Post-classical history



The Impact of the Loss of Normandy

John’s loss of Normandy was as disastrous to England as Philip’s conquest of the duchy was beneficial to France.150 The long-standing Capetian goal to obtain control of the northern seaboard and expel the English from Normandy had been spectacularly achieved. The tables had been decisively turned: now it was England that was under threat from invasion, and it immediately went on invasion alert. Of course, the new geo-political reality did not preclude further English campaigns into French territory – these were still mounted on a large scale – but a real psychological and material blow had been delivered to the English. For over a century, the duchy had been viewed primarily as a strong forward post on the continent for invasion into France; in strategic terms, it was an offensive asset. Now, however, the English believed that they had lost a defensive asset, a large buffer zone that had kept the French from operating on the shores just across the channel. The gains also further secured their access to the Flemish coast, not least because now they could more safely assemble and move ships along the coast. Implicit in Richard’s continental campaigning was an understanding of this. But the disaster had implications far beyond geo-politics; the consequences for domestic politics, royal finances and, above all, military considerations, are the subject of this chapter.

Relations Between the Powers in the Early Thirteenth Century

In the brief survey of the relationships between European powers that follows, the dealings between England and France with the Empire and the Papacy were dominated by two overriding concerns: for England, all efforts were concentrated on regaining the lost territories in France; for France, the wish was to consolidate and expand gains on her home territory, an objective that could be aided by taking the offensive to England itself. Invasions of England remained an active option of French policy exercised into the eighteenth century, and threatened (as we have seen in chapter one) into the nineteenth. English dreams of recovery in France began fading after the Hundred Years War, despite the long drawn out and optimistic claims of royal titles over the centuries; invasions by Edward IV and Henry VIII did little to keep these dreams alive. In reality, such campaigns and assertions of sovereignty were used more to apply political and diplomatic pressure in pursuance of much more modest objectives. The loss of Calais in 1558 during Queen Mary’s reign finally put paid to the hereditary hopes of the English crown (but not the claims).

Long before then all hopes of re-establishing the Angevin Empire had been abandoned: the empire technically came to an end in May, 1259, by the Treaty of Paris.151 This treaty, concluded by John’s son and successor, Henry III, and Philip Augustus’s grandson, Louis IX, saw the English renounce all claims to Normandy, Poitou, Touraine, Maine and Anjou. In a poor return for this, the English King was acknowledged as Duke of Aquitaine, for which he paid homage to the King of France. Although the treaty did mark the formal demise of the Angevin Empire, it did little to alleviate Angevin-Capetian or Anglo-French rivalry, the antagonism persisting for centuries to come.152 As argued in chapter one, Richard the Lionheart’s continental campaigns were undertaken as much for the good of England’s security as for his own Angevin patrimony, and the security concerns for both sides remained to the fore long after 1259. War and politics may be tribal, religious, dynastic, national, civil or inter-communal, but they remain war and politics, they remain power struggles. In 1204, the struggle that led ultimately to the Treaty of Paris might have led instead to Anglo-Imperial dominance of France or to another Norman conquest of England. These years of diplomacy, alliances and sporadic campaigning led to the pivotal, epochal engagement at Bouvines in 1214 and the French invasion of England in 1216.

Anglo-Imperial Relations

England’s close relations with Germany went back a century to 1114 when Henry I married off his daughter Matilda to the Emperor Henry V, an ‘early warning to France’.153 Commercial ties with continental Europe grew even stronger as a result of this. One such tie was the burgeoning Flemish cloth industry’s demand for English wool, something that inevitably intertwined political and economic interests between the two regions throughout the medieval period. This trade connection was instrumental in attracting the Counts of Flanders away from Capetian influence. There was also a great deal of trade with other areas of the empire, especially Cologne and the Rhineland. Under Henry II, relationships with the empire had become so close there was even a resentful backlash in England, John of Salisbury railing: ‘Who has appointed the Germans to be judges of the nations?’ and calling Germans ‘brutal’ and ‘headstrong’.154 Such outbursts of national indignity should be remembered when we discuss the effects on English identity caused by the French invasion.

The Angevins forged a significant alliance with the powerful German Welf dynasty when Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony, married Henry II’s second daughter, Matilda. The Welfs were second only to the imperial Hohenstaufen dynasty in Germany, with whom Henry also remained on good terms, even when hosting the Duke of Saxony during his political exile in England in the 1180s. This bound the Angevin-Welf families ever closer together: the King became guardian to the Duke’s children, and the Duke may even have been present at the King’s death. A new balance of power had developed during Henry’s reign. The purpose was to squeeze France in the middle. Now, ‘France was always the actual or potential enemy, Germany, as in the time of Henry I, the natural ally of England.’155

Under Henry II’s sons, the alliance continued to strengthen, with Richard being typically, even extravagantly, generous in funding the Welfs and Henry the Lion’s son, his nephew Otto of Brunswick, in particular. He also offered money fiefs to other princes from Germany and the Low Countries. One historian has accurately judged these alliances as being ‘of fundamental importance in that phase of English foreign policy which ended disastrously at the Battle of Bouvines in 1214’.156 Directed against the Capetians, these alliances also served the related ambition of securing the imperial throne for Otto, the election of whom as King of the Romans in 1198 (and hence future Emperor) was regarded by at least one contemporary as Richard’s greatest achievement.157 A more immediate success was the transfer of allegiances of the Counts of Flanders and Boulogne away from Philip and to Richard, another objective of the alliance; Renaud de Dammartin, Count of Boulogne, was to be a large and powerful thorn in Philip II’s ample flesh until 1214. Both these Counts had made treaties with Philip Augustus the previous year. For Flanders, Baldwin of Hainaut was motivated by the commercial interests of his country (as discussed above), while Renaud held genuine grievances against the King of France, but was also a ruthless opportunist. These Counts protected Normandy from a French attack in the north, while simultaneously making incursions against the French in Artois. The alliance was cemented with the sending to Flanders of 280 English troops.158 The Hohenstaufen reacted to the election of a Welf by electing in turn their own man, Philip of Swabia, brother to Emperor Henry VI who had died in 1197.159 This set the scene for two decades of civil war in Germany. Politics, diplomacy and warfare in western Europe were all subsumed by the resulting clash between the Angevins and Welfs on one hand, and the Capetians and Hohenstaufens on the other.

By the terms of the Treaty of Le Goulet in 1200, John was to end his financial support to Otto, but when war broke out between England and France in 1202, he quickly resumed a formal alliance with his nephew. For his part, Otto IV justified payments from England with plans to invade France at Rheims and Cambrai, forcing Philip to fight on two fronts – the established strategy of the allies. In 1207 he was enthusiastically received in London and ceremoniously feted by John. His fortunes received a great fillip in 1208 when his rival, Philip of Swabia, was assassinated. The next year, Pope Innocent III crowned Otto IV Holy Roman Emperor in Rome, only to excommunicate him just a month later over his territorial ambitions in Italy.160 This confrontation served to nudge the pope into the Capetian-Hohenstaufen orbit and Otto even more decisively into John’s, the other papal bad boy. John now had a nephew on the imperial throne. The Angevins and Welfs began in earnest to forge a broad anti-Capetian coalition with real teeth that was to dominate European politics for the next six years. To this end, John sent his half-brother, Earl William of Salisbury, to Germany with a letter addressed to four archbishops, two bishops, two abbots, four margraves and five dukes.161 In England, there were a number of Germans, mainly mercenaries, who held favour at John’s court; some were military commanders of strategic castles such as Berkhamsted, while others held lucrative offices.162 Although John had initially somewhat neglected the alliances formed by his brother, he soon took them up again with energy. Much of the recent negotiations were directed by the Count of Boulogne, who had been in regular contact with John since 1209 via the mercenary pirate, Eustace the Monk. The Count declared his public support for John when he and several other princes, including Count Ferrand of Flanders, signed the Treaty of Lambeth in May 1212, by which the signatories promised to make a separate peace with France. John declared that he wished ‘these things to be done publicly so that our friends may rejoice and our enemies may be openly confounded’.163 John continued to pour money to Otto – as much as 10,000 marks on one occasion alone – until an uprising in Wales forced a tightening of the purse strings and put a hold on his military plans to recover his lands in France.


France’s relations with Germany, as with so many nations of the time, can be understood on the basis of ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend.’ All sides manoeuvred to thwart their opponents, real and potential. With a number of powers in the mix – Angevins and Welfs, Capetians and Hohenstaufens, the Papacy, Flemish princes and even Iberian kings – the possibilities for a changing rota of friends and foes remained high. The pope fell in and out with everyone, but John and Philip remained pretty much constant with their alliances (with some occasional bumps on the road). Philip Augustus had a particular antipathy towards Otto, not least for the latter’s active assistance to Richard I in his campaigns against France.

French animosity towards the empire stretched back over the years (just as it was to go forward, too). The victory of Philip’s grandfather, Louis VI, over a German invasion in 1124 was a celebrated highpoint in Capetian tradition, helped by Abbot Suger’s account in Life of Louis the Fat.164 Philip’s gravitation towards the Hohenstaufens was a natural response to the Angevin-Welf alliance. Early in the 1190s Philip and Emperor Henry VI made a secret alliance against Richard I; some contemporaries believed that Henry’s incarceration of Richard, shipwrecked on his way back from the Crusades, was at Philip’s behest (and probably John’s, too). Certainly, the Capetian did his best to keep Richard in prison by offering all manner of financial incentives to Henry. Capitalising on his opponent’s imprisonment, Philip conspired with John to put the latter on the English throne. John did homage to Philip for Normandy and, with the opportunistic Count Renaud of Boulogne temporarily amenable to Philip, ‘a Capetian King of France was for the first time in history in a position to threaten England from the sea.’165 Philip lost no time in arranging an invasion fleet at Wissant in Boulogne.166 An invasion of England was in Philip’s mind in summer 1193, long before his son undertook the 1216 enterprise. That he could think about such an undertaking was due to the synchronicity of vital developments: the temporary rapprochement with Renaud Dammartin and the extraordinary luck of Richard’s captivity. In 1193, Philip married Ingeborg of Denmark, primarily for the help this would afford him in his struggle with England: marriage meant (dubious) Danish claims to the English throne and also a strong fleet and army, offering the prospect of a two-pronged attack on England.167 This combination did for Harold in 1066.

