Hugh Capet

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Hugh Capet
HugoKapet kronika.jpg
12th century portrayal of Hugh Capet
King of the Franks
Reign 3 July 987 – 24 October 996
Coronation 3 July 987, Noyon
Predecessor Louis V
Successor Robert II
Junior king Robert II
Spouse Adelaide of Aquitaine
Issue Hedwig, Countess of Mons
Gisèle, Countess of Ponthieu
Robert II, King of the Franks
House House of Capet
Father Hugh the Great
Mother Hedwige of Saxony
Born 941
Paris, France
Died 24 October 996 (aged 55)
Paris, France
Burial Saint Denis Basilica, Paris, France

Hugh Capet[a][b] (c. 941 – 24 October 996) was the first "King of the Franks" of the House of Capet from his election in 987 until his death. He succeeded the last Carolingian king, Louis V.

Descent and inheritance[edit]

The son of Hugh the Great, Duke of the Franks, and Hedwige of Saxony, daughter of the German king Henry the Fowler, Hugh was born in 941.[1]

Through his mother, Hugh was the nephew of Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor; Henry I, Duke of Bavaria; Bruno the Great, Archbishop of Cologne; and Gerberga of Saxony, Queen of France, wife of Louis IV, King of France, and mother of Lothair of France and Charles, Duke of Lower Lorraine.

His paternal family, the Robertians, were powerful landowners in the Île-de-France.[2] His grandfather had been King Robert I.[2] King Odo was his granduncle and King Rudolph was his uncle by affinity.[3]

Hugh is a seventh-generation descendant of Charlemagne:[1][4]

Hugh Capet was born into a well-connected and powerful family with many ties to the royal houses of France and Germany.[c]

Rise of the Robertians[edit]

Since the end of the ninth century, the descendants of Robert the Strong have become indispensable in carrying out royal policies. Whenever Carolingian power failed, the greatest families of West Francia argued that the monarchy was elective, and chose two Robertians, Odo I (888-898) and Robert I (922-923), as kings in their stead.

At the death of his brother-in-law, Rudolph of Burgundy, King of the Franks, in 936, Hugh the Great had to decide whether he ought to claim the throne for himself. To claim the throne would be to risk an election, which he would have to contest with the powerful Herbert II, Count of Vermandois, father of Hugh, Archbishop of Reims, and allied to Henry the Fowler, King of Germany; and with Hugh the Black, Duke of Burgundy, brother of the late king. To counter these possibilities,[5] Hugh the Great supported the return of Louis d'Outremer, the dispossessed son of Charles the Simple, from his exile at the court of Athelstan of England.[6]

This maneuver, however, allowed him to become the most powerful person in France at the first half of the tenth century. Once in power, Louis IV granted him the title of dux Francorum (Duke of the Franks); the king officially declared him (perhaps under pressure) as "the second after us in all our kingdoms." He also gains power when his great rival Herbert II of Vermandois died in 943, because the powerful principality was then divided among his four sons.

Hugh the Great thus came to dominate so many territories between Orleans-Senlis and Auxerre-Sens, while the Carolingian ruler was rather confined to the northeast of Paris (Compiègne, Laon, Soissons). Finally, the Duke of the Franks is the head of bishoprics and abbeys as those Marmoutier (near Tours), Fleury-sur-Loire (near Orleans) and Saint-Denis. It is also as lay abbot of the collegiate church of Saint Martin of Tours in which Hugh the Great and especially his son Hugues "Capet" take perhaps their nickname in reference to cappa (the cloak of St. Martin) kept as a relic in this place.

