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4 - Philip II’s “Eye of Command” and the Battle of Bouvines

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 January 2024

Kelly DeVries
Affiliation:
United States Military Academy
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Summary

How individual commanders functioned strategically, operationally, and tactically remains an understudied aspect of war in the High Middle Ages. This article aims to redress that shortfall with an examination of how Philip Augustus of France, who is not typically regarded by modern historians as a great tactician, achieved a great tactical victory with large strategic implications at Bouvines in 1214, while contesting the view that the combat followed some sort of formalized rules or was simply a large-scale knightly duel. Philip's decisive victory at Bouvines was not primarily the result of his tactical leadership, but rather of his long laying of the groundwork for success at the grand strategic, strategic, and operational levels

Fought on Sunday 27 July 1214, the battle of Bouvines has attracted a great deal of attention from the Middle Ages to the twenty-first century. The battle's 800th anniversary less than a decade ago drew renewed scrutiny to it as a historical and military event. The purpose of this article is not to rehash the background, circumstances, the numbers of men engaged, the outcome or impact of the battle but rather to draw attention to a still understudied aspect of war in the High Middle Ages: how an individual commander actually func-tioned strategically, operationally, and tactically. While we cannot know what Philip was actually thinking, it is possible to see how he arrived at his decision to offer battle on a Sunday more than eight hundred years ago. This article seeks to understand how Philip II, who is not typically regarded by modern historians as a great battlefield general, presided over a great tactical victory with strategic implications at Bouvines, while arguing against the stereotype that the combat followed some sort of formalized rules or was merely a large-scale duel between armored mounted men.

Philip II's Grand Strategy

In his early military career up through the Third Crusade and beyond, Philip often appeared outgeneraled by his Angevin contemporaries and primary opponents King Henry II and his son Richard I of England. While John Hosler has successfully defended Philip's performance on the Third Crusade, back in France Philip never had much luck against Richard. After Richard's death in 1199 Philip experienced far more success against Richard's brother John, who was not the talented military commander Richard was.

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2023

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