He is the fifth Capetian of that dynasty, ruling from 1108 to 1137. He had the help of Abbot Suger, a superior administrator and the famous architect of the basilica of St. Denis.
Here is a genealogical table from the encyclopedia Medieval France:
And here is W. L. Warren’s genealogical table from his excellent biography Henry II:
Henry I is the same as Henri I. Robert the Pious is Robert II. It lays out the Capetians (left) and Normans (right), who transition to become the Angevins and then the Plantagenets. Henry of Anjou is the same as King Henry II of England, the first Plantagenet.
Robert the Pious is Robert II. It lays out the Capetians (left) and Normans (right). Henry of Anjou is the same as Henry II, King of France, the first Plantagenet.
This is also from Warren’s biography:
See below for the basics of his marriage and children.
Louis was born in the fall of 1081. He was the son of Philip I and Bertha of Holland. He grew up tall and slender, but became famous for his corpulence, hence his nickname Fat. Bradbury says that obesity may have run in the family, but it is more likely an unhealthy and abundant diet. Abbot Suger, who wrote the king’s history, said “his body was heavy … with folds of flesh” (quoted in Bradbury). When he was 46, Louis was unable to mount a horse. He was associated in kingship in about 1099, though he was neither crowned nor consecrated. He was known as Rex designatus or designate king. After his father Philip I’s death he was consecrated and crowned at Orleans by Daimbert archbishop of Sens, during a dispute with the archbishop of Reims, who usually crowned kings.
People at the time claimed that Bertrade, his stepmother, tried to poison her stepson, so that her son Philip could take over, but Bradbury doubts that she tried to poison him, for this accusation was a common way of damning a person. But Bradbury says that Louis was ill for several days and unable to eat or sleep and ever after Louis looked unusually pale.
According to chroniclers, Louis was eloquent and perhaps simple or a simpleton, but at least he was also “cheerful, pleasant, and friendly.” One chronicler said he was also greedy and lustful—as if kings back then never were.
Louis was generous to his two half-brothers Philip and Florus and were no threat to his reign. Philip married Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of Guy Troussel of Montlhery and received the county of Mantes.
During Louis’s father’s rule, he was active in military campaigns, so his father never wavered in making him king.
Following his father Philip, he reformed the royal administration, replacing the hereditary office holders with new men drawn from lower nobility and clergy. The famous Abbot Suger of Saint-Denis, architect, was the first in the line of royal advisers drawn from the clergy.
He inherited chaotic feudal and political rule, but he kept control of his inherited territory, the Ile of France or Isle of France (area around Paris). A powerful family of obscure origins was the Garlandes, who dominated the court for twenty years. One of them, Stephen, joined a revolt against Louis; his allies were Theobald IV of Blois (a rich county) and Henry I of England. The war lasted three years. Louis attacked the Garlande castle, and his relative Ralph of Vermandois lost an eye when it was hit by a missile from a catapult. The king’s leg was wounded in the same way. Louis removed Stephen from office and ordered the destruction of his property in Paris. Stephen was reinstated, but did not keep his promise of loyalty. Maybe Louis was a simpleton.
Local lords and castellans (lords of castles) were trouble for Louis, particularly between the royal cities from Paris to Orleans alongside the route. In his campaign against various lords, he sometimes used brutal tactics, like laying waste, besieging castles, burning and destroying. In one case a noble named Ebles of Roucy used to torture people, and Louis paid him back in kind, torturing him with even great pain. Suger approved of the justice of it, like for like.
In a struggle against Geoffrey Borel of Meung in 1103, Louis used fire so the defenders leaped from the tower, but fell on lances or were shot by archers.
Next, Louis took on Hugh I of Puiset, who had beaten Philip I, and who a major threat to royal authority. His demesne holdings were south of Chartres. He allied with his brother-in-law Theobald of Blois, but they quarreled amongst themselves. His victims held a council and asked Louis for help. Louis besieged le Puiset, with abbot Suger present, who called for Hugh’s blood and said he was a “mad dog.” Louis made a concoction of wood, dried blood and animal fat to light up the castle. A poor and bald priest climbed the wall to take down stones and exhorted others to do the same. (Suger called it (Suger called it “a sort of incendiary black pudding,” qtd in Bradbury.) The royal forces broke in, but Hugh retreated to his keep; even so the castle was destroyed. Louis made Hugh promise to submit, but of course Hugh broke his word. Louis finally subdued him, and Le Puiset was destroyed, its well filled. Hugh went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where he died.
