Philip Augustus and the Ideological Development of Sacral Kingship in Medieval France
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This paper aims to re-evaluate the place of Philip II “Augustus” in the canon of medieval French historiography, and seeks to examine his reign within the context of the development of an ideology of sacral Capetian kingship, as opposed to the more traditional interpretation of the rise of the political power of the Capetian dynasty. While acknowledging Philip’s crucial contribution to the emergence of medieval France as one of the pre-eminent political powers of Latin Christendom in the late thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, this paper argues that the wider historiographical field has diminished Philip’s equally important role in the construction of sacral Capetian ideology, presenting him as a proto-realpolitik monarch, rather than one overly concerned with spiritual or symbolic authority. In challenging the predominant historiographical portrayal of Philip II, this paper returns to an older tradition of scholarship embodied in historians such as Marc Bloch and Ernst Kantorowicz that emphasized both the sacerdotal understanding and representation of medieval monarchical power to contemporary theorists, and further argues that there existed a theoretical framework of uniquely Capetian sacral kingship that informed Philip’s most significant political and administrative reforms, and which he was intimately aware of and responding to. Moreover, Philip presided over the maturation of Capetian monarchical ideology through his own contributions in the patronage of the abbey of Saint-Denis, and a reinforcement of ties between the emergent Dionysian center of historical writing, the veneration of Saint Denis, and the Capetian monarchy. Alongside this development, Philip’s reign saw the revival and incorporation of Carolingian symbolism and nomenclature into the canon of Capetian monarchical conventions, which enhanced the sacral reputation of the Capetian dynasty and legitimized the dramatic expansion of political and territorial authority that characterized Philip’s rule. Ultimately, Philip’s contribution to an ideology of sacral Capetian kingship was highly significant in that it saw the emergence of a nascent understanding of a communal identity of Franci in Francia, united under the figure of the sacral Capetian king and through shared ethnic, linguistic, and religious historical heritage, which would come to full fruition during the reigns of Louis IX and Philip IV.