Louis VIII of France
Born: September 5, 1187
Died: November 8, 1226
Chateau Montpensier, France (Age 39)
Louis VIII in History
The future King Louis VIII was the only son and heir to the great King Philip II, a man who was able to, with the help of his frail yet competent son, to substantially extend royal influence within France. Louis received a solid education, showing a high level of intelligence, and was also trained in martial activities, ultimately proving himself to be a highly skilled military commander. In order to make peace with the Angevin empire, which was under the control of King John of England, Philip II married Louis to Blanche of Castile, a niece of the English king. The marriage was believed to be a happy one and would produce eleven children. Unfortunately, peace with the English would not last, and by 1214, John would once again invade France in an attempt to retrieve some of his lands that he had lost years earlier. With Philip II busy with the forces of John's ally, Holy Roman Emperor Otto IV, in the north, Louis was assigned to deal with the English king's army in the south. As John was busy laying siege to La Roche-au-Moine, the French heir was able to overwhelm his forces and chase them away, forcing John to make peace and settle for the small gains he had made since returning to the continent. With this victory, Louis, despite his weak health and disposition, was able to establish himself as a strong general and able warrior prince. In 1216, Louis would be given a great opportunity to extend his power base when the English magnates rebelled against King John in England.
After John had been forced to sign the Magna Carta in the previous year, giving a number of liberties to the magnates and weakening his own power, the nobility was still mistrustful of their king, thinking he would appeal to the Pope for aid in regaining what he had lost. Therefore, the magnates went to Louis for assistance, stating that he had a valid claim to the English throne through his wife Blanche. Louis jumped on this opportunity and journeyed to England to press his claim - with a considerable amount of success. However, after John suddenly died, the English people threw their support behind his son, the new King Henry III, showing that the magnates were simply eager to remove John from power, not establish French rule in their country. Louis, whose troops were severely depleted by this point, agreed to the Treaty of Lambeth (and received a large cash payment) and returned to France, where he dedicated a majority of the rest of his life to crusading for the Catholic cause. Teaming with the Englishman Simon de Montfort, Louis battled against Count Raymond VI of Toulouse, and then his son, Raymond VII, and their religious sect, the Cathars. After nearly ten years of sporadic battles, and huge victories and losses on both sides, Louis arose victorious and extended royal power further into southern France. Louis had succeeded his father to the French throne as Louis VIII but would reign for only three years before dieing in 1226 at the age of thirty-nine. His biggest accomplishment during his short reign was the conquest of the county of Poitou, which had long been under English control. One could not have expected more as a general and leader than what was received by Prince, and then King, Louis. But years of constant military campaigning will take its toll on any man, especially one whose health is already in bad condition.
Louis VIII in Shakespeare
Appears in: King John
Within King John, Louis plays the role of the dauphin, or heir to the French throne (his father Philip II is the King of France), despite the fact that the title was not created until 1350, well over a hundred years after Louis' death. After Philip II makes peace with the English, Louis is betrothed to Blanche of Castile, King John's niece, to seal the treaty. However, the French are convinced to once again wage war against England under the advice of Cardinal Pandolph, but are soundly defeated, and Arthur, the boy they had been championing to replace King John, is captured. Cardinal Pandolph then convinces Louis to pursue his claim to the English throne by right of his wife Blanche. Louis is persuaded to do this and invades England with the support of the magnates, who have rebelled against King John after they discover Arthur's death. However, once John has reconciled himself with Rome, Pandulph has no reason to disdain him anymore and attempts to convince Louis to drop his claim, which he now refuses to do. Luckily for King John, Louis is deserted by the magnates, and his reinforcements are lost at sea, forcing him to make peace with the English under Pandolph's advice. The peace is announced in the play's final scene, just after John's death, and represents the historical Treaty of Lambeth.
Potter, Philip J. Kings of the Seine: The French Rulers from Pippin III to Jacques Chirac. Baltimore: Publish America, 2005.