Other nobles had to be subdued, but the bottom line on subjugating them is this. Though Louis VI and his father had suffered some defeats, “castles increasingly became subject to royal control” (Bradbury).
Quick Note about France
It is important to realize that France as we know it today was not even close to being unified in the Medieval Age. It was broken up into a patchwork of duchies and counties, overseen by dukes and counts. They tirelessly competed with each other and the kings of “France.” The Capetians actually ruled over what is called Lesser France. It is the area around Paris and Orleans, including the Ile-de-France or Isle of France. The Ile or Isle of France was not a standard island as we think of it today, but a surrounding land area to Paris. It was the base of the Capetians.
Charles the Good acquired Flanders with the help of Louis because Charles’s mother was Louis’s aunt, Adela of Flanders, sister of Bertha of Holland. Charles was murdered in the church at Bruge on 2 Mar 1127. Thirty conspirators entered the church and blocked exits. They attacked the count, and when he looked up, an attacker cut off his head. This shocked the Western world. Louis saw his chance to insert himself into the decision to select the next count. He favored William Clito, son of Robert Curthose (short-stocking because he was short), and Robert was the brother of Henry I. Louis supported Clito to create disunity in the succession and to hinder Henry I’s power, since Clito was not in the line because Henry got himself crowned king of England while Robert was returning from a crusade. Louis named Clito as count, but the local lords rebelled, saying it was none of Louis’s business. They favored Thierry of Alsace, son of Gertrude of Flanders and grandson of Robert the Frisian. During a revolt Clito was wounded in the hand by a bolt, and it turned gangrenous, and he died in 1128. Louis then favored Thierry.
Normandy and England
Three wars broke out between Henry I of England and Louis and various allies. Louis decided to invade Normandy. In one battle, Louis ordered a cavalry charge, which Suger called bold but careless. Eighty knights were killed, though Henry was struck on his head, but saved by his mail. The French broke and fled. Louis VI lost his horse and banner and was isolated among the trees. A peasant saved him and led him to Andelys. Henry returned to Rouen in celebration.
The biggest blow to Henry I occurred when he lost his son in 1120. He and his entourage the crew of the White Ship were drunk. The crew set sail at night to cross the Channel to England and hit a rock. The ship sank, losing all but one on board, a butcher. This threw the whole succession into crisis, for when Henry died in 1135, Henry’s nephew Stephen seized the throne (much like his uncle Henry did). This provided relief for Louis, for Stephen was fighting to keep the crown against Henry’s daughter Matilda and her son Henry. They were too busy to worry about Lesser France.
The Holy Roman Empire
Encouraged by Henry I of England, Emperor Heinrich / Henry V (ruled over Germany, Austria, Hungary, and northern Italy) raised a force to attack Louis in 1124. However, Louis managed to call on allies from counties and duchies throughout France. The army was so huge that the imperial army turned back. This was a victory for Louis.
Louis liked to come to the aid of bishops in other regions, for it gave him the excuse to throw his weight around, and he genuinely wanted good relations with the church. The bishop of Clermont asked for help from William VI, Count of Auvergne (1096-1136). Louis besieged the count’s castle of Pont-du-Chateau. He fled, but planned revenge. He attacked the bishop again, and Louis returned at the head of a large army with allies like Charles the Good of Flanders, Fulk V of Anjou, Conan of Brittany, and some Norman knights. They besieged the unfinished castle of Montferrand. (Suger slept in a tent under a shield, for safety.) The castle fell and the captives had their hands cut off.
William X, Duke of Aquitaine, died in 1137, and he named Louis as his ward for his daughter Eleanor. The king arranged for his son Louis (future VII) to marry her. This was a great coup, territorially. Aquitaine was a rich duchy, and one day the duchy would be added to the royal domain. Louis VI died soon afterwards, same year (see below).
Louis set himself up as a defender of the church when it came in conflict with lords and counts and dukes, as we have seen in the previous section. He was blessed with the service of a monk named Suger, who was born in 1181. He lived simply, sleeping on straw and living in a bare cell. He worked hard and administered the king’s realm with great care. He could be called a prime minister of sorts. He was promoted to Praepositus or the abbot’s deputy over St. Denis’s house at Berneval-le-Grand in Normandy and then later at Toury in Beauce. He was able to increase the income of Toury from 20 livres per year to 80. His most notable achievement was his building the basilica of St. Denis.