Richard was not greatly perturbed by his brother’s revolt, later dismissively, but perceptively, saying that ‘my brother John is not the man to conquer a country if there is anyone to offer the feeblest resistance.’168 England remained loyal to the captive King (there was deep suspicion and mistrust of John already); Roger of Howden reports that Richard’s officials repaid the trust he had placed in them: ‘The justiciaries of England and the faithful subjects of our lord the King manfully resisted [John] and inflicted upon him great loss.’ The seaports were strongly garrisoned and the Channel and potential landing places watched over vigilantly, so that the French could be prevented from disembarking their troops and those of their Flemish allies. Members of an advanced scouting party did get ashore but were taking prisoner and thrown in chains. The bulk of the force ‘did not dare land’.169 A bizarre, personal twist added to Philip’s problems. The day following his wedding night, he inexplicably repudiated his bride, bringing down on himself the wrath of the papacy and burdening him with years of conflict with the Church.

To compound matters, Philip now also faced the imminent prospect of Richard’s release: negotiations for his ransom were in progress between the English government and the Emperor. Philip’s bids to purchase Richard from Henry were exploited by the Emperor who saw in them an opportunity to exact an even higher bid from England and to apply pressure for a prompt payment. Henry had no intention of auctioning Richard to Philip: his grandiose plans for universal supremacy, of the type that so exercised John of Salisbury, led him at this early stage to work towards a weak and vulnerable France. Richard’s release in 1194 created panic among his enemies. Howden reports that Philip warned John of the news: ‘Look to yourself; the devil is loose.’170 And look to himself John promptly did: he fled to the French court. The threat from John and Philip was over.

The unexpected death of Henry VI in 1197 from a typhus-like fever changed everything.171 Henry’s son, the future Frederick II,stupor mundi (the wonder of the world), was only three years old when his father died, leaving it easier for the Welf Otto of Saxony to be elected King of the Romans the following year. This piled on the bad news for Philip. Richard’s nephew, whom the King had already favoured with the title of Count of Poitou, brought great prestige and potential backing to the Angevins. The tide turned more in France’s favour when in 1199 another sudden death shifted the balance more to his liking: Richard the Lionheart was killed at the siege of Châlus Chabrol. With John now King of England the French monarch faced a far less dangerous opponent.

Henry’s death should have been a relief to Philip as the Emperor had disregarded the Capetian-Hohenstaufen alliance and had even made Richard, as one of the terms of ransom, an imperial vassal, urging him to wage war on France. Henry wanted Richard to undermine France’s power for him. But Otto being catapulted towards the imperial throne was far worse for Philip; he feared him far more than he feared John. Fortunately for him, the internal strife in Germany that followed Philip of Swabia’s election ensured that Otto was preoccupied with securing his own position domestically before venturing into foreign affairs. In 1198, the French King had sent Bishop Nivelon of Soissons to Worms to sign an alliance treaty with Philip of Swabia, undeterred by the Duke’s excommunicant status. The French king’s concerns for security on his eastern and north-eastern borders took precedence over religious formalities. As King John started to fall out of favour with the pope in 1206 and was himself excommunicated, and as Otto suffered a string of defections, Philip of Swabia’s position strengthened and Capetian policy towards the empire fleetingly appeared to be vindicated by triumphant results – until Philip’s murder in 1208.172 The Duke of Swabia’s death was considered by many to be God’s judgment, and support for Otto of Brunswick became widespread. Philip attempted vainly to promote his preferred candidate, Henry of Brabant, with 3000 marks and implored the pope not to crown Otto. Otto easily won the day and in 1209 the diplomatic mission from the Earl of Salisbury resulted in the formal Angevin-Imperial coalition against France.

Dire as this was for Philip, he at least had the satisfaction of seeing Otto excommunicated almost immediately after. This was scant consolation and did little to effect the political situation for the time being. The ever-vacillating Count of Boulogne judged Philip now weak enough to declare publicly against him with the Lambeth Treaty, by which he paid homage to John, and thereby posed a real threat from north-eastern France. Philip, who never trusted Renaud, had seized some of his fiefs and occupied part of Boulogne. France was on alert for enemy advances from the north, east and west; in the south it was heavily engaged with the Albigensian Crusade against the Count of Toulouse and the Cathar heretics.173 Neither Philip nor John neglected the Iberian peninsula: the French monarch allied with Castile in 1202, bolstering that kingdom’s claim for English Gascony; to counter this, John allied with Castile’s enemy, Navarre. But the ever-turning wheel of fortune presented new opportunities, and even now Philip was preparing another expedition to invade England. That this was the case had much to do with the state of papal politics.

Papal Relations

Inextricably intertwined in the international politics of kings and emperors was, as ever, the Papacy. Its overarching concern was to prevent imperial designs on Italy and its lands there; it is easy to forget that it was a state in its own right. It was never a biddable task to dissuade the King of the Romans and the Holy Roman Emperor to desist from such plans, and both Otto IV and Frederick II suffered excommunication over this issue. The Papacy was just as eager as other protagonists to play ‘my enemy’s enemy’, at various times supporting and then opposing the English and French kings depending on the situation with the empire. Thus Innocent III ignored Philip’s pleas not to crown Otto of Brunswick as Emperor but, following his bull of excommunication, channelled his support to the youthful Frederick Hohenstaufen. Innocent was pope between 1198 and 1216. Considered as one of the greatest popes of any era, he was brilliant, wildly ambitious, calculating, cynical, skilful, ruthless and obstinate, displaying all the characteristics of a successful temporal prince; his term in office, not coincidentally, saw a period of tremendous changes within the Church.174

For France and England, relations with the Papacy were determined as much by the domestic scene as by the international one, and it is the former that now requires some attention here. Philip Augustus’s troubles were of a personal nature. Most rulers of Christendom had run-ins with Rome but, as the eldest daughter of the Church, France and her kings had fewer than most (though these were often serious). The Ingeborg affair caused a severe rupture. In 1193, when nearly 28 years of age, Philip married the eighteen-year-old daughter of the previous King of Denmark and sister to the current one, Cnut VI. Her dowry included 10,000 marks and, as mentioned above, the prospects of a large navy and a claim to the English throne. If Philip’s motives for marrying Ingeborg were political, his motives for rejecting her after their wedding night can only be supposed. Temporary impotence has been given as one reason. His attachment to his mistress, Agnes of Méran, and the Danish King’s alliance with Otto IV certainly prevented any reconciliation. Philip asked his bride to return to Denmark; she refused. The Gallican church granted Philip his divorce, but Rome reversed the decision and clerical opinion within France was split. Intimate details emerged from the royal couple: Ingeborg claimed that the marriage had been consummated; Philip that it had not. In 1196 he married his mistress (her father had close Hohenstaufen connections), further distancing himself from Rome. Philip refused to succumb to papal pressure with the result that Innocent placed France under interdict from January to September 1200. Philip’s treatment of Ingeborg was cruel and vindictive: he kept her imprisoned until 1213 with few comforts and denied her material and spiritual solace. Even Philip’s encomiastic biographers, Rigord and William the Breton, sided with the rejected queen (and with Rome). Only with the death of Agnes in 1201 was there room for more substantial conciliatory measures. Philip finally released Ingeborg and accepted her back in court in 1213. The date is significant: it was the year of a planned invasion of England and Philip wanted Denmark and the Papacy on his side.

Philip was largely successful in resisting papal interference in domestic matters of state: in 1203, when attacking Normandy, he refused point blank to obey the pope’s orders to make peace with John (had he done so history may have been very different). Forceful as he was, Innocent was not heavy handed in his dealings with Philip. His decretal of April/May1204, Novit ille, sent to the episcopacy in France, laid out his powers to intervene not as a temporal overlord (ratione feodi) but as a moral leader (ratione peccati). In effect, this marked papal acknowledgement of Philip’s increasing power. The letter was written when Normandy was on the point of total collapse and after Philip’s understandable refusal to acquiesce to the papal nuncio’s instruction to settle a truce with England.175

The same year, the Papacy repeated its request for French help against the Cathar heresy in the south of France. A French-led crusade began in 1209; in 1215, Crown Prince Louis joined the expedition. In 1210, Innocent was also seeking Philip’s help against Otto IV. By 1213, a number of factors had improved Philip’s hand. Most of Toulouse, the centre of the heresy, had been subjugated; Philip had smoothed over relations with the Papacy over the Ingeborg affair; a new understanding began with Denmark; his ally Frederick Hohenstaufen was elected as King of the Romans in December 1212; and King John was embroiled in his own serious difficulties with Innocent: all contributed to make 1213 a propitious year for an invasion of England.

