(27 July 1214)

Philippe II Auguste at the Battle of Bouvines
(Modern illustration, artist and location of work unknown.)

The 'War' (1202-1214)
Campaign (1214)
Battle (27 July 1214)
Summary and Analysis

The 'War' of Bouvines (1202-1214)


Some may question titling the 1202-1214 armed conflicts between the English king John Lackland and the French king, Philippe II Auguste as a consolidated or congruous 'war'. However, there is a coherent unity to the struggle that culminated in the dramatic and epic battle on a 1214 July Sunday, aside the small hamlet of Bouvines. To name a war after its climatic engagement is not new, and the rationale will be explained in the summary and analysis at the end of this page. However, it is best understood after reviewing the discussion that follows.


Distant origins for the struggle between the French Capetian kings and the kings of England can be traced to Guillaume 'le Conquérant' [William the Conqueror] (1066-1087), duc de Normandie's conquest of England at the battle of Hastings (1066). This created an unusual feudal-political situation where a ducal vassal in France now held a parallel status of 'king' with his suzerain, the king of France, Philippe I (1052-1108). The French monarchs attempted to undercut the now 'Anglo'-Norman domains in France, and encouraged rebellions by the minor lords against the Norman 'duke-kings' whenever possible.

William the Conqueror's son, King Henry I (Beauclerc) of England (1068-1135) secured the ducal for Normandy from his rebellious brother, Robert Curthose (1054?-1134) at the battle of Tinchebrai (28 September 1106). In 1109, Henry I campaigned in the Vexin, a region in Normandy, to successfully prevent an attempt by Louis VI of France (1108-1137) [son of Philippe I] to divide Normandie with the duc d'Anjou.
In 1109, Henry I and his forces went to France because the Vexin, a valuable French region in Normandy, had been politically divided by Louis VI, the Angevin leaders, and Robert Curthose's son. Louis VI's side did badly in a sporadic series of raids against Henry. However, Louis VI continued with alternating raids and truces in an attempt to secure control of Maine and Bretagne [Brittany] in northwestern France. A major battle at Brémule (20 August 1119) was decisively won by Henry I, and Louis VI had to agree that suzerainty over Maine and Brittany belonged to Henry I. However, Henry I's claim to Maine was also resisted by the powerful comte d'Anjou, Fulk V (1092-1143).
In 1123, Henry I led a campaign into northwestern France to secure his possession of Maine. The 'war' became one of attrition, and in frustration, both opponents arranged for a marriage to ultimately resolve the contest. Henry I's daughter Mathilde [Matilda] (1102-67) [also widow of German Emperor] married Fulk V's son, Geoffroi [Geoffrey] 'Plantagenêt' (1129-1151) and duc d'Anjou upon his father's death in 1143. Henry I's sons had died before his death, and Matilda was designated his heiress to Normandie. Her claim to the English throne was contested in a civil war against Stephen, comte de Blois. It was a complex and drawn out conflict, carried on by Matilda's husband and later her son, Henri duc d'Anjou (1151-1189). In effect it was an Angevin conquest of the Norman inheritance that included the English crown, and incorporated England into a vast empire dominated by another [non Norman] French ducal dynasty. For before assuming the English throne, Henri duc d'Anjou married, in 1151, Aliénor [Eleanor] d'Aquitaine (1122?-1204), thus uniting her vast inheritance in southwest France to that of Anjou.

Emergence of the Angevin 'Empire'.

The most significant origins of the 'War' of Bouvines can be traced to the ascension of Henri, duc d'Anjou, duc de Normandie, and duc d'Aquitaine to the crown of England in 1154. Henri d'Anjou came into his extensive French ducal domains though inheritances from his father [Anjou], his mother [Normandie], and wife [Aquitaine]. His mother, Matilda also opened for her son a right to continue her claim to the Anglo-Norman crown of England. This latter had to be secured by military conquest. Though often characterized as a civil war in anglophone histories, the conflict was resolved by an Angevin invasion -- actually more than one military expedition -- which won for Henri d'Anjou the right to succeed Stephen as the king of England (r.1135-1154). Henri II d'Anjou, became Henry II of England (r.1154-1189). England became part of a much larger 'empire' that had its goegraphic and cultural center of balance in France.

