The history of Flanders - Chapter 22
Johanna Van Constantinopel, Countess of Flanders (2)
Written by: Charles
Vanderhaegen - slightly modified and translated by Herman Boel - Edited
by David Baeckelandt July 2008
Published with kind permission of Charles Vanderhaegen.
The preparation of a battle
On 23 May 1213 Filips Augustus, king of France, after having to give up his English invasion plans under pressure of pope lnnocentius III, marched with his army to Flanders. After he left his fleet in Damme, he started a war of extermination in the Flemish county.
A coalition against France was formed by England, the German Empire and Flanders, lead by respectively the English king John Lackland, German emperor keizer Otto IV, and Ferrand of Portugal, husband to Johanna of Constantinople, countess of Flanders. They were joined by: English count William of Salisbury, the natural son of Hendrik II and thus half-brother of John Lackland; the count of Boulogne, Renoud de Dammartin, the former friend of Filips Augustus, who had become his bitter enemy when Filips had abandoned his first wife for the rich widow of the count of graaf van Boulogne; the duke of Brabant, son-in-law of Otto.
French Filips Augustus received support from his son Lodewijk, the viscount of Melun and duke of Bourgogne. Filips put the whole French army under the command of the tactic commander, bishop Guérin, who had been in the Holy Land and had been part of the Hospital knights. Guérin was a military genius. He will be the person leading all military operations, without actually participating in them. That was quite innovative for the time, as usually army commanders, counts, dukes or kings personally commanded their troops and were therefore directly involved in the battle.
Early 1214 John Lackland arrived with his army in La Rochelle in Poitou and marched southwest. Otto came from the east and entered France via Doornik. Ferrand assembled his army at Nijvel in the north. It looked as if Filips Augustus, who came from the south, would be attacked from three sides and made a suicide march.
Ferrand of Portugal
(Cabinet des Estampes, Paris)
Halfway between Rijsel and Doornik there is a small village, Bouvines, in a dry plain, surrounded by swamps. West of Bouvines there is a river, the Marcq. The plain is crossed by an old Roman road going from Bouvines to Doornik. The coalition army and the French king's army will clash east of Bouvines.
Otto and Ferrand's armies had met in Nijvel on 23 Juli 1214. From there they went south in the direction of Doornik, accompanied by the duke of Brabant, Reinoud de Dammartin, and William of Salisbury. They thought Doornik was the hideou of the French army. That army had left Péronne the same day for Dowaai. As it used the old Roman road, it had passed the river Marcq at Bouvines in the direction of Doornik.
The scouts of the coalition army had reported the French
movement. The army now also marched towards Doornik in order to attack
and crush the French army east of the Marcq.
What now happened was not part of the general plan of the coalition. Their original plan was that John Lackland, who had arrived in La Rochelle in February 1214, would try to incite Poitou and Aquitaine against the French king, and then march to Paris without a threat in the back. Otto IV and Ferrand would march to Paris from the north, militarily cornering Filips Augustus. The first part of the plan failed when on 2 July 1214 John Lacklands's army was defeated by Lodewijk in La Roche-aux-Moines, in Poitou, and the not so brave English king fled back to England.
Without having to worry about a threat in the back, the French army could focus fully on the upcoming battle against the coalition army, now limited to the German and Flemish troops. Their superior numbers was still quite impressive though. The French had 6,200 men (knigts and foot-soldiers) against the allied forces of 9,000 men. Both Filips Augustus and Otto knew about the superior numbers, thanks to their scouts, which made the former cautious and tactically controlled, and the latter overconfident and unruly.
On 26 Juli 1214 the coalition army arrived on the plain east of Bouvines, between Gruson and Cysoing, from where it could see the French troops who had camped in a long front to the east, with Bouvines in their backs. Much to their surprise, they did not see a part of the French army, but an entire army ready for combat. The coalition army now also went south to take position against the French army. Two long columns of knights and foot-soldiers consisting of three groups formed a long almost straight front: in the north Reinoud of Boulogne against Robert van Dreux, Filips Augustus' cousin; in the middle the army of Otto against Filips Augustus; in the south Ferrand against Saint Pol, another cousing of the French king.
The armies were now positioned for the battle of the next day, i.e. Sunday 27 July.