Just as Philip’s problems with the Papacy can be traced to a specific moment in time – his repudiation of Ingeborg – so, too, can John’s: the death of Hubert Walter, Archbishop of Canterbury, in July 1205. As one historian has noted: ‘the election of an Archbishop of Canterbury generally occasioned a conflict.’176 This is an understatement for the crisis that was precipitated by the election of Walter’s successor.177 For all his failings, John handled the ensuing crisis with tremendous skill, displaying, as he did periodically throughout his reign, a keen, if spasmodic, intelligence and understanding of affairs. The death of Walter deprived John of one of one of medieval England’s great officers of state. Gillingham judges him as ‘a resounding success. No king had a better servant’; Holt as ‘the ablest and most effective of all chief justiciars and one of the greatest royal ministers of all time’.178 John was not so generous: he celebrated Walter’s death as a liberation that finally afforded him complete authority as king. Walter’s efficacy as a minister had certainly encroached upon John’s absolute freedom of political movement, and his demise granted John an opportunity to replace him with someone more flexible. Sidney Painter believes that in John’s dealings with Innocent III, ‘the fiercely intransigent attitude of the King in this dispute can only be understood in the light of his relations with Hubert Walter’; John ‘was determined that the next primate should be a man in whom he had complete confidence and who owed him his position to his favour’.179

Unfortunately for John, Innocent supported a candidate that did not have royal approval. This was not unusual in itself, but the pope brought to his office new ideas of papal power and he wished to implement many of them in the secular world. The pope had eventually settled on Stephen Langton for the vacant see of Canterbury; John’s man was the royal familiaris Bishop John de Gray of Norwich. The involved election process saw many twists and turns, the two parties taking their position to the papal court. In December 1206 Innocent insisted that John agreed to Langton as archbishop. John refused and cleverly spun out negotiations until Innocent lost patience and declared an Interdict on England in 1208. John was right to reject Langton on a number of levels. Submitting to the pope on this issue would set a precedent for further papal interference and restrict the king’s vital tool of royal patronage. Roger of Wendover has left us with a favourable impression of the cleric: ‘a genuine Englishman’, ‘skilled’, discreet’ and ‘accomplished’.180 But given Langton’s later anti-royalist, pro-baronial bias, these plaudits are unsurprising. Innocent was sufficiently impressed by Langton’s intellectual work to have made him a cardinal. (Langton’s revised arrangement of the books in the Bible and his rendering of these into chapters remains with us today.) Modern historians are not unanimous in their opinion of Langton; Turner considers him to have been ‘a man of little originality, a casuist in his thoughts’; in his acceptance of the archbishopric ‘he showed little practical sense … he was either very arrogant or very obtuse’.181 The most important relevant reason for John’s refusal to accept Langton was political: the cleric’s connections with France. He had lived in Paris for years where ‘he belonged to a circle of Parisian masters with pro-French views, who contrasted the Capetians’ just rule with Angevin tyranny’.182

Events proved John’s suspicions of the papal candidate correct, the Archbishop being a foremost figure in measured anti-royalism. His ties were not just political but intimate: his brother Simon was from the hardliner section of the baronial movement, ‘a more ardent, less balanced man than the Archbishop, inclined to headstrong speech and violent partisanship’, who, as a rare fragment from French records show, had been receiving subsidies from Prince Louis from as early as 1213.183 Stephen Langton returned from exile in 1216 in the same ship that carried Louis to England for the Prince’s great campaign. When Innocent consecrated the 50-year-old Langton as archbishop in 1207, John refused him entry into England. And so began the Interdict.

The imposition of the Interdict caused some confusion among the clergy over its implementation.184 Broadly speaking, it meant the cessation of church services and restrictions of the sacraments; bodies were laid to rest in the woods, ditches and by the roadside without the services of a priest. However, much religious life continued relatively unaffected, as ‘clergy and laity learned to accommodate’ the Interdict.185 It is a slightly puzzling period for historians, as sources tell us very little indeed about the Interdict’s impact. Politically, more telling was John’s excommunication in 1209 for obduracy in the face of papal pressure. This was designed to put the King outside of Christian protection and thus remove subjects’ obligations to him. But as a spiritual measure, its currency had been devalued in Innocent’s hands by his repeated resort to it for political purposes. In Innocent’s Europe, it was almost a rite of passage for independent secular princes and it may even have encouraged some bad-boy male bonding between John and his excommunicated allies, Otto of Brunswick and Raymond of Toulouse. In theory, excommunication conveyed the threat of justified opposition to an anathematised ruler; although serious, it nevertheless depended upon the domestic political situation for efficacy. In reality, its effect in England was limited, successfully countered in many ways by John’s effective propaganda campaign across the country. One contemporary monastic annalist’s exaggerated opinion was that ‘all the laity, most of the clergy and many monks were on the king’s side’; as Turner drily and perceptively puts it, people ‘felt little excitement about the issue of free episcopal elections’.186 Another historian writes, ‘the only people really disturbed by the sentence on John … were some of the English clergy.’187 Some felt compelled to move overseas, including all but two bishops, John de Gray and the growing, soon to be towering, figure of Peter des Roches at Winchester.

John picked up the papal gauntlet unperturbed and sensing opportunity. He does not seemed to have lain awake at night fretting over the eternal perdition of his soul; indeed, he probably slept contentedly having busied himself profitably exploiting the English church’s now weakened position. This was the real bonus in John’s tangled dealings with the Papacy during this period: he employed his dexterity to pocket a proportion of the Church’s wealth, tapping ecclesiastical resources to fill his depleted war chest. He did this chiefly through confiscation of clerical property and fines. In a creative display of humour, causing both financial and moral embarrassment, he held the mistresses of the clergy for ransom. The overall effect of the Interdict was a windfall that solved his financial concerns for years, raking in over £65,000 profit during this period of exclusion from Rome.188

By 1212, however, the deteriorating political situation and the fear of papal deposition heightened the danger of a French invasion. Philip Augustus was capitalising on support from Innocent and casting his eyes towards England; with John excommunicated, an invasion would be cloaked under the moral aegis of a crusade, just as in 1066. John was now ready to submit to the Papacy, and when he did, it was in a spectacular fashion: in May 1213 he accepted Langton as archbishop and rendered England and Ireland as papal fiefs. By putting his lands under Rome’s suzerainty and holding them as fiefs of the pope, John was placing himself under the protection of Innocent as his overlord. Any offensive action now taken by the French would be deemed an attack on Rome. Roger of Wendover is right to claim that the motivation for John’s capitulation was Philip’s preparation for invasion. As the Barnwell annalist wrote:

The King provided wisely for himself and his people by this deed, although to many it seemed ignominious and a monstrous yoke of servitude. For matters were in such extremity … there was perhaps no other way of evading the impending danger. For from the moment he put himself under apostolic protection and made his kingdom part of St Peter’s Patrimony, there was no prince in the Roman world who would dare attack him or invade his lands.189

John had taken a hugely significant step but, nonetheless, it should not be overdramatised. William the Conqueror rejected the same arrangement from Pope Gregory VII in 1080, but contemporary princes generally took a pragmatic view: Poland, Denmark, Portugal, Sweden, Sicily and Aragon were all papal fiefs. Even Richard I had temporarily paid homage for his kingdom to the Emperor as a condition of his release and captivity. Innocent was delighted by this augmentation of Rome’s power, prestige, political influence and finances. For John the results were soon to manifest themselves. In October 1213, Innocent was writing to England expressing his ‘special care and concern for our well-beloved son in the Lord, John’, that all should ‘remain steadfast in loyalty to the said king’, and warning against any instigation ‘to move a step against the king’.190 Only a few months earlier Innocent had been likening John to a ruthless, cornered foe, treacherously feigning peace.191 The King had freed himself from excommunication and now worked towards freeing England from the Interdict; this release came the following year after suitable financial recompense had been made to the injured Church in England. John had pulled the rug from under baronial opposition and Philip’s seeking of a papal blessing for his enterprise in England. His submission has been hailed as a political masterstroke.192 Certainly, John had contrived to make a virtue out of failure. But, as will be seen in the next chapter, his triumph was a short-lived one, ended by military defeat on the continent. For the time being, however, it left John in the ascendancy. In 1213, even the tide of war was to turn his way.


The subject of military service and obligation in medieval England has generated much literature. The focus of this study is on actual warfare, and so organisation for war – an enormous area that encompasses the most salient preoccupations of medieval government and economy – will be addressed here only summarily.193 From the outset, though, I should state that I do wonder how great the influence of these matters was in directly military terms. Statistics are notoriously unreliable, and their application to medieval warfare even more so, where records are fragmentary and incomplete. Figures and sums on papers do not always guarantee a clearer picture of the front line and are there for guidance.194 Soldiers fall sick, records are falsified and money designated for military spending in one sphere is siphoned off elsewhere. So often, and especially for this period, official records tell only part of the story.

Money and manpower were – and remain – paramount concerns of military commanders. Lack of both could certainly affect expeditions: Henry III had to abandon his French campaign in 1229 due to logistical failings, while manpower recruitment difficulties in the Holy Land imposed a major constraint on crusading policy. All princes were forever looking to increase their revenues for war spending; we have just seen how John exploited the Interdict to this end. But as R.C. Smail so succinctly put it: ‘No Christian ruler of the twelfth century had an army at his disposal which met his needs in full.’195 This is a crucial point to appreciate: generals always lacked the resources they wished for, but this did not prevent endemic warfare in the Middle Ages. Leaders kept a close eye on recruitment and the purse strings for they knew how decisive these things could be; but ultimately they kept fighting with what resources they could muster, often starting out in the hope that the fortunes of war would favour them and thus allow planned campaigns to be seen through. It is important to examine war in the Middle Ages the right way around: warfare and politics affected money and recruitment more than money and recruitment affected warfare and politics. War was the primary initiator. The role of politics and military effectiveness, whether through skill or luck or both, determined events far more decidedly than just the size of an army or the state of the coffers. In June 1399, Henry Bolingbroke sailed to England with fewer than 50 men; one contemporary chronicler claims that he had no more than fifteen soldiers. By August he had effectively usurped King Richard II and taken his place. In 1485, Henry Tudor became Henry VII even though his expeditionary force was very small initially, and remained outnumbered at the opening of the Battle of Bosworth.196 Political momentum and unfolding events had proven of first consequence as it had in Normandy in 1204. The collapse of the Angevin Empire was fairly sudden and dramatic, and came after decades of Anglo-French warfare that had only tweaked pre-existing border frontiers, indicating that in military terms the two sides were fairly evenly matched. The momentary imbalance that sowed disaster for England was the political and military inadequacy of John’s reign.

