The southern portion of France, from the Rhone River east to the Loire, is a high mountainous region which abuts the Alps. Rather than consisting of the high, steep peeks which characterize the Italian Alps, the French mountains consist of high, rough ground dotted with tall, conical mountains. These mountains have much of the aspects of volcanoes, but are covered with grasses and trees and have not erupted in human memory. This mountainous region of France gradually lowers and becomes less rocky in the highlands below.
The weather in the French central highland varies widely. On the western slopes, the weather is tempered by winds from the Mediterranean, which travel up the Rhone Valley to provide rain and warm wind. Similarly, the western and northern slopes receive considerable rainfall, although they are subject to temperature variations being farther from the sea. The central highlands, however, receive almost no rainfall; winds are sharp, winters are bitter, and even in summer the region is cool.
West of the central highlands are the fertile lowlands of the Aquitaine. The eastern half of this huge lowland region has the most fertile, even farmland in France, with rolling foothills and rugged soil. Eastern Aquitaine is one of the main farming regions of France. The western coastline, however, is the Landes region, a desolate sandy plain, marshy with summer rains and covered with blowing dunes in winter. The northern Aquitaine is not as fertile as the east, with softer soils and poor drainage (although not so poor as in the Landes region), but some farming still occurs here.
The climate of the Aquitaine varies with proximity to the sea. The western coastal region has even, seasonal temperatures, mild winters, and pleasant summers. With travel inland temperature variations get wider, and winters get colder, more severe, and more enduring. Summers inland are very hot.
The southern boundary of the Aquitaine is marked by the stony high slopes of the Pyrenees Mountains. beyond them lies Iberia. To the north, the Aquitaine ends at the hills of Brittany. These hills cover the northwestern corner of France; the provinces of Brittany and Normandy. The range begins with low, stony hills, rising to mountains in the central portions of the region. beyond the mountains, highlands persist all the way to the sea. there is some farming and sheep herding in the highlands, which benefit from the Atlantic influence of mild weather and considerable rainfall.
East of Normandy and north of the central highlands lies the northern lowlands. These extend east all the way to the Ardennes and the Vosges, and north through Flanders. The land declines slowly from the mountains, until, at Flanders, it drops smoothly below sea level into the marshy plains of the Low Countries. The land is generally flat, with rolling hills in the east, and is France's primary farming zone.
Between France's south central highlands and the Alps, at the southern end of the Rhone River, lie the small lowland provinces of Provence and Languedoc. Trapped between the high Alps (for Provence) or Pyrenees (for Languedoc) and the central highlands, these narrow provinces are watered from the runoff from the mountain streams. The provinces are therefore fertile (although not so much as the Aquitaine), and blessed with a warm and beautiful climate.
However, the region is somewhat isolated from the rest of France, and people here are more independent than in the remainder of the country.
A series of weak kings only quickened the decline of the Empire's Western Kingdom. The monarchs preferred to pay raiders to stay away from royal holdings around Paris and Orleans than to risk battle. In A.D. 911 King Charles the Simple put an end to Viking raids, but at the expense of his kingdom. He gave the Duchy of Normandy to Rollo, a Viking leader who had already seized the land. Rollo converted to Christianity, and kept his new land free of Viking raids, but ruled it as a Dane, not a lord of the Empire.
Compromises with the Vikings could not end all the kingdom's invasion problems, though. Along the Mediterranean coast, Muslin attackers from Cossura and north Africa raided freely, establishing the kingdom of Fraxinetum after sacking that history.
In 987 the French King Louis V died without heirs, and the nobles elected Hugh Capet to the throne. The first four Capetian kings carried the title of King, but in reality only ruled crown lands, with no influence over dukes and counts. Indeed the dukes and counts were so independent of the King's Law that William, Duke of Normandy, successfully invaded England on his own. However, the Conqueror only created problems both for his successors and the French King, for while he held Normandy as fief from the French king, William held England as an autonomous kingdom. The resulting struggle between French and English kings continue into the current time.
At the end of the eleventh century the monarch in France had reached its lowest depths. The king hardly held the reins of power. Even in his own domain he had given up the attempt to maintain order; the barons with their castles dominated the highways, plundered the Church, and terrorized peasants. Fortunately for France, Louis VI was of a different character than his predecessors. He was possessed to a full degree of the energy in which his father and the ones before him were so strikingly lacking and he employed it in military enterprises, for which there was abundant excuse. His courage won the admiration of his knightly contemporaries, and his other qualities attracted him to peasant and especially the Church: he was a lover of order and right, naturally kind of heart and hated cruelty. His one physical failing had given him the name of Louis the Fat. His stoutness increased till in 1126 he could no longer mount a horse. But the spirit was still willing, and it was in 1135, only two years before his death that he took part in his last expedition.
