Silk Purses and Royal Scandal

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Philip IV with sons Charles and Philip and daughter Isabella on his right and his heir, Louis and brother, Charles of Valois, on his left

In the early years of the 14th Century, scandal rocked the French monarchy to its core and inadvertently contributed to the end of the Capetian dynasty.

1314 was a tumultuous year for France; the final act in the destruction of the Knights Templars was played out when Grand Master, Jacques de Molay and the Preceptor of Normandy, Geoffrey de Charney, were burned to death on the Ile de la Cite.

De Molay cursed Philip IV, King of France, and his descendants from the flames. Philip IV would be dead within a year and his dynasty’s rule over France would end with the death of his youngest son, Charles IV, in 1328.

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Marguerite of Burgundy

Philip’s eldest son and heir, Louis, was married to Marguerite de Burgundy. Louis seems to have been a hard person to live with – his nickname was Louis the Quarreler – and the marriage was said to be unhappy. A daughter, Jeanne, would survive childhood to eventually become Queen of Navarre.

The second son, Philip, was married to Marguerite’s cousin, Jeanne d’Artois and Charles, the youngest, was married to Jeanne’s sister, Blanche d’Artois.

The royal scandal of 1314 was uncovered due to 2 rather innocuous items; silk purses.

Isabella_of_France
Isabella of France, Queen of England

On an earlier visit to France Isabella of France, wife of Edward II of England, had given silk purses to her sisters-in-law, as souvenirs of the knighting of her 3 brothers, Louis, Philip and Charles, the sons of Philip IV.

When she visited again in 1314, Isabella saw these same silk purses on the belts of 2 knights of the French court; Gautier and Philippe d’Aunay. When Isabella brought this to her father’s attention, the matter was investigated and the brothers were put under surveillance.

The 2 knights, it seems, were meeting with the princesses in secret. The whole scandal became known as the Tour de Nesle Affair, as the clandestine meetings were supposed to have taken place in this small palace on the outskirts of Paris (although some sources suggest that events happened at Philip IV’s country retreat of Maubuisson Abbey).

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Blanche of Artois

Whatever the location, the affair was discovered; all 3 princesses were arrested and questioned. When confronted in a secret court, Marguerite and Blanche confessed to adultery with the d’Aunay brothers. Their heads were shaved and they were sent to life imprisonment in Chateau Gaillard.

Blanche’s sister, Jeanne, fared better; she was also arrested, and placed under guard at the Chateau Dourdan. Her marriage with Philip was a very happy one, and it seems she was only guilty of knowing of the affairs. Philip defended his wife before the Paris Parlement and, with Philip’s support, Jeanne pleaded her innocence to the king, and was allowed to return to her husband and the court.

The 2 knights were arrested and, after being questioned and tortured, they confessed to the adultery and were condemned to death for the crime of ‘lese majeste’. The unfortunate brothers were castrated and ‘broken on the wheel’ – they were strapped to large wheels, which were spun while their limbs were shattered with iron bars. And finally, they were decapitated.

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Chateau Gaillard

Marguerite’s imprisonment was the most severe. She was badly treated and some sources suggest she was held in a cell at the top of the donjon, open to the elements.

On his accession to the throne in November 1314, Louis X applied to the Pope for an annulment of the marriage. However, Pope Clement V died before he could grant the divorce and no new Pope would be elected until 1316. Shortly after Clement’s death, however, Marguerite died – probably strangled on the orders of Louis.

Joan_II_of_Burgundy
Jeanne d’Artois, Countess of Burgundy

Louis married Clemence of Hungary, but died in June 1316, whilst Clemence was pregnant with their son. Jean I the Posthumous, was born and died in November of the same year and the crown passed to Louis’ brother, Philip V – with Jeanne d’Artois (by then Countess of Burgundy) at his side.

Philip died in 1322, leaving only daughters and the crown passed to his brother. On his accession, Charles divorced Blanche – still in an underground cell in Chateau Gaillard –  and transferred her to a monastery at Gavray, in Normandy, where she became a nun, dying there the following year.