Scholarship has long since countered the amplified role of feudalism in military organisation, in which a knight received a land-fief from his lord for 40 days’ military service. Money was ever at the heart of military contracts. In 1066, on the eve of William the Bastard’s invasion of England, one contemporary informs us of the Duke’s troops requiring pay for their military services.197 Even the 40 days military service was not definite as the feudal system was flexible enough to adapt to needs. Robert of Torigny tells of Henry II’s invasion of Wales in 1157, when ‘every two knights equipped a third’, thereby producing a smaller force than the King could call upon but one that would serve for longer in the field.198 Even when the allotted period expired in normal service, it was possible that ‘the troops were simply taken into royal pay at the end of the obligatory forty days.’199 This reduction in quotas seen in Henry’s reign became an increasing feature of recruitment into royal service. It was notably employed by Richard I in 1194 and again by King John in 1205 when, under threat of invasion, he ordered that nine knights should fully equip and send a tenth.200 By 1218, Hervey Bagehot, Lord of Stafford, was summoned to provide five knights; the survey of knights’ fees in 1166 had stipulated 60.201 Personal service and garrison duty was increasingly commuted by scutage and payment, the money substitute directed to the employment of mercenaries (although restrictions were placed on these by Magna Carta). Levels of equipment were stipulated for all ranks, as Henry II’s military reforms of 1181, recorded in the Assize of Arms, demonstrates: all freemen were to supply themselves with weapons and military equipment according to their wealth. Philip Augustus was sufficiently impressed by these to implement similar reform in his own kingdom. Tellingly, the Assize did not distinguish between feudal and non-feudal obligation.202

Armies consisted of a range of fighting men with varying degrees of military skills, from the poorly trained recruits of a general summons or forced conscriptions, as with France’s arrière-ban, to the fine-tuned professionals of knights and engineers. The universal levy was the full-scale mobilisation of the whole kingdom. In the confusion of civil war from 1215–17, it was not an easily implemented contingency. John had recourse to it in 1205 and 1213, both occasions that threatened invasion from France.203 At the other extreme was the military household, a permanent force of knights and their retinues available for immediate action on the king’s orders and the backbone of his army. Stephen Church’s thorough and important study of John’s household calculates that the King could muster a force of nearly 100 knights.204 But he also shows how these numbers could not always be relied upon, as the political situation of 1216–17 affected many loyalties. The military household was very close to being a standing army, ever present as a military body or rapid reaction force to enforce the king’s will. This had clear advantages, but disadvantages also. As Robert Bartlett summarises it: ‘They were always there; but then again, they were always there.’205 Like mercenaries, the household did not come cheap.

Forces fluctuated in size according to need. The numbers employed in the expensive business of castle garrisoning can be used as a political barometer: large garrisons in times of uncertainty and perceived danger; skeleton garrisons (if any at all) in times of peace.206 As will be seen later, the role of garrisons was a central feature of the war of 1216–17, during which at least 209 castles were involved. This is a huge number, but not a surprising one as medieval warfare was predominantly castle warfare; the invasion exemplifies both. For this reason, engineers, miners and siege experts were highly valued as effective members of an army, as we have seen at Château Gaillard. Also valued were the highly developed skills of crossbowmen and archers, the former particularly valued in sieges; these combined to inflict more recorded fatalities in medieval warfare than any other combatants. As indicated above, it can be a hopeless task to pursue definitive numbers from bureaucratic or any other records. Armies generally comprised hundreds rather than thousands, except for the largest campaigns and battles, as at Bouvines. Powicke emphasises the ‘distinction between the permanent nucleus of knight and men-at-arms, and a changing kaleidoscopic force by which they were accompanied’.207

Military organisation in France was not radically different from in England; we have already mentioned Philip Augustus affected in France his own version of Henry II’s Assize of Arms. We know a good deal about Philip’s military establishment from the survival of important documentation from his reign: the royal government registers and the prisia servientum, a war levy.208 Philip oversaw a radical transformation of French administration and, just as historians have credited John’s success in bureaucratic government, many more have acknowledged the efficacy of Philip’s reforms. Jim Bradbury believes these lay at the heart of the French king’s success: ‘It was because Philip had set about reforming and streamlining royal administration, and therefore royal wealth and resources, that all his successes had come about.’209 Certainly, Philip’s ability to translate his resources into military hardware and manpower was a significant element in his conquests, but it was more political momentum, not least when generated by military triumphs, that played a crucial role in determining the outcome of conflicts. These could – and often were – affected by the military organisation, but the actual unfolding of events was far more important.

Given the documentation, it is no surprise that Philip’s war machine has been extensively studied, providing a clearer sense of French military organisation.210 The nerve centre of Philip’s army, like John’s, was the household of the king, from which he took the counsel of such men as Batholomew de Roye, William des Barres and the Clément family (who, in Henry, provided the marshal of France). The army, in its various forms, took its orders from the Constable and the marshal. Knights were expected to be fully kitted, while the equipment of sergeants or footsoldiers was specified in less detail. Many of the latter came from communes within Philip’s domain: for example, Tournai, Laon and Sens were obliged to provide 300 men; Beauvais, 500. Other towns, as with Corbeil, provided a cash equivalent. Monasteries were also expected to do their bit, supplying packhorses and weapons, logistical organisation being no less vital.211 Whereas English – or, more exactly, Welsh – archers were already developing a formidable reputation, so were Philip’s crossbowmen, as we have seen at Château Gaillard. Contemporary illustrations of the Battle of Bouvines depict crossbowmen discharging their weapons on horseback. Absolutely crucial to Philip’s success was his contingent of engineers and miners, whom sources say accompanied him everywhere. Once more it is worth reiterating that medieval warfare was more about sieges than battles, and so Philip’s siege achievements are owed in considerable measure to his engineers. Of course, mercenaries were ubiquitous, and Philip relied heavily on his greatest mercenary, Cadoc. One historian has estimated that Philip could call on in total some 3000 knights, 9000 sergeants, 6000 men from urban militias and as many thousands of footsoldiers as he was ready to hire.212These are approximate, total figures; no single French army was ever comprised of these numbers as far too many variables came into play. Troops were needed to face various threats, potential and real, from England, the Empire, Flanders and internally; there were also the Albigensian crusade and castle-garrisoning duties to be considered. John, in addition and in conjunction with civil unrest, faced military threats from Wales, Scotland and France. Both kings, however, had their permanent military forces in their households.

Philip’s military structures were physically reinforced by his fortress policy in France. His reign saw Paris fortified with walls and the Louvre Castle. Across his lands, a sustained and massive fortification programme led to town walls and castles being constructed or bolstered throughout his reign from 1190 onwards. He is credited with introducing to France a new, stronger style of architectural defence in the shape of cylindrical towers, demonstrated by the donjon of the Louvre.213 More than this, Philip used his fortress network intelligently, permitting a good deal of autonomy to castellans, unlike John’s approach in England and Normandy which ‘was ruthlessly dirigiste and opportunistic from first to last’.214

This period saw important developments in the navies of England and France.215 For the latter, acquiring the northern seaboard after winning Normandy necessitated considerable expansion of its fleet to project greater maritime power. For a long time John has received credit for establishing the royal navy. Ships were recruited into royal service in a similar way to men. The Cinque ports of the south coast (Hastings, Rye, Sandwich, Hythe and Romney) were traditionally required to provide 57 vessels for fifteen days of service; more merchant ships could be hired or commandeered to augment this for a form of merchant navy. Warren argues that the loss of Normandy compelled John to adopt a coherent maritime policy.216 Clearly, adverse circumstances forced him to devise a new front-line defence on the Channel and he accordingly increased the number of ships available under his command: between 1209 and 1212 he had built 20 new galleys and 34 other ships.217 Turner describes the new situation: ‘The English Channel was no longer an internal waterway for an Anglo-Norman realm but a boundary with the hostile French; a navy was needed to protect the kingdom’s coasts.’218 John Gillingham has challenged the claim that John was founder of the navy, persuasively pointing out instead that it was Richard who deserves credit for this. Richard saw to the construction of Portsmouth as a naval base and he maintained a very active maritime policy, whether in raids against pirates at St Valéry in 1194 or in protecting sea routes to La Rochelle.219 As argued earlier, his absenteeism in no way reduced his concerns for England’s safety. And Richard was, after all, responsible for the huge logistical enterprise of the Third Crusade. A fleet, like castles, was needed as much for offensive purposes as defensive ones.

It will be seen in this narrative how the English were considered to have a distinct advantage over the French in naval matters. Already early in Richard’s reign there were indications of this. During the Third Crusade, Philip had to borrow naval transport from Richard in order to continue his expedition. A pro-Ricardian author delights in recounting how Philip entered Messina harbour in just one ship to be met by a jeering crowd, immediately followed by Richard’s impressive fleet making a spectacular entrance to an ecstatic reception.220 Naval considerations were paramount in Philip’s marriage to Ingeborg of Denmark at a time when his maritime assets were limited. But as he increased his territory and power and won huge stretches of seaboard (extensively in the north with Normandy, less so in the west with Pointhieu), so his mind turned to invading England and thus ship-building. Although Bradbury believes the ‘formation of fleets in 1213 and 1217 was the origin of a French royal navy’, Mollat du Joudin claims that ‘it is impossible to see in the improvised fleets of 1213 and 1217 the origins of the navy … The fleets of Philip Augustus were occasional and ill-assorted.’221 Philip was never to match John in this crucial sphere of warfare.


