Nicknamed the Pious, Robert (b. c. 972-1031) was the son of Hugh Capet, the namesake of the Capetians, father of Henri, King of France, and father of Adela (or Adelaide), the mother-in-law of William the Conqueror.
Robert’s father Hugh Capet ordered that his son should be anointed within one year of Hugh’s anointing. Hugh was anointed at Noyon by the archbishop of Reims on 1 June 987, and his son at Reims on 30 Dec 987 by the same archbishop.
Thus Robert was Rex designatus (king designate) until the death of his father in 996.
Let’s begin with two genealogical tables. This one comes from Medieval France: An Encyclopedia.
It does not show eldest daughter Adelaide’s marriage to Baldwin V Count of Flanders as her second marriage (see the next table). But it gives a good overview of how Robert II fits in to the Capetians.
The next table comes from W. L. Warren’s excellent biography Henry II.
See below for the basics of his marriage and children. The names Adela and Adelaide are interchangeable, depending on the original document. In any case, Robert II the Pious is clearly a hinge figure between the Capetians on the left, the Dukes of Aquitaine and their descendant Eleanor in the center, and the Normans on the right, who transitioned to the Angevins and then the Plantagenets. Henry of Anjou is the same as Henry II.
BASIC FACTS AND STORIES
Quick Word about France and Geography
It is important to realize that France as we know it today was not even close to being unified in the Medieval Age. It was broken up into a patchwork of duchies and counties, overseen by dukes and counts. They tirelessly competed with each other and the kings of “France.” The Capetians actually ruled over what is called Lesser France, the area around Paris and Orleans, including the Ile-de-France or Isle of France. The Ile or Isle of France was not a standard island as we think of it today, but a land area surrounding Paris. It was the base of the Capetians.
He was born (970-974), baptized and brought up at the Robertian city of Orleans, the second capital. Some said he was more Orleanais than Parisian. Reports say he had been seriously ill as a child, but his parents made offerings at the church of Ste. Croix, and his recovery ensued. As he grew, he became tall and handsome, with high shoulders, smooth hair, thick beard, a light complexion, a large nose, a gentle mouth. It is possible that he had a foot deformity since one chronicler said that on horseback his toe almost touched his heel, but that is not certain.
Robert’s Piety and Church Relations
Robert was called the Pious for many reasons.
His reign transitioned past the year 1000 and the connotations that conveyed. He liked singing in church with clerics and even composed hymns. He constantly read holy books and prayed all hours, day and night. He carried a library around with him, from one palace to the next or on pilgrimage.
He pardoned sinners and thieves and conspirators against him. On one occasion he reversed the penalty of death and told the miscreant not to do it again. A clerk named Ogier stole a candelabrum from the altar, but Robert did not tell on him. Robert’s wife Constance was furious and swore by her father’s soul that she would order the men guarding it to be tortured, removing their eyes, if they did not catch the thief. But Robert gave the clerk money to help him escape. The king said, “God has made a gift of it to one of his poor.” Constance gave him a lance with silver decoration on it. Robert told a poor man to remove the decoration and keep it and told him not to tell the queen. When Constance found out about it, the king replied that he had no idea what had happened. Robert saw a man stealing a gold ornament and allowed him to keep it. When Constance scolded him, he told her that the man “needed it more than we do.”
He passed food to a poor man sitting under his table while at the town of Etampes. Crowds of the poor were fed, clothed, and watered by him. Once he washed the feet of over 160 clerks with his own hands and dried them with his hair, in imitation of Christ. He had 12 poor men follow him everywhere, so he fed and clothed them. When one died, the king replaced him.
He received lepers, kissed them and read Scripture to them. He went into their houses, and his touch removed their sadness. He was the first Capetian king to be able to touch and heal people, reportedly. This action inspired the belief that later Medieval kings could heal people of scrofula (tuberculosis of lymph glands, i.e. the neck) by touch. He washed his hands, and a blind man asked to have the dirty water thrown on him, and the man was healed.
He believed in relics and saintly remains. He presented them to several churches and carried the remains on his shoulders at various times.
