What's Pharamond Got
To Do With It?

A refutation of the myth of the application of Salic Law in the succession of Philippe VI of France, and of Edward III’s ‘right’ to the crown of France.

But of Salic land no portion of the inheritance shall come to a woman: but the whole inheritance of the land shall come to the male sex. - Salic Law

“But this, which they produce from Pharamond, In terram Salicam mulieres ne succedant, No woman shall succeed in Salique land:’ Which Salique land the French unjustly gloze To be the realm of France, and Pharamond The founder of this law and female bar.” Shakespeare, Henry V, Act I, Scene II.

While the former is what Salic Law actually says, this latter is the basis for what most people ‘know’ about the Salic Law, and it’s application to the succession dispute involved in the Hundred Years War. While it might make good drama, or might not, given the fact that almost nobody actually understands these or the subsequent ramblings of the Archbishop of Canterbury in that scene, there remain several significant problems with his claims, and with the general understanding, in that time and this, about the matters of succession involved in the early stages of the Hundred Years War.

One problem is that salic law, lower case, has become in many cases a more or less general term for what is known more technically as agnatic succession, or succession to property strictly through the male line, or sometimes agnatic primogeniture, or inheritance through the eldest available male of the line. This confuses the issue in that while the succession portions of the Salic Law only apply in the lands of the Salian franks, as the law itself states, agnatic succession applies in a far more general sense throughout medieval Europe. In fact France at the time had such a tradition, though not an inflexible one, as the case of the Navarrese succession of Jeanne, eldest daughter of Louis X, to the throne of Navarre in the 1328, in what is sometimes referred to, just to further confuse the issue, as a semi-salic inheritance1, referring to the case of the female being able to inherit if no direct male heir presented itself.

Another, and possibly more important problem is that, in fact, the Salic Law is not even known until it is re-discovered by a monk of Saint Denis, one Richard Lescot, in 1358, and even then does not make any appearance in the discussions of the inheritance of the French throne until it is used by Jean de Montreuil, notary and secretary to the French king, in his Regali ex progenie, written between 1406 and 1413, and his Traite Contre le Anglaise, a treatise against the claims of Henry IV of England produced sometime between 1413 and 1416 and which is subsequently drawn heavily on by later authors, including Jean Jeuvenal des Ursins in his Audite Celi (1435) and later Tres crestian, tres hault, tres puissant roy (1446). The use of Salic Law as a justification for passing over the female lines is either a fiction or a misunderstanding of later apologists for the French crown and subsequent historians, and is only as well known as it is because of the its mistaken use by Shakespeare in Henry V.

In 1317 a council of the nobles of France gathered to ratify the coronation of Philippe V, agreed to the passing over of Jeanne, the daughter of Louis X, saying "A woman cannot succeed to the throne and kingdom of France." Part of this decision was undoubtedly based on the fact that Jeanne was at the time a six year old girl. Additionally, there was some question as to her legitimacy, as her mother, Marguerite de Bourgogne, had been imprisoned for adultery in 1313 (and allegedly murdered in 1315). The only child of Louis X’s second marriage, to Clemence d’Anjou, was Jean I, born five months after his father’s death, has the dubious distinction of being the shortest reigning monarch in French history, lasting for only five days, and is remembered, when he is remembered at all, as Jean the Posthumous. To the nobles of France at that time, faced with the choice between a six year old possibly illegitimate girl, and a fully mature man, eldest brother to the dead king, well respected in the kingdom (despite the rumors that he may have had something to do with Jean I’s death) and who, moreover, had been ruling the country as regent since the death of his brother Louis X in 1316, the choice seemed clear and simple. Keeping with the general principal of agnatic succession and with no mention to Salic Law, they passed over the claim of Jeanne, and proclaimed Philippe as king.

