Today is the birthday (1316) of John I, surnamed the Posthumous (Jean Ier le Posthume), king of France and Navarre, as the posthumous son and successor of Louis X, for the five days he lived in 1316. John was the 13th French king from the House of Capet. He is the youngest person to be king of France, the only one to have borne that title from birth, and the only one to hold the title for his entire life. His reign is the shortest of any French king. Although considered a king today, his status was not recognized until chroniclers and historians in later centuries began numbering John II, thereby acknowledging John I’s brief reign.
John reigned for five days under the regency of his uncle Philip the Tall, until his death on 20th November 1316. His death ended the three centuries of father-to-son succession to the French throne. The infant King was buried in Saint Denis Basilica. He was succeeded by Philip, whose contested legitimacy led to the re-affirmation of the Salic law, which excluded women from the line of succession to the French throne.
The child mortality rate was very high in medieval Europe and John may have died from any number of causes, but rumors of poisoning spread immediately after his death (including one which said that he had been murdered with a pin by his aunt), as many people benefited from it and as John’s father also died in strange circumstances. The cause of his death is still not known today.
The premature death of John brought the first issue of succession of the Capetian dynasty. When Louis X, his father, died without a son to succeed him, it was the first time since Hugh Capet that the succession from father to son of the kings of France was interrupted. It was then decided to wait until his pregnant widow, Clementia of Hungary, delivered the child. The king’s brother, Philip the Tall, was in charge of the regency of the kingdom against his uncle Charles of Valois. The birth of a male child was expected to give France its king. The problem of succession returned when John died five days after birth. Philip ascended the throne at the expense of John’s four-year-old half-sister, Joan, daughter of Louis X and Margaret of Burgundy.
Various legends circulated about John. First, it was claimed that his uncle Philip the Tall had him poisoned. Then a strange story a few decades later came to start the rumor that the little king John was not dead. During the captivity of John the Good (1356-1360), a man named Giannino Baglioni claimed to be John I and thus the heir to the throne. He tried to assert his rights, but was captured in Provence and died in captivity in 1363.
In The Man Who Believed He Was King of France, Tommaso di Carpegna Falconieri suggests that Cola di Rienzo manufactured false evidence that Baglioni was John the Posthumous in order to strengthen his own power in Rome by placing Baglioni on the French throne. Shortly after they met in 1354, di Rienzo was assassinated, and Baglioni waited two years to report his claims. He went to the Hungarian court where Louis I of Hungary, nephew of Clemence of Hungary, recognized him as the son of Louis and Clemence. In 1360, Baglioni went to Avignon, but Pope Innocent VI refused to receive him. After several attempts to gain recognition, he was arrested and imprisoned in Naples, where he died in 1363.
By a splendid coincidence, today is Beaujolais Nouveau Day. Beaujolais nouveau is a red wine made from Gamay grapes produced in the Beaujolais region of France. It is the most popular vin de primeur, fermented for just a few weeks before being released for sale on the third Thursday of November.
Beaujolais had always made a vin de l’année to celebrate the end of the harvest, but until World War II it was for local consumption only. In fact, once the Beaujolais Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) was established in 1937, AOC rules meant that Beaujolais wine could be officially sold only after 15th December in the year of harvest. These rules were relaxed on 13th November 1951, and the Union Interprofessionnelle des Vins du Beaujolais (UIVB) formally set 15th November as the release date for what would henceforth be known as Beaujolais nouveau.
A few members of the UIVB saw the potential for marketing Beaujolais nouveau. Not only was it a way to clear lots of vin ordinaire at a good profit, but selling wine within weeks of the harvest was great for cash flow. Hence the idea was born of a race to Paris carrying the first bottles of the new vintage. This attracted a lot of media coverage, and by the 1970s had become a national event. The races spread to neighboring countries in Europe in the 1980s, followed by North America, and in the 1990s to Asia. In 1985, the date was changed to the third Thursday in November to take best advantage of marketing in the following weekend. Well, today is the third Thursday and happens to be the 15th anyway.
Here’s a simple recipe for a red wine reduction sauce. It can be used with steak, chicken, or vegetables. It’s not going to transform meats into boeuf bourguignonne, or coq au vin, but it works as a quick solution, as befits a young wine rushed to market.
Red Wine Reduction
¾ cup red wine
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
1 shallot, peeled and diced
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp flour
fresh rosemary sprig
salt and pepper
Sauté shallots, butter, and flour for 3 minutes over medium heat.
Stir in the red wine, vinegar and rosemary.
Bring to a simmer and reduce by ½ volume.
Add salt and pepper to taste, serve immediately.