Suger wrote a biography of his master. He titled it the Deeds of Louis the Glorious (gloriosus), but after Suger’s death it was renamed the Fat (grossus).
Suger was elected abbot of St. Denis, when the abbot Adam died in 1122. The king did not support the outcome at first because it occurred without his royal assent. He arrested the messengers who told him of the new abbot. Suger was away with an embassy, and on his return did not want to face Louis, but the king accepted the decision because Suger was a devoted follower. Suger served in this role until 1151, the year of his death.
At least two popes fled to France, fleeing factionalism in Rome or Emperor Heinrich / Henry V: Pope Gelasius in 1118 (he died at Cluny); and Innocent II, who fled the anti-pope Anacletus II. Louis supported them. Pope Calixtus II was an uncle of Louis’s wife Adelaide.
One Medieval author said Louis could heal people of Scrofula (lymph node disease in the neck; or one historian says it was a skin disease) at his touch. This claim was designed to bolster the king’s consecration by the church and his piety before the people.
Paris became the center of learning in religious schools and attracted scholars like Anselm, Abelard, and William de la Porée. These thinkers felt safe in France, unlike other western states.
Brdabury’s summary of Louis’s religion: “We may reasonably conclude that like almost all Capetians Louis VI was a devout Christian who did his best to support the church and keep on good terms with the papacy .… Louis was a ‘simple man, devoted to the church and full of good will towards the apostolic see’” (Bradbury was also quoting Yves of Chartres).
Kings often granted charters (legal documents) to towns and trades, to give them special privileges. Then the towns and trades would prosper, and so would the king. But what about the growth of a recent phenomenon, the commune? Sometimes an entire town would proclaim themselves such, but this aroused the suspicions of the nobles, for maybe the communes would cut in on their prosperity. The communes often appealed to protection from the king, and Louis supported them, which usually brought immediate financial reward in a payment by the town.
However at the town of Laon, trouble erupted from Bishop Gaudry. The citizens did not like him, so they appealed to the king and he allowed them to declare the town a commune. The bishop, an eccentric who had a black executioner, asked the king to repeal the privileges, and Louis did so. The people revolted and launched a general strike, closing shops and inns. They rioted and took the bishop’s palace. The bishop dressed as a servant and hid in a cask in the cellar. The rioters found him and pulled him out by the hair. His head was split with an axe, and the blood mixed with the wine. His body was dragged naked through the street and dumped in the marketplace. The king restored order, but some criticized him for supporting the commune.
Finally, royal charters freed some serfs, granting them privileges and protecting their fairs and markets.
Louis supported the town of Amiens against the tyrant Adam. The king besieged the place and was wounded. The keep surrendered and was leveled.
So economic innovations developed, and Louis was, in the main, supportive of them.
His marriage record was not exemplary. He had nine illegitimate children.
His first wife (or betrothed) was (1) Lucienne de Rochefort, daughter of Guy de Rochefort (Guy the Red), seigneur of Rochefort-en-Yveline, Seneschal of King Philip I, by Elizabeth of Crécy. The marriage contract was in 1104. Pope Paschal II annulled the unconsummated arrangement (or marriage) on the grounds of consanguinity on 23 May 1107. (One researcher says she died during their marriage.)
He did not marry (or remarry) until he was thirty-five. He chose (2) Alix (Alice) or Adelaide of Savoy in the church of Notre Dame at Paris in March 1115. She was the daughter of Humbert III, Count of Savoy and Maurienne, Marquis in Italy, by Gisela, daughter of William I Count of Burgundy. She was born probably in 1092.
She bore him his heir, Philip, born in 1116 and associated (made joint-king or junior king) in 1129, but he died in 1131, when his horse was spooked by a boar and rolled on him and his head struck a stone, outside Paris. He was carried to a nearby house, but died in the night. He was buried at St. Denis.
Alice or Adelaide bore him his heir Louis (VII), in 1120. He son married Eleanor of Aquitaine, thanks to his father’s negotiations.
