Louis VI (1081-1137) was king of France from 1108 to 1137. He was the first to curb the violent nobility in the royal domain and to establish the prestige of the Crown on a firm foundation.
The fifth Capetian king of France, Louis VI was a giant of a man, proud of his physical strength and courage in battle. In 1100 he was associated in active rule with his vice-ridden father, King Philip I. At the urging of friends and bishops he finally married, when 35 years old, a niece of Pope Callistus II, Adelaide of Maurienne, who gave him six sons and three daughters, thus assuring the succession in the Capetian family.
Like his father, Louis was determined to become master of the royal domain—limited at the time to the île-de-France, the Laonais, and the Orléanais—by fighting the rebellious nobility in it. Louis led his knights into the thick of battle unmindful of his responsibility as king. Circumstances favored the king: the greater nobles in the fiefs surrounding the royal domain were so preoccupied with organizing their own fiefs into strong independent feudal states that they did not interfere with the King's efforts. Yet when Henry V of Germany sought to invade France, knights of the great independent lay lords rallied to the king in such numbers as to oblige Henry V to withdraw. Louis was thus recognized as the defender of all of France.
The King lived on good terms with the clergy. He freed bishoprics and the abbeys from the grip of predatory lords, endowed them generously, encouraged Church reform, and made an alliance with the papacy; but also he knew how to defend the Crown from clerical encroachments and what he considered royal rights. The clergy cooperated because they saw in a strong monarchy the best hope for peace in a disorderly feudal world.
Avaricious when short of money, Louis did not hesitate to sell justice, town charters, and privileges to the highest bidder. At court Louis permitted himself to be surrounded by venal counselors and listened too readily to their self-interested advice. However, during the last 5 years of his reign his principal adviser was the wise Suger, Abbot of St-Denis, who wrote the first substantial biography of a Capetian king.
Louis became as heavy as his father from overeating and so obese by the time he was 46 that he could not mount his horse. He lamented his fate: "How miserable is my condition never to be able to enjoy both my experience and strength. If I had only known when young what I do now and could do now when old what I could do when young, I would have overcome many empires." He died of dysentery at 56, wearing the habit of a monk while lying in ashes on a carpet. His advice to his son Louis VII as he lay dying was, according to Suger: "Protect the clergy, the poor and the fatherless. Do justice to every man."
The best life of Louis is in French. There are accounts of his life and evaluations of his reign in Louis Halphen, "France: Louis VI and Louis VII (1108-1180), " in The Cambridge Medieval History (8 vols., 1911-1936); Charles E. Petit-Dutaillis, The Feudal Monarchy in France and England from the Tenth to the Thirteenth Century (trans. 1936); and Robert Fawtier, The Capetian Kings of France: Monarchy and Nation, 987-1328 (trans. 1960). □