Philip I Crowned King of France

Richard Cavendish looks back at the Capetian monarch, crowned aged seven.

The name Philip was Greek and uncommon in the Western Europe of the 11th century. Meaning ‘lover of horses’ (philippos), it was probably bestowed on the future Capetian monarch by his mother, Anne, a princess of Kiev. According to contemporaries, ‘lover of women’ would have been more appropriate, and he grew far too fat to ride a horse. He was only seven when his father Henry I had him crowned at Rheims as co-king. Henry died the following year and until he came of age at 14 in 1066, Philip’s mother and Count Baldwin V of Flanders acted as his regents. He grew up to be an efficiently unscrupulous king who made the best of the monarchy’s weak position. He enlarged the royal domains and contrived to play off succeeded the Conqueror in 1087.

Philip won the support of many of the French bishops, but he got a bad press from the ecclesiastical chroniclers of the day. In constant need of money, he sold church offices openly to the highest bidder. He also put aside his first wife, Bertha, who had given him a son and successor, the future Louis VI, and from 1092 he lived with Bertrada de Montfort, wife of Count Fulk of Anjou. A French bishop married them, but some contemporaries thought their union incestuous as well as bigamous. There was nothing very unusual about it at the time, but Pope Urban II excommunicated Philip in 1095 and the anathema was renewed by his successor Paschal II.

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