He supported Cluniac reforms, which improved the rules in monasteries and told lay leaders, i.e. kings, to back off from appointing bishops, though he encouraged count-bishops and often appointed bishops anyway (he ignored that part of the reforms). He founded abbeys, built churches, and supported the development of colleges of canons regular. He favored churchmen in disputes against laymen, particularly bishops and abbots. He did not allow a castle to be build near Cluny.
He supported the Peace of God Movement, which issued three decrees: (a) Churches should not be entered by force; (b) soldiers should not steal from peasants or the poor; (c) those who attacked clerics were to be excommunicated. A similar assembly at Narbonne in 990 added a similar point: Nobles should not seize church lands. An assembly at le Puy in 994 offered protection to merchants through oaths sworn over relics. He also favored the Truce of God movement: The council of Elne in 1027 banned Christian knights from attacking other Christians from Saturday evening to Monday morning. The period was extended from Thursday to Sunday. The Truce was proclaimed at Arles in 1041, and the pope expanded it to all of Christendom in 1050.
However, there was a dark side to his piety. He ordered the burning and execution of heretics.
Normally Jews received protection from kings, but in one town he permitted their persecution. From other cities and towns they were expelled, and in Orleans one Jew was killed based on a report that he had betrayed Christians in the Holy Land to Muslims. He was burned alive outside the city.
As to heretics, one man received a vision from God that bees entered his body. He woke up, rejected his wife, destroyed the crucifix in the local church, and preached against tithes. However, a bishop persuaded him to give up his heresies, and he threw himself in a cesspit.
Thirteen heretical clerics were burned at Orleans in 1022 on royal orders. He had called an assembly. The clerics were held in chains and accused of opposing baptism and marriage, questioned the biblical view of creation, the virginity of Mary and the doctrine of the Trinity. Heretics were typically accused of having sex orgies and devil worship. The trial lasted nine hours. They were found guilty, handed over to the state, and were sentenced to death. One recanted, but the others held to their beliefs and were burned on 28 Dec 1022. Robert was praised by churchmen for his zeal.
Crazy Count of Sens
Robert’s uncle Henry, Duke of Burgundy, died in 1002. He had ruled for thirty-seven years, but left no sons. He adopted his stepson Otto-William and gave him the county of Nevers. Otto-William claimed the duchy, but Robert saw an opportunity of winning the duchy, opposing the claim of Otto-William, Count of Macon, who would place it under the Holy Roman Empire. Robert raised an army with the help of Richard II of Normandy (William the Conqueror’s grandfather). They invaded Burgundy in 1003 and receive d local aid from Hugh of Chalon. After ravaging the land, Otto-William made peace.
Towards the north, in the town of Sens, after his victory in Burgundy, Robert supported the bishop against the local count, Rainard II. He did weird things: He despoiled the local church and claimed he was the “king of the Jews.” He turned from the bishop during mass and presented his backside for the kiss of peace and spat at the archbishop. When the king took Sens, the count fled naked, for an unknown reason. He lost his “Senses.” One chronicler at the time called him the “Mad.”
Before 1 Apr 988 (date of a charter) he married an Italian princess, Rozala, widow of Arnulf, Count of Flanders and a Carolingian. daughter of King Berengar of Italy. Her name was changed to Suzanne when she arrived in France. She was thirty, and Robert was sixteen. It didn’t last. He called her his “old Italian.” He repudiated her (Richardson says divorced her) in 992. She died 13 Dec 1003 and was buried in the church of the abbey of St. Pierre-au-Mont-Blandin in Gand.
In late 996 or early 997, he married Bertha of Burgundy, his cousin. She was a recent widow of Eudes (Odo) Count of Blois and Chartres (he died 12 Mar 995/6) and daughter of Conrad I, the Pacifique or Peaceful, King of Burgundy, descendant of the Welfs, by Matilda (or Mahaut), daughter of Louis IV Outremer (from Overseas), King of France through the Carolingians. He and his mother fled to England. She had five children with Odo. She asked for protection from Fulk Nerra of Anjou. Archambaud, archbishop of Tours, performed the ceremony in the presence of several French bishops who accepted the match. Pope Gregory V condemned it, and Robert’s father Hugh Capet opposed it. A dispute with the papacy ensued. Robert was already married to Suzanne, so his marriage to Bertha was bigamous, and he was too closely related to her. The pope excommunicated him and censured the bishops who attended the ceremony and the ones who encouraged it. Archambaud was deposed. He resisted because of his passion for her, until he repudiated her between 999-1001, for Robert wanted reconciliation and was pardoned because of his penitence and religious good deeds, and he confessed his faults. Bertha had no children with him (though French historian Ivan Gobry says they had Henri, the future king of France). By the year 1000 she was no longer treated as queen. Robert abandoned the marriage and sought a wife, probably to father an heir. Bertha died on 16 Jan after 1010.
