CAPET, the name of a family to which, for nearly nine centuries, the kings of France, and many of the rulers of the most powerful fiefs in that country, belonged, and which mingled with several of the other royal races of Europe. The original significance of the name remains in dispute, but the first of the family to whom it was applied was Hugh, who was elected king of the Franks in 987. The real founder of the house, however, was Robert the Strong (q.v.), who received from Charles the Bald, king of the Franks, the countships of Anjou and Blois, and who is sometimes called duke, as he exercised some military authority in the district between the Seine and the Loire. According to Aimoin of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, and the chronicler, Richer, he was a Saxon, but historians question this statement. Robert’s two sons, Odo or Eudes, and Robert II., succeeded their father successively as dukes, and, in 887, some of the Franks chose Odo as their king. A similar step was taken, in 922, in the case of Robert II., this too marking the increasing irritation felt at the weakness of the Carolingian kings. When Robert died in 923, he was succeeded by his brother-in-law, Rudolph, duke of Burgundy, and not by his son Hugh, who is known in history as Hugh the Great, duke of France and Burgundy, and whose domain extended from the Loire to the frontiers of Picardy. When Louis V., king of the Franks, died in 987, the Franks, setting aside the Carolingians, passed over his brother Charles, and elected Hugh Capet, son of Hugh the Great, as their king, and crowned him at Reims. Avoiding the pretensions which had been made by the Carolingian kings, the Capetian kings were content, for a time, with a more modest position, and the story of the growth of their power belongs to the history of France. They had to combat the feudal nobility, and later, the younger branches of the royal house established in the great duchies, and the main reason for the permanence of their power was, perhaps, the fact that there were few minorities among them. The direct line ruled in France from 987 to 1328, when, at the death of King Charles IV., it was succeeded by the younger, or Valois, branch of the family. Philip VI., the first of the Valois kings, was a son of Charles I., count of Valois and grandson of King Philip III. (see Valois). The Capetian-Valois dynasty lasted until 1498, when Louis, duke of Orleans, became king as Louis XII., on the death of King Charles VIII. (see Orleans). Louis XII. dying childless, the house of Valois-Angoulême followed from Francis I. to the death of Henry III. in 1589 (see Angoulême), when the last great Capetian family, the Bourbons (q.v.) mounted the throne.
Scarcely second to the royal house is the branch to which belonged the dukes of Burgundy. In the 10th century the duchy of Burgundy fell into the hands of Hugh the Great, father of Hugh Capet, on whose death in 956 it passed to his son Otto, and, in 965, to his son Henry. In 1032 Robert, the second son of Robert the Pious, king of the Franks, and grandson of Hugh Capet, founded the first ducal house, which ruled until 1361. For two years the duchy was in the hands of the crown, but in 1363, the second ducal house, also Capetian, was founded by Philip the Bold, son of John II., king of France. This branch of the Capetians is also distinguished by its union with the Habsburgs, through the marriage of Mary, daughter of Charles the Bold, duke of Burgundy, with Maximilian, afterwards the emperor Maximilian I. Of great importance also was the house of the counts of Anjou, which was founded in 1246, by Charles, son of the French king Louis VIII., and which, in 1360, was raised to the dignity of a dukedom (see Anjou). Members of this family sat upon the thrones of two kingdoms. The counts and dukes of Anjou were kings of Naples from 1265 to 1442. In 1308 Charles Robert of Anjou was elected king of Hungary, his claim being based on the marriage of his grandfather Charles II., king of Naples and count of Anjou, with Maria, daughter of Stephen V., king of Hungary. A third branch formed the house of the counts of Artois, which was founded in 1238 by Robert, son of King Louis VIII. This house merged in that of Valois in 1383, by the marriage of Margaret, daughter of Louis, count of Artois, with Philip the Bold, duke of Burgundy. The throne of Navarre was also filled by the Capetians. In 1284 Jeanne, daughter and heiress of Henry I., king of Navarre, married Philip IV., king of France, and the two kingdoms were united until Philip of Valois became king of France as Philip VI. in 1328, when Jeanne, daughter of King Louis X., and heiress of Navarre, married Philip, count of Evreux (see Navarre).
In the 13th century the throne of Constantinople was occupied by a branch of the Capetians. Peter, grandson of King Louis VI., obtained that dignity in 1217 as brother-in-law of the two previous emperors, Baldwin, count of Flanders, and his brother Henry. Peter was succeeded successively by his two sons, Robert and Baldwin, from whom in 1261 the empire was recovered by the Greeks.
The counts of Dreux, for two centuries and a half (1132–1377), and the counts of Evreux, from 1307 to 1425, also belonged to the family of the Capets,—other members of which worthy of mention are the Dunois and the Longuevilles, illegitimate branches of the house of Valois, which produced many famous warriors and courtiers.