Anglo-French War (1213–1214)
PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: England, Holy Roman Empire
(Germany), and Flanders vs. France
PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): Poitou (west central France) and
Flanders (a principality of the Low Countries)
MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: A contest for possession
of lands in France formerly held by John II of England
OUTCOME: England and its allies were roundly defeated.
APPROXIMATE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF MEN UNDER ARMS:
Total unknown; English ships engaged in the naval battle
off the coast of Damme numbered 500 vessels.
TREATIES: Truce of Chinon, September 18, 1214
The previous ANGLO-FRENCH WAR (1202–1204) resulted
in England’s losing its vassalage in northwestern France.
Further troubles between English king John I (“Lackland”)
(1167–1216) and Pope Innocent III (c. 1160–1216) followed,
culminating in excommunication in 1209 and a
papal ban in 1213. To avoid backlash and rebellion at
home, John did penance and paid homage to the pope,
who lifted the ban and restored John to the church. He felt
that his losses in Normandy and his forced obeisance to the
pope seriously undermined his prestige, and he looked for
a way to bolster his faltering power base. He therefore
forged a grand coalition with his nephew, the Holy Roman
Emperor Otto IV (c. 1174–1218), and Ferdinand (1186–
1233), count of Flanders, to regain the lost territories in
northwestern France and defeat, once and for all, Philip II
(1165–1223) of France.
In March 1213, following a request for aid from Ferdinand,
who was being pummeled in Flanders by French
forces under Philip II, an English fleet led by the earl of
Salisbury surprised the French fleet off the coast of
Damme. The English fleet, numbering some 500 vessels,
burned or captured virtually all of Philip’s navy.
By February of the following year, John successfully
invaded the western French province of Poitou. His battle
strategy was to draw Philip’s army to him and away from
Paris, so that Otto and Ferdinand could march into the
capital. This plan failed because of Otto’s inept leadership
and repeated delays. Leaving his son Prince Louis
(1187–1226) in command in the south, Philip rushed
back to Paris in time to build up a formidable defense.
Meanwhile, in May young Louis defeated the English at
Poitou, forcing them to retreat to La Rochelle. The victory
at Poitou effectively ended the two-front war and set up a
showdown between Otto and Philip. On July 27 their two
forces met at Bouvines, a plateau outside Lille, then a part
of Flanders, and after two weeks of intense fighting the
French emerged victorious.
On September 18, 1214, the Truce of Chinon was
signed, ending an abbreviated war with serious consequences
for both John and Otto. The former was forced to
cede all English vassalage in France and return home,
weakened in prestige, to face his own internal crisis—the
revolt of the nobility that eventuated in the creation of the
Magna Carta (1215). As for Otto, his loss resulted in the
forfeiture of the imperial throne.
See also ALBIGENSIAN CRUSADE; ENGLISH CIVIL WAR
Further reading: Frank Barlow, The Feudal Kingdom
of England, 1042–1216 (London: Longman, 1972); John
Le Patourel, The Norman Empire (Oxford: Clarendon
Press, 1976); W. J. Warren, King John (New York: W. W.