Philippe IV le Bel - King of France (1285-1314)

Philippe IV le Bel - King of France (1285-1314)

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Philippe IV, known as "le Bel" was King of France from 1285 to 1314. He owes his nickname to his immense stature and the beauty of his impassive face: “It is neither a man nor a beast, it is a statue.” His reign is considered by historians to be one of the most important but also the most disconcerting. He is one of the main architects of French unity, along with Philippe Auguste and Louis XI. Enigmatic personality, perhaps a simple instrument in the hands of his legal advisers, the jurists, Philippe le Bel is the sovereign of a strong and centralized State He will be uncompromising with the Templars whose wealth he covets and will obtain their condemnation and the suppression of their order.

The promising beginnings of the reign of Philip the Fair

Son of Philip III the Bold and Isabella of Aragon, Philip IV ascended to the throne at the age of seventeen. Having received Champagne and Navarre through his marriage to Joan of Navarre (1284), he was the first to bear the title of “King of France and Navarre”. The acquisition of Navarre is temporary, but that of Champagne definitive. The young king immediately put an end to the sterile wars against Aragon (treaties of Tarascon and Anagni, 1291 and 1295). With regard to England, a foreshadowing of the Hundred Years' War, he invaded Guyenne (1294-1299) then returned it to Edouard by the peace of Mon-treuil (1299), cemented by a double marriage: that of his sister, Marguerite, with Edward I and that of Isabelle, his daughter, with the son of Edward. No one could imagine then that, Philip the Fair being the father of three sons, this double alliance would give the kings of England rights to the crown and cause a hundred years of war. Peace was restored in 1303 (Treaty of Paris).

He tried to annex Flanders by imprisoning Count Gui de Dampierre (1295) and confiscating his fiefdom, placing a French governor at the head of it. The tyranny of the latter provokes a terrible uprising of the Flemings in Bruges: the Bruges Matins (May 17-18, 1302). The French army was cut to pieces by the Flemish municipalities at the Battle of Kortrijk, also called "Golden Spurs" (July 11, 1302). The king does not participate directly in the battle, which probably saves his life. On the other hand, he fought in Mons-en-Pévèle (August 18, 1304) and, victorious, could thus acquire, by the peace of Athis-Mons (June 1305), Lille, Douai and Béthune. On the side of the Empire, the king receives from Otto de Bourgogne the county of Burgundy, now Franche-Comté (March 1295). The Comtoise nobility is outraged. The most important acquisition of Philippe le Bel was the definitive attachment of Lyon (under the dependence of the Holy Roman Empire, then the Church) to France in 1312. It testifies to the extension of the territory towards the east.

The conflict with the Pope

Pious but anticlerical, Philip the Fair opposes the papacy's interference in French affairs. He comes into conflict with Boniface VIII, who opposes the lifting, without his consent, of decimes on the clergy, and the arrest and conviction of Bernard Saisset, bishop of Pamiers. The bulls sent by the pope, recalling the papal theocracy (an essential concept in the Middle Ages), aggravated the tensions, and Philippe le Bel decided to convene the first States General (1302-1303), which strongly supported royal policy.

Supported by public opinion, he questions the validity of the Pope's election and has him bullied by his envoys. It was the attack on Anagni (1303), to which the Pope succumbed shortly after. The king then elected a French pope who came to settle in Avignon in 1309. This solution, which ended the conflict and which must remain provisional, continued for three quarters of a century.

The reforms of Philip the Fair

Under the influence of jurists, in particular Pierre Flote, Guillaume de Nogaret and Enguerrand de Marigny, monarchical centralization is accentuated by the specialization of the Royal Court in judicial sections (Chambers of inquiries and Chamber of requests) and in financial sections ( Chamber of funds and especially Chamber of Accounts, created in fact after his death in 1320). He fixes the Parliament in Paris, establishes the Grand Council to assist it in political decisions. A great innovation, it resorts to popular consultation by assemblies of barons, prelates, consuls, aldermen and mayors of municipalities, which prefigure the States General. He summons the latter several times to secure support for his policy.