Given that pronouncement by the lords of France in 1317, it is hardly surprising that, when a similar situation occurred some eleven years later, they once again passed over the female lines of succession and appointed Philippe de Valois, the closest male heir, as king. Charles IV, upon his death left a pregnant wife and instructions that, should the child be male it would inherit, under the regency of Charles’ brother, Philippe de Valois, and that should it be female that Philippe himself, as the king’s eldest male relative, should become King. Two months later, under the regency of Philippe de Valois, Jeanne d’Evreux, Charles’ wife, delivered a daughter, Blanche, later duchesse d’Orleans. Again, in a similar situation, Philippe was a grown man, and a respected one, and was already ruling the kingdom as regent. To the nobles of France the choice, an infant girl or a competent adult male, was again a simple one, backed up in this case, moreover, by the stated will of the dying king that this should be the case2. Again, they followed the general principal of agnatic succession, and no specific mention is made of Salic Law.

Moving on to the specific case of Edward III’s right of inheritance through his mother’s claim, we have to recognize that Isabella of France, as sister to Louis X and his brother-successors Philippe V and Charles IV would have been seventh in line of succession at the death of Charles IV, behind the daughters of Louis X (Jeanne), Philippe V (Jeanne, Marguerite and Isabella) and Charles IV (Blanche, Marie and Jeanne), all of whom were currently alive and well and who's claims, better than Isabella's by virtue of being direct lines of descent, not cadet lines, were also passed over in favor of the male line of succession.

Additionally, If some reason for passing over Isabella were indeed needed by the nobles of France, her marriage to a foreign prince, Edward II of England, her conspiring against, making war upon, deposition and subsequent murder3 of the same, along with her scandalous and ongoing affair with Roger Mortimer, earl of March and certainly her accomplice in at least the overthrow and murder stages of her mistreatment of her husband, would certainly have sufficed without dusting off thousand year old laws of dubious application.

This fact was in fact recognized by Edward III himself, when he did homage for his Duchy of Aquitaine, first in 1329. His claim to the throne of France, if any, was distant and untenable' and he and his mother both knew it. Further, advised by the Lords in Parliament that his claim was 'unsustainable' and that it was therefore his duty to do homage for his French duchy, he gave simple homage on 6 June of 1329 at Amiens. Edward subsequently spends the next two years attempting to avoid making the simply fealty, which he would like to keep it as, into liege homage, which Philippe is insisting on. Failing to meet several deadlines for this, tensions increase and Philippe declares the duchy of Aquitaine confiscated and sends an army south. After a brief rumpus in the Aquitaine involving the sacking of Saintes by the Comte de Alencon, which appears to get Edward III’s attention, a very secret meeting between Philippe VI and Edward III takes place in 1331 at the latter’s hunting lodge at Pont St. Maxence, in which the simple fealty was transmuted without further ceremony into full liege homage. Edward is promised an indemnity for the sack of Saintes4, and the two kings parted amicably, planning on a crusade against the Moslems in Spain.

Relations between the two monarchs did not, unfortunately, remain on this friendly level, instead deteriorating through the next six years. France, in answer to the ‘Old Alliance’ became involved in supporting the Scots war against the English. Additionally, significant issues also remained in regard to the situation in the Aquitaine, which had provided a constant irritant between the two kings. All negotiations between the English and the French broke down completely by 1336. England begins a wool embargo, wreaking economic havoc on the towns of Flanders, both monarchs seize and expel the other’s merchants and the French begin raiding the south coast of England. In May of 1337 Philippe, in response to what he perceives as his vassals intransigence, formally confiscates the duchy of Aquitaine and sends troops over the borders to make good in fact what he has declared in law. In October Edward III, already deep in plans for war in France and making numerous Imperial allies, repudiates his fealty for the duchy. Even at this point, however, he does not make any claim to the throne or crown of France, and in fact there are at that time, in addition to any of the female claimants that may still have been surviving, two male descendants of Philippe IV, his grandsons Charles d'Évreux and Philippe de Bourgogne, children of his son Jean, who's claims are better than his in any case.

