Battle of Bouvines (27 July 1214)


Philip II (Auguste)                                           Otto IV

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Bradbury (304) starts his description of the Battle of Bouvines "On the afternoon of 27 July 1214 was fought one of the most decisive and significant battles in European history. At stake were the futures of France and the Holy Roman Empire, and indirectly of England and the Angevin Empire, as well as the counties of Flanders and Boulogne." Besides its historic interests, the battle is also of numismatic interest, in that a number of participants on both sides had coinage. In fact, this might be the medieval battle wherein the largest number of its particpants had coinage. This page will weave together the story of the battle, views and descriptions of the site, and the coinage of some of the participants.

By way of a simple background, Philip II has been involved in a running conflict first with Richard the Lion-Hearted and then his brother John over the control of  Angevin territories in France. By 1214, during John's reign, Angevin holdings were significantly reduced. In the summer of 1214 John invaded France, in the south, while his allies in the north also pressed a campaign. John was held and routed in the south by Philip's son, who reigned as Louis VIII. Philip left Louis in the south with a force to confront John while he traveled to the north to confront John's German, Flemish and French allies. For a detailed discussion of the background of the campaigns I recommend Albert McJoynt's very complete site Xenophongroup web site. With his permission, I am using his actual description of the battle below, with his text preceded by a Xen: notation.

The church of St. Pierre (19th C) in Bouvines has a delightful set of stained glass windows depicting events related to the battle, some undoubtedly imaginary. Here is the first in the series, showing Otto, Ferrand comte de Flandres, Salisbury (representing king John) and Renaud de Dammartin in a council of war at Valenciennes.

Otto was accompanied by a significant number of vassals and allies. There were at least 3 dukes with him, 11 counts and 9 lords/seigneurs. Here are his leaders, through the rank of comte.
Duke Henri of Brabant (coinage)
Duke Henry de Limbourg
Duke Thiebaut de Lorraine
Comte Ferrand de Portugal
Philippe de Courtenay
Guillaume de Holland (coinage)
Walderan de Limbourg
Guillaume Longespee (William Longsword)
Herve de Donzy (coinage)
Gerard de Randerode
Raoul d'Issoudun (coinage)
Renaud de Dammartin (coinage)
Otho de Tecklembourg
Conrad de Dormund

There are several surprises in the Ottonian line-up. Herve de Donzy was fighting with the coalition against Philippe II. Back in the 1190's Philip intervened in a conflict between Pierre de Courtenay and Herve de Donzy over a succession. The upshot was Herve ceded Gien to Philip, married Pierre's daughter and received as dowry the county of Nevers, while Pierre retained the counties of Autun and Tonnere. Philip granted Herve the right to mint coinage. Herve fought in the Albigensian crusade for Philip and more recently, in 1213, joined Philip in the campaign against John's interests in Artois. Yet he ended up fighting for John and with Otto. John offered him the county of  Sens and the right to marry his daughter to John's son. This induced Herve to change sides. After Otto's defeat Herve and Philip reconciled. Also on the Ottonian side was Raoul de Issoudun. At the top of the Ottonian line-up was Duc Henri of Brabant.

Henri de Brabant (1190-1235)

AR denier   au cavalier, BRABANT, Duché, 1210-1235, Anvers. Droit : Le duc galopant à droite, tenant l'épée haute. A droite, une croisette formée par quatre points. Revers : Croix brabançonne cantonnée de quatre annelets pointés et de quatre croisettes. Ref.: Ghyssens, p. 6, 2; W., 42. 0,55g. Image and description are from Elsen catalogue 90 #635.

Herve d'Donzy (1199-1223)

AR denier, 19mm. .93gr. Obv: +COMES ERVEVS, central crescent and symbols. The coin is hard to read and the legend is from R. This looks like EVI_OVI. Rev: +NIVERNIS CVIT, central cross, empty quadrants. Mint is Nevers. R4168v, 4171v (which has CIVT and objects in the + quadrants. ; PdA 2135v (as billon, objects in the + quadrants); Boud 344v. Seller Maison Platt ID's as AR, PdA 2138.