Though the Angevin dynastic line led back to the original house of Anjou established by Foulques [Fulk] Nerra (987-1040), many historians identify Henri's impressive 'Angevin empire' as a 'second house of Anjou', that ruled over an 'Anglo-Norman-Angevin Empire'. At the end of this page is a link to a webpage on the 'Empire of Henri II d'Anjou'. More uniquely and more enduring, Henri would be associated with the nickname of 'Platagenêt' that was given to his father, Geoffroi. The name of 'Platagenêt' would be associated directly with him and his heirs. It would be 'Platagenêt' that remained with the dynasty on the English throne when the Angevin lands in France would be lost. As will be seen, the War of Bouvines begins the story of how the Angevin lands were lost to the 'Platagenêts'.
The dynastic, political arrangements were peculiar. Henry II was sovereign in 'Anglo' England, but as Henri II duc d'Anjou, he was just a vassal -- a duke in 'Norman-Angevin' France where he paid feudal homage to his suzerain, the king of France. The unusual situation was further exaggerated in that the size of just Heni II's French fiefs was more that triple the land that was directly a fief of the French king, Louis VII (1137-1180). In an era were land conveyed wealth and power, the situation presented a significant threat to the Capetian monarchy of France.
The contest between the dynastic houses that ruled England and France became more intense. The comparative military strengths of the two domains definitely favored Henry II of England. The French king, Louis VII, resorted to intrigue, and inciting or assisting revolts among the French vassals of the English duke-king. In the initial so-called Anglo-French War of 1159-89, Henry I and his forces invaded from Normandy in order to press a claim to Toulouse, where the comte resisted. Louis VII had positioned himself in the town of Toulouse before the arrival of Henry II's army. Henry II's did not want to besiege 'his suzerain' and withdrew, vowing revenge. Louis VII, and his son, Philippe II Auguste (1165-1223) found a weakness in Henry II's family, and was able to persuaded Henry II's sons to rebel [Anglo-Norman rebellion of 1173-74]. Eleanor, jealous of her husband's amours, also conspired with her sons and reduced Henry II's authority. Henry II died in 1189. .
Henry II's most capable and eldest surviving son was Richard Coeur de Lion [Lionheart], already made duc d'Aquitaine by his mother, became Richard I, king of England (1189-1199).
Philippe II and Richard I went on the Third Crusade to the Levant (1189-1192). Relations between the two deteriorated due to a variety of incidents. After the only significant military accomplishment, the seizure of St. Jean d'Acre (12 July 1191), Philippe II returned to France. Richard I departed the Levant in 1192, only to be captured as he was traveling though the lands of duke Leopold, of Austria, whom Richard had antagonized during the Third Crusade. Leopold put Richard in prison, and later turned the English monarch over to the German Emperor, Henry VI. Richard I's brother, John Lackland, and Philippe II conspired to delay Richard's return to England and France. Philippe proceeded with a series of small conquests of the 'Norman-Angevin' lands in France. He made some progress in the north, but not in the south, where vassals remained loyal to their duke-king, Richard, and did not trust John Lackland anymore than the French king. Eventually, Richard I's mother managed to pay the ransom and Richard returned to England in 1194.

Richard I's war with Philippe II (1194-1199).

Richard I immediately resolved differences with his brother John Lackland, and then proceeded to undo the incursions upon 'Norman-Angevin' lands by Philippe II. Between May 1194 and April 1199, a war was conducted between Richard I and Philippe II that involved considerable use of mercenaries, such as Martin, Algais, Mercadier, and Cadoc. Their presence introduced "a more professional and ruthless element" in the fighting. Philippe II enjoyed a few minor victories. However, Richard I demonstrated the most military prowess. He won noted victories at Gisors (29 September 1186), and at Fréteval (3 July 1194) in eastern Vendômois. Philippe II took Aumale (20 August 1196) after defeating a relief force led by Richard I. Richard I began the construction of Château-Gaillard in 1196, and sought to ally Raymond, comte de Toulouse to his side by renouncing the Angevin claims to that domain. Richard I's mercenary captain captured Milly (19 May 1197), and gained a valuable captive -- Philippe de Dreux, the Bishop of Beauvais, a redoubtable warrior and first cousin of Philippe II.

By threatening a trade embargo, Richard I coerced Baldwin, comte de Flandre, to attack the French king's lands in the north. Philippe II's defeat at Courcelles-les-Gisors (27 September 1198) was followed by the Truce of Vernon. However, Richard I's reconquest was not fully complete, and he had not gained any new territory. He continued with an expedition against the vicomte de Limoges, whom Philippe II had encouraged to rebel against his duke. In preparing to besiege the vicomte's castle at Châlus-Chabrol (26 March 1199), Richard I was wounded by a crossbow shot. Though he took the castle a few days later, an infection developed in Richard's wound and he died on 6 April 1199.


