For those who care about the triangle of Louis – Eleanor of Aquitaine – Henry of Anjou (later King Henry II of England), this post is for those readers. Yet Louis had to depend on the church to annul (divorce) his wife Eleanor.
Nicknamed Louis le jeune (the Younger) and born in 1120-21, he reigned from 1131 to his death in 1180, the sixth Capetian. He married and divorced Eleanor of Aquitaine, who then married King Henry II of England. That marriage affected French history for centuries.
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.
Early Life and Personal Characteristics
He was born in about 1120-21. His eldest brother by Adelaide of Savoy and Maurienne was Philip, whom their father Louis VI associated (made joint- or junior-king) in 1129, when he was just thirteen. But Philip was killed in 1131 when his horse was spooked by boar in a Paris suburb. The horse rolled on his, and the boy was carried to a nearby house, but died in the night. He was buried at St. Denis.
Louis’s second son, Louis le Jeune or the Young, was destined for church service, but at eleven years young he was associated in kingship at Reims by Pope Innocent II on 25 Oct 1131. He was taken in a procession to the abbey of St. Remy and then to the Cathedral, and the pope consecrated him with the oil that was used to baptize Clovis.
How did young Louis transition to become Louis VII? When Louis VI 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). Quite a word to receive from his royal father.
His father arranged his son’s marriage to Duke William X’s daughter and heiress Eleanor. She brought with her a large and rich duchy that would add to the king’s small domain. Louis organized an escort for his son, including Abbot Suger, the genius architect and reliable administrator, Theobald of Blois (another rich county) and cousin Ralph of Vermandois (yet another rich county). The marriage was solemnized in the cathedral of St. André in Bordeaux in 1137. He was seventeen, and she was fifteen. Her father recently died, and his father recently fell ill again—and died soon afterwards.
Of course Louis supported the church: 177 charters were donations or concessions to the church; 275 charters confirm gifts by others. In 1031 there were 16 sees that were effectively royal, but under Louis VII, the number increased to 26.
He patronized buildings, including work on Notre Dame.
However, he sometimes came into conflict with church leaders. One example: In a vacancy at Bourges, he favored his household official Cadurc, but the canons chose Peter de la Chatre, archbishop of Agen, but did not notify the king, and he refused to confirm their election. Innocent II intervened, and rejected Cadurc, which was simply not done. Louis reacted by shaking with anger and declaring that as long as he lived Peter would never be allowed to fill the post. The pope put an interdict on all royal residence. The pope and Bernard blamed the fight on hasty action by a young and rash king, a “child,” wrote the pope.
Louis’s cousin Ralph of Vermandois was at court and fell for Eleanor’s sister Petronilla. He was older and had lost his sight in one eye, but she consented to the match. Ralph was close to the king, but some in the church said Ralph and Eleanor were too closely related. The worse problem was that he was married to Eleanor, daughter of Odo III of Troyes and niece of Theobald of Blois. Nonetheless Ralph repudiated his wife, and he and Petronilla eloped. Certain bishops and Ralph’s brother Simon, bishop of Noyon, declared the old marriage invalid on grounds of consanguinity. Theobald protested and Pope Innocent II sent a representative who condemned the repudiation. Ralph was ordered to leave Petronilla and take Eleanor back. The second marriage was declared illicit and Ralph was excommunicated. Only the deaths of the pope and Ralph’s first wife resolved the situation.
Louis decided to take his revenge on Theobald of Blois. He recognized the rights to wealthy territories to Hugh’s son Odo, but Theobald claimed them for himself. Louis attacked Vitry, held by one of Theobald’s vassals, and his men fired the church where 1300 people had taken shelter. The pope condemned the act, and when Louis realized what had happened, he burst out in tears and regretted their deaths. It may be here that he decided to go on the Second Crusade, as penance—or maybe it was a pilgrimage.
At an assembly at Vezelay, Bernard (later proclaimed saint) preached the crusade to a crowd so huge that they had to meet outside the town. He ran out of prepared crosses, so he tore his own clothes to make more. Louis took the cross there on 31 Mar 1146. Then he went to a leper colony outside Paris, which he entered with only two men and stayed a long time.
After prostrating himself before Pope Eugenius III and the altar of St. Denis, the pope gave him the pilgrim’s scrip or wallet and the oriflamme, the standard of the abbey of St. Denis. Louis and Eleanor departed on that same day, 11 June 1147.
They decided to go overland, and the Turks harassed them, trapping and destroying part of the French army on 7 Jan 1148. The survivors crossed the mountains. In one skirmish the king had to climb a rock by grabbing tree roots to escape and fight off the attackers. He and his army went on, but had little hope of success.
In the principality of Antioch, Eleanor’s uncle was there—Raymond of Poitiers, younger brother of William X, Duke of Aquitaine. Raymond wanted to attack a Muslim leader, but Louis refused to let him. Raymond tried to get Louis to change his mind by talking to his wife Eleanor. Raymond and Eleanor had long conversations alone. John of Salisbury reported “familiarity” between the two. Louis was annoyed and decided to move on to Jerusalem, his main goal. Eleanor refused, which was not to be done in her day. Rumors about her and Raymond continued, and Louis carried her away at night.
They wanted to besiege Damascus, possibly a foolish plan since the city may have been an ally, but on the other hand it was easy picking for Muslims, and the French wanted to prevent this. The long and short of it was the most of the imperial and French leaders went home, while Louis stayed to visit the holy sites. Louis and Eleanor left, Eleanor in a separate ship, which was captured by the Byzantines, but she was rescued to the Sicilians. Louis arrived in Calabria on 29 July 1149, and Eleanor later in Palermo. They travelled through Italy, and Pope Eugenius persuaded them to share a large bed. They returned to France together, but it wouldn’t last.
