Capetian Miracle

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12th-century portrait of Hugh Capet. His direct descendants ruled France for many centuries.

The Capetian Miracle (French: Miracle capétien) refers to the Capetian dynasty of France and its ability to attain and hold onto the French crown.

In 987, Hugh Capet was elected to succeed Louis V of the Carolingian dynasty that had ruled France for over two centuries. By a process of associating elder sons with them in the kingship, the early Capetians established the hereditary succession in their family and transformed a theoretically electoral kingship to a sacral one. By the time of Philip II Augustus, the Capetian hold on power was so strong that the practice of associate kingship was dropped. While the Capetian monarchy began as one of the weakest in Europe, drastically eclipsed by the new Anglo-Norman realm in England (who, as Dukes of Normandy, were technically their vassals) and even other great lords of France, the political value of orderly succession in the Middle Ages cannot be overstated. The orderly succession of power from father to son over such a long period of time meant that the French monarchs, who originally were essentially just the direct rulers of the Ile-de-France, were able to preserve and extend their power, while over the course of centuries the great peers of the realm would eventually lose their power in one succession crisis or another.

By comparison, the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem was constantly beset with internal succession disputes because each generation only produced female heirs. Even the English monarchy encountered severe succession crises, such as the The Anarchy of the 1120s between Stephen and Matilda, and the murder of Arthur I, Duke of Brittany, the primogeniture heir of Richard I of England. The latter case would deal a severe blow to the prestige of King John, leading to the eventual destruction of Angevin hegemony in France. In contrast, the French kings were able to maintain uncontested father-to-son succession from the time of Hugh Capet until the succession crisis which began the Hundred Years' War of the 14th century.