John knew not whom to trust; he could, in fact, trust no one; and herein lay the explanation of his restless movements, his unaccountable wanderings, his habit of journeying through byways, his constant changes of plan.
Continuing Philip Breaks the Angevin Empire,
our selection from John Lackland by Kate Norgate published in 1902. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. The selection is presented in six easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in Philip Breaks the Angevin Empire.
Place: Plantagenet lands in France
Philip was at that moment busy with the siege of Arques; on the receipt of these tidings he left it and turned southward, but he failed, or perhaps did not attempt, to intercept John, who, bringing his prisoners with him, made his way leisurely back to Falaise. There he imprisoned Arthur in the castle, and dispatched his victorious troops against Arthur’s duchy; they captured Dol and Fougères, and harried the country as far as Rennes. Philip, after ravaging Touraine, fired the city of Tours and took the citadel; immediately afterward he withdrew to his own territories, as by that time John was again at Chinon. As soon as Philip was gone, John, in his turn, entered Tours and wrested the citadel from the French garrison left there by his rival; but his success was won at the cost of another conflagration, which, an English chronicler declares, was never forgiven him by the citizens and the barons of Touraine.
For the moment, however, he was in luck. In Aquitaine he seemed in a fair way to carry all before him without striking a blow. Angoulême had passed into his hands by the death of his father-in-law on June 17th. Guy of Limoges had risen in revolt again, but at the end of August or early in September he was captured. The Lusignans, from their prison at Caen, made overtures for peace, and by dint of protestations and promises succeeded ere long in regaining their liberty, of course on the usual conditions of surrendering their castles and giving hostages for their loyalty. It was almost equally a matter of course that as soon as they were free they began intriguing against John. But the chronic intrigues of the south were in reality — as John himself seems to have discovered — a far less serious danger than the disaffection in his northern dominions. This last evil was undoubtedly, so far as Normandy was concerned, owing in great measure to John’s own fault. He had entrusted the defense of the Norman duchy to his mercenaries under the command of a Provençal captain — whose real name is unknown — who seems to have adopted for himself the nickname of Lou Pescaire (“the Fisherman”) — which the Normans apparently corrupted into “Louvrekaire” — and who habitually treated his employer’s peaceable subjects in a fashion in which other commanders would have shrunk from treating avowed enemies. Side by side with the discontent thus caused among the people there was a rapid growth of treason among the Norman barons — treason fraught with far greater peril than the treason of the nobles of Aquitaine, because it was more persistent and more definite in its aim; because it was at once less visible and tangible and more deeply rooted; because it spread in silence and wrought in darkness; and because, while no southern rebel ever really fought for anything but his own hand, the northern traitors were in close concert with Philip Augustus. John knew not whom to trust; he could, in fact, trust no one; and herein lay the explanation of his restless movements, his unaccountable wanderings, his habit of journeying through byways, his constant changes of plan. Moreover, besides the Aquitanian rebels, the Norman traitors, and the French enemy, there were the Breton partisans of Arthur to be reckoned with. These had now found a leader in William des Roches, who, when he saw that he could not prevail upon John to set Arthur at liberty, openly withdrew from the King’s service and organized a league of the Breton nobles against him.
These Bretons, reinforced by some barons from Anjou and Maine, succeeded, on October 29, 1202, in gaining possession of Angers. It may have been to watch for an opportunity of dislodging them that John, who was then at Le Mans, went to spend a fortnight at Saumur and another at Chinon. Early in December, however, he fell back upon Normandy, and while the intruders were harrying his ancestral counties with fire and sword, he kept Christmas with his Queen at Caen, “faring sumptuously every day, and prolonging his morning slumbers till dinner-time.” It seems that shortly afterward the Queen returned to Chinon, and that in the middle of January, 1203, the enemies at Angers were discovered to be planning an attempt to capture her there. John hurried to Le Mans, only stopping at Alençon to dine with Count Robert and endeavor to secure his suspected loyalty by confirming him in all his possessions. No sooner had they parted, however, than Robert rode off to the French court, did homage to Philip, and admitted a French garrison into Alençon. While John, thus placed between two fires, was hesitating whether to go on or to go back, Peter des Préaux succeeded in getting the Queen out of Chinon and bringing her to her husband at Le Mans; thence they managed to make their way back in safety to Falaise.
This incident may have suggested to John that it was time to take some decisive step toward getting rid of Arthur’s claims. According to one English chronicler, some of the King’s counsellors had already been urging this matter upon him for some time past. They pointed out that so long as Arthur lived, and was neither physically nor legally incapacitated for ruling, the Bretons would never be quiet, and no lasting peace with France would be possible. They therefore suggested to the King a horrible scheme for rendering Arthur incapable of being any longer a source of danger. The increasing boldness of the Bretons at last provoked John into consenting to this project, and he dispatched three of his servants to Falaise to put out the eyes of the captive. Two of these men chose to leave the King’s service rather than obey him; the third went to Falaise as he was bidden, but found it impossible to fulfil his errand. Arthur’s struggles were backed by the very soldiers who guarded him, and the fear of a mutiny drove their commander, Hubert de Burgh, to prevent the execution of an order which he felt that the King would soon have cause to regret. He gave out, however, that the order had been fulfilled, and that Arthur had died in consequence.
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