Upon Richard's death, John Lackland became king of England. Philippe II immediately made incursions into Normandy, as if testing John's resolve. He further offended John by declaring that Arthur, John's nephew, as duc de Bretagne and Normandie. Philippe II waited for an opportunity to make a major seizure of 'Norman-Angevin' lands.

John Lackland provided the excuse when, in 1200, he 'abducted' and married (30 August) the fiancé, Isabelle d'Angoulême, of Hugh 'le Brun', son of the comte de la Marche. John I then rejected a summons to appear (as duc d'Aquitaine) before King Philippe II, technically his suzerain. In 1202, John was declared 'a felon' and Philippe II seized Anjou, Brittany, Maine, Normandy, and Touraine. John Lackland struck back with a suprise raid into Poitou where his mother, Eleanor, was being held as a hostage by Arthur, duc de Bretagne, at Mirebeau. John was able to capture not only Arthur, but Geoffrey and Hugh de Lusignan. This bold move threw Philippe II's offensive in the north off balance, and the French king had to temporarly halt his conquest of Normandie. However, Arthur's mysterious death in April 1203 led many Breton lords and others to suspect John Lackland of murdering his nephew. The incident seriously undermined John Lackland ability to enlist support of the French barons, who were essential to his struggle.
In 1203, Philipp II resumed a vigorous campaign to secure Normandy and adjoing Angevin lands. He took Conches and Le Vaudreuil, Montfort-sur-Risle, Beaumont-le-Roger, and Radepont. Philipp II's most notable actions were Philippe II's capture of Château-Gaillard and the city of Rouen. Château-Gaillard was the most critical objective, and John Lackland attempted to save it by sending a relief force. It was a two-prong (land and river) expedition, which failed to effect a concentrated assault on the besieging French army. The river part fell behind schedule, and the land force under William Marshal and Lupescar was cut to pieces before the river force arrived. The English also attempted a diversionary invasion into Brittany, sacking Dol. However, Philippe II remained focused on his complete conquest of Les Andelys in Normandie.
John Lackland's departed from northern France in December 1203. In 1206, John I launched a campaign to secure the lands of his mother, Eleanor d'Aquitaine, in southwest France. Eleanor had died in April 1204, and her domaine was now threatened by a casual French offensive. John Lackalnd landed at La Rochelle (7 June) and led a force that relieved a French siege of Montauban, and he retook Saintonge. Angoulême remained loyal, and most of northern Poitou sided with their Platagenêt duke-king.
Philippe II and John Lackland agreed to a truce on 26 October 1206. The French king held Anjou, Brittany and Maine, as well as Normandie -- essentially the basic 'Angevin' calims of the Platagenêt line, less Aquitaine. Philipp II had all that he could manage in consolidating his conquests in northwest France to be interested in pushing further south. Except for brief periods of English occupation during the later Hundred Years' War, Anjou and Normandie were lost to the the Platagenêt kings of England.


Both Philippe II Auguste of France and John I ('Lackland') of England had to contend with serious side distractions in their war. Though separate from the basic issues underlying the war -- dispute over the 'Angevin Empire', or merely 'Platagenêt' lands -- these issues sometimes influenced the conduct of operations. These influencing issues are briefly sumarized as follows:

Papal disputes with the kings of France and England.

Philippe II rejected his second wife, Ingeborg of Denmark, as soon as they were married in 1193. The pope's 1194 denial of an annulment was ignored by Philippe II when the French king took a third wife, Agnès de Méran. In January 1200, pope Innocent III put the interdict on the kingdom of France. Philippe II submitted to the pope in September 1200 and acknowledged Ingeborg as his 'spouse'. However, it was not until 1213 (after Agnès de Méran's death) that Philippe II openly acknowledged Ingeborg as 'queen'.
John I Lackland entered into a serious breech with pope Innocent III in rejecting the latter's choice of bishop Langton as archbishop of Cantebury in 1205. John wanted the right to seclect the archbishop and aserted his kingly authority in taking church taxes. This led to the pope placing an interdict on the kingdom of England in March 1208, and to John Lackland being excommunicated in 1209. After resolving his own difficulties with the pope, Philipp II of FranceI was prepared to invade England In early 1213 under the pope's sanction. Faced with eminent invasion, John Lackland submitted to the pope in May 1213. The pope immediately withdrew his support of the French invasion, and Philippe II was forced to comply. In fustration, Philippe II used his readied military force to raid Flanders by land and sea. [Further developments in this operation are covered under the discussion of Flanders, below.]

Disputed claims to the German Impeiral Crown.

