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The Capetian dynasty (//), also known as the House of France, is a dynasty of Frankish origin, founded by Hugh Capet. It is among the largest and oldest royal houses in Europe and the world, and consists of Hugh Capet's male-line descendants. The senior line ruled in France as the House of Capet from the election of Hugh Capet in 987 until the death of Charles IV in 1328. That line was succeeded by cadet branches, the Houses of Valois and then Bourbon, which ruled until the French Revolution.
The dynasty had a crucial role in the formation of the French state. Initially obeyed only in their own demesne, the Île-de-France, the Capetian kings slowly but steadily increased their power and influence until it grew to cover the entirety of their realm. For a detailed narration on the growth of French royal power, see Crown lands of France.
Members of the dynasty were traditionally Catholic. The early Capetians had an alliance with the Church. The French were also the most active participants in the Crusades, culminating in a series of five Crusader Kings – Louis VII, Philip Augustus, Louis VIII, Saint Louis, and Philip III. The Capetian alliance with the papacy suffered a severe blow after the disaster of the Aragonese Crusade. Philip III's son and successor, Philip IV, humiliated a pope and brought the papacy under French control. The later Valois, starting with Francis I, ignored religious differences and allied with the Ottoman Sultan to counter the growing power of the Holy Roman Empire. Henry IV was a Protestant at the time of his accession, but realized the necessity of conversion after four years of religious warfare.
The Capetians generally enjoyed a harmonious family relationship. By tradition, younger sons and brothers of the King of France are given appanages for them to maintain their rank and to dissuade them from claiming the French crown itself. When Capetian cadets did aspire for kingship, their ambitions were directed not at the French throne, but at foreign thrones. Through this, the Capetians spread widely over Europe.
In modern times, both King Felipe VI of Spain and Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg are members of this family, both through the Bourbon branch of the dynasty. Along with the House of Habsburg, it was one of the two most powerful continental European royal families, dominating European politics for nearly five centuries.
The name of the dynasty derives from its founder, Hugh, who was known as "Hugh Capet". The meaning of "Capet" (a nickname rather than a surname of the modern sort) is unknown. While folk etymology identifies it with "cape", other suggestions suggest it to be connected to the Latin word caput ("head"), and thus explain it as meaning "chief" or "head".
Historians in the 19th century (see House of France) came to apply the name "Capetian" to both the ruling house of France and to the wider-spread male-line descendants of Hugh Capet. It was not a contemporary practice. The name "Capet" has also been used as a surname for French royalty, particularly but not exclusively those of the House of Capet. One notable use was during the French Revolution, when the dethroned King Louis XVI (a member of the House of Bourbon and a direct male-line descendant of Hugh Capet) and Queen Marie Antoinette (a member of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine) were referred to as "Louis and Antoinette Capet" (the queen being addressed as "the Widow Capet" after the execution of her husband).
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The dynastic surname now used to describe Hugh Capet's family prior to his election as King of France is "Robertians" or "Robertines." The name is derived from the family's first certain ancestor, Robert the Strong (b. 820), the count of Paris. Robert was probably son of Robert III of Worms (b. 800) and grandson of Robert of Hesbaye (b. 770). The Robertians probably originated in the county Hesbaye, around Tongeren in modern-day Belgium.
The sons of Robert the Strong were Odo and Robert, who both ruled as king of Western Francia. The family became Counts of Paris under Odo and Dukes of the Franks under Robert, possessing large parts of Neustria.
The Carolingian dynasty ceased to rule France upon the death of Louis V. After the death of Louis V, the son of Hugh the Great, Hugh Capet, was elected by the nobility as king of France. Hugh was crowned at Noyon on 3 July 987 with the full support from Holy Roman Emperor Otto III. With Hugh's coronation, a new era began for France, and his descendants came to be named the Capetians, with the Capetian dynasty and its cadet branches such as the House of Valois ruling France for more than 800 years (987–1848, with some interruptions).
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Salic law, reestablished during the Hundred Years' War from an ancient Frankish tradition, caused the French monarchy to permit only male (agnatic) descendants of Hugh to succeed to the throne of France.
Without Salic law, upon the death of John I, the crown would have passed to his half-sister, Joan (later Joan II of Navarre). However, Joan's paternity was suspect due to her mother's adultery in the Tour de Nesle Affair; the French magnates adopted Salic law to avoid the succession of a possible bastard.
In 1328, King Charles IV of France died without male heirs, as his brothers did before him. Philip of Valois, the late king's first cousin acted as regent, pending the birth of the king's posthumous child, which proved to be a girl. Isabella of France, sister of Charles IV, claimed the throne for her son, Edward III of England. The English king did not find support among the French lords, who made Philip of Valois their king. From then on the French succession not only excluded females, but also rejected claims based on the female line of descent.
This did not affect monarchies not under that law such as Portugal, Spain, Navarre, and various smaller duchies and counties. Therefore, many royal families appear and disappear in the French succession or become cadet branches upon marriage. A complete list of the senior-most line of Capetians is available below.
The Capetian Dynasty has been broken many times into (sometimes rival) cadet branches. A cadet branch is a line of descent from another line than the senior-most. This list of cadet branches shows most of the Capetian cadet lines and designating their royal French progenitor, although some sub-branches are not shown.
Throughout most of history, the Senior Capet and the King of France were synonymous terms. Only in the time before Hugh Capet took the crown for himself and after the reign of Charles X is the term necessary to identify which. However, since primogeniture and the Salic law provided for the succession of the French throne for most of French history, here is a list of all the predecessors of the French monarchy, all the French kings from Hugh until Charles, and all the Legitimist pretenders thereafter. All dates are for seniority, not reign. It is important to note that historians class the predecessors of Hugh Capet as Robertians, not Capetians.
Noblemen in Neustria and their descendants (dates uncertain):
Count of Paris:
Duke of Angoulême:
Count of Chambord:
Count of Montizón:
Duke of Madrid:
Duke of San Jaime:
Duke of Anjou:
Many years have passed since the Capetian monarchs ruled a large part of Europe; however, they still remain as kings, as well as other titles. Currently two Capetian monarchs still rule in Spain and Luxembourg. In addition, seven pretenders represent exiled dynastic monarchies in Brazil, France, Spain, Portugal, Parma and Two Sicilies. The current legitimate, senior family member is Louis-Alphonse de Bourbon, known by his supporters as Duke of Anjou, who also holds the Legitimist (Blancs d'Espagne) claim to the French throne. Overall, dozens of branches of the Capetian dynasty still exist throughout Europe.
Except for the House of Braganza (founded by an illegitimate son of King John I of Portugal, who was himself illegitimate), all current major Capetian branches are of the Bourbon cadet branch. Within the House of Bourbon, many of these lines are themselves well-defined cadet lines of the House.
It is estimated that the agnatic (male line) descendants of the Capetian dynasty consists of 6,500 people (dead and alive).
The small number of agnatic descendants of the kings of France, compared with a theoretical number, is explained by the frequent marriages between Capetian cousins between the 12th and 20th centuries. Some examples of considerable inbreeding among descendants of the kings of France are: