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The Infant King

Once upon a time, a king was born. Literally. As he came out of the womb, he was recognized as King of the French. Here’s the story.

Philippe the Fair destroys the Knights Templars, in 1312. Two years later, their leader, Jacques de Molay, is burned at the stake. It is said, that as he dies, he curses Philippe. What the curse is, no one can say. Philippe dies a few month after de Molay. Philippe’s son, Louis X, is his successor. Louis X dies 19 months after he becomes king. In spite of his short reign, Louis does some good work. He frees all slaves and serfs in France. For his time, he is a liberal. However, there’s that curse…

One of the suggestions is that the curse is on Philippe’s family because everything goes haywire, at this point, with the succession. Beginning with Louis’ 19 months as king. Louis has two brothers, and a sister, Isabella. She is married to the king of England, Edward II. That will cause trouble, later.

Louis first wife, now here’s where it really gets messy, was Margaret of Burgundy. Margaret produced one child before she was arrested, tried and convicted of adultery. Unfortunately, that child is a girl, and girls are not allowed to inherit the throne. There is also this little problem that Joan may not be Louis’ child, but the child of the paramour.

No DNA back in the day, ergo, no way to prove paternity one way or the other.

Therefore, Margaret languishes in prison. And Louis is desperate to have a son. For this task, Louis needs a new wife. And then Margaret conveniently dies.

The gossip is, Margaret was strangled. Next thing we know, Louis is married to Clementia of Hungary.

Clementia is about 4 months pregnant when Louis dies. The councils and brothers decide to wait until Clementia delivers the child because the French are radicals when it comes to the inheritance of the throne. Their preference is father to son. Therefore, they wait. For a moment in time, the wait seems worth it. Clementia delivers a boy. He is named Jean (John) and he is recognized as king. Sort of. He is not crowned. (See my post of Jeanne d’Arc for why that detail is important.)

The disappointment comes when le petit Jean dies 5 days later. What he dies of is not stated. Nonetheless, no one can be too surprised as infants often died days after birth. We are in the 14th century, and most families experience the death of one or more of their children.

Jean’s death is recorded because he’s a king. He also holds the record for the shortest reign ever.

Reading about this little boy saddened me. He represents hope, and a traditional future to his family and the nation. Le petit Jean’s death will eventually bring about the 100 Years War. What a tangled web that is.

In spite of his short life, the nation gives him a proper burial. To see the image of his tiny funerary bier makes me sigh. And makes me appreciative of our modern medicine. For we are not in the habit of having to bury newborns.

Was this a part of de Molay’s curse? Could be. Philippe, Jean’s uncle, is the next in line for the throne of France. He is nicknamed, the tall. His reign lasts 3 years and 9 months. He has 4 daughters, so none are eligible to take the throne. That’s France for you, no women monarchs allowed.

The crown then passes to the younger brother, Charles, also nicknamed like his father, the fair. He reigns for 6 years and one month. He, also, has no son to leave the kingdom to. Charles IV was the last direct heir of the Capet family.

That is some curse de Molay laid onto Philippe the Fair. Or, as we like to say in our modern world, Philippe called down his own karma. All the boys, including the little hopeful Jean, died.

And now the real troubles would begin. This is the 14th century, a time of reckoning like no other. And one of the direct heirs to the throne of France, is through a woman, Isabella, the mother of Edward III, an English king.

More on this mess later.