This series has six easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: Eleanor of Aquitaine Intervenes .
The Angevin Empire was the lands in France that the Kings of England controlled. This empire was larger than the lands the French King controlled. When Richard “the Lion-hearted” died in 1199, his brother John succeeded him as King of England. Richard’s nephew Arthur disputed John’s claim. Philip, France’s King saw an opportunity.
This selection is 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.
Kate Norgate was one of the first women to be a successful historian. She specialized in this area of history. She coined the term, “Angevin Empire”.
Place: Plantagenet lands in France
It was arranged that John and Philip should hold a conference at Boutavant. John, it appears, kept — or at least was ready to keep — the appointment; but Philip either was, or pretended to be, afraid of venturing into Norman territory, and would not advance beyond Gouleton. Thither John came across the river to meet him. No agreement was arrived at. Finally, Philip cited John to appear in Paris fifteen days after Easter, 1202, at the court of his overlord the King of France, to stand to its judgment, to answer to his lord for his misdoings, and undergo the sentence of his peers. The citation was addressed to John as Count of Anjou and Poitou and Duke of Aquitaine; the Norman duchy was not mentioned in it. This omission was clearly intentional; when John answered the citation by reminding Philip that he was Duke of Normandy, and as such, in virtue of ancient agreement between the kings and the dukes, not bound to go to any meeting with the King of France save on the borders of their respective territories, Philip retorted that he had summoned not the Duke of Normandy, but the Duke of Aquitaine, and that his rights over the latter were not to be annulled by the accidental union of the two dignities in one person.
John then promised that he would appear before the court in Paris on the appointed day, and give up to Philip two small castles, Thillier and Boutavant, as security for his submitting to its decision. April 28th passed, and both these promises remained unfulfilled. One English writer asserts that thereupon “the assembled court of the King of France adjudged the King of England to be deprived of all his land which he and his forefathers had hitherto held of the King of France,” but there is reason to think that this statement is erroneous, and derived from a false report put forth by Philip Augustus for political purposes two or three years later. It is certain that after the date of this alleged sentence negotiations still went on; “great and excellent mediators” endeavored to arrange a pacification; and Philip himself, according to his own account, had another interview with John, at which he used all his powers of persuasion to bring him to submission, but in vain. Then the French King, by the advice of his barons, formally “defied” his rebellious vassal; in a sudden burst of wrath he ordered the Archbishop of Canterbury — evidently one of the mediators just referred to — out of his territories, and dashing after him with such forces as he had at hand, began hostilities by a raid upon Boutavant, which he captured and burned. Even after this, if we may trust his own report, he sent four knights to John to make a final attempt at reconciliation; but John would not see them.
The war which followed was characteristic of both kings alike. Philip’s attack took the form not of a regular invasion, but of a series of raids upon Eastern Normandy, whereby, in the course of the next three months, he made himself master of Thillier, Lions, Longchamp, La Fertéen-Braye, Orgueil, Gournay, Mortemer, Aumale, and the town and county of Eu. John was throughout the same period flitting ceaselessly about within a short distance of all these places; but Philip never came up with him, and he never but once came up with Philip. On July 7, 1202, the French King laid siege to Radepont, some ten miles to the southeast of Rouen. John, who was at Bonport, let him alone for a week, and then suddenly appeared before the place, whereupon Philip immediately withdrew. John, however, made no attempt at pursuit. According to his wont, he let matters take their course till he saw a favorable opportunity for retaliation. At the end of the month the opportunity came.
At the conclusion of the treaty in May, 1200, Arthur, after doing homage to his uncle for Brittany, had been by him restored to the guardianship of the French King. The death of the boy’s mother in September, 1201, left him more than ever exposed to Philip’s influence; and it was no doubt as a measure of precaution, in view of the approaching strife between the kings, that John on March 27, 1202, summoned his “beloved nephew Arthur” to come and “do right” to him at Argentan at the octave of Easter. The summons probably met with no more obedience than did Philip’s summons to John; and before the end of April Philip had bound Arthur securely to his side by promising him the hand of his infant daughter Mary. This promise was ratified by a formal betrothal at Gournay, after the capture of that place by the French; at the same time Philip made Arthur a knight, and gave him the investiture of all the Angevin dominions except Normandy.
Toward the end of July Philip dispatched Arthur, with a force of two hundred French knights, to join the Lusignans in an attack on Poitou. The barons of Brittany and of Berry had been summoned to meet him at Tours, but the only allies who did meet him there were three of the Lusignans and Savaric de Mauléon, with some three hundred knights. Overruling the caution of the boy-duke, who wished to wait for reinforcements from his own duchy, the impetuous southerners urged an immediate attack upon Mirebeau, their object being to capture Queen Eleanor, * who was known to be there, and whom they rightly regarded as the mainstay of John’s power in Aquitaine. Eleanor, however, became aware of their project in time to dispatch a letter to her son, begging him to come to her rescue. He was already moving southward when her courier met him on July 30th as he was approaching Le Mans. By marching day and night he and his troops covered the whole distance between Le Mans and Mirebeau — eighty miles at the least — in forty-eight hours, and appeared on August 1, 1202, before the besieged castle. The enemies had already taken the outer ward and thrown down all the gates save one, deeming their own valor a sufficient safeguard against John’s expected attack. So great was their self-confidence that they even marched out to meet him. Like most of those who at one time or another fought against John, they underrated the latent capacities of their adversary. They were driven back into the castle, hotly pursued by his troops, who under the guidance of William des Roches forced their way in after the fugitives, and were in a short time masters of the place. The whole of the French and Poitevin forces were either slain or captured; and among the prisoners were the three Lusignans and Arthur.
[* Mother of John, grandmother of Arthur, and heiress of Aquitaine.]
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