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The answer to the question of why a woman could not inherit the French throne

Readers of historical fiction will sooner or later come across the concept of “Salic Law,” the idea that a woman cannot inherit a title or that a man cannot inherit the title based on the fact that he is descended from a female child of a previous title holder. In France, this applied to the French throne, and this is why the country has never had a female monarch.

When I started researching French inheritance laws, I assumed Salic law was used because of the so-called “special relationship” the French King had with the Catholic church. Supposedly, the King of France serves as the ultimate priest of the church, and it is his sacred duty to protect and defend Catholicism against all attackers.

Being a modern woman, I thought the concept was pretty misogynistic. Women could give birth to a king and serve as regent from him as Louise of Savoy did for Francis I and Catherine de Medici did for two of her sons, but they weren’t capable of serving as a monarch. France would be a very different country if Margot, the daughter of Catherine de Medici and Henry II had inherited the French throne. After doing more research, however, I found out that the French used Salic law not to exclude a specific woman from inheriting, but a very specific man: King Edward the III of England.

Edward’s mother, Isabella, was the daughter of the King of France, and he was responsible for starting the Hundred Years war in an effort to reclaim the lands in France that the English king’s held claim to centuries before. The entirety of the war was fought on French soil, and the constant warfare kept the country from developing an infrastructure along the lines of the rest of western Europe. By the time the Renaissance came to France, the war-weary country was more than willing to accept the opportunities to develop that came with the Renaissance ideals.

What France was not willing to accept, however, was a rule by an English king. Edward was determined to lay claim to the French crown by virtue of being the grandson of the French king. Since his claim came through a woman, his mother Isabella, the wily French came up with the idea of using Salic law to disqualify Edward from the throne. Their idea worked, and Edward was stuck with staying in England.

I can’t fault the French for this tactic in getting rid of Edward, but in the subsequent years, this limitation meant that having a male heir to the throne became almost impossible to fulfill. Anne of Brittany, for example, was only able to have surviving daughters, which meant that the French had to accept Francis I as their next monarch.

 

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