All these men, castles and ships had to be paid for. Medieval government was nothing if not geared to war, and war finance forever drove government bureaucracy. Government records of the time have permitted close scrutiny of the countries’ finances. Here the difficulties with numbers are even more vexing than army sizes. It is extraordinarily difficult to track and categorise all national income for a medieval state, but for our period there is the extra complication of inflationary pressures. There is little consensus among historians as to how marked these pressures were, and the differing degrees to which England and France were affected by them, but much important work has been carried out in this area.222 Some historians place inflation at the heart of John’s political difficulties, one arguing that ‘the rise in prices was probably a purely English phenomenon’ and another, consequently, that ‘no king of England was ever so unlucky as John.’223 Others, however, see inflation in both England and France; Georges Duby writing of revolutionary changes in France, while David Fischer makes the case that before the 1220s prices rise were barely perceptible.224 The most recent study, by James Masschaele in 2010, summarises the economics and inflation debate and argues that the early thirteenth century was a period of very substantial growth. He cautions judiciously that conclusions are not easily drawn, concluding wisely that Magna Carta is ‘first and foremost a political document’.225 Most medievalists would agree, however, that the eleventh and twelfth centuries underwent momentous transformations in society, government and economy, ‘the most profound and most permanent change that overtook Western Europe between the invention of agriculture and the industrial revolution.’226These changes, and the monetisation that went with them, enabled kings to undertake ever-more protracted wars.

Much scholarly economic debate has also been focused on the comparative wealth of John and Philip.227 Despite the glaring discrepancy in geographical area ruled by the two kings before 1204, to the Angevins’ obvious advantage, many historians argue that such factors as Philip’s higher wages for his troops provide clear evidence for the greater resources of the Capetian king. Thus John faced the dilemma that ‘a wealthier master was outbidding him.’228 John Gillingham, however, in his sensible analysis of these matters, argues convincingly that ‘it must be certain that at the start of his reign John was significantly richer than Philip’; he further emphasises that it is ‘how financial resources were employed rather than the sheer volume of money that is more crucial’.229Nicholas Barratt’s detailed surveys of the financial situation gives Philip an advantage in dispensable cash, but notes that this was negated by the greater costs of hiring his soldiers.230

So many statistical variables come into play I remind readers of my caution in discerning hard-and-fast financial reasons for cause and effect in military affairs and in the outcome of the wars discussed here. The fiscal exactions of John were clearly instrumental in the production of Magna Carta, but, in the subsequent conflict, John’s ability to wage war and hire mercenaries was never seriously curtailed. Indeed, unplanned-for exigencies such as the Interdict actually helped to fill his war coffers. Figures actually show that John’s revenues could increase considerably at times of crisis, at just the moment when he needed them most. It strikes me that John employed the threat of French invasion to this end, to extract further revenue increases from his subjects. Political and military factors were far more decisive in determining the outcome of the Angevin-Capetian struggle, and to these we now return.

Campaigns, 1205–06

The winter of 1204–05 was a harsh one in England; for John, it must have been especially bitter as he reflected on the calamitous past year. He did not see the loss of Normandy as permanent; but then, no King of England and Duke of Normandy could allow themselves that thought, or be known to be thinking along such lines. The Barnwell chronicler, more favourably disposed towards John than other commentators, might have considered Normandy’s loss inevitable, but that did not make it anything less of a disaster and humiliation for King and country.231 John’s determination to recover his patrimonial lands in France should not be doubted, but his attempts – and inability – to achieve this compounded his problems, leading to the ultimate disaster at the end of his reign with the French occupying London and one-third of his kingdom. As James Holt has observed, ‘John’s most decisive action was not that he lost Normandy, the Touraine, and the old Angevin influence in the Midi, but that for ten furious years he devoted all his attention to regaining what he had lost.’232 Relationships with the church, the barons and the exchequer all contributed to John’s ignominious end, but it was ultimately war that was his undoing.

Anjou was gone; Maine was gone; Normandy was gone. Now, in the summer of 1204, Philip Augustus turned his attentions to Poitou and Aquitaine.233 In August, Philip set out with a large army to subdue the region, defended for John by the Seneschal Robert of Turnham. Philip was aided by the Lusignans, still smarting from John’s treatment in 1202, and by William des Roches. The chronicles have little to say on these events, but it is clear from Rigord that this was a major expedition.234 Philip’s greatest asset was the political momentum won from Normandy, as potential resistance bowed to the incoming tide, and within a few weeks most of Poitou was gone too. A few Angevin outposts held out: Niort; Thouars; the crucial port of La Rochelle, now a frontier town; and the powerful castles of Loches and Chinon, the latter a major centre of administration and a treasury. Philip had Loches and Chinon blockaded over winter before returning to them in spring the following year. Defended respectively – and, it would seem, heroically – by Gerard d’Athée and Hubert de Burgh, these held out until Easter and mid-summer, Chinon witnessing a last-gasp sortie that failed to break the siege. These lengthy sieges appear to have the epic qualities of Château Gaillard, but with no writer such as William the Breton to chronicle them, we cannot say how the sieges were fought. De Burgh and d’Athée joined Turnham and hundreds of others in captivity, but were ransomed by John at great expense; he needed such loyal fighters as these.

Meanwhile, John had held a series of major councils from January, including one with all his tenants-in-chief, to exact a heavy scutage for the defence of the realm, for he feared England was under imminent threat of invasion. How real this perceived threat was is debatable, and it may have been the case that, as suggested earlier, John was using this as an excuse, even if partly genuine, to lay claim to war finances in general. Ralph of Coggeshall reports that soon after John sent 28,000 marks for an army of 30,000 men to defend Gascony.235 There was a threat of invasion but it was as much a political threat as a military one. The wily Philip had been successfully coaxing Renaud Count of Boulogne and Henry Duke of Brabant to pursue their wives’ claims to lands in England. John had to calculate whether, should he lead a major expedition abroad, these powerful soldiers might take advantage of his absence to agitate in England and persuade the barons, of whom John was even more distrustful now that he blamed them for the loss of Normandy, to abandon him. England was therefore placed under invasion alert. All males over twelve years of age were made to swear that they would protect the country from foreigners and the country was organised for war with a muster for defence in April. The south and east coasts were under the watchful eyes of royal officers. These bailiffs had orders to regulate the passage of ships into and out of the harbours, and even passing by; only those with a royal licence were allowed freedom of movement. This was not just a security measure against possible incoming forces and to disrupt possible communications with enemies across the Channel; it was also a way of garnering naval resources for John’s fleet and the imminent expedition to the Continent.

The preparations, completed by June, would suggest that John was planning an attack on two fronts, from a landing north in Normandy and from the south in Poitou. Ralph of Coggeshall conveys the enormous scale of the expeditionary forces, calculated to have cost one-quarter (£5000) of the king’s annual revenue and in which some ‘14,000’ sailors and ‘1500’ ships were said to have been involved.236 Even the prisons were emptied. John claimed that this act of clemency was ‘for the good of his mother’s soul’; in fact, he was ensuring a ready supply of fighting men. It is notable that this amnesty did not extend to those convicted of treason, for treason was ever at the forefront of John’s troubled mind. At this time he was spitting blood on William Marshal’s recent return from France where he had paid homage to King Philip for his lands there; this was a unique arrangement by an English baron and did little to settle John’s already frayed nerves.

This expeditionary force was possibly the largest gathering of military forces yet witnessed in England. But it never embarked upon its campaign. Archbishop Hubert Walter and William Marshal (fresh back from France, remember) persuaded him that it was not worth taking the risk. All manner of reasons were proffered by the two as they clutched at the King’s knees, begging him not to go: it left England open to invasion; Philip was too strong; the Poitevins were not to be trusted; too much was at stake. Weeping and crying, John acquiesced – only to change his mind the following morning and spend the next few days sailing up and down the Channel before finally disembarking having achieved nothing. This almost comical – and hugely expensive – episode has never been fully understood. Perhaps by the final act John was hoping to shame his barons into following him; perhaps he was attempting to save face by giving the impression that he was up for it while his meeker barons were not; perhaps he was stewing in a tremendous sulk. But the cancellation of such a massive campaign was a major incident. Turner says that the cause was ‘in part from a baronial resistance to overseas service in principle and probably in larger measure from their exasperation with John’s money-raising methods’. Warren offers further credence to this when writing what Hubert and William feared, ‘and the King assumed, was that if he attempted to put to sea he would be faced with something like a sit-down strike’.237 William Marshal was clearly influential in proceedings, no doubt his new self-interest adding eloquence to his persuasiveness. Also of possible consideration but overlooked is the fact that the invasion threat, by which the country had been mobilised, was in fact no longer so pressing by this time as Philip’s focus and efforts were evidently directed to the south in Poitou, and so a pre-emptive strike was no longer deemed necessary by many of the barons.

In the end, two much smaller forces were dispatched to the continent under John’s illegitimate son Geoffrey and his illegitimate half-brother, William Longsword, the Earl of Salisbury. La Rochelle was reinforced, but it was a case of too little, too late for the castles of Loches and Chinon, both of which were in ruins from their sustained bombardments. John had done even less for these than he had for Château Gaillard. The message sent out to the baronage in western France was not reassuring for John’s allies, current or potential.

The harnessing of such a massive force was thus a significant waste of effort and resources; however, John made some financial capital out of it: before the troops were dispersed, he exacted a payment – an immense sum according to one chronicler – from them in commutation of military service. The money collected went towards the campaign of 1206. Although not as grandiose as the 1205 force, the fleet and the host it carried that arrived at La Rochelle on 7 June were still very impressive. It is not known why so many barons were present on this expedition, but it has been suggested that John had browbeaten individuals into submission by personal visitations and no doubt, by promises and threats.