The most difficult problem to face is, however, that of finances, the king not being able any more to govern with the only revenues of the royal domain. Philippe le Bel endeavors to settle it by attempting to impose regular taxes, by heavily taxing the Jews (expelled in 1306) and the Lombards, and by carrying out monetary changes, which earned him the reputation of a counterfeiter. . He sets up the maltôte (wrong size), a tax on goods, and the salt tax, tax on the sales of foodstuffs, and particularly salt.

The Templar Affair

The most spectacular, if not the most successful, financial operation reached the Templars. For more than a century, the Temple treasury in Paris had become the real financial center of the monarchy. The wealth of the Templars excited the covetousness of the king and his entourage, even as the state coffers were constantly empty. In addition, the Templars had become unpopular. They were criticized for having retained their temporal and financial power in the West when they had failed to defend the Holy Land, to whose protection their institution vowed them. In addition, the Order’s very mysterious way of working gave free rein to many legends, fueled by popular slander and retribution.

Philippe le Bel, advised, even manipulated by Guillaume de Nogaret, took advantage of this unpopularity, knowing that he would have public opinion on his side. The trial of the Temple Order and the confiscation of its wealth were decided and prepared by the King's Council in the utmost secrecy. On October 13, 1307, all the Templars residing in the kingdom were arrested and charged, starting with the great master Jacques de Molay. A very long process then began which culminated in a council convened in Vienna in 1311 and resulted in the suppression of the Order by a papal bull on April 3, 1312.

During these five years, Pope Clement V had been hesitant and filled with scruples. He was by no means convinced of the guilt of the Temple order. But he did not have the strength to resist the King of France, who was uncompromising and even threatening. He eventually surrendered and surrendered order to his grim fate.

The Templars defended themselves very badly. Neither in England, nor in Germany, nor in Spain, had investigations revealed a capital crime against them. But in France, subjected by the inquisition to the most atrocious tortures, they gave up defending themselves and confessed everything they wanted. The main dignitaries were also very clumsy and, by their intransigence, resulted in the loss of most of their brothers. The great master Jacques de Molay and the commander of Normandy Geoffroy de Charnay, first sentenced to life imprisonment, reneged on their confessions extracted by torture. This retraction resulted in them being handed over to the executioner and burned alive on a scaffold erected on the Île de la Cité on March 18, 1314.

Under the terms of the council judgment, the sumptuous fortune of the Templars was entrusted to the order of the Hospitallers of Saint-Jean-de-Jerusalem. But the crown of France was able to take its part in passing, a considerable part. All the debts of the royal treasury to the Temple, and they were immense, were canceled. In addition, the king's commissioners seized all the cash accumulated in the various houses of the Temple in France. Finally, claiming, without evidence and against all likelihood, that the Templars remained debtors to him for considerable sums, Philippe le Bel forced the Hospitallers to pay him a sum of two hundred thousand pounds. Overall, the operation had been very successful for the king and the monarchy. Philippe could hardly profit from it, since he died a few months later following a hunting accident on November 29, 1314.

The legacy of Philippe le Bel

Philippe le Bel was the last great Capetian king whose policy assured the kingdom a prestige and a power which made France the first of European nations. His three sons (Louis X le Hutin, Philippe V le Long and Charles IV le Bel) who succeeded each other briefly on the throne until the arrival of the Valois in 1328, tried to follow in his footsteps and take advantage of the immense work. accomplished: feudalism gradually reduced to obedience, the Church become docile and subject to the monarchy, the kingdom as a whole gradually organizing and expanding, acquiring administrative structures already foreshadowing what a modern state should be .

The general economic crisis in Europe and the decline of the Champagne fairs left a discontented country when the king died. The death without a direct heir of the last son of Philip the Fair opens an unprecedented dynastic succession crisis among the Capetians which will lead to the Hundred Years War.


- Philippe le Bel, by Jean Favier. Text, 2013.

- Philippe le Bel, by Georges Minois. Perrin, 2014.

- France under Philippe Le Bel, by Edgard Boutaric. Nabu press, 2012.

Video: Fiche révision: Philippe IV le bel - roi de France


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