Capetian dynasty

The Capetian dynasty (/kəˈpʃən/; French: Capétiens), also known as the "House of France", is a dynasty of Frankish origin, and a branch of the Robertians. It is among the largest and oldest royal houses in Europe and the world, and consists of Hugh Capet, the founder of the dynasty, and his male-line descendants, who ruled in France without interruption from 987 to 1792, and again from 1814 to 1848. The senior line ruled in France as the House of Capet from the election of Hugh Capet in 987 until the death of Charles IV in 1328. That line was succeeded by cadet branches, the Houses of Valois and then Bourbon, which ruled without interruption until the French Revolution abolished the monarchy in 1792. The Bourbons were restored in 1814 in the aftermath of Napoleon's defeat, but had to vacate the throne again in 1830 in favor of the last Capetian monarch of France, Louis Philippe I, who belonged to the House of Orléans. Cadet branches of the Capetian House of Bourbon house are still reigning over Spain and Luxembourg.

House of Capet
Héraldique blason France Gelde.svg
One variation of the Capetian Armorial
Parent houseRobertians
Founded987; 1036 years ago (987)
FounderHugh Capet
Current headLouis Alphonse, Duke of Anjou
Cadet branchesSee below

The dynasty had a crucial role in the formation of the French state. Initially obeyed only in their own demesne, the Île-de-France, the Capetian kings slowly but steadily increased their power and influence until it grew to cover the entirety of their realm. For a detailed narration on the growth of French royal power, see Crown lands of France.

Members of the dynasty were traditionally Catholic, and the early Capetians had an alliance with the Church. The French were also the most active participants in the Crusades, culminating in a series of five Crusader kings – Louis VII, Philip Augustus, Louis VIII, Louis IX, and Philip III. The Capetian alliance with the papacy suffered a severe blow after the disaster of the Aragonese Crusade. Philip III's son and successor, Philip IV, humiliated Pope Boniface VIII and brought the papacy under French control. The later Valois, starting with Francis I, ignored religious differences and allied with the Ottoman sultan to counter the growing power of the Holy Roman Empire. Henry IV was a Protestant at the time of his accession, but realized the necessity of conversion after four years of religious warfare.

The Capetians generally enjoyed a harmonious family relationship. By tradition, younger sons and brothers of the king of France were given appanages for them to maintain their rank and to dissuade them from claiming the French crown itself. When Capetian cadets did aspire for kingship, their ambitions were directed not at the French throne, but at foreign thrones. As a result, the Capetians have reigned at different times in the kingdoms of Spain, Poland, Aragon, Portugal, Navarre, and as emperors of the Brazilian and Latin empires.

In modern times, King Felipe VI of Spain is a member of this family, while Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg is related to the family by agnatic kinship; both through the Bourbon branch of the dynasty. Along with the House of Habsburg, arguably its greatest historic rival, it was one of the two oldest European royal dynasties. It was also one of the most powerful royal families in European history, having played a pre-eminent role in its politics for much of its existence.

Name origins and usageEdit

The name of the dynasty derives from its founder, Hugh, who was known as "Hugh Capet".[2] The meaning of "Capet" (a nickname rather than a surname of the modern sort) is unknown. While folk etymology identifies it with "cape", other suggestions indicate it might be connected to the Latin word caput ("head"), and explain it as meaning "chief" or "head".[citation needed]

Historians in the 19th century (see House of France) came to apply the name "Capetian" to both the ruling house of France and to the wider-spread male-line descendants of Hugh Capet. It was not a contemporary practice. The name "Capet" has also been used as a surname for French royalty, particularly but not exclusively those of the House of Capet. One notable use was during the French Revolution, when the dethroned King Louis XVI (a member of the House of Bourbon and a direct male-line descendant of Hugh Capet) and Queen Marie Antoinette (a member of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine) were referred to as "Louis and Antoinette Capet" (the queen being addressed as "the Widow Capet" after the execution of her husband).

Capetian miracleEdit

12th-century portrait of Hugh Capet. His direct descendants ruled France for many centuries.

