Philip IV of France: The Ruthless King

Philip IV of France
c. 1268 – November 29, 1314

Early Life

His desire to always maintain his authority led him into many conflicts. Philip IV was born in Fontainebleu, France in 1268. At the time of his birth, Philip’s father, Prince Philip, hadn’t yet ascended to the throne. However, that all changed when his father, King Louis IX, died on August 25, 1270. Shortly after Louis’s death, Philip III’s wife Isabella also died.

Devastated by the deaths of both his father and wife, the king sought refuge in governing. As a consequence, Prince Philip and his siblings grew up neglected by their father. Philip’s unhappy childhood continued to get worse. In 1276, his older brother Louis allegedly died from poisoning. As the family mourned the loss of Louis, Philip became the new heir.

Since Philip didn’t see much of his father, he viewed his grandfather as a surrogate father figure. As time went on, the prince became captivated with Louis IX’s saintliness. Due to his admiration, Philip viewed his grandfather as an ideal model of a king. He desired to emulate the saint king’s reign once he ascended to the throne.

Ascension

In October 1285, Philip III died. Consequently, the 17-year-old prince became King Philip IV. The young king’s initial focus was on reforming his government. To ensure that laws were being followed, Philip dispatched his administrators throughout France. Despite his good intentions, the king alienated many French citizens in the process. The French didn’t appreciate Philip strictly enforcing the government’s laws since it wasn’t the normal precedent.

Conflict with England

Edward I of England
Edward I of England

In 1294, Philip IV began having issues with Edward I of England. As the ruler of a powerful kingdom, Philip sought to demonstrate his authority. Since Edward controlled Gascony, he had to pay homage to Philip to keep the duchy. The French king began to threaten confiscating Gascony away from England. In response to Philip’s actions, Edward retaliated. Throughout the late 1290’s, both countries engaged in a series of battles with neither ruler deescalating.

By 1303, Philip IV and Edward I signed a peace treaty. While fighting the English, France had exhausted its finances. Therefore, the struggle seemed irrelevant. As part of the agreement, Philip agreed to have his daughter, Isabella, marry Edward’s heir, Prince Edward. Having learned from his experience with Edward, Philip resorted to war as a last resort in the future.

Conflict with Flanders

As France made peace with England, Philip IV began having issues with Flanders. Flanders served as both a center of commerce and the cloth industry. Since Flanders imported large amounts of English wool, it allied with Edward I during his war against Philip. Unhappy with Philip’s rule, the Flemish desired to break free from his control.

In response, Philip IV sent in troops to subdue Flanders. On July 11, 1302, French forces suffered a humiliating defeat at the Battle of the Golden Spurs. Untrained Flemish citizens had defeated professional French troops. Despite this setback, France eventually subjugated Flanders in 1305. In retaliation for its defiance, Philip forced Flanders to agree to a peace treaty that heavily favored France.

Pope Boniface VIII

Pope Boniface VIII
Pope Boniface VIII

Until the late 1290s, Philip IV had genuinely followed Louis IX’s Christian example. The king donated to religious organizations, adhered to church policies, and considered church official’s advice. Philip also strongly supported the French church and, it in turn, supported him. However, the king refused to have anyone, including a pope, challenge his authority.

Conflict with Rome

During Philip IV’s struggle with Edward I, Pope Boniface VIII had been planning a crusade to the Holy Land. Distressed by the two king’s conflict, the pope hoped to reconcile both and have them join the crusade. However, Boniface’s approach to resolving the matter proved to be heavy-handed. He aggressively attempted to force his papal authority on the two kings. To stop France’s military spending, Boniface prohibited the taxation of clergy in February 1296.

In response to Boniface VIII’s prohibition, Philip IV adamantly opposed it. By 1297, the king’s refusal prevented French clergy funds from reaching Rome, and the pope relented. In an attempt to appease Philip, Boniface canonized Louis IX as a saint. Despite this gesture of goodwill, the pope and king remained at odds.

In 1301, Philip IV and Boniface VIII clashed again. The dispute involved a French bishop named Bernard Saisset. Bernard supported Boniface and had insinuated that Louis IX burned in hell. Philip sought to incarcerate Bernard as a traitor while Boniface wanted him brought to Rome. Both men felt that their authority was being challenged by the other. In the end, Boniface got his way, which infuriated Philip.

