The itinerance of the King and his Court had many purposes:

     Political: The King regularly set off to visit his lands and his “good towns” in order to maintain warm relations with local nobles through direct contact. On several occasions, Charles VI would stay near major towns that were in revolt (such as Rouen and Orléans).

The “royal progresses” enabled the King to speak with the bailiffs and seneschals who represented his authority on a local level. The enthusiasm aroused by the King passing through was a way of measuring the loyalty of the people. The monarch put on a show for his subjects and royal entries were carefully staged.

The coronation trip to Reims (via Senlis, Soissons and Laon) was something each sovereign had to undertake. Although for each reign it was unique, it was a crucial rite to establish the legitimacy of the new monarch. 

     Diplomatic: Rarer were the journeys undertaken to meet a foreign ruler. Philip the Fair met Albert I of Germany, King of the Romans, near Vaucouleurs on December 8, 1299. On January 24 and 25, 1308, he met Edward I of England in Boulogne on the occasion of the marriage of his daughter, Isabella of France, to Edward’s son, the future Edward II of England. In December 1539, Francis I travelled from Fontainebleau to welcome the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V at Loches for a lavish event. 

     Military: The King would travel to the Abbey of Saint Denis to raise the battle standard that accompanied the royal “ost” or army. This was the case with Philip III, or Philip “the Bold”, (1270-1285) in 1285 before the Aragonese Crusade. Successive trips were also made from Philip IV to Louis XI during military campaigns against the Flemish. In the 1450s, under the reign of Charles VII, the “ost” was called on during the retaking of Normandy and Guyenne.

     Religious: It was common for the King of France to go on several pilgrimages to sanctuaries in Chartres, Mont-Saint-Michel and Puy. Also, as a “Most Christian King” he would be present at key events in the life of the Church. Philip the Fair was thus present at the coronation of Pope Clement V in Lyon in December 1305 and at the Council of Vienne which took place from March to April 1312.

     Economic: Court travels were closely tied to forestry management. It was important that the monarch consume products from the royal estate. At the same time, the king’s personal tastes and the leisure activities of the Court steered seasonal visits to royal residences. In fact, hunting was the main motivation behind the most frequent visits. These trips had no great bearing on the exercise of power, and are less documented.

Whether on a long tour or a regular trip, the mobility of the king was both symbolic and practical. Through his presence, the king occupied his kingdom and exercised his sovereignty. From a practical point of view, mobility was actually a means of governing set up by kings from the 12th century.

The risks of a Court on the move.

The itinerance of the King and his Court could also have some terrible consequences. On July 5, 1194, in Fréteval near Vendôme, Philip II “Augustus” (1180-1223) was defeated by Richard I, Richard the “Lionheart”. The confrontation between the two resulted in the loss of the royal treasury containing charters and archives as well as the royal seal. This event also led the King to decide to stop carrying the Crown archives on campaign but to gather the most important documents in Paris, in the newly-created Treasury of the Charters.



Pierre le Fruitier, known as Salmon, “French and English gather in Calais for the departure of Richard II and Isabella of France for England”, Réponses à Charles VI et Lamentation au roi sur son état, (Answers to Charles VI and Lamentations to the King on his state) 15th century, French 23279, folio 54 r.