After Sep 1001 and before 25 Aug 1003, Robert married Constance of Arles (Provence), daughter of William the Liberator and Adelaide of Arles (widow of Louis V). She was the granddaughter of Fulk the Good of Anjou. The church approved the marriage, but he did not give up on Bertha completely, which caused friction until he dismissed her from court after 1010. Before her dismissal, however, Robert tried to divorce Constance, going to Pope Sergius IV (r. 1009-1012) in Rome in 1010. His appeal was denied, and he accepted the marriage. Constance claimed she was visited at night by St. Savinian that she would be liberated. Robert returned and carried on their relationship. Constance believed this fulfilled the vision, for Robert loved his wife more.
Churchmen and chroniclers of the north knocked her for being from the south, for southerners were too worldly and of lax manners, living and sporting odd haircuts. One said, “Flippant and vain with strange manners and clothes … like actors in indecent hose and shoes … who jump rather than walk.” Another said that their women’s clothes “revealed to all their lovers whatever they had to offer.” Constance was reported to have shown little respect for religion. She was called “Constance the inconstant” in contrast to Robert’s stable character.
This union with Bertha shifted Robert’s interest to Blois, for she was a widow of the Count of Blois, but when he married Constance, his relations with Anjou improved, because she was a cousin of Fulk Nerra.
Constance produced six children:
1.. Hugues (Hugh) II: He was anointed joint-king or Rex designatus (king designate) in 1017 until his death on 17 Sep 1025;
2. Henri I: Robert’s successor;
3. Robert: later Duke of Burgundy, for Robert Senior had annexed it;
4. Eudes (Odo);
5. Hawise (or Advisa, Hadvida or Adelaide): wife of Renaud, Count of Nevers and Auxerre;
6. Adele: wife of Baudouin (Baldwin) V, Count / Marquis of Flanders.
Robert ordered Henri to be anointed on 14 May 1027, with Odo’s agreement because he obtained the county of Champagne. But Constance rode off in a fury after the ceremony. She had a reputation for a ferocious temper. She wanted her third son Robert to succeed rather than her son Henri and even waged a brief war against Henri in 1031. But things settled down, for Robert the king had his way and Robert the Younger was made Duke of Burgundy.
Robert died at Chateau Melun (Seine-et-Marne) on Tuesday 20 July 1031, aged 61, and was buried in the abbey church of Saint-Denis, at the altar of the Holy Trinity.
Robert’s wife Constance died on 25 July 1032 and was buried in the same same place.
Robert I (922-23) of the House of Robertians or Robertines
Hugh the Great (r. 938-956)
Hugh Capet (r. 987-996)
Robert II (r. 996-1031)
Pippin, Great-Grandson of Charlemagne (transition to the House of Vermandois)
HOUSE OF VERMANDOIS
Constance B. Bouchard, Those of My Blood: Constructing Noble Families in Medieval Francia (U Penn P 2001)
Jim Bradbury, The Capetians: Kings of France (Continuum, 2007).
René de la Croix (duc de Castries), Kings and Queens of France, trans. Anne Dobell (Knopf, 1979.
Ivan Gobry, Robert II: Fils de Hugues Capet, Histoire des Rois de France (Pygmalion, 2005).
Medieval France: An Encyclopedia, eds. William W. Kibler and Grover A. Zinn (New York: Garland, 1995).
Pierre Riché, The Carolingians: A Family Who Forged Europe, trans. Michael Idormir Allen (U Penn P, 1993).
Douglas Richardson, Royal Ancestry: A Study in Colonial and Medieval Families, 5 volumes (Salt Lake: Published Privately, 2013).
W. L. Warren, Henry II (Berkeley: University of California P, 1973).