John’s Uneasy Crown

When Richard died in April 1199, the two men who would fight to succeed him were actually together: John was staying with Arthur in Brittany where news of Richard’s death reached them both. It is possible that uncle and nephew had met to pool their grievances against Richard I and prepare the ground for some kind of joint action against him; one source says that John and Richard had quarrelled just before the latter’s death, and Richard can hardly have been Arthur’s favourite uncle after the events of the previous few years. However, they were transformed from potential conspirators to determined arch-rivals by Richard’s demise. John immediately rode with a few companions to Chinon, where the Angevin treasury was kept, and from there he made for Fontevraud where Richard’s body had been taken for burial next to Henry II. Meanwhile, Constance of Brittany was active on behalf of her twelve-year-old son. He was at Angers where he was acclaimed count of Anjou on 18 April, and two days later he arrived at Tours where he was invested formally with the title. From there Arthur and Constance headed with an army to Le Mans, where they nearly cornered John on 20 April. And it was at Le Mans that Arthur met King Philip and performed homage to him for Anjou, Maine, Touraine and Brittany. As for John, having just managed to slip away from Le Mans in the nick of time, he made his way to Normandy where he was installed as duke at Rouen. Then, following his coronation at Westminster Abbey at the end of May, the war of the Angevin succession could properly begin.

John was back in Normandy within a few weeks of his coronation. His hold on the duchy was secure, despite the attack King Philip had made across the Seine into Norman territory straight after Richard’s death. Meanwhile Queen Eleanor remained in control of Aquitaine in the south, buying support for her youngest son with lands and castles granted to the lords of Poitou. One of these, Aimeri de Thouars, was appointed by John as seneschal of Anjou in opposition to Arthur’s nominee, William des Roches. And it was Aimeri who, in late May 1199, attacked Arthur at Tours, forcing King Philip to send troops to his rescue. Despite such pressure on the frontiers of Anjou from the Poitevin barons, however, and with his supporters controlling the strategically vital stretches of road and the river Loire that connected Angers and Tours, Arthur remained in a strong position and John needed to weaken him quickly. Displaying the sort of political, diplomatic and military skills with which he is not normally credited, John did this very successfully. In mid-August 1199 there was a meeting between John and Philip, who by now had Arthur in protective custody. John expressed his willingness to do homage to Philip, but the French king demanded Anjou, Maine and Touraine, as well as Poitou, for Arthur along with some of Normandy for himself. This was clearly too much for John to concede and the talks stalled; but at least he was parleying with Philip whilst Arthur himself was excluded from the discussions. Moreover, by this point, John could feel confident about rejecting Philip’s demands. Earlier in August, John had managed to re-establish the alliances that Richard had made with the counts of Flanders and Boulogne. This gave him even more security in the north and Philip something to think about on his own frontiers, and it freed John to concentrate on an advance into enemy territory. As John made his move south in September, Philip felt obliged to follow. But this was not enough to reassure William des Roches (indeed, Philip antagonised William when he destroyed the castle of Ballon in Maine, where William claimed to have authority), who decided that his best interests lay in negotiating a truce with the English king. John was happy to grant William what he wanted, namely confirmation of his position as seneschal of Anjou, even if this was at the expense of the incumbent, Aimeri de Thouars. Arthur could not fight on without William’s support and, if Arthur was prepared to lay down his arms, there was no justification for Philip to carry on the struggle. At Le Mans on 22 September 1199, Arthur (no longer in Philip’s custody) and Constance made peace with John.

Events now took a confusing turn. At around the same time as the meeting took place at Le Mans in September (it is not clear precisely when), Constance of Brittany was married for the third time, this time to Guy de Thouars, the younger brother of Aimeri. Her marriage to Ranulf of Chester had ended (the reasons for this and the official grounds for any annulment are not known) and Ranulf himself had remarried by the end of 1199. The new marriage could be interpreted as an attempt by John to compensate Aimeri de Thouars and his family for the loss of the seneschalship of Anjou. Alternatively, however, it could have been an act of defiance by Aimeri and his disgruntled kinsmen. And there are further signs that the peace deal did not end Constance and Arthur’s distrust of John. According to Roger of Howden, immediately after the terms were agreed, Arthur and Constance, along with Aimeri de Thouars and many others, secretly left John’s court, having been informed that Arthur was about to be arrested and imprisoned. King Philip now returned to the action and Arthur was once more given his protection. He remained at the French court for the next two years.

