Montesquieu
 

XXXI.31 How the crown of France passed into the house of Hugh Capet

The here­dity of fiefs and the gene­ral esta­blish­ment of sub-fiefs extin­gui­shed poli­ti­cal govern­ment and for­med feu­dal govern­ment. Instead of that innu­me­ra­ble mul­ti­tude of vas­sals the kings had had, they now had but a few, to whom the others were sub­si­diary. The kings had almost no direct autho­rity remai­ning ; a power that had to pass through so many other powers, and through such great powers, ended or faded away before it rea­ched its goal. Such great vas­sals no lon­ger obeyed ; they even made use of their sub-vas­sals in order not to obey. The kings, depri­ved of their domains, redu­ced to the cities of Reims and Laon, remai­ned at their mercy ; the tree stret­ched its bran­ches too far, and the head withe­red. The king­dom found itself without a domain, as the empire is today. The crown was given to one of the most power­ful vas­sals.

The Normans rava­ged the king­dom ; they came on a kind of rafts or small ships, ente­red through the mouth of the rivers, went up them, and devas­ta­ted the coun­try on both sides. The cities of Orleans and Paris hal­ted these bri­gands, and they could not advance on either the Seine or the Loire.1 Hugh Capet, who pos­ses­sed these two cities, held in his hands the two keys of the unhappy remains of the king­dom ; a crown which he was the only one in a posi­tion to defend was confer­red on him. It was thus that the empire has since been given to the house that holds firm the bor­ders of the Turks.

The empire had left the house of Charlemagne at the time when the here­dity of fiefs was being esta­bli­shed only by way of defe­rence. It even appears that it was esta­bli­shed later among the Germans than among the French, for which rea­son the empire, consi­de­red as a fief, was elec­tive. When, on the contrary, the crown of France went out­side the house of Charlemagne, the fiefs were really here­di­tary in the king­dom ; the crown, as a great fief, was as well.

Besides, we are quite wrong to attri­bute to the moment of this revo­lu­tion all the chan­ges that had occur­red or which occur­red since. It all came down to two events : the rei­gning family chan­ged, and the crown was joi­ned to a great fief.

See the capitulary of Charles the Bald, 877, apud Carisiacum, on the importance of Paris, Saint Denis, and the châteaux of the Loire in those times.