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The Story of France by  Mary Macgregor

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THE SALIC LAW

[136] PHILIP IV. left three sons, Louis, Philip, and Charles, who each in turn became king.

Louis X., the new king, was named the Quarrelsome, and though he was twenty-five years old he was neither willing nor able to reign. He left the care of his realm to his uncle, Charles of Valois, while he idled his time playing games or taking part in tournaments.

Charles was an ambitious prince, and the first use he made of his power was to take vengeance on Marigni, a minister of Philip IV., who was sometimes called "the other king," and who had always stood in Charles's way.

One day, when the young king had forsaken his games and was present at a meeting of his council, he asked how, during his father's reign, a certain large sum of money had been spent.

"Sire," answered Charles de Valois, "it is for Marigni to render an account. It was he who had charge of everything."

"I am quite ready," said Marigni.

"This moment then," cried Prince Charles.

"Most willingly, my lord; I gave a portion to you," said Marigni.

"You lie!" shouted Charles.

"Nay, you!" retorted the minister.

Charles, in spite of the presence of the king, was in such a rage that he drew his sword, and Marigni would have [137] unsheathed his, had not other members of the council interfered.

But Marigni, by his rash words, had sealed his fate. Charles de Valois could not rest until his enemy was punished.

The minister was seized, condemned to death without a fair trial, and hanged on a scaffold which he had himself erected. Marigni walked bravely to the place of execution, saying to the people who looked on, "Good folk, pray for me."

King Louis had tried in vain to have the fallen minister's sentence changed into banishment; but the nobles, led by Charles de Valois, paid no heed to the king's wish. Again and again they wrested from the feeble hands of their king privileges and powers which Philip had denied them. At length even Louis x. grew alarmed. He would soon, he felt, be a king only in name.

Yet, in spite of the king's weakness, we find that in 1815 he ordered that all the slaves in the land should be set free on paying a certain sum of money. It was not so much to free the slaves as to procure money that Louis did this, yet it was a great and just act. The slaves, however, had not much money, and what they had they had earned with such difficulty that, rather than part with it, they were willing to remain slaves.

Louis then made a law compelling every slave to buy his freedom, and in this way the money he needed flowed into his treasury. But though the slaves were now free men, the nobles did not cease to oppress them, and it was many long years before they were treated otherwise than as slaves.

War with Flanders had again broken out, and Louis, now having money for a campaign, set out with an army and reached Lys. Here, however, he found that heavy rains had made the roads almost impassable. Food for the army also began to run short, so without more ado Louis [138] returned to France, "not without much inconvenience and some disgrace."

During the last two years of Louis's reign the people of France suffered much from famine and poverty. But the king, caring little for their suffering, played tennis, and forgot all about his starving subjects.

One day as he played Louis became so hot that he slipped away to a cold cellar and "drank wine without stint." This was the cause of the illness from which he died.

Louis, although he had no son to succeed to the throne, left behind him a daughter, named Jeanne. But the king's brother, Philip, paying no heed to the claims of his niece, hastened to Rheims, and was crowned King of France.

When he returned to Paris the new king, Philip V., called the Long, summoned the lords and citizens, and declared to them that no woman could succeed to the French throne.

The lawyers thought that they would strengthen the king's words if they could find in their ancient law books that women had never been allowed to rule in France. So they searched the old law books, and among those belonging to the Salian Franks, from which tribe Clovis, their first king, had sprung, they found what they wished. For in these ancient books they read that "no part or heritage of Salic land can fall to a woman." As a queen must be able to own land, it was plainly impossible for a woman to reign in France. Thus strangely the new law which Philip the Long made to keep his niece Jeanne from seizing the crown was confirmed by the ancient law books. From that time the law forbidding women to rule in France was known as the Salic Law.

In 1822 Philip died, and his younger brother Charles IV., called the Fair, became king.

Philip the Long's children were all girls. It may be that if he had known that he would have no son to follow him he would have been less quick to declare that no woman [139] could rule in France, and the lawyers might never have looked for the old Salian law books. Be that as it may Philip had prevented any of his four daughters from ever becoming Queen of France.

Charles the Fair was the last of the Capetian kings, for he left no son to carry on his race.

"And thus, in less than thirteen years, perished all the noble and fair lineage of the Fair king, whereat all marvelled much; but God knoweth the cause thereof, not me."


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