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Louis VI
LOUIS VI. (1081-1137), king of France, surnamed "the Fat," was the son of Philip I. of France and Bertha of Holland. He was also surnamed the "Wide-awake" and "the Bruiser," and lost none of his energy when he earned the nickname by which he is known in history. In 1098 Louis was made a knight, and about the same time was associated with his father in the government, which the growing infirmities of Philip left more and more to his son, in spite of the opposition of Bertrada, the queen, whose criminal union with Philip had brought the anathema of the church. From 1100 to 1108 Louis by his victorious wars on the English and brigands had secured the army on his side, while the court supported Bertrada. Unable to make headway against him in war she attempted to poison him, and contemporary chroniclers attributed to this poison the pallor of his face, which seems to have been in remarkable contrast to his stalwart, and later his corpulent figure. Louis' reign is one of the most important in the history of France. He is little less than the second founder of the Capetian dynasty. When the feeble and incompetent Philip I. died (29th of July 1108) Louis was faced by feudal barons as powerful as himself, and ready to rise against him. He was forced to have himself hurriedly crowned at Orleans, supported by a handful of vassals and some ecclesiastics. As king he continued the policy he had followed during the previous eight years, of securing the roads leading to Paris by putting down feudal brigands and destroying their strongholds in the Île-de-France. The castle of the most notorious of these, Hugues du Puiset, was three times taken and burned by the king's men, but Hugues was spared to go back each time to his robber life, until he died on a crusade. In the north, Thomas de Marle, son of Enguerrand de Coucy, carried on a career of rapine and murder for almost thirty years before the king succeeded in taking, him prisoner (1130). Twenty-four years of continuous war finally rooted out the robber barons who lived on the plunder of the roads leading to Paris: the lords of Montlhéri, who commanded the roads to Orleans, Melun and the south, those of Montmorency near St Denis on the north (who had to restore what they had robbed the abbey of St Denis), those of Le Puiset toward the west, on the way to Chartres, and many others. Parallel with this consolidation of his power in the ancestral domains Louis met energetically the Anglo-Norman danger, warring with Henry I. of England for twenty-five years. After the victory of Tinchebray (1106) Louis supported the claims of William Clito, son of Robert, duke of Normandy; against Henry I. A ruthless war followed, in which Louis was at times reduced to the sorest straits. In 1119, at a council held at Reims under the presidency of Pope Calixtus II., the enemies were reconciled; but William Clito's claims were not satisfied, and in 1123 war began again on a larger scale. Henry I. induced the emperor Henry V. to join in the attack upon France; and, his heir having been drowned in the loss of the "White Ship," won the count of Anjou by marrying his only daughter Matilda to Geoffrey, the Angevin heir (1127). The invasion of Henry V. was met by something like a national army, which gathered under Louis at Reims. "For a few days at least, the lord of the Île-de-France was truly a king of France" (Luchaire). Suger proudly gives the list of barons who appeared. Henry V. came no farther than Metz. Royalty had won great prestige. Even Theobald, count of Chartres, the king's greatest enemy, the soul of feudal coalitions, came with his contingent. Shortly afterwards (1126), Louis was able to overawe the great count of Aquitaine, William IX., and force his vassal, the count of Auvergne, to treat justly the bishop of Clermont. In Flanders Louis interfered upon the assassination of Charles the Good. He caused the barons to elect as their count in Arras the same William Clito who claimed Normandy, and who was closely bound to the king. For a while Louis had Flanders absolutely at his disposal, but he had hardly left William alone (1127) when his brutal oppression roused both towns and nobles, who declared that Louis had no right to interfere in Flanders. The death of William Clito, and a savage war with his own seneschal, prevented Louis from effectually resenting this attitude; but Thierry of Alsace, the new count, consented in 1128 to receive from Louis the investiture of all his French fiefs, and henceforth lived on good terms with him. In all his wars-those mentioned are but a part of them-Louis fought in person. Proud of his strength, reckless in the charge as on the march, plunging into swollen rivers, entering blazing castles, he gained the reputation of a national hero, the protector of the poor, the church, the peasants and the towns. The communal movement grew during his reign, and he encouraged it on the fiefs of his vassals in order to weaken them; but the title "Father of the Communes" by which he was known in history is not deserved, though he did grant some privileges to towns on his domains. Neither was Louis the author of the movement for the emancipation of the serfs, as was formerly claimed. His attitude toward the movement was like that of his predecessors and contemporaries, to favour emancipation when it promised greater chance of profit, greater scope for exploitation of the peasants; otherwise to oppose it. He was a great benefactor to the church, aided the new, reformed monastic congregations of Cîteau, Prémontré and Fontevrault, and chose his two chief ministers from the clergy. Étienne de Garlande, whom Louis raised from obscurity to be archdeacon of Notre Dame at Paris, chancellor and seneschal of France, was all-powerful with the king from 1108 to 1127. His relatives monopolized the highest offices of the state. But the queen Adelaide became his enemy; both Ivo of Chartres and St Bernard bitterly attacked him; and the king suddenly stripped him of all his offices and honours. Joining the rebellious barons, Étienne then led a bitter war against the king for three years. When Louis had reduced him to terms he pardoned him and restored him to the chancellorship (1132), but not to his old power. Suger (q.v.), administrator of St Denis, enters the scene toward the close of this reign, but his great work belongs to the next. Louis VI. died on the 1st of August 1137, just a few days after his son, Louis the Young, had set out for the far south-west, the Aquitaine which had been won by the marriage with Eleanor. His wife was Adelaide, or Alice, daughter of Humbert II., count of Savoy, by whom he had seven sons and a daughter.

See A. Luchaire, Louis le Gros, annales de sa vie et son règne (1890), and the same writer's volume, Les Premiers Capétiens, in E. Lavisse's Histoire de France. (J. T. S.*)

Contributed by Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911
15 July 2009

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