The astonishing history of the numbering of the kings of France

The astonishing history of the numbering of the kings of France

Everyone knows Louis XIII, Louis XIV or Louis XV and many others before them. But why these numbers? Why would Louis XIV not have worn the number XV or XVI? Very interesting question answered by Michel-André Lévy, in his recent book " Louis I, II, III ... XIV ... the astonishing history of the numbering of the Kings of France ».

Kings with nicknames

The first writings, telling the history of France were chronicles established by Grégoire de Tours around 560, without precise chronology, in a way various facts of the time. To try to date these facts, we used the current reign of the king.

The biggest drawback is that several kings often reigned over several "pieces" of kingdom. They already had a number, but they did not always follow one another in order. Establishing a chronology was impossible. The Carolingians then used a subterfuge: to attribute and name kings with nicknames, such as Pepin the Short, Charles the Fat or "Plantagenêt" due to the broom sprig worn on the hat. These nicknames were chosen according to the physique of the character, the territories that belonged to them or according to some other criteria. The list of nicknames is not extensible, we rethink the numbering with some rules.

The beginnings of numbers

Charlemagne, who succeeds Pepin, aspires to the unification and indivisibility of the kingdom with the objective of transmitting his kingdom as a whole to a successor. The numbering starts slowly, but the succession to a single heir will not take place until after 980.

The eldest son is presumed heir king, receiving the first name of the grandfather and the younger son the first name of the father. The first names "Philippe", "Louis" and "Charles" sometimes attributed in honor of the godfathers, follow one another; but it happened that the child did not have a first name before baptism. In fact, it is customary for him to be baptized the day after birth, or within three days. Infant mortality decreasing, people baptized later as was the case for Louis XIII at the age of five, who until then had been called "Dauphin". Closer to us, the daughters of Louis XV were called Madame Première, Madame Seconde, Madame Troisième until the birth of the Dauphin; they therefore did not have real first names and that for ten years!

The numbers appear in the 11th century, but everything is messy until the 13th century when Saint Louis begins to remedy it. A list of the kings of France appears in the Grandes Chroniques, in the middle of the reign of Philippe Auguste; Primate inaugurates the era of "catalogs" of the Kings of France; Guillaume de Nangis and Bernard Gui do the same.

However, these lists are not always those we know today: de Nangis omits two kings, while Bernard Gui adds them. There are also kings without number in the midst of numbered kings like Louis III and Louis le Fainéant interposed between Louis II and Louis IV.

The current numbering

Charles V attributed his number to himself during his lifetime, thus freezing the previous kings and the following ones, but also the laws of succession. This number was inscribed in the texts before him, but only in the titles of the texts relating the birth of his son in 1368; then during the birth of his daughter and for her death in 1380. However, it is not yet customary to include the number in the text itself.

Charles V therefore inaugurates the numbering of “Charles”; the son of Charles VII being called Louis, he becomes Louis XI launching the numbering of “Louis” during his lifetime. The body of the writings includes the number and it is customary also that this number be transferred to the tomb.

The numbered king has to somehow prove his number. He has two means: affix his seal thus proving his official signature. The first king to practice so is Charles VIII, son of Louis XI. The second means is the production of coins. The successor of Charles VIII, Louis XII establishes the coins and the number, accompanied by the profile of the king. These coins will only be produced in small quantities for the use of the royal family. From the Renaissance, the name of the king, his number and his profile will be systematically on the coin.

Thus was born the numbering of the Kings of France, as we know it.

Our opinion

Analyzing the writings of the monks of Saint Denis, then those of the chancellors of the kings, Michel-André Lévy tells us about the origin of the numbering of the Kings of France. A thorough investigation, a thorough analysis allow us to understand this process. However, although the book is really informative, we sometimes get lost in the explanations. The author goes from the Merovingians to the Carolingians, to return a few pages later to the Pippinides, while having explained in passing the attribution of “final” first names! A book for those who are passionate about the history of France.

Louis I, II, III ... XIV The astonishing history of the numbering of the kings of France, by Michel-andre Levy. Jourdan editions, 2014.


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