Other children: Henri of France, bishop of Beauvais; Robert of France, Count of Dreux and Braine, who married (1) Hawise of Salisbury and (2) Agnes of Baudement; Pierre (Peter) of France, seigneur of Courtenay, married Elizabeth of Courtenay (his granddaughter Isabel of Angoulême married King John of England, and some of Peter’s descendants became the kings of Constantinople;
Louis VI and Alice had one daughter Constance of France, who was born about 1122 and married (1) in Feb 1140 Eustache of England, Count of Boulogne, son and heir apparent of Stephen of Blois, King of England, but he died 16 Aug 1153 and they had no issue. Constance married (2) Raymond V, Count of Toulouse and had three sons: Raymond VI, Count of Toulouse, Duke of Normandy, Marquis of Provence; Aubrey; Baudouin; and one daughter Alix or Adelaide, wife of Roger, vicomte (viscount) of Beziers. Raymond V died at Nimes, Dec 1194.
Louis died at Chateau Bethizy near Paris 1 Aug 1137 and was buried in the church of the Abbey of Saint Denis. He was campaigning against Theobald of Blois in 1135. He got diarrhea and dysentery. Doctors gave him potions and bitter powder, which made things worse. He feared immediate death and confessed his sins and wanted to be buried at St. Denis. He insisted Ralph of Vermandois and Theobald to be reconciled. He recovered. The summer of 1137 was hot, and he became ill in the forest of Yveline near Meulan. He moved to Bethisy in June, forty miles from Paris. He made his way to Paris, and his health deteriorated. He made frequent confessions. When he thought he was dying he said, “I Louis who am a sinner believe in the one true God.” Suger was tearful, and the king told him, “Do not weep for me, my dearest friend; be glad that I have been able to prepare myself.” He handed a ring to Prince Louis and made him promise to watch over the church and orphans, and guard the rights of his subjects, relying on God “through whom kings reign.” (Bradbury 148). He even donned a monastic habit and ordered a carpet be laid on the ground with ashes spread in the form of a cross. He was laid on it with his arms spread out. There he met his end, at the age of fifty-six.
Alix (Alice) or Adelaide remarried in 1138 to Matthew of Montmorency, seigneur of Montmorency, Attichy, Conflans-Saint-Honorine, Marly, etc., Constable of France. They had no issue. She retired to Montmartre Abbey near Paris, and the Dowager Queen of France on died 18 Nov 1154 and was buried before the high altar in the abbey church of Saint Pierre, Montmartre. Matthew of Montmorency died in 1160.
Robert I (r. 922-23) (House of Robertines)
Hugh the Great (r. 938-956)
Hugh Capet (r. 987-996)
Robert II (r. 996-1031)
Henri I (r. 1031-60)
Philip I (r. 1059 or 1060-1108)
Louis VI (r. 1108-1037)
Louis VII (r. 1137-1180)
Philip II Augustus (r. 1180-1223)
Louis VIII (r. 1223-1226)
Louis IX, the Saintly King (r. 1226-1270)
Philip III (r. 1270-1285)
Philip IV (r. 1285-1314)
Louis X (r. 1314-1316)
Philip V (r. 1316-1322)
Charles IV (r 1322-1328) (last Capetian king)
Pippin, Great-Grandson of Charlemagne (transition to the House of Vermandois)
HOUSE OF VERMANDOIS
Jim Bradbury, The Capetians: Kings of France (Continuum, 2007).
René de la Croix (duc de Castries), Kings and Queens of France, trans. Anne Dobell (Knopf, 1979.
David C. Douglas, William the Conqueror: The Norman Impact upon England (UC P, 1964).
Ivan Gobry, Robert II: Fils de Hugues Capet, Histoire des Rois de France (Pygmalion, 2005).
C. Warren Hollister and Amanda Clark Frost, Henry I, Yale English Monarchs (Yale UP, 2001).
Medieval France: An Encyclopedia, eds. William W. Kibler and Grover A. Zinn (New York: Garland, 1995).
Douglas Richardson, Royal Ancestry: A Study in Colonial and Medieval Families, 5 volumes (Salt Lake: Published Privately, 2013).
W. L. Warren, Henry II (Berkeley: University of California P, 1973).
Carl Watkins, Stephen: The Reign of Anarchy. Penguin Monarchs (Allen Lane and Random House, 2015).