Battle of Agincourt, Charles IV of France, Charles VI of France, coronation, Edward III of England, Henry VI of England, Hundred Years War, Joan of Arc, Philippe VI of France, Reims Cathedral, Salic Law, Siege of Orléans, Titles of the British Monarch, Treaty of Troyes
Claims to the French Throne
When King Charles IV of France died on February 1, 1328 without a surviving male heir, it ended the direct line of the Capetian Dynasty which had ruled France since the election and accession of King Hughes Capét on July 3, 987 by the prelate of Reims.
King Charles VI of France
Twelve years prior to the death of Charles IV, a rule against succession by women, arguably derived from the Salic Law, had been recognised – with some dissent – as controlling succession to the French throne. The application of this rule barred Charles’s one-year-old daughter Mary, by Jeanne d’Évreux, from succeeding as the monarch, but Jeanne was also pregnant at the time of Charles’s death.
Since she might have given birth to a son, a regency was set up under the heir presumptive Philippe of Valois, son of Charles of Valois and a member of the House of Valois, the next most senior branch of the Capetian dynasty.
After two months, Jeanne gave birth to another daughter, Blanche, and thus Philippe became king and in May and was consecrated and crowned Philippe VI. Edward III of England argued, however, that although the Salic law should forbid inheritance by a woman, it did not forbid inheritance through a female line – under this argument, Edward III, son of Queen Isabella, wife of Edward II and daughter of Philippe IV, should have inherited the throne.
At first, King Edward III seemed to accept Philippe VI’s succession. However, in 1337 Edward III declared himself the rightful heir to the French throne. This started what became known as the Hundred Years’ War (1337–1453). Following some initial setbacks, this first phase of the war went exceptionally well for England; victories at Crécy and Poitiers led to the highly favourable Treaty of Brétigny, in which England made territorial gains, and Edward renounced his claim to the French throne.
Revival of the claims to France
By 1378, under King Charles V the Wise and the leadership of Bertrand du Guesclin, the French had reconquered most of the lands ceded to King Edward III in the Treaty of Brétigny (signed in 1360), leaving the English with only a few cities on the continent.
Arms of Henry VI of England.
In the following decades, the weakening of royal authority, combined with the devastation caused by the Black Death of 1347–1351 (with the loss of nearly half of the French population and between 20% and 33% of the English population) and the major economic crisis that followed, led to a period of civil unrest in both countries. These crises were resolved in England earlier than in France.
Lancastrian Phase of the Hundred Years War
The newly crowned Henry V of England seized the opportunity presented by the mental illness of Charles VI of France and the French civil war between Armagnacs and Burgundians to revive the conflict.
In 1415 the army of Charles VI was crushed by the English at the Battle of Agincourt, which led to Charles’ signing of the Treaty of Troyes, which entirely disinherited his son, the Dauphin and future Charles VII, in favour of his future son-in-law Henry V of England. Henry was thus made regent and heir to the throne of France, and Charles VI married him to his daughter Catherine de Valois.
Henry V and Catherine de Valois had a son, Henry, born on December 6, 1421 at Windsor Castle. The young Henry succeeded to the throne as King Henry VI of England at the age of nine months on September 1, 1422, the day after his father’s death; he remains the youngest person ever to succeed to the English throne. On October 21, 1422, in accordance with the Treaty of Troyes of 1420, he became titular King of France upon the death of his grandfather King Charles VI of France. His mother, the 20-year-old Catherine of Valois, was viewed with considerable suspicion by English nobles as Charles VI’s daughter. Therefore she was prevented from playing a full role in her son’s upbringing.
However Charles VI’s own son, the disinherited Dauphin, was regarded as the true heir by the French. At the same time, a civil war raged in France between the Armagnacs (supporters of the House of Valois) and the Burgundian party (supporters of the House of Valois-Burgundy allied to the English).
With his court removed to Bourges, south of the Loire River, Charles VII was disparagingly called the “King of Bourges”, because the area around this city was one of the few remaining regions left to him. However, his political and military position improved dramatically with the emergence of Joan of Arc as a spiritual leader in France.
Joan of Arc and other charismatic figures led French troops to lift The Siege of Orléans in 1429 which announced the beginning of the end for English hopes of conquest.
With the local English troops dispersed, the people of Reims switched allegiance and opened their gates, which enabled the coronation of Charles VII in 1429 at Reims Cathedral.
In reaction to the coronation of Charles VII on July 17, 1429, at Reims Cathedral, Henry was soon crowned King of England at Westminster Abbey on November 6, 1429, aged 7. This was folowed by his own coronation as King of France at Notre-Dame de Paris on December 16, 1431, aged 10. He was the only English king to be crowned king in both England and France.
Despite the eventual capture of Joan of Arc by the Burgundians and her execution in 1431, a series of crushing French victories such as those at Patay in 1429, Formigny in 1450 and Castillon in 1453 concluded the Hundred Years War in favour of France and the Valois dynasty.
England permanently lost most of its continental possessions, with only the Pale of Calais remaining under its control on the continent, until it too was lost in the Siege of Calais in 1558.
Despite his brief reign in France, Henry VI of England is not recognized as a legitimate King of France.
The claim to the title of “King of France” was nonetheless not relinquished and was retained in pretense by the English/British monarchs until the creation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in 1801, by which time the French monarchy had been overthrown by the French Revolution.