Front Matter Gauls Defeat Romans Vercingetorix Saints of France Attila, Scourge of God Story of Clovis Sons of Clovis Mayors of the Palace Charles the Hammer Pepin the Short Charlemagne in Lombardy Defeat at Roncesvalles Emperor of the West Louis the Pious War of Three Brothers Louis the Stammerer Paris defies the Sea Kings Rollo the Viking Hugh Capet Becomes King Bishop Betrays the Duke Robert the Pious The Peace of God Harold Visits Duke William William Sails to England The Battle of Hastings Peter the Hermit First War of the Cross Louis the Fat and Laon King Fights his Vassal Second War of the Cross French Queen of England How Normandy Was Lost Albigenses War Battle of Bouvines Story of Hugh de La Marche Reign of St. Louis St. Louis's last Crusade Peter the Barber Knights vs. Weavers Pope vs. Philip the Fair Sons of Philip the Fair Philip VI vs. Flanders Battle and Plague King vs. Charles the Bad The Jacquerie Stephen Marcel Betrays Paris Charles V and du Guesclin Du Guesclin Fights for France The Madness of Charles VI The Battle of Agincourt The Maid of Orleans End of Hundred Years' War King vs. Charles the Bold Troubles of Duchess Mary Charles the Affable Knight Without Reproach Battle of the Spurs Francis I, Gentleman King King Taken Prisoner Duke of Guise Defends Metz Calais Returns to France The Riot of Amboise Huguenot and Catholic St. Bartholomew Massacre War of the Three Henries The Protestant King Edict of Nantes Reign of Favorites Taking of La Rochelle Power of the Cardinal-King Reign of Louis XIV The Man in the Iron Mask The Height of Power Edict of Nantes Revoked War of Spanish Succession

History of France - H. E. Marshall

The Battle of Bouvines [1214]
Philip Augustus and Louis VIII

Meanwhile Philip had to do with the two "great and terrible lions" upon his flanks. John of England at length roused himself from his cowardly idleness and determined to make a fight for his French possessions. He agreed with the German Emperor that they should both attack France at the same time. So John, gathering a great army, landed at La Rochelle, while the German Emperor with some English troops marched upon the north of France.

Philip sent his son Louis to meet John. He himself marched northward to meet the Germans and their English allies. At Bouvines a great battle was fought. Before he went to battle Philip ordered mass to be said, When it was done he asked that bread and wine should be brought. Taking a piece of bread he dipped it into the wine and ate it.

Then turning to those around him he said: "I pray you, my good friends, that you eat and drink with me in remembrance or the Apostles who ate with our Lord, And if there be any among you who has evil thought or treachery in his heart let him come not near."

Then one of the lords came and took a piece of bread and dipping it in the wine said, "Sire, you shall see this day whether I be a traitor or no."

After him another and another of the knights pressed forward till there was such a great crowd round the table that it was hard to get near it.

When the King saw this he was greatly rejoiced and said to his barons: "My lords, you are my men and I am your King. Such as I am, I love you much. And I pray you keep this day my honor and yours. And if you see that the crown better befits one of you than me I will give it up willingly."

When the barons heard the King speak so they wept. "Sire," they said, "God guard us. We desire no other King than you. Now ride boldly against your enemies, for we are ready to die with you."

And not only were the knights and their vassals ready to die for the King; the common people and the citizens too were ready, and from almost every commune men flocked to his standard.

The German Emperor also made ready for battle. He called his knights together and spoke to them.

"It is against Philip himself and against him alone," he said, "that we must fight. He it is who must be slain first, for he alone is our enemy in all things. When he is dead, then you will conquer his whole kingdom and divide it among you as you will."

At the first sounds of battle Philip entered into a small chapel near and said a short prayer. Then he leaped upon his great war horse as gaily as if going to a wedding or a feast. "To arms! barons, to arms!" he cried, and darted forward amid a blare of trumpets.

[Illustration] from History of France by H. E. Marshall


On the French side the men of Soissons were the first to attack. But the knights against whom they charged disdained to fight with common men and they stood still. At length one of them, shouting "Death to the French!" rushed forward. The others followed and a terrible fight took place. Men and horses were mingled in wild confusion, the air was full of sounds of clashing armor, the clang of sword and steel, shouts of battle, cries of pain. Amid it all rode a gallant knight who cried with a clear and happy voice, "Remember your ladies!" To him it was but a tournament. Such was the reckless bravery of those days.

Above the roar of battle there rose from the French ranks the sound of singing. For behind the King marched his chaplain and another priest chanting psalms. "Deliver me, O Lord, from mine enemies. I flee unto Thee to hide me."

They sang as lustily as they could, but tears ran down their cheeks and sobs mingled with their singing. "And of Thy mercy cut off mine enemies, and destroy all them that afflict my soul."

The German knights had not forgotten the words of their Emperor. They fought their way to the King of France, they surrounded him and dragged him from his horse. As he lay on the ground helpless it seemed as if he would be trodden to death by horses' hoofs. Blow after blow fell upon him. But his armor was true and trusty, and he struggled to his feet, almost unhurt, although a lance head was sticking in his gorget.