Whatever Constance and Arthur were doing late in 1199, however, it was clear that the two main players in the ongoing political drama were still the kings, John and Philip. Early in 1200 they met to discuss the situation, and the terms they agreed were formally recorded in the Treaty of Le Goulet in May. Philip accepted John as Richard’s heir in all the lands that Richard and Henry II had held in France, except for the county of Evreux, the whole Norman Vexin except Les Andelys, and the lordships of Issoudun, Graçay, and Bourges in Berry, which Philip had seized after Richard’s death and still held. John also had to agree to abandon his allies in Flanders and Boulogne, pay Philip a relief of £13,333, and perform homage to the French king for his continental possessions. As for Arthur, he was acknowledged by all parties as the rightful heir to Brittany, but the ruler of Brittany was also confirmed as the vassal of the duke of Normandy (not the king of France) and, as such, was required to do homage to John for his duchy. Despite the concessions he had made in it, the Treaty of Le Goulet was a victory for John and a defeat for Arthur. Arthur’s claims to the Angevin succession had been decisively rejected and even his status in Brittany was undermined by the newly precise definition of his duchy’s relationship with Normandy. No wonder, then, that when Arthur met the bishop of Lincoln in Paris a few weeks after the treaty was agreed, he was unhappy and dejected: John and Philip, he might have felt, had feathered their own nests at his expense. Constance, too, seems to have lost the appetite for any further confrontation. She returned to Brittany and died there in September 1201. For his part, Arthur divided his time between the French and Breton courts, and he was invested as duke shortly after his mother’s death. However, when John summoned him to Normandy to perform homage at Easter 1202, Arthur refused. By then the quarrel between John and King Philip had begun again and Arthur’s hopes had revived.

The new crisis was entirely of John’s making. His talent for alienating people may have been hinted at after the Treaty of Le Goulet by his treatment of Aimeri de Thouars and by his alleged plan to imprison Arthur. These were relatively insignificant, however, compared with John’s inept and provocative behaviour in the year or so after the treaty was signed, when he bullied and victimised the Lusignans, one of the most important noble families in Poitou. In the process, John laid the foundation for the collapse of his continental empire and set the scene for Arthur’s death.

In 1189, John had married Isabella of Gloucester. She was the daughter and heir of William, earl of Gloucester, and consequently one of the richest heiresses in England (her estates included Bristol and the marcher lordships of Glamorgan and Newport). John had been betrothed to her by Henry II in 1176, and the king had pressurised Earl William into recognising John as the heir to the Gloucester earldom at the same time. King Richard had then sanctioned the match in 1189 as part of the package of concessions he had made to John at the start of his reign in an effort to buy his good behaviour during the impending crusade. Isabella played little if any part in John’s public life over the next few years, and husband and wife were probably estranged as early as 1193. Certainly, Isabella was not crowned with John in 1199, and she can have had little to do with him in private either – for one thing, they had no children. What is more, the legality of the marriage remained ambiguous. John and Isabella were cousins, albeit relatively remote ones, but the matrimonial law of the time led Archbishop Baldwin of Canterbury, on hearing that they were married, to forbid them to cohabit. John had to seek the intervention of a papal legate to overturn this sentence, but from the start the marriage remained conveniently fragile in strictly legal terms. Given Isabella’s failure to produce children, it is really no surprise that John looked to end their marriage after he became king (his wife may have been just as relieved about this as he was), and after certain formalities had been observed, and some Norman and Aquitainian bishops had been persuaded to declare the marriage void, John was once again a single man, albeit one still in control of his former wife’s lands. Until 1214, by which time she was in her mid-fifties, Isabella remained a royal ward!

