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The Counts of Toulouse and the Kings of England

Arms of the Counts of Toulouse. Click for a larger image in a new window. Arms of the Kings of England. For generations the fate of the Counts of Toulouse was intimately tied to that of the Kings of England. This period saw the rise of Crusading fervour: not only in the Holy Land, but also against Moorish Spain, The Cathars of the Languedoc and anyone who regarded by the papacy as an enemy of the Roman Catholic Church - which included both Counts of Toulouse and Kings of England. The family of de Montfort also played a major part during this period, not only as Crusaders, but as leaders of parties hostile to the Counts of Toulouse and parties hostile to the kings of England.

King Henry II
King Richard I
King John
King Henry III

Henry II (5 March 1133-6 July 1189), King of England (25 October 1154-6 July 1189), Duke of Normandy, Count of Anjou.

Arranged marriages were perfectly normal in the medieval Europe, as they have continued to be for European royal families until modern times. Daughters were often married off to seal political alliances, and the pope could generally be relied on to grant annulments on demand when circumstances changed. (A long series of popes granted annulments for a fee - for well over 20% of noble and royal marriages).

When Louis VII, King of France, married Eleanor of Aquitaine. because she was heiress to the vast territories of Poitou and the Aquitaine, no one was greatly surprised. There was more surprise when the royal couple sought an annulment in 1152, since the King thereby lost control of the Aquitaine, a territory much larger than medieval France. The mistake, which must have been glaring enough anyway, was exacerbated when just two months later Eleanor married the Count of Anjou, better known to us as Henry II, King of England, and claimant to the French throne. Henry and Eleanor had seven children:

  • William, Count of Poitiers
  • Henry ("Henry the Young King")
  • Matilda of England,
  • Richard (Richard I of England, The Lionheart
  • Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany
  • Leonora of Aquitaine
  • Jeanne of England
  • John (King John of England)

One of the sons of Henry and Eleanor, Richard, later King Richard I, ruled the Aquitaine as Duke in conjunction with his mother. The Dukes of Aquitaine and the Counts of Toulouse were natural allies, between them controlling the area that we now think of as the southern half of France. The families were already related: Eleanor's paternal grandmother had been Philippa of Toulouse. Both families spoke the same language, Occitan, the first language not only of Raymond and Eleanor, but also of Eleanor's heir, Richard. They followed the same fashions, ate the same food, read the same literature, even listened to the same troubadours, and were familiar with distinctive Occitan concepts such as paratge. It was natural then, that Raymond VI, Count of Toulouse, should marry Jeanne of England, daughter of Henry and Eleanor. This marriage made him son-in-law of Henry II and Eleanor, and brother-in-law to both Richard I (the Lionheart) and King John. He is buried at Fontevraud Abbey.

Richard I, Coeur de Lion, Richard the Lionheart, (8 September 1157 – 6 April 1199) King of England (6 July 1189 – 6 April 1199), Duke of Aquitaine, Duke of Normandy, Count of the Anjou.

Richard was brought up to be Duke of Aquitaine, not King of England (He had an older brother called Henry who was expected to succeeded to the kingdom, and who was actually crowned during the lifetime of his father Henry II, but never reigned. Richard stood to inherit the crown of England only when the "Young King Henry" died during the lifetime of Henry II). It could be fairly said that Richard considered himself first as Duke of Aquitaine, second as a Crusader and third as King of England. Many English historians who fail to grasp this are surprised and disappointed by the fact that he spent only six months of his ten year reign in England; and mystified by the fact that he regarded England as little more than a milch cow (he once commented that he would sell London if he could).


Richard, his mother Eleanor of Aquitaine, and the Counts of Toulouse, all spoke Occitan as their first language. Occitan was the language of the troubadours. Eleanor's own grandfather, Duke Guilhem IX of Aquitaine, is generally acknowledged as the first troubadour and Richard himself, Guilhem's great grandson, is counted among their number.

For generations the Dukes of Aquitaine had claimed suzerainity over the Counts of Toulouse. This was a point of discord with unfortunate consequences. For example Languedoc wines could not easily be exported to England as long as Aquitaine remained hostile. Again, if on his return from Crusading Richard had been able to land at one of the Mediterranean Ports controlled by the Counts of Toulouse, he would not have had to take a dangerous overland route through Europe. It was precisely because he did have to take such a route that he finished up in an Austrian prison.

Richard had a solution to this constant thorn in the flanks of both territories. In 1195 he offered the hand of his sister Jeanne of England (sometimes called Joan) to Raymond VI, Count of Toulouse. As part of the deal Richard renounced his claim to Toulouse and provided the the County of Agen and Quercy as a dowry. Richard himself presided over the marriage between Raymond and Jeanne, giving her her full honorific from her first marriage, for she was already dowager Queen of Sicily.

