History of France between 987 AD - 1179
The Capetian dynasty, also known as the House of France was founded by Hugh Capet. It is among the largest and oldest royal houses in Europe and the world and ruled the Kingdom of France from 987 to 1328. The dynasty had a crucial role in the formation of the French state. Hugh Capet’s rule was limited to his own domain around Paris, while the rest of the French kingdom was in the hands of powerful local lords. His direct successors gradually increased the territory over which they had control through conquest and inheritance and also by skillfully exploiting their rights as suzerains in areas not under their direct authority. Under the Capetians, many of the basic administrative institutions of the French monarchy, including Parlements (royal law courts), the States General (representative assembly), and the baillis (royal local officials), began to develop.
The history of medieval France starts with the election of Hugh Capet (940–996) by an assembly summoned in Reims in 987. He was recorded to be recognised king by the Gauls, Bretons, Danes, Aquitanians, Goths, Spanish and Gascons. The new dynasty was in immediate control of little beyond the middle Seine and adjacent territories, while powerful territorial lords such as the 10th- and 11th-century counts of Blois accumulated large domains of their own through marriage and through private arrangements with lesser nobles for protection and support.
Under King Philip I, the kingdom enjoyed a modest recovery during his extraordinarily long reign (1060–1108). His reign also saw the launch of the First Crusade to regain the Holy Land, which heavily involved his family although he personally did not support the expedition. An important part of the French aristocracy also involved itself in the crusades, and French knights founded and ruled the Crusader states. An example of the legacy left in the Middle East by these nobles is the Krak des Chevaliers' enlargement by the Counts of Tripoli and Toulouse.
By far the greatest threat to the royal dynasty came from the neighbouring counts of Anjou, who by judicious marriages become the Plantagenet rulers of England, Normandy and much of western France. The Norman conquest of England introduced a new situation in northwest Europe. Lands on both sides of the English Channel were from this time under the control of a single dynasty. The kings of England were also the dukes of Normandy. A Norman-French royal family crowned in Westminster seek to extend its territories on the French side of the water. At the same time a Frankish-French royal family strived to assert its authority over the whole geographical region of France. The result is a prolonged struggle, eventually spanning some four centuries, in which the identities of medieval Europe's two strongest kingdoms are gradually shaped.
The princes of the two houses married within the same limited circle, so western Europe became an interconnected web of French-speaking cousins - often with good claims to each other's territories. Louis VII and Henry II set a powerful example, as kings of France and England who married the same heiress from Aquitaine. But the point can be made almost equally well among their successors.
The moated castle at Beersel is one of the few exceptionally well-preserved examples of medieval fortifications in Belgium. It remains pretty much as it must have appeared in the 15th century. Remarkably, it was never converted into a fortified mansion. A visitor is able to experience at first-hand how it must have felt to live in a heavily fortified castle in the Middle Ages.
The castle was built in around 1420 as a means of defence on the outer reaches of Brussels. The tall, dense walls and towers were intended to hold any besiegers at bay. The moat and the marshy ground along its eastern, southern and western edges made any attack a formidable proposition. For that reason, any attackers would have chosen its weaker northern defences where the castle adjoins higher lying ground. But the castle was only taken and destroyed on one occasion in 1489, by the inhabitants of Brussels who were in rebellion against Maximilian of Austria.
After being stormed and plundered by the rebels it was partially rebuilt. The pointed roofs and stepped gables are features which have survived this period. The reconstruction explains why two periods can be identified in the fabric of the edifice, particularly on the outside.
The red Brabant sandstone surrounds of the embrasures, now more or less all bricked up, are characteristic of the 15th century. The other embrasures, edged with white sandstone, date from the end of the 15th century. They were intended for setting up the artillery fire. The merlons too are in white sandstone. The year 1617 can be clearly seen in the foundation support on the first tower. This refers to restorations carried out at the time by the Arenberg family.
Nowadays, the castle is dominated by three massive towers. The means of defence follow the classic pattern: a wide, deep moat surrounding the castle, a drawbridge, merlons on the towers, embrasures in the walls and in the towers, at more or less regular intervals, and machiolations. Circular, projecting towers ensured that attacks from the side could be thwarted. If the enemy were to penetrate the outer wall, each tower could be defended from embrasures facing onto the inner courtyard.
The second and third towers are flanked by watchtowers from which shots could be fired directly below. Between the second and third tower are two openings in the walkway on the wall. It is not clear what these were used for. Were these holes used for the disposing of rubbish, or escape routes. The windows on the exterior are narrow and low. All light entering comes from the interior. The few larger windows on the exterior date from a later period. It is most probable that the third tower - the highest - was used as a watchtower.