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The Valois succession

In 1328, Edward III of England unsuccessfully claimed the French throne. There was a political motive for this claim and not just a genealogical claim.

The legal basis of this outcome is a corollary to the masculinity principle established in 1316. Women do not have a right to the throne; hence, no right of succession can be derived from them (Nemo dat quod non habet). Edward III had to give in, and for nine years the matter seemed resolved.

Edward III, King of England and Lord of Ireland

But the ancient alliance of the Scottish and the French, the disputes over the suzerainty of Gascony, and Edward III’s expansionist policy against Scotland, led to a long war between the kingdoms of England and France.

To alleviate the pressure on the Scots, the French carried out raids on English coastal towns, leading to rumours in England of a full-scale French invasion. In 1337, Philippe VI confiscated the English king’s Duchy of Aquitaine and the county of Ponthieu. Instead of seeking a peaceful resolution to the conflict by paying homage to the French king, as his father had done, Edward responded by laying claim to the French crown as the grandson of Philippe IV. The French rejected this based on the precedents for agnatic succession set in 1316 and 1322. Instead, they upheld the rights of Philippe IV’s nephew, King Philippe VI (an agnatic descendant of the House of France), thereby setting the stage for the Hundred Years’ War.

In the Treaty of Troyes, Henry V of England married Catherine of Valois, daughter of Charles VI of France. Henry recognized Charles as king for the remainder of his life, while he would be the king’s regent and heir. The treaty was ratified by the Estates General the next year, after Henry entered Paris. But Henry predeceased Charles, and it would be his infant son Henry VI who would inherit according to the Treaty of Troyes.

Henry V, King of England and Lord of Ireland

The Treaty of Troyes threw the French in an uncomfortably humiliating position. To accept its terms meant that a defeated King of France could be coerced to hand over his kingdom to the enemy. To counter this act, the French developed the principle of the inalienability of the crown. The succession is to be governed by the force of custom alone, rather than by the will of any person or body.

This effectively removed the king’s power to relinquish his kingdom, or disinherit the heirs, the princes of the blood. From that moment the succession to the French throne was firmly entrenched in the Capetian lineage. As long as it continued to exist, the Estates cannot elect a new king. By this principle, the French do not consider Henry VI of England as one of their kings. Charles VII of France directly succeeded his father, not his nephew. Curiously, the French kings never asked the English monarchs to drop their nominal claim to France, which they persistently retained until 1800.