When Richard “the Lion-hearted” died in 1199, he left no son to follow him on the throne of England and to claim possession of the vast French fiefs of the Plantagenet family. These fiefs, which covered more than half of France and made their undisputed lord more powerful than the French King himself, became at once a source of strife.
John, nicknamed “Lackland,” the youngest brother of Richard, succeeded him in England and in Normandy without dispute. But their little nephew Arthur was already Count of Brittany; and the other French possessions of the Plantagenets—Anjou, Maine, and Touraine—declared for Arthur in preference to John.
At this time France was ruled by Philip Augustus, who ranks among the shrewdest and ablest of all her monarchs. Dreading the vast power of the Plantagenets, he naturally sought to divide their domains by upholding Arthur. This unhappy lad, only twelve years old, was made a mere pawn in the savage game of his elders. His tragic fate is powerfully depicted by Shakespeare in his King John.
After some fighting and several sharp political moves and countermoves, John and Philip came to terms, May 18, 1200, by which the French King conferred almost all of the disputed fiefs on John. Constant bickering, however, continued. John had to do homage for his fiefs, and his French vassals took every opportunity to appeal from him to Philip, as their overlord.
Finally, when the moment
seemed propitious, Philip demanded
from his overgrown vassal certain Norman castles as a sort
of guarantee of good behavior. This led up to the war in
which the Plantagenets lost all
their French domains, and became lords only of England.
It was arranged that John and Philip should hold a conference at Boutavant. John, it appears, kept—or at least was ready to keep—the appointment; but Philip either was, or pretended to be, afraid of venturing into Norman territory, and would not advance beyond Gouleton. Thither John came across the river to meet him. No agreement was arrived at. Finally, Philip cited John to appear in Paris fifteen days after Easter, 1202, at the court of his overlord the King of France, to stand to its judgment, to answer to his lord for his misdoings, and undergo the sentence of his peers. The citation was addressed to John as Count of Anjou and Poitou and Duke of Aquitaine; the Norman duchy was not mentioned in it. This omission was clearly intentional; when John answered the citation by reminding Philip that he was Duke of Normandy, and as such, in virtue of ancient agreement between the kings and the dukes, not bound to go to any meeting with the King of France save on the borders of their respective territories, Philip retorted that he had summoned not the Duke of Normandy, but the Duke of Aquitaine, and that his rights over the latter were not to be annulled by the accidental union of the two dignities in one person.