Kingdom of France (9th – 13th c.)
Like East Francia, West Francia gradually evolved into an independent kingdom after the Treaty of Verdun of 843. Some historians date the establishment of Medieval French kingdom to year 843 when the sons of Pepin the Pious divided the Carolingian Empire among themselves. However, the majority of the scholars date the establishment of France to year 987 when the direct Carolingian line of kings was replaced by the Capetian line of kings.
The territory of future French kingdom was politically divided into several independent duchies and counties in the 9th and 10th centuries, while all attempts to unify the territory under sole ruler failed. In addition to weak central government, West Francia was seriously threatened by an eventual invasion on all frontiers: the Saracens on the south, the Hungarians on the east and the Normans on the north.
Hugh Capet who became the King of France and founder of the Capetian Dynasty in 987 had to face with two difficult problems. He directly controlled only the territory at Seine and Loire rivers with cities of Paris and Orleans, while Duke of Normandy was the king of England at the same time. The first four Capetian Kings of France (Hugh 987-996, Robert 996-1031, Henry 1031-1060 and Philip 1060-1108) did not manage to unify France but they established a solid base for the future rise of France as the leading monarchy in Europe by strengthening the Capetian Dynasty on the French throne.
The process of establishment of a strong central power was slow but it was successfully completed by the fifth Capetian King, Louis VI the Fat (1108-1137). His successor Louis VII (1137-1180) continued the policy of consolidation of the French lands but he had to face the rising power of the English King Henry II who gained lordship over much of France through marriage with Louis’ ex-wife and ex-queen Eleanor of Aquitaine. However, disputes between the Henry’s descendants over the division of the French territories enabled Philip II or Philip Augustus (1180-1223) to regain the influence over most of the lost territory. The English Kings retained power only in southwestern Duchy of Guyenne after the defeat in the Battle of Bouvines in 1214, while France evolved into the leading European power. However, the emergence of France as the leading European power would be impossible without a strong central authority which was finally established under Philip II. He limited the power of the great barons who were practically independent rulers by that time and strengthened his authority by favoring the middle class over the nobles and clergy.