Louis VIII of France

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Louis VIII
Louis VIII's seal
King of France
Reign14 July 1223 – 8 November 1226
Coronation 6 August 1223, Reims Cathedral
Predecessor Philip II
Successor Louis IX
King of England (Disputed)
Reign2 June 1216 – 20 September 1217
Predecessor John
Successor Henry III
Born5 September 1187
Paris, France
Died8 November 1226 (aged 39)
Château de Montpensier, Montpensier, France
(m. 1200)
Louis IX of France
Robert I, Count of Artois
Alphonse, Count of Poitiers
Saint Isabelle
Charles I, King of Sicily
House Capet
Father Philip II of France
Mother Isabelle of Hainaut

Louis VIII (5 September 1187 – 8 November 1226), nicknamed The Lion (French : Le Lion), [1] was King of France from 1223 to 1226. From 1216 to 1217, he invaded and claimed the Kingdom of England. Louis participated in the Albigensian Crusade in southern France, driving it to its successful and deadly conclusion. He was the only surviving son of King Philip II of France by his first wife, Isabelle of Hainaut, from whom he inherited the County of Artois.


While Louis VIII only briefly reigned as king of France, he was an active leader prior to accession; having notably helped his father Philip crush an invasion attempt by a coalition of European states through his deeds at the siege of Roche-au-Moine in 1214. During the First Barons' War against King John of England, following a request from some of the rebellious English barons, the prince sailed to England with an army on 14 June 1216 despite discouragement from his father Philip and Pope Innocent III. He captured Winchester and soon controlled over half of the English kingdom. [2] He was proclaimed "King of England" by the rebellious barons in London on 2 June 1216 but was actually never crowned king. He was excommunicated by the Pope, [3] renounced his claim and was eventually repelled by the English following King John's death. Louis then successfully launched in 1217 the conquest of Guyenne, leaving the kings of England with the region of Gascony as their only remaining continental possession.

Louis was the first Capetian king to grant appanages to his younger sons on a large scale. [4] He died in 1226 and was succeeded by his son Louis IX.

Prince Louis


In summer 1195, a marriage between Louis and Eleanor of Brittany, niece of Richard I of England, was suggested for an alliance between Philip II and Richard, but it failed. It is said that the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI opposed the marriage, and that its failure was a sign that Richard would name his brother John as heir to the English throne instead of Eleanor's younger brother Arthur of Brittany, whom Richard had designated earlier as heir presumptive. This led to a sudden deterioration in relations between Richard and Philip. [5]

On 23 May 1200, at the age of 12, Louis was married to Blanche of Castile, daughter of King Alfonso VIII of Castile and Eleanor of England. [6] The marriage could only be concluded after prolonged negotiations between King Philip II of France and Blanche's uncle John.

Campaign of 1214

In 1214, King John of England began his final campaign to reclaim the Duchy of Normandy from Philip II. John was optimistic, as he had successfully built up alliances with Holy Roman Emperor Otto IV, Count Renaud of Boulogne and Count Ferdinand of Flanders. [7] John's plan was to split Philip's forces by pushing north-east from Poitou towards Paris, while Otto, Renaud and Ferdinand, supported by the Earl of Salisbury, marched south-west from Flanders. [8] Whereas Philip II took personal command of the northern front against the emperor and his allies, he gave his son Louis the command of the front against the Plantagenet possessions in middle France. The first part of the campaign went well for the English, with John outmanoeuvring the forces under the command of Prince Louis and retaking the county of Anjou by the end of June. [9] [10] John besieged the castle of Roche-au-Moine, a key stronghold, forcing Louis to give battle against John's larger army. The local Angevin nobles refused to advance with the king; left at something of a disadvantage, John retreated back to La Rochelle. [11] Shortly afterwards, Philip won the hard-fought Battle of Bouvines in the north against Otto and John's other allies, bringing an end to John's hopes of retaking Normandy. [12]

Pretender to the English throne

Arrival of Louis of France in England (from the Chronica Majora, Matthew Paris, c. 1236-1259) Arrival of Louis of France in England (1216).jpg
Arrival of Louis of France in England (from the Chronica Majora , Matthew Paris, c. 1236–1259)

In 1215, the English barons rebelled against the unpopular King John in the First Barons' War. The barons offered the throne to Prince Louis, who landed unopposed on the Isle of Thanet in eastern Kent, England, at the head of an army on 21 May 1216. There was little resistance when the prince entered London, and he was proclaimed King Louis I of England at Old St Paul's Cathedral with great pomp and celebration in the presence of all of London. Even though he was not crowned, many nobles, as well as King Alexander II of Scotland on behalf of his English possessions, gathered to give homage.

On 14 June 1216, Louis captured Winchester and soon controlled over half of the English kingdom. [2] But just when it seemed that England was his, King John's death in October 1216 caused many of the rebellious barons to desert Louis in favour of John's nine-year-old son, Henry III.

With the Earl of Pembroke acting as regent, a call for the English "to defend our land" against the French led to a reversal of fortunes on the battlefield. After his army was beaten at the Battle of Lincoln on 20 May 1217 and his naval forces were defeated at the Battle of Sandwich on 24 August 1217, Louis was forced to make peace on English terms. In 1216 and 1217, Prince Louis also tried to conquer Dover Castle, but without success.

