Philip IV

Philip IV (1268-1314), called Philip the Fair, ruled France from 1285 to 1314. His reign was one of the most momentous in medieval history because Philip successfully challenged the traditional power of the papacy in France, thereby strengthening the monarchy.

Son of King Philip III and Joan of Navarre, Philip IV was tall, handsome, and fair, but his character remains enigmatic. His power was great as a result of the Crown's acquisition of numerous fiefs in recent decades, but long and expensive wars with England caused a severe financial crisis. This crisis prompted the King to raise money through rigorous collection of incomes due, forced loans, high taxes, and debasement of the coinage. The Jews were expelled from France in 1306 and the "Lombards" (Italian bankers) in 1311. The property of each group was confiscated. Philip also seized the wealth of the Knights Templar after pressuring the weak Pope Clement V into suppressing them.

Philip introduced various governmental reforms, including the Chamber of Accounts to supervise finances. The Parlement of Paris, a judicial body, was made more specialized. A new institution, the States General, which included clergy, nobles, and commoners, was first called in 1302 in order to win support for royal policy against the papacy.

Continuing financial crises led to a conflict with Pope Boniface VIII over the right of the King to tax the French clergy without papal consent. The Pope finally conceded the point when threatened by the loss of his revenues from France.

In 1301 Philip's conflict with the papacy was revived by the arrest of Bishop Bernard Saisset of Pamiers. The bishop's trial in the royal court led to Boniface's demand that he be released and his convocation of all French bishops to Rome in November 1302. In reply Philip called the first States General, which met at Notre Dame in Paris in April 1302. At this meeting he launched a vicious attack against the Pope and against papal right to intervene in French affairs. The papal council in Rome resulted in the papal bull Unam sanctam, which reaffirmed papal authority over temporal affairs and the papal right to correct a king's morally wrong public acts. Philip's reply was evasive. He had already sent Guillaume de Nogaret to seize the Pope preparatory to having him tried and deposed by a council. Boniface was seized and mistreated at Anagni in September 1303. Liberated by the townspeople, the aged pope died 3 weeks later of the effects of the ordeal.

Philip summoned the States General twice more—in 1308 and 1314—chiefly in order to gain support for his wars against the Flemish. He died on Nov. 29, 1314.


Further Reading on Philip IV

The conflict with the papacy that occurred during Philip's reign has been the subject of numerous studies, such as that of Philip Hughes, A History of the Church, vol. 3 (1949). Charles T. Wood, Philip the Fair and Boniface VIII (1967), gives excerpts from various works which show the state of the problem at the time. For an overall view of Philip's reign see "France: The Last Capetians" in The Cambridge Medieval History, vol. 7 (1932).

Additional Biography Sources

Strayer, Joseph Reese, The reign of Philip the Fair, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1980.

Wood, Charles T., comp., Philip the Fair and Boniface VIII: state vs. papacy, Huntington, N.Y.: R. E. Krieger Pub. Co., 1976, 1971.