Saturday, April 4, 2009

Philip II. (1180—1223)

Powerful in fact as Henry II. was, it was his gathering so large a part of France under his rule which was, in the end, to build up the greatness of the French kings. What had held them in check was the existence of the great fiefs or provinces, each with its own line of dukes or counts, and all practically independent of the king. But now nearly all the provinces of southern and western France were gathered into the hand of a single ruler; and though he was a Frenchman in blood, yet, as he was King of England, this ruler seemed to his French subjects no Frenchman, but a foreigner. They began therefore to look to the French king to free them from a foreign ruler; and the son of Louis VII., called Philip Augustus, was ready to take advantage of their disposition. Philip was a really able man, making up by address for want of personal courage. He set himself to lower the power of the house of Anjou and increase that of the house of Paris. As a boy he had watched conferences between his father and Henry under the great elm of Gisors, on the borders of Normandy, and seeing his father overreached, he laid up a store of hatred to the rival king. As soon as he had the power, he cut down the elm, which was so large that 300 horsemen could be sheltered under its branches. He supported the sons of Henry II. in their rebellions, and was always the bitter foe of the head of the family. Philip assumed the cross in 1187, on the tidings of the loss of Jerusalem, and in 1190 joined Richard I. of England at Messina, where they wintered, and then sailed for St. Jean d'Acre. After this city was taken, Philip returned to France, where he continued to profit by the crimes and dissensions of the Angevins, and gained, both as their enemy and as King of France. When Richard's successor, John, murdered Arthur, the heir of the dukedom of Brittany and claimant of both Anjou and Normandy, Philip took advantage of the general indignation to hold a court of peers, in which John, on his non-appearance, was adjudged to have forfeited his fiefs. In the war which followed and ended in 1204, Philip not only gained the great Norman dukedom, which gave him the command of Rouen and of the mouth of the Seine, as well as Anjou, Maine, and Poitou, the countries which held the Loire in their power, but established the precedent that a crown vassal was amenable to justice, and might be made to forfeit his lands. What he had won by the sword he held by wisdom and good government. Seeing that the cities were capable of being made to balance the power of the nobles, he granted them privileges which caused him to be esteemed their best friend, and he promoted all improvements. Though once laid under an interdict by Pope Innocent III. for an unlawful marriage, Philip usually followed the policy which gained for the Kings of France the title of "Most Christian King." The real meaning of this was that he should always support the Pope against the Emperor, and in return be allowed more than ordinary power over his clergy. The great feudal vassals of eastern France, with a strong instinct that he was their enemy, made a league with the Emperor Otto IV. and his uncle King John, against Philip Augustus. John attacked him in the south, and was repulsed by Philip's son, Louis, called the "Lion;" while the king himself, backed by the burghers of his chief cities, gained at Bouvines, over Otto, the first real French victory, in 1214, thus establishing the power of the crown. Two years later, Louis the Lion, who had married John's niece, Blanche of Castile, was invited by the English barons to become their king on John's refusing to be bound by the Great Charter; and Philip saw his son actually in possession of London at the time of the death of the last of the sons of his enemy, Henry II. On John's death, however, the barons preferred his child to the French prince, and fell away from Louis, who was forced to return to France.

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