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The Meetings of the Kings of France and England, 1066-1204

The Meetings of the Kings of France and England, 1066-1204

Gillingham, John

Normandy and its Neighbours, 900-1250: Essays for David Bates, eds. D. Crouch, K. Thompson (Brepols, 2011)

Between 1066 and 1154 the kings of France and of England are known to have met each other on five occasions: in 1079, 1109, 1113, 1120, and 1137. In this period Anglo-French summits were rare events. There then followed a dramatic shift of tempo. In the first fifty years of Angevin rule, the kings met each other on more than sixty occasions. David Bates has rightly emphasised the continuities in the nature of the political game in northern France from the eleventh century until the 1190s when the kings of England came up against a ruthless opponent, Philip Augustus, and a transformed Capetian monarchy. But in one way at least the 1150s witnessed a significant change in the rules of the game. Not, it should be said, in a new willingness of the King of England to do homage to the King of France. What was new and remarkable was the readiness of the two kings to meet often.

This turned out to be a transient phenomenon. After the loss of Normandy fifty years passed before another King of England met a King of France. Then between 1254 and 1264 there was a remarkable spate of meetings between Henry III and Louis IX, but after 1264 Anglo-French summits once again became rare events – eight in the seventy-five years before Edward III claimed the crown, and only six in the 180 years before the Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520. In this respect the Angevin period, when summitry was the height of political fashion, was extraordinary. Angevin met Capetian so often as to flout a widespread convention, found in the Muslim world as well as the Christian: that kings did not meet unless and until an agreement had already been reached.

The subject of medieval summits was tackled in two books written in the1980s: one by Ingrid Voss which focused on meetings between Frankish then German and French rulers from 840 to 1299, and one by Werner Kolb, which looked at the subject over a thousand years. Both provide valuable comparative perspectives, but obviously neither had room to do more than touch on Anglo-French summits. Much has been written about the political and diplomatic relations between the kings of England and France in this period. Louis Halphen, Jean-François Lemarignier, Christopher Holdsworth, and J. E. M. Benham have alllooked at some aspects of some of their meetings. But there has as yet been no focused study such as that by David Carpenter on the meetings of Louis IX and Henry III. Indeed the master-historian of medieval English diplomatic practice, Pierre Chaplais, chiefly interested in the work of envoys constantly going to and fro between the courts and working primarily on documents from later centuries when royal meetings were indeed occasional, managed, no doubt inadvertently, to give the misleading impression that there was nothing remarkable about Anglo-French practice in the later twelfth century.

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