Charles IV of France was never expected to be king. When his father, King Philip IV, died at the age of 46 on November 29, 1314, the Capetian line of succession was very secure. Philip IV had left behind three sons: Louis, Philip, and Charles. As the eldest brother, Louis succeeded his father as Louis X. No one suspected the misfortune that would soon befall the family.
Louis X of France
Unfortunately for Louis, his reign would only last for two years. He would succumb to illness on June 5, 1316. Louis’s posthumous son, John I, would reign for five days before following his father into the afterlife. With only a daughter remaining, Louis’s brother Philip successfully argued that a male should succeed to the throne over a female. After gaining the necessary support, Joan’s claim was ignored, and Philip was crowned King Philip V.
Philip V of France
Like Louis X, Philip V would not reign long. On January 3, 1322, Philip passed away from dysentery. He had been king for five years. Unlike his brother, Philip didn’t have a living son to succeed him. Once more, the daughters of a French king were swept aside in favor of a male. After the deaths of his elder brothers and their respective sons, it was now time for Charles, Count of La Marche, to become Charles IV, King of France.
Conflict With England
When Charles IV became king, France was at odds with England and its ruler, King Edward II. Despite being married to Charles’s sister, Isabelle, the two men had a tense relationship. As the Duke of Aquitaine, Edward was obligated to pay annual homage to Charles for his overseas territory. Instead of simply paying, Edward decided to stall as he did with Louis X and Philip V. Due to Edward’s inaction, an angry Charles declared war on England and invaded Aquitaine.
As French forces swept across the duchy, it appeared that France would snatch Aquitaine away from England. The French captured Agen and Marmande, but the English managed to hold onto Bordeaux and Bayonne. In England, Edward II’s unpopularity and financial issues prevented him from raising a fleet, which delayed crucial assistance. Realizing that he was beaten, Edward agreed to pay homage to Charles, but only if his son, Prince Edward, did so in his place. Charles accepted.
On September 24, 1325, Prince Edward and his mother, Queen Isabelle, paid homage to Charles. While in France, a vengeful Isabelle sought to enlist her brother’s help in overthrowing Edward II due to his terrible treatment of her. With Charles’s approval, Isabelle gathered her forces and invaded England with her lover, the exiled noble Roger Mortimer. Edward II’s deep unpopularity caused many to side with Isabelle and resulted in Edward being dethroned in favor of his son. After Prince Edward’s accession as Edward III, peace was established between the new king of England and Charles in 1327. The peace settlement strongly favored France, and the country would gain many new territories at England’s expense.
Last of the Line
By early 1328, Charles IV was suffering from illness. On February 1, 1328, Charles breathed his last breath, and with him, the senior line of the Capetian dynasty ended. Since Charles’s sons had all died before him, the question of succession arose again. Once more, the surviving daughters of a French king were ignored in favor of a male successor. It was decided that Charles’s cousin, Philip of Valois, would succeed him as Philip VI of France.
Although his reign was brief, Charles IV of France still made an impact. Unlike his elder brothers, Charles was able to humble England and have it submit to French authority. The peace between the two nations provided France with a generous increase in territory, further cementing the power of France’s monarchy over England’s. Upon Philip VI’s ascension, the Valois dynasty was established. His reign would oversee the beginning of the Hundred Years’ War.
Bradbury, J. (2010). The Capetians: Kings of France, 987-1328. London: Hambledon Continuum.
Charles IV. (2019, January 28). Retrieved May 22, 2019, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Charles-IV-king-of-France.