Philip IV the Handsome, King of France

The eleventh king in the Capetian dynasty, Philip IV the Fair or Good Looking (le Bel in the French of that day) was born in 1268 and ruled from 1285 to 1314. Was he able to destroy the Knights Templar?

To get the big picture, let’s begin with two genealogical tables from the Encyclopedia Medieval France:

The next three tables explain how Edward I of England and Philip IV of France relate:


They are about English kings in relation to the French kings.

Let’s get started with Philip IV.

Personal Life and Characteristics

  1. He was born between April and June 1268, while his grandfather Louis IX was still on the throne.
  2. He was the second but eldest surviving son of Philip III the Bold and Isabella of Aragon. He was born at Fontainebleau (Seine-et-Marne) between 8 Apr and June 1268.
  3. He had a troubled childhood because of his stepmother Marie of Brabant, who was suspected of poisoning Philip’s older brother.
  4. He arranged his grandfather Louis IX’s canonization in 1297 and built a convent at Poissy, where his grandfather was baptized. Philip’s oldest son, Robert, was buried there. Philip ordered that his own heart would be buried there too. He made a reliquary for that purpose.
  5. Philip had fair (light) hair, golden-blond, ruddy, handsome and seemly. He was so tall that he got the attention in a crowd. Some say he was fat.
  6. He did not have the same super-piety of his grandfather, but he dressed and looked the part.
  7. He liked the sports of his day and was an eager hunter.
  8. He was silent, not prone to speaking, cold, unmoving.
  9. His nurse Heloise was rewarded with clothing and two shillings per day.
  10. He was two when his grandfather went on his fatal crusade. His mother died when he was a child and his father remarried to Marie of Brabant in 1274.
  11. Philip was knighted at 16 in 1284.
  12. Shortly afterwards he married Joan of Navarre, who was only eleven, being betrothed since 1276. The match brought in Navarre and Champagne to the crown.
  13. When his brother Louis died in 1276, he became heir to the throne.
  14. In 1305 Joan died young, when she was 32, and he did not remarry. He apparently genuinely loved her, making grants she desired.
  15. Joan admired the piety of her grandfather-in-law and urged John of Joinville to write a biography of him.
  16. Joan often travelled with Philip.
  17. In 1294, he said she should be regent if he were to die young.


  1. France was much bigger and unified during Philip’s reign than before. It had a population of 20 million, the largest state in Europe, the apogee of royal power.
  2. In contrast, the Holy Roman Empire declined after the death of Frederick II, from civil wars, divided elections.
  3. The papacy used to have to accommodate the Holy Roman Emperor, but now it leaned on France.
  4. The only great fiefs outside Capetian hands were Brittany, Flanders, and Aquitaine.
  5. The balance between the king on the one side and the dukes and counts on the other weighted heavily for the king, never to be restored to the other side. Royal power extended.
  6. Paris had a population of 200,000, the largest city in Western Europe, and now its capital.
  7. The University of Paris continued to expand; new colleges were founded, including that by Joan of Navarre. When Philip quarreled with Pope Boniface VIII, the king needed the university’s support, for it was the leading intellectual center, particularly in the arts and theology. It attracted many students and such luminaries as Roger Bacon and Aquinas.
  8. France enjoyed a period of economic expansion. Money came from the demesne and justice, tolls, mills, markets and fairs, and land, including sale of produce, wine, and wood.
  9. However, costs rose fast when wars were declared. Between 1295 and 1301, the war with England cost 3 million livres tournois. Taxes were imposed on all non-noble subjects.
  10. Philip relied on councilors, for it was useful to tell the people that he was not acting alone, as a tyrant, but he made the ultimate decisions.
  11. Some of the councilors, particularly those who ran the government, made fortunes. Enguerrand de Marigny, a leading minister, for an extreme example, raked in 15,000 livres per year.
  12. The Estates-General rose in significance, which first met at Notre Dame at Paris in 1302 to support the king against the papacy. It was an assembly of delegates and at least partly represented the nation. It met in 1302 and 1303 over Boniface VIII, in 1308 about the Templars and in 1314 over the subsidies for Flanders.
  13. Parliament was defined by an ordinance of 1307. It functioned judicially and financially, not legislatively.
  14. The royal household employed some 200 men at the start of the reign, and by the end it had 300.
  15. The number of lawyers increased, to serve as administrators and Philip’s advisers. Canon law was taught at Paris, while Roman law was emphasized at Orleans.
  16. Philip manipulated the gold and silver currency, especially during wars, and sometimes people revolted. For example, in 1306 crowds attacked the mint at Chalot-sur-Marne. Prisoners were released, and people marched at night to music by the light of torches. In 1307, crowds assembled outside the windows at the palace in Paris, and many were imprisoned and 28 hanged.

