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Philip IV

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Surnamed Le Bel (the Fair)

King of France, b. at Fontainebleau, 1268; d. there, 29 Nov., 1314; son of Philip III and Isabel of Aragon; became king, 5 Oct. 1285, on the death of his father, and was consecrated at Reims, 6 Jan., 1286, with his wife Jeanne, daughter of Henry I, King of Navarre, Count of Champagne and Brie; this marriage united these territories to the royal domain. Having taken Viviers and Lyons from the empire, Valenciennes, the inhabitants of which united themselves voluntarily with France, La Marche and Angoumois, which he seized from the lawful heirs of Hugues de Lusigan, Philip whished to expel Edward I of England from Guienne, all of which province, with the exception of Bordeaux and Bayonne, was occupied in 1294 and 1295. By the Treaty of Montreuil, negotiated by Boniface VIII, he gave Guienne as a gift to his daughter Isabel, who married the son of Edward I, on condition that this young prince should hold the province as Philip's vassal. Philip wished to punish Count Guy of Flanders, an ally of England, and caused Charles of Valois to invade his territory, but he was defeated at Coutrai by the Flemings, who were roused by the heavy taxes imposed on them by Philip; he took his revenge on the Flemings at the naval victory of Zierichzee and the land victory of Mons en Puelle; then in 1305 he recognized Robert, Guy's son, as his vassal and retained possession of Lille, Douai, Orchies and Valenciennes. Having thus extended his kingdom, Philip endeavored energetically to centralize the government and impose a very rigorous fiscal system. Legists like Enguerrand, Philippe de Marigny, Pierre de Latilly, Pierre Flotte, Raoul de Presle, and Guillaume de Plassan, helped him to establish firmly this royal absolutism and set up a tyrannical power.

These legists were called the chevaliers de l'hôtel, the chevaliers ès lois, the milites regis; they were not nobles, neither did they bear arms, but they ranked as knights. The appearance of these legists in the Government of France is one of the leading events of the reign of Philip IV. Renan explains its significance in these words: "An entirely new class of politicians, owing their fortune entirely to their own merit and personal efforts, unreservedly devoted to the king who had made them, and rivals of the Church, whose place they hoped to fill in many matters, thus appeared in the history of France, and were destined to work a profound change in the conduct of public affairs."

It was these legists who incited and supported Philip IV in his conflict with the papacy and the trial of the Templars. In the articles Boniface VIII; Clement V; Molai; Templars, will be found an account of the relations of Philip IV with the Holy See; M. Lizerand, in 1910, has given us a study on Philip IV and Clement V, containing thirty-seven unpublished letters written by the two sovereigns. The principal adviser of Philip in his hostile relations with the Curia was the legist Guillaume de Nogaret. Renan, who made a close study of Nogaret's dealings with Boniface VIII, Clement V, and the Templars, thinks that despite his ardent profession of Catholic fidelity he was somewhat hypocritical, at all events "he was not an honest man," and that "he could not have been deceived by the false testimony which he stirred up and the sophisms he provoked." Nogaret's methods of combating Boniface VIII and the Templars are better understood when we examine, in Gaston Paris's work, the curious trial of Guichard, Bishop of Troyes, for witchcraft.

Another important personage whose curious writings must be read to understand the policy of Philip correctly is Pierre Dubois. He had been a pupil of St. Thomas Aquinas at the University of Paris, and was a lawyer at Coutances. In 1300 Dubois wrote a work on the means of shortening the wars and conflicts of France; in 1302 he published several virulent pamphlets against Boniface VIII; between 1304 and 1308, he wrote a very important work "De recuperatione Terrae Sanctae"; in 1309 alone, he wrote on the question of the Holy Roman Empire, on the Eastern question, and against the Templars. Dubois started from the idea that France ought to subdue the papacy, after which ti would be easy for the King of France to use the papal influence for his own advantage. He whished his king to become master of the Papal States, to administer them, to reduce the castles and cities of this state to his obedience, and to force Tuscany, Sicily, England, and Aragon, vassal countries of the Holy See, to do homage to the King of France; in return the king was to grant the pope the revenues of the Papal States. "It depends on the pope," wrote he in his work of 1302, "to rid himself of his worldly occupations and to preserve his revenues without having any trouble about them; if he does not wish to accept such an advantageous offer, he will incur universal reproach for his cupidity, pride, and rash presumption." "Clement V," continued Dubois in his treatise "De recuperation Terrae Sanctae," "after having given up his temporal possessions to the King of France, would be protected against the miasma of Rome, and would live long in good health, in his native land of France, where he would create a sufficient number of French cardinals to preserve the papacy from the rapacious hands of the Romans." Dubois desired not only that the King of France should subjugate the papacy, but that the empire should be forced to cede to France the left bank of the Rhine, Provence, Savoy, and all its rights in Liguria, Venice and Lombardy.

