Hugh Capet

The founder of France’s Capetian dynasty, Hugh Capet was the King of France ruling from 987 until his death in 996. He was born in c.939 and was a direct descendant (though many times removed) of Charlemagne. Capet did not inherit the throne; instead, he was unanimously elected to it. Many historians date the origin of modern France to the crowning of Hugh Capet. All of France’s subsequent kings until the end of Louis-Philippe’s rule in 1848 belonged to the House of Capet.

Capet was the son of Hugh the Great who was a powerful Frankish duke and a count of Paris. Capet’s grandfather was King Robert I of France. Capet’s mother was Hedwige of Saxony. She was the sister of the Holy Roman Emperor Otto I and the daughter of the German King Henry I. Capet’s grandmother, Beatrice, was a Carolingian and Capet traced his ancestry to Charlemagne through her. Although Capet’s father was never crowned king, he exerted immense power and influence. Capet was, in fact, born into a powerful family that had many royal connections across the continent.

Capet inherited his father’s land in 956 when he was about ten-years-old, but as a minor he was largely unable to prevent his neighbors from usurping some lands such as the county of Chartres. Nevertheless, Capet would eventually exert both power and influence like his father. In fact, Capet essentially controlled the monarchy of the Carolingian King Lothair. After Lothair and his son Louis V died, Capet was elected to become king by an assembly of nobles in 987 at Noyons. Soon after his coronation, Capet began to lay the groundwork for a subsequent coronation of his son Robert who did eventually succeed him. Consequently, the House of Capet was born with the crowning of Hugh Capet.

Capet’s wife was Adelaide of Aquitaine. Their children were Robert II; Hedwig, Countess of Mons; and Gisel, Countess of Ponthieu. Capet’s reign over the country was difficult as the kingdom contained many fiefdoms and a remarkable number of languages were spoken. Capet also did not retain strong military might and was obliged to seek assistance from his Norman alliance. The king is, perhaps, most significant simply for founding what would become one of Europe’s most powerful dynasties in later centuries and for establishing his power base at Paris. Hugh Capet died in 996 and was succeeded by his son. He is buried at the Saint Denis Basilica of Paris.