French monarchy in the 10th century[edit]

A denier of Hugh Capet when he was Duke of France, calling him "duke by the grace of God" (Dux Dei Gratia). Minted at Paris (Parisi Civita)

The realm in which Hugh grew up, and of which he would one day be king, bore no resemblance to modern France. Hugh's predecessors did not call themselves kings of France, and that title was not used by his successors until the time of his descendant, Philip II. Kings ruled as rex Francorum ("King of the Franks") and the lands they ruled comprised only a small part of the former Carolingian Empire. The eastern Frankish lands, the Holy Roman Empire, were ruled by the Ottonian dynasty, represented by Hugh's first cousin Otto II and then by Otto's son, Otto III. The lands south of the river Loire had largely ceased to be part of the West Francia kingdom in the years after Charles the Simple was deposed in 922. Both the Duchy of Normandy and the Duchy of Burgundy were largely independent, and Brittany entirely so—although from 956 Burgundy was ruled by Hugh's brothers Otto and Henry.[7]

France under Ottonian influence[edit]

In 956, after the death of his father, Hugh the Great, Hugh, the eldest, is older than fifteen years and has two brothers. Otto I, king of Germany, intends to bring western Francia under his tutelage, which is possible since he was the maternal uncle of Hugh Capet and Lothair of France, the new king of the Franks who succeeded at the age of 13 years to Louis IV in 954.

The kingdom of France in 954 and the Robertian principality in 956 are put under the tutelage of Bruno, Archbishop of Cologne and Duke of Lorraine, brother of King Otto I. The tutelage of Hugh is doubled by that of Lothair. With these young princes under his tutelage, Otto aimed to maintain the balance between Robertians, Carolingians and Ottonians. In 960, the Frankish king agreed to grant to Hugh the legacy of his father, the margraviate of Neustria and the title of Duke of the Franks. But in return, the duke must accept the new independence gained by the counts of Neustria during the power vacuum. His brother, Otto gets only the duchy of Burgundy (by marriage). Andrew W. Lewis has sought to show that Hugh the Great had prepared a succession policy to ensure his eldest son much of his legacy, as did all the great families of that time.

From 962, the West was dominated by the champion of Christendom against the Hungarians, Otto I, who restored the imperial title and seized Italy along the way. The new emperor increased his power over Western Francia with special attention to certain bishoprics on his border; although elected by Lothair, the Adalberon, Archbishop of Rheims, had imperial sympathies. Disappointed, King Lothair relied on other dioceses (Langres, Chalons, Noyon) and Arnulf I, Count of Flanders.

Duke of the Franks[edit]

In 956, Hugh inherited his father's estates, in theory making him one of the most powerful nobles in the much-reduced kingdom of West Francia.[8] As he was not yet an adult, his mother acted as his guardian,[9] and young Hugh's neighbours took advantage. Theobald I of Blois, a former vassal of Hugh's father, took the counties of Chartres and Châteaudun. Further south, on the border of the kingdom, Fulk II of Anjou, another former client of Hugh the Great, carved out a principality at Hugh's expense and that of the Bretons.[10]

The royal diplomas of the 960's show that the nobles are faithful not only to the Duke of the Franks, as in the days of Hugh the Great, but also to King Lothair. Indeed, there are some in the royal armies fighting against the Duchy of Normandy on behalf of Lothair. Finally, even Hugh's position as second man in the kingdom seemed to slip. Two charters of the abbey of Montierender (968 and 980) refer to Herbert III, Count of Vermandois, while Count of Chateau-Thierry, Vitry and lay abbot of Saint-Médard of Soissons, bearing the title of "Count of the Franks" and even "count of the palace" in a charter of Lothair.

For his part, Lothair also lost power with the ascendance of the Ottonian monarchy. It pales by participating in the gathering of relatives and vassals of Otto I in 965. However, from the death of the emperor in 973, Lothair wanted to revive the policy of his grandfather to recover Lorraine, "cradle of Carolingians". Otto's son and successor, Otto II, appointed his cousin, Charles, brother of Lothair, as Duke of Lower Lorraine, to the king's fury, who was at enmity with his brother. During the summer of 978, he decided to take action.