The principal provisions of the Treaty of Lambeth were an amnesty for English rebels, a pledge from Louis not to attack England again, and 10,000 marks to be given to Louis. In return for this payment, Louis agreed he had never been the legitimate king of England.

As King Louis VIII

Coronation of Louis VIII and Blanche of Castile at Reims in 1223, miniature from the Grandes Chroniques de France, c. 1332-1350 (Bibliotheque nationale) Sacre Louis8 France 01.jpg
Coronation of Louis VIII and Blanche of Castile at Reims in 1223, miniature from the Grandes Chroniques de France , c. 1332–1350 (Bibliothèque nationale)

Louis VIII succeeded his father on 14 July 1223; his coronation took place on 6 August of the same year in the cathedral at Reims. As King, he continued to seek revenge on the Angevins, seizing Poitou and Saintonge, and recapturing these territories from the Plantagenets for the crown of France.

Policy on Jews

On 1 November 1223, he issued an ordinance that prohibited his officials from recording debts owed to Jews, thus reversing the policies set by his father Philip II Augustus. Usury (lending money with interest) was illegal for Christians to practise; according to Church law it was seen as a vice in which people profited from others' misfortune (like gambling) and was punishable by excommunication, a severe punishment. Since Jews were not Christian, they could not be excommunicated and thus fell into a legal grey area that secular rulers would sometimes exploit by allowing (or requesting) Jews to provide usury services, often for personal gain to the secular ruler and to the discontent of the Church. Louis VIII's prohibition was one attempt at resolving this legal problem, which was a constant source of friction in Church and State courts.

Twenty-six barons accepted, but Theobald IV (1201–53), the powerful Count of Champagne, did not, since he had an agreement with the Jews that guaranteed him extra income through taxation. Theobald IV would become a major opposition force to Capetian dominance, and his hostility was manifest during the reign of Louis VIII. For example, during the siege of Avignon, he performed only the minimum service of 40 days and left for home amid charges of treachery.

The Albigensian Crusade and Conquest of Languedoc

Capture of Marmande by the future Louis VIII during the Albigensian Crusade in 1219. Manuscript by William of Tudela and anonymous continuator, Song of the Albigensian Crusade, ink drawing, France, 13th century. Louis VIII Marmande.jpg
Capture of Marmande by the future Louis VIII during the Albigensian Crusade in 1219. Manuscript by William of Tudela and anonymous continuator, Song of the Albigensian Crusade, ink drawing, France, 13th century.

The Albigensian Crusade had begun in 1209, ostensibly against the Cathars of southern France and Languedoc in particular, though it soon became a contest between lords of northern France and those of Occitania in the south. The first phase from 1209 to 1215 was quite successful for the northern forces, but this was followed by a series of local rebellions from 1215 to 1225 that undid many of these earlier gains. There followed the seizure of Avignon and Languedoc.

In 1225, the council of Bourges excommunicated the Count of Toulouse, Raymond VII, and declared a renewed crusade against the southern barons. Louis happily renewed the conflict in order to enforce his royal rights. Roger Bernard the Great, Count of Foix, tried to keep the peace, but the king rejected his embassy and the counts of Foix and Toulouse took up arms against him.

Louis VIII headed the new crusade. His army assembled at Bourges in May 1226. While the exact number of troops present is unknown, it was certainly the largest force ever sent against the Cathars. It set out in June 1226. The Crusaders captured once more the towns of Béziers, Carcassonne, Beaucaire, and Marseille, this time with no resistance. However, Avignon, nominally under the rule of the German emperor, did resist, refusing to open its gates to the French troops. Not wanting to storm the well-fortified walls of the town, Louis settled in for a siege. A frontal assault that August was fiercely beaten back. Finally, in early September, the town surrendered, agreeing to pay 6,000 marks and destroy its walls. [13]


While returning to Paris, King Louis VIII became ill with dysentery, and died on 8 November 1226 in the Château de Montpensier, Auvergne.

The Saint Denis Basilica, just to the north of Paris, houses the tomb of Louis VIII. His son, Louis IX (1226–70), succeeded him on the throne. Queen Blanche concluded the crusade in the south in 1229.


Norman and Plantagenet Ancestors of Louis VIII
the Conqueror

K.England 1066–1087
William II
K.England 1087–1100
Henry I
K.England 1100–1135
Fulk of Anjou
King of Jerusalem
of Normandy
Stephen II
of Blois
Empress Matilda Geoffrey V
Count of Anjou
of Anjou

Countess of Flanders
Theobald II
of Champagne
K.England 1135–1154
Henry II
K.England 1154–1189
of Aquitaine
Louis VII
K.France 1137–1180
of Champaigne
Margaret I
Countess of Flanders
Richard I
K.England 1189–1199
K.England 1199–1216
Queen of Castile
Philip II
K.France 1180–1223
of Haunault
Henry III
K.England 1216–1272
of Castile
Louis VIII
K.England 1216–1217
K.France 1223–1226
Louis IX
K.France 1226–1270