Charles IV died in February 1328, leaving his 3rd wife, Jeanne d’Evreux, pregnant. In April 1328, she gave birth to a daughter, Blanche, and, following Salic Law, the crown passed to Charles’ cousin, Philip of Valois, grandson of Philip III.

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Jeanne II of Navarre

Salic Law, however, was not in force in Navarre, a kingdom which had come to the French crown when Jeanne I of Navarre had married Philip IV. Louis’ daughter, Jeanne, therefore inherited Navarre as Jeanne II, despite the questions that the scandal raised over her parentage.

It has been suggested that the Tour de Nesle Affair was all an elaborate plot to destabilise the French monarchy, but most historians believe the adultery took place. The harsh punishments reflected the need for queens and princesses to be above reproach, and the parentage of their children to be beyond question. The scandal cast a long shadow on the last years of the Capetian dynasty, with neither of the 3 brothers producing a son to carry on their line.

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Sources: Pierre Goubert The Course of French History; Paul Doherty Isabella and the Strange Death of Edward II; J Huizinga The Waning of the Middle Ages; H.G. Koenigsberger Medieval Europe 400-1500; maison-hantee.com; herodote.net; histoirefrance.net.

Pictures taken from Wikipedia.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

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©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly

25 thoughts on “Silk Purses and Royal Scandal

  1. Kristie 16/03/2015 / 22:00

    I really enjoyed this – it is well researched and tied all the pieces together. Great job!

    Like

  2. super blue 05/09/2015 / 15:58

    Just like Humphrey of Gloucester, when a nobleman’s wife is locked up he cannot have legitimate children.

    Like

    • Sharon Bennett Connolly 05/09/2015 / 16:12

      It does make it rather difficult, Stephen, that’s true. The Papacy didn’t help either – dragging their heals over the divorces.

      Like

  3. Colorado Hummingbird 05/09/2015 / 23:05

    Reblogged this on Colorado Hummingbird and commented:
    Very well written piece of history.

    Like

  4. History woman 10/09/2015 / 17:18

    How scandalous to be caught committing adultery . Was the punishment so harsh ” just ” because they were royalty ?

    Like

    • Sharon Bennett Connolly 10/09/2015 / 17:22

      I think so, History Woman. Royal women had to be faithful to their husbands, otherwise you couldn’t guarantee the right bloodline was on the throne. I also think King Philip was particularly vicious in order to save face; he had to be brutal to show people how powerful the monarchy still was.

      Like

  5. evelynralph 16/03/2016 / 11:33

    Dirty work Afoot, eh? I suppse many if these marriages were not love but convenience, power, lands etc. It just depends on how clever they were, and getting away with it. In this case, guving the knight purses, recorded gifts, and they openly wearing them, seems kind of stupid.
    Evelyn

    Like

    • Sharon Bennett Connolly 16/03/2016 / 12:40

      It does make you wonder why on earth the women – and the men – would risk so much. Surely they knew the danger they were running? It’s just fascinating.

      Like

  6. Gary Purdew 03/07/2016 / 10:54

    I like your account of this royal scandal. But beware the ‘Salic Law’ pitfall! Salic Law was the law of the ancient Franks, not Capetian France (think of Eleanor of Aquitaine). The issue in 1316 was novel: after centuries of kings, there was no male heir. And some of Philip’s supporters said France should not have a queen, it is quite wrong to imagine that the idea of a queen was unthinkable or that Salic Law was the basis of Philip’s claim. Philip had in fact agreed to be regent until Jeanne reached her majority. But when John the Posthumous died Philip quickly had himself crowned, to establish a fait accompli. Even so, he then assembled a coalition of the great and the good to argue to press his claim; he bribed Jeanne’s supporters, notably the Duke of Burgundy. But it was not until 1358 that Richard le Scot suggested that Salic Law governed the royal succession, an idea enthusiastically embraced by royal propagandists.

    Like

    • Sharon Bennett Connolly 03/07/2016 / 12:00

      Thank you for making that clear Gary. I tried to steer away from the Salic Law angle as much as possible, giving just the basics as it is a post in itself – and a long one. In the article I just wanted to make people aware that this was the event which sparked the idea of Salic Law relating to the succession. Best wishes, Sharon

      Like

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