A list of the events of his reign would be mainly a catalogue of these expeditions, some against the kings of England, one to Flanders, one even against the Emperor, but the vast majority of them were to assert his authority in his own domain. Between rebel nobles and robbers, when you could even tell the difference, he had his hands full.
Owing to the King's persistence the task was completed and all the robber barons of the royal domain were brought to heel. By so doing Louis had the foundations of a new monarchy. He now had a strong centralized domain, providing him with resources and soldiers, the nucleus of the future kingdom. But he had done more than this. He had restored prestige to the monarchy, which had become once again the defender of law and order, the Protector of the Church. Thus churches and towns outside his domain also began to appeal to him for aid, and the desire for royal protection resulted in the extension of royal authority.
Next to the King himself the chief gainer by the new regime was the Church. In the conquest of the domain the Church may almost be said to have taken the initiative. It was usually in response to appeals from Bishops and monasteries for the protection of their lands and tenants that Louis' military expeditions were set forth. The Church had every reason to be grateful, and its consequent support was a great asset to the king. Indeed it supplied him with considerable resources in men and money, which helped to make the expeditions possible; he endowed it with lands, and got his profit from them. Moreover, the Head of the Church himself had cause for gratitude to the King of France. Gelasius II found a refuge in France, and a welcome from its King in 1118; Calixtus II was elected in France; Innocent II, during his schism with Anacletas also found a refuge there, and Louis was the first king to give him recognition. But the Church also had some cause for dissatisfaction. Louis kept control of episcopal elections and the bestowment of temporalities. He also paid little attention to the Spiritual Health of his realm and the Church.
It was during this time that a few towns received the first Charters in the Kingdom, mainly as a means of raising funds for the monarchy. Now, though a great deal of Louis' energy was expended upon the barons within his domain, he could not ignore the great feudatories whose lands were adjacent to his. They too, had been passing through a period of weakness; this was true even of Normandy, previously so well governed, for owing to Robert's incapacity, and the discord first with his father and then with his brother, the barons had gained an almost independent position. Blois had been politically negligible for some time; in Anjou, Fulk Rechin had never succeeded in reducing his barons to order; and in Flanders, the absence of Robert II on crusade seems to have given the opportunity to the nobles to disrupt the peace. But in the early years if the twelfth century this was all changed. In Blois, Theobald (IV) succeeded his father Stephen in 1102, and soon began to display an activity which soon brought Blois again into political importance.
He was on one hand an ardent ecclestical reformer, on the other a constant rebel against royal authority. As his territories lay immediately to the west of the royal domain he was a constant menace. On the other side of him, however, the Count of Anjou was loyal to his suzerain. He became count in 1109 and succeeded, where his father had failed, in centralizing his territories and instituting a strong government. He suppressed the barons and destroyed their castles, while at the same time he checked any manifestations of urban independence. He was content that his territories which included Touraine, as well as Anjou, should be bounded on the south by Loire; he therefore made no attempt to recover Saintonge from the duke of Aquitaine. His ambition was to expand northwards and recover Maine from Normandy, and it was his hostility on this account to the King of England which kept him loyal to the King of France. He did actually obtain Le Mans in 1110, but the complete acquisition of Maine was never ceded to him by the English King.
In Flanders, too, there had been a similar revival of order and good government, first of all under Baldwin VII, who succeeded his father Robert II in 1111, and then under his cousin Charles the Good, son of the King of Denmark, who became count in 1119. the nobles were brought to book and justice was dispensed with a firm hand. Neither Baldwin or Charles were prejudiced like Louis in favor of dealing leniently with men of noble birth, and they realized the advantages to be gained from a close association with the wealth producing middle classes in the towns. They were friendly by tradition with the King of France as they were antagonistic to England; but their own territories engrossed their attention and their friendship was if little practical use to Louis.