By the spring of 1200, John had already decided on a new wife. On 24 August he married Isabelle, the daughter of Adhemar, count of Angoulême, one of the most important, and most troublesome, barons of Aquitaine. In October the newlyweds returned to England, and on 8 October they were crowned together at Westminster Abbey. The speed of these events is striking. Contemporary chroniclers were quick to suggest that John was bewitched by Isabelle’s beauty and simply had to make her his regardless of the consequences. Roger of Wendover later described how, rather than fight Philip II who was overrunning his ancestral territories at the end of 1203, John preferred to stay in bed with his queen until dinner time.10 But Isabelle was only twelve at the most in 1200 and may have been younger still, and such allegations tell us more about the writer’s desire to moralise and provide a scurrilous context for John’s political failures than anything else. In reality, there were hard-headed and perfectly sound political reasons for the match. Count Adhemar was fiercely proud and independently minded. As counts of Angoulême, he and his predecessors had traditionally performed homage for their lands to the king of France and not to the duke of Aquitaine. Richard, as duke, had had considerable trouble keeping Adhemar in line, and he had actually received the fatal wound to his shoulder during yet another phase of his ongoing quarrel with the count. Nevertheless, Adhemar’s lands were in the heart of the duchy, where the roads connecting Poitou and Gascony met, and they were strategically vital. John’s decision to marry Isabelle, therefore, was calculated in part to bring Adhemar and his family more comfortably into the Angevin fold and to stabilise central Aquitaine: she was her father’s only surviving heir, and her husband would be the next count of Angoulême. The marriage also served another plainly political purpose. When she married John, Isabelle was already betrothed to another man, Hugh le Brun, lord of Lusignan. The Lusignans were Count Adhemar’s neighbours and controlled the county of La Marche. If Hugh and Isabelle had been married, their families’ lands would together have extended across most of central Aquitaine. Such a concentration of territorial power would have jeopardised the duke’s overall control, and so John’s marriage to Isabelle was also designed to stop the Angoulême–Lusignan alliance in its tracks.

Of course, John’s approach was risky. The Lusignans would not take kindly to losing their alliance with Angoulême. John should have tried to buy them off, with money, land or another attractive marriage. But he didn’t do anything like that. Indeed, his provocative conduct suggests that he planned to goad the family into doing something that would allow him to ruin them completely. Either this, or John miscalculated badly and turned a difficult but manageable diplomatic situation into a catastrophically disastrous one. Hugh de Lusignan’s younger brother, Ralph, was also count of Eu in Normandy through marriage – his castle of Driencourt was seized on John’s orders. Then, in March 1201, John instructed his officials to attack Ralph’s lands after Easter and ‘do him all the harm they could’; and a few days after this, in a clear challenge to the Lusignans’ control of the county, he summoned all the leading men of La Marche to confirm their allegiance to him. Ralph and Hugh responded promptly: the former, who, along with Hugh, had pledged his loyalty to John as recently as January 1200, formally renounced it, whilst his brother began raiding into Poitou. The Lusignans pursued other remedies too. Most importantly, they appealed about John’s behaviour to King Philip, in his capacity as overlord of the duke of Aquitaine. John, meanwhile, was in England preparing an army. In June 1201 he landed in Normandy.

At this stage King Philip was keen to broker a peaceful settlement between the two sides. He persuaded the Lusignans to suspend their military activity, and he met John several times on the Norman frontier. John then went to Paris in June where he was entertained for the best part of a week in the royal palace, and he eventually agreed to hear the Lusignans’ grievances in his court as duke of Aquitaine. This might have worked to resolve the situation, if John’s conception of such a hearing had fitted with that of the Lusignans. They, of course, expected respectful treatment and justice; John, by contrast, was determined to humiliate them. Far from offering them a fair hearing when he summoned them to his court, he demanded that they should appear to answer charges of treason and prove their innocence through the ordeal of battle, in other words by fighting against trained duellists, hand-picked by John. Not surprisingly, the Lusignans refused to come to John’s court: there was every chance that they might lose any fight but, more importantly, they thought the method of trial John proposed demeaning and beneath their status. In other words, John was insulting them on several different levels at once and they felt compelled to appeal once more to King Philip. The French king at first persuaded John to agree to hold an appropriate trial, but when John finally fixed a day for it he refused to give the Lusignans safe conduct. Without this, once again they refused to attend. Over the next few months the process dragged on inconclusively, with John prevaricating at every opportunity. In the end, Philip’s patience ran out and he summoned John to attend his own court in Paris at the end of April 1202 and answer for his conduct. It almost goes without saying that John failed to appear at the appointed place and time. As a result he was condemned by Philip and the assembled barons of his court as a disobedient vassal and his lands of Anjou, Aquitaine and Poitou were declared forfeit to the French Crown.

