Today’s installment concludes 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.
If you have journeyed through all of the installments of this series, just one more to go and you will have completed a selection from the great works of six thousand words. Congratulations!
Previously in Philip Breaks the Angevin Empire.
Place: Plantagenet lands in France
An English chronicler says that John “being unwilling” — or “unable” — “to succor the besieged, through fear of the treason of his men, went to England, leaving all the Normans in a great perturbation of fear.” It is hard to see what they feared, unless it were John’s possible vengeance, at some future time, for their universal readiness to welcome his rival. Not one town manned its walls, not one baron mustered his tenants and garrisoned his castles, to withstand the invader. Some, as soon as John was out of the country, openly made a truce with Philip for a year, on the understanding that if not succored by John within that time they would receive the French King as their lord; the rest stood passively looking on at the one real struggle of the war, the struggle for Château Gaillard.
At length, on March 6, 1204, the Saucy Castle fell. Its fall opened the way for a French advance upon Rouen; but before taking this further step Philip deemed it politic to let the Pope’s envoy, the Abbot of Casamario, complete his mission by going to speak with John. The abbot was received at a great council in London at the end of March; the result was his return to France early in April, in company with the Archbishop of Canterbury, the bishops of Norwich and Ely, and the earls of Pembroke and Leicester, all charged with a commission “to sound the French King, and treat with him about terms of peace.” On the French King’s side the negotiation was a mere form; to whatever conditions the envoys proposed, he always found some objection; and his own demands were such as John’s representatives dared not attempt to lay before their sovereign — Arthur’s restoration, or, if he were dead, the surrender of his sister Eleanor, and the cession to Philip, as her suzerain and guardian, of the whole Continental dominions of the Angevin house.
Finally, Philip dropped the mask altogether, and made a direct offer, not to John, but to John’s Norman subjects, including the two lay ambassadors. All those, he said, who within a year and a day would come to him and do him homage for their lands should receive confirmation of their tenure from him. Hereupon the two English earls, after consulting together, gave him five hundred marks each, on the express understanding that he was to leave them unmolested in the enjoyment of their Norman lands for a twelvemonth and a day, and that at the expiration of that time they would come and do homage for those lands to him, if John had not meanwhile regained possession of the duchy. Neither William the Marshal nor his colleague had any thought of betraying or deserting John; as the Marshal’s biographer says, they “did not wish to be false”; and when they reached England they seem to have frankly told John what they had done, and to have received no blame for it.
The return of the English embassy was followed by a letter from the commandant of Rouen — John’s “trusty and well-beloved” Peter of Préaux — informing the English King that “all the castles and towns from Bayeux to Anet” had promised Philip that they would surrender to him as soon as he was master of Rouen, an event which, Peter plainly hinted, was not likely to be long delayed. This information about the western towns was probably incorrect, for it was on Western Normandy that Philip made his next attack. John meanwhile had in January imposed a scutage of two marks and a half per shield throughout England, and, in addition, a tax of a seventh of movables, which, though it fell upon all classes alike, the clergy included, he is said to have demanded expressly on the ground of the barons’ desertion of him in Normandy.
The hire of a mercenary force was of course the object to which the proceeds of both these taxes were destined; but they took time to collect and John soon fell back upon a readier, though less trustworthy, resource, and summoned the feudal host of England to meet him at Portsmouth, seemingly in the first week of May. It gathered, however, so slowly that he was obliged to give up the expedition. Philip was about this time besieging Falaise; he won it, and went on in triumph to receive the surrender of Domfront, Séez, Lisieux, Caen, Bayeux, Coutances, Barfleur, and Cherbourg. He was then joined by John’s late ally, the Count of Boulogne, as well as by Guy of Thouars, the widower of Constance of Brittany; and these two, their forces swelled by a troop of mercenaries who had transferred their services from John to Philip after the surrender of Falaise, completed the conquest of Southwestern Normandy, while the French King at last set his face toward Rouen. He was not called upon to besiege it, nor even to threaten it with a siege. On June 1, 1204, Peter de Préaux made in his own name, and in the names of the commandants of Arques and Verneuil, a truce with Philip, promising that these two fortresses and Rouen should surrender if not succored within thirty days. The three castellans sent notice of this arrangement to John, who, powerless and penniless as he was, scornfully bade them “look for no help from him, but do whatsoever seemed to them best.” It seemed to them best not even to wait for the expiration of the truce; Rouen surrendered on June 24th, and in a few days Arques and Verneuil followed its example.
Thus did Normandy forsake — as Anjou and Maine had already forsaken * — the heir of its ancient rulers for the King of the French.
[* In 1199, by acknowledging Arthur as their liege lord and Richard’s lawful heir.]
This ends our series of passages on Philip Breaks the Angevin Empire by Kate Norgate from his book John Lackland published in 1902. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.
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