It is not until 1339, failed by his expensive, faithless and mostly ineffectual Imperial allies and failing in his war against France that he begins to consider making a claim for the French throne. He is, at that point, in immediate need of £40,000 , every jewel he had was at that point in pawn, and he had to leave his pregnant wife and several prominent nobles as surety to his creditors in Ghent in order to obtain permission to return to England to raise money. Desperate as he was for both allies and money, he began to consider the council of Jacob van Arteveldt and other prominent men of the Flemish cities of Ghent, Bruges and Arras, who are in rebellion against their overlord, the Count of Flanders and also his overlord, the king of France. They say that, if he will claim the title of king of France, and absolve them of the sin of rebellion against their overlord by, in essence becoming his overlord, they can ally with him in clear conscience and, in passing, forgive part of the massive debt he owes them. They feel that his being king of France will protect them from a number of political repercussions, including a Papal interdict and the withdrawal of many papal funds deposited in these cities in 1328-9 as an assurance against their further rebellion5. Eventually convinced by them, and possibly in view of his desperate circumstances, he concedes, and in a carefully staged ceremony in Ghent, on 26 January 1340, he makes formal claim to the throne of France.

Thus we can see that Edwards claim to the throne of France was a purely political move, in response to his current needs and forced upon him even, by others, in response to their current needs. In fact no real evidence can be found to make a positive statement that that *any* of the kings of England in the Hundred Years War period, with the possible exception of Henry V, really though they would ever make good on the claim to the throne of France, but maintained it as a political tool for future negotiations, which in fact they continued to do until the French revolution. Even after the disastrous defeat of the French at Poitiers in 1356, and the capture of king Jean II, Edward III does not press the claim to the whole kingdom, but in the treaty of London, settles for admittedly major land concessions, amounting basically to a restoration of the duchy of Aquitaine at the time of Eleanore's marriage to Henry II, and massive ransom of four million ecus to be paid for king Jean II’s release. But not the crown of France, the claim to which he actually renounces in the final treaty of Bretigny, signed in 1360. Indeed, throughout the both the initial (1356 – 1360) and secondary (1362-1364) period of Jean II’s gentle captivity in England Edward III treats him as king of France, and when Jean II dies in England on 9 April 1364, he orders the court into mourning and holds a funeral for him, treating him as king of France, and returning his body to France, to be interred, as is customary for the kings of France, at Saint Denis.

As to the initial question and title of this article, the answer to that is almost certainly that he had nothing whatsoever to do with it. Pharamond was a possibly real but probably mythical king of the early Franks, dates unknown, mentioned briefly in one text, the Liber Historiae Francorum, also known as the Gesta Regnum Francorum. This is a Carolingian text, generally dated to 727. He in mentioned as the first king of the Franks, sometime in the late 300s or early 400s. The Salic Law laid to his authorship was much more probably compiled by Clovis I, sometime in the late 400s or early 500s.


1: In the succession of 1328 the kingdom of Navarre, which was at that time joined with the crown of France, was unwilling to accept the succession agreement that led to Philippe VI being placed on the throne, and, moreover, wished to be independent of the crown of France, and so they elected to have the passed over Jeanne as their queen, due ostensibly to the fact that she was a descendant of the line of Kings of Navarre, whereas Philippe was not. She renounced he claim to the crown of france, as well as the French counties of Brie and Champagne, and ruled as Jeanne II, until her death in 1349.

2: The fact that Philippe VI, as one of his first acts, had himself a major military victory over the rebellious Flemings at Cassel would only have reinforced the French nobility in their feelings of having made the right decision.

3: I am aware of the current theory that Edward II may not have been killed, but instead smuggled out of the country to live as a monk in Italy for most of the remainder of his life. I am for the purposes of this argument, disregarding it in favor of what was the current theory in the time of Isabella and Mortimer.

4: Philippe claimed that d’Alencon exceeded his authority, and that letters ordering him to desist did not arrive until too late.

5: This does not, in the end, work. The Pope does not accept the fiction of Edward III’s claim to the throne, and withdraws the funds from the cities, worsening the Flemish financial crisis, and placing the county under interdict on 5 April, 1340, closing churches all over Flanders.

Crustus an Mors
Web Design and Support
Webbed by Steven Proctor