Philip IV of France: History, Facts and Major Accomplishments

Philip IV of France

Philip IV of France

King Philip IV of France, also known as Philip the Fair (Philippe le Bel), was a French monarch whose reign lasted from 1285 to 1314. This king of France was most known for his nine-year war with England that ultimately ended with a peace accord 1303 and his daughter getting married to the future Edward II of England.

During his time as king of France, Philip IV was known for his autocratic tendency and inflexible leadership style. The latter trait of his earned him the nickname le Roi de fer (the lion King). In an attempt to reduce the power and influence his nobles and the French clergy wielded, Philip relied heavily on his top officials and civil servants, most famous among them Guillaume de Nogaret and Enguerrand de Marigny.

Conflict with his nobles wasn’t the only thing Philip had to worry about; he had a bitter confrontation (the Anglo-French War, 1294-1403) with Edward I of England over the latter’s fiefs and duchy in southwestern France. Driven by his obsession to strengthen his royal power, not only did he evict the Jews from France, but he also obliterated the Knights Templar and there after seized all their assets.

What else was Philip IV of France most known for? And how did Philip IV’s conflict with Pope Boniface VII result in the relocation of the papacy to the enclave of Avignon in 1309?

World History Edu delves into the life, major facts, and accomplishments of this late 13th century French monarch.

Quick facts about Philip IV of France

Born: 1268

Place of birth: Fontainebleau, France

Died: November 29, 1314

Place of death: Fontainebleau, France

Aged: 46

Cause of death: Stroke

Most known for: Dissolving the Knights Templar

Other names: Philippe le Bel, Philip the Fair

Titles: King of France (1285-1314), King of Navarre (1285-1305)

Father: Philip III of France (also known as Philip the Bold)

Mother: Isabella of Aragon

Grandfather: Louis IX of France

Siblings: Louis (1264-1276), Robert (1269-1271), Charles (1270-1325)

Half-siblings: Louis, Count of Evreux (1276-1319), Blanche of France (1278-1305), Margaret of France, Queen of England (1282-1318)

Spouse: Joan I of Navarre (m. 1284; died 1305)

Children: Margaret (1288-1294), Louis X (1289-1316), Blanche (1290-1294), Philip V (1291-1322), Charles IV (1294-1328), Isabella (1295-1358), Robert (1296-1308)

Reign: 1285-1314

Coronation: January 6, 1286, Reims Cathedral (also known as Notre-Dame de Reims)

House: Capetian dynasty

Successor: Louis X of France

Predecessor: Philip III of France

King of Navarre: 1284-1305

Predecessor: Joan I

Successor: Louis I (Louis X of France)

Birth and Early life

Philip IV of France

Philip IV of France was the second son of Philip III (the Bold) and the grandson of Louis IX (Saint Louis). Image: Detail from a 1315 miniature

King Philip IV of France was born in 1268 at the Palace of Fountainebleau (Chateau de Fontainebleau). At the time of his birth, his father was eldest son and heir apparent to then French king Louis IX.

His mother, Queen Isabella of Aragon, died when he was around the age of three. She died on her way back from the Crusade in the Holy Land. A few months prior to that, his grandfather, Louis IX, died in the Crusade, leaving the throne for Philip’s father, Philip III.

Growing up, Philip was tutored by Guillaume d’Ercuis (1265 — 1314/15), the royal notary in the French court.

About three years after the death of his mother, Philip’s father, King Philip III, married Marie de Brabant.

He grew up with his future wife Joan, heiress of Champagne and Navarre, in the French court. Joan, who was then 12 years old, was betrothed to Philip, 16. That same year, he was knighted by his father.

The marriage between Philip IV and his wife Queen Joan I of Navarre was said to be one full of affection and commitment. Even after Joan’s death in 1305, Philip refused to remarry.

His elder brother Louis passed away in 1276. His brother’s death elevated him to heir to the throne of France. There were rumors that his stepmother, Queen Marie de Brabant, had a hand in the death of Prince Louis.

Upon his father’s death in October 1285, Philip, then 17, ascended the throne, becoming Philip IV of France. His coronation ceremony was held on January 6, 1286 at Reims Cathedral (also known as Notre-Dame de Reims).

