Louis VIII was born on September 5, 1187 as King Philip II‘s eldest son. Upon his birth, the Capetian dynasty was secured for another generation. As a result, the king could focus his efforts on combating the English. Through inheritance and marriage, Henry II of England controlled both England and western France. Due to this, the king’s Angevin Empire overshadowed Philip’s kingdom. Feeling threatened by Henry’s power, Philip sought to bring about the empire’s downfall.
Initially, Philip II allied himself with three of Henry II’s sons. Since Henry refused to give his sons actual authority over their lands, Philip encouraged their resentment. Although Prince Henry, Geoffrey, and Richard rebelled against their father, the king remained in control. By 1189, Prince Henry and Geoffrey had died, leaving Richard as Philip’s primary ally. After jointly attacking Henry’s French lands, the old king finally admitted defeat in July 1189. Shortly after surrendering, Henry died.
During the following decade, Philip II’s relationship with Richard I soured. After going on the Third Crusade together, Philip grew tired of Richard’s rash behavior. Upon returning to France, the king began to attack Richard’s French lands. In response, the English king returned to fight Philip. Throughout the 1190s, both men sporadically fought each other. However, Richard would die from an infection in April 1199 after being struck in the shoulder by an arrow.
Since Richard I died without an heir, the king’s younger brother, John, succeeded him. Seeking to make peace with Philip II, John arranged for Louis to marry Blanche of Castile on May 23, 1200. However, conflict would resume in 1202. As John alienated his nobles in England, Philip attacked Angevin territory. During his father’s military campaign, Louis actively participated. By the time the Angevin Empire dissolved in 1214, the prince had become a seasoned warrior.
Invasion of England
By 1214, Louis’ military prowess earned him the nickname of “the Lion.” Two years later, the prince received an opportunity to invade England. After his disastrous defeat at the Battle of Bouvines in July 1214, John’s support tanked. As a result, the English nobility sought to replace their king with a new one. After being offered John’s throne, Louis readily agreed to provide military aid.
The French prince’s invasion initially proved successful. With the backing of the English barons, Louis nearly overthrew John. However, after the king’s death on October 18, 1216, the prince began to lose support. Upon suffering defeat at sea, the barons started to support John’s son, Henry III, instead. Realizing that the situation had turned against him, Louis signed a peace treaty in 1217 and returned to France.
King of France
On July 14, 1223, Philip II died. Upon his death, the 36-year-old prince became Louis VIII. As king, Louis continued his military efforts. However, instead of fighting abroad, the king focused internally. In southern France, a religious movement, known as Catharism, had grown in popularity. Due to having differing beliefs to Catholicism, Pope Innocent III had deemed Catharism heretical in March 1208.
As a staunch Catholic, Louis VIII refused to tolerate Catharism in his kingdom. In turn, Louis launched a crusade against the Cathari in 1226. During the ensuing conflict, the king captured the fortress of Avignon and established royal authority in the south. However, Louis began to suffer from dysentery during his military campaign. The king would be forced to return to Paris to recover before completing his crusade. On November 8, Louis succumbed to his illness and died.
Although Louis VIII’s reign only lasted for three years, the king left his mark on history. As prince, Louis’ military prowess saw him nearly overthrow the English Plantagenet dynasty. Despite failing to do so, the king successfully re-established royal authority in southern France. After his death, Louis’ crusade would be completed by his wife and their son, Louis IX.
Bradbury, J. (2010). The Capetians: Kings of France, 987-1328. London: Hambledon Continuum.
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2020, September 01). Louis VIII. Retrieved October 9, 2020, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Louis-VIII