Arthur had rejoined the French court shortly after Easter 1202, almost as if in preparation for what was to follow. His importance was obvious to both sides. On 27 March, John had summoned his ‘beloved nephew Arthur’ to meet him at Argentan about fifteen miles south of Falaise in central Normandy a week after Easter, but the young prince had already decided that his best hopes lay with King Philip. Before the end of April, Arthur was betrothed to Philip’s six-year-old daughter, Marie, and following the sentence of forfeiture pronounced against John, he accompanied the French king’s army on campaign in Normandy. At Gournay in July, Arthur was knighted by Philip and performed homage to him for all of John’s confiscated lands. Near the end of July, while he concentrated on weakening the Norman frontier, Philip sent Arthur with a force of 200 French knights to join Hugh de Lusignan in an attack on Poitou. Arthur was keen to wait for the reinforcements he had called on from Brittany before committing himself to serious action, but his French and Poitevin allies pushed for an immediate attack on the castle of Mirebeau where Arthur’s grandmother, Queen Eleanor, had taken refuge on hearing of their approach. Eleanor was old and increasingly frail, but she was still crucial to her son John’s hopes of holding on to Anjou and Aquitaine. Her connections and standing counted for much, and if she could be captured, the main prop holding up John’s support in the south would be removed. Eleanor, however, learnt of the proposed attack in time to send a letter to John urging him to come to her rescue. He was already on his way south when a messenger met him with Eleanor’s news at Le Mans. In a remarkable forced march, John then covered the eighty miles and more between Le Mans and Mirebeau in forty-eight hours and arrived before the castle on 1 August. By then, Arthur and the Poitevins had already taken the outer ward and broken down all the gates except one. Eleanor was trapped in the keep. But when John’s forces arrived, the attackers were taken by surprise and chaotically rushed out of the castle to meet him. John’s men, with his seneschal of Anjou, William des Roches, prominent at the head of his troops, drove the besiegers back into the castle and soon the whole of the French and Poitevin army had been either killed or captured. Amongst those taken prisoner were Hugh and Geoffrey de Lusignan. According to one account, so unexpected was John’s attack on Mirebeau that Geoffrey was still eating his breakfast of pigeons when he was seized. The most important prize, however, was Arthur of Brittany.

John was triumphant. His victory at Mirebeau was as decisive and as total as any that his illustrious crusading brother had ever achieved. Most of his enemies had been dealt with at a single stroke, and King Philip was now left isolated and without allies. After a fruitless trek southwards from Normandy to assess the situation the French king retired to his own lands after furiously burning the city of Tours on the way. Meanwhile, John made his way back north with his prisoners. Most of them, including Arthur’s sister Eleanor, were sent to England and imprisoned in castles, most notably Corfe in Dorset. The most important prisoners remained in Normandy, however: Hugh de Lusignan was locked up at Caen, whilst Geoffrey and Arthur were taken to Falaise. Everything seemed to be going John’s way. Nevertheless, his dominant position was not deeply rooted and a sensible politician would have taken care to nurture it. John simply took it for granted. Most significantly, he soon lost the support of William des Roches. William had been instrumental in John’s seizure of power in 1199 and at Mirebeau itself. His continued support was crucial if John wanted to focus on protecting Normandy without having to worry about his southern territories, and the English king’s failure to appreciate William’s importance is startling. William had supported John at Mirebeau when the latter had agreed to follow his advice concerning Arthur; he abandoned him when John took Arthur to Normandy, clearly signalling that William’s opinions counted for nothing after all. Having deserted John, William took his neighbour Aimeri de Thouars with him and was prepared to fight to retain his hold over Anjou and Touraine (in October they captured Angers), thus introducing an unwelcome element of instability into the heart of John’s territories.

It is not clear what William wanted John to do with Arthur, and it may be that, at this stage, the king had little idea of his own how to handle his nephew. According to one account, he was first swayed by a group of his advisers, who told him that Arthur had to be dealt with once and for all. There was justification for this. Arthur was John’s sworn vassal (the Treaty of Le Goulet had established this in 1200); he had rebelled against him and could expect to be punished, even with death. He was only fifteen or sixteen, but he was no innocent victim. However, the nature of the penalty they recommended was savage: if Arthur were blinded and castrated, they argued, he would not be fit to rule, if he survived at all. The Bretons would lose their figurehead and end their uprising. The chronicler who reports this story says that John consented to the plan and sent two men to Falaise to carry it out. However, Arthur’s gaoler there, Hubert de Burgh, baulked when he was told of the idea of mutilating his prisoner and refused to allow it. But he was prepared to announce that Arthur was dead in the hope that this would knock the wind out of the Bretons’ sails. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, it had the opposite effect. The Bretons swore not to rest until they had avenged themselves on John, and Hubert was forced hastily to announce that Arthur was alive and unharmed. The damage had been done, though. Arthur may still have been alive, but this was not certain and the conspiracy theories about his murder developed quickly.

