History of France between 1180 - 1328
The late direct Capetian kings were considerably more powerful and influential than the earliest ones. While Philip I could hardly control his Parisian barons, Philip IV could dictate popes and emperors. The late Capetians, although they often ruled for a shorter time than their earlier peers, were often much more influential. This period also saw the rise of a complex system of international alliances and conflicts opposing, through dynasties, Kings of France and England and Holy Roman Emperor.
The reign of Philip II Augustus (1179–1223) marked an important step in the history of French monarchy. His reign saw the French royal domain and influence greatly expanded. He set the context for the rise of power to much more powerful monarchs like Saint Louis and Philip the Fair.
After a twelve-year struggle with the Plantagenet dynasty in the Anglo-French War of 1202–14, Philip broke up the large Angevin Empire presided over by the crown of England and defeated a coalition of his rivals (German, Flemish and English) at the Battle of Bouvines in 1214. This victory would have a lasting impact on western European politics: the authority of the French king became unchallenged, while the English King John was forced by his barons to sign Magna Carta and deal with a rebellion against him aided by Philip, the First Barons' War. The military actions surrounding the Albigensian Crusade helped prepare the expansion of France southward. Philip did not participate directly in these actions, but he allowed his vassals and knights to help carry it out.
France became a truly centralised kingdom under Louis IX (reigned 1226–70). Saint Louis has often been portrayed as a one-dimensional character, a flawless representant of the faith and an administrative reformer who cared for the governed ones. However, his reign was far from perfect for everyone: he made unsuccessful crusades, his expanding administrations raised opposition, and he burned Jewish books at the Pope's urging. It appears Louis had a strong sense of justice and always wanted to judge people himself before applying any sentence.
Louis IX was only twelve years old when he became King of France. His mother — Blanche of Castile — was the effective power as regent. Her authority was strongly opposed by the French barons yet she maintained her position until Louis was old enough to rule by himself.
The kingdom was vulnerable: war was still going on in the County of Toulouse, and the royal army was occupied fighting resistance in Languedoc. Count Raymond VII of Toulouse finally signed the Treaty of Paris in 1229, in which he retained much of his lands for life, but his daughter, married to Count Alfonso of Poitou, produced him no heir and so the County of Toulouse went to the King of France.
King Henry III of England had not yet recognized the Capetian overlordship over Aquitaine and still hoped to recover Normandy and Anjou and reform the Angevin Empire. He landed in 1230 at Saint-Malo with a massive force. Henry III's allies in Brittany and Normandy fell down because they did not dare fight their king, who led the counterstrike himself. This evolved into the Saintonge War (1242).
Ultimately, Henry III was defeated and had to recognise Louis IX's overlordship, although the King of France did not seize Aquitaine from Henry III. Louis IX was now the most important landowner of France, adding to his royal title. There were some opposition to his rule in Normandy, yet it proved remarkably easy to rule, especially compared to the County of Toulouse which had been brutally conquered. The Conseil du Roi, which would evolve into the Parlement, was founded in these times.
Saint Louis also supported new forms of art such as Gothic architecture; his Sainte-Chapelle became a very famous gothic building. The Kingdom was involved in two crusades under Saint Louis: the Seventh Crusade and the Eighth Crusade. Both proved to be complete failures for the French King.
Philip III became king when Saint Louis died in 1270 during the Eighth Crusade. Philip III was called "the Bold" on the basis of his abilities in combat and on horseback, and not because of his character or ruling abilities. Philip III took part in another crusading disaster: the Aragonese Crusade, which cost him his life in 1285.
More administrative reforms were made by Philip IV, also called Philip the Fair (reigned 1285–1314). This king was responsible for the end of the Knights Templar, signed the Auld Alliance, and established the Parlement of Paris. Philip IV was so powerful that he could name popes and emperors, unlike the early Capetians. The papacy was moved to Avignon and all the contemporary popes were French, such as Philip IV's puppet Bertrand de Goth, Pope Clement V.
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.