His marriage to Joan I of Navarre accrued a lot of benefits for France

Betrothed to Philip at such an early age, Joan I of Navarre (1273-1305) was the daughter of King Henry I of Navarre and Blanche of Artois. As her mother had placed the government of Navarre under the protection of King Philip III, Navarre spent her childhood in the French court with her future husband. With his marriage to Joan, Philip and his successors were able to unite the French monarchy with Joan’s territories of Navarre, Champagne and Brie. Particularly, the County of Champagne, located in the northeast of the Kingdom of France, was a very wealthy province as it formed a significant portion of the French monarch’s coffers.

Philip IV of France

A year prior to his coronation, Philip tied the knot with Joan I of Navarre, making him King of Navarre and Count of Champagne. By his marriage to Queen Joan I of Navarre, Philip IV was also known as King Philip I of Navarre. Image: Queen Joan I as Benefactress, c. 1305, limestone

The union between Philip’s and Joan’s territories also allowed the royal territory of France to expand eastward. That union would continue until 1229, when Philip VI of France gave Navarre back to Joan II of Naverre, granddaughter of Philip IV.

Rolled out a host of reforms aimed at strengthening the French royal authority in France

For many centuries before the reign of Philip IV, the king of France ruled over a kingdom that simply had too many semi-independent vassal states and territories, of which many were owned by the English monarch. What this meant that the French kingship was more or less a charismatic monarchy that many historians felt was very unsustainable. Upon becoming king, Philip IV sought to change that precarious position that the monarchy found itself in. Rather than stick with his the old tradition of relying heavily on his nobles and the clergy, he relied on his senior officials and civil servants. By so doing he was able to set France on course to become a bureaucratic kingdom with strong royal authority.

The Anglo-French War (1294-1303)

After the Crusaders got battered at Acre by the Mamluks in 1291, cracks began to emerge in the relationship among many European kingdoms, particularly the one between France and England. The French king Philip IV, in whose kingdom the Duke of Aquitaine lies, tried to exert some bit of influence over the English monarch Edward I. As the Duke of Aquitaine, located in France, the English king was technically a vassal to Philip; as such, Edward was duty bound to pay homage to Philip. On the other hand, Edward’s status as a full-fledged monarch of an independent kingdom – England – meant that he could not see himself paying homage to his equal.

Rather than personally go to France to resolve the differences, Edward dispatched his ambassadors to the French court. As expected, Philip IV refused, demanding Edward, as Duke of Aquitaine, come himself to France and pay homage to him.

Philip IV and Edward I

Homage of King Edward I of England (kneeling) to Philip IV (seated). As Duke of Aquitaine, Edward was a vassal to the French crown. Painting made in 15th century.

Philip IV’s negotiations with Edward I of England

Edward instead sent his brother Edmund Crouchback to France to resolve the differences, as well as a proposed marriage to Margaret, Philip’s sister. An amicable agreement was eventually reached. In the agreement Edward would hand over his Gascony territories to Philip, who would then forgive Edward. Once that was done, Gascony would remain in the hands of Philip for a period of time and thereafter returned to the English monarch. Philip also agreed to the marriage between Edward and Margaret.

Unlike his English counterpart Edward who complied with the agreement, Philip reneged on his promises by not returning those vassal territories to Edward. Philip argued that he seized Edward’s dukedom in France because the English monarch had disrespected him by not honoring his summons. Making matters worse was the pact of mutual assistance that France had signed with Scotland, England’s arch rival.

Treaty of Paris in 1303

Between 1294 and 1298, England and France fought each other into an inconclusive outcome. Hostilities would resume, in 1300, and last for another three years. In the end, neither side emerged with any significant territorial gains. The Treaty of Paris in 1303 was then signed. To seal the peace treaty, Edward’s son and heir Edward (later Edward II) was married off to Philip’s daughter Isabella of France. However, that peace was short lived, and the marriage between Isabella and Edward II ended up producing an even bigger conflict between the two kingdoms, that is, the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453), a war that was fought over the throne of France.

Philip IV’s conquest of Flanders in 1304

The Battle of Mons-en-Pévèle in 1304, by Charles Philippe Larivière (1839)

During the Anglo-Franco War, Guy of Dampierre (c. 1225-1305), count of Flanders, chose England over France and struck an alliance with English king Edward I. Guy’s country had a lot of weavers that relied heavily on England, a wool-producing country.

