Iron and France

Sovereign hated by his contemporaries, hated king of memoirists and infamous character in popular literature, Philippe IV Le Bel appears, under the pen of Jacques Krynen, as one of the founders of the modern state.

The sanctified king

History buffs know Philip the Fair for having persecuted the Templars, had the Pope slapped and expelled the Jews from the kingdom. Those who are fond of literature associate it especially with the first of Cursed Kings of the saga of Maurice Druon, the one that Jacques de Molay, from the pyre which prepares to devour him, summons to appear before the tribunal of God before a year and condemned to damnation, with his descendants, for thirteen generations… Beyond the myth of a cruel and puffed-up monarch, the medievalist Jacques Krynen invites us to see the reality of a certainly intractable sovereign, imbued with the prestige of descending from Saint Louis without no doubt, but whose vision of power, political considerations and their legal and institutional materializations go far beyond his thirty years of reign (1285-1314). Surrounded by legal experts and other legal theorists, Philippe IV the Bel is a founder of authority. Under his rule, the foundations of the modern state were laid, the attributes of absolute sovereignty were imposed and the beginnings of a secularization of power were outlined. It is thus as a precursor of centralism, absolutism and Gallicanism (put under the supervision of the national Church) that he would have, according to the established expression, made France.

Counting around just one hundred and fifty pages, this book is not a biography of Philippe IV, even less a legal summary in the form of an abstract of legal history. Removed from any footnotes, but based on a vast corpus of Latin treatises, it is rather an intellectual essay built around the figure of a singular Captian monarch, whose political work sheds light on the components and, even more, on the changes in medieval power.

Solidly supported and, at the same time, masterfully concise, this reflection reads like a work of rudimentary popularization, both fascinating and very instructive. Jacques Krynen highlights in particular the institutional logics that the reign of Philip the Fair generated and which announce those in force under Louis XIV, Napoleon or Mrs. de Gaulle. These structural dynamics seal the strength of the State and consecrate the authority of power, in the name of an interest greater than the person who embodies them, namely the prestige of the Nation or the glory of France. As the subtitle attests, power and greatnessthe author would maintain, in this regard, a certain hagiographic relationship with this character who at a minimum fascinates him and whose historical rehabilitation he participates in. Philip the Fair appears here less as a cursed king than a sanctified sovereign.

A monarch unloved by chroniclers

From the first pages, the law professor reminds us that Philippe IV is the grandson of Saint Louis. But, unlike his grandfather and even his father, Philippe III said The Bold, memorialists do not seem inclined to grant him pangyric. Reports without emphasis, its story ends hereafter having been underlined great pain that he made weigh on the people's menuhis lack of boldness during military expeditions where he would have retreated unglorious and without honorhis rapacity he who has taken so much, taken so much, which will never be absolved or his deceitfulness of counterfeiter. Peddled abroad by Dante, for example, these accusations of a king who was sometimes tyrannical, foolish, miserly or a crook have lastingly tarnished his posterity. In short, if he was said to be handsome, hence his nickname, the prettiness of his features does not seem to have compensated for the disesteem in which he was held.

This bad reputation can be explained by the numerous enmities he raised throughout his reign, starting with the monks of Saint-Denis. Careful guardians of the royal necropolis since the Merovingians, the latter did not appreciate the fact that the relics of Saint Louis were scattered among other abbeys or monastic orders and that the skull, in particular, was taken from them for the benefit of the Sainte-Chapelle. After having been despoiled in the name of a veneration serving first and foremost the dynastic cult, they also had to endure the affront of a codicil modifying the testamentary promise according to which Philip the Fair should, upon his death, have been entirely buried alongside his ancestors.

According to the wishes of Captian, his heart would join the priory of Poissy. The principle of double (or even triple) burial created a precedent and would later cause mule among its successors, to the point of undermining the privileged status of the Dyonisian monks. They also did not fail to express their resentment, by refusing to recognize in the Great Chronicles of France that Philippe IV was good king. However, despite his fault, he was no less a good Christian, when he did not purely and simply act in fanatic devotee (p. 25). But this overchristianization of the reign (p. 35) above all responded to a desire to subject religious institutions to royal power.