This account of what happened at Falaise may or may not be true, but its description of indecisive floundering at the top of John’s government has an air of credibility about it. To be sure, Arthur was a problem and something had to be done. But with a botched plot to kill him followed by a botched attempt to fabricate his death, it is hard to imagine that he could have been more incompetently handled. Another story, though, suggests that John tried a different approach. According to the monk Roger of Wendover, who wrote his account of these events at the abbey of St Alban’s in the 1220s or 1230s, whilst John was at Falaise at the end of January 1203, he summoned Arthur to appear before him and tried to flatter him into submission. Addressing him ‘with fair words’, Wendover alleged, Arthur was promised great rewards if he agreed to pledge his loyalty to John and desert King Philip. But Arthur scornfully dismissed John’s proposal and went even further: he was Richard’s lawful heir, he claimed defiantly, and there would be no peace unless all the Angevin dominions, including England, were surrendered to him. Needless to say, John was never going to respond to such an ultimatum other than furiously, and soon after this exchange is alleged to have taken place, Arthur was taken to Rouen and never seen again. Wendover’s account was not written until two or three decades after John’s death, it is not corroborated elsewhere, and he gives no authority for it. Indeed, this is not the only episode from John’s reign for which Wendover is the only evidence and his reliability has often been questioned. John was certainly at Falaise in January 1203, but this does not mean that Wendover was describing real events. More likely this is an account of what Wendover thought should have happened in the circumstances. He is highly critical of John throughout his account of the reign and may have used this fictitious encounter as a device to highlight John’s careless disregard for honour and loyalty and Arthur’s stirring but doomed sense of duty. To this extent, he would have seen it as a legitimate fabrication.

But whether this confrontation ever took place or not, Arthur did indeed disappear at around this time and the truth about what happened to him will never be known. That he was dead by the end of 1203, however, seems almost certain. He may have died a natural death after falling ill in prison; there is another suggestion that he was killed after falling during an attempt to escape. But there is also good reason to believe that John was personally involved in Arthur’s death. According to one account, written in about 1216, after trying unsuccessfully to get someone else to kill Arthur for him, John decided to take care of the matter himself. He took Arthur out alone in a boat with him on the river Seine. There the king killed his nephew with a sword, rowed three miles further with the body at his feet, and then threw it overboard. The writer William the Breton does not say when this happened, and it is included in his great poem celebrating the achievements of Philip II. So it is right to treat his version of events with caution. Never-theless, a second source goes some way to confirming the outline of what William said. It was indeed at Rouen, after dinner on Maundy Thursday (3 April) 1203, ‘when he was drunk and possessed by the devil’, that John killed Arthur with his own hands. He then weighted down the corpse with a heavy stone and threw it into the Seine. It was later caught up in a fisherman’s net, recognised and buried secretly (‘for fear of the tyrant’, the source says) in the church of Notre Dame du Pré near Rouen. There is some correspondence between these two accounts (rivers and boats, as well as John’s central role, feature promin-ently in both), which may lend them a little more credibility. In addition, John was certainly at Rouen on 3 April. But the second account has more to recommend it than this. It was written at the Cistercian abbey of Margam in south Wales, probably some time in the 1220s. But the information it contains could have been given to the monks much earlier than this by one of the monastery’s most important patrons, William de Briouze. There will be more about the Briouze family in the next chapter. It is enough to say here that William was ideally placed to know what had happened to Arthur and to tell the tale later to the monks of Margam. William was the man who had actually captured Arthur at Mirebeau. At the time of the alleged murder he was still one of John’s favourites and he was almost certainly with the king at Rouen at Easter 1203. He was just the sort of man to know the details of a scandal involving the king.

