“Power and Greatness”, by Jacques Krynen: Philippe le Bel rehabilitated

Philip the Fair. power and greatness

by Jacques Krynen

Gallimard, “The spirit of the city”, 152 p., €17

Grandson of Louis the Saint, son of Philippe le Hardi, Philippe le Bel, who reigned from 1285 to 1314, did not have a very good reputation during his lifetime or, afterwards, in our national novel. Don’t forget, it was said, the instigator of Anagni’s attack on a pope, the executioner of the Templars, the warrior stranded in Flanders, the massacre of rebellious Parisians, the tax collector who ” burden the people “, them ” devils of his wife, his adulterous daughters-in-law, etc.

150 mind-blowing pages

Jacques Krynen takes note of this pejoration. But he counter-attacks as a historian of law and politics, on 150 mind-blowing pages. On the contrary, he pleads, we owe to this Philippe the first draft of an ambition, a pride, even a French excess that will run to Louis XIV, Napoleon or de Gaulle. Yes, he was our Bel car “its anti-feudal government, its wars, its diplomacy, its relations with the Church, all share the same ambition: to establish on the Christian world a domination of France, a perpetual domination”.

First, Philip IV consolidated what was not yet called the State, by surrounding himself with learned and more experienced personnel, trained in universities, skilled in the handling of codes and laws, better mastering the Chancellery and the Treasury; jurists and judges populating the Parliament; officers, investigators, preachers who work in the provinces, without preventing a first meeting of the Estates General in 1302. Then, he made them think of a “principled absolutism” in the face of too often rebellious feudal lords.

The king, sole accountant of the purity of the faith

Finally, and above all, from his battle against the papacy he drew “a form of over-Christianization of the Capetian dynasty” which favored the subjection of the Church and the clergy to a Gallicanism which will help to make France compete with the Empire, Rome and even Jerusalem: the king will be the only accountable for the purity of the faith in his kingdom, even if it means clash with the prelates, the pope and the religious orders, the Temple included. Temporal power will not be distinct from spiritual power, and vice versa, provided of course that the inalienability of sovereign right is no longer denied. This royal ambition, as we know, will have a turbulent historical destiny. But she remained part of a vocation of France to greatness, faith and universality.

Certainly, Michelet was not mistaken: “Whether or not Philippe le Bel was a bad man or a bad king, one cannot ignore in his reign the great era of the civil order, the foundation of the modern monarchy. »


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