It was the situation in Normandy that most affected the king of France. In 1100 Henry was elected as king of England, at the battle of Tincebrau in 1106 he defeated his elder brother, Robert, thus gaining control of Normandy. louis having missed his opportunity of intervening on Robert's behalf put forward the claims of Robert's younger son, William Clito, to the duchy. Henry was therefore treated as an usurper in Normandy by his Suzerain. In 1109 was began when he took Gisors from louis. In 1113 after Louis was stumped and halted at every avenue, a treaty was signed recognizing the English King's suzerainty in Maine and Brittany. Hostilities were resumed in 1116 culminating in a pitched battle at Bremule in 1118 where Louis suffered a severe defeat and had to flee for his life. An appeal to the pope brought about a negotiated peace. Yet neither side really kept this peace; and it was not until the death of William Clito in 1128 that hostilities really began to die out.
In 1125 Hugh Count of Champagne died leaving his nephew Theobald of Blois to succeed him, reuniting Blois and Champagne. This turbulent vassal was now master of territories to the east and west of the royal domain.
In 1127 the King of England and the Count of Anjou renounced their enmity and forged a marriage alliance, of Henry's daughter Matilda, who had been recognized heir, and Geoffrey, son of Fulk. The marriage took place in 1128, and in 1129 Fulk went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and resigned his county to Geoffrey. The effect of the marriage was not immediately felt, for both Henry and Matilda quarreled with Geoffrey, and the English Barons heartily disliked the idea of a feminine ruler. But the ultimate result was the union on Anjou, Maine, and Normandy with England, which upset the old balance of power in the north.
On March 2, 1127 Charles the Good was murdered while at prayer, causing struggle of succession in Flanders. Louis stepped into the fray and placed William Clito on the throne. A bad choice, William died in 1128 in battle against a rebel town. Thierry of Alsace soon became count, and the only satisfaction Louis got was that Thierry cane to him for investure, but Louis' intervention in the affairs of Flanders was ended.
The remaining years of Louis' reign were mainly peaceful. His energy grew less as his corpulence increased, and the great strokes of fortune that befell him in his last years came to late for him to reap the profit. In 1135 Henry died, and his most troublesome vassal, Theobald of Blois, made his peace with the king. Theobold and his younger brother Stephen were, through their mother, grandson of William the Conqueror. This gave them a claim, and Stephen was able to win the crown of England. Geoffrey of Anjou secured the Duchy of Normandy however. England and Normandy were thus divided again, and Blois and Anjou were in bitter rivalry.
A still more surprising change was to come about two years later in the south of France, where for so long the rulers of the great fiefs had pursued their own course regardless of their overlord. William X, Duke of Aquitine married his daughter and heiress Eleanor to Louis VI's son Louis.
The reign of Louis VII, therefore, which was to last for forty-three years, started under favorable auspices. He was not equal to this good fortune to which he succeeded, and by 1154 it had vanished: Aquitaine was lost to him, and England and Normandy were reunited and joined with Anjou, Maine and Touraine under one ruler. For this his weakness of character was to blame. He was easily dominated by a stronger will than his own; though, when his wishes were thwarted, he often exhibited the obstinacy of a weak man who refuses to see that he is endangering his best interests. The immediate confidants of the king were, therefore, more important than the king himself in the shaping of policy. First and foremost at the beginning was his queen, Eleanor, to whom Louis was passionately devoted.
In 1147 Louis started on a crusade, which was to prove disastrous. He could not act in harmony with the German Emperor, nor could either of them with the Eastern Emperor; neither of them, moreover, was sufficient of a general for such a campaign. In a year it was all over, and it was urgent that Louis returned to France. Louis, however, paid no heed to his kingdom and did not return till November 1149. It was then that he finally realized the danger of Geoffrey of Anjou's progress in the north. Geoffrey had handed over the duchy of Normandy to his son Henry; Louis put forward Estace, the son of King Stephen of England, as his rival, an so allied himself with the House of Blois once more. He made a bold and successful attack on Normandy, and though prevented by illness from pushing it to completion, he had the satisfaction of seeing his enemies sue for peace. geoffrey and Henry came to paris in August 1151 and signed a treaty, by which they handed over the whole of the Norman Vexin, including Gisors, to Louis.
In 1157, jealous of Eleanor and furious at the birth of a second daughter, Louis began talk of consanguinity. Then, in August of that year, he took her to Aquitaine, where he dismantled fortresses and withdrew his garrisons; in a word, he evacuated the territory that went with the marriage. Back in his own domain, he summoned an ecclestical council at Reagency in March of 1152, which declared the marriage annulled. Eleanor escaped to Aquitaine where she was joined by henry, who had succeeded his father as count of Anjou the previous September. In May 1152 Henry and Eleanor were married; Aquitaine passed out of the hands of the French King to be united with the territories of his powerful rival.