His standard bearer waved high the golden oriflamme and shouted, "Help! To the King! Help!" Quickly his knights rushed to his aid and the Germans were scattered. The King leaped once more upon his horse and dashed into the fight.

The Emperor too was in danger. Twice one of the French knights had him by the neck. Twice he escaped by the swiftness of his horse. Then his horse being wounded suddenly reared and turning round fled away.

"You will see his face no more this day," said Philip, looking after the fleeing Emperor. And he was right. The Emperor's horse stumbled and fell. Quickly leaping on to another he fled far from the field.

Still the fight went on. But at length it ended in a great victory for the French. Yet so sure had the Emperor been of victory that in his camp four cart loads of ropes were found which had been brought to bind French prisoners. The French now made use of them to bind their foes.

Philip's return to Paris was a march of triumph. In every town and village through which he passed the bells were rung, and services of thanksgiving were held. The houses were hung with silks and flags, and wreathed in flowers. Flowers and green branches were strewn upon the streets, which were filled with a rejoicing multitude. In Paris never had such feasting been seen. The people came out to greet their King with shouts and songs of joy. Night was made as bright as day with hundreds of torches. For a week the city rejoiced.

And France might well rejoice, for the battle of Bouvines marked its birth as a nation. The victory was not the King's alone. It was the victory of the nation, the victory of the King, nobles, and people, all fighting for one end and that end, not the crushing of some revolted barons, but the freeing of their own land from foreign foes. France was awake.

While France was rejoicing, John of England fled homeward a beaten, angry, man, and he too found a nation awake. England was awake, and English barons, fighting for the English people, made him sign the Great Charter. Thus the true national life of France and of England began at the same time. Yet from this point the two countries went different ways. Step by step England went toward freedom. Step by step France went toward an absolute monarchy.

But, as you know, John did not keep the promises made by the Great Charter, and war began. Then English men sent to France offering the crown of England to Louis, the son of Philip. For Louis had married John's niece, and that seemed to some of the English to give him a title to the throne.

It was a splendid offer. Philip seemed to see the dream of his boyhood coming true. France would be great as in the days of Charlemagne. But the Pope forbade Philip to help the revolted Englishmen against their King.

"The kingdom of England," replied Philip, "has never been in the gift of Saint Peter. It never will be. The throne is vacant since John was condemned by our court as having forfeited it by the murder of Arthur."

But all the same, not wishing to offend the Pope, Philip forbade his son to go.

"Sire," replied Louis, "I am your liegeman for the fief you have given me on this side of the water. But it does not belong to you to decide about the kingdom of England. I beg you not to oppose me, for I will fight for my wife's heritage till death if need be."

So Louis went. Secretly his father helped him with money and gave him his blessing. Openly he pretended to forbid him.

Louis landed in England. The barons did homage, the kingdom seemed sure. Then John died. And with the death of John everything changed. The anger of the barons died away. Their hearts went out to John's son, little nine-year-old Henry. He had done no harm; why should they hate him? They forsook Louis and crowned Henry, and, bitterly disappointed, Louis returned to France.

Six years later, in 1223, Philip died. He was a soldier and a statesman, but he seldom fought for the mere love of fighting. He had doubled the size of France, yet he was not, ruthless, for he had loved justice and peace.

On his deathbed he begged his son Louis to do good justice to the people, and above all to protect the poor and the little against the insolent and the proud.

Louis, the new King of France, was a grown man, thirty-six years old, when he came to the throne. To make sure of the crown the Capetian princes had always been crowned during the lives of their fathers. Louis VIII was the first who was not so crowned. The kingdom was so sure and safe now that there was no need. Besides, Louis seemed to have a double claim to the throne, for his mother was a descendant of Charlemagne. It pleased the French people to think that with Louis VIII they returned to the family of Charles the Great. There is little to tell of Louis VIII's reign, for it lasted only three years. It was but a continuation of that of his great father.

Yet, although his reign was but a continuation of his father's, Louis was by no means great like Philip Augustus. An old writer said of him that his chief fame lay in being the son of a great father, and the father of a great son. Indeed, had it not been for his beautiful wife, Blanche of Castile, he might have proved himself a mere Do-nothing King. But she was proud and beautiful, had a firm will and high courage, and knew well how to rule, and greatly aided her husband.

Like his father, Louis fought with the English, for hardly was he seated on the throne when Henry sent messengers to him asking him to restore all the lands which Philip had conquered. The Pope too asked him to restore them.

"Not an inch of the land which my father left me in dying shall be given back to the English," replied Louis.

But Henry would not meekly give in to this and he made war. It did him no good, however. He only lost some more of the very little remaining to him of his French possessions.

The war against the Albigenses too went on, and in this, unlike his father, Louis took part. He besieged and took the town of Avignon. It only remained to besiege and take Toulouse to subdue the whole of the South. But the year was far advanced, so Louis turned northward, meaning to spend the winter in Paris and return in the spring to take Toulouse. But on his way north he became ill and died.