The Magna Carta Project

Disaster at La Roche-aux-Moins

by Professor Nicholas Vincent

29 June 1214 - 5 July 1214


30 Jun - 2 Jul 1214

Roche-aux-Moins (Maine-et-Loire, com. Savennières)

RC, 199b; RLP, 117-117b

5 Jul 1214

?Pouzauges (Vendée) ( Podang/Pudaug’)

RLP, 117b; RLC, i, 168

Hardy ('Itinerary') locates the King at Saint-Maixent on 4 July, source untraced.

For the earlier forms of this place-name, Podalgia/Pozaugis/Pozangium, see the online Dictionnaire topographique for La Vendée, at

Although a stray entry in the Patent Roll suggests a flying visit south to Niort on 28 June, in all likelihood John remained at La Roche-aux-Moins from mid June until 2 July.1  In two distinct letters of 1-2 July, he promised the church of Skenfrith in the Welsh diocese of Llandaff to Matthew de Cigogné, a clerk and close kinsman of various of the King's most loyal alien constables then operating in England.2  Matthew was himself a native of Cigogné, near Athée-sur-Cher, 20 kilometres south-east of Tours.  As one of that great band of brothers and cousins who had come to England in the aftermath of the loss of Normandy after 1204, in the entourage of the King's henchman, Girard d'Athée, he had already attracted the hostile notice of Archbishop Langton, no friend of John's alien constables.3  In due course, Matthew's brothers and cousins were to be specifically cited in Magna Carta as alien constables, sentenced to the loss of their offices and removal from any future role in royal government.4

The presentation of Matthew de Cigogné to Skenfrith was more or less the last administrative act that John authorized at La Roche-aux-Moins.  There follows a hiatus of three or four days, from Wednesday 2 to Saturday 5 July, wherefter the King reappears at a location that the chancery rolls name as Podang or Pudaug, perhaps the modern Pouzauges, 80 kilometres south of the Loire, on the main road towards Niort.

What drove John south?  The Histoire des ducs de Normandie and other French sources report a major engagement at La Roche-aux-Moins between John's army and the forces of the Capetian prince Louis.  Having waited at Chinon for a fortnight for instructions from his father, King Philip, Louis now moved south to La Roche where he dispatched a herald publicly to defy King John.  John was initially inclined to accept battle against what he believed to be a much smaller force but, in the event, was persuaded to retire, perhaps by Aimery vicomte of Thouars, perhaps by Savaric de Mauléon.  So great was the panic, the French chroniclers report, that not only was John forced to abandon his own tents and supplies but a large number of his troops perished in crossing the river, events that can be dated on or shortly after 2 July.5  Letters of Aimery de Thouars sent later that summer refer to John's defeats as having left the vicomté of Thouars open to pillage and occupation by Louis' army for a period of two weeks thereafter.6

Battle of La Roche-aux-Moins, BL Royal MS 16 G VI f.385

Battle of La Roche-aux-Moins, BL Royal MS 16 G VI f.385

One hint that John was already apprehensive, some days before the relief of La Roche-aux-Moins, occurs on 30 June, when he is to be found writing to the vicomte of Limoges and Aimery de Rochechouart, attempting to secure peace for the lands of Aimery le Brun (of Montbron, on the frontiers between the vicomtés of Angoulême and Limoges), recently deceased in the King's service.7  Affairs in the Limousin had already engaged the King, a week earlier, when he had issued safe conducts to the archbishop of Bourges and the bishop of Orléans, acting as papal judges delegate in a major dispute between the prior of Grandmont and his rebellious lay brotherhood.8    At Bordeaux, around 25 June, the papal legate appointed to oversee the crusade against heresy in southern France, Robert Courson, had held a council to which he had originally summoned King John, but to which the King instead had sent the bishop of Périgueux and Geoffrey de Neville, seneschal of Gascony.  Courson himself was an Englishman, albeit long resident in the schools of Paris where, like Stephen Langton, archbishop of Canterbury, he had enjoyed a significant career as teacher and theologian.  The English ambassadors assured the legate that John intended to remain obedient to the Pope and to follow papal advice in respect to any castles in the regions of Agen and Cahors, the border lands that divided Plantagenet Aquitaine from that great hotbed of heresy, the county of Toulouse.  These lands had already been the focus of attention earlier in 1214 when John had travelled south to the Garonne.  In April, there had been open clashes between John's men at Marmande and the forces of Simon de Montfort, commander of the army of the Albigensian Crusade.9  A copy of the legatine statutes issued from the council of June 1214 was duly entered by John's clerks on the back of the chancery Patent Roll, threatening dire sanctions against all accused of harbouring heretics, although specifically commending the devotion and obedience of King John.10  There are hints in all of this that John's defeat on the Loire in early July coincided with an outbreak of trouble further south.  John was now obliged to fend off the threat brewing on the far borders of southern Aquitaine that had always been amongst the most difficult lands for his family to control.


The Niort entry occurs on the dorse of the Patent Roll, RLP, 139b, and concerns the attempted election of Richard Marsh as bishop of Winchester.


RC, 199b; RLP, 117b.


Acta Stephani Langton Cantuariensis Archiepiscopi AD 1207-1228, ed. K. Major, Canterbury and York Society l (1950), 12-13 no.6.


In general, N. Vincent, 'Who's Who in Magna Carta Clause 50', Le Médiéviste et la monographie familiale: sources, méthodes et problématiques, ed. M. Aurell (Turnhout 2004), 235-64, esp. p.239.


C. Petit-Dutaillis, Étude sur la vie et le règne de Louis VIII (1187-1226) (Paris 1894), 48-50; Histoire des ducs de Normandie et des rois d’Angleterre, ed. F. Michel (Paris, 1840), 143-4.


Diplomatic Documents Preserved in the Public Record Office, ed. P. Chaplais (London,1964), no.15.


RLP, 117b.


RLP, 117b.


For all of this, see N. Vincent, 'England and the Albigensian Crusade ', England and Europe in the Reign of Henry III (1216-1272), ed. B.K.U. Weiler and I.W. Rowlands (Aldershot 2002), 67-97, esp. pp.75-6; Foedera, 121, 123.


RLP, 139b-140; Foedera, 122, copied onto the dorse of a membrane that covers business from 26 June to 15 July.

King John's Diary & Itinerary