Post-classical history

Philip II Augustus of  France (1165-1223)

King of France (1180-1223) and leader of the French contingent in the Third Crusade (1189-1192), who enabled the Capetian monarchy finally to gain the upper hand over its Anglo-Norman rival.

Philip was the son of King Louis VII and Adela (d. 1206), daughter of Count Thibaud II of Champagne. At the time of his birth, it seemed that the Capetian Crown was far less powerful than that of Henry II Plantagenet, king of England. Henry ruled Anjou, Maine, and Normandy, and, since his marriage (1152) to Eleanor, the former wife of Louis VII, the vast duchy of Aquitaine. The very birth of Philip seemed almost miraculous, as Louis had previously had only daughters.

Philip was crowned king of France in 1180, shortly before the death of Louis. He immediately married Isabella of Hainaut, who was to give him a son, the future Louis VIII (1187). Isabella died in 1190. Three years later Philip married the beautiful and pious Ingeborg of Denmark, who, for reasons that remain unclear, seems to have produced an intense disgust in Philip from the time of their wedding night; he consigned her to a monastery and set about trying to obtain a divorce, which was long refused by Celestine III and Innocent III, producing a serious conflict between the papacy and France. In 1196 Philip was finally able to marry his mistress, Agnes of Meran, whose children by him were legitimized.

Like his father, Philip supported several rebellions of the sons of Henry Plantagent: Henry “the Young King” (d. 1183), Geoffroy (d. 1186), and finally Richard the Lionheart. Eventually defeated at Le Mans, the elder Henry sought refuge in Chinon, where he died in 1189. However, his successor Richard was to prove an even more dangerous rival for Philip.

In response to the capture of Jerusalem by Saladin in 1187, Richard and Philip took the cross at Gisors on 21 January 1188. Their departures were delayed by the deaths of Henry II and of Isabella (15 March 1190): they left Vézelay on 4 July 1190 with the intention of meeting in Sicily, where the animosity between them grew. Richard indeed outshone Philip in his splendor and also rejected his longstanding fiancée, Philip’s half-sister Alice, who he claimed had been the concubine of Henry II. Philip released Richard from his engagement for 10,000 marks. Richard then married Beren- garia of Navarre in Cyprus, which he seized before landing in triumph at Acre (mod. ‘Akko, Israel). Philip was already there, having been involved in the siege of Acre, held by Saladin’s troops, since 20 April 1191. The crusader assaults on the city often took place without the two kings, who were both suffering from an illness that caused fever as well as loss of hair and nails. Philip in particular was severely ill. Acre finally capitulated on 12 July 1191: the town was to be surrendered, the Muslims were to free 1,200 Christian captives and pay a ransom of 200,000 bezants, and Saladin was to return the relic of the True Cross, which he had captured at the battle of Hattin (1187).

Although Jerusalem had still not been recovered, Philip II soon decided to return to France. His own illness and the illness of his only son (then four years old), as well as rumors of attempts to poison him, were all put forward by Philip and his court, but his motivations were in fact probably political: the count of Flanders, Philip of Alsace, had died at Acre on 1 June, and Philip II wanted to assert his right of succession over Artois and thus extend his domains toward the north.

As soon as he returned to France, Philip took advantage of Richard’s absence from his domains by supporting the rebellion of his brother John, lord of Ireland. When Richard was captured by Duke Leopold V of Austria and handed over to Emperor Henry VI, Philip and John offered 100,000 marks to have him kept a prisoner. Richard’s mother Eleanor, however, succeeded in obtaining his freedom, and Richard returned to England on 13 March 1194. He immediately proceeded to attack, and Philip was defeated at Fréteval (4 July). Though he managed to evade capture, Philip lost his treasury and numerous chancery documents. Hostilities continued, with Richard having the upper hand, until the king of England died at Châlus (6 April 1199).

John now succeeded his brother, but, lacking many of the qualities that Richard possessed, he made several political errors. He married Isabella of Angoulème but failed to compensate the fiancéhe had ousted, Hugh IX of Lusignan. The latter’s family lodged a complaint with the king of France as lord of both parties. Philip seized the opportunity and summoned John to his court. When John failed to appear, the court ordered the confiscation of his fiefs (28 April 1202). Philip proceeded to enforce the sentence: in March 1204 his troops seized Château-Gaillard and invaded Normandy. All the Plantagenet territories north of the Loire were soon in his hands, and Normandy, Anjou, and Maine were annexed to the crown. The French armies then crushed a coalition involving John, Emperor Otto IV, Ferrand of Flanders, and other northern lords, first at La Roche-aux-Moines and then at Bouvines (22 July 1214). The battle of Bouvines marked the final triumph of the Capetian Crown.

Philip intervened little in the Albigensian Crusade (1209-1229). However, his son and successor Louis VIII was able to gain control of the lands of the count of Toulouse. Philip died in 1223, having made France the foremost power in the West. The administrative reforms undertaken under his reign also played an important part in this achievement.

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