Between 1197 and 1208 Otto IV of the Brunswick House (Welf party) and Philip II of Swabia (Waiblinger party) fought for control of the German empire. Philip of Swabia was assassinated in 1208. Then Frederick II, the great Hohenstaufen (Stupor Mundi) became Otto's rival. Frederick allied himself with king Philippe II of France. Otto's ally was king John Lackland of England. Pope Innocent III at first supported Otto, who was coronated in 1209. Soon after, the pope and the emperor had a falling out, and Otto was excommunicated and 'deposed' in 1210. In 1211 Frederick II was elected 'king of Germany' and on his way to being made 'emperor' with the open support of both the pope and the French king, Philipp II.

Albigensian Crusades.

Albigensian Crusade began in 1209, and lasted to 1255. The pope continiously sought a more active participation by the French king in crushing the Cathars in southern France. However, Philippe II gave only token support to the crusade, as the French Capetian claims to southern French provinces was very week. Initially, Philippe II had fairly good relations with the comte de Toulouse, who became the initial target of the crusaders. The crusaders were led by French knights, whom Philippe II had to allow to go south. However, Philippe II was more focused on developments in northern France. A link to the Albigensian Crusades webpage is at the bottom of this webpage.


Philippe II made peace with Baudouin [Baldwin] IX, comte de Flandre, at the Treaty of Péronne in January 1200. Baudouin had to abandon his alliance with John I of England, and Philippe II gave him St-Omer and Aire. Baudouin departed on the Fourth Crusade in 1202, leaving as regent his brother, Philippe de Namur. Baudouin died durning the crusade, and Philippe II was able to exert considerable influence over the county. Philippe II sponsored the 1211 marriage of Ferrand, son of the king of Portugal, to Joan, Baudouin's eldest daughter and heiress. In 1212, Ferrand, now the new count, paid hommage to Philippe II for Flanders. However, Philippe II's son, prince Louis, seized St-Omer and Aire, claiming them as his mother's dowry. When Philippe II did not intervene, Ferrand took offense and drifted toward the French king's enemies -- John Lackland and emperor Otto. Ferrand refused to participate in Philippe II planned invasion of England in 1213. Philippe II saw this as treason in his vassal.
The French king, Philippe II's vindictive raid into Flanders caused the comte de Flanders, Ferrand, to request help from the English king. John Lackland immediatley sent a ready fleet [now free of protecting England as the French invasion had been canceled] from Portsmouth. About 500 English ships, under the command of the earl of Salisbury, caught the French fleet by surprise off Damme* in late March 1213. Virtually all the French ships were destroyed, Philippe II had to burn the rest and to withdraw the French forces. Ferrand, comte de Flandre, paid hommage to John I Lackland in May 1213. Ferrand even went further and agreed not to enter into any peace or truce with the king of France.
Renaud de Dammartin, comte de Boulonge, had made a similar agreement when he paid hommage to the English king in 1212. Though Renaud de Dammartin had been close to Philippe II, the comte had a bitter quarrel with Philippe II's cousin, Phillipe de Dreux, bishop of Beauvais. Philippe II was forced to seize Renaud's castle at Mortain. Whereupon, Renaud went to England in 1212 and paid hommage to John I Lackland. Renaud was a key player in establishing John Lackland's contacts with both the comte de Flandre and the German emperor, Otto IV.

* Damme was a small port village in the Zwyn estuary that connected the town of Bruges to the North Sea.


During 1211and 1212, John I Lackland forged a coalition with counts of Flanders and Boulogne, and with the deposed emperor Otto IV. The English king not only financing most of the coalition, but he also devised the grand strategy for the campaign of 1214 to defeat Philippe II. The plan called for John Lackland to launch an invasion into France from the southwest. This would be either a serious advance to reclaim lost Angevin lands, or a strategic diversion into the Loire valley with the initial goal of drawing the French royal army south. In the meantime, the German Emperor, Otto IV, with his Flemish and English contingents would invade France from the Flemish frontier, and drive toward Paris. By the end of 1213, John Lackland was prepared to take his revenge against Philippe II.


The Campaign of Bouvines (1214)

PHASE ONE of the CAMPAIGN of 1214

John I Lackland crossed la Manche [channel waters between England and France] to Aquitaine. Sailing from Portsmouth, he landed at La Rochelle on 15 February in 1214 with his mercenary army. He could not count on loyalty from the English barons, but called up his feudal levies from Guyenne [the term more commonly used for Aquitaine] and then marched into Poitou. Gathering more forces along the way, John I crossed the Loire and entered his family lands in Anjou. This had the desired result, as king Philippe II came south with his royal troops to meet the English king's. Philippe II marched via Samur and Chinon to cut John's line of retreat. John I abandoned Anjou and moved quickly back south to Limoges in April. At this point, John had succeeded in drawing Philip far south. Unfortunately for the allies, the emperor Otto and his forces were not ready to move. Aware of Otto's marshling of forces, Philippe II realized the danger of following John I further south. Philipp II left his son, prince Louis, with 800 knights, 2,000 sergeants and 7,000 infantry to face John Lackalnd. Philippe II, himself, with a small force of his personal houshold knights, returned to Paris and prepared to meet the threatened invasion from the north.