In August 978, accompanied by the nobles of the kingdom, Lothair surprised and plundered Aachen, residence of Otto II, forcing the imperial family to flee. After occupying Aachen for five days, Lothair returned to France after symbolically disgracing the city. In September 978, Otto II retaliated against Lothair by invading France with the aid of Charles. He met with little resistance on French territory, devastating the land around Rheims, Soissons, and Laon. Otto II then had Charles crowned as King of France by Theodoric I, Bishop of Metz. Lothair then fled to the French capital of Paris and was there besieged by Otto II and Charles. Sickness among his troops brought on by winter and a French relief army under Hugh Capet forced Otto II and Charles to lift the siege on November 30, and to return to Germany. On the journey back to Germany, Otto's rearguard, unable to cross the Aisne in flood at Soissons, is completely wiped out, "and more died by that wave than by the sword." This victory allowed Hugues Capet to regain his position as the first noble of the Frankish kingdom.

The Archbishop of Rheims[edit]

Until the end of the tenth century, situated in Carolingian lands, Reims is the most important of the archiepiscopal seats of France. He claims to the primacy of Gaul and the holder has the privilege to crown kings and direct their chancery. Therefore, the Archbishop of Reims has traditionally supported the ruling family and has long been central to the royal policy. But the episcopal city is headed by Adalberon of Rheims, nephew of Adalberon of Metz (a faithful prelate to the Carolingians), elected by the King Lothair in 969, but who has family ties with the Ottonians. The Archbishop is assisted by one of the most advanced minds of his time, the schoolmaster and future Pope, Gerbert of Aurillac. Adalberon and Gerbert worked for the restoration of a single dominant empire in Europe. King Lothair, 13 years old, was under the tutelage of his uncle Otto I. But upon reaching his majority, he became independent, which defeats the imperial project of bringing the whole of Europe under a single crown. Therefore, they turned their support from Lothair in favor of Hugh Capet.

Indeed, for the Ottonian to make France a vassal state of the empire, it is imperative that the Frankish king is not of the Carolingian race, and not powerful enough to break the Ottonian tutelage. Hugh Capet becomes for them the ideal candidate, especially since he actively supports the monastic reform in the abbeys while other contenders continue to distribute church revenues to their own partisans. Such conduct could only appeal to Reims, very close to the Cluniac movement.

Election and extent of power[edit]

From 977 to 986, Hugh Capet allied himself with the Holy Roman Emperor Otto II and with Archbishop Adalberon of Reims to dominate the Carolingian king, Lothair. By 986, he was king in all but name. After Lothair's son Louis died in May 987, Adalberon and Gerbert of Aurillac convened an assembly of nobles to elect Hugh Capet as their king. In front of an electoral assembly at Senlis, Adalberon gave a stirring oration and pleaded to the nobles:

Crown the Duke. He is most illustrious by his exploits, his nobility, his forces. The throne is not acquired by hereditary right; no one should be raised to it unless distinguished not only for nobility of birth, but for the goodness of his soul.[11]

He was elected and crowned rex Francorum at Noyon in Picardy on 3 July 987, by the prelate of Reims, the first of the Capetian house. Immediately after his coronation, Hugh began to push for the coronation of his son Robert. Hugh's own claimed reason was that he was planning an expedition against the Moorish armies harassing Borrel II of Barcelona, an invasion which never occurred, and that the stability of the country necessitated two kings should he die while on expedition.[12] Ralph Glaber, however, attributes Hugh's request to his old age and inability to control the nobility.[13] Modern scholarship has largely imputed to Hugh the motive of establishing a dynasty against the pretension of electoral power on the part of the aristocracy, but this is not the typical view of contemporaries and even some modern scholars have been less sceptical of Hugh's "plan" to campaign in Spain.[13] Robert was eventually crowned on 25 December that same year.

Denier of Hugh Capet for Beauvais

Hugh Capet possessed minor properties near Chartres and Angers. Between Paris and Orléans he possessed towns and estates amounting to approximately 400 square miles (1,000 km2). His authority ended there, and if he dared travel outside his small area, he risked being captured and held for ransom, though his life would be largely safe.[citation needed] Indeed, there was a plot in 993, masterminded by Adalberon, Bishop of Laon and Odo I of Blois, to deliver Hugh Capet into the custody of Otto III. The plot failed, but the fact that no one was punished illustrates how tenuous his hold on power was. Beyond his power base, in the rest of France, there were still as many codes of law as there were fiefdoms. The "country" operated with 150 different forms of currency and at least a dozen languages.[citation needed] Uniting all this into one cohesive unit was a formidable task and a constant struggle between those who wore the crown of France and its feudal lords. Therefore, Hugh Capet's reign was marked by numerous power struggles with the vassals on the borders of the Seine and the Loire.

