Post-classical history

Louis VIII of France (1187-1226)

King of France (1223-1226) and participant in the Albigensian Crusade (1209-1229).

The son of Philip II of France and his first wife, Isabella of Hainaut, Louis was active in royal policy from 1212. In 1213 Pope Innocent III threatened to depose King John of England because of the latter’s refusal to accept the election of Stephen of Langton as archbishop of Canterbury, and asked Philip to lead a crusade against John as an enemy of the church. At the same time, Louis took the cross, with the aim of joining the Albigensian Crusade in response to an appeal from Simon of Montfort. While preparations were under way, Philip called upon his son to undertake a campaign against John, concluding an agreement with him (8 April 1213) against the eventuality that Louis might gain the English throne, but John’s submission of England and Ireland to Innocent as a papal fief prevented Louis’s planned crusade. In 1214 Louis successfully defended the Loire Valley against John’s forces, which were decisively defeated by his father at Bouvines in late July, freeing Louis for his long- delayed forty days’ service in the Albigensian Crusade, for which he left in April 1215.

Louis made a second forty-day crusade in 1219, after the death of Simon of Montfort in 1218 led to renewed instability in the region. The reason for this second crusade was overtly political. Philip and Louis worked hard to incorporate Languedoc into their domains, an aim achieved by Louis as king when he invaded and annexed the region in 1226. At the invitation of opponents of King John, Louis led an expedition to England in May 1216 and soon gained control of eastern England, but John’s death in October and the coronation of his son changed the situation and led to Louis’s defeat. Officially, his father had not supported his venture, which had led to Louis’s excommunication, but unofficially it was another example of the successful partnership between the two. During his short reign as king, Louis VIII did much to consolidate his father’s work of expansion. He died on 8 November 1226 and was succeeded by his son Louis IX.

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