In 1308, after the death of the Emperor Albert I, he even thought of having the pope confer the imperial crown on the French Capets. He also devised plans for subjugating Spain. Thus reorganized by France Christian Europe was (in the mind of Pierre Dubois) to undertake the Crusade; the Holy Land would be reconquered, and on the return, the Palaeologi, who reigned at Constantinople, would be replaced by the Capetian, Charles of Valois, representing the rights of Catherine de Courtenay to the Latin Empire of Constantinople. The personal influence of Pierre Dubois on Philip IV must not be exaggerated. Although all his writings were presented to the king, Dubois never had an official place in Philips's council. However, there is an indisputable parallelism between his ideas and certain political maneuvers of Philip IV. For instance on 9 June, 1308, Philip wrote to Henry of Carinthia, King of Bohemia, to propose Charles of Valois as a candidate for the crown of Germany; and on 11 June he sent three knights into Germany to offer money to the electors. This was fruitless labour, however, for Henry of Luxemburg was elected and Clement V, less subservient to the King of France than certain enemies of the papacy have said, hastened to confirm the election.

Philip IV was not really a free-thinker; he was religious, and even made pilgrimages: his attitude toward the inquisition is not that of a free-thinker, as is especially apparent in the trial of the Franciscan Bernard Délicieux. The latter brought the deputies of Carcassonne and Albi to Philip IV at Senlis, to complain of the Dominican inquisitors of Languedoc; the result of his action was an ordinance of Philip putting the Dominican inquisitors under the control of the bishops. On the receipt of this news Languedoc became inflamed against the Dominicans; Bernard Délicieux in 1303 headed the movement in Carcassonne, and when in 1304 Philip and the queen visited Toulouse and Carcassonne, he organized tumultuous manifestations. The king was displeased, and discontinued his proceedings against the Dominicans. Then Bernard Délicieux and some of the people of Carcassonne conspired to deliver the town into the hands of Prince Fernand, Infant of Majorca; Philip caused sixteen of the inhabitants to be hanged, and imposed a heavy fine on the town; and this conspiracy of Bernard Délicieux against the king and the Inquisition was one of the reasons of his condemnation later in 1318 to perpetual In Pace, or monastic imprisonment.

Philip IV was not therefore in any way a systematic adversary of the inquisition. On the other hand, recently published documents show that he was sincerely attached to the idea of a Crusade. From the memoirs of Rabban Cauma, ambassador of Argoun, King of the Tatars, translated from the Syriac by Abbé Chabot, we learn that Philip said to Rabban in Sept., 1287: "If the Mongolians, who are not Christians, fight to capture Jerusalem, we have much more reason to fight; if it be God's will, we will go with an army." And the news of the fall of Saint-Jean d'Acre (1291), which induced so many provincial councils to express a desire for a new crusade was certainly calculated to strengthen this resolution of the king. We have referred to Dubois's zeal for the conquest of the Holy Land; Nogaret was perhaps a still stronger advocate of the project; but in the plan which he outlined about 1310, the first step, according to him, was to place all the money of the Church of France in the king's hands.

The French Church under Philip IV displayed very little independence; it was in reality enslaved to the royal will. Almost every year it contributed to the treasury with or without the pope's approval, a tenth and sometimes a fifth of its revenues; these pecuniary sacrifices were consented to by the clergy in the provincial councils, which in return asked certain concessions or favors of the king; but Philip's fiscal agents, if they met with resistance, laid down the principle that the king could by his own authority collect from all his subjects, especially in case of necessity, whatever taxes he wished. His officers frequently harassed the clergy in a monstrous manner; and the documents by which Philip confirmed the immunities of the Church always contained subtle restrictions which enabled the king's agents to violate them.