Absolutely livid about Flanders’ alliance with England, Philip IV of France sent a large army of about 2,500 noble men-at-arms and more than 3,500 infantry to bring the Dutch country back in line. Philip suffered a huge setback as his army was overran by Flemish forces at the Battle of Golden Spurs (also known as Bataille des éperons d’or) in 1302. Many of his nobles died in that battle. Two years later, however, the French king came back stronger, defeating the Flemish at the Battle of Mons- en-Pévèle.

Philip then imposed a harsh peace agreement upon his Flemish territory that saw Flanders send a steep annual reparations and penalties to the French monarch. Philip also absorbed very wealthy territories in the region into his kingdom, including the cities of Bethune and Lille.

Philip IV’s financial woes

Philip IV is said to have inherited an almost-empty royal coffers from his father, as well as a significant amount of debt that his father had incurred during the war against Aragon. He was however able to increase the revenues coming into royal government. By 1287, he had cleared much of the debt and turned his kingdom’s budget into positive outlook. However, that all changed due the wars with England and Flanders. The French government began to stack up huge debts. The French king had no option than to begin seizing some of his opponents’ assets, as well the use of other disingenuous means to raise revenue.

Philip proceeded to crush the Knight Templars in order to get hold of their vast resources. First of all, he introduced the Florentine Franzesi bankers to replace the banking activities of the Templars in France.

The Florentine bankers were better able to raise bigger loans for Philip. In addition to borrowing, Philip debased the French currency by slashing the silver content in the coins minted. The clergy and French nobles took great offense to the currency devaluation, as inflation had wiped off a significant amount of the loan they had given out. A few years later, a revaluation of the currency similarly produced sharp criticisms from debtors, who had to repay their debts in a much stronger currency.

Philip’s solution to those agitations was to expel the all the Jews out of France in July 1306. The French monarch then took possession of the Jewish mints, as well as other properties belonging to the Jews, in his kingdom.

Philip IV’s taxes on the clergy and spar with Pope Boniface VIII

Pope Boniface VIII issued a papal bull – Clericis laicos – on February 5, 1296 to prevent European nations, especially France and England, from taking church revenues without Rome’s permission. Owing to the war that England and France engaged in, the two monarchs began taxing the church to raise money for their war efforts.

The Anglo-France War was of huge concern to Boniface as both countries dug themselves deeper in debt, which in turn diminished both countries commitment to the Crusade efforts in the Holy Land. The pope therefore tried to broker peace between England and France by sending cardinal nuncios to both countries. The Pope’s efforts failed. However, in 1297, the pope agreed a compromise deal with France, where he allowed Philip IV to tax the clergy only in times of emergencies.

The onset of the Avignon Papacy

Philip IV and Pope Boniface VIII relationship soured even further after the arrest of Bishop Pamier, a known critic and opponent of the French king. Philip had charged Pamier of treason and heresy, with the latter charge coming after Pamier allegedly said that Philip’s grandfather Louis IX (St. Louis) should never have been canonized.

In response to Pamier’s arrest, Pope Boniface VIII issued a strong papal bull – Unam Sanctam – in 1302. The bull was aimed at establishing the papal supremacy across Europe. Philip then responded by rallying the clergy, nobles and burghers in his kingdom into somewhat of an Estates General. Philip then tried to capture Boniface while the later was in Anagni. The Pope escaped only for him to die a few months later.

With Boniface’s death and French archbishop Raymond Bertrand de Goth elected as Pope Clement V, Philip was able to convince the papacy to relocate its headquarters from Rome to Avignon, a papacy territory bordered by French territories. Also known as the Babylonian Captivity of the papacy, the Avignon Papacy, which spanned from 1309 to 1376, would witness a total of seven successive popes, who were all French, take residence in France instead of Rome. All the six popes that followed Clement V remained largely loyal to the kings of France.

King Philip IV of France and the Knights Templar

Under heavy influence from Philip IV, Pope Clement V, issued a papal bull that dissolved the Knights Templar in 1307. The Templar were a rich and powerful group of Catholic military order with banking network all across Europe. Image: Gisant of Philip the Fair in the Basilica of Saint-Denis

After several years of difficulty in fulfilling his debt obligation to the Knights Templars (also known as the Order of Solomon’s Temple), Philip IV decided to wage a brutal war against them. On Friday the 13th of October 1307, Philip began arresting and torturing many of the Templars. The French monarch’s goal was to suppress the order in order to appropriate the order’s vast wealth. It also meant that his debt to the Templar was wiped clean.

