalyze its' rise as a modern colonial power. He won wars from Tunisia to Vietnam and annexing Indochina, Tunisia, much of sub-Saharan Africa, and the Pacific islands to the French Empire. In addition, he willingly allowed himself into being manipulated into allowing Sardinia to support France and Britain in the CrimeanWar, paving the way for Count Camillo Benso di Cavour (Magnificent Bastard No. 1) to "you owe me one" that led to the crushing of their mutual enemy the Habsburg Empire and allowing the unification of Italy, giving Austria a kneecap it would never recover from. However, he fumbled into a long-lasting war in Mexico after trying to conquer it by installing a puppet ruler, giving that country Cinco De Mayo as a national holiday. Also proved to be ridiculously susceptible to Magnificent Bastardry, falling for the bait that Otto von Bismarck (Magnificent Bastard No. 2) had laid, starting the Franco-Prussian War and allowing for the establishment of the bane of France... a united Germany.
France has the bizarre and unenviable position of having no less than four claimants to the throne of France, each representing different dynastiesnote See Here. Of course, given what they did to the last bunch... Hilariously lampshaded in John Steinbeck's The Short Reign of Pippin IV.
Dante speaks to Hugh Capet in Canto 20 of the Purgatorio, where he is on the Fifth Terrace of Purgatory being purged of the sin of Avarice. Capet goes on to discuss the crimes of his descendants, even referring to himself as "the root of the evil tree which overshadows all Europe".
Many of the crimes discussed are those of Philip IV (king when Dante was writing), who (among other things) had the gall to arrest Pope Boniface VIII. Boniface VIII, whom Dante had condemned to the Eighth Circle of Hell. Yeah, Dante really didn't like the King of France.