A list of the gravamina of the Churches and the clerics, discussed at the Council of Vienne (1311), contains ample proof of the abuse of authority to which the Church was subjected, and the writer of the poem "Avisemens pour le roy Loys," composed in 1315 for Louis X, exhorted this new king to live in peace with the Church, which Philip IV had not done. To concentrate in his hands all the wealth of the French Church for the Crusade, and then to endeavor to make an agreement with the papacy for the control and disposition of the income of the Universal Church, was the peculiar policy of Philip IV. Recently some verses have been discovered, written by a contemporary on a leaf of register of the deliberations of Notre-Dame de Chartres, which reveal the impression produced by this policy on the minds of certain contemporaries:

Jam Petri navais titubat, racio quia clavis.
Errat; rex, papa, facti sunt unica capa,
Declarant, do des Pilatus et alter Herodes.

Philip IV, by his formal condemnation of the memory of Boniface VIII, appointed himself judge of the orthodoxy of the popes. It was laid down as a principle, says Geoffrey of Paris, that "the king is to submit to the spiritual power only if the pope is in the right faith." The adversaries of the "theocracy" of the Middle Ages hail Philip IV as its destroyer; and in their enthusiasm for him, by an extraordinary error, they proclaim him a precursor of modern liberty. On the contrary he was an absolutist in the fullest sense of the term. The Etats généraux of 1302, in which the Third Estate declared that the king had no superior on earth, were the precursors of the false Gallican theories of Divine right, so favorable to the absolutism of sovereigns.

The civilization of the Middle Ages was based on a great principle, an essentially liberal principle, from which arose the political liberty of England; according to that principle, taxes before being raised by royal authority, ought to be approved by the tax-payers. Boniface VIII in the conflict of 1302 was only maintaining this principle, when he insisted on the consent of the clergy to the collection of the tithes. In the struggle between Philip and Boniface, Philip represents absolutism, Boniface the old medieval ideas of autonomy. "The reign of Philip IV," writes Renan, "is the reign which contributed most to form the France of the five succeeding centuries, with its good and bad qualities. The milites regis, those ennobled plebeians, became the agents of all important political business; the princes of the royal blood alone remained superior to or on an equality with them; the real nobility, which elsewhere established the parliamentary governments, was excluded from participating in the public policy." Renan is right in declaring that the first act of the French magistracy was "to diminish the power of the Church per fas et nefas" to establish the absolutism of the king; and that such conduct was for this magistracy "an original sin."


Historiens de la France t. XX, XXIII; Langlois in Lavisse, Histoire de France, III (Paris 1903); Boutaric, La France sous Philippe le Bel (Paris, 1861); Renan, Etudes sur l'histoire religieuse du regne de Philippe le Bel (Paris, 1899); Wenck, Philippe der Schone von Frankreich, seine Personlichkeit und das Urteil der Zeitgenossen (Marbourg, 1905); Finke, Zur Charakteristik Philipps des Schonen in Mitteilungen des Instituts fur osterreichische Geschichte, XXVI (1905); Melanges sur le Regne de Philippe le Bel: recueil d'articles extraits du Moyen Age (Chalon-sur-Saone, 1906); Holtzman, Wilhelm von Nogaret (Freiburg im Br., 1897); Paris, Un proces criminel sous Philippe le Bel in Revue du Palais (Aug., 1908); Langlois, Les papiers de G. de Nogaret et de G. de Plaisians Tresor des Chartes (Notices et extraits des manuscrits), XXXIV; Langlois, Doleances du cleerge de France au temps de Philippe le Bel in Revue Bleue (9 Sept., and 14 Oct., 1905); Lizerand, Clement V et Philippe IV le Bel (Paris 1910); Arguillere, L'Appel au concile sous Philippe le Bel et la genese des theories conciliares in Revue des Questions Historiques (1911).

About this page

APA citation. Goyau, G. (1911). Philip IV. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Goyau, Georges. "Philip IV." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Jim McCann.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. June 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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