Raoul II (1127-64) or Raoul III (1199-1212) of Issoudun

AR denier, 19 mm. Obv: .RADVLFVS, central omega. Rev: +XOLIQYN, central cross with two besants. R 4045v as RII; PdA 1994 as RIII; Boud 295 as RIII.

After traveling in the same area for several days, and unbeknownst to the other, even passing each other, the French and HRE's army caught up near Bouvines. This map from Xenophon shows a larger area of the conflict.

Xen: "Sunday morning of 27 July found Philippe II's force stretched out over a long distance to the west of Tournai. French engineers had been sent ahead to widen the bridge at Bouvines, so the army could cross it more rapidly. The French advanced section, of mainly infantry and baggage, had crossed the only bridge over the Marcq River in the area, at the hamlet of Bouvines. Philippe II, himself, stopped with his main force of heavy cavalry (knights and sergeants) on the east side of the bridge at Bouvines."

Philip 11, Auguste (1180-1223)

(for a larger version click here)

AR denier, 17mm, .99gr. Obv: +PHILIPVS RE, central crowned head. Rev: +ROGERVS EPE, central head with mitre. Mint is Laon. Roger de Rosay (1174-1201) was bishop of Laon. Dup 184; C 150.

Today the Marcq is a small river. Even so, it would be hard for an army to cross without a decent bridge.

This larger map gives an idea of the local geography. Today the road path is is different from what it was at the time of the battle. The old Bouvines - Tournai Roman road is marked in green. This is no longer used. Today it is essentially a rural track. It's pictured below. Likewise, the bridge Philip used is long gone, and its site is somewhere in the vicinity of the green cross to the left of the map. The photos above are just to the north of the old and current bridges. Bradbury places the battle field  north of Cysoing, south of Gruson, and west of Bouvines. The approximate French positions are represented in blue, the HRE/coalition forces in orange. While the positions are approximate, the scale of the lines is not. Each represents about 2000 meters. Hutton mentions several times in his description of the battle that French forces near the bridge were at times threatened, suggesting an alignment of forces close to Bouvines. Other sources place the forces somewhat further east, with slightly different axis alignments.

Xen: "It was late morning, when to the east, the French rearguard was attacked by the advance guard of the emperor's coalition army, which had marched rapidly from Mortagne, south of Tournai. The emperor was anticipating to find the French in retreat, and his host was moving in such an array as to engage quickly an unprepared enemy in march configuration. As the French rearguard fended off the attacks of the allied advanced elements, Otto IV was all the more convinced that he had the French at a disadvantage and in retreat.

Otto IV

AR brakteat, 21mm, .53gr. Single sided coin with lion passant. Mint is Brunswick. Berger 407, Bonhoff 92 (ID by Singer).

Xen: "Philippe II's rearguard of mounted sergeants was under the command of Adam viscomte de Melun. One of Philippe II's most experienced military leaders, the Hospitaller and bishop-elect Guérin de Senlis, rode in a position where he could monitor the rear of the French march column. When Guérin saw the imperial army rapidly approaching in full battle array, he hurried to report the to the king, who was watching his cavalry starting to cross the bridge at Bouvines. Philippe immediately recognized the potential for disaster, since there would be no way to get the rear third of his army across the bridge before it was destroyed. The French king ordered the entire army to turn around and form for battle, and directed the infantry to come back across the bridge at full speed."

Xen: "Meanwhile Otto's troops smashed into viscomte Melun's detachment, forcing the French horse arbalesters and the Champenois sergeants to return to their aid. Then (Eudes)  duc de Bourgogne departed from the main cavalry column, and threw his knights into the growing holding action. The enlarged French rearguard managed to delay the imperial army's vanguard for the necessary time it took for the main French cavalry to form up in battle array."

Eudes III (1193-1218)

Bill denier, 18mm, 1.13gr. Obv: +ODO DUX BVRG:DIE, central anille. R: +DIVIONENIS, central cross with two opposing arrow points. Mint is Dijon. R4522; Boud 1203; PdA 5659.