Founded in the early 12th century, the Knights Templar was a powerful Catholic military order that had tremendous influence up until around 1312, when the life in the order was snuffed out by Philip IV with the help of Pope Clement V, the first Avignon pope. Under heavy influence from Philip, Pope Clement V discontinued the Catholic Church’s for the order by issuing a bull – Vox in excelso – in 1312. The papal bull in effect dissolved the OOrder of the Knights Templar. This allowed Philip to put many of the top members of the Templar on trial on charges of heresy and blasphemy. Many of them were found guilty and burnt at the stake. It must be noted that Philip, who was hell bent on securing the assets of the Templar, used tortore and many crude techniques to extract false confessions from the accused Templars.

In March 1314, the last leading members of the Templar – Grand Master Jacques de Molay and Preceptor of Normandy Geoggroi de Charney – were executed on the orders of Philip.

Philip IV’s “punishment” from God

In addition to crushing the Knights Templar, King Philip IV expelled the Jews from France in 1306 and went on to take their lands and assets. Image: Templars burned at the stake. Painting made in 1480.

Many people in Europe believed that the successive deaths of Philip IV and Pope Clement V in the months after the executions of Knights Templar members were retribution from God. It was also believed back then that the short reigns of Philip IV’s three sons on the French throne was punishment from God. None of his three sons produced any heir in the combined fourteen years that ruled as kings of France. This meant the end of the Capetian House. The French throne then passed on to Philip IV’s paternal cousin Philip VI, who was from the House of Valois.

Following the coronation of Philip VI succession disputes engulfed the French kingdom, as King Edward III of England mounted a strong claim to the French crown. Technically, Edward was the nearest male relative to King Charles IV of France, as his mother was the sister of Charles.  The dispute quickly turned into an all-out conflict between England and France, thus ushering in the Hundred Years’ War, which lasted for 116 years.

Read More: Major Causes of the Hundred Years’ War

Philip IV’s daughters-in-law and the Tour de Nesle scandal

Fresh from disseminating the Knights Templar, King Philip IV had to move fast to nip in the bud the rumors of his daughters-in-law having romantic affairs with a number of young courtiers. It’s been stated that his own daughter Isabella was the one who leveled those accusations against his two daughters-in-law – Margaret of Burgundy, wife of Louis X, and Blanche of Burgundy, the wife of his son Charles IV.

More facts about Philip IV of France

Due to his somewhat aloof stance in the public, his subjects secretly called him a “useless owl”. One of his biggest critics was Bernard Saisset, Bishop of Pamiers, who described him as a statue, a monarch “neither man nor beast”.

Philip IV held his grandfather Louis IX (later St. Louis) in very high regard. He grew up in a time when a number of people in France began crediting his grandfather with miraculous events. He believed strongly that the Creator had set him on path similar to that of his father, who was most commonly associated with saintly virtues.

Philip IV’s eldest son Louis succeeded him to the throne. Image: Miniature depiction from the Vie de saint Louis, c. 1330–1340

How did Philip IV die?

Philip’s health began to get worse around early parts of 1314. Some historians attribute his declining health to the stress from his war against the Knights Templar as well as the extramarital affair scandal that rocked the lives of his daughters-in-law. On November 29, 1314, the King passed away at his home at Fontainebleau. The 46 year old had suffered a major cerebral stroke a few weeks prior to his death. Philip IV was laid to rest in the Basilica of St Denis.

Other notable achievements of Philip IV of France

Philip IV of France | Philip IV spent the bulk part of his reign trying to reduce the influence and power of his nobles and the clergy. His goal was to turn his kingdom, which was largely feudal in nature, to a centralized monarchy system.

He took bold steps and carried out some of the reforms that his predecessors had shelved for a very long time.

Philip strengthened  his monitoring and evaluation system of royal officials.

He investigated abuse of power by his officials.

He tried to make France stronger by turning it into a bureaucratic kingdom of legalists. He did all of that in spite of the sharp criticisms he received from his nobles and ecclesiastics. Those groups had for years benefited from the absence of any accountable system in the kingdom.

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