Louis VII as a King
In 1137, following his father’s death, Louis VII became the sole ruler of his kingdom. He got married to Eleanor, daughter of William X, Duke of Aquitaine, the same year. Thus, the Capetian lands were extended to the Pyrenees.
Louis followed his father’s pacification strategy by building a strong administrative government that relied on trustworthy officials, and not by annexing new kingdoms. He lacked quality political judgment. However, with the help of his advisor, Suger, Abbot of St-Denis, he became an efficient administrator.
From 1141 to 1143, he was part of an unsuccessful conflict with Count Thibaut of Champagne and the papacy. However, following this, he maintained good relations with the popes.
Soon after Edessa fell in 1144, Pope Eugenius III suggested that the king declare a new crusade, also known as the Second Crusade. Louis VII then invited Bernard of Clairvaux to begin the crusade. Louis was also supported by Conrad III of Germany. This was the first time the French and the Germans had decided to join forces for a common agenda.
In June 1147, King Louis VII and Eleanor of Aquitaine joined the crusade. They declared Abbot Suger the regent of France.
On June 24, 1148, Louis VII decided to attack Damascus, along with King Baldwin III of Jerusalem and King Conrad III of Germany. Their forces gathered in Acre. However, they were defeated badly by the Muslim forces and were forced to retreat by July 28. Thus, the Second Crusade failed miserably and Damascus was taken over by Nur ad-Din Zangi.
Louis VII had supported Alexander III, against Frederick Barbarossa. Alexander III later took refuge in France. He gifted Louis VII the “golden rose” in exchange for this generosity.
Louis VII soon grew insecure due to the threat from Geoffrey V, Count of Anjou (and of Normandy), and Geoffrey’s son, Henry II.
As Louis VII was unhappy with Henry II's position as the Duke of Normandy, he declared war on him in 1151. The conflict was to be arbitrated in Paris. The matter was ultimately resolved when Henry did homage to Louis VII for Normandy and gave away the territory of Vexin to France.
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Soon, Louis accused his wife, Eleanor, of misconduct and adultery. Following this, Eleanor and Louis VII got divorced (March 1152). Soon, Eleanor got married to Henry II. Henry II then took over Aquitaine. However, this helped the Capetian kingdom, as Aquitaine brought Louis VII negligible revenue.
In 1154, Henry II ascended to the English throne, as King Henry II of England and the ruler of Anjou and Normandy.
In 1158, Henry II went to France, with a marriage alliance between his son, Henry, and Louis VII’s daughter, Margaret (by his second wife, Constance).
Louis VII agreed, and the betrothal took place in November 1160. Back then, Henry was only 3 years old, while Margaret was an infant who was less than a year old.
However, on June 24 that year, Henry II decided to claim Toulouse as his own territory, in the name of Eleanor, his wife. He gathered his army at Poitiers and began his march. Louis VII was unhappy with Henry's aggressive attitude and thus marched with his own army to Toulouse, to stop the English king from entering the city. Henry refrained from attacking the city, as he was the vassal of Louis VII.
In October that year, Henry II marched to the north, to Normandy, where Louis VII’s brothers had started attacking the border. Henry II launched his attack on several castles and cut Louis VII off from Paris. Louis VII then signed a peace treaty in December and agreed that it would be valid till the festival of Whitsun in 1160.
In October 1160, Henry II decided to return all that he had gained from Louis VII and thus did homage to him. The same month, Louis married for the third time. The following month, Henry II accepted the Vexin castles as dowry, at the betrothal ceremony of Henry the Young King and Margaret.
Louis then brought peace between France and England when he agreed to the marriage of Prince Richard and his other daughter, Alys (or Alice), in 1169.
Between 1164 and 1170, Henry II and Thomas Becket, the archbishop of Canterbury, had major conflicts. In January 1169, Henry II, Louis VII, and Becket met at Montmirail for a peaceful resolution. Becket agreed with Henry II, except on one point. Their negotiations failed. They held another meeting at St. Leger-en-Yvelines. Soon, Henry received a papal ultimatum.
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In August 1174, the Siege of Rouen took place. Louis VII, Henry the Young King, and Philip the count of Flanders had stationed in front of Rouen since July. The city prevented an attack till the arrival of Henry II in August. Louis VII and his allies were afraid that Henry II would invade France. Thus, they abandoned the siege. By the end of that year, Henry II signed a peace agreement with Louis VII and his own three sons who had rebelled against him.
Louis VII then crowned his eldest son, Philip, at the ‘Rheims Cathedral’ in November 1179, according to Capetian tradition. Philip took to the throne as the joint king of France, Philip II, or Philip Augustus. He then took over as the sole ruler of his kingdom after the death of Louis VII in 1180.
Family & Personal Life
Louis VII married Eleanor of Aquitaine on July 25, 1137. The marriage was arranged by his father who wished to establish peace between France and Aquitaine. It also brought Louis VII the riches inherited by Eleanor, after the death of her father, Duke William X of Aquitaine.
Eleanor was extremely flirtatious in nature. Louis VII suspected her of being involved with her uncle, Raymond of Poitiers, during the crusade (March 1148). Louis VII often insisted that Eleanor accompany him in his campaigns.
In 1149, Louis VII wished to annul the marriage. Suger and others advised him not to. After Suger’s death, Louis annulled the marriage on March 21, 1152. The reason cited, however, was consanguinity, meaning they shared a common ancestor. Eleanor then married Henry, the Count of Anjou (the future Henry II), merely 2 months later.
Louis VII married Constance of Castile, who was the daughter of Alfonso VIII, King of Castile, in 1154. After her death in 1160, he married Adela (or Adele) of Champagne. Adela was the daughter of Theobald, Count of Champagne.
Louis VII had two daughters with Eleanor: Marie and Alix. He had two more daughters, with Constance: Margaret and Alys. With Adela, he had a son, Philip, and a daughter, Agnes. Philip later ascended to the throne as King Philip II, or Philip Augustus.
Louis VII died in Paris, France, on September 18, 1180. He was interred at the ‘Barbeau Abbey,’ which was founded by him earlier. His remains now lie at the ‘Basilica of Saint-Denis,’ after being shifted in 1817.