A national thocrat

The latent war between Philippe Le Bel and Pope Boniface VIII begins with the levy of a tax on the income of the clergy (the decime) decided unilaterally by the sovereign, then escalates after submission to the royal justice of a bishop. The repeated violation of ecclesiastical privileges ended up exasperating the Pope who, in November 1302, dictated a bull (Unam Sanctam) which J. Krynen presents as an arrogant condensed of medieval pontifical doctrine (p. 65): since the throne of Saint Peter rests on two swords, the spiritual and the temporal and the first is brandished by the church and the second shooting For the Church, it is then necessary that the sword be under the sword; that is to say that temporal authority be subject to spiritual (loc. quote). The quarrel is getting worse. Threatened with excommunication, Philippe le Bel counterattacks by summoning his rival before a council ad hoc, acquired the royal cause. Faced with the ecclesiastical coup d'état that was brewing, the Pope refused to go to Paris and was, in return, attacked in his residence in Anagni by the troop brought by Guillaume de Nogaret, a gray figure and companion in the monarch's dirty works. Traumatized and perhaps also bruised in his flesh, Boniface VIII Rome fell a month later. The triumph of the King of France lies ultimately consecrated by the installation of the Avignon curia, under the leadership of Clement V, who annulled all the pontifical condemnations weighing on Captian.

In many ways, this historical rivalry is illustrative of a reversal of the political-religious balance of power. through the submission of the spiritual order to sovereign authority, Philip the Fair lays the foundations of a new institutional doctrine forming the matrix of Gallicanism for centuries to come. The monarch appears as a national thocrat, in the sense that he governs in the name of God And in his kingdom. From this angle, it also prefigures Bourbon absolutism. In a chapter entitled Church at the foot of the Throne, the author shows how the sacralization of the Most Christian King serves a virulent autocratism. In fact, the king is not satisfied with returning its holy sacraments to the Church, he himself assumes a spiritual and political mission which he entrusts to the organs of coercion. in favor of the fight against heresy, the hunt for the Templars or the expulsion of the Jews from the kingdom, a judicial-purificatory machine (p. 111) which confines a police terrorism before its time (p. 110).

At the same time, Philippe IV imposes such a strong domination on the clergy that the royal and ecclesiastical institutions find themselves metamorphosed. We witness a form absorption of religion by politics or, in other words, a inclusion of the church in the state. This profound recomposition illustrates the determination of the monarch to consolidate public power to the detriment of traditional medieval institutions.

A royal builder

Beyond the Church, it is the feudal structure itself that Philippe le Bel plans to undermine. Since Philip Augustus, the kingdom is no longer that of the Franks, but that of France (regnum France). The nuance is fundamental: the authority of the sovereign is supposed to be imposed on a territory, where that of the suzerain would exercise over feudatories. By attacking the privileges of the nobility, the Iron King accelerates this change in power, which sees the transition from a system of interpersonal reciprocity (based on oaths and other chivalric codes of honor) to a pre-modern regime where the Crown seeks to assert its preponderance on subjects, which owe him obedience. Vassalistic ties are distended at the same pace as the supremacy of the state in gestation is asserted.

Thus, under Philip the Fair, noble prerogatives diminished: the king condemned private wars by ordinance, taxed the lords, reduced their jurisdictional attributes, and did not hesitate to subject them to questioning (torture). The bailiffs and senchaux, responsible for administering justice and raising taxes in the name of the king, compete with barons and clerics. Furthermore, the significant expansion of the royal domain led to administrative tightening, which materialized in the strengthening of central bodies, such as the Chancellery and the Treasury.

Contributing to this institutional consolidation, a new elite asserted itself: the men of letters. Trained in Paris, Orleans, Montpellier or Toulouse, with degrees in canon or Roman law, legal experts become essential to the functioning of a proto-bureaucratic machine, of which they constitute the first cogs. side of lost military, they embody a chivalry s-laws (p. 60). Like Gilles de Rome or Pierre Flote, these jurists put their knowledge at the service of power: through acts and other features sealed with the royal seal, they ratify the decisions taken by the monarch (e.g. the arrest of Bishop Bernard Saisset ), justify them (on the grounds of political interference in this matter) and legitimize the precepts (here, the primacy of the temporal over the spiritual). According to the author's beautiful formula, the reign of Philip the Fair would thus have shaped the alliance of power and knowledge (p. 64).

Under the pen of J. Krynen, the Iron King is depicted as a great statesman to whom his successors paid tribute. Louis XIV saw in him, nothing less, than the first King of the Universe. And for good reason, as our author summarizes, the crown remains until XVIIe century at least, intellectually imbued with the capital of historical superiority and destiny constituted at the time of the struggles of Philippe le Bel (p. 147). Neither the Revolution nor the advent of republican regimes dried up this community pride (p. 145) who after him still embody a Napoleon or a de Gaulle.