The Capetian Miracle (French: Miracle capétien) refers to the dynasty's ability to attain and hold onto the French crown.[3][page needed]

In 987, Hugh Capet was elected to succeed Louis V of the Carolingian dynasty that had ruled France for over three centuries. By a process of associating elder sons with them in the kingship, the early Capetians established the hereditary succession in their family and transformed a theoretically electoral kingship into a sacral one. By the time of Philip II Augustus, who became king in 1180, the Capetian hold on power was so strong that the practice of associate kingship was dropped. While the Capetian monarchy began as one of the weakest in Europe, drastically eclipsed by the new Anglo-Norman realm in England (who, as dukes of Normandy, were technically their vassals) and even other great lords of France, the political value of orderly succession in the Middle Ages cannot be overstated. The orderly succession of power from father to son over such a long period of time meant that the French monarchs, who originally were essentially just the direct rulers of the Île-de-France, were able to preserve and extend their power, while over the course of centuries the great peers of the realm would eventually lose their power in one succession crisis or another.

By comparison, the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem was constantly beset with internal succession disputes because each generation only produced female heirs who tended to die young. Even the English monarchy encountered severe succession crises, such as The Anarchy of the 1120s between Stephen and Matilda, and the murder of Arthur I, Duke of Brittany, the primogeniture heir of Richard I of England. The latter case would deal a severe blow to the prestige of King John, leading to the eventual destruction of Angevin hegemony in France. In contrast, the French kings were able to maintain uncontested father-to-son succession from the time of Hugh Capet until the succession crisis which began the Hundred Years' War of the 14th century.

The Robertians and beforeEdit

The dynastic surname now used to describe Hugh Capet's family prior to his election as King of France is "Robertians" or "Robertines." The name is derived from the family's first certain ancestor, Robert the Strong (b. 820), the count of Paris. Robert was probably son of Robert III of Worms (b. 800) and grandson of Robert of Hesbaye (b. 770). The Robertians probably originated in the county Hesbaye, around Tongeren in modern-day Belgium. The sons of Robert the Strong were Odo and Robert, who both ruled as king of Western Francia. The family became Counts of Paris under Odo and Dukes of the Franks under Robert, possessing large parts of Neustria.

In the late 9th century, King Robert I, grandfather of Hugh Capet, married Beatrice of Vermandois, a direct descendent of Charlemagne, thus making the Capetian dynasty a cadet branch of the Carolingian dynasty.[4][5]

The Carolingian dynasty ceased to rule France upon the death of Louis V. After the death of Louis V, the son of Hugh the Great, Hugh Capet, was elected by the nobility as king of France. Hugh was crowned at Noyon on 3 July 987 with the full support from Holy Roman Emperor Otto III. With Hugh's coronation, a new era began for France, and his descendants came to be named the Capetians, with the Capetian dynasty and its cadet branches such as the House of Valois ruling France for more than 800 years (987–1848, with some interruptions[note 1].

Robertian family branchesEdit

Capetians through historyEdit

Over the succeeding centuries, Capetians spread throughout Europe, ruling every form of provincial unit from kingdoms to manors.

Salic lawEdit

Salic law, reestablished during the Hundred Years' War from an ancient Frankish tradition, caused the French monarchy to permit only male (agnatic) descendants of Hugh to succeed to the throne of France.

Without Salic law, upon the death of John I, the crown would have passed to his half-sister, Joan (later Joan II of Navarre). However, Joan's paternity was suspect due to her mother's adultery in the Tour de Nesle Affair; the French magnates adopted Salic law to avoid the succession of a possible bastard.

In 1328, King Charles IV of France died without male heirs, as his brothers did before him. Philip of Valois, the late king's first cousin, acted as regent, pending the birth of the king's posthumous child, which proved to be a girl. Isabella of France, sister of Charles IV, claimed the throne for her son, Edward III of England. The English king did not find support among the French lords, who made Philip of Valois their king. From then on the French succession not only excluded females but also rejected claims based on the female line of descent.

Thus the French crown passed from the House of Capet after the death of Charles IV to Philip VI of France of the House of Valois, a cadet branch of the Capetian dynasty,

  • then to Louis II, Duke of Orléans, of the Orléans branch of the Valois, who became Louis XII of France,
  • then to Francis, Duke of Valois, Count of Angoulème, who became Francis I of France, and his descendants, of the Orléans-Angoulème,
  • then to Henry III of Navarre, who became Henry IV of France, of the House of Bourbon, a cadet branch of the Capetian dynasty.

This did not affect monarchies not under that law such as Portugal, Spain, Navarre, and various smaller duchies and counties. Therefore, many royal families appear and disappear in the French succession or become cadet branches upon marriage. A complete list of the senior-most line of Capetians is available below.

Capetian cadet branchesEdit

The Capetian Dynasty has been broken many times into (sometimes rival) cadet branches. A cadet branch is a line of descent from another line than the senior-most. This list of cadet branches shows most of the Capetian cadet lines and designating their royal French progenitor, although some sub-branches are not shown.

