Philip II Augustus

Philip II Augustus, king of France (r. 1180–1223), was, born in 1165, to Louis VII (1137–80) and his third wife, Adèle of Champagne, near Paris. Following the custom of the Capetian dynasty, Louis had young Philip crowned at Reims cathedral as his successor while he was still alive on November 1, 1179.

With the old king’s health quickly declining, the young crowned prince assumed much of the responsibility of running the royal government. In September of the following year when Louis died, Philip became king in his own right.

Philip faced formidable obstacles to his authority in France. His father had been dominated at court by his wife, Adèle, and her three powerful brothers, the counts of Blois and Champagne, and the archbishop of Reims.

Moreover the basis for power in 12th century feudal France was land, and the territory of the Capetian monarchy was limited to a number of modest holdings around the region of the Île-de-France, which centered on Paris.


But those of Philip’s most powerful vassal, Henry Plantagenet, included the duchies of Normandy, Maine, Anjou, and Brittany. Through his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry also held the duchy of Aquitaine as well as Tourraine and Gascony.

Together, they made up more than half of the territory of medieval France and far outstripped the holdings of the French king. The fact that Henry was also king of England (1154–89) further diminished the ability of either Louis or Philip to exercise meaningful control over Henry as lord of his French holdings.

Philip began to lay the groundwork for the resurgence of royal power in France through his marriage to Isabelle d’Hainault in April 1180, through which he acquired the wealthy county of Artois, near Flanders.

Through Isabelle he was able to lay further claims to lands and towns in northeastern France. By 1186 Philip had rid himself of his troublesome uncles and secured control over a widening area of royal lands.

However his most obstreperous vassal remained Henry II of England with his vast territorial holdings in western France. From 1186 to 1188 Philip achieved little success on the battlefi eld against Henry but was more successful when allied with Henry’s two sons, Richard and John, in their revolt against the king in 1189.

Defeated shortly before his death in July 1189, Henry made several minor territorial concessions to Philip. Inheriting his father’s lands in France upon becoming king of England Richard I (r. 1189–99) proved as intractable a foe as had Henry II.

The lengths to which Philip would go to defeat his antagonist are revealed by his behavior during and after the Third Crusade, in which both he and Richard participated.

Leaving France together in 1190, the two quarreled along the way and proved uneasy allies during the siege of Acre. After the city fell in July 1191, Philip quickly abandoned Richard and headed home.

Returning to France, he intrigued against the English king and was instrumental in having Richard held captive by the German Emperor Henry IV when he fell into the emperor’s hands while returning from the crusade. Outright hostilities between the two recommenced upon Richard’s release in 1194.

With the ascension of John I to the English throne (1189–1216) Philip’s fortune improved dramatically. By 1206 he had succeeded in wrestling control of Normandy, Maine, Tourraine, Anjou, Poitou, and Brittany from John, leaving him only in possession of Aquitaine.

Acre fell to Philip II and Richard I
Acre fell to Philip II and Richard I

A major attempt by John to recapture his lost territories with the German Emperor Otto IV as ally was repulsed in 1214, ensuring Philip’s position as the dominant feudal lord and most powerful landholder in France.

Philip showed a keen disposition for administrative affairs. He created a new class of royal officials, the baillis, who collected taxes and administered royal justice in his newly acquired lands.

To ensure loyalty these officials were recruited from the townsmen and lower nobles of the realm and were paid a salary. In the south these officials were called seneschals, and because they wielded military powers, they came from the nobility.

Philip further developed the royal administration by giving it a permanent home in Paris and having his treasury perform an annual audit on the baillis. Crucial in Philip’s ability to control his vassals was his growing alliance with the burghers, whose talent and taxes he exploited.

The growth in royal revenues enabled the king to employ mercenaries in place of the feudal levy, further diminishing his reliance upon the nobles. Taken together Philip’s actions turned the Capetian ruler into the most powerful feudal monarch of his day and laid the framework for the future growth of royal power.