John I Lackland, possibly believing that the entire royal army had withdrawn toward Paris, immediately moved back into Poitou in May, crossed the Loire, and again invaded Anjou. John laid siege to La-Roche-aux-Moines* in June. However, in July, when learning that prince Louis was approaching with a French army and levies from Anjou and Maine, John Lackland retired hastily, leaving much of his siege train.

* La-Roche-aux-Moines is located just southwest of Angers, at Savennières [part of the Domaine aux Moines]. It occupied a strategic point on the Loire River and was evidently necessary to secure the lines of communications of any further advance northward by the English army. This location conflicts with illustrations in some print-published accounts that place the fortification between Le Mans and Angers.

PHASE TWO of the CAMPAIGN of 1214
Meanwhile Otto moved toward the Netherlands in March. He lost time rounding up his German forces, and dallied at Aachen to marry (10 May) the daughter of Henri de Brabant. When Otto finnaly began to campaign in June, he only had three of the principal German vassals with him plus his own Saxon troops. By 12 July he reached Nivelles, where he met with the dukes and other allies. These finally increased his forces to a reasonable size. However, by then it was too late to conduct a coordinated campaign according to his John Lackland's plan. By late June, Philippe II had mobilized his forces in northern France and was well aware of Otto IV's plans. As it turned out, Otto's new father-in-law felt it in his own best interests to keep the French king secretly advised of the coalition's intentions.
Otto IV had a very powerful army. The comte de Flandre brought a sizable cavalry unit. William Longsword, earl of Salisbury, and John Lackland's half brother, had a large contingent of mercenaries paid for with English money. These formed one division of the coalition army. It consisted of infantry and many hired knights.
When he saw that the German invasion was near at hand, Philippe II called up all his vassals and allies, proclaiming the ban in eastern, central, and northern parts of France. He could not draw on the western territories that were either occupied by or threatened by John. Philippe II had great numbers of top quality knights, but most of the infantry would have been rather mediocre levies.
Philippe II assembled his army at Péronne toward by early July, and took the offensive into Flanders, thinking the emperor was in front of him. Philippe II reached Tournai on 25 July, where he learned that Otto was to his south at Valenciennes. Philippe II decided to withdraw so as not to let Otto's army get behind the French line's of communications back toward Paris. About the same time, Otto learned of Philippe II's position, and moved north. On 26 July Otto was moving through Saint Amand, heading north toward Tournai, possilbly intending to engaged Philippe to the west of the city.
Hearing of the location of the French army from his spies, but not of its true size, Otto decided to attack rather than use the opportunity to capture Paris. Otto marched his army northwestward, reaching a point only nine miles south of Tournai as the French were abandoning the town. Otto pursued Philippe II, hoping to catch him with part of the French army on each side of the bridge at Bouvines. Reportedly, the duc de Brabant's secret messengers kept Philippe II alerted to emperor's plans. Still, what happened seemed to have caught the French king by suprise.


The Battle of Bouvines (27 July 1214)

The Sunday morning of 27 July found Philippe II's force stretch out over a long distance to the west of Tournai. French engineers had been sent ahead to widen the bridge at Bouvines, so the army could cross it more rapidly. The French advanced section, of mainly infantry and baggage, had crossed the only bridge over the Marcq River in the area, at the hamlet of Bouvines. Philippe II, himself, stopped with his main force of heavy cavalry (knights and sergeants) on the east side of the bridge at Bouvines. It was late morning, when to the east, the French rearguard was attacked by the advance guard of the emperor's coalition army, which had marched rapidly from Mortagne, south of Tournai. The emperor was anticipating to find the French in retreat, and his host was moving in such an array as to engage quickly an unprepared enemy in march configuration. As the French rearguard fended off the attacks of the allied advanced elements, Otto IV was all the more convinenced that he had the French at a disadvantage and in retreat.
Philippe II's rearguard of mounted sergeants was under the command of Adam viscomte de Melun. One of Philippe II's most experienced military leaders, the Hospitaller and bishop-elect Guérin de Senlis, rode in a position where he could monitor the rear of the French march column. When Guérin saw the imperial army rapidly approaching in full battle array, he hurried to report the to the king, who was watching his cavalry starting to cross the bridge at Bouvines. Philippe immediately recognized the potential for disaster, since there would be no way to get the rear third of his army across the bridge before it was destroyed. The French king ordered the entire army to turn around and form for battle, and directed the infantry to come back across the bridge at full speed.
Meanwhile Otto's troops smashed into viscomte Melun's detachment, forcing the French horse arbalesters and the Champenois sergeants to return to their aid. Then the duc de Bourgogne [Burgundy] departed from the main cavalry column, and threw his knights into the growing holding action. The enlarged French rearguard managed to delay the imperial army's vanguard for the necessary time it took for the main French cavalry to form up in battle array.

