Valois Dynasty (France)
VALOIS DYNASTY (FRANCE). From its accession to the French throne in 1328 through its end in 1589, the Valois dynasty included thirteen kings: Philip VI (ruled 1328–1350); John the Good (1350–1364); Charles V (1364–1380); Charles VI (1380–1422); Charles VII (1422–1461); Louis XI (1461–1483); Charles VIII (1483–1498); Louis XII (1498–1515); Francis I (1515–1547); Henry II (1547–1559); Francis II (1559–1560); Charles IX (1560–1574); Henry III (1574–1589).
Over this period, the dynasty presided over some of the most violent years in French history. Its reign included the Hundred Years' War (1337–1453) and the Wars of Religion (1562–1598), two periods in which it seemed that France itself might break apart; and from 1495 through 1557 there were a series of wars with the kings of Spain, with each side seeking hegemony in Italy. The sixteenth-century Valois also confronted the advent of Protestantism, and their response to it continued to influence French society well into the nineteenth century. Despite the advantages that converting to Protestantism might have offered, Francis I and Henry II vigorously prosecuted all forms of heresy; and Charles IX endorsed the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre of Protestants in 1572. As a result, to the end of the Old Regime the French monarchy would remain closely allied with Catholic ritual and belief.
The Valois included colorful characters to match the dramatic times in which they ruled. A patron of the arts and ambitious warrior, Francis I was a Renaissance monarch well suited to compete with his contemporaries Henry VIII of England (ruled 1509–1547) and the Emperor Charles V (ruled 1519–1556). But several other members of the dynasty showed signs of mental instability, and in both the fifteenth and the sixteenth centuries these had dire political consequences.
Baumgartner, Frederic J. Henry II, King of France, 1547– 1559. Durham, N.C., 1988.
Knecht, R. J. Francis I. New York, 1982.
——. The French Civil Wars, 1562–1598. New York, 2000.
The ruling dynasty of France during much of the Renaissance, the Valois gained the throne in 1328 when the last king of the Capetian dynasty died without an heir. Philip of Valois, a cousin of the king, took the throne as Philip VI. Another cousin with a claim to the French throne, Edward III of England, challenged the legitimacy of the Valois. In 1337 he declared war, launching the Hundred Years' War between England and France.
After driving the English from most of France in 1453, the Valois king Louis XI focused attention on the dukes of Burgundy, his cousins and rivals. The rivalry lasted for decades. To protect themselves against France, the Burgundians made a number of marriage alliances with the HABSBURG DYNASTY. The family ties eventually led to hostility between the Valois and the Habsburgs. In the late 1400s and early 1500s, the Valois kings Charles VIII and Louis XII invaded Italy to assert French claims to the kingdom of NAPLES and the duchy* of MILAN. In response, Pope JULIUS II organized an alliance in 1509 known as the Holy League, which expelled the French from Italy by 1514.
Hostility between the Valois and Habsburg dynasties intensified during the reigns of FRANCIS I, successor to Louis XII, and the Holy Roman Emperor* CHARLES V. Francis I launched another invasion of Italy in 1515. His victory at Marignano restored Milan to French rule but provoked another round of fighting with Charles V. At the Battle of Pavia in 1525, Francis I was captured and held for ransom. He won his release the following year after promising to surrender Burgundy to Charles. Francis broke his word, however, and warfare resumed. It did not end until his death in 1547. Renaissance culture in France reached a peak under Francis I, who was a patron* of numerous artists, architects, and humanists*.
Henry II, Francis's son, had been married at age 14 to CATHERINE DE MÉDICIS in an effort to forge an alliance with the Medici pope. About a decade into his reign, Henry sent French forces back to Italy. King PHILIP II of Spain, son of Charles V, responded by invading northern France in 1557. However, concern over the spread of Protestantism led the two monarchs to make peace in 1559.
During the reign of Francis II, son of Henry II, control of the French monarchy fell into the hands of the Guise family, who were fervent Catholics. Many French nobles, including the Bourbon Family, felt excluded from power and joined with French Protestants against the Guise. Four decades of civil war followed, and the worst mark against the Valois family occurred during this period. In 1572, during the rule of Charles IX, Catholic forces killed several thousand Huguenots* and others in the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre.
Henry III, the brother of Charles IX, took the throne in 1574. The best educated of the Valois kings, Henry sought a compromise between Catholics and Protestants. However, in 1584 Henry's brother and only heir died, leaving the Huguenot prince Henry of Bourbon next in line to the throne. Catholic forces took steps to prevent the Huguenot from becoming king. When Henry III tried to oppose them, he was forced out of Paris and later assassinated. His death in 1589 marked the end of the Valois dynasty, which had played such a significant role in shaping the French nation and monarchy.
- * duchy
territory ruled by a duke or duchess
- * Holy Roman Emperor
ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, a political body in central Europe composed of several states that existed until 1806
- * patron
supporter or financial sponsor of an artist or writer
- * humanist
Renaissance expert in the humanities (the languages, literature, history, and speech and writing techniques of ancient Greece and Rome)
- * Huguenot
French Protestant of the 1500s and 1600s, follower of John Calvin
A dynasty of thirteen kings of France who reigned from 1328 through 1589. The Valois dynasty began with Philip VI, who succeeded the last king of the House of Capet, Charles IV. At this time England and France were in conflict over French support of a rebellion in Scotland, and over the English king Edward III's claim to the throne of France. The two countries went to war in 1337, a contest that endured for more than a century and brought ruin to cities and estates throughout France. The authority of the kings of France was challenged by powerful French nobles and tested further by the arrival of the Black Death—the bubonic plague that struck France in the late 1340s and killed millions of its citizens. The plague and the war drove many French nobles to break away from the authority of the king, and a peasant rebellion known as the Jacquerie brought further chaos and violence to the kingdom. At the Battle of Agincourt, in 1415, English longbowmen defeated the armies of the king and devastated the French knights.
The French cause and the Valois dynasty found salvation in the person of Joan of Arc, who convinced Charles VII to appoint her commander of the French forces lifting the English siege of Orléans. Although Joan was captured and executed in 1429, the French began scoring victories against the English. Royal authority strengthened under Charles and his successors, who brought Normandy, Burgundy, Guienne, and Brittany under central control. The French nobles were brought to heel through a system of seneschals—representatives who enforced royal laws and decrees—and by the actions of royal courts known as Parlements that were established throughout the nation.
At the end of the fifteenth century, with central authority strengthened and France recovered from the Hundred Years' War, the Valois monarchs Charles VIII and Louis XII involved the kingdom in the many disputes burning in the Italian peninsula. In the end, France was expelled from Italy by an alliance of the Habsburg emperors and the Italian city-states, which fielded effective mercenary armies.
The Valois line continued through the reigns of Francis I from 1515 to 1547 and Henri II, whose reign began in 1547. Francis I was a dedicated patron of writers and artists, and made France a center of the Renaissance. Both Francis I and Henri II strongly resisted the Protestant Reformation, prosecuting Protestant heresy and keeping France within the Catholic Church. The conflict culminated during the reign of Charles IX in a nationwide assault on Protestants in 1572 known as the Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre. The assassination of Henri II in 1559 touched off a bloody civil conflict known as the Wars of Religion between Catholics and French Protestants, also known as Hu guenots. Henri III was murdered in 1589 and left behind no heir, bringing Henri IV to the throne as the first of the Bourbon dynasty.
See Also: Francis I; Henri III; Henri IV