On this day 700 years ago Philip IV of France died. He was 46 and rumours circulated that his sudden death was God’s revenge on his destruction of the Knights Templar. The leaders of the Templars had been burnt at the stake the previous March by his command and it was said both he and the Pope were cursed by the Grand Master Jacques de Molay as he died. Here at The National Archives we have several records relating to Philip IV of France, and books in our Library which can help you to understand more about the period.
Philip IV of France was an enigma. He was tall, blonde and handsome (hence the nickname ‘Fair’) but aloof. He was born in Fontainebleau in 1268, the second son of Philip III. His childhood was not the happiest. His mother died when he was three and his stepmother, Marie de Brabant, allegedly preferred her own children to Philip and his brothers. When Louis (Philip’s elder brother) died in 1276 his step-mother was accused of poisoning him but was acquitted. This episode is explored in Elizabeth A. R. Brown’s article The Prince is father of the King: the character and childhood of Philip the Fair of France. When Philip became King there was little contact between them.
Philip the Fair’s character is elusive as smoke. There is limited evidence about his personality but I found a celebrated biography The reign of Philip the Fair by Joseph R. Strayer helped illuminate how his enemies thought of him. One, Bishop Saisset compared him to an owl who simply stared at people but couldn’t speak to them and was controlled by his ministers’ decisions. Yet Philip was also said to be good at getting his own way and could be terrifying to those who crossed him. For example the brutal treatment he meted out to the Templars and to his daughter-in–laws’ lovers, whose adulterous relationships were exposed shortly after the ‘curse’ had been sworn. Their fates could only have been sanctioned by the King.
Edward I as Duke of Aquitaine was a vassal of the French King. A raid by Gascon sailors in 1294 gave Philip the opportunity to go to war with England. Edward I sent his brother to dissuade Philip from war. Philip deceived the English over the terms for peace, one of which was he would send a token army to Aquitaine. In fact Philip sent a large army to the Duchy and would not give Edward safe conduct to go to Gascony and defend his interests. Edward renounced his allegiance to the French King and war broke out between both countries.
No-one is sure why Philip provoked this war with Edward I. Was it a way for the youthful King (still in his twenties) to try to bring his greatest vassal and elder statesman to heel? Edward was about 55 years old at the time. It was rash act for a supposedly cold blooded King.