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HUGH CAPET

Hugh Capet (987-96) was the founder of the Capetians, the ruling family of France from AD 987 to 1328. They succeeded the Carolingian dynasty. They greatly expanded their kingdom from a small area around Paris to cover most of central France. The later French royal houses of Valois and Bourbon both claimed indirect descent from him.

Capet was a nickname which had been given to the dynasty's founder because of the short cape he wore when he was lay (not a clergyman) abbot of St Martin de Tours. As Hugh, Duke of Francia, he was the most powerful vassal of Louis V, the last Carolingian king of France. Duke Charles of Lorraine claimed a right to the throne by descent from Carolingian monarchs, but Hugh schemed to have himself elected as king by seeking the support of wealthy, land-owning bishops.

Although Hugh Capet was king, his position was not very strong. From his capital in Paris, he ruled directly over a large part of northern France. In the rest of the country, however, some of his vassals were almost as powerful as he was. These included the dukes of Normandy, Burgundy and Aquitaine. Luckily for Hugh, no single one of them was strong enough to overthrow him and they were all too jealous of each other to make an alliance against him.

Hugh Capet made sure the succession passed to his son by having him crowned as king of France while he was still alive. In this he was copying the Holy Roman emperors who had their sons crowned king of the Romans. This meant that no one could contest the throne. The practice continued for the next two centuries, helping to make France into a stable country. Later Capetian rulers increased the powers of the king and gave the country a strong central government.



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