Two stained glass windows from St. Pierre in Bouvines illustrate Philip before he joined the engagement. On the right he is in the small church of Bouvines, saying a prayer. Hutton cites Mouskes, a clerk from Tournai traveling with Philip. Philip's words are supposedly "Lord I am but a man, but I am king. Thine is to guard the king. Thou wilt lose nothing thereby. Wherever Thou would go I will follow Thee." In the window to the left Philip is accepting the homage of his vassals. After this prayer Philip donned his armour and joined his now battle aligned army.

Philip's vassals at the battle were many in number. He was joined by one duke (Eudes of Bourgogne), 11 counts, 2 viscounts and at least 32 lords/seigneurs. Here are the nobles through viscounts aligned on his side.
Eudes of Bourgogne (coinage)
Pierre de Courtenay (coinage)
Henri de Bar (coinage)
Robert de Dreux (coinage)
Guillaume de Ponthieu (coinage)
Jean de Beaumont
Arnould de Guines
Raoul de Soissons (coinage)
Henry de Grandpre
Gaucher de Chatillon
Thomas de Perche
Guillaume de Sancerre
Adam de Meulun
Geoffroy de Chateaudun
Seigneurs: Etienne de Sancerre (coinage)

This window shows Philip immediately before the battle. Here he is blessing his soldiers. He tells them they are fighting men who are excommunicated and that God is on their side. He also tells them that even though it is a Sunday, they must fight to protect themselves and that Otto initiating battle on a Sunday will not find favor in God's eyes. Likewise, Otto's forces claimed the protection of God and some sewed crosses on their garments as signs that they were doing God's work.

 Xen: "Otto IV, who had thought that he was pursuing, was surprised to encounter the French army drawn up in order of battle. In turn, the emperor had to form his own army hastily for a pitch battle, because if he turned around or tried to retreat he would surely have been destroyed. The imperial army was forced to align itself in respect to the positions being taken by the French."

This and similar maps are from the Xenophon web site.

 Xen: "Philippe II appears to have aligned his army at an angle across the road, on a bit of rolling terrain above the marshy river bank. He left his right flank area open so the retreating rearguard could form there. Remarkably, The French king seemed to have arranged for the orderly placement of each of the returning detachments. One after the other, he had them successively to extend his line northward, to the left. By the time the duc de Bourgogne approached the bridge in a fighting retreat he could see his suzerain's army completing its deployment into line of battle."

Here's what the field looks like today, first from the French perspective and then from the coalition perspective. First, top left, is a view down the track marked on local maps as Chemin de Bouvines a Tournai. This is the green line on the Cysoing/Bouvines map and the path of the old Roman road. This is closer to the center, right-center of the French line. The next picture is further to the north, with the village of Bouvines in the background. This was most likely behind the left of the French line, since it is fairly close to the river. The bottom picture is looking north from the left of the French line towards Gruson. This is a view Robert de Dreux is likely to have had.

Xen: "For his part, Otto, ordered each of his arriving units off to the right, extending his lines to match the French. The eye witnesses attest to Otto's astonishment at finding a powerful fighting force rather than a column of stragglers before him. The deployment procedure took at least an hour, during which the French infantry managed to get across the bridge and hurriedly into line supporting the nobility. The duc de Bourgogne used the time to rest and refresh his sorely taxed knights, who now took up their honored place on the right of the French line. The time was around noon, or early afternoon. The sun was at the back of the French forces."

Otto would have had a view of the field along these lines. The picture to the right shows the fields looking towards Bouvines. The modern church steeple is circled in red. To his right would be Gruson and left Cysoing. Today the field is dotted with 20th century machine gun pill boxes. The picture to the left is the small Chapelle aux Arbres and is at the right end of the green line on the map above. The picture below is looking down a small road to Gruson. It would be Otto's right and someplace in the vicinity Renaud de Dammartin held his position on the coalition line. I'm standing in the road holding one of Renaud's coins. Having the coin made me curious about the battlefield, since he was one of the real losers in this fight. Basically, this is a flat plain that lent itself to cavalry action.

