Philip II of France

Born: August 21, 1165

Gonesse, France

Died: July 14, 1223

Mantes-la-Jolie, France (Age 58)

Philip II in History

The future Philip II was the only surviving legitimate son of the French King Louis VII and grew up with a solid education in both the academic and military fields. He became king upon the death of his father in 1180, just shy of his fifteenth birthday. Philip soon after married Isabella, daughter of Count Philip of Flanders, and the new king's father-in-law would act as regent during Philip II's minority reign. The alliance with Flanders did not please Philip's mother and her family, who were enemies of the count, but with both Flanders and King Henry II of England as allies, the king was able to break free of their control. Philip of Flanders, however, would prove to be just as much of an ambitious and powerful enemy as he was a friend and declared war on France in an attempt to extend his own territory. The younger Philip showed though, that, even at a young age, he was a capable military strategist and was able to force Flanders into submission by 1185. With Flanders seemingly down and out, Philip II drew his attention to obtaining the English territories within Normandy and Aquitaine to add to his growing kingdom. After the death of Henry II's eldest son, also named Henry, a dispute had broken out between his three remaining sons (Richard, Geoffrey and John) over who should receive what land upon the old king's death, causing rebellions within the English royal family. Soon Geoffrey, who was Duke of Brittainy, died, giving Philip II a claim to that district. Ultimately, Philip would join forces with Richard, Henry II's eldest surviving son, against the English king, and Henry II was forced to submit and give up a number of his French territories. He died soon after this embarrassing defeat and was succeeded by his eldest son as Richard I. With Richard I now sitting on England's throne, he and Philip set off to help the Christian cause in the Middle East by participating in the Third Crusade.

The kingdom of Jerusalem had fallen under Muslim control, at the hands of the great commander Saladin, in addition to a majority of the region surrounding it. Philip and Richard set out to the Holy Land in 1189. Richard would prove to be a difficult man to work with as he clashed with both the people of Sicily and of Cyprus before finally arriving, late, at Tyre, where they were to proceed from to Acre. Although the combined forces of the two kings were able to succeed in capturing Acre from the Muslims, Richard and Philip were almost constantly at odds over strategies and other matters, ultimately forcing the French king to abandon the crusade. After a stop in Rome, Philip returned home and began thinking of ways to strip Richard I of his French lands. The opportunity came along when the English king was captured and imprisoned (he would remain in custody for a year and a half) by the Duke of Austria on his return journey from the crusades. This allowed Philip II to conquer a number of cities and towns within Richard's territory. Richard, however, returned from captivity and won back a majority of his seized lands.

The English victory would be fairly short as Richard I was killed at a small siege in the Limousin in 1199. He was succeeded to the throne by his younger brother John, a much weaker man. John's succession in England was unquestioned, but Philip took this opportunity to parade Arthur, the son of John's deceased elder brother Geoffrey, as leader of the French territories (knowing that he could manipulate the child more so than the adult John). This strategy proved unsuccessful for the time being, as John rallied his forces against the French king, prompting him to agree to the Treaty of Le Goulet. The treaty was not a major victory for either side, but it unambiguously established that John held Normandy, Anjou and Aquitaine as a vassal of the French crown and therefore owed liege homage to his fellow monarch under feudal law. This allowed Philip to ultimately declare John a contumacious vassal (when he declined summonses to appear before him in court to answer for his crimes against some of his own vassals), and by 1204, Philip had succeeded in conquering all of Normandy and Anjou and substantial portions of Aquitaine.  John attempted to retrieve his lost lands on several occasions but was able to gain back only a small portion of them.

Philip saw another opportunity to defeat his English enemy when John was excommunicated by the Pope in 1212. A joint invasion was planned between France and Rome, but ultimately came to nothing when John won back the Pope's favor. Tensions were by no means over between the two countries, and John joined forces with Ferrand of Flanders and the Holy Roman Emperor Otto IV against Philip II in 1214. John's army was defeated by that of Philip's son Louis, and Philip himself achieved a major victory over Otto IV, Flanders and the remaining English army at Bouvines. With this victory, Philip was completely free of English intervention for the remainder of his reign and spent the rest of his life setting up his own government in the territories he had conquered from the English. Philip II died in 1223 after reigning as King of France for over forty years. One cannot argue that Philip's reign was a complete success. He extended his territory significantly and made France into a major power for years to come.

Philip II in Shakespeare

Appears in: King John

King John begins with John receiving an ambassador from the French King Philip II, threatening him to resign his throne in place of his young nephew Arthur, or face all out war. John promptly declines this offer and travels to France to do battle with Philip and his forces. After several indecisive battles, the two kings finally decide to join forces and lay siege to the city of Angiers. It is suggested though, that the kings enter into a treaty to be sealed by the marriage of John's niece Blanche to Philip II's son, Louis the Dauphin. Both Philip and John agree to the truce, but Arthur's mother, Constance, is extremely unhappy with the French king for pulling back his support for her son. Philip is ultimately persuaded to wage war against John once again after Cardinal Pandolph announces that the English king has been excommunicated from the church. Philip is last seen comforting Constance after John wins a victory over the French and takes Arthur as his prisoner. The action on the part of the French is taken over by Louis the Dauphin for the remainder of the play.


Potter, Philip J. Kings of the Seine: The French Rulers from Pippin III to Jacques Chirac. Baltimore: Publish America, 2005.

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