In October of 1154 Stephen, King of England died at the age of 54 and was succeeded by Henry Plantagenet, crowned king Henry II. As Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, count of Anjou, Maine and Touraine, he controlled French territories more extensive than those which the King of France ruled.
In 1159 an English army led by Thomas a Becket invades Toulouse to assert the rights of Eleanor. Louis was able to drive them off.
The year 1160 was an important one. Louis' queen, Constance of castile died, and Louis anxious for a male heir, immediately contracted a third marriage, with Adela, daughter of the late count of Blois and Champagne, Theobald IV. This brought him into a permanent friendly relationship with that powerful family, which flanking the royal domain on both sides, had been so dangerous before.
In 1160 Louis VII gave his aid to Pope Alexander II over Emperor's Frederick's choice of Victor IV. In 1162, Alexander fearful of his own safety, and following precedent, took refuge in France. he took up residence at Sans, where for two years he reigned with no less authority then he could have wielded at Rome. Louis appeared almost as a humble servant of the Pope.
In 1163 Alexander sent a golden rose to Louis as the secular ruler who had done the most to deserve the favor of the Head of the Church. It was, indeed, almost a privileged position in the Church that the French King was obtaining.
In 1177 after a war between Henry and Louis, Pope Alexander intervened to save Louis by forcing them to make peace and sign the Treaty of Ivry.
In 1179 there was the unusual spectacle of a great assembly of lay and ecclestical barons at Paris, at which unanimous assent was given to Louis' proposal that Philip be crowned king. The coronation took place at Rheims on November 1. Louis, struck down by a stroke, was absent, and though he lingered on till the following September he took no further part in the direction of his kingdom.
Philip II was only 14 years old at the age of his coronation. In 1188 the arch bishop of Tyre persuaded Philip to take the cross. Preparations for the crusade were underway when a dispute between Richard and Raymond of Toulouse turned into war, and to avert the fall of Toulouse Philip intervened. Philip faced the combined armies of Richard and his father Henry. Richard then switched sides joining Philip. Together they were able to take Le Mans from Henry, he capitulated recognizing Richard as his successor and yielding to Philip the suzerainty over Auvergne as well as his own conquests in berry. Henry died soon thereafter.
Philip and Richard went on crusade, but Philip found himself resentful of his oath and retreated at the first opportunity.
With the capture of Richard he was able to seize the Norman Vexin once more. In 1193 he married Ingeborg, the sister of the Danish King. It was a disastrous marriage. In 1195 he repudiated Ingeborg, and a council of French Bishops dissolved the marriage. This was immediately annulled by a Papal Bull, but in spite of this he persisted and contracted a third marriage with Agnes of Meran in 1196.
Richard upon his return in 1194 began at once to recapture the lost castles. Richard slowly captured most of the castles back, a border war that continues to this day
Except for periods of military campaigning, as when Charles Martel defeated the Saracens at Tours in 732 and Pepin and Charlemagne marched to subdue the Lombards in Italy, Frankish domination was usually restricted to the North of France. This led to the development of two distinct languages, the langue d'oil in the north and the langue d'oc in the south. Oil and oc are the words for yes in their respective areas, both being pared down versions of the Latin phrase hoc illud, 'that's it'. The political independence of the southern nobles, theoretically at least vassals of the King of France, was a major factor in the remarkable literary flourishing of the langue d'oc in the lyrics of the Troubadours.
While this carefree culture existed in the south, the feeble successors of Charlemagne had to face the constant threats of raids by the formidable Norsemen. Charles the Simple (893-923) decided the only solution was to offer the Viking Chief Rollo a dukedom and allow his followers to settle there. Norsemen became Normans, and within the space of the tenth century learned to speak French as well as any Frank.
Having adopted the French language with alacrity, the Normans were highly effective in making it heard beyond France, most importantly instilling it as the language of the ruling classes in England.
There are further differentiation's within these broad categories. Catalan, Gascon, Limousin and Provencal are seen as major dialects of the langue d'oc. Within the area of the Langue d'oil the major dialects are Normandy, Picardy and the Ile-de-France which is also known as Francia.
Due to the importance of Paris politically and the intellectual dominance of the forming universities, Francia is slowly superseding all the others.
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