Philip V of France was born in 1293 to King Philip IV and Queen Joan. As the couple’s second son, Prince Philip wasn’t expected to inherit the French throne. Instead, it would go to his elder brother, Louis. Despite his standing, the king gave his son political power as the Count of Poitiers in 1311. Until the age of 21, little had been recorded of Prince Philip’s life. However, that all changed in 1314.
Tour de Nesle Scandal
By 1314, Philip, Louis, and his younger brother Charles each had a wife. Their youngest sibling, Isabella, accused the three wives of an alleged affair between them and two French knights, the D’Aulnay brothers. Although lacking hard evidence, Isabella’s claim convinced Philip IV to order his three daughter-in-law’s arrests. Without warning, all three women were imprisoned and believed guilty until proven innocent. In response to his wife’s arrest, Prince Philip proclaimed Joan innocent and fought for her release.
Meanwhile, Philip and Walter D’Aulnay were also imprisoned. Tortured until they confessed, the brothers admitted their guilt. In turn, both men suffered brutal deaths. After their bodies were destroyed, the monarchy seized the D’Aulnay’s possessions. Unlike his brother’s wives, Joan eventually regained her freedom and returned to her husband. Although the scandal had ended, it left a stain on the Capetian dynasty’s reputation.
Philip IV’s Death
During the scandal, Philip IV was a healthy 46-year-old. However, as he rode his horse, the king fell and broke his leg. The wound became infected, and Philip’s health rapidly declined. By November 1314, it became apparent that the king wouldn’t recover. Summoning Louis to his bedside, the king gave his final advice to his heir. On November 29, Philip succumbed to his illness and died.
Following their father’s death, Louis X succeeded to the throne. Over the next two years, the king struggled with asserting royal authority over the nobility and Flanders. Louis spent his reign attempting to decrease the latter’s independence, but it would be in vain. After a disastrous military campaign in 1315, the king made peace with Flanders. After playing a game of tennis on June 5, 1316, Louis collapsed after drinking chilled wine. Since his wife, Clementia, was pregnant, it was determined that Philip be made regent until the child’s birth.
Upon John I’s birth in November 1316, the infant automatically became king. However, his reign didn’t last long. After five days, Louis X’s only son died, causing a succession dispute. Although the former king had a daughter, Joan, Philip argued against her taking the throne. The prince brought up his 4-year-old niece’s uncertain parentage and her youth. The French government agreed, and Philip became king in January 1317.
One of Philip V’s first actions as king was to consolidate his power. On February 2, Philip gained the French assembly’s approval, which secured his position. The decision also had the side effect of confirming Salic law: the principle that women couldn’t inherit the French throne. To regain royal authority lost during Louis X’s reign, Philip focused on streamlining the government. To this end, the king began increasing the efficiency of France’s political system.
Philip V’s reforms included introducing a single currency, standardizing weights and measures, and ending Louis X’s unpopular policies. The king built upon his reforms by appointing competent administrators, such as Cardinal Pierre Bertrand. In regards to royal authority, Philip took a similar approach to his father. The king insisted on protecting royal lands and resources. Philip also sought to create a clear distinction between royal territory and lands given/taken by the Capetians. The king’s policies proved highly effective, and Philip’s political power was strengthened by 1318.
Unrest in France
Although Philip V had reversed many of Louis X’s policies, he continued his brother’s interest in Flanders. The king supported the former count’s eldest son, Louis I of Nevers’s claim. When he died in 1318, Philip transferred his support to Nevers’ son, Louis II. To strengthen their alliance, one of the king’s daughters married Louis. Despite the alliance, Louis’ claim would be contested. When Robert of Cassel felt his claim had been ignored, he raised a rebel army.
Despite his confidence in his cause, Robert failed to gain enough support. In 1320, Philip V made a compromise with Cassel, and war was avoided. Around the same time, the king faced a revolt from Beruad VII of Mercoeur. The constable had a fiery temper and had previously come into conflict with Philip IV. When the pope excommunicated Beruad for engaging in a private war, Philip stepped in. To counter the constable’s aggression, the king confiscated his lands, causing Beruad to surrender.
During the last two years of his reign, Philip V focused on improving the monarchy’s finances and continuing his reforms. Despite his efforts, the king managed to find only partial success with both. In the summer of 1321, Philip traveled to Crecy-en-Brie to see his younger brother, Charles. However, the trip would prove fatal to his health. After becoming ill, the king began suffering from dysentery and fever. On January 3, 1322, the 29-year-old Philip died.
Like Louis X, Philip V had a brief reign. However, he showed more promise as a ruler than his older brother. Unlike Louis, Philip had a political mind and used it effectively. By focusing on reforms, the king streamlined his government, which made it run more efficiently. Through his government, Philip strengthened royal authority by protecting royal lands and resources. At his death, the capable king left behind a stronger France to his brother, Charles IV.
Bradbury, J. (2010). The Capetians: Kings of France, 987-1328. London: Hambledon Continuum.
Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. (n.d.). Philip V. Encyclopædia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Philip-V-king-of-France.