The first Gothic cathedrals arose in the heart of France, in the Royal Domain where Gothic art was born and blossomed in the second half of the twelfth century. It was in art which rapidly spread throughout the whole country and was soon to cover the whole Christian world.
The realm of France at that time comprised only the Ile-de-France and a part of Valois and Orléanais. Bandit-haunts along the roads made all travel precarious. But the King had been elected by his peers. He received holy unction at Rheims, and the realm of France was ready to take wing. Robert the Pious and Henri I annexed the territories of the Counts of Melun and Sens; Philippe I those of the Viscount of Bourges. Louis VI ( 1108- 1137) set himself the task of establishing order and unity throughout these lands. But more still, by his energetic approach and his promptitude in gathering an immense army composed of barons and militia from the whole country led by their dukes and counts at Rheims, he barred the road to the Emperor Henry V who was preparing to invade France, the defender of the papacy ( August 1124). He imposed his authority as head of the national army and defender of the territory; he asserted himself as the protector of the feeble and the clergy, the arbiter whose aid would be summoned from all corners of France.
The Duchy of Guyenne, acquired by Louis VII through his marriage to Eleanor, the rich heiress of William VIII, Duke of Aquitaine, lost no time in breaking away from him to pass into the hands of Henry Plantagenet, who became King of England in 1152. This was the start of interminable wars. Philippe II succeeded in conquering Vexin, then Normandy ( 1204), Anjou, Touraine, Maine and Poitou ( 1205). The King of England then formed a vast coalition that Philippe crushed at Bouvines, thanks to the courage of the militia and the citizens of the towns of the North, of Perche and Ponthieu, under the battle orders of Brother Guérin. Bouvines, after Rheims, was the prelude to that moral and material unity that the thirteenth century was to establish.
This realm of France grew little by little so that, when the house of Valois succeeded to the throne, only the territory of the Count of Flanders and the Duchies of Brittany, Burgundy and Guyenne remained outside the Royal Domain. The fairness, the kindness, the charity of King Louis IX, the glow of his saintliness and his virtues had given French royalty an incomparable lustre. He was 'king of the kings of the world'. The others made him arbiter in their conflicts. The centre of the realm was then Paris, where the Capetians had had their regular residence