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 is said to have 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.
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 very 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 supposedly uncovered due to 2 rather innocuous items; silk purses.
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; brothers 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).
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.
Of the princesses, 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 conveniently died – probably strangled on the orders of Louis.
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. The birth of a daughter led to the succession crisis, with arguments arising that a woman could not inherit the French throne. Although Salic Law had only previously been relevant to landed inheritance, and never before applied to the crown, it was now used to invoke to remove the surviving daughters of the 3 Valois kings from the succession. The crown now passed to Charles’ closest relative through the male line; his cousin, Philip of Valois, grandson of Philip III.
Edward III of England, however, as the only grandson of Philip IV, through his mother, pursued his own claim to the French throne and used it as a motive to launch the Hundred Years’ War.
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.
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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©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly, FRHistS
Really interesting thanks
Thank you Karrie. Glad you liked it.
Reblogged this on karenstoneblog and commented:
Another fascinating blog
I really enjoyed this – it is well researched and tied all the pieces together. Great job!
Thank you so much, Kristie.
Just like Humphrey of Gloucester, when a nobleman’s wife is locked up he cannot have legitimate children.
It does make it rather difficult, Stephen, that’s true. The Papacy didn’t help either – dragging their heals over the divorces.
Very well written.
Thank you, that’s kind of you to say. 🙂
Reblogged this on Colorado Hummingbird and commented:
Very well written piece of history.
Thank you 🙂
Reblogged this on Wendy J. Dunn.
Thank you so much, Wendy 🙂
How scandalous to be caught committing adultery . Was the punishment so harsh ” just ” because they were royalty ?
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.
Well, it wasn’t so harsh as say That meted out by Henry 8th of England.
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.
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.
Reblogged this on evelynralph and commented:
I do love these ‘Interesting Bits’
Thank you so much Evelyn, it’s much appreciated. Sharon 🙂
Interesting indeed. Thanks for sharing 🙂
Thank you Christoph 🙂
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.
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