Louis VI was born around 1081. As the first son of King Philip I, Louis became associated as his heir from an early age. During the late 1090s, the king began to focus more on pleasure-seeking than ruling. As a result, the prince started ruling on his father’s behalf. By the time Philip died in 1108, Louis had become a seasoned administrator.
King of France
Upon his accession as Louis VI, the new king focused on subjugating the French nobility. During Philip I’s reign, the nobility had become unruly and disregarded royal authority. To counter this, Louis pursued a policy of control. First, the king looked for a reason to summon a rebellious noble to court. Since the nobles typically refused to appear, Louis then threatened them. Finally, if they still refused to submit, the king had a valid reason to attack them.
Louis VI’s policy gradually produced results. Although nobles still resisted the king, an increased number began to submit. Over time, royal authority strengthened at the nobility’s expense. To increase his power, Louis used castles to further his control. Although successful, the king still faced formidable resistance.
Hugh III du Puiset
Hugh III du Puiset was an influential nobleman who resented Louis VI’s efforts. After attacking multiple churches and being excommunicated, the king summoned Hugh in 1111. However, Hugh refused to appear. In response, Louis declared that Hugh’s lands and castle were forfeit. When Hugh still refused to submit, the king attacked his castle. After a siege of Le Puiset, the nobleman was captured.
Despite the danger Hugh du Puiset posed, he regained his freedom in 1112 after promising to be loyal. Once released, the nobleman quickly abandoned his oath to Louis VI. Hugh rebuilt his castle and resumed attacking churches. Although the king suffered defeat during the second siege of Le Puiset, Louis ultimately dealt a decisive blow in 1118. During a battle at Janville, the king captured Le Puiset and finally broke Hugh’s power.
Thomas of Marle
Another thorn in Louis VI’s side was Thomas of Marle. Like Hugh du Puiset, Thomas disregarded Louis VI’s authority. However, Thomas proved to be a more vile man than Hugh. Thomas terrorized both the clergy and peasants. The nobleman had a reputation for torturing and brutalizing those he didn’t like. After hearing the pleas of Thomas’ victims, Louis intervened in 1114.
The conflict between king and nobleman would initially be short-lived. After capturing two of Thomas’ castles, Marle begged for Louis VI’s forgiveness. Similar to Hugh, the king forgave Thomas. However, this wasn’t the end of Marle. Thomas subsequently ignored his promise to the king and resumed his former activities. Once again, Louis fought against Thomas. However, their conflict would be prolonged until Thomas’s final defeat in 1130.
Henry I of England
In 1100, Henry I succeeded to the English throne. As king, Henry sought to increase his territory in France. Initially, the king’s older brother, Robert, controlled Normandy. However, Henry overthrew his unpopular brother and claimed Normandy in 1106. The king then turned his attention towards Gisor. Upon learning this, Louis demanded that Henry abandon his claim.
When Henry I ignored Louis VI’s warning, both men began fighting. During the 1110s, Louis and Henry engaged in a long war over Normandy. To counter the English king’s power, Louis supported the imprisoned Robert’s son, William Clito, as the rightful duke. If the French king succeeded, William would be a more docile vassal then Henry. Although mostly successful against the English king, Louis suffered a setback in 1119.
Death of an Heir
During 1119, the French king and his allies invaded Normandy. Louis VI ordered multiple cavalry charges, but each failed. After being repulsed by the English, the French king barely escaped with his life. Despite suffering a humiliating defeat, Louis regained the advantage a year later.
In November 1120, Henry I’s only legitimate son and heir, William, drowned in a boating accident. As a result, the English succession fell into turmoil. After grieving the loss of his son, Henry I resumed fighting in 1123. This time, the English king involved his son-in-law, Holy Roman Emperor Henry V. In response, the emperor prepared a large army for an invasion of France. Aware of Henry V’s invasion, Louis rallied the French in defense of their kingdom.
Although Louis VI successfully formed an army, Henry V never invaded. Fortunately for the French king, the emperor succumbed to illness in August 1125. Despite this setback, Henry I arranged a new marriage for his daughter, Matilda. To increase his support, the English king had Matilda marry Geoffrey of Anjou. As Henry gained a new ally from the marriage, the subsequent death of William Clito caused Louis to lose a valuable partner.
During the 1130s, Louis VI began experiencing health problems. Although a fit man when he began his reign, Louis had started gaining weight in his forties. The king became so obese that he had issues mounting his horse. Despite his weight, Louis continued to campaign throughout France. In addition to his weight, the king also started suffering from dysentery in 1135.
As the French king suffered, his rival, Henry I, began experiencing health problems. Louis VI would eventually recover, but Henry died on December 1. However, the French king’s health took a turn for the worse in June 1137. As Louis’ health declined, he learned that the wealthy William X of Aquitaine had died. Seeing an opportunity to enrich the monarchy and expand France’s territory, the king quickly arranged for his son, Prince Louis, to marry William’s heir, Eleanor. Shortly after, Louis died on August 1, 1137.
Louis VI spent his reign fighting to establish royal authority. Despite experiencing defeats from his nobles and Henry I, the French king persevered. Partially due to his ability and to good fortune, Louis managed to increase the monarchy’s prestige. Before his death, the king did one final act to strengthen his kingdom. By having his son, Louis, marry Eleanor of Aquitaine, France gained an influx of wealth and expanded its border south to the Pyrenees mountains.
Bradbury, J. (2010). The Capetians: Kings of France, 987-1328. London: Hambledon Continuum.
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2020, July 28). Louis VI. Retrieved July 22, 2020, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Louis-VI