While Hugh Capet's military power was limited and he had to seek military aid from Richard I of Normandy, his unanimous election as king gave him great moral authority and influence. Adémar de Chabannes records, probably apocryphally, that during an argument with the Count of Auvergne, Hugh demanded of him: "Who made you count?" The count riposted: "Who made you king?".[14]

Dispute with the papacy[edit]

Hugh made Arnulf Archbishop of Reims in 988, even though Arnulf was the nephew of his bitter rival, Charles of Lorraine. Charles thereupon succeeded in capturing Reims and took the archbishop prisoner. Hugh, however, considered Arnulf a turncoat and demanded his deposition by Pope John XV. The turn of events outran the messages, when Hugh captured both Charles and Arnulf and convoked a synod at Reims in June 991 which obediently deposed Arnulf and chose as his successor Gerbert of Aurillac. These proceedings were repudiated by Rome, although a second synod had ratified the decrees issued at Reims. John XV summoned the French bishops to hold an independent synod outside the King's realm, at Aachen, to reconsider the case. When they refused, he called them to Rome, but they protested that the unsettled conditions en route and in Rome made that impossible. The Pope then sent a legate with instructions to call a council of French and German bishops at Mousson, where only the German bishops appeared, the French being stopped on the way by Hugh and Robert.

Through the exertions of the legate, the deposition of Arnulf was finally pronounced illegal. After Hugh's death, Arnulf was released from his imprisonment and soon restored to all his dignities.


Hugh Capet died on 24 October 996 in Paris and was interred in the Saint Denis Basilica. His son Robert continued to reign.

Most historians regard the beginnings of modern France with the coronation of Hugh Capet. This is because, as Count of Paris, he made the city his power centre. The monarch began a long process of exerting control of the rest of the country from there.

He is regarded as the founder of the Capetian dynasty. The direct Capetians, or the House of Capet, ruled France from 987 to 1328; thereafter, the Kingdom was ruled by cadet branches of the dynasty. All French kings through Louis Philippe, and all royals since then, have belonged to the dynasty. Furthermore, cadet branches of the House continue to reign in Spain and Luxembourg.

All monarchs of the Kingdom of France from Hugh Capet to Philip II of France were titled King of the Franks. Philip II of France was the first to use the title of King of France. Many people are mistaken with this minor error in writing or doing genealogy.

Marriage and issue[edit]

Hugh Capet married Adelaide, daughter of William Towhead, Count of Poitou. Their children are as follows:

A number of other daughters are less reliably attested.[15]


Apparition of Saint Valery to Hugh Capet

According to tradtion, sometime in 981, Hugh Capet recovered the relics of St. Valery, which had been stolen by the Flemmings, and restored it to the proper resting place. The saint appeared to the duke in a dream, and said: "For what you have done, you and your descendants shall be kings to the seventh generation." When he became king, Hugh refused to wear the insignia of royalty, hoping that it would extend his descendants' reign by one generation.

By the literal interpretation, Capetian kingship would thus have ended with Philip Augustus, the seventh king of his line. Figuratively, seven meant completeness, and would mean that the Capetians would be kings forever. The latter proved to be the case, for Capetian kingship lasted until the end of the monarchy.



