Internet Shakespeare Editions

Author: Michael Best
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Historical Notes on the reign of King John


Arthur's allies: Philip, Lewis, and Austria

King Philip

34Philip Augustus (Philip II of France, 1165-1223) was as opportunistic in making and breaking alliances as any member of the bitterly divided English royal family. He secretly plotted against Henry with Henry's son Geoffrey; after Geoffrey's death, Philip collaborated with Geoffrey's brother Richard in further conflict with Henry II; two days before his own death, Henry agreed to surrender Philip's imprisoned sister Alais and to name Richard his heir. A close friendship between Richard and Philip continued until they embarked together on the Third Crusade; during their time abroad, the relationship between the two men deteriorated, finally ending when Philip returned to France. When Philip heard the news of Richard's imprisonment by the German emperor, he conspired with John in an attempt to raise a larger ransom than Richard's adherents so they could claim the prisoner for themselves. Although this plan ultimately failed, Philip and John maintained an alliance of sorts, forming a pact of mutual protection. This pact was shattered when John, deprived of all of his land for his treachery but otherwise forgiven by his brother, began a prolonged series of raids and attacks on Philip's territory, a war which lasted for two years. Unsurprisingly, on Richard's death, Philip supported John's nephew Arthur as successor to the English crown.

35Backed by the support of Normandy and most of England, John was crowned at home but returned to the Continent to contend with Philip. After several battles between them, Philip made the mistake of capturing a stronghold belonging to Arthur, causing the leader of the Arthur's Breton army to forge a reconciliation between John and his nephew. In May 1200, a peace treaty was concluded between Philip and John, further substantiated by marriage between John's niece Blanche and Philip's heir Louis. This was not the end of conflict between the two countries, however: between 1203 and 1204, Philip managed to conquer the dukedom of Normandy, and his son Louis joined forces with rebellious English barons in 1216 in an invasion which ended with John's death. Philip himself died in 1223.

Louis VIII (the Daupin in King John)

36It was at the age of twelve that Louis (1187-1226) was married to Blanche of Castile (a year younger) to cement the alliance between Philip Augustus and King John at the treaty of Goulet in 1200. The marriage was not consummated until some five years after the marriage; the couple had twelve children, six of whom survived. Although Shakespeare portrays the couple as considerably older, the play is accurate in recording the arranged marriage between Louis, as the heir of Philip Augustus, to Blanche, the daughter of King Alfonso of Castile and King John's older sister Eleanor. Shakespeare takes advantage of the irony that the marriage ultimately provided a tempting excuse for Louis to claim the crown of England for himself. In 1215, rebellious English barons solicited Louis for help in their cause, favouring him as a replacement for John; Philip was reluctant to break his truce and anger Pope Innocent III (who felt that revolt distracted from his main priority of the crusades), so Louis sent troops to England in a private capacity. By spring 1216 Philip had decided to invade England, but failed to gain the support of the French barons or the papal legate; Louis, who claimed that he was not personally bound by the peace treaty, left for England with an army of volunteers and men from his own territories. Initially, Louis met with tremendous success in England, quickly conquering the southern counties and receiving many English defectors who perceived John's cause to be hopeless. There was little resistance when the prince entered London and was proclaimed King with great pomp and celebration at St Paul's Cathedral. Even though he was not crowned, many nobles, as well as King Alexander II of Scotland (1214-49), gathered to offer homage.

37However, by the end of the summer, the rebels had been deprived of some of their most vigorous leaders and tensions had increased between English and French barons, causing some to return to their origingal allegiance. John's army enjoyed some success, but his unexpected death on 18 October 1216 left the situation in England precarious. Many who had supported Louis as an alternative to John had no aversion to his nine-year-old son Henry. After the defeat of a strong party of rebels and French knights the following spring, the English barons took an oath of allegiance to Henry; in a further blow, the loss of expected reinforcements forced Louis to seek terms, and peace was restored to England of 12 September 1217. On his father's death on 14 July 1223, he received the crown at the age of thirty-six, but he died only three years later. In his brief reign he successfully continued the campaigns of his father against the dwindling holdings of the English on the continent, and waged war against a heretical sect in the south of France.

Austria/Limoges

38Shakespeare combined two historical figures in the character of Austria, who is also called "Limoges" in the play. Constance taunts him, suggesting that he has no moral right to wear the lion's skin he supposedly took from Richard Lionheart: "O Limoges, O Austria, thou dost shame / That bloody spoil (TLN 1040-41).

Leopold, Duke of Austria

39Leopold was on crusade at the same time as Richard I and Philip Augustus, and helped to lay siege to Acre, the main harbor and a vital gateway to the Holy Land. When the two-year siege was rapidly concluded a month after Richard's arrival, Richard took credit for the victory and insulted Leopold by forbidding him to raise his emblem in the city. Earlier in his journey, Richard had also treated one of Leopold's relatives with contempt: arriving in Cyprus, he had received little hospitality from its king, Isaac Comemnus, and accordingly captured the chief town, ransacked the island, and forced Comemnus to surrender on the plea that he not be placed in irons; instead, Richard had him placed in silver chains. Offended by these insults, Leopold was not disposed to treat Richard kindly when he caught him passing through Austria on his homeward journey from Acre with an escort of only seventeen men. He was arrested near Vienna, and taken into custody by Henry VI, the emperor of Germany, who also had grievances against Richard and the English. Henry and Leopold shared the exorbitant ransom of one hundred fifty thousand marks, although most of it was kept by the German emperor.

40Guy, Viscount of Limoges

40Guy, Viscount of Limoges and his half-brother, Count Audemar of Angoulême, occupied territories in the dukedom of Aquitaine. Like others in that region, they felt little feudal obligation to the king of England, and could only be kept in order by armed force. When a hoard of Gallo-Roman treasure (including golden statues and coins) was unearthed near Limoges, Richard I claimed it as his right as overlord of the region; the Viscount was willing to share the treasure with him, but would not part with all of it. Characteristically, Richard attempted to lay siege to the Viscount's castle at Châlus, but was hit in the neck with a crossbow bolt. His wound festered, and he died ten days later on 6 April 1199. The next year, in the peace treaty of Le Goulet, King John was required by Philip Augustus of France to receive Limoges and his half-brother back into homage and return their property. A letter written by Limoges to Philip Augustus in 1214 demonstrates that he had pledged himself to John's cause and abandoned all alliance with France.

40aHenry III

Crowned in 1216 at the age of nine in a simple ceremony in Gloucester, Henry III went on to reign for 56 years. His reign was typically turbulent one, battling the barons and doing his best to avoid living up to the conditions of the Magna Carta his father had signed. The barons, under the leadership of Simon de Montfort, brought Henry close to complete defeat. His son, Later Edward I, escaped from prison, and defeated de Montfort at the Battle of Evesham in 1265. Henry died seven years later in 1272.