Marriage and issue

On 23 May 1200, at the age of twelve, Louis married Blanche of Castile (4 March 1188 – 26 November 1252). They had thirteen children:

  1. Blanche (1205, died shortly after birth). [14]
  2. Philip (9 September 1209 – 30 June 1218), betrothed in July 1215 to Agnes of Donzy, who later wed Guy II of Saint-Pol.
  3. Alphonse (26 January 1213, died shortly after birth), twin of John.
  4. John (26 January 1213, died shortly after birth), twin of Alphonse.
  5. Louis (Poissy, 25 April 1214 – 25 August 1270, Tunis), King of France as successor to his father.
  6. Robert (25 September 1216 – 9 February 1250, killed in battle, Mansoura, Egypt), Count of Artois.
  7. Philip (20 February 1218 – 1220)
  8. John Tristan (21 July 1219 – 1232), Count of Anjou and Maine; betrothed in March 1227 to Yolande of Brittany.
  9. Alphonse (Poissy, 11 November 1220 – 21 August 1271, Corneto), Count of Poitou and Auvergne, and by marriage, of Toulouse.
  10. Philip Dagobert (20 February 1222 – 1232).
  11. Isabelle (16 March 1224 [15] – 23 February 1270).
  12. Stephen (31 December 1225 [16] – 21 March 1227 [17] ).
  13. Charles (posthumously 21 March 1227 – 7 January 1285), Count of Anjou and Maine, by marriage Count of Provence and Forcalquier, and King of Sicily.

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  1. The nickname was bestowed on him posthumously by the contemporary poet Nicholas of Bray. See Charles Petit-Dutaillis (1895), Étude sur la vie et le règne de Louis VIII (1187–1226), Paris: Émile Bouillon, p. 15, and Kelly DeVries (1995), "Louis VIII", Medieval France: An Encyclopedia, Garland, p. 566.
  2. 1 2 Alan Harding (1993), England in the Thirteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), p. 10. According to L'Histoire de Guillaume le Marechal Louis became "master of the country".
  3. Wilkinson, Kathleen (1976). The Gaston, Howard, and Wilkinson Families. Gateway Press. p. 16.
  4. "Louis VIII, king of France". Encyclopædia Britannica . 20 July 1998.
  5. Costain, Thomas B. The magnificent century: The pageant of England. Garden City: Doubleday, 1951. p. 4–7
  6. John W. Baldwin, The Government of Philip Augustus Foundations of French Royal Power in the Middle Ages, (University of California Press, 1991), 364.
  7. Barlow, Frank. (1999) The Feudal Kingdom of England, 1042–1216. Harlow, UK: Pearson Education. ISBN   0-582-38117-7, p. 335.
  8. Carpenter, David. (2004) Struggle for Mastery: The Penguin History of Britain 1066–1284. London: Penguin. ISBN   978-0-14-014824-4, p286.
  9. Carpenter David. (2004) The Struggle for Mastery: The Penguin History of Britain 1066–1284 London: Penguin. ISBN   978-0-14-014824-4, p. 286.
  10. Warren, W. Lewis. (1991) King John. London: Methuen. ISBN   0-413-45520-3, p. 221.
  11. Warren, W. Lewis. (1991) King John. London: Methuen. ISBN   0-413-45520-3, p. 222.
  12. Warren, W. Lewis. (1991) King John. London: Methuen. ISBN   0-413-45520-3, p. 224.
  13. Strayer, Joseph R. (1971). The Albigensian Crusades . New York, NY: The Dial Press.
  14. Kerrebrouck records the birth of this daughter, and her death soon after her birth. P. Van Kerrebrouck, Les Capétiens 987-1328, Villeneuve d'Asq, 2000, p. 124.
  15. The Chronicon Turonense records the birth in 1224 "mense martio" of "Isabellis, filia Ludovici Regis Franciæ". Chronicon Turonense, Recueil des historiens des Gaules et de la France, vol. XVIII, p. 305.
  16. The Chronicon Turonense records the birth in 1225 (at the end of the text dealing with events in that year) of "Stephanus, Ludovici Regis Francorum filius" and his baptism in Paris. Chronicon Turonense, Recueil des historiens des Gaules et de la France, vol. XVIII, p. 313. He must have been born after the testament of King Louis VIII dated June 1225 which only names five (surviving) sons. Layettes du Trésor des Chartes, vol. II, 1710, p. 54.
  17. The Chronicon Turonense records that King Louis VIII left six sons (in order) "Ludovicum primogenitum, Robertum, Amfulsum, Johannem, Dagobertum id est Philippum, et Stephanum" and one daughter "Isabellam" when he died. Chronicon Turonense, Recueil des historiens des Gaules et de la France, vol. XVIII, p. 317.

Further reading

Louis VIII of France
Born: 5 September 1187 Died: 8 November 1226
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Philip II
King of France
14 July 1223 – 8 November 1226
Succeeded by
Louis IX
Preceded by
King of England
May 1216–22 September 1217
Disputed by John & Henry III
Succeeded by
Henry III