  1. ^ Capet is a byname of uncertain meaning distinguishing him from his father Hugh the Great. Folk etymology connects it with "cape." Cole, Robert (2005). A Traveller's History of France (seventh ed.). New York: Interlink Books. p. 31. ISBN 978-1-56656-606-3.  According to Pinoteau, the name "Capet" was first attributed to the dynasty by Ralph de Diceto writing in London in 1200, maybe because of the position of the early kings as lay abbots of St Martin of Tours, where part of the "cappa" of the saint was allegedly conserved. Other suggested etymologies derive it from terms for chief, mocker or big head. His father's byname is presumed to have been retrospective, meaning Hugh the Elder, this Hugh being Hugh the Younger, Capet being a 12th-century addition. See: James, The Origins of France, p. 183.
  2. ^ Although called Hugo Magnus in at least one contemporary source, a charter of 995 (documented in Jonathan Jarrett, “Sales, Swindles and Sanctions: Bishop Sal·la of Urgell and the Counts of Catalonia”, International Medieval Congress, Leeds, 11 July 2005, published in the Appendix, Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia, PhD dissertation, Birkbeck College (2006), page 295), the epithet "Hugh the Great" is generally reserved for his father the Duke of France (898 – 956). Grimshaw, William (1828). History of France: From the Foundation of the Monarchy, by Clovis, to the final abdication of Napoleon. Philadelphia: John Grigg. p. 38. OCLC 4277602. 
  3. ^ For a fuller explanation of the descent and relationships of Hugh, see the genealogical tables in Riché, The Carolingiens (1993), pp. 367-75.


  1. ^ a b Detlev Schwennicke, Europäische Stammtafeln: Stammtafeln zur Geschichte der Europäischen Staaten, Neue Folge, Band II (Marburg, Germany: J. A. Stargardt, 1984), Tafeln 10, 11
  2. ^ a b Jim Bradbury, The Capetians: Kings of France, 987-1328, (London: Hambledon Continuum, 2007), p. 69
  3. ^ Pierre Riché, The Carolingians; A Family Who Forged Europe, trans. Michael Idomir Allen (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993), p. 371
  4. ^ Pierre Riché, The Carolingians; A Family Who Forged Europe, trans. Michael Idomir Allen (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993), pp. 371, 375
  5. ^ James, pp 183–184; Theis, pp 65–66.
  6. ^ The Annals of Flodoard of Reims, 916–966, eds & trans. Steven Fanning: Bernard S. Bachrach (New York; Ontario, Can: University of Toronto Press, 2011), p. 28
  7. ^ James, pp. iii, 182–183; Gauvard, pp. 163–168; Riché, pp. 285 ff.
  8. ^ Pierre Riché, The Carolingians; A Family Who Forged Europe, trans. Michael Idomir Allen (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993), p. 264
  9. ^ Jules Michelet, History of France, Vol. I, trans. G. H. Smith (New York: D. Appleton, 1882), p. 146
  10. ^ Theis, pp. 69–70.
  11. ^ Harriet Harvey Wood, The Battle of Hastings: The Fall of Anglo-Saxon England, Atlantic, 2008, p. 46
  12. ^ Lewis, 908.
  13. ^ a b Lewis, 914.
  14. ^ Bordenove, pp. 265–266
  15. ^ Thus Gauvard, p. 531.


  • Bordenove, Georges. Les Rois qui ont fait la France: Hugues Capet, le Fondateur. Paris: Marabout, 1986. ISBN 2-501-01099-X
  • Gauvard, Claude. La France au Moyen Âge du Ve au XVe siècle. Paris: PUF, 1996. 2-13-054205-0
  • James, Edward. The Origins of France: From Clovis to the Capetians 500–1000. London: Macmillan, 1982. ISBN 0-312-58862-3
  • Riché, Pierre. Les Carolingiens: Une famille qui fit l'Europe. Paris: Hachette, 1983. 2-012-78551-0
  • Theis, Laurent. Histoire du Moyen Âge français: Chronologie commentée 486–1453. Paris: Perrin, 1992. 2-87027-587-0
  • Lewis, Anthony W. "Anticipatory Association of the Heir in Early Capetian France." The American Historical Review, Vol. 83, No. 4. (Oct., 1978), pp 906–927.
Hugh Capet
Died: 24 October 996
Preceded by
Hugh the Great
Duke of the Franks
Merged in Crown
Preceded by
Louis V
King of the Franks
3 July 987 – 24 October 996
With Robert II as co-King
(from 30 December 987)
Succeeded by
Robert II