WHEN Richard the Lion-hearted died, his brother, John Lackland, took possession of England and Normandy, although he had no real claim to them, for they belonged by right to his little nephew, Arthur of Britany. But John, having this child in his power, imprisoned him, and probably put him to death with his own hand, for the boy disappeared after having last been seen with his heartless uncle.
When Philip of France heard that Arthur was dead, he summoned John, as his vassal the Duke of Normandy, to appear before his peers, to answer for the murder of his nephew. John refused to obey, so Philip confiscated all his estates in France. Thus Normandy, which had been three hundred years in other hands, came back to the crown. But the result of this confiscation was a war, in which John Lackland finally secured as allies the Emperor of Germany and the Count of Flanders, the latter being a rebellious baron who had already defied his master so openly that Philip had sworn, "Either France shall become Flanders, or Flanders, France!"
Philip Augustus, called upon to meet the allied English, Flemish, and German forces just when he was about to invade England, summoned his barons and burghers, and set out for Bouvines (boo-veen'), where a decisive battle was fought (1214). Shortly before the encounter, Philip, who had been hearing mass, placed his crown on an open-air altar, and said to his nobles, "If any one here thinks he can wear this crown more worthily let him step forward and take it." The noblemen, awed by the numbers arrayed against them, were not desirous of assuming such responsibilities at that moment, so they unanimously cried, "We want no other king than you!"
Thus assured of the loyalty of his followers, Philip Augustus began the battle, in which he and the German Emperor fought bravely, and had several horses killed under them. At the end of the day the German Emperor and John were in full flight and the Count of Flanders was a prisoner. Philip Augustus returned home in triumph, followed by his prisoner in chains. The rebellious count was then put in an iron cage, to serve as a useful object-lesson for all nobles who attempted to oppose their king!
Because the communes as well as the noble took part in the battle of Bouvines, it is considered the first great national victory. It was celebrated with great rejoicings, the streets being strewn with flowers and the houses all hung with flags and tapestry.
A year after this battle, the English barons wrung from John Lackland the Great Charter (1215), but as he did not keep his promises, they offered the crown of England to a French prince the next year. The heir to the French throne might thus, perchance, have become master of England also, had not John suddenly died, leaving a child (Henry III) to succeed him. Now the rebellious English barons preferred a child—in whose name they could rule—to any foreign prince, so the Frenchmen had to return home without having gained anything by his venture.