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The fundamental laws concerning the royal succession In Ancien Régime France, the laws that govern the succession to the throne are among the fundamental laws of the kingdom. They could not be ignored, nor modified, even by the king himself, since it is to these very laws to which he owes his succession. In the French monarchy, they are the foundation of any right of succession to the throne. They have developed during the early centuries of the Capetian monarchy, and were sometimes transferred to other countries linked to the dynasty.

Heredity: the French crown is hereditary. The early Capetians had their heirs crowned during their lifetime, to prevent succession disputes. The first such coronation was in favor of Robert II, in 987.

Primogeniture: the eldest son is the heir, while cadets only receive appanages to maintain their rank. This principle was strengthened in 1027, when Henry, the eldest surviving son of Robert II, was crowned despite the protests of his mother, Constance of Arles, and younger brother, Robert.


Masculinity: females are excluded from the succession. This issue was not raised until 1316, as the Capetian kings did not lack sons to succeed them for the preceding three centuries. This was invoked by Philip V of France to exclude his niece, Jeanne, daughter of his elder brother.

Male collaterality: the right of succession cannot be derived from a female line. This was invoked in 1328 by Philippe VI of France, to counter the claims of Edward III of England, making the succession exclusive to the Capetian family.

Continuity of the Crown (or immediacy of the Crown): as soon as the king dies, his successor is immediately king because “the King (the State) never dies”. Philippe III, who was in Tunis when his father died, was the first to date his reign from the death of his predecessor (1270), instead of his own coronation.

Orders made under Charles VI, in 1403 and 1407, anxious to avoid any interregnum, declared that the heir to the throne should be considered King after the death of his predecessor. But even after these decisions, Joan of Arc persisted in the old position by calling Charles VII, whose father died in 1422, the “Dauphin” until his coronation at Reims in 1429.

Inalienability of the Crown (or unavailability of the Crown): the crown is not the personal property of the king. He cannot appoint his successor, renounce the crown, or abdicate. This principle arose circa 1419, in anticipation of the Treaty of Troyes, which sought to exclude the Dauphin Charles from the succession. The succession can no longer be regulated by the king, and would rely only on the force of custom.


Catholicism: this principle was not specifically identified in the Middle Ages, but it was implied. Since the baptism of Clovis, the kings of France were Catholic. The Protestantism of Henri of Navarre led to a civil war wherein the king had to reestablish his legitimacy. In the famous Arrêt Lemaistre (1593), Parlement protected the rights of the legitimate successor, Henri of Navarre, but deferred his recognition as legitimate king, pending his conversion.

It is clear that the constitution of the fundamental laws is empirical: masculinity, Catholicity and inalienability for example, have been added or rather clarified because there is uncertainty on points considered already implied by others or by custom (as was the case for masculinity, practiced with the rule of male collaterality, in 1316 and 1328 before being formulated in 1358 and formally put into effect in 1419).

The ‘fundamental’ character of the laws was that they could be supplemented in order to clarify, but not changed, or have any or all of the basic laws ignored to change the direction of the whole. It also appears that the role of parliaments is essential in these various clarifications, the fourteenth to the eighteenth century or the nineteenth century if we add the episodes from the history of the French Capetian dynasty in 1830, 1848, 1875 and 1886.