Day in History: Birth of Louis VIII the Lion

  September 5, 2012 at 8:05 pm by

Louis VIII the Lion

Louis VIII of France earned his epithet “the Lion” for the courage he displayed on the battlefield, for seizing back many of the lands that were lost to the English (such as Avignon, Poitou, Saintonge, Languedoc) and for his strong, wilful character. Yet he is arguably most famous for being the only French Monarch who succeeded in invading most of England and claiming the English Throne, even if temporarily.

Louis was born on 5 September 1187, the son of Philip II of France and Isabella of Hainaut. His father was the last King of the Franks (from 1180 to 1190) and the first King of France (from 1190 until his death in 1223). From his mother, Louis inherited the County of Artois, part of Isabella’s dowry. The union of Philip II and Isabella of Hainaut was successful from genealogical point of view since it united the Carolingian and Capetian dynasties (her father, Baldwin V, was a descendant of Charlemagne). However, from personal point of view it was initially a disaster. Isabella was only 10 years old at the time of her marriage, but by 1184, Philip II was distancing himself from his wife due to her inability to provide an heir – and that despite the fact she was only 14 at the time. Philip even went as far as to call a council at Sens to repudiate her; however, Isabella appeared barefoot and dressed as a penitent, gaining the sympathy of the people who had gathered. Her appearance and appeals enraged people who even considered storming the Palace; Philip was then forced to abandon his plans. The long-awaited heir, Louis, was born in 1187, more than 7 years after his parents’ marriage (his mother was 17 at the time of his birth).

King John I of England

From early age, Louis proved himself to be a capable commander; his father trusted him enough to give Louis the command of the front against the English possessions in middle France during King John of England’s unsuccessful campaign to reclaim Normandy in 1214. Two years later, tables turned and it was Louis who led an invasion force against the English.

In 1215, the English barons rebelled in the First Baron’s War against King John and offered the Throne to Louis. It was a surprisingly unanimous decision, greatly influenced by the English ancestry of his young wife, Blanche of Castile: she was the daughter of Alfonso VIII of Castile and Eleanor of England, herself the daughter of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Louis landed on the Isle of Thanet on 21 May 1216; he met no resistance and triumphantly entered London. Louis was declared (but not crowned) King at St Paul’s Cathedral amid great pomp, cheers and general goodwill; most of the country’s nobility as well as Alexander II of Scotland had gathered to give homage. Within months, Louis controlled most of England: the future seemed bright and it appeared France and England are destined to share a King. However, the situation dramatically changed with King John’s death in October of 1216: with the unpopular King’s demise, most barons deserted Louis’ side in favour of John’s son, the young Henry III. William Marshall, who acted as a regent for the new King, called for the English “to defend our land”. His calls were heard and Louis’ army was beaten at the Battle of Lincoln on 20 May 1217, followed by a naval defeat in the Battle of Sandwich on 24 August 1217.

Blanche of Castile

Louis’ position in England was becoming shakier by day; once the ships that attempted to bring supplies to him were captured, Louis was forced to abandon his plans to conquer England and signed the Treaty of Lambeth. Although no surviving copy of the treaty exists, its main provisions are known: an amnesty for English rebels, return of the Channel islands to the King of England, Louis’ pledge to never attack England again in exchange for 10,000 marks, and perhaps most importantly, the provision whereby Louis’ brief “reign” as King of England was agreed to have been illegitimate.

The Prince returned to his native France and 6 years later, in 1223, he succeeded his father, Philip II, as King of France. While Louis never attacked England again, he decided to seize back the lands controlled by the English on the French soil: under the pretext that Henry III failed to comply with all the provisions of the Treaty of Lambeth, he seized Avignon, Poitou, Languedoc and Saintonge. Louis would have probably tried to further expand his territories but he fell ill with dysentery in 1226 and died on 8 November of the same year. He was succeeded by his son, Louis IX; because the new King was only 12 years old at the time, his mother, the formidable Blanche of Castile, acted as a Regent until he came of age.

Filed under France, Historical Royals, The United Kingdom
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7 Responses to Day in History: Birth of Louis VIII the Lion

  1. Father Andrew L. J. James, Ph.D. says:

    Thank you for an interesting article. One wearies of what brooch Elizabeth, II, may wear today. You did not mention that Louis, IX, is the only French king or queen to be recognized as a saint. There’s a reason for that! As I remind my only niece: “You are descended from at least twelve of the 19 Louis kings. Try to speak better French!” (It’s the guilt-induction method of child-rearing, which never works.)

  2. Artemisia says:

    @ Father Andrew L. J. James, Ph.D
    Thank you for your interest.
    The entry was dedicated to Louis VIII, which is why I didn’t mention Louis IX. I happen to be fascinated by British royal jewellery which is why I often write about different pieced worn by the Queen (or other members of the Royal Family). However, I often write history pieces as well. You might want to check the previous history entries, such as these ones:

  3. Lady Daphne says:

    I’ll try again………I’m not too familiar with early French History, but I’ve read the bio of Eleanor of Aquitaine……she was quite a gal….married and divorced King Louis (XI??)of France and then married the King of England. She also went with (I believe Louis) to Damascus during the Crusades. Thanks again Artemisia….fun read.

  4. Artemisia says:

    @ Lady Daphne
    I’m glad you enjoyed the article. Eleanor of Aquitaine was absolutely fascinating! The wealthiest and most powerful woman of her time (in her own right, as Duchess of Aquitaine), she was indeed Queen of both France and England as the wife of, respectively, Louis VII (Louis VIII’s grandfather) and Henry II. Eleanor did accompany Louis on the Second Crusade, not just as his wife, but as the feudal leader of the soldiers from her domains. That was really unusual for women of her time and was said to have turned the conservative elements in France, especially the Church, firmly against her.

  5. James Canning says:

    Interesting piece! And most welcome.

  6. natalya says:

    Thank You for this historical excursion !

  7. Suze says:

    I am trying to learn the early history of France starting with the Franks, Merovingians, Carolingians, to the Capets, etc. primarily the development of the royal families. Would the readers recommend some good books that would help my learning process, in English of course. I intend to take some French classes time permitting. Thanks! Suze

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