His Conflict with the Church

  1. Since the Holy Roman Empire was in decline, the papacy relied less on it and more on France. France was the largest, richest, and most powerful Catholic country. The papacy had more French Cardinals, several French popes and had a base outside Italy, established at Avignon.
  2. His war against Edward I of England demanded taxation on the church, and Pope Boniface’s VIII resisted.
  3. Philip and the pope from then until the pope’s death in 1303 were locked in a struggle over the limits of secular jurisdiction over ecclesiastical matters. Philip appealed to local assemblies and broadcast the support for his policies.
  4. The king accused the pope of heresy and immorality in an assembly in Paris presided over by Philip. The pope had said, for example, that he would rather be a dog than a Frenchman, and a dog has no soul, while even the most miserable Frenchman has one. Therefore, reasoned, the assembly, Boniface did not believe in the immortality of the soul and was a heretic.
  5. In September 1304 the pope was violently attacked when Guillaume (William) of Nogaret summoned him to submit to the judgment of the council.
  6. Clement V, a Gascon-born cardinal, became pope in 1305, and he pleased Philip. For example he accepted Philip’s suppression of the Knights Templar, whose crusading assets Philip had seized because he accused them of heresy and immorality.
  7. In secular matters he encountered failures, two examples: his disgruntled nobles formed leagues, demanding to return to old customs because Philip was harsh in his money grabs.
  8. In 1306 he expelled the Jews from France with encouragement from Rome.
  9. The one big issue was a radical Franciscan preacher named Bernard Délicieux (Delicious), who traveled in France and Italy.
  10. He criticized the Dominican Inquisition because the bishops of Albi and Toulouse (southern France) were using it for political purposes, and people felt oppressed. He got the attention of the king and queen. At they supported him. They went down there, but observed that he better not go with Délicieux’s popular movement.
  11. Délicieux suggested that the Inquisition was so harsh that not even Peter or Paul could be cleared. Délicieux was disillusioned, and another leader of the anti-Inquisition movement, Elie Patrice, was arrested, and he and 15 others were hanged.
  12. Bernard was released and went to the pope at Avignon, France, (yes it moved) and was accused of treachery against Philip and of poisoning Benedict XI. He was sentenced to life in prison and died two years later in 1320.
  13. Boniface VIII v. Philip IV: The first issue was taxation. The pope issued the bull (related to the word bulletin) Clericis Laicos, which said the king had no right to raise extraordinary taxes on the clergy without papal permission. Liberties of the church were guaranteed. The King responded by halting export of precious metal to Rome. Yet the pope needed the money to support their clash with the Colonna family.
  14. The second issue was the appointment of bishop of Pamiers in the Languedoc. Liking alcohol too much, he became critical of Philip, saying that his grandfather Louis should be in hell, Philip a bastard and counterfeiter. The king arrested and confronted the bishop, but the pope said the church must handle it and the king must release the bishop. Assemblies were called, papal injunctions issued.
  15. One bull, Ausculta fili, was read before an assembly and Philip’s brother Robert tore it up and threw it on the fire, though Strayer doubts this happened. In any case, the bull said that all the people were subordinate to the pope in temporal and spiritual matters, which places the pope above the king over the king’s realm.
  16. Another papal bull was called Unam Sanctam (18 Nov 1312), which said the French defeat at Courtrai was thought to be a judgment of God. The bull was the most forceful declaration of a theocracy in the Middle Ages. Both the sword of the state and the sword of the church are in the power of the church. Concluding sentence: “We declare, pronounce and define that it is absolutely necessary for every human being to be subject to the Roman pontiff to attain salvation.”
  17. The king wanted to call a college of cardinals to depose the pope, and the pope wanted one to depose the king.
  18. The king sent a negotiator, Nogaret, to Rome to secure the peace. Once there, he heard that another bull, Semper Petri Solio was about to be released (8 Sep) , opposing Philip and saying he was automatically excommunicated for not allowing the French prelates from going to Rome and for giving refuge to Stephano Colonna, an enemy of the pope. Nogaret decided to act and called up Colonna and 300 men.
  19. They entered the town where the pope was vacationing, shouting “Long live the king of France, long live Colonna!” Nogaret made a speech in the town square. Boniface stayed in bed clutching a reliquary, ready to die a martyr.
  20. Colonna struck him and the pope reacted like Thomas Becket did, back in 1170. “Here is my neck! Here is my head!” The people supported the pope and threw things from the windows at the troops. “Long live the pope! Death to foreigners!” Colonna wanted to kill him, but Nogaret escorted him back to Rome.
  21. Boniface was 86 and within a month, on 11 Oct 1303 (Stayer says 7 July 1304), he died in the Vatican. Nogaret denied any involvement in the pope’s death.
  22. Nicholas Boccanini was elected and took the name Benedict XI. He excommunicated Nogaret, but was forgiven seven years later. Benedict died a year later from taking office.
  23. Bertrand de Got, the Gascon archbishop of Bordeaux, was elected as Clement V. During the coronation, a wall collapsed and some were killed. Bad beginning.
  24. He was compliant to Philip and the most pro-French pope in history. He named 12 new cardinals of whom nine were French. He permitted Philip’s destruction of the order of the Knights of the Temple (the Templars)

