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King Richard I of England Versus King Philip II Augustus

Published Wednesday, August 23, 2006 in Military History  | Print This Post Print This Post  | Email This Post Email This Post

We have thought it proper to inform you of what happened to Richard, king of England, the enemy of our empire and disturber of your kingdom…he is now in our power. We know this news will bring you great happiness.’ With these words, addressed in a letter to Philip II Augustus, Capetian king of France, the riddle of Richard the Lionheart’s whereabouts had been resolved. Now, with the king of England locked in the firm grasp of Henry VI, the Holy Roman emperor, and the campaign season of 1193 approaching, Philip had a clear chance to regain his family’s honor and begin the destruction of its longtime nemesis, the Angevin empire.

Almost a year before, on December 27, Philip Augustus had arrived in Paris a bitter man. He had recently returned from the Third Crusade, his health damaged and his pride badly mauled. Richard had outshone and outspent Philip at each step — at Messina in Sicily as the crusading forces waited for departure to the Holy Land, and then at the Siege of Acre. There was a raft of other arguments and bickering, both petty and major. But one insult had been greater than all the others combined — in late March 1191, while in Sicily, Richard had rejected his long-term betrothal to Philip’s sister Alice and announced his decision to marry Berengaria of Navarre. Twisting the knife further, Richard claimed that Alice had been his father’s mistress and had borne him an illegitimate son.

To keep the crusade on the road and assure that he would not be held responsible for its failure, Philip had to swallow his pride and accept a 10,000-mark payoff. Part of Alice’s dowry was the Norman borderlands of the Vexin and the great fortress of Gisors. Philip agreed that this territory was to remain in Richard’s hands and that it would be handed on to his male descendants should he have any. Those vitally strategic lands would revert to Philip’s control if Richard died without a legitimate heir. If Philip died without an heir, the territory would be considered part of Normandy.

For Philip it was the worst of humiliations. The English kings paid homage to the kings of France for their continental lands, and now Richard, the vassal, had freely slandered the Capetian name and had forced Philip to give up territory that by right should have returned to his control. The power of the French kings was seemingly at a low ebb, and it would take all Philip’s skill, intelligence and cunning to reverse his position.

Crossing the Line
In tackling Richard’s power base, Philip was treading a fine line. Richard was still on crusade, and the rules were very clear: A Crusader’s lands were protected by the church, and they could not be attacked while he was still away. That, of course, did not stop Philip from making the necessary moves to retrieve Alice’s dowry lands and more if possible.

On January 20, 1192, Philip met Richard’s seneschal of Normandy, William of FitzRalph, at a conference between Gisors and Trie. There, Philip produced fake documents that he claimed were drawn up with Richard in Messina, outlining the deal struck in March 1191. Richard had supposedly agreed that Alice’s dowry lands in the Norman Vexin were to be handed over to Philip. Suspecting it was a ruse, FitzRalph and the Norman barons rejected the French king’s demands.

In hindsight, Philip’s efforts seem to be the spadework for building up a casus belli rather than a determined effort to start a drive into Angevin lands, which he was certainly not ready to do. Besides, he had bigger fish to fry. Many nobles who owed direct homage to Philip had died in the Holy Land, and many had left the French king territory — particularly Count Philip of Flanders, who had bequeathed the prosperous Artois region. If Philip were to fight a major war with the Angevin empire, he would need to secure those territories and their resources.

During 1192 Philip wooed over the men who would form a bloc against Richard’s supporters. Key figures among them were Count John, the Lionheart’s brother, Count Ademar of Angoulème, Count Baldwin VIII of Flanders and Count Raymond of Toulouse.

Philip had also built up pressure on the local lords of the Vexin, men who governed territories on the boundaries between the French and English kings’ lands and who were obligated to both. But now, with Richard locked up — possibly indefinitely, as had happened to Robert of Normandy, brother of England’s Henry I — many realized they would soon have no choice but to turn to the French king. As historian John Gillingham has noted, If they did not leap on the bandwagon they were liable to be run down.

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