Desperate Housewives: 1314
February 1, 1328: Charles IV Ends the Family Curse…
His death was the end of the Capetian dynasty and the likely start of a Dan Brown novel. (The family was said to be cursed by the Grandmaster of the Templars–while he was being burned alive; the man was entitled to be vindictive.) Charles was the last of three brothers, whose reigns were a total of 13 years. Between the three–Louis X, Philip V and the aforementioned Charles–they had been married six times. Yet, they left no living sons. There were five healthy daughters but they didn’t count–at least in the royal succession. That was the result of a law in 1316 and a scandal two years earlier.
At the time, Louis had yet to become the Tenth; but he was already known as “The Quarrelsome.” His wife Margaret obviously was unhappy but not exactly resigned. There was a good looking Norman lord at court, and a convenient rendez-vous at the Tour de Nesle. The Paris palais may have been discreet but Margaret wasn’t. She told her sister-in-law Blanche, the bored wife of Charles, about the therapeutic locale and also recommended a Norman boy toy. It is possible that the third sister-in-law Jeanne knew about the activities. If so, she shared the dirty joke without becoming one. Since I am telling you (and I am not a Norman stud), the secret evidently got out. The informant was Isabelle, the sister of the cuckolded brothers. She was married to the King of England, but she was the lesser queen of the two. Now, if she had to endure a marital travesty, she was not going to let her sisters-in-law enjoy themselves. Isabelle informed her father, King Philip IV, of the scandal.
The two Norman lovers were arrested, tortured into confessions and then publicly vivisected. Margaret, Blanche and Jeanne were all accused of adultery; but since adultery requires at least two people, Jeanne had to be acquitted. Margaret and Blanche did not have that defense. They were condemned to life in convents. The scandal as well as 14th century medicine probably hastened the death of King Philip. Louis the Quarrelsome became king and he was impatient for an annulment. By a remarkable coincidence, Margaret died the next year. Louis was probably more surprised when he died in 1316. The diagnosis was that the 27 year-old caught pleurisy playing tennis, although some sources think that Duchess Jeanne had served wine after the game. But Jeanne was not Queen yet. Louis’ new wife and newer widow was pregnant, and she did give birth to a son. The infant king lived for only five days. Some sources think that Duchess Jeanne handled the christening robes.
But Jeanne’s husband was still not the certain successor. Louis ostensibly and his first wife definitely had a daughter. The four-year had a better claim to the throne–if she was the daughter of Louis. Her mother was guilty of adultery in 1314, but there was no evidence of any indiscretion two years prior to that. Since the child was inconveniently legitimate, the only way to disinherit her was to change the law. Although it was the 14th century, the aspiring Philip V decided that fifth century German law was the correct arbiter of royal succession. And according to that law, the royal succession was limited to men and only through male descent. So the princess could grow up and have sons (she did), but they still would be ineligible for the French throne.
Philip was now the rightful king, but with appropriate irony he and Jeanne had only daughters. So his successor was brother Charles. He understandably had his first marriage annulled, then married two more times and had a daughter to survive him. The throne passed to his first cousin, the direct and purely testosterone-linked grandson of Philip III. But there was still one male descendant of Philip IV, albeit through a daughter. Edward III of England was the son of Isabelle, the termagent who tattled on her sisters-in-law, and he claimed the throne of France. He and his descendants would spend the next hundred years in a brutal form of probate.
The French crown never bothered to change its convoluted succession. Daughters and nieces were disqualified, as were their sons. In 1589, when Henry III died without an heir, his cousin Henry de Bourbon rightfully claimed the throne because of his uninterrupted male descent from Louis IX, who died in 1270. But after all that effort to disinherit the daughter of Louis X…Henry IV was also directly descended from her.