Boniface’s Downfall

On November 18, 1302, Boniface VIII issued a papal bull called the Unam sanctam. Within the bull, the pope emphasized spiritual authority over secular authority. It was a veiled attempt at making Philip IV submit to Boniface. However, Philip remained unfazed. The king subsequently held a large assembly to rally his public support.

To counter Boniface VIII’s proclamation, Philip IV made his own. The king accused the pope of committing heresy and simony. Philip even suggested that a council of cardinals depose Boniface. On September 7, 1303, the king’s minister, William de Nogaret, captured the pope. Nogaret claimed that he did this to prevent Philip from being excommunicated.

On October 11, 1303, the old pope died. Boniface VIII’s captivity had harmed his health, which led to his death. Despite this, Boniface’s successor, Benedict XI, cleared Philip IV of any wrongdoing. Benedict’s successor, Clement V, proved to be even more subservient. In 1305, Clement moved the papal capital from Rome to Avignon, France. Philip had finally made the papacy submissive to him.

The Knights Templar

After the papacy’s move to Avignon, European Christians felt scandalized. The struggle between Philip IV and Boniface VIII had been distasteful. However, Clement V’s willing capitulation to please Philip damaged France’s reputation. Despite the damage, the French king wasn’t yet done. Instead, Philip began to focus on the Knights Templar.

The Knights Templar were a military order of knights founded in 1118. Their original purpose involved protecting Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land. After the collapse of Jerusalem in 1291, the order became more of a bank. Throughout the years, the order accumulated vast amounts of wealth and land. By the early 1300’s, the Knights Templar predominantly resided in France.

Originally, Philip IV approved of the Knights Templar and protected the organization’s privileges. He even entrusted them with guarding the royal treasury. However, by 1307, the relationship between king and order turned hostile. Philip owed a large debt to the Templars and couldn’t afford to repay it. Rumors also swirled that knights had committed heresy, practiced occultism, and didn’t adhere to proper conduct. After hearing these rumors, Philip ordered Clement V to investigate.

Templar’s Downfall

As French scrutiny of the Knights Templar intensified, other European countries viewed the situation skeptically. It was generally believed that France sought the order’s downfall solely for their wealth. Regardless, Philip IV’s government decided to break the order. Mass arrests of knights soon followed. While imprisoned, knights suffered torture to extract false confessions.

From 1307 to 1309, the order’s Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, made multiple confessions and recantations. Philip IV attempted to make de Molay admit to all the Templar’s alleged crimes. Despite the king’s insistence, Clement V felt hesitant about condemning the order, but felt pressured to do so. In 1314, de Molay followed his fellow knights into the afterlife. After being charged with heresy, the old Grand Master burned at the stake. Due to Philip’s executions, the Knights Templar order disintegrated.

Final Year

After the Knights Templar fell, Philip IV gained possession of their wealth and lands. The king justified his actions by claiming the order had committed heresy and deserved to be destroyed. In turn, a weak Clement V defended Philip’s actions. During 1314, the king fell from his horse and broke his leg. The injury became infected, and Philip’s health rapidly declined. On November 26, Philip died from his wound.

Conclusion

Philip IV began his reign by attempting to emulate Louis IX’s example. However, his desire to always maintain his authority made him stray. Instead of seeking peace, Philip indulged in conflict. Instead of being an ally of the church, Philip sought its submission to him. By the end of his reign, Flanders had been subjugated, the papacy resided in Avignon, and the Knights Templar broken. As possible retribution for his actions, Philip was rapidly succeeded by his three sons: Louis X, Philip V, and Charles IV.

Sources

Bradbury, J. (2010). The Capetians: Kings of France, 987-1328. London: Hambledon Continuum.

Brown, E. A. R. (2020, January 1). Philip IV. Retrieved February 7, 2020, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Philip-IV-king-of-France

Daugherty, G. (2019, February 21). In 1303 the French King Sent Goons to Attack and Kidnap the Pope. Retrieved February 12, 2020, from https://www.history.com/news/french-king-kidnapping-pope-philip-iv-boniface-vii

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Andy Tree

I'm a European history enthusiast who seeks to share his passion with others. I hope to inform and inspire readers with my posts!

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