The Beginnings of National France Part I

The Beginnings of National France 1

When in 1328 the Valois dynasty ascended to the throne, France appeared as the main power of Europe.

No state extended so widely; no state had a population equal to that of France, over 20 million. Economic conditions were prosperous; from Bouvines onwards the country had enjoyed profound peace; the wars of the Pyrenees, of Flanders, of Italy, of the East had barely touched the feudal classes. In the century XIII had borne its fruits the great rural transformation that had begun in previous centuries: the clearing of new lands had enormously increased wealth; the rural classes had already partially become owners of the land. The servants had either disappeared or had improved their condition. The urban autonomies of Provence, Champagne, Flanders had made it possible to centralize a large part of the continent’s commercial negotiations in French territory;

According to, the awareness of this economic and political power pushes the new dynasty of the Valois to try to solve all the problems left in suspense by the previous kings, to impose French hegemony on Western Europe. Nothing is innovated, but work is done with harshness analogous to that of Philip the Beautiful.

The royal domain now covered more than half of the kingdom; of the great feudal states of the century. XII remained the county of Flanders, the duchies of Burgundy, of Brittany, of Guienna: there was a desire to absorb these fiefs. The good successes of Philip the Fair in infiltrating the imperial territories of the Rhine and the Rhone led to the hope of being able to quickly annex the small feudal Alpine states, the county of Geneva, the county of Savoy, the Dauphiné, Provence., formerly owned by a royal blood dynasty. The certainty of having the papacy, settled almost definitively in Avignon, devoted and submissive, revived the ambitions of succeeding in the dominion of Italy by the German empire. So with the support of John XXII the creation of a French kingdom on the Po is studied to discipline and subdue the Italian dominions: the kingdoms of Naples, Hungary, Navarre, dominated by French dynasties, are centers of French propaganda beyond the borders.  To the east, the directorial expansion seems to be favored. French culture invades the villages of the old kingdom of Arles; the emperors are incapable of any reaction. In 1349 Philip VI acquired from the Aragonese princes their last possession of Languedoc, Montpellier with the port of Lattes, and from the last of the Dauphinis the vast state of Grenoble, thus reaching the Alps for the first time. they recognize vassals of France for Faucigny; in 1361 the Duchy of Burgundy was reunited with the royal domain.

But the most serious problem is that of the great oceanic fiefs: Brittany, Guienna, Flanders. Already in 1328, Philip VI intervened in Flanders in defense of the count and Cassel believed he had crushed the autonomist resistance of the Flemings: the count would now be forced to govern the country as a protege and representative of the French monarchy. The unifying aspirations of France seriously threatened the neighboring states: the first power that hastened to react was England. Edward III, under the pretext of claiming the rights to the French crown, as born of Isabella of France, thought of regaining all the continental possessions that the Plantagenets had had; it was urgent to prevent Flanders and Brittany from being absorbed by France. Again they tried to create the league with the Empire and various German states, as Giovanni Senzaterra had done: the Flemish communities, led by a Ghent merchant, Giacomo Artevelde, intervened in the conflict in favor of England and in defense of their industrial activity; Britain, disputed by two branches of the dynasty, was divided between partisans of France and England. The monarchy was forced to suspend its expansionist activity to defend its very existence; the war of the Hundred Years (v.) in fact questioned the entire state observation of the Capetians of the century. XII and XIII. The events of the war, the serious defeats suffered, revealed the great deficiencies of the French political building, but they had no effect in destroying the state itself.

Philip VI (1328-1350) zealously waited to develop the royal institutions, subjecting them to the absolute authority of the king. The state administration was regulated, the justice system reorganized, the jurisdiction of the parliament was established. The financial problem was extremely difficult.

The war not only destroyed wealth in many regions, but also diverted trade routes and ruined industries. The great epidemics contributed to depopulate France and ruin economic life. All the wealth accumulated in the French populations in the previous centuries largely disappeared. On the other hand, tax burdens increased enormously. The kings of the previous period had tried to develop the fiscal resources, but these were sufficient only for the period of peace. The war forced the monarchy to devise new tax systems. From 1335 the French were struck by the imposition of extraordinary subsidies (aides). To obtain the payment of these taxes, the monarchy had to appeal to the assemblies of the representatives of the subjects. But these now opposed the king’s claims with maximum resistance. The alteration of the gold and silver coins that occurred under the reign of John the Good (1350-1364) aggravated the situation. The government increasingly had to yield to the needs of the provincial assemblies. Already in 1348, in order to obtain a subsidy from Normandy, it was necessary to allow the States to collect and administer the proceeds of the tax. This was also done in Vermandois: the administration of money would be made aware not to the king, but to the states. In 1355 the States General of the Languedoc developed the system. The royal administration was excluded from any intervention in collections and payments. D ‘ on the other hand the king would have made great reforms: the states would have regulated the coinage and controlled the meeting of the militias; the populations could have united in arms to repel the violence of the royal officers; they would have had assistance against abuses.

The Beginnings of National France 1