If the Margam chronicle’s account of Arthur’s murder is to be believed, Good Friday 1203 at Rouen would have been significantly more sombre than usual. The king had slain his own nephew in a drunken rage and ugly rumours must have been circulating amongst the whispering courtiers, too fearful of John to voice them openly. The disasters that befell John in the following months may well have been seen as just punishment for his crime by those who knew anything about it. In truth, however, John was already in serious political and military difficulties before Arthur’s disappearance. By the spring of 1203 he was facing problems all along the Norman frontier, from King Philip in the east, the leading lords of Maine and Anjou to the south, and from the Bretons in the west. John’s victory at Mirebeau was still fresh in the memory, but he had failed to make the most of it. William des Roches had deserted John shortly after the battle and where he led others soon followed. In January 1203, Count Robert of Sées, who until this point had been solidly loyal to John, surrendered his castle of Alençon to the French, not principally in support of Arthur or Philip, but because he had no appetite for fighting against his southern neighbours. Then, in March, William des Roches, along with other leading magnates from the Loire provinces, formalised their positions and performed homage to King Philip in Paris. It was the loyalty of lords like this, with their lands close to the Norman border, that was crucial in this struggle. Without their support, there was a serious risk that John’s continental lands would be divided in two, that Normandy would be cut off from Aquitaine, and that the duchy itself would be unable to withstand the threats from its other neighbours.

King Philip still had to take his chance, though. In April 1203, with the support of the Loire lords secured, he was able to sail unopposed down that great river into the heart of Anjou and take possession of Saumur in person. But the biggest prize, as ever, was Normandy, and Philip resumed his attack there as soon as he had returned from Anjou. When the castle of Vaudreuil surrendered to the French without a fight in June, John tried to convince his critics that the garrison had laid down its arms on his orders and that this was some kind of tactical retreat. In reality, his power in Normandy was crumbling. In the heart of the duchy, away from the unstable frontier regions, support for John and his family had always been strong, but there was now widespread discontent at the actions of John’s mercenary troops, who were mistreating the local people and behaving, it was claimed, as if they were at war with them. The ties of loyalty were being stretched to breaking point and Philip was giving a good impression to the waverers of being a credible alternative lord. But there was still work to do. Gaining control of the river Seine was essential to Philip’s strategy, but barring his path to Rouen was the greatest of all the frontier castles, Château Gaillard. Built at enormous expense by Richard I on steep cliffs overlooking a huge bend in the Seine, the castle was reportedly impregnable. In addition, it was commanded by an English baron of unimpeachable loyalty and no little courage, Roger de Lacy. Undaunted, Philip began his siege in August 1203. This gave John a breathing space, which he used to attack his enemies in Brittany. Guy de Thouars, Arthur’s stepfather, remained loyal to John until September 1203, and whilst that was the case the Breton-Norman frontier was kept relatively pacified. When Guy deserted, however, John’s response was to raid into Brittany and sack Dol. Such activity did little to improve John’s position and only antagonised the Bretons even more.

In December 1203, John travelled back to England to raise fresh funds to continue the war, but before he could return to Normandy, on 6 March 1204, the garrison of Château Gaillard surrendered. The defenders had bravely and staunchly withstood a five-month siege, and perhaps could have lasted out longer. But there were flaws in the castle’s much-vaunted design, which became apparent as the siege went on and which the determined besiegers were eventually able to exploit. The way to Rouen was now open, but before he approached the city Philip wanted to make sure that it was isolated and cut off from any Norman reinforcements. So in May he headed west into central Normandy and in three weeks took Argentan, Falaise and Caen. He was met there by the Bretons, who had taken Mont St Michel and Avranches on their way, and the advance across country to Rouen began. After arriving outside the city at the start of June, Philip agreed to give the citizens thirty days to wait for help from their lord. But John did nothing in response to the urgent messages he was sent and the city gates were opened to Philip on 24 June.

Stranded in England, John could only wait for news of Rouen’s inevitable capitulation. Normandy was lost, along with Anjou, Maine and Touraine. And in Aquitaine the tide had turned against John too. His mother, Queen Eleanor, had died on 31 March 1204, and the lords of Poitou who had been loyal to her were not prepared to put their faith in the son who had shown his true colours in his attack on the Lusignans in 1200. Having said that, there were many barons further south who also had their misgivings about King Philip, and although he visited Poitiers in August 1204, the rest of Aquitaine did not open its doors to him. Nevertheless, this was of no immediate comfort to John. In less than two years since the triumph at Mirebeau his continental empire had been comprehensively dismantled. This is what Arthur had wanted, of course, but he did not live to see his hopes fulfilled. And with his sister Eleanor still held captive by John, it was Arthur’s half-sister Alix (the daughter of Guy de Thouars and Constance of Brittany) who was eventually acknowledged by the Breton nobility as the rightful heiress to the duchy. A new phase of Breton history now began: they had seen off the Angevins but would soon have to defend themselves once again, this time against the expansionist ambitions of the kings of France. Meanwhile, in England, a smarting king was already planning his counterattack.

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