Xen: "Thus, two of the largest military forces in early thirteenth century France came face-to-face, each in two lines about 2,000 yards wide. To get a picture of the scene one must recall that a medieval host was composed of a heterogeneous crowd of separate detachments raised by a wide variety of vassals and communities. Some minor barons might be liable to bring 10 or 20 mounted knights and twice the number in sergeants. Others would have private armies of 100 knights and their retainers. Various abbeys and bishops would have their mounted knights and foot troops under their own banners. Towns of all sizes would send their communal militia variously armed and experienced in combat."

Xen: "The French army was arrayed as the necessity of rushing from line of march back into line of battle dictated. The fully armored knights were across the entire field. [There is some interpretation that the French knights had to form in a single ranks, versus the preferred two so as to not be outflanked by the larger coalition army. The mounted, and more lightly armored, sergeants were in multiple ranks.] For command purposes, the medieval hosts grouped into the usual three 'battles' -- a center, with a right wing and a left wing. The French communal militia bands of crossbow men arrived in time to pass through the cavalry, and take up a position in front of the center. The French levied pikemen formed behind the cavalry on each wing."

Xen: "The French nobility was arrayed from right to left as follows: first the knights from Champagne, the host of Eudes de Bourgogne, the knights from Champagne, the followings of the Counts of St. Pol, Beaumont, Montmorency, and Sancerre and smaller feudal contingents; in the center the seventy available Norman knights (the rest still deployed in the south, facing king John Lackland), and the vassals from the Isle-de-France; on the left the retainers of  Robert, comte de Dreux; Guillaume, comte de Ponthieu; Pierre, comte d'Auxerre; the bishop of Beauvais; and Thomas de St. Valery; plus many units from northwest France. The king, himself, stood in the front, center under the oriflamme and his personal blue ensign with the golden lilies." Also fighting with the French was Etienne de Sancerre, who had coinage in his own right.

Robert II Count of Dreux (1184 - 1218)

Bill denier, 20mm, .78gr. Obv: +M. ROBERTVS, central ACO/MES. Rev: DRVCAS CASTA, central cross with symbols in quadrants 1 and 3. Mint is Dreux. R3935; Boud 4; Dup 421; PdA 91.

William III of Ponthieu (1191 - 1221)

For a larger image click here

Billon denier, 19mm, .93gr. Obv: WILELM COIES, central PONTIV in field in two lines. Rev: +ABBATIS VILLE, central cross, two besants. Mint is Abbeyville. R 3931v; Boud 1928+v (he says CONS, besants align differently); PdA 6703v. This type is modeled on the denier parisis. This particular coin is not specifically identified in any of these sources. It reads COIES rather than CONS and similar. On the reverse the besants are aligned in different opposing quadrants from the sources.  It is interesting to note that William's coat of arms is the same as Eudes III of Burgundy. He married into the family and apparently adopted their arms. This leads me to believe he fought with his father-in-law on the French right flank.

Etienne de Sancere  (Anon c. 1190-1230)

For a larger image click here

AR denier, 19mm, 1.07gr. Obv: +IVLIVS CES.A.R, head facing left, star to right. Rev: +SACRUM CESARIS, central cross, lis in 2nd quadrant, star in 4th. Mint is Sancerre. R4974; Boud 305 as Ar; PdA 2012 as Billon, Dy 646.

Henri II, duc de Bar (1214 - 1240)

For a larger image click here

AR denier, 20 mm, .85gr. Obv: +BARRI DVCIS, central 'two 'bars adosses" under a star. The device is a fish, more evident on the shield than on the coin. Rev: HENRICVS COMES, central cross with two lis. R4785; Boud 1425; PdA - (does not cover Bar). Seller cites W.F/II/3, unknown to me.