Otto IV, who had thought that he was pursuing, was surprised to encounter the French army drawn up in order of battle. In turn, the emperor had to form his own army hastily for a pitch battle, because if he turned around or tried to retreat he would surely have been destroyed. The imperial army was forced to align itself in respect to the positions being taken by the French.
Philippe II appears to have aligned his army at an angle across the road, on a bit of rolling terrain above the marshy river bank. He left his right flank area open so the retreating rearguard could form there. Remarkably, The French king seemed to have arranged for the orderly placement of each of the returning detachments. One after the other, he had them successively to extend his line northward, to the left. By the time the duc de Bourgogne approached the bridge in a fighting retreat he could see his suzerain's army completing its deployment into line of battle.
For his part, Otto, ordered each of his arriving units off to the right, extending his lines to match the French. The eye witnesses attest to Otto's astonishment at finding a powerful fighting force rather than a column of stragglers before him. The deployment procedure took at least an hour, during which the French infantry managed to get across the bridge and hurriedly into line supporting the nobility. The duc de Bourgogne used the time to rest and refresh his sorely taxed knights, who now took up their honored place on the right of the French line. The time was around noon, or early afternoon. The sun was at the back of the French forces.
Thus, two of the largest military forces in early thirteenth-century France came face-to-face, each in two lines about 2,000 yards wide. To get a picture of the scene one must recall that a medieval host was composed of a heterogeneous crowd of separate detachments raised by a wide variety of vassals and communities. Some minor barons might be liable to bring 10 or 20 mounted knights and twice the number in sergeants. Others would have private armies of 100 knights and their retainers. Various abbeys and bishops would have their mounted knights and foot troops under their own banners. Towns of all sizes would send their communal militia variously armed and experienced in combat.
The French army was arrayed as the necessity of rushing from line of march back into line of battle dictated. The fully armored knights were across the entire field. [There is some interputation that the French knights had to form in a single ranks, versus the preferred two so as to not be outflanked by the larger coalition army. The mounted, and more lightly armored, sergeants were in multiple ranks.] For command purposes, the medieval hosts grouped into the usual three 'battles' -- a center, with a right wing and a left wing. The French communal militia bands of crossbowmen arrived in time to pass through the cavalry, and take up a position in front of the center. The French levied pikemen formed behind the cavalry on each wing.
The French nobility was arrayed from right to left as follows: first the knights from Champagne, the host of Eudes de Bourgogne, the knights from Champagne, the followings of the Counts of St. Pol, Beaumont, Montmorency, and Sancerre and smaller feudal contingents; in the center the seventy available Norman knights (the rest still deployed in the south, facing king John Lackland), and the vassals from the Isle-de-France; on the left the retainers of Robert, comte de Dreux; Guillaume, comte de Ponthieu; Pierre, comte d'Auxerre; the bishop of Beauvais; and Thomas de St. Valery; plus many units from northwest France. The king, himself, stood in the front, center under the oriflamme and his personal blue ensign with the golden lilies.
The imperial army drew up with its main infantry body in the front line of the center, and the emperor's personal cavalry in the second. The imperial infantry in the center was composed of German and Netherlandish pikemen, considered the best in Europe. Beside his Saxon warriors the emperor placed the chivalry of Brabant, Limburg, Holland, and Namur. Behind his second line of infantry, Otto placed the great Iiperial silken dragon flying from the pole on which was a carved imperial eagle with golden wings. The entire imperial standard was mounted on a gold covered 'war chariot'. This he guarded with his personal retinue.
On the left Otto deployed the knights of Flanders and Hainault, commanded by comte Ferdinand, in the first line with their regional infantry in support. On his right wing, Otto relied on the army of the comte de Boulogne, a small body of Flemish knights, and the mercenaries under William Longsword [earl of Salisbury. They also had infantry in support including crossbowmen as well as pikemen.