Some of the towns belonging to the counts of Toulouse had been founded by Richard I. One such was Marmande, a bastide founded about 1195, which was later besieged three times during the Cathar Crusades - a series of religious wars directed against the counts of Toulouse and the people of the Languedoc.


As Dukes of Normany English monarchs bore (and still bear) the arms shown on the right with two lions:





Richard I was also Duke of Aquitaine, whose arms were a single lion:





It seems likely that the arms of England, first used by Richard, were created by simply adding 2 + 1 = 3 lions.



Jeanne of England was Raymond's second wife. He had six wives altogether. The fifth was a daughter of Isaac Comnenus of Cyprus, possibly called Beatrice. She had been taken from her father by King Richard I when he took Cyprus while on Crusade to the Holy Land. She had become the companion of Richard's wife Berengaria and his sister, Jeanne of England, Raymond VI's earlier wife.

In death, as in life, the three great houses Toulouse, Aquitaine and England were linked together. The Pope denied Raymond VI of Toulouse a Catholic burial, but Raymond VII of Toulouse was interred in the Abbey of Fontevraud, along with his grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, his mother Jeanne of England and Richard his plantagenet uncle.

John (24 December c. 1166 – 18 October 1216) , King of England (6 April 1199 — 18 October 1216), Lord of Ireland, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine and Count of Anjou.

John's second marriage (on 24 August 1200) was to Isabella of Angoulême, the daughter of Aymer Taillefer, Count of Angouleme - another Occitan paladin.

Raymond VI of Toulouse naturally chose exile in England when his lands were seized by the French Crusaders - Despite his avaricious nature, King John made Raymond a subvention of 10,000 marks.

Like the Counts of Toulouse, John was the victim of Innocent III's imperial ambitions. In the case of the Counts of Toulouse their territories were appropriated and reassigned by papal decree, a worrying innovation for all sovereigns in western Christendom. In similar danger, John took the hint and ceded his kingdom, receiving it back as a vassal of Innocent.

John was a spectacularly bad king. He created much animosity by seizing the property of his own nobles - wives and daughters as well as lands and castles. One of his victims was Simon IV de Montfort who was deprived of his lawful claim to the earldom of Leicester. His lack of substantial estates at east partially accounted for him being appointed to lead the Albigensian Crusade after the massacre at Béziers and the siege of Carcassonne in 1209 (If one of the great dukes of France had accepted the appointment they might easily have seen by the French king to be too ambitious).

John lost a large portion of his continental territories through incompetence and lethargy - one of his nicknames was soft-sword. Widely hated, his own barons appealed to the King of France, who offered his son Louis (Later King Louis VIII of France) as a potential replacement monarch. In 1216 many Crusaders took time off from their crusades in the Holy Land or in the Languedoc to assist in the enterprise of displacing King John from the English throne. This explains why so so many French Crusaders were found fighting in England in 1216. Louis' attempt had every prospect of succeeding when John died unexpectedly. The incomparable William Marshal stepped in on behalf of John's son and heir, the infant Henry III. The English barons rallied behind him, and after a couple of severe batterings the French knights returned to France, to the Levant or to the Languedoc to resume their longer term programmes of killing there.

Henry III (1 October 1207 – 16 November 1272), King of England (18 October 1216 - 16 November 1272), Lord of Ireland and Duke of Aquitaine

Henry III of England married Eleanor of Provence, daughter of the Count of Provence, establishing further links between the English crown and Occitania. Henry was first cousin to Raymond VII of Toulouse, and took part in an abortive attack in support of the last attempt by the forces loyal to the Counts of Toulouse to expel the French invaders in 1242. Henry was defeated at Tailebourg and the only significant achievement of Raymond's forces was the killing of a party of Inquisition at Avignonet.

Henry's reign was marked by civil strife. The English barons, led by Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, demanded more say in the running of the kingdom. This Simon was the Son of Simon IV de Montfort the leader of the Albigensian Crusade against the people of the Languedoc. The French-born younger Simon had been one of the foreign upstarts loathed by many native English barons, but he gradually came to lead many of these same barons. After he married Henry’s sister (another Eleanor) without consulting Henry he became the king's enemy. Their relationship reached a crisis in the 1250s when Simon was arraigned on charges for actions he had taken as lieutenant of Gascony, the last remaining Plantagenet land on the Continent of Europe. To the King's evident displeasure Simon was acquitted by his peers, the barons.

