Philip I was born in 1052 to Capetian King Henry I of France and Queen Anne of Kiev. Upon his birth, Anne chose to name her son Philip, an unusual name in Western Europe at the time. On May 23, 1059, King Henry had his seven-year-old son crowned as co-king in Reims. The early Capetian kings utilized this practice to secure the passing of their throne to their heir. After the king’s death the following year, the prince was crowned King Philip I.
King of France
During his father’s reign, Henry I had struggled with asserting royal authority over his nobility. As a result, Philip I inherited a small and weak kingdom. Due to the king’s young age, he also couldn’t formally rule France yet. In response, a regency formed to govern on his behalf. Philip’s uncle, Baldwin V, Count of Flanders, would oversee the government. After becoming old enough in 1066, the king began formally ruling on his own.
In September 1067, Baldwin V died. Three years later, his son, Baldwin VI, passed away. Although Baldwin VI left behind a son, Arnulf III, his uncle, Robert, pressed his claim to Flanders. After Robert invaded Ghent, Arnulf’s mother, Richildis, appealed to Philip I for aid. In response, the king led an army against Robert. After clashing in February 1071, Philip suffered defeat and retreated. However, Arnulf would die fighting, while Robert captured Richildis after the battle.
Despite this setback, Philip I continued the war against Robert. Although Robert would be captured, he later escaped to St. Omer. After the king attacked the city, Philip and Robert agreed to a truce. The king would recognize Robert as count, and Richildis regained her freedom. To further cement the peace, Philip married the count’s stepdaughter, Bertha of Holland, in 1072.
In September 1066, William, Duke of Normandy, invaded England. The duke believed that the English throne belonged to him and sought to overthrow King Harold II. As regent, Baldwin V had encouraged William’s ambition. After defeating Harold’s forces at the Battle of Hastings, the duke established the Norman dynasty in England. As a result, the new king controlled both England and Normandy.
Although Henry I had been on good terms with Normandy, Philip I began to feel differently in the late 1070s. Although William was a vassal of the king’s, his newfound power threatened Philip. Due to his position weakening, the king looked for ways to undermine William. When the English king invaded Brittany in 1076, Philip rushed to its defense. As William attacked a castle, Philip’s forces arrived. During the ensuing battle, the English king was defeated and fled.
Philip I’s victory over William halted Norman expansion efforts and allowed the king to increase his territory. Philip decided to build upon his success by allying himself with William’s estranged son, Robert Curthose. As the English king’s eldest son, Robert resented his father for not receiving control of Normandy. In turn, Philip fanned Robert’s anger toward William. Robert’s subsequent rebellion in January 1079 against his father would further weaken Norman power.
Conflict with the Church
As the Normans fought amongst themselves in the 1080s, Philip I began experiencing problems with the church. During his reign, the king sought to assert his authority over the French churches. To this end, Philip controlled church offices by selling them while also gaining revenue. As a result, the king came into conflict with the papacy. Further complicating matters was Philip’s abandonment of his wife, Queen Bertha, in 1092.
Although the queen had provided the king with an heir, Louis, Philip I lost interest in her. Claiming Bertha was too fat, the king instead chose to be with his mistress, Betrada de Montfort. Since Betrada was the wife of the duke of Anjou, Philip’s announcement proved immensely unpopular with the papacy. After refusing to return to Bertha, Pope Urban II excommunicated the king in November 1095.
Eventually, Philip I sought to reconcile with the papacy. However, his attempt would be insincere, and the pope excommunicated him again in 1096. This pattern continued in 1099 and 1101. During this time, the king pocketed money intended for Rome from the clergy. As he continued to ignore the pope, Philip wed Bertrada despite both still being legally married. From this union, Betrada gave the king three more children.
During the last decade of Philip’s reign, the king turned over most of his governing duties to Prince Louis. The king instead spent his time indulging in food and pleasure. In turn, he became obese, and his health began to decline. In 1106, Philip finally reconciled with Pope Paschal II, although he continued to be condemned by the church. On July 30, 1108, the old king died from obesity.
Philip I spent his reign building his small kingdom into a European power. Through his craftiness, the king stopped Norman expansion in France by causing conflict in the English royal family. As the Normans faltered, Philip capitalized by adding territory to his kingdom. However, his decision to abandon his wife for Betrada caused him to have a bad relationship with the church. Despite the issues he faced, Philip left behind a stronger kingdom for his successor, Louis VI.
Bradbury, J. (2010). The Capetians: Kings of France, 987-1328. London: Hambledon Continuum.
Philip I. (n.d.). Retrieved November 01, 2020, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Philip-I-king-of-France