An Infant King Turns 700

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^Top Image: The tomb of John the Posthumous (John I of France) lies in the Basilica Cathedral Saint-Denis near Paris, France. Credit: Phidelorme (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

Today, November 15, is the 700th anniversary of the birth of King John I of France in 1316. Never heard of him? Well, a few things make John I a unique (but also rather obscure) figure in French history. First, he was the last in direct father-son succession of the Capetian dynasty, a line of kings that ruled France from 987 to 1328. Second, John was the youngest-ever French king as a result of being the only king to have reigned since birth. Third, he is the only French monarch to rule from the first day of his life to his last. Unfortunately for John I, his reign was also the shortest in French history. You see, John lived just four or five days. Because he was born after his father’s death, John I is remembered as “John the Posthumous” (Jean le Posthume). John’s story did not end with his death, either…

John I was the only son of Louis X, a feisty king known as “the Stubborn” or “the Quarreler.” Louis, the eldest son of the long-reigning Philip IV, died less than two years after becoming king, and about five months before John was born. The infant John died at his christening on Nov. 19 or 20, 1316.

^Funeral convoy of the infant King John I of France in 1316. Credit: Public Domain

In those days, infants often died during childbirth or shortly after they were born, but suspicion surrounded the death of young King John I. His uncle, Philippe de Poitiers, who succeeded John as King Philippe V the Long, was accused of either killing John or of switching the infant king with the corpse of another dead child. Nothing was ever proved, however. Philippe died in 1322, and his son, Charles IV the Fair, saw the Capetian dynasty to its end in 1328. Thirty years later, a man came forward claiming to be the “switched at death” King John I. Several people were convinced of the man’s claim, but that too was never proved to be true. But just in case, French authorities tossed the “impostor” into prison, where he died in 1363.

King John I’s small tomb rests in the crypt of the famous BasilicaCathedral Saint-Denis near Paris, the resting place of 43 kings, 32 queens, and 10 servants of the French monarchy.

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