Battle of Bouvines (July 27, 1214)

Battle of Bouvines (July 27, 1214)

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The battle of Bouvines, which took place on July 27, 1214 in the North, opposed the army of the King of France Philippe Auguste to a German-Flemish coalition around Emperor Otto IV. The unexpected rout of the allies will offer a brilliant victory to the Capetian, who will extend the royal domain and consolidate his power against his European rivals. It is one of the first battles, like Hastings, where a sovereign "tempts God", that is to say takes the risk of being stained with blood, and of losing his life in combat. . Bouvines also marks a milestone in the history of France because, following this victory, a "national feeling" would have developed.

The context

Since his return from the crusade, Philippe Auguste has never ceased to fight the Plantagenets (Richard the Lionheart, then Jean sans Terre), obtaining success after success, until the conquest of Normandy in 1204. After England , the King of France is interested in the divisions which tear the Empire apart, taking sides according to his interests, as he has done since the beginning of his reign.

The situation seems to be ideal when, to the Germanic quarrels, are added the problems of the King of England John the Landless with Pope Innocent III, who bans England in 1206, and excommunicates the son of Henry II in 1209! Philippe Auguste then decided to take advantage of this by entrusting his son Louis with the organization of a landing on the English enemy. However, it was a failure and, in 1213, Jean sans Terre managed to regain papal graces while creating a coalition against his French rival, thus obtaining the support of the Count of Boulogne, de Ferrand of Portugal (who became Count of Flanders), and especially Otto IV, whose rival Frédéric Hohenstaufen is supported by the Capetian.

Philippe Auguste decides to go on the offensive in Flanders from 1213. His son Louis (future Louis VIII) takes his revenge against the English when the latter decide to open a new front by landing in La Rochelle: it is the French victory. of La Roche-aux-Moines (July 2, 1214). In the North, however, the situation is more tense for the King of France because the allies meet, and Otto IV enters Flanders.

The forces involved

The clash is decisive in more ways than one. One of the highlights was the presence of two great rulers, which was still rare at the time. Because the battle is the risk of losing its legitimacy, which is acquired through victory, obviously decided by God.

Philippe Auguste does not therefore take part lightly. He is surrounded by several of his great knights and vassals, including the Duke Eudes of Burgundy, Guillaume des Barres, Gautier de Nemours, or the Count of Sancerre. The king is also assisted by the Hospitaller Brother Guérin. The royal army is made up of about seven thousand combatants, including one thousand three hundred knights and as many mounted sergeants; the infantry is made up of communal militias with not always flattering reputations. The whole is organized in three bodies, symbol of the Trinity, around the banner of Saint Denis. The battlefield was perfectly demarcated, and the Bouvines bridge locked to allow a possible retreat of the French army through the swamps.

Facing the royal host, the allies line up 1,500 knights, also the same number of mounted sergeants, but a little more infantry with Flemish militias and English mercenaries. In addition to Otto IV, are present the Earl of Flanders Ferrand, the Duke of Brabant, the Earl of Salisbury, Hugues de Boves and Renaud de Dammartin, Earl of Boulogne.

The battle of Bouvines (July 27, 1214)

It is the French right wing, led by Brother Guérin, which begins the fight. Composed of Burgundians and Champenois, it faces the Flemish knights and their count, managing after several charges to break through their lines: Ferrand is captured! The center is more undecided: the most important troops are opposed there, around the two sovereigns, Philippe Auguste and Otto IV of Brunswick. The infantry resisted the shock of cavalry charges, and it was soon a confused melee. The king of France is taken aback, but only barely saved by knights who intervene: the emperor must flee.

On the left, the enemies know each other well as they clash with Robert de Dreux and Renaud de Dammartin. The latter resisted the longest, and had to surrender only with the help of Brother Guérin. The royal army then launched the pursuit, but most of the coalition leaders fled, among them the Duke of Brabant and Otto IV himself. Philippe II finally ordered the end of the fighting with an unchallenged victory, which earned him the nickname of Augustus.

Consequences and posterity of Bouvines

The consequences are first visible at the level of the European balance of power: Jean sans Terre, absent, is permanently isolated, and the English monarchical crisis worsens; Otto IV is weakened in a decisive way in his fight against the Hohenstaufen, future Frederick II; the great feudal lords (in Flanders for example) had to give in to the Capetian monarchy. The latter is asserting itself as the great power of the moment, and confirms its territorial conquests of previous years.

However, the consequences are even more important internally for the Kingdom of France. Philippe Auguste quickly understood the advantage he could draw from this victory: great festivities were organized, during which the prisoners were exhibited. A veritable propaganda appears, like William the Breton's Philippide, ten thousand verses composed between 1214 and 1224, to the glory of Philip Augustus and the Capetian dynasty. He then tries to create around this victory (and himself) the premises of a "national feeling", an anachronistic term, but which shows the decisive nature of the battle.

However, despite the efforts of the king and his propagandists, we must put into perspective a little the reach of Bouvines during the lifetime of Philippe Auguste. It would seem that it does not go beyond the Loire, while in the Empire it is almost unknown. So there is no real "national resonance" at this time.

The posterity of Bouvines comes later, especially in the 19th century, when historians, in their need to create a national novel, made it one of the dates of the birth of the French Nation. Thus, Ernest Lavisse wrote: “Bouvines gave our country, with the security of its cradle, a beautiful figure in the world […] this glory crowned the true France, the one whose history, without interruption, will continue to us. . This is why the memory of Bouvines must remain national ”.


- Le dimanche de Bouvines: July 27, 1214 by Georges Duby. Nrf, 2005.

- The Battle of Bouvines, by Dominique Barthélémy. Perrin, 2018.

- Philippe II Auguste: The Conqueror by Georges Bordonove. Pygmalion, 2009.

Video: Battle of Bouvines: History Uncovered


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