Philip ii. was only fifteen years old when he began to reign. He was a proud, ambitious boy, and eager to use his kingly power. He had often dreamed that he would make France as great as it had been in the time of Charlemagne. His courtiers, and those of his people who knew his ambition, called him Philip Augustus, which meant Philip the Great, or the Imperial. Others named him Augustus for no other reason than that he was born in the month of August.
Like his grandfather, Louis the Fat, Philip wished to make the nobles less powerful, although indeed they had now fewer privileges than when Louis came to the throne.
The Duke of Burgundy had, however, provoked the young king. Philip therefore attacked one of his castles, and took his eldest son prisoner.
When the duke was at length compelled to ask for peace, Philip would grant it only on certain harsh conditions. The duke, not being powerful enough to fight against his sovereign, was forced to agree to whatever terms the king chose to impose. Whereupon Philip, who after all was but a boy, was so pleased to get his own way that he said, "The duke shall be my friend without any conditions," and he then at once repealed the harsh terms he had made shortly before.
Philip's chief friend was Richard, the son of Henry ii ., King of England.
Now Richard might be a good friend, but he was a bad son. He took up arms against his father, and the French king encouraged him to rebel.
Philip himself attacked Aquitaine, which Henry ii. had entrusted to Richard's care. Richard proved faithless to his trust, doing little to defend his father's province. It even seemed that he was going to hand it over to Philip. But before this had happened Henry made peace with the French king, and the English prince was saved from a treacherous deed.
After peace had been made between the two kings, Richard hastened to Philip's camp, lived in the same tent as the king, sat at his table, and even, it is said, slept in the same bed.
Again and again Henry and Philip were on the point of war, but again and again war was put off, while the kings met to settle their disputes under an ancient elm tree which stood on the boundary between France and Normandy.
At one of these meetings Philip and Henry forgot, for a time, their own quarrels. For terrible tidings had come from the east.
Since Godfrey de Bouillon had been elected King of Jerusalem after the first crusade, eight kings had reigned. These eight kings were each French, and the last one had now in 1187 been taken prisoner by the dreaded Saladin, and Jerusalem was once again in the hands of the Turks
It was early in January 1188 that Philip and Henry, meeting under the elm tree, forgot their own quarrels, and spoke only of the need of a new crusade to deliver the Holy City from the hands of the Infidels. Before they separated the kings had agreed to make preparations to set out on the third crusade.
Unfortunately Philip and Henry soon began to think of their own disputes. The French king indeed grew so impatient, that in a fit of passion he cut down the ancient elm tree, saying he would hold no more meetings for peace beneath its branches. Before the year 1188 ended, war broke out between the two kings.
But Henry ii ., deserted by his nobles and betrayed by his sons, was soon forced to ask for peace. Philip's terms were hard, for Henry ii. was forced to own himself the French king's vassal, to yield to him the duchy of Bern, which lay south of the river Loire, and to promise to pardon all those who had betrayed him.
When the list of traitors was handed to the king, the first name was that of his own son John. Henry had loved John and forgiven him much, but this new treachery broke his heart, and he fell ill and died.
Richard now became King of England, and before long Philip and he had ceased to be friends. For in the third crusade, which set out in 1189, led by Philip Augustus and Richard, the English king was so brave that he became the hero of the armies, and won his well-known name of Coeur de Lion, the Lion-hearted. Then Philip grew jealous of Richard and returned to France, leaving part of his army to help his rival to carry on the war in the east.
Before he left Philip solemnly promised that, during Richard's absence, he would not attack his kingdom or harm him in any way. As he journeyed home, however, he asked the Pope to release him from his promise. The Pope refused, but Philip was no sooner back in France than he hastened to make friends with Prince John, who in his brother's absence was treacherously doing all he could to win the crown for himself.
Richard meanwhile had reached Palestine, and was within sight of Jerusalem. But knowing he had not an army strong enough to take the city, he covered his face with his cloak, refusing to look upon her, since he was unable to deliver her from her foes.
Soon afterwards he fell sick, and so making a treaty with the sultan, which secured the safety of pilgrims travelling to Jerusalem, he set out, by sea, for England.
Being shipwreckd he tried to cross Austria in disguise, for the Archduke of Austria was his enemy. He was, however, discovered and taken prisoner. The duke sold his royal captive to the Emperor of Germany for a large sum of money, and by the emperor Richard was thrown into prison.
When Philip knew that Richard was a prisoner he at once, in spite of his promise, attacked Normandy, of which province Richard was duke. It was bad enough that Philip should do this; it was surely even worse that Prince John, Richard's own brother, should help him. Together, too, they offered the German emperor large sums of money if he would but keep his royal captive safe.
But you have read the story of how a minstrel, called Blondel, who loved Richard, went in search of his king, and at last found out his prison. And you remember how he came back and told the English, who at once paid a heavy ransom that Richard might be set free.
Then indeed Philip and Prince John had cause to fear. Even the German emperor took the trouble to tell them to beware, for, said he, "the Devil is unchained," and by the Devil he meant no other than Richard the Lion-hearted.
Prince John was a coward as well as a traitor, and he hastened to make peace with his brother.
Richard had still, however, to deal with Philip.
He had reached England in 1194, and soon after his return he set out for Normandy with a large army.
The war with Philip lasted several years. Richard besieged a few towns, and fought a few unimportant battles. Then one day, in the year 1199, as he was besieging a castle, a soldier shot an arrow at random from the castle wall. The arrow wounded Richard, and ten days later he died. Philip had no longer anything to fear from his powerful rival.
Prince John at once caused himself to be proclaimed King of England and Duke of Normandy.
But he was not able to take possession of Normandy peaceably, for Arthur, a nephew of his own, claimed the province, and Philip, fearing lest the King of England should grow too powerful, gladly supported Prince Arthur's claim.
The people of Normandy had no love for John, so they sided with his nephew the prince, and Philip was thus easily able to proclaim Arthur, Duke of Normandy.
Soon after this King John succeeded in taking his nephew prisoner. For a short time Prince Arthur lay in a dungeon, wondering how he could escape from his cruel uncle.
Then one day, so it is said, King John came to take he prince out in a boat on the river Seine. The young lad was glad to leave his dungeon and live in the sunlight once again. He was pleased, too, that his uncle was kind. But before they had rowed far. King John suddenly drew his sword and stabbed his nephew, throwing the body into the river.
It may be that King John did not do this cruel deed but the young prince was never seen again. Philip believed John was guilty, and summoned him as Duke of Normandy and therefore his vassal, to appear before him. But King John paid no heed to the French king's summons. He was therefore tried, even though he was not present in the court, and found guilty of murder, and Normandy was declared to be his no longer.
King Philip then once more invaded Normandy; but John though he was in the town of Rouen, took no notice of Philip's movements. He was lazy, and his courtiers were gay so they idled their time until Philip's army actually reached the gates of Rouen.
Then indeed King John bestirred himself, not to fight but to flee, as quickly as might be, to England.
Thus the French king was left to take possession of Normandy, which therefore in 1204 became a part of the kingdom of France. And so wisely did Philip treat the Normans that they were content to own him as their king.