John first marched to Niort to give heart to the garrison exposed in what was now Capetian territory. He then moved deep into the south-east of Gascony to besiege some new enemies at Montauban. Alfonso III of Castile had laid claim to the Duchy through his wife Eleanor (John’s sister) and was backing it up with force to the extent that he had besieged, and had failed to take, Bordeaux. It was essential that John countered this threat to avoid being squeezed from north and south. Montauban was an impressive fortress, but John was not daunted. His siege artillery battered its walls and defenders until, just after a fortnight of this, his soldiers, ‘greatly renowned in this type of warfare’, as Roger of Wendover says, ‘scaled the walls and exchanged mortal blows with their enemies’.238The castle fell on 1 August and with it came great booty and prestigious prisoners. John earns much credit for this action by which he ended the peril to his territories here. However, important as it was, a glance at the map will show just how far the action was from Poitou and Normandy; success at Montauban had merely prevented his predicament from deteriorating.

From now until October, John directed his operations back in Poitou, Touraine and Anjou. Many barons still preferred John over Philip Augustus, the proximity of the latter in Paris many found to be overbearing and intrusive. Aimery de Thouars was one such: although rewarded as Seneschal of Poitou by Philip for coming over to his side previously, the habit-forming turncoat viscount now returned to John’s fold. Our view of feudalism and homage to lords can sometimes blind us to just how superficial allegiances can be. Princes knew this and bidded at baronial auctions to gain support for their various campaigns. The same year Philip Augustus had attempted to win over Raoul d’Exoudun, Count of Eu, by offering him the whole of Poitou for five years and a bundle of money and soldiers besides, because ‘you are one of the most powerful barons of Poitou and there is no one more suitable to conduct his [Philip’s] business in south-west France.’239 It is easy to be cynical about the cupidity of barons (and correct, too), but families could not choose where their masters fought out their wars, and they had to adapt accordingly when war came. John’s campaign had chosen Poitou as the centre of his campaign for four major reasons: it possessed the highly fortified safe port of La Rochelle; it was closer to the developing events in south-east Gascony; it was also central to thrusts northwards into his lost territory; and because John felt that despite their infamous capriciousness, the barons here were more likely to prove loyal than anywhere else (which says something about his expectations). The allegiances of barons were to prove equally crucial to the protagonists during the invasion of England in 1216–17.

Three weeks after his success at Montauban, John was back at Niort, near La Rochelle, with Savary de Mauléon. It was at this juncture that Aimery de Thouars, no doubt taking note of Montauban and John’s seemingly committed military efforts, decided that the Angevin monarch now offered more favourable prospects than the Capetian one and so aligned himself once more with John. In so doing, he delivered northern Poitou back into John’s hands. Boosted by his improving fortunes an emboldened John raided into Anjou; when he could not procure boats for a crossing of the Loire, in a demonstration of determination, he forded it, much to the amazement of one chronicler. He ravaged his way back to his ancestral home of Angers, which he took on 8 September. He set up court here for a week, then moved even farther north to La Lude and back over the next five days. His intention was probably to send a minatory message to contumacious and rebellious vassals; but the message immediately following Angers was more equivocal: he destroyed at least parts of the city – Rigord says ‘totally’ – and quitted it hastily.240 It was a clear statement of force, but also one that said he was not staying. As John moved back south to Thouars, Aimery attacked Brittany.

Philip’s response to John’s operations was measured but decisive. In spring he had already moved into Brittany, reaching Rennes and taking Nantes. With him was William des Roches and the royal heir, Prince Louis, gaining valuable experiences of warfare while still just a teenager. The French King’s march on Angers in September was enough for John to head for safer ground south. Philip pursued him to Thouars and besieged him there. The campaigns of 1205–6 have received little attention from the chroniclers, and the siege of Thouars even less. However, a troubadour, apparently writing at the time of the siege, has left us a song in which he calls on Savary de Mauléon, ‘a good knight at the quintaine’, and his comrades-in-arms to defend ‘your fortress’.241 Philip’s forces ravaged Aimery’s lands in front of his eyes while his siege machines kept up the pressure on the town.

The campaign had ground to a halt and so, on 26 October, a two-year truce was arranged. The terms reflected the new state of affairs brought about by John’s expedition. The truce recognised that for Poitou, the land north of the Loire, just retaken by the French, fell under Philip’s control, while that to the south, just won by John, fell to English rule. Many historians consider this a very positive result for John: Poitou was substantially back in Angevin hands and he had ‘succeeded in securing his position from Poitou to the Pyrenees’.242 Nor should it be forgotten, as it often is, that John had also regained the Channel Islands.243 But in reality these was only very modest recoveries, as if a football team losing 6–0 at half-time comes back to score a goal and goes on to lose the mach 6–2 at full-time. John made no demands on Normandy, Brittany, Maine, Anjou and the Touraine. In fact, John did not even sign the truce personally. The evening before the truce was confirmed, he had slipped back to La Rochelle. It may seem surprising that Philip went along with the truce – after all, he was at Thouars with a large army – but he was keen, as always, to consolidate and secure. As Warren nicely puts it: ‘He was still digesting Normandy and wanted time to complete his meal.’244 John, meanwhile, had to ruminate on his next steps. He had plenty of time to do so. He left La Rochelle in December and returned to England. It would be another seven years before his army was back in France for a fully fledged campaign to recover his lands.


As with so many truces, Thouars did not last. Philip broke it and by the summer of 1207 was ravaging Aimery’s lands across the Loire; by 1208 the Viscount and John’s stalwart Savary de Mauléon were his prisoners.245 However, the political map of Poitou changed little. This period saw a distinct lull in the Angevin-Capetian conflict, as both kings preoccupied themselves with other matters. The launch of the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathar heretics in 1209 (preparations had begun a year earlier) meant a sizeable portion of French soldiers went south to fight in the Languedoc.246 Philip himself was still digesting Normandy, seeing to the realignment of his great fiefs in his kingdom as a result of this; while Brittany, Champagne and Auvergne were at the forefront of those aligning themselves with Philip, Flanders and Boulogne led those who looked across the Channel to John as a way of maintaining greater independence.247 Both John and Philip were deeply immersed in ecclesiastical and diplomatic matters as we have seen, attempting to forge or repair important political relationships as their circumstances dictated with the pope, Emperor and subjects, and all with a mind to the future Anglo-French conflict. Philip took the opportunity to initiate an extensive fortification programme, which included Paris, and went on occasional campaigns to slap the wrists of recalcitrant barons.248 John, on the other hand, was involved with military expeditions on a grander scale (not including a muster in 1208 which was probably prompted by an invasion threat). These should not detain us long, but they are worthy of brief discussion as they reveal the threat posed by his enemies on the Celtic borders of the British Isles and they provide context for their roles during the French invasion. They also reveal that John had greater martial accomplishments here than abroad, and that he did not lack anything in the form of military experience.

Warfare with Scotland, Wales and Ireland was nothing new for English kings. Rulers in these countries were ever ready to take advantage of their neighbour’s monarch when his attentions were engaged elsewhere. The Auld Alliance between France and Scotland, cemented to increase the discomfiture of England at times of war, was very ‘auld’ indeed, and will be seen to be operating effectively at this time. When John’s battle with the Papacy left him with but one representative of the episcopate in England (Peter des Roches; John de Gray was made justiciar of Ireland in 1210), Scotland offered a ready refuge for the bishops that exiled themselves from his kingdom. Fall-out with some of his barons in 1208–9 had resulted in a bitter conflict between the monarch and the powerful William de Braose, who fled to Ireland where he joined up with William Marshal, still out of favour since refusing to go on the 1206 Poitevin expedition. William the Lion, King of Scotland, perceived an opportunity to cause trouble here, as did Philip Augustus.249In August John went north with an imposing army and William, knowing that John was ‘prone to all kinds of cruelty’ submitted and was forced to come to humiliating and costly terms.250 This left John free to deal with Ireland, where the de Lacys led the anti-John faction. (By now, William Marshal was once more back with John.) Again, a show of overwhelming force by John was enough to quell trouble: he took with him some 800 knights and 1000 infantry – a clear sign that invasion fears had abated in England now that Scotland had been forced to come to terms. This show of strength limited actual resistance; even at Carrickfergus the garrison of the well prepared and strongly fortified castle ‘behaved like cowards’, writes one contemporary, and opened their gates to John.251 This campaign is often hailed as an outstanding success for John, but Sean Duffy argues persuasively that the view ‘that the 1210 expedition was an out-and-out triumph needs to be considerably modified’.252 However, the Irish barons were to remain at least predominantly loyal during 1215–17. John’s crassness almost inevitably revealed itself in Ireland, when he laughed at a native king who rode bareback, thus causing offence to the Irish. Such inappropriate behaviour had more serious implications when directed against his own barons.

With John in Ireland, the Welsh got up to some serious mischief, Llewelyn the Great (as he was to be later known) instigating, says one Welsh chronicler, ‘cruel attacks on the English’ as he attempted to make inroads in south Wales.253 John acted in the summer of 1211 with another large English army precipitating another full-scale retreat by the enemy: Llewelyn made a strategic withdrawal to Snowdonia. However, John’s campaign did not go smoothly and had to be abandoned when his army ran out of supplies and famine sapped the host’s strength. A second, more thorough expedition set forth in July: more men, more supplies and more engineers to build castles. Llewelyn agreed to harsh terms.