The French opened the battle as Guérin led 300 horse sergeants from Soissons in a charge against the Flemish cavalry of noble knights. Gradually the Burgundy knights joined in. The entire French right and Imperial left wings became enmeshed in a general melée of mounted knights slashing at each other with sword and axe. The comte de Flandre was captured.

In the center, Otto sent his large body of pole-armed infantry forward. The assault was toward the position of Philippe II, among the French infantry of commune militia, which had formed in front. The German and Flemish pole-armed infantry soon disposed of the French militia and reached the line of French knights. Even though they greatly outnumbered the knights, such lightly armored urban militia were no match for the veteran knights in full armor. In the general struggle, king Philippe was pulled from his saddle and briefly threatened. However, seeing the distress signal executed by the king's banner carrier, the French knighs in the center battle rapidly joined around Philippe II, who had remounted and continued the fight. The French knights slaughtered the hostile foot swarming about the French monarch. The Fleming foot melted away, and the French nobility reached the position held by Otto and the chivalry of Saxony, Brabant and Limburg.

The knights on the French keft wing detected an advantage as the the coalition's right wing partly exposed their own right flank in the concentrated effort against the French center. Thus an advance of the French left managed to deliver a decisive blow, destroying the coalition's heavy cavalry on the right and capturing it leader, the earl of Salisbury. One of the senior coalition leaders, Hugh de Boves, fled.
The coaliton's largly mercenary infantry, on the right, led by Renaud de Damartin, contiuned to fight as they expected no mercy from the French knights or Philippe II. Renaud continued to resist with a few knights executing sorties from a protective circle of pole-armed mercenary infantry. Eventually the French knights and infantry killed the mercenaries and Renaud surrendered.
Back at the center, French chivalry reached the outnumbered but fresh Saxon and Brabantine knights, another wild melée ensued. Otto fought courageously among his retainers, wielding his war axe, while receiving multiple blows in return from a crowd of Frenchmen. Suddenly his horse was killed, throwing him to the ground. A few French knights nearly captured him before the Saxon guard surrounded their sovereign. A noble gave the emperor his horse, on which Otto fled the scene. Apparently he was so shaken up by the beating and near capture that he did not stop riding until he was back in Valenciennes.
Emperor Otto's departure essentailly destroyed the coalition's resolve. The Saxons and Westphalians manfully covered the retreat, until most of the remaining nobles were captured. On the imperial right, the comte Renaud formed his pikemen into a tight circle, and sheltered his remaining knights inside until the whole Brabancon force was gradually worn down and Reginald captured. The Netherlanders rode off, along with the already flying mercenaries.

The battle, fought on flat terrain favorable to cavalry action, lasted about 3 hours. Emperor battered imperial insignia was captured and taken to Paris.

The earl of Salisbury was quickly exchanged for the son of the comte de Dreux. Frederick of Hohenstaufen was crowned as emperor at Aachen in 1215. Ferrand remained in French prison until 1227, six years before his death. Renaud languished in prison for the rest of his life, which ended with suicide. John Lackland and Philippe agreed to a six-year truce at Chinon in 1214. However, the English king was humulated and his fate is described in the summary below. For some time, Flanders would remain under the French orbit.



French commander(s): Philippe II Auguste with approximately 4,000 knights and sergeants [heavy cavalry], and about 11,000 urban militia foot soldiers.
Coalition commander (s): Emperor Otto IV with approximately 25,000 men; a much larger proportion of foot soldiers and slighlty less cavalry than the French.
French: unknown, possibly less than 1,000 killed.
Coalition: possibly over 1,000 killed, and over 9,000 made prisoners.
No reliable figures were recorded for the strength or casualities of the opposing forces. Figures reported in many studies can be only guesses based upon general information of armies at the time.

Philippe II's demonstrated experienced leadership throughout, as well as being served by fine commanders among his knights. The French cavalry demonstrated remarkable control of the tactical situtation -- coming to thier king's aid and striking the vunerable flank of the coalition's right flank, and not loosing control in pursuit of early fleeing coaltion troops.

Bouvines was the most important battle from a political point of view for a century. Most historians cite the event as 'the battle that made France' and credit France's very existence to the victory of Philip II Auguste. It was a great pitched battle, the greatest of its age, in contrast to the many smaller and briefer engagements of the period. If the French monarch had lost, the Platagenêts might have won back their lost Norman and Angevin territories, and the counts of Flanders might have won freedom from the French king, and the German emperor might have retained Lotharingian territories. Not until the time of the emperor Charles V did France have so many enemies allied against it.