Many barons feared that Henry was taking after his authoritarian father, King John. Simon de Montfort now became leader of the barons who wanted to reassert and reissue Magna Carta. In 1258, seven leading barons obliged Henry to agree to the Provisions of Oxford, which abrogated absolutist monarchy, gave executive power to a council of fifteen barons, and provided for a three-yearly meeting of parliament to oversee this new Executive. Henry was forced to take part in the swearing of a collective oath accepting the Provisions of Oxford. In the following years, the party supporting Simon de Montfort and the party supporting Henry grew yet more polarised. Henry obtained a papal bull in 1262 excusing him from his oath. Both sides now began to raise armies. A civil war, known as the Second Barons' War, soon followed. Simon de Montfort and his forces captured most of south-eastern England by 1263. On 14 May 1264, at the Battle of Lewes, the king was defeated and taken prisoner. Henry was reduced to a figurehead, and he and his son Edward (Longshanks) lived under house arrest. Simon meanwhile broadened parliamentary representation to include each county of England as well as important towns. This was in effect the birth of representative democracy in England - an embryonic House of Commons. Edward Longshanks subsequently escaped captivity and led the royalists to defeat de Montfort at the Battle of Evesham in 1265. Retribution was exacted on the rebels, but absolutist monarchy was abandoned for ever in favour of a representative democratic monarchy which has evolved into the modern British democratic system.


The Battle of Taillebourg

The arms of LusignanA Poitevin lord, Hugh X of Lusignan had enjoyed a long tradition of autonomy in the Aquitaine. Under Richard I he had had a free hand, but King John had squandered his inheritance to the French. Under French hegemony life was going to be different. Louis VIII (‘the Lion’) had given Poitou to his son Alphonse of Poitiers. This prince had been 6 years old at the death of his father in 1226 and was, like his elder brother Louis IX (Saint Louis), placed under the regency of his mother Blanche of Castile. Alphonse took possession of his fief when he reached the age of 18 years, in 1240. He then received the homage of the lords of the province, including Hugh de Lusignan, the most powerful of them. Hugh possessed several holdings in Poitou, including the castle of Montreuil-Bonnin and the County of Marche.

Hugh would not accept the loss of autonomy which he had previously enjoyed under Richard I, and he led the Poitevin nobility in forming a confederacy against their new French sovereign. The conflict was ignited at Christmas 1241 when Hugh X of Lusignan refused a further oath of allegiance to Alphonse.

Arms of the Counts of Toulouse. Click for a larger image in a new window. On 5 January 1242, Alphonse of Poitiers called together the Poitevin nobles at Chinon for Easter. Faithful lords and the enemies of Lusignan, responded to his appeal. King Louis IX decided to go to the assistance of his brother and take control of the country. He arrived at Chinon on 28 April and at Poitiers on 4 May, with an army of 30,000 knights and foot soldiers. On 9 May, he marched against the Lusignan castle of Montreuil-Bonnin. After having taken Béruges, Moncontour, Vouvant and Fontenay-le-Comte, he headed towards Saintes. The king of England, Henry III, landed at Royan in mid-May, before joining Hugh de Lusignan and Raymond VII of Toulouse (who sought redress for the Treaty of Paris of 1229 under the terms of which he had surrendered most of his lands to the King of France). Hugh was accompanied by his brother Richard, prince of Cornwall.

The two sides met at Taillebourg. The king of France was installed in the Château de Taillebourg, which overlooked the bridge over the Charente, a bottleneck and strategic passage between Saint-Jean-d'Angély and Poitou in the north and Saintes (which belonged to Lusignan) and Aquitaine in the South. On 19 June, the two armies faced each other across the bridge there. On 21 July a battle ended in a charge of the French knights who carried the day and harried their adversaries to Saintes. On the 23 June, a decisive battle took place at Saintes where the Anglo-Poitevins were beaten once more. Henry was not there at the time, having returned to Gascony after the setback at Taillebourg. These two actions constituted the Saintonge War.

Henry signed a five-year truce at Pons on the 1 August. A more lasting peace was concluded at Paris on 4 December 1259. The king of France restored to Henry the lands at Quercy, Limousin and Saintonge, thinking that this gesture would buy him peace with England and the possession of Poitou, Maine, Anjou and Normandy. The settlement was less advantageous to Hugh of Lusignan. His Poitevin castles were confiscated, refitted and sold off by Alphonse of Poitiers. His daughter (Isabel of Lusignan) was married to his enemy Geoffrey of Rancon Lord of Gençay in 1250, who rebuilt his castle with Isabel's dowry.The arms of Alphonse de Poitiers For Raymond VII of Toulouse, the peace of Lorris renewed the conditions which had been imposed previously under the Treaty of Paris. In time his inheritance would pass to his daughter who under the terms of the treaty was given in marriage to Alphonse, and when they died without issue the County of Toulouse passed to the French crown.

For England and France, this battle at Taillebourg was a foretaste of and precursor to the Hundred Years War.






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Cross of Toulouse.
The Counts of Toulouse
the Kings of England