It was at this moment that John has been deemed master of the British Isles. The Barnwell annalist observed, in a well-known passage: ‘In Ireland, Scotland and Wales there was no one who did not bow to the nod of the King of England, which, as is well known, was the case of none of his predecessors.’ But the annalist also goes on to say: ‘And he would have appeared happy indeed, and successful to the height of his desires had he not been despoiled of his territories across the sea, and under the ban of the Church.’254 His achievements were in fact decidedly mixed. Ireland was a partial success, Scotland was rendered quiescent for a few years, and Wales took up arms again in 1212. Serious as these threats had been, they were not comparable to the one posed by Philip Augustus’s France; victories against princes, subjects and a comparatively weak and impoverished Scottish monarch offered no indications of a similar outcome against the ever-growing power of his Capetian opponent. But that was what he had planned for 1212.

Dominating the British Isles, John was feeling increasingly confident. His nephew was now Emperor Otto IV; Renuad de Dammartin, Count of Boulogne, had sailed to England in May to pledge his service to John; following him came the Counts of Flanders, Limbourg, Bar and Louvain to voice their opposition to Philip. What was more, his war coffers were full – although he still had to pay the political price for this. The desertions weakened Philip, but should not, however, be seen as a sign of weakness: a paradox of increasing, centralised power was that the stronger the monarch became the more he provoked resistance from those who saw their own powers being encroached upon, causing those feeling threatened to seek help from foreign powers. This was also to be a feature of English politics in 1216 and up to the end of the Tudor regime.

John was now in his strongest position for nearly a decade. But it was a fleeting moment. Activity at Portsmouth in the spring and summer of 1212 was at its most intense for six years, as John’s officials and commanders made ready for the long-awaited expedition to Poitou. All across the country, John’s efficient government machine was put into operation to ensure full recruitment and provisioning for the full-scale expedition: extra money was raked in by means of the forest laws; writs were sent out across the country to summon knights; government men roamed the land to ascertain exactly the military service owed to the King. But John’s forces did not go to France; instead, they went to Wales.

Llewelyn had managed to forge an alliance with erstwhile enemies and competing princes to rise up against John.255 Roger of Wendover relates how ‘the Welsh burst fiercely from their hiding-places, and took some of the English king’s castles, beheading all they found in them, knights and soldiers alike’; they torched several towns and amassed ‘great quantities of plunder’.256 Decapitation was an almost ritualised aspect of warfare in Wales and Ireland.

Llewelyn had been spending time at John’s court and may have grown to distrust him even more; he and the Welsh princes were gravely concerned by the King’s castle-building programme and the obvious implications of this for control in Wales. Fearing this expansion of muscular English power, Llewelyn had secured a treaty with Philip Augustus around May or June. As Ifor Rowlands points out, John may well have had intelligence about this, which would explain the scale of the Welsh campaign; John feared a political alliance like the Franco-Scottish one that had loomed in 1209.257 Initially, John had sent only a small force to aid the Marcher lords, but awareness of an accord with France may have made him reconsider with a much larger force. The treaty served Philip especially well as it delayed, and ultimately prevented, English troops attacking his lands.

The army that mustered at Chester in late August was a massive one. John and his royal household had quickly but effectively ordered to the host over 6000 labourers and 2230 skilled carpenters and ditchers: he was planning not only to recapture lost forts but also a massive extension of his castle-building programme. Historians have speculated that he was on the eve of achieving in Wales what his grandson Edward I would later in the century. John was in a ruthless mood. On arriving at a second muster point of Nottingham, the first thing he did was to execute 28 Welsh hostages. Two died following castration, but most were hanged on a gibbet; the youngest was only seven. John then sat down to dinner. His dining was ruined: not by the deaths of the youths he had just ordered, but by the arrival of chilling news. In a foretaste of what was to come, Llewelyn had also been conspiring with the barons. John was informed of a plot either to kill him, or to abandon him, possibly ending in the same fate, to the Welsh. Poised to invade Wales, the whole enormous enterprise unravelled in an instant. John immediately marched north to intimidate the centres of baronial unrest there. Eustace de Vescy and Robert Fitzwalter, the chief conspirators who led the revolt against John over the next few years, fled to Scotland and France and John returned to London. This was the third major expedition John abandoned. Cancelled campaigns were not uncommon in medieval warfare, but three on this scale was telling and a waste of money painfully extracted from his subjects for no tangible ends.

The year 1212 did not get any better for John. The news from Europe was grim, too. Philip Augustus seized English ships in French ports; John reciprocated in England. His allies there were faring badly: Count Raymond of Toulouse was succumbing to the French-led Alibigensian crusade; Emperor Otto was on the defensive and Pope Innocent III had offered a counter-imperial crown to Frederick Hohensatufen, with whom Philip had now made an alliance. Whether known to John or not at this stage, the baronial discontents at home were agreeing terms of homage to Prince Louis, Philips’ heir, for when he was crowned as the next King of England. According to the widely spread prophecies of Peter of Wakefield, a mystic wondering about in the north of England, this was going to be sooner rather than later. Unfortunately for Peter, and distinctly lacking foresight, he prophesised neither the gaol sentence in Corfe Castle that John arranged for him nor his being tied to the tail of a horse, dragged to Wareham and hanged. No wonder Wendover observed that in 1212 John ‘had almost as many enemies as barons’.258


Relationships with the Papacy proved crucial this year. Over Christmas, Stephen Langton and the Bishops of London and Ely had gone to Rome to press for action against their King; Innocent, currently in ascendancy in Europe, was feeling receptive to their calls for intercession and was keen to turn the screws on John, issuing him with an ultimatum for June. Wendover writes that in January the pope wrote to Philip, commissioning him to undertake a crusade against a John deposed by the Papacy and to claim the throne of England for the Capetians. This may have been an exaggeration of the contents of secret letters from Innocent; more recently, academic opinion has moved to discount the deposition because French chroniclers do not discuss it, as they surely would have done had it been the case. However, William the Breton, in his neglected Philippidos, does talk at this stage of Philip taking vows to act ‘against the schismatics’ (contra schismaticos) in England.259 Given the alliances forged the previous year, it is likely that there was at least an understanding of what Philip had planned (and chroniclers were soon certainly to give this impression). And what Philip had planned, with or without the blessing of a fully fledged crusade, was a French invasion of England in 1213.260

Philip had been assiduously preparing for this for some time. He was now taking advantage of developments in Artois and Flanders, along the north-east seaboard of France, where he had seized land from Renaud, Count of Boulogne and towns from Ferrand, Count of Flanders, pushing the former into John’s camp and leaving the latter wavering. The nature of these disputes is complex but John was quick to offer assistance to disaffected French subjects just as Philip was to English ones. Renaud of Dammartin was a key player in the years 1213–14. He was always ready to change sides and the French King was rightly suspicious of his shockingly poor record of loyalty. Philip, whose patience he had tried, determined that this was going to be the last time. Historians have differed in their judgment of Renaud: ‘This remarkable, cultivated, ambitious, and versatile man’ says one; ‘unstable’ another.261 It is safe to say that he was an opportunist who, like many French nobles, feared Philip’s growing regional power. The territory gained by the Capetian gave him more and better opportunities for invasion staging posts, and assembly points were established at Gravelines, Boulogne and Damme. At Soissons on 8 April, Philip held a major council in readiness for the enterprise of England, attended by the great barons of his kingdom. Louis was to take and hold England as an apanage; even if crowned king, he was still to defer matters of land redistribution and homage to his father.

John was now facing his gravest threat since the loss of Normandy and he made careful and thorough preparations for war, as he had the previous year. In a letter to all the sheriffs in England, he called for mercenaries to join him and demanded that all who were obliged to take up arms muster at Dover ‘to defend our person and themselves, and the land of England’.262 This patriotic exhortation was backed up with menace: John made it clear that he wanted to know who came and who did not; those who failed to make an appearance were to be branded as cowards and condemned to slavery. A huge army (’sixty thousand’, of course) gathered on the coast. John also ensured that the navy was at full strength and readiness; stronger than the French in this area, he planned to intercept the French in the Channel and ‘and drown them in the sea before they could even set foot on land’.263 His navy sharpened its fighting skills with raids on Dieppe, Fécamp and on the Seine. John’s confidence in the navy was in sharp contrast to his confidence in his barons: another reason why John placed so much emphasis on maritime defence was that there was less likelihood of being deserted on the field of battle, a real fear of his.

It was at this critical juncture that John played what most historians agree was his masterstroke: he submitted to the pope. On the 13 May he met the papal legate Pandulf, accepted Langton as Archbishop of Canterbury, agreed compensation payments to Rome, and agreed to render England as a papal fief. England was now under the special protection of the pope. The Barnwell annalist captured both the logic and the shame of this action: ‘The King provided wisely for himself and his people by this measure, although to many it seemed ignominious and a monstrous yoke of servitude.’ He goes on to say that there was no swifter or more effective way of avoiding the looming threat, for now, as we have seen above, ‘there was no prince in the Roman world who would dare attack him or invade his lands.’264

But Philip Augustus was just such a Prince. He was not so easily deterred from a major campaign as John, even after Pandulf warned him in the third week of May that to persist with the invasion would incur an excommunication. Philip was livid with the legate at this turn of events, railing at the injustice of it all after he had spent ‘sixty thousand pounds’ on fitting out the expedition in the name of the pope. To rub salt in his wounds, John had dramatically upstaged Philip’s own reconciliation with the Papacy. In an overlooked episode, at Soissons in April Philip was reconciled with Ingeborg, thereby healing a significant, long-standing rift with the Church and garnering even greater blessings for his enterprise. Surely this would have played a major factor in influencing John to make his own, even greater, reconciliation with Rome the following month? The diplomacy of this period was intense indeed.