For England, Philippe II's victory of Bouvines more than confirmed the end of Platagenêt claims to Angevin France. It brought king John Lackland to his lowest ebb, and certainly promoted the English barons to revolt and to force upon the monarch the Magna Carta. Further, the English nobles went so far as to invite Philippe II's son, prince Louis, to take the crown of England.

Louis landed with a French army in May 1216. He was supported by many English [including the earl of Salisbury], Welsh, and Scot nobles. However, King John Lackland died in October 1216 and Louis returned to France in 1217 in an effort to get support from his father -- Philippe II was not interested in the project. With John Lackland's death, the majority of the English nobles changed their minds and threw their support to John Lackland's son, Henry III (1216-72). When Louis returned to England, he and his few English allies lost a land battle at Lincoln (20 May 1216), and reinforcements from France were lost in a naval battle off Sandwich soon after. Louis was forced to accept a small payment for abandoing his claim and returend to France, where he was later to rule briefly as Louis VIII (1223-1226).

It may be asked as to why the 1202-1214 warfare between the kings John Lackland of England and the Philippe II Auguste of France could be identified as a 'war' and labeled with the name of its concluding battle. The convention is suggested by the famous English military historian, Alfred Burne's studies The Crécy War (1337-1360) and The Agincourt War 1369-1453). Arguably and in comparison, Le dimanche de Bouvines (1214) established a more lasting outcome, as well as truly being the defining battle, of it's particular struggle.


An obelisk monument in the village of Bouvines commemorates the victory. The modern church occupies the location of a previous chapel, where, it is believed, Philippe II placed his crown upon an alter as he addressed his commanders prior to the battle. The scene has been depicted in a famous romantic painting by Emile Jean Horace Vernet (1789-1863) that now hangs in the 'Gallery of Battles' at Versailles (details from it shown below).

The modern curch has 21 stained glass windows depicting phases of the Battle. Since 1967, the association ‘Les Amis de Bouvines' has promoted the historical and cultural heritage of the commune and sponsors programs promoting the epic French victory in 1214. ***See the link to the association's website below.***

The fortress at La-Roche-aux-Moines (located southwest of Angers, near the modern village of Savennières) remained a formidable positon until being destroyed by the duc de Mercoeur in 1592, during the Religious Wars in France. Today, the vineyard of Coulée de Serrant, Château de la Roche aux Moines occupies the commanding heights above the Loire. There are no remains of the fortress, unless such may be among of the stone walls that terrace the vast grape fields. Legend attributes two grave sites as being those of 1214 English invaders.


Jim Bradbury, Philip Augustus, King of France 1180-1223 (Logman, London, 1998). [Highly recommended]

Georges Duby Le dimanche de Bouvines (Gallimard, Paris, 1973) as translated into English by Catherine Tihanyi as The Legend of Bouvines, War, Religion and Culture in the Middle Ages (University of California Press, Berkeley, 1990).

Eric Niderost, 'Beyond Chivalry's Code', Military History, February 1991, pp.46- 52.

Alistair Horne, 'The Battle That Made France', MHQ, The Quarterly Journal of Military History, Winter 2000, pp.88-96.

Steven Isaac, 'The Role of Towns in the Battle of Bouvines (1214)', The Journal of Military History, Vol. 79, No. 2, April 2015, pp.317-344. This article describes an aspect of the event in the evolution of Western military history.

[primary sources]
Gillaume le Breton Philippid [a poem] that provides the best tactical description of the battle.

Gillaume le Breton was the royal historian and "inevitably was biased." However, "William the Breton gives the most detailed account of the battle, but it is well covered by other sources, and better reported than the great majority of medieval battles. It was a great military victory, and it was a great political triumph." [Bradbury states p.279]   ***Also see webpage links below at end of this page.***

Béthune, the Anonymous of, 'Histoire des ducs de Normandie et des rois d'Angleterre', ed. L.V. Delisle, Recueil des Historiens des Gaules et de la France, M. Bouquet et L. Delisle, 24 tomes (Paris, 1869-1904); XXIV, pt II.   ***Also see webpage links below at end of this page.***

[attribution] Much of the text used in describing the battle of Bouvines was taken from the webpage article on the battle by John Sloan.


LINKS to related websites and pages:

Empire of Henri II d'Anjou Webpage
Saintonge War (July 1242) Webpage.
Hundred Years' War Website.
Albigensian Crusades (1209-1255) Webpage.

De Re Militari website with texts of
several primary sources on the Battle of Bouvines.

Website of ‘Les Amis de Bouvines':

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