During your visit to the Royal Lodge in Loches, were you struck by the lack of furniture? This is no accident, or the result of an unfortunate chapter in history, but a deliberate choice, directly connected to the itinerance of kings.

The itinerance of the King of France and his Court is well-documented from the 12th century until the end of the Middle Ages. A study of this trend contradicts the image of a sovereign rooted in his power, shut away in his capital and shut off from his subjects. In fact, the king who didn’t leave his dominion was the exception. The word “itinerance” implies regular and habitual journeys in the execution of his role. For the King, his presence was a way to wield power.

In Mirrors for Princes (textbooks for the instruction of princes), future sovereigns would be taught that a good government is a personal one, close to their subjects. A young king needed to visit his lands and get to know his people. So a royal progress was all part of exercising one’s power.

However, from the 12th century to the end of the Middle Ages, the space occupied by kings grew, leading to changes in how they moved around. We can break these changes in itinerance down into three acts:

     12th – 1350: The first Capetians surveyed the royal domain, which was essentially the Île-de-France, continually. They had several residences there, in Vincennes, Saint-Germain-en-Laye and Poissy for instance. The amount of time spent in Paris, the capital city, was about 23% throughout this period. Exceptionally, sovereigns might venture beyond their dominions for long-distance trips. Thus in 1303, Philip IV or Philip “The Fair” (1285-1314) went on a “great royal progress” which took him through Loches and on to Languedoc during a journey lasting more than four months.

     1350 – 1422: The Hundred Years’ War, which began in 1337, caused the Valois kings to pretty much stay in Paris which thus gained the status of “city of residence”. John II (1350-1364) wanted to base himself at the capital and coordinate the defence of the realm from there. Continuing the theme, most of the building work ordered by Charles V (1364-1380) was in Paris and the Île-de-France (Vincennes, Beauté and Compiègne). As for Charles VI (1380 – 1422) he was unwillingly sedentary. Prior to his first bout of madness in 1392, he had already spent almost 47% of his time in Paris. And after 1400, he never left the kingdom’s capital again.

     1422 – 1530: From the reign of Charles VII, the House of Valois made the Loire Valley its home. This geographical choice was a direct consequence of the Treaty of Troyes (1420) which established an Anglo-Burgundian control over Paris, for a time at least. The questioning of the Charles’ legitimacy on the death of Charles VI (1422), forced the Dauphin to set up a provisional capital in Bourges. He travelled the central territories that weren’t in the hands of “English France”. During his reign he went on 18 long-distance journeys, visiting almost all the major towns of his kingdom at least once. This momentum would be kept up and even increased by his successors until 1530. Raised in the Loire Valley, those successors did nothing to reverse the relocation of the sovereign’s presence to the central region of the kingdom.

Focus : Charles VI, king “of the road”?

Charles VI’s journey to Languedoc (1389-1390) was the King’s only major political trip. Lasting six months, during the journey he explored a quarter of his kingdom. After this “grand tour”, he settled down and stayed in the Île-de-France. The unusual length of the trip upset his contemporaries who lamented: “When will our King return to Paris?” The absence of the King from the capital was presented by some chroniclers as being prejudicial to the kingdom. The King’s uncles even accused some of his advisers of bringing on Charles’ bout of madness by making him travel too much.



Jean Fouquet, “John the Good’s entry into Paris”, Grandes Chroniques de France (Great Chronicles of France), v.1455-1460, Tours, French 6465, folio 378v © BnF.

Martial d’Auvergne, “Entry of Charles VI and René d’Anjou, King of Sicily, into Rouen”, Vigiles de Charles VII, 1484-1485, French 5054, folio 79 v.© BnF.