A king who was the impersonation of absolutism had created the States-General (1302); had forged the instrument which would eventually effect for France a deliverance from monarchy itself!
The cause of the king was sustained by the council; the claims of the pope were rejected. Still not satisfied, Philip then audaciously proposed a general ecclesiastical council to determine whether Boniface legitimately wore the triple crown. When the old man died, as is said from the shock of this attempt, the king was master of the situation. Gifts had already been distributed among corrupt cardinals in the conclave. The papacy was at his feet, and might be in his hand. The most dissolute of his own archbishops was selected as his tool, and, as Clement V., succeeded to the chair of St. Peter. The centre of the ecclesiastical world was then removed from Rome to Avignon, where it could be under Philip’s immediate direction, and the astonishing period in the history of the papacy, known as the Babylonian Captivity, which was to last for seventy years, under seven popes, had commenced.
The Knights Templar, those appointed guardians of the Holy Sepulchre and defenders of Jerusalem, it is to be supposed were not in sympathy with these things. Whatever the cause, their extermination was decreed. Accused of impossible crimes, the whole brotherhood was arrested in one day, and, at a summary trial, condemned, Philip himself, in that old palace on the island in the Seine, giving orders for the fagots to be laid, and the immediate execution of the grand master and many others.
Philip’s death, occurring as it did soon after this sacrilege, was popularly believed to be a manifestation of God’s wrath; and the death of his three sons, Louis, Philip, and Charles, who successively reigned during a period of only fourteen years, leaving the family extinct, seemed a further proof that a curse rested upon the house.
The question of the succession, for the first time since Hugh Capet, was in doubt. By the existing Salic Law only male descendants were eligible to the throne of France. The three sons of Philip IV. had died, leaving each a daughter, so the son of Charles of Valois, only brother of Philip IV., was the nearest in descent from Hugh Capet; and thus the crown passed to the Valois branch of the family in the person of Philip VI. (1328).
In this break in the line of succession, England saw an opportunity. The mother of Edward III., King of England, was Isabella, daughter of Philip IV. Edward claimed that he, as grandson of the French king, had a claim superior to that of the nephew. A strict interpretation of the Salic Law certainly vitiated his claim of heirship through the female line. But Edward did not stand upon such a trifle as that. The stake was great, and so was the opportunity. Now England might not alone recover her lost possessions in France, but might establish a legitimate claim to the whole.