Descendants of Philip III of FranceEdit

Descendants of Louis IX of FranceEdit

Descendants of Louis VIII of FranceEdit

Descendants of Louis VI of FranceEdit

Descendants of Henry I of FranceEdit

Descendants of Robert II of FranceEdit

Sovereigns from the Capetian dynastyEdit

Latin EmpireEdit

Kingdom of AlbaniaEdit

Kingdom of EtruriaEdit

Kingdom of FranceEdit

Kingdom of HungaryEdit

Kingdom of NaplesEdit

Kingdom of NavarreEdit

Kingdom of PolandEdit

Kingdom and County of PortugalEdit

Kingdom of SicilyEdit

Kingdom of SpainEdit

Kingdom of the Two SiciliesEdit

Grand Duchy of LithuaniaEdit

Grand Duchy of LuxembourgEdit

Duchy of BrabantEdit

Duchy of BrittanyEdit

Duchy of BurgundyEdit

Duchy of LorraineEdit

Duchy of LuccaEdit

Duchy of LuxemburgEdit

Duchy of MilanEdit

Duchy of ParmaEdit

Principality of AchaeaEdit

Principality of TarantoEdit

Marquisate of NamurEdit

Illegitimate descentEdit

Empire of BrazilEdit

Kingdom of PortugalEdit

Senior CapetsEdit

Throughout most of history, the Senior Capet and the King of France were synonymous terms. Only in the time before Hugh Capet took the crown for himself and after the reign of Charles X is there a distinction such that the senior Capet must be identified independently from succession to the French Crown. However, since primogeniture and the Salic law provided for the succession of the French throne for most of French history, here is a list of all the French kings from Hugh until Charles, and all the Legitimist pretenders thereafter. All dates are for seniority, not reign.

King of France:

Legitimist Pretenders:

The Capetian dynasty todayEdit

Many years have passed since the Capetian monarchs ruled a large part of Europe; however, they still remain as kings, as well as other titles. Currently two Capetian monarchs still rule in Spain and Luxembourg. In addition, seven pretenders represent exiled dynastic monarchies in Brazil, France, Spain, Portugal, Parma and Two Sicilies. The current legitimate, senior family member is Louis-Alphonse de Bourbon, known by his supporters as Duke of Anjou, who also holds the Legitimist (Blancs d'Espagne) claim to the French throne. Overall, dozens of branches of the Capetian dynasty still exist throughout Europe.

Except for the House of Braganza (founded by an illegitimate son of King John I of Portugal, who was himself illegitimate), all current major Capetian branches are of the Bourbon cadet branch. Within the House of Bourbon, many of these lines are themselves well-defined cadet lines of the House.

Current Capetian rulersEdit

Current Capetian pretendersEdit

Arms of cadet branchesEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Specific periods of reign are 888–898, 922–923, 987–1792, 1814–1815, and 1815–1848 – the more-than-800-year uninterrupted period 987–1792 forming the bulk.


  1. ^ According to the Convention of Fontainbleau
  2. ^ Bradbury, Jim (27 February 2007). The Capetians: Kings of France 987-1328. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 978-0-8264-2491-4.
  3. ^ Naus 2016.
  4. ^ Detlev Schwennicke, Europäische Stammtafeln: Stammtafeln zur Geschichte der Europäischen Staaten, Neue Folge, Band II (Marburg, Germany: J. A. Stargardt, 1984), Tafeln 10, 11
  5. ^ Pierre Riché, The Carolingians; A Family Who Forged Europe, trans. Michael Idomir Allen (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993), pp. 371, 375

Works citedEdit

  • Naus, James (2016). Constructing kingship : the Capetian monarchs of France and the early Crusades. Manchester University Press. ISBN 9780719090974.

Further readingEdit

  • Ingmar Krause: Konflikt und Ritual im Herrschaftsbereich der frühen Capetinger – Untersuchungen zur Darstellung und Funktion symbolischen Verhaltens. (in German). Rhema-Verlag, Münster 2006, ISBN 978-3-930454-62-4
  • Fawtier, Robert. The Capetian Kings of France: Monarchy & Nation (987–1328). Macmillan, 1960. (translated from French edition of 1941)
  • Hallam, Elizabeth M. Capetian France 987–1328. Longman, 1980.
  • Le Hête, Thierry. Les Capetiens: Le Livre du Millenaire. Editions Christian, 1987.

External linksEdit