Otto IV, Emperor of the German Empire
The Sunday of Bouvines
When the armies readied themself in the early morning to take in their battle positions, the French army had the disadvantage of having the sun in their eyes, but the advantage of having the river Marcq in their back at a distance of barely 2 km. Therefore the provisioning of water for the horses was a lot more easier than in the coalition camp that had to get its water from the river Schelde 14 km east. The allied forces had the advantage of the sun in their backs.
The allied forces did not benefit from this advantage. The deployment of their troops alone took several hours making them lose a lot of time, helping the French. Most of them were excited to make use of their beneficial position and the confusion of the allied forces, but Guérin, who had been given the full military command of the French army by Filips Augustus, urged to keep the horses under control until the signal for battle had been given.
This does not mean there were no skirmishes between the antagonists, especially in the camps of Saint Pol and
Ferrand, but without any serious consequence to the further course of the battle, that would only tak place in the afternoon.
Finally, at two thirty, when the heat of the day was at its highest and the sun heated the face of the allied forces, Guérin gave the order to an attack developing in three stages.
The first attack was initiated by Saint Pol who had divided his army into five divisions of knights without infantry and therefore was a lot more agile than Ferrand's loosely deployed knight corps. Thanks to the weight of their closed ranks, the French quickly managed to break through the ranks of Ferrand's army and then attack the turning Flemish army in the back, break through again and start another attack at another place. During these manoevres the knights of Saint Pol usually killed the horses or threw their adversaries out of the saddle, but they took no prisoners. This tactic diminished the Flemish ranks considerably and slowly but surely they lost their spirit. After having fought in the blazing sun with heavy armour, Ferrand's horse was killed, while he himself got wounded and he had to give himself up to the French knights, who took him prisoner in triumph. His ally, the duke of Brabant, who had lost the battle, fled. This was the final blow to Ferrand's army formation.
Things were not going better on the central front. Early in the battle, emperor Otto and his knights, followed by the infantry, attacks the centre of the French army and succeeds in penetrating ni the direction of the king of France. The French knights keep their king in the back to protect him and charge against the German knights. During this fight Filips Augustus is thrown off his horse and escapes from a certain death, thanks to a small group of knights who immediately surround him. He is given a new horse without delay and is so rescued by his knights' dedication. Thanks to his protecting harnass and his personal litheness he can climb his horse and lead his knights into a counterattack against the Germans... with success. The Germans are driven back on the whole line and the French knights come close to Otto who, just in time and protected by some loyal Germans, succeeds in leaving the battlefield and fleeing. This is now also the end of the central front and a second splendid victory of the French.
The count of Boulogne is taken prisoner by the French and brought before the French king.
(The 17th church window of the church of Bouvines)
While the southern and central fronts were succumbing due to the
well ordered and perfect military tactics of the French
army, Reinoud de Dammartin, count of Boulogn, and William of
Salesbury battled against the French army's left wing. Initially they
had some success, owing to their special tactics: the infantry placed
itself armed with picks in a circle formation around the knights. From
within the protecting circle, the knights could make charges and
immediately afterwards return to what we can call a protecting "crown".
But this tactic, how well it might have been, could not save the
coalition army. The French troops that were released after the defeat
of the southern and central army, now joined the troups of Robert of
Dreux, which gave them superior numbers Dammartin and William
could no longer withstand. Their knights were eliminated one by one,
usually because their horses were killed by the infantry and they could
not enter in battle with their heavy harnasses. During one of the last
attacks Reinoud's horse also got injured and it bolted and dragged its
master with him until it fell down a bit further on. Reinoud now lied
crushed under his horse.
He was an easy prey for the French who could take him prisoner and take
him to their king. This feat of arms made an end to the battle
of Bouvines. It was a total victory to the French, a total defeat
of the allies, including Flanders.
After the coalition army, with Reinoud de Dammatrin captured and near death, saw more than 300 knights fallen, 130 captured and the rest fled, the battlefield remained the whole knight with fallen soldiers. Its clearance started on the Monday morning while Filips Augustus left for Paris with the captured knights, including the biggest catch: Ferrand of Portugal.
The French king entered Paris with pomp and circumstance, followed by his knights and an army wagon in which Ferrand was chained up to be displayed to the public which laughted at him and mocked his name (ferrand = farrier) by shouting at him: "Le ferrand est à son tour ferré" (The farrier is in his turn beaten).
