CHAPTER XXI. THE GREAT CHARTER
It was near the middle of February, 1214, before John was able to carry out in earnest his plan for the recovery of Poitou. At that time he landed at La Rochelle with a large army and a full military chest, but with very few English barons of rank accompanying him. Since the close of actual war between them Philip had made gains in one way or another within the lands that had remained to John, and it was time for the Duke of Aquitaine to appear to protect his own, to say nothing of any attempt to recover his lost territories. At first his presence seemed all that was necessary; barons renewed their allegiance, those who had done homage to Philip returned and were pardoned, castles were surrendered, and John passed through portions of Poitou and Angouleme, meeting with almost no resistance. A dash of Philip's, in April, drove him back to the south, but the king of France was too much occupied with the more serious danger that threatened him from the coalition in the north to give much time to John, and he returned after a few days, leaving his son Louis to guard the line of approach to Paris. Then John returned to the field, attacked the Lusignans, took their castles, and forced them to submit. The Count of La Marche was the Hugh the Brown from whom years before he had stolen his bride, Isabel of Angouleme, and now he proposed to strengthen the new-made alliance by giving to Hugh's eldest son Isabel's daughter Joanna. On June 11 John crossed the Loire, and a few days later entered Angers, whose fortifications had been destroyed by the French. The occupation of the capital of Anjou marks the highest point of his success in the expedition. To protect and complete his new conquest, John began at once the siege of La Roche-au-Moine, a new castle built by William des Roches on the Loire, which commanded communications with the south. Against him there Louis of France advanced to raise the siege. John wished to go out and meet him, but the barons of Poitou refused, declaring that they were not prepared to fight battles in the field, and the siege had to be abandoned and a hasty retreat made across the river. Angers at once fell into the hands of Louis, and its new ramparts were destroyed.
It was about July first that Louis set out to raise the siege of La Roche-au-Moine, and on the 27th the decisive battle of Bouvines was fought in the north before John had resolved on his next move. The coalition, on which John had laboured so long and from which he hoped so much, was at last in the field. The emperor Otto IV, the Counts of Flanders, Boulogne, Holland, Brabant, and Limburg, the Duke of Lorraine, and others, each from motives of his own, had joined their forces with the English under the Earl of Salisbury, to overthrow the king of France. To oppose this combination Philip had only his vassals of northern France, without foreign allies and with a part of his force detached to watch the movements of the English king on the Loire. The odds seemed to be decidedly against him, but the allies, attacking at a disadvantage the French army which they believed in retreat, were totally defeated near Bouvines. The Earl of Salisbury and the Counts of Flanders and Boulogne with many others were taken prisoners, and the triumph of Philip was as complete as his danger had been great. The popular enthusiasm with which the news of this victory was received in northern France shows how thorough had been the work of the monarchy during the past century and how great progress had been made in the creation of a nation in feeling and spirit as well as in name under the Capetian king. The general rejoicing was but another expression of the force before which in reality the English dominion in France had fallen.
The effects of the battle of Bouvines were not confined to France nor to the war then going on. The results in German history - the fall of Otto IV, the triumph of Frederick II - we have no occasion to trace. In English history its least important result was that John was obliged to make peace with Philip. The treaty was dated on September 18. A truce was agreed upon to last for five years from the following Easter, everything to remain in the meantime practically as it was left at the close of the war. This might be a virtual recognition by John of the conquests which Philip had made, but for him it was a much more serious matter that the ruin of his schemes left him alone, unsupported by the glamour of a brilliant combination of allies, without prestige, overwhelmed with defeat, to face the baronial opposition which in the past few years had been growing so rapidly in strength, in intelligent perception of the wrongs that had been suffered, and in the knowledge of its own power.