Xen: "The imperial army drew up with its main infantry body in the front line of the center, and the emperor's personal cavalry in the second. The imperial infantry in the center was composed of German and Netherlands pikemen, considered the best in Europe. Beside his Saxon warriors the emperor placed the chivalry of Brabant, Limburg, Holland, and Namur. Behind his second line of infantry, Otto placed the great Imperial silken dragon flying from the pole on which was a carved imperial eagle with golden wings. The entire imperial standard was mounted on a gold covered 'war chariot'. This he guarded with his personal retinue. On the left Otto deployed the knights of Flanders and Hainault, commanded by comte Ferrand, in the first line with their regional infantry in support. On his right wing, Otto relied on the army of the comte de Boulogne, a small body of Flemish knights, and the mercenaries under William Longsword, earl of Salisbury. They also had infantry in support including crossbow men as well as pikemen."

Xen: "The French opened the battle as Guerin led 300 horse sergeants from Soissons in a charge against the Flemish cavalry of noble knights. Gradually the Burgundy knights joined in. The entire French right and Imperial left wings became enmeshed in a general melee of mounted knights slashing at each other with sword and axe. The comte de Flandres was captured."

This action is captured by one of the stained glass windows, described as a decisive event in the battle. The left glass shows the charge of the comtes de St. Pol, de Montmorency, de Beaumont and de Melun attacking the calvary from Flandres. The middle glass shows Ferrand, comte de Flandres, captured and bound in a cart. In other action, the bishop of  Beauvais clubbed and captured William Longsword, earl of Salisbury. The glass on the right shows the earl on the ground and the bishop handing him over to Jean de Nivelles, chatelain de Bruges. The bishop of Beauvais was a 'fighting' bishop, in that his service to Philip was on the battlefield as well as general counsel. He used a mace rather than a sword, so he was less likely to draw blood, something unchristian for a bishop to do, especially fighting on a Sunday. Longsword was exchanged for the son of Robert, comte de Dreux, who was captured by the coalition forces.


Xen:"In the center, Otto sent his large body of pole-armed infantry forward. The assault was toward the position of Philippe II, among the French infantry of commune militia, which had formed in front. The German and Flemish pole-armed infantry soon disposed of the French militia and reached the line of French knights. Even though they greatly outnumbered the knights, such lightly armored urban militia were no match for the veteran knights in full armor. In the general struggle, king Philippe was pulled from his saddle and briefly threatened. However, seeing the distress signal executed by the king's banner carrier, the French knights in the center battle rapidly joined around Philippe II, who had remounted and continued the fight. The French knights slaughtered the hostile foot swarming about the French monarch. The Fleming foot melted away, and the French nobility reached the position held by Otto and the chivalry of Saxony, Brabant and Limburg."

This window shows Philip falling and being unhorsed. He was apparently struck by a pike which lodged in padded collar and the efforts to disengage it contributed to his fall. Philip was saved by his armor and his household knights. Pierre Tristan gave Philip his horse and Galon de Montigny signaled for help by raising and lowering the royal banner. Guillaume des Barres responded and attacked Philip's attackers.


Xen: "The knights on the French left wing detected an advantage as the the coalition's right wing partly exposed their own right flank in the concentrated effort against the French center. Thus an advance of the French left managed to deliver a decisive blow, destroying the coalition's heavy cavalry on the right and capturing it leader, the earl of Salisbury (pictured above). One of the senior coalition leaders, Hugh de Boves, fled."

Xen: "Back at the center, French chivalry reached the outnumbered but fresh Saxon and Brabantine knights, another wild melee ensued. Otto fought courageously among his retainers, wielding his war axe, while receiving multiple blows in return from a crowd of Frenchmen. Suddenly his horse was killed, throwing him to the ground. A few French knights nearly captured him before the Saxon guard surrounded their sovereign. A noble gave the emperor his horse, on which Otto fled the scene. Apparently he was so shaken up by the beating and near capture that he did not stop riding until he was back in Valenciennes. Emperor Otto's departure essentially destroyed the coalition's resolve."

