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Louis VII (1120 – September 18, 1180), called the Younger, or the Young was King of the Franks from 1137 to 1180. He was the son and successor of King Louis VI (hence the epithet “the Young”) and married Duchess Eleanor of Aquitaine, one of the wealthiest and most powerful women in western Europe. The marriage temporarily extended the Capetian lands to the Pyrenees.

Louis was born in 1120, the second son of Louis VI of the Franks and Adelaide of Maurienne. The early education of the young Louis anticipated an ecclesiastical career. As a result, he became well learned and exceptionally devout, but his life course changed decisively after the accidental death of his older brother Philippe in 1131, when Louis unexpectedly became the heir to the throne of the Franks.

Eleanor of Aquitaine, or Aliénor, the future wife of the future King of the Franks, was the daughter of Guillaume X, Duke of Aquitaine, and Aénor de Châtellerault.

Eleanor’s year of birth is not known precisely: a late 13th-century genealogy of her family listing her as 13 years old in the spring of 1137 provides the best evidence that Eleanor was perhaps born as late as 1124. On the other hand, some chronicles mention a fidelity oath of some lords of Aquitaine on the occasion of Eleanor’s fourteenth birthday in 1136.

King Louis VII of the Franks

This, and her known age of 82 at her death make 1122 the most likely year of her birth. Her parents almost certainly married in 1121. Her birthplace may have been Poitiers, Bordeaux, or Nieul-sur-l’Autise, where her mother and brother died when Eleanor was 6 or 8.

Following the death of Duke Guillaume X of Aquitaine, Louis VI moved quickly to have his son married to Eleanor of Aquitaine (who had inherited Guillaume’s territory) on July 25, 1137. In this way, Louis VI sought to add the large, sprawling territory of the duchy of Aquitaine to his family’s holdings in France.

On August 1, 1137, shortly after the marriage, King Louis VI died, and Louis became Louis VII, King of the Franks. The pairing of the monkish Louis and the high-spirited Eleanor was doomed to failure; she reportedly once declared that she had thought to marry a king, only to find she had married a monk.

There was a marked difference between the frosty, reserved culture of the northern court in the Île-de-France, where King Louis VII had been raised, and the rich, free-wheeling court life of the Aquitaine with which Eleanor was familiar. King Louis VII and Eleanor had two daughters, Marie and Alix.

In June 1147, in fulfillment of his vow to mount the Second Crusade, Louis VII and his Queen Eleanor set out from the Basilica of Saint-Denis, first stopping in Metz on the overland route to Syria.

Soon they arrived in the Kingdom of Hungary, where they were welcomed by King Géza II of Hungary, who was already waiting with Conrad III, King of the Romans (Conrad was never crowned emperor and continued to style himself “King of the Romans” until his death).

Due to his good relationships with Louis VII, Géza II asked the French king to be his son Stephen’s baptism godfather. Relations between the kingdoms of France and Hungary remained cordial long after this time: decades later, Louis’s daughter Margaret was taken as wife by Géza’s son King Béla III of Hungary.

Eleanor, Queen of the Franks, Queen of the English, Duchess of Aquitaine

Louis VII and his army finally reached the Holy Land in 1148. His queen Eleanor supported her uncle, Raymond of Antioch, and prevailed upon Louis to help Antioch against Aleppo. But Louis VII’s interest lay in Jerusalem, and so he slipped out of Antioch in secret.

He united with Conrad III, King of the Romans and King Baldwin III of Jerusalem to lay siege to Damascus; this ended in disaster and the project was abandoned. Louis VII decided to leave the Holy Land, despite the protests of Eleanor, who still wanted to help her doomed uncle Raymond. Louis VII and the French army returned home in 1149.

The expedition to the Holy Land came at a great cost to the royal treasury and military. It also precipitated a conflict with Eleanor that led to the annulment of their marriage. Perhaps the marriage to Eleanor might have continued if the royal couple had produced a male heir, but this had not occurred.

The Council of Beaugency found an exit clause, declaring that Louis VII and Eleanor were too closely related for their marriage to be legal, thus the marriage was annulled on March 21, 1152.

The pretext of kinship was the basis for annulment, but in fact, it owed more to the state of hostility between Louis and Eleanor, with a decreasing likelihood that their marriage would produce a male heir to the throne of France. On May 18, 1152, Eleanor married the Henry Curtmantle, Count of Anjou, the future King Henry II of the English. She gave Henry the Duchy of Aquitaine and bore him three daughters and five sons.

In 1154, Louis VII married Infanta Constance of Castile, daughter of Alfonso VII of León and Castile and Berengaria of Barcelona. She also failed to supply him with a son and heir, bearing only two daughters, Margaret and Alys.

The official reason for her husband’s annulment from Eleanor of Aquitaine had been that he was too close a relative of Eleanor for the marriage to be legal by Church standards; however, he was even more closely related to Constance. Constance died giving birth to her second child.

Louis VII was devastated when Constance died in childbirth on October 4, 1160. As he was desperate for a son, he married Adela of Champagne just 5 weeks later. Adela of Champagne was the third child and first daughter of Theobald II, Count of Champagne and Matilda of Carinthia, and had nine brothers and sisters. Adela’s coronation was held the same day.

King Philippe II Augusté of France

The new Queen Adela went on to give birth to two children; Louis VII’s only male heir, Philippe and Agnes, a Byzantine Empress by marriage to Alexios II Komnenos and Andronikos I Komnenos.

Louis had his son crowned at Reims in 1179, in the Capetian tradition (Philippe would in fact be the last king so crowned). Already stricken with paralysis, Louis himself could not be present at the ceremony.

King Louis VII died on September 18, 1180 in Paris and was buried the next day at Barbeau Abbey, which he had founded. His remains were moved to the Basilica of Saint-Denis in 1817.

His son became King Philippe II of the Franks. I try to use correct titles on this blog and for his predecessors I use the title Kings of the Franks, (King of West Francia when appropriate) but from 1190 onward, Philippe II became the first French monarch to style himself “King of France” (Latin: Rex Francie).

King Philippe II was originally nicknamed Dieudonné (God-given)…the same as Louis XIV… because he was a first son and born late in his father’s life. Philippe was given the epithet “Augusté” by the chronicler Rigord for having extended the crown lands of France so remarkably.