It is interesting to add that the defeat of the coalition was more than a military defeat. It also meant waking up from a dream straight into hell. All the expectations they had all made complacently, were now buried under a blanket of shame. They had been so certain of their victory that they had already divided the territorial possessions of Filips Augustus among themselves, even before the battle. Renoud de Dammartin would get Vermandois, William of Salisbury the domains of Dreux, and Ferrandwould get Paris. Ferrand indeed made an entrance into Paris, but not as conqueror but as prisoner and he will remain there for thirteen years, not in the Louvre castle, but in the dungeon. As the proverb says: pride goes before a fall.
On first thoughts we could think that the battle of Bouvines was not really much different from other medieval battles, but because of its political consequences, it was a true total war. For Flanders it meant the sudden destruction of centuries of work by the counts. Jan without Land's attempt to rebuild the lost Angevien empire had failed bitterly, and Otto IV, the German emperor, disappears from the European political scene of battle. When the news came out that he had had to flee for the French king, young Frederik II could forget about all his ambitions. He will die ingloriously on 19 May 1218.
The capture of Ferrand
(The 14th church window of the church of Bouvines)
Johanna is now all alone
Due to the capture of Ferrand, Johanna, barely 13 years old, was all alone in the county she had to reign as a favour by Filips Augustus. This is quite remarkable. If you know that already in 1191, when Filips van den Elzas died, the French king was preparing to add Flanders to his possessions, it is unclear why he now, after his glorious victory at Bouvines and with Johanna's husband Ferrand locked away in his dungeons, not added Flanders to his crown property.
It may have something to do with the fact that Flanders bordered Henegouwen, which was a vassal to Germany, got in the way of his expansion drift to Flanders. Add the fact that he only wanted revenge on his unloyal liegeman Ferrand of Portugal and not on Johanna, whom he saw as the true member of the family of Flemish counts, more so than that Portuguese prince.
In fact it did not matter much to Filips Augustus whether a thirteen
year old girl reigned Flanders, because in reality he was master of the
county, due to the absolute prevalence of the pro-French nobles under
the leadership of Jan of Nesle,
the viscount of Brugge. It was this powerful group who supervised
Johanna's decisions and of whom, in view of her very young age, not
many personal reactions or initiatives could be expected.
The Treaty of Paris
As with every war also this war was end with a treaty that the victor enforces to the defeated party. Actually, there were two treaties here. A first treaty was concluded between France and England on 18 September 1214 (the so-called Treaty of Chinon) and stipulated that the English king would refrain from any military action on French territory for a period of 5 years and would pay the French king the sum of 60,000 Pounds twice, a first time immediately and a second time in 1220. Moreover, the English king was to recognize the French 1204 conquests north of the river Loire (Normandy and Rouen) indefinitely.
The second treaty was concluded between Johanna and Filips Augustus. The latter had summoned the young countess to Paris in September to sign the treaty he had prepared. Johanna came to Paris on 23 October 1214 accompanied by her main liegemen. The next day the treaty was presented to her and she signed it. The stipulations of the treaty were the following:
(1) By 30 October the countess was to expedite the son of the duke of Brabant to the French king (Filips had never been able to swallow the fact that the duke of Brabant had taken the side of Ferrand and had succeeded in avoiding capture);
(2) The settlements of Valencijn, leper, Oudenaarde and Kassel were to be demolished (whether this actually happened remains uncertain. This obligation was probably only executed partially);
French king could decide arbitrarily on the fate of Ferrand and
the other prisoners (most will get free three years later, Ferrand as
last one in 1227).
This treaty ended the Batlle of Bouvines which marked Johanna for the rest of her life. Humiliated and saddened she is to return to Flanders without her husband, where she will perform her duties as countess alone but with dedication for thirteen years. How this will end can be seen in the next chapter.
1. LEGLAY, Edward. "Histoire des comtes de Flandre", Librairie de A. Vandale, Brussel 1843.
2. LUYCKX, Théo, Prof. Dr. "Johanna Van Constantinopel", Uitg. NV Standaard-Boekhandel, Antwerpen 1946.
3. DUBY, Georges, Prof. "Le dimanche de Bouvines", Gallimard, Parijs 1973.
4. KOCH, H.W. "Het krijgsbedrijf in de Middeleeuwen", Uitg. Helmont B.V., Helmont 1988.
5. VERBRUGGEN, J.F. "De krijgskunst in West-Europa in de middeleeuwen", Paleis der Academieën, Brussel 1954.
6. MOKE, G.H. "De geschiedenis van België", E. Hubert, Brussel 1985.