Joseph R. Strayer’s words on Philip’s view on the “religion of monarchy”:

Philip the Fair also learned another religion at his father’s court—the religion of monarchy. This religion made a deeper impression on him than Christianity; or to put it in his terms, Christianity obviously supported the religion of monarchy. The king of France was the Vicar of God, the chief supporter of the Church. He was anointed with oil that had been sent down from Heaven; he could cure the sick; he had inherited the insignia and the holy mission of Charlemagne. He was the greatest king in Christendom, subject to no temporal authority. To oppose such a king was not only evil, it was sacrilegious. (p. 13)

His Conflict with the Templars

  1. They were originally founded to protect the pilgrims in the Holy Land and secure their routes.
  2. They became powerful. They acquired wealth and fortifications. They were able to lend money to kings.
  3. In France they retained 2,000 knights and 10,000 sergeants. Jacques de Molay was elected Grand Master two years after the loss of the Holy Land. The organization was finding its way after that loss.
  4. King Philip turned against them. They were accused of heresy, sodomy, worship of idols, orders to spit on the cross, and occultism. Only the pope, Clement V, compliant to the king, supported them. Accusations of heresy circulated for decades, and a key minister of Philip, Nogaret, found enough evidence of heresy, though the Grand Master Jacques de Molay was not worried, for an investigation would drag on for years. He did not even leave France while the headquarters were in Cyprus.
  5. Sodomy and other vices? Strayer again: “That the Templars were unchaste and that they often engaged in homosexual practices goes without saying. It is hard enough for professed monks, more or less secluded from the world, to keep their vows; it was nearly impossible for men deeply involved in politics, finance, and occasionally military campaigns to do so. Homosexuality among members of close-knit military-political groups has not been unknown in our own time” (p. 191).
  6. The efficiency of the royal government can be seen in their simultaneous arrests of almost all the Templars of France on 13 Oct 1307. The orders of arrest had been kept secret until the proper time. Very few members of the Order escaped.
  7. The legal process against the Order began at Ste. Geneviève in Paris on 8 Aug 1309. A commission was formed. Jacques de Molay was called before it. Reply: “I am just a poor, illiterate knight” and asked to be brought before the pope.
  8. Some Templars defended the order. They were tortured. Some recanted and admitted their wrongdoings. When they were released, the denied they had done wrong.
  9. In the end, here is what Strayer says: “Philip was able to do what no other medieval king had done; he destroyed a large wealthy and influential religious order” (p. 287).
  10. What were Philip’s motives to attack the Templars? Money? Philip did not gain very much, says Bradbury. Strayer says he did make quite a lot of money. To form his own military order for crusading? These plans never materialized. Did he believe the accusations of heresy? Maybe. The answer from Bradbury: maybe the answer lies somewhere between the three suggestions.

“Foreign” Affairs

  1. It is important to realize that France as we know it today was not even close to being unified in the Medieval Age. It was broken up into a patchwork of duchies and counties, overseen by dukes and counts. They tirelessly competed with each other and the kings of “France.” The Capetians actually ruled over what is called Lesser France, the area around Paris and Orleans, including the Ile-de-France or Isle of France. The Ile or Isle of France was not a standard island as we think of it today, but a land area surrounding Paris. It was the base of the Capetians. (Incidentally, the label “Ile of France” is still used today to identify this area.)
  2. However, Philip expanded the royal realm to a greater extent than at any time before his reign.
  3. Philip IV avoided conflict for nine years, but he precipitated war against the Duke of Aquitaine / Guyenne, none other than Edward I of England (those two territories in France belonged to him).
  4. Settled in 1203, it was fruitless and strained royal finances and led to manipulations of the currency.
  5. Philip married off his sister Marguerite to Edward I of England in 1299 and his daughter Isabella to Edward II of England. Aquitaine went to England.
  6. In a conflict with Flanders at Courtrai, his brother Robert of Artois suffered a major disaster on 11 July 1302. It went badly for the French (1,000 French knights were killed), in the Battle of the Golden Spurs, from the 700 pairs removed from French corpses.
  7. Then in 1304, Philip had his revenge. The Flemish had success with the crossbows and reached the French baggage train. Philip was unhorsed, but was handed an axe to defend himself. The knight who gave Philip another horse was decapitated. The king’s horse bolted, but its rider came to no harm. He led the vital charge, crying Montjoi St. Denis! His grandfather shouted something like it during one of his crusades. The Flemish retreated and Philip entered Lille.