This episode is captured by one of the windows. Guillaume des Barres led the charge. From Bradbury: "Peter Mauvoison grabbed the emperor's bridle while Gerard la Truie twice delivered blows upon the emperor's body, the second sliding off his armour to strike his mount in the eye. Otto's horse was seriously wounded and plunged away to its death." Otto was rescued, des Barres horse was stabbed and in turn, des Barres was rescued by his comrades.

Xen: "The Saxons and Westphalians manfully covered the retreat, until most of the remaining nobles were captured. The Netherlanders rode off, along with the already flying mercenaries."

Xen: "The coalition's largely mercenary infantry, on the right, led by Renaud de Dammartin, continued to fight as they expected no mercy from the French knights or Philippe II. Renaud continued to resist with a few knights executing sorties from a protective circle of pole-armed mercenary infantry. Eventually the French knights and infantry killed the mercenaries and Renaud surrendered."

Renaud de Dammartin (1191-1227)

AR denier, 19mm, .65gr. Obv: +RENAD COM, in the filed BOL/ONV in two lines. Rev: BOLVNENE, central cross. Mint is Boulogne. R3932; Boud 1935; PdA 6629 (as bill).

Renaud could expect no mercy from Philip because he revolted against him. He allied himself with the English and Germans against France and took money from them. He appears to have been  an opportunist looking primarily for self aggrandizement. One source refers to him as 'a common brigand.' Luchaire describes him as 'a robber with an armed band, and a vulgar pillager of peasants, merchants and citizens.' As the tide turned against the coalition forces, Renaud's troops, in their tight circle, could, for a time, hold off the French mounted forces. He and his knights sallied from within their protective circle to fight and then withdrew to it to rest. In the end he was overwhelmed. This window shows him on the ground with his back to us, defeated.

The comte de Montmorency with captured banners before Philip.

Xen: The battle, fought on flat terrain favorable to cavalry action, lasted about 3 hours. The Emperor's battered imperial insignia was captured and taken to Paris. The earl of Salisbury was quickly exchanged for the son of the comte de Dreux. Frederick of Hohenstaufen was crowned as emperor at Aachen in 1215. Ferrand remained in French prison until 1227, six years before his death. Renaud languished in prison for the rest of his life, which ended with suicide. John Lackland and Philippe agreed to a six year truce at Chinon in 1214...  For some time, Flanders would remain under the French orbit.

French commander(s): Philippe II Auguste with approximately 4,000 knights and sergeants [heavy cavalry], and about 11,000 urban militia foot soldiers. Coalition commander (s): Emperor Otto IV with approximately 25,000 men; a much larger proportion of foot soldiers and slightly less cavalry than the French"

French: unknown, possibly less than 1,000 killed. Coalition: possibly over 1,000 killed, and over 9,000 made prisoners. No reliable figures were recorded for the strength or causalities of the opposing forces."

The discipline of the French feudal army was remarkable, both in returning to the field from an aborted river crossing to the phased engagement on the field. It reflects the leadership of the king and his generals. It is in extreme contrast to the lack of leadership and discipline that led to the series of major defeats for the French several hundred years later in the Hundred Years War, at Crecy, Poitiers and Agincourt.

Today there is an obelisk in Bouvines commemorating the battle.

It is perhaps fitting to end with a coin of another loser (in addition to Otto, Renaud de Dammartin, Ferrand of Flanders and other captives) at this battle, even though he wasn't there. John, king of England was seriously weakened by this defeat, and his own in the south. For background, I recommend Albert McJoynt's very complete site Xenophongroup web site. I also once again express my appreciation to him for permission to use his text describing the actual battle.

John (1199-1216)

Penny, short cross 1205-16, 20mm. Obv: HENRICVS REX, central portrait. Rev: ABEL ON LVNDE (Abel is the name of the moneyer, located in London) S:1351, C:JH1D-025/30.

Sources (full citations on references page)

Bierre, J., Herve IV

Hutton, W.H., Philip Augustus

Bradbury, J., Philip Augustus, King of France 1180 - 1223

Luchaire, A., Social France at the Time of Philip Augustus.

Shields are from