1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Philip IV., king of France
PHILIP IV. (1268–1314), called “le Bel” or “the Fair,” king of France, was the son of Philip III. and his wife, Isabella of Aragon. His reign, which began in October 1285, is one of the most momentous in the history of medieval Europe, yet it belongs rather to the history of France and to that of the papacy than to the biography of the king. Little is known of the personal part played by Philip in the events associated with his name, and later historians have been divided between the view which regards him as a handsome, lethargic nonentity and that which paints him as a master of statecraft who, under a veil of phlegmatic indifference and pious sentiment, masked an inflexible purpose, of which his ministers were but the spokesmen and executors. The first view seems to be borne out by the language of contemporary chroniclers. To his enemy, Bernard Saisset, he was neither man nor beast, but a statue, “the handsomest man in the world, but unable to do anything but stare fixedly at people without saying a word.” Guillaume de Nogaret, his minister, draws a far more flattering picture, enlarging on his charm, his amiability, his modesty, his charity to all men, and his piety; and the traits of this over-coloured portrait are more or less repeated by Yves, a monk of St Denis. There is, however, no word of any qualities of will or initiative. All of which suggests a personality mentally and physically phlegmatic, a suggestion strengthened by the fact that Bartholomaeus de Neocastro (quoted by Wenck) describes him as corpulent in 1290.
Yet this was the king who with equal implacability brought the papacy under his yoke, carried out the destruction of the powerful order of the Temple, and laid the foundations of the national monarchy of France. In this last achievement Professor Finke finds the solution of a problem which Langlois had declared to be insoluble. In 1302, in the midst of a hostile assembly, Philip cursed his sons should they consent to hold the Crown of any one but God; and in this isolated outburst he sees the key to his character. “Philip was not a man of violent initiative, the planner of daring and fateful operations, otherwise there would have been some signs of it. His personality was that of a well-instructed, outwardly cold, because cool and calculating man, essentially receptive, afire for only one idea: the highest possible development of the French monarchy, internally and externally, as against both the secular powers and the Church. His merit was that he carried through this idea in spite of dangers to himself and to the state. A resolution once arrived at he carried out with iron obstinacy.” Certainly he was no roi fainéant. His courage at the battle of Mons-en-Pévèle was the admiration of friend and foe alike. It was against the advice of his tutor, Aegidius Colonna, that on coming to the throne he chose as his counsellors men of the legal class, and the names of his great ministers—Guillaume de Nogaret, Enguerrand de Marigny, Pierre Flotte (d. 1302)—attest the excellent quality of his judgment. He was, too, one of the few monarchs who have left to their successors reasoned programmes of reform for the state.
The new materials from the Aragonese archives, published by Finke, give the same general impression of “uncanny” reticence on Philip’s part; when other contemporary kings would have spoken he keeps silence, allowing his ministers to speak for him. Isolated passages in some of the Aragonese letters included in the collection, however, throw a new light on contemporary estimate of his character, describing him as all-powerful, as “pope and king and emperor in one person.”
The reign of Philip IV. is of peculiar interest, because Of the intrusion of economic problems into the spheres of national politics and even of religion. The increased cost of government and the growing wealth of the middle class, rather than the avarice of the king and the genius of his ministers, were responsible for the genesis and direction of the new order. The greatest event of the reign was the struggle with Pope Boniface VIII. (q.v.) The pope, in his opposition to the imposition of royal taxation upon the clergy, went so far in the bull Clericis laicos of 1296 as to forbid any lay authority to demand taxes from the clergy without his consent. When Philip retaliated by a decree forbidding the exportation of any coin from France, Boniface gave u ay to save the papal dues, and the bulls issued by him in 1297 uere a decided victory for the French king. Peace between the two potentates followed until 1301. After the arrest, by Philip’s orders, of Bernard Saisset (q.v.), bishop of Pamiers, in that year, the quarrel flamed up again other causes of difference existed, and in 1302 the pope issued the bull U nam sanctam, one of the most extravagant of all statements of papal claims. To ensure the support of his people the king had called an assembly of the three estates of his kingdom at Paris in April 1302; then in the following year Guillaume de Nogaret seized the person of the pope at Anagni, an event immortalized by Dante. Boniface escaped from his captors only to die (October 11), and the short pontificate of his saintly successor, Benedict XI, was occupied in a vain effort to restore harmony to the Church. The conclave that met at Perugia on his death was divided between the partisans of the irreconcilable policy of Boniface VIII. and those of a policy of compromise with the new state theories represented by France. The election was ultimately determined by the diplomacy and the gold of Philip’s agents, and the new pope, Clement V., was the weak-willed creature of the French king, to whom he owed the tiara. When in 1309 the pope installed himself at Avignon, the new relation of the papacy and the French monarchy was patent to the world. It was the beginning of the long “Babylonish captivity” of the popes The most notable of its first-fruits was the hideous persecution of the Templars (q.v.), which began with the sudden arrest of the members of the order in France in 1307, and ended with the suppression of the order by Pope Clement at the council of Vienne in 1313.
It is now tolerably clear that Philip’s motives in this sinister proceeding were lack of money, and probably the deliberate wish to destroy a body which, with its privileged position and international financial and military organization, constituted a possible menace to the state. He had already persecuted and plundered the Jews and the Lombard bankers, and repeated recourse to the debasing of the coinage had led to a series of small risings But under his rule something was done towards systematizing the royal taxes, and, as in England. the financial needs of the king led to the association of the people in the work of government.
In 1294 Philip IV. attacked Edward I. of England, then busied with the Scottish War, and seized Guienne. Edward won over the counts of Bar and of Flanders, but they were defeated and he was obliged to make peace in 1297. Then the Flemish cities rose against the French royal officers, and utterly defeated the French army at Courtrai in 1302. The reign closed with the French position unimproved in Flanders, except for the transfer to Philip by Count Robert of Lille, Douai and Bethune, and their dependencies. Philip died on the 29th of November 1314. His wife was Jeanne, queen of Navarre (d. 1304), through whom that country passed under the rule of Philip on his marriage in 1284, three of his sons, Louis X., Philip V. and Charles IV., succeeded in turn to the throne of France, and a daughter, Isabella, married Edward II. of England.
See the Chronique of Geoffrey of Paris, edited by M. Bouquet, in vol. xxii. of the Recueil des historiens des Gaules et de la France. Of modern works see E. Boutaric, La France sous Philippe le Bel (1861); G. Digard, Philippe le Bel et le Saint-Siège (1900); C. V. Langlois in E. Lavisse’s Histoire de France, vol. iii. (1901); K. Wenck, Philipp der Schöne von Frankreich (Marburg, 1905); H. Finke, Papsttum und Untergang des Templerordens, 2 vols. (Münster i. W. 1907), esp. I. ch. ii.