Family Facts

In Aug 1284 (contract dated May 1275 and papal dispensation dated 20 Feb 1275 because he was related by 3rd degree to his proposed bride), Philip was knighted and married to Jeanne or Joan, heiress of Champagne and Navarre, two prosperous regions. She was the daughter of Enrique (Henry) I el Gordo or the Fat, King of Navarre, Count Palatine of Champagne and Brie, by Blanche, daughter of Robert, Count of Artois. Joan was born at Bar-sur-Seine 14 Jan 1273.

He became king at Reims, on 6 Jan 1285/6, after his father died on a return from an ill-fated military campaign against Aragon.

They had four sons:

Louis (X) le Hutin or the Quarrelsome, future King of France and Navarre, Count Palantine of Champagne and Brie;

Philip (V) le Long or the Tall, future King of France and Navarre, Count Palatine of Burgundy, seigneur of Salins;

Charles (IV) le Bel or the Good-Looking or Fair, future King of France and Navarre, Count of La Marche, Count of Champagne;


Philip’s first three sons died without long-living male heirs (Louis’s posthumous son John I died in 1316) in quick succession from 1314 to 1328. The throne passed to the Valois through Philip IV’s brother Charles and his son Philip VI.

Philip and Joan had three daughters: Marguerite, Blanche and Isabel (or Isabella).

In the last year of his reign, Philip IV believed the accusation of adultery, initiated by his daughter Isabelle against his two daughters-in-law Marguerite (wife of Louis) and Blanche (wife of Charles). His other daughter-in-law was accused of concealing the sins. On one of her visits to the French court, she gave gloves to her sisters-in-law. On a later visit, she saw the gloves in possession of two brothers and royal knights, Philip and Walter d’Aulnay. One of them confessed under torture that the affairs had gone on for three years. The two brothers were found guilty, castrated, flayed alive, and their genitals were thrown to the dogs. They were burned in the market square at Pontoise, and their bodies hanged on a public gibbet. Apparently adultery in the royal household had to be punished excessively.

Joan, wife of Philip V proved her innocence by an assembly. Her husband restored her to marriage. Marguerite was kept in a castle tower without adequate clothing to protect her from the winter winds. She died in Apr 1315 from a cold. Blanche was kept there as well. The marriage was annulled in 1322. She was released (evidently she had better quarters) and took the vow of a nun.

Why did Isabelle throw around the accusations and kept them alive after her father died in 1314? One possibility is that she was unhappily married, since her husband was a homosexual and was having an affair with a lord Gaveston. Or maybe she did not receive enough honor and power at the French court after her father died, for he had kept in close contact with her. She managed to assassinate her husband, indicating how aggressive and Machiavellian she was.

Philip IV fell from his horse near Port Sainte-Maxence and broke his leg. The wound became infected. He was taken to Poissy, the Dominican priory he founded. He got a fever and stomach pains. He died at Fontainebleau on 26 or 29 Nov 1314, where he was carried and had been born. He was buried in the Abbey of Saint Denis.


Robert I (r. 922-23) (House of Robertines)

Hugh the Great (r. 938-956)


Hugh Capet (r. 987-996)

Robert II (r. 996-1031)

Henri I (r. 1031-60)

Philip I (r. 1059 or 1060-1108)

Louis VI (r. 1108-1037)

Louis VII  (r. 1137-1180)

Philip II Augustus (r. 1180-1223)

Louis VIII (r. 1223-1226)

Louis IX, the Saintly King (r. 1226-1270)

Philip III (r. 1270-1285)

Philip IV (r. 1285-1314)

Louis X (r. 1314-1316)

Philip V (r. 1316-1322)

Charles IV (r 1322-1328) (last Capetian king)


These two dynasties lived before the Capetians.

Charlemagne: Interesting Facts and Stories

Pippin, Son of Charlemagne

Bernard, King of Italy

Pippin, Great-Grandson of Charlemagne (transition to the House of Vermandois)


Herbert I, Count of Vermandois

Herbert II, Count of Vermandois


Jim Bradbury, The Capetians: Kings of France (Continuum, 2007).

René de la Croix (duc de Castries), Kings and Queens of France, trans. Anne Dobell (Knopf, 1979.

Jean Favier, Philippe le Bel (Fayard, 1978). (There’s a second edition, but the first one is good enough for this post.

Medieval France: An Encyclopedia, eds. William W. Kibler and Grover A. Zinn (New York: Garland, 1995).

Michael Prestwich, Edward I, new edition, Yale English Monarchs (Yale UP: 1997).

Douglas Richardson, Royal Ancestry: A Study in Colonial and Medieval Families, 5 volumes (Salt Lake: Published Privately, 2013).

Joseph R. Strayer, The Reign of Philip the Fair (Princeton UP, 1980).

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