In sixteen years of marriage Eleanor provided him with no son, just two daughters. He had to let Eleanor go, or so he believed. He did not realize that Henry Plantagenet would rise to the throne. In fact, he was crowned on 19 Dec 1154 when the divorce—annulment—happened on 21 Mar 1152. But couldn’t Louis realize that Henry, a Plantagenet and Count of Anjou and Duke of Normandy, grandson of Henry I, was an eligible bachelor? In any case, Eleanor had to bravely escape two forced, would-be marriages. She wrote young Henry a letter to rescue her. He did. They saw no reason to delay and got married at Poitiers on 18 May 1152. She gave him five sons (the first, William, lived only three years); Henry the Younger (joint-king, d. 1183); Geoffrey (d. 1186); King Richard the Lion-heart; and King John. And they had three daughters: Matilda or Maud, Eleanor, and Joan.
So Louis had to make the best of it. He played one son against the other sons. They often ran to Louis’s court when their powerful father Henry did not do as they asked. Eleanor even encouraged their rebellion, especially her favorite Richard, who took over Aquitaine. At one time she even allied herself with Louis—ironically. Eventually, Henry captured her and placed her under comfortable “castle arrest.”
Here’s is Bradbury’s general overview of Louis VII and his spirit and piety:
Louis VII on his seal of 1137 appears as a young man with hair to his shoulders. He was educated in the cathedral school of Notre Dame in Paris. He was genuinely pious and organized the first royal crusade. Despite its military failure, he insisted on staying to see the Holy Places. During the crusade he never forgot mass or the hours, whtever the military conditions or the weather. His first wife famously declared that being wedded to him was like marriage to a monk. Later when ill at the siege of Nonette, Louis was offered a young girl to enter his bed and speed his recovery. He primly refused, “if nothing else will cure me, let the Lord do his will by me, since it is better to die ill and chaste than live as an adulterer.” He was unusual in his age for showing tolerance to the Jews, appointing a Praepositus Judaeorum [Provost of the Jews] to protect them. His reign saw a significant increase in the freeing of serfs, encouraged by the church and the king. In a charter [legal document granting special privileges] he declared “all men having a common origin were endowed from birth with a kind of natural liberty. It is given to our royal majesty to raise them anew to this liberty.” He was a gentle and modest man, noted for his “kindness and simple mildness.” Walter Map described an occasion when Theobald of Blois found the king sleeping in the forest, guarded only by two knights. He scolded him for risking his life. Louis replied, “I sleep alone and safe because no one envies me.” Walter Map recorded Louis’ comment on the wealth of England, remarking that “we in France have only bread, wine and the enjoyment of life.”
He married (1) Eleanor of Aquitaine, daughter of the Duke William X of Aquitaine. They had two daughters Marie and Alix (Alice), but no son. He inherited the prosperous duchy of Aquitaine, but he had no resources to suppress the unruly lords there. So he calculated that he could divorce Eleanor, no great loss since his control over Aquitaine was slim. He needed a son. So Louis and Eleanor were divorced on 21 Mar 1152, on the (fake) grounds of consanguinity.
He married (2) Constance of Castile, daughter of Alphonse (Alphonso) VII, King of Castile and Leon. They had two daughters (1) Margaret (or Marguerite), who married Henry of England, the Young King and joint-King of England, Duke of Normandy, Count of Anjou and Maine; and (2) Alix (Alice), who was born 4 Oct 1160. She married William Talvas III, Count of Ponthieu and Montreuil. Alice was living 18 July 1218. He died 6 Oct 1221. They had Marie of Ponthieu and Montreuil who married (1) Simon de Dammartin, Count of Dammartin and Aumale; and (2) Mathieu de Montmorcy, Constable of France. Constance died in childbirth with their second daughter on 4 Oct 1160.
Louis married (3) Adele (Adela), a member of the powerful family, the Counts of Champagne and also of Blois, and Troyes. Adele gave him Philip (II Augustus). However, he got sick and was at death’s door, but Louis pleaded and prayed to God, night and day. He even had a vision or some kind of encounter with the deceased Thomas Becket, who told him to visit his remains at Canterbury. Louis went to England, and King Henry welcomed him. He went to Canterbury Cathedral and offered his payers. Philip recovered.
The journey to England took a lot out of Louis. He suffered a stroke, and his right side was paralyzed. He was unable to speak. Philip’s association as joint-king went ahead at Reims on 1 Nov 1179, but without his father. Philip assumed the reins of power, but he also needed guidance.
Louis’s widow Adele died at Paris 4 June 1204 and was buried in the Abbey of Pontigny (Yonne) in Burgundy.
Louis died at Paris 18 (or 19) Sep 1180 and was buried in the Cistercian Abbey of Notre Dame de Barbeaux, near Fontainebleau.
You who survive him are successors to his dignity;
You diminish his line if you diminish his renown.
His tomb was opened by Charles IX in 1566. His remains were intact. In 1817, they were transferred to St. Denis on the orders of Louis XVIII.
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.
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).
Ralph V. Turner, Eleanor of Aquitaine: Queen of France, Queen of England (New Haven: Yale U P, 2009)
W. L. Warren, Henry II (Berkeley: University of California P, 1973).