Philip persisted with his great undertaking nevertheless. Warren has reflected on why Philip should press on with the invasion at all. One factor may have been that his awareness of baronial feeling against John augured well, as it had before the fall of Normandy; and another that it was a way of preventing John landing his army in Poitou. But Warren believes that the whole operation was ‘hazardous’, extremely ‘optimistic’, and that these wasted resources would have been better deployed in annexing Aquitaine. He sums up with: ‘One can only conclude that Philip’s sense of mission against the house of Anjou had reached the proportion of megalomania, and that he would not be satisfied with anything less than its complete destruction.’265 Philip was far too prudent and meticulous a King for this assessment. Aquitaine, with its loyalties and economic connections to England and distance from Paris was a challenge of a different order, as Philip knew and history was to prove. We have not long seen how he took his time to consolidate his conquest of Normandy, and settled for a truce at Thouars in 1206. Ambitious? Undoubtedly. Megalomaniac? Unlikely. Preventing John’s expedition to Poitou points to the real reasons. The opportunity to take the war to England was probably paramount in his thinking, for the same reasons we have discussed for Richard fighting his wars in France. Philip would be sparing his own subjects while giving the message in the starkest of terms to John’s that the English King was failing in his primary obligation to protect them. Also important were the unknown consequences of kicking down John’s front door. If his whole house started shaking then the barons could bolt outside and run towards Philip. This proved to be the case for Louis in 1216.266

All that Philip needed to proceed with the invasion was the active support of Ferrand of Flanders, not least to secure the French positions along and behind the Flemish coast. Philip, however, was not prepared to return the Count’s towns and so Ferrand, son of King Sancho I of Portugal, declared on 24 May at Ypres that he was not prepared to join with the Capetians. The implications of this were clear: Ferrand would gravitate fully into the Angevin orbit and Philip would have to count him as a foe. Philip turned his war machine on Flanders.

What followed was an intense outburst of brutal and sharp warfare. The French King wanted Bruges and Ypres, preferably – always preferably – by negotiation if possible. Ghent required a siege. He advanced his invasion force into Flanders, ‘destroying everywhere in his path by fire, and putting the inhabitants to the sword’.267 He led the bulk of his forces – up to 240 knights and 10,000 infantry – to Ghent leaving behind a contingent to protect his fleet that had followed up from Gravelines to Damme. The fleet was too large (William the Breton gives a figure of 1700 ships) to all beach or dock here, so the rest anchored at the mouth of the River Swin. Ferrand quickly entered into a formal alliance with John who did not delay in sending help and in great force – perhaps as many as 700 knights augmented by mercenaries – under the command of Renaud de Dammartin, Hugh de Boves and William Longsword, the Earl of Salisbury. In a remarkably short time, on Thursday 28 May these arrived not far from Damme at Muiden. The main French force was still at the siege of Ghent. Those left with the fleet, including the mercenary captain Cadoc, were too preoccupied with the ransacking of Damme and the ravaging of the surrounding area to notice the threat; in so doing, they had left the fleet largely without defence. The allies arrived at Swin on Saturday 30 May to the astonishing spectacle of this huge but vulnerable target. Salisbury seized the moment and immediately launched a surprise attack on the fleet. It was a violent and spectacular success. John’s men cut the cables of 300 ships laden with corn, wine, meat, flour, wine and arms and other stores; they stripped another 100 of their supplies before burning them. The biographer of William Marshal paints a vivid picture of ‘ships at sea burning and belching forth smoke, as if the very sea were on fire’. The booty was immense; the effect on Philip’s invasion was terminal.

On the Sunday, Ferrand joined up with the allies who then hoped to capitalise further on their victory by turning on Damme itself. Philip, who knew the power of forced marches, responded to the news with accustomed celerity. The Philippidos has the French King declaring; ‘There is no point in stopping to hold counsel … The only thing to do now is the work of our arms.’ For the sake of speed, he dispatched Duke Peter of Brittany at the head of squadrons of light cavalry to relieve Damme, with other troops under the King following as quickly as possible. The first troops arrived on Monday. This time it was the allies’ turn to be surprised. The Duke, Prince Louis and William des Barres went for them at speed. The latter took to flight and to their ships. The tide was out, leaving a large number of ships still settled on the banks, so hundreds of John’s men could not escape by sea. Some clambered into small boats but many drowned in their haste. There was much slaughter; William the Breton puts allied fatalities at 2000, an inflated figure probably, but still an indication of the scale of the carnage. The French took numerous prisoners, the Count Renaud narrowly escaping being one of them. The counter-attack was small consolation for Philip. Seeing the extensive losses incurred by his fleet – Wendover talks of ‘irreparable damage’ – he knew the invasion was over. He torched what remained; not ‘out of his mind with rage’ and frustration as William Marshall’s biographer claims, but to prevent their being taken by the enemy. The presence of a strong English fleet offshore would have kept the rest of the French trapped at Damme anyway.

Philip once again sent out his incendiaries into Flanders and took Ghent. He eventually withdrew having achieved few conclusive results other than the unintended one of strengthening support for Ferrand against him. Even Damme was lost as the war continued intermittently into the spring of 1214. In England, John was overjoyed at this remarkable victory. Not only had the Damme operation brought spoils and glory, it had destroyed any invasion attempt for a considerable time; Philip’s naval forces had still not recovered by the following summer. John wished to profit from the momentum he was gaining and to deploy his buoyant forces, morale high, in a major Poitevin campaign in July. This involved yet another muster. The response was overwhelming indifference. Knights grouped together to approach the King to tell him that their constant readiness since spring, as decreed by John, meant that their financial means had been exhausted; they were prepared to go with John if he met their expenses, but John would have none of this. Barons from the north, that centre of anti-John sentiment, refused point blank to accompany the king, making the case that their feudal obligations did not extend to service overseas. As Ralph of Coggeshall also points out, they claimed ‘that they were already too worn out and impoverished by expeditions in England’.268 John’s temporary mastery of the British Isles had come at a high price. There had been at least five military musters over the previous year – four in 1213 alone – and the barons had had enough. In addition to these considerations, it is worth remembering that a campaign of national defence against a foreign invader who brought war into one’s own territory and threatened to appropriate land was always likely to elicit a more positive response than one for conquest abroad. In successfully denying the King for the first time they had laid down a significant marker.269 Once again John flew into one of his incandescent rages, and once again he took to the sea, this time to Jersey, in the forlorn hope that he would be followed. He was not.

John still headed a considerable force of mercenaries and continental troops. With these he went North again to repeat his earlier exercise of intimidation and to bring the Northerners to heel. Now another great victory – his diplomatic adeptness with the Papacy in May – exacted a small but telling toll: at the end of September Archbishop Stephen Langton chased after the King and at Northampton warned him that his actions contravened oaths and agreements made at the time of his submission to Rome. Langton threatened John’s army with excommunication and the King gave way. On 3 October at St Paul’s in London, John formally rendered, through the papal representatives Pandulf and Cardinal Nicholas of Tusculum, his kingdom of England to the Papacy. For the rest of the year the terms for the final settlement were agreed. These were not as onerous as they may seem. As Christopher Harper-Bill has concluded, John ‘lost remarkably little of the additional revenues he had accrued to the royal coffers during the Interdict, nor … of his effective ecclesiastical patronage. The political advantage, moreover, which stemmed from his submission to the Papacy was considerable, both before and after his unexpected death.’270

John continued to feed his finances into war preparations, pay-rolling his mercenaries and his continental allies, chiefly Emperor Otto of Brunswick, Count Renaud of Boulogne and Count Ferrand of Flanders. In the south, the picture was not positive. His ally King Pedro of Aragon had been killed at the Battle of Muret in September 1213, and a defeated Count Raymond of Toulouse came to England at the end of the year to receive a substantial payment. But it was affairs on the border of north-east France that really mattered. Here John’s abundant war subsidies kept the French engaged in costly, wearing warfare and helped to bring over the leading princes of the region, such as the Count of Holland and the Dukes of Brabant and Limburg, to England and her allies. As one historian has noted, ‘Immense sums were poured out by the English treasury in support of these princes, and large numbers of Flemish knights were retained in the king’s service by annual pensions charged on the exchequer.’271 John’s finances had help to buy and finance an impressive coalition. Whatever the relative wealth of Angevins and Capetians, as discussed earlier in the chapter, neither side had their military ability seriously curtailed by financial constraints.

John set a date at the beginning of February for the next planned expedition to Poitou. In further readiness, he made a truce with the Welsh and enlisted the reformed church hierarchy to smooth out issues of contention in his realm. Ferrand paid homage to John in Canterbury in January 1214 where, no doubt, war plans were made. Geoffrey Fitzpeter’s fifteen years as justiciar ended with his death in October; John replaced him with Peter des Roches, the sole loyal representative of the episcopacy in England in 1210, in January. It would seem that in the middle of November John had held a war meeting in Oxford. His distrust of his barons, always strong and worsened by their defiance in the summer, was such that he ordered them to come unarmed. The domestic political situation had clearly not improved; nonetheless, despite Ralph of Coggeshall’s observation that ‘few earls, but an infinite multitude of knights of lesser fortune’ sailed with John, Turner has noted that ‘a good number of his nobility actually accompanied the King to Poitou.’272 However, this was not a sign of commitment and loyalty, Turner adding that these included ‘some who would join in the rebellion against him by the next spring’.273 John left Portsmouth on 1 February accompanied by his wife and treasure. Most of his faith was placed not in his barons, whose presence with him was as much political as military, preventing them from conspiring at home (as many of those remaining did), but in his mercenaries, the Poitevins, and his powerful allies. This was the moment John had been waiting for since 1206. Everything was now poised for a monumental and decisive clash. The gathering war clouds were about to unleash an almighty storm that broke over Bouvines, one of the single most critical battles of the entire Middle Ages.

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