Salic Law

The Salic Law is not directly mentioned in Marlowe’s plays, but it is crucial for understanding the historical context in Edward II and The Massacre at Paris.

The Lex Salica consists of legal decrees by the Merovingian King Clovis I from the early 6th century, including a clause that prevents women from inheriting landed property.

Philippe IV of France had three sons and one daughter, Isabeau, who married Edward II of England. When her eldest brother, Louis X, died in 1316, his daughter Jeanne from his first marriage and his pregnant second wife were his only heirs. Philippe IV’s brother, Philippe, assumed the regency until the birth of the child, who was a son (Jean I) but survived only a few days. According to the succession rules, Jeanne should have inherited the crown, making her the first female ruler of France. However, her uncle Philippe V manipulated the situation to exclude Jeanne and all women from the royal succession, becoming King of France himself. Philippe V’s untimely death in 1322 left only daughters, leading to his brother Charles IV’s succession. Charles IV died in 1328 without male heirs, complicating the succession further.

Despite the exclusion of women from the throne, there was no clear rule about agnates (male-line descendants) and cognates (female-line descendants). If the crown could pass through the female line, Edward III, the son of Isabeau and Edward II, would be the rightful heir. However, French nobles declared that women without inheritance rights could not pass on such rights, excluding agnates as well. This decision, though seemingly logical to prevent an English king, lacked legal foundation. The 1317 Act was occasion legislation and didn’t address cognates' claims. Despite the Lex Salica mentioning only landed property and not cognates, it was later used to justify excluding women and their descendants from the succession.1 Thus, "Salic Law" became synonymous with a succession excluding women and their descendants.

In 1328, the Capetian dynasty ended, and the crown passed to Philippe de Valois, a cousin of Charles IV and Isabeau, whose father was Philippe IV’s younger brother. Edward III initially accepted this arrangement but claimed the French crown in 1337, igniting the Hundred Years' War.

Family tree Lex Salica France. Private property. © 2022

The "prince du sange"

The Salic Law became a cornerstone of the French monarchy, leading to the title "prince du sang," which referred to all male agnates of Louis IX (1214-1270), specifically the Valois and Bourbon families and their collateral lines. The same succession rules applied within the princes du sang as in the royal line. The first prince du sang was always the next heir if the main male line died out. Louis XII, having only daughters, married his eldest to the first prince du sang, François de Valois, Comte d’Angoulême. In 1515, François I became king, continuing the Valois line through his male descendants.

Henri de Navarre was a direct descendant of the Capetians through his mother Jeanne III and married Marguerite, the sister of the reigning king Charles IX from the House of Valois. Despite this, he was as distant from the throne a a Parision cobbler. However, his father, Antoine de Bourbon, was a direct male descendant of Robert de Clermont Bourbon, a son of Louis IX, making Henri de Navarre the next claimant to the French throne when the Valois male line unexpectedly ended in 1589.

Taylor, Craig. 2001. “The Salic Law and the Valois Succession to the French Crown.” French History 15 (4): 358–77.

  1. Taylor (2001)↩︎

Aktualisiert am 24.05.2024

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