The Magna Carta Project

John plans his return to England

by Professor Nicholas Vincent

10 August 1214 - 16 August 1214


6-7, 9, 11 Aug 1214

Le Blanc (Indre) (Ubblanc’)

RLP, 120; RLC, i, 169b

14 Aug 1214

Montmorillon (Vienne)

RLP, 120

15 Aug 1214

Saint-Paixent (Vienne, com. Millac)

RLC, i, 170

15 Aug 1214

Charroux (Vienne)

RLC, i, 170

16-17 Aug 1214

Montignac (Charente) (Montigniac')

RLP, 120; RLC, i, 170, 202

The Charlemagne Tower of the Abbey of Charroux

The Charlemagne Tower of the Abbey of Charroux

From Le Blanc on or after Monday 11 August, the King turned south to Montmorillon. He passed the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, 15 August, on the march, stopping first at the priory of Saint-Paixent (Sanctum Peisanc') to whose monks he granted a decorated silver chalice and where he presumably crossed the river Vienne, and subsequently at the Benedictine Abbey of Charroux (possessor of a famous relic of Christ's foreskin).1  He reached Montignac on the Charente, just to the north of Angoulême on the following day.  That Bouvines and its consequences now preyed upon the King's mind is suggested by letters issued on 14 August, commanding that two knights have access to Robert of Dreux, one of the King's most prominent state prisoners.2  Robert was son of the count of Dreux, brother of the duke of Brittany, and a close kinsman of King Philip of France.  He had been captured outside Nantes early in June.  In due course, his release was to be offered in exchange for that of King John's half-brother, William Longuespée, taken captive at Bouvines.3  The sudden upsurge of interest in Robert, in mid August, suggests that these negotiations over the prisoners taken at Bouvines may already have begun. 

By the time that the King reached Montignac on 16 August, there was no doubt that the bad news from the north had been received and that a course of action had been agreed upon.  In essence, as soon as he could negotiate a truce with the French, John now intended to return to England.  Letters to the justiciar, Peter des Roches, and to more than twenty other recipients in England, including the castellans of Hastings, Porchester and Southampton offered credences to Thomas of Erdington and Henry de Vere, sent across the Channel with secret instructions over the keeping of Dover castle, the King's personal safety and the state of his affairs in England and Rome.4  The campaigning season was itself now drawing to a close.  The chances that between August and October, Philip Augustus could muster a fleet and an army with which to invade England were extremely remote.  Even so, it was by now clear that England itself might react unfavourably to recent events, both in Flanders and Poitou, and that the King's relations with many of his English barons and bishops were at so low an ebb that trouble could be anticipated. 

At some point before 22 August, the King ordered an inquest into disputes over custody of the vacant bishopric of Rochester.  To Archbishop Langton, who claimed custody, the King wrote in emollient terms, promising action and meanwhile requesting the avoidance of all conflict given the weight of business that Langton must know the King was obliged to confront.  The King's letters sent on the same occasion to his own ministers in England are less guarded, noting that since the archbishop seemed to be claiming something of which no mention had previously been made to the King, little faith could be placed in his claims.5 In the meantime, the papal legate, Nicholas of Tusculum, took custody of the vacant see.6


RLC, i, 170.  For the Benedictine priory of Saint-Paixent, Vienne, com. Millac, see L.H. Cottineau, Répertoire topo-bibliographique des abbayes et prieurés, 3 vols (Macon 1937-70), ii, col. 2832, not to be confused with the priory of Sainte-Pezenne, Deux-Sèvres, cant. Niort, for which see Ibid., col.2845.


RLP, 120, followed by the enrolment of letters sent as early as 21 June but not previously copied onto the chancery rolls, concerning the ransom of Breton and French prisoners taken outside Nantes.  For safe conducts governing this same mission to Robert of Dreux, issued at Angoulême on 18 August, see RLP, 120.  The earl of Salisbury was meanwhile handed over to the count of Dreux, Robert's father, to hold pending the exchange: Les Registres de Philippe Auguste, ed. J.W. Baldwin, M. Nortier and others (Paris 1992), 565 no.13.


RLP, 140.


RLC, i, 202.


RC, 201b-202, enrolled on the dorse of a membrane of the Charter Roll devoted to business from July to 22 August 1214.  To the archbishop, reminding him of the pressure of business, the King ends cum nos circa plurima sollicitos esse vestra satis nouerit prudencia.  To his ministers, referring to the inquest that Langton claimed had taken place, set quoniam inquisicio illa in absentia vestri et vestrorum facta fuit ne vos aliquid inde nobis significastis, fidedignum non reputamus.


Selected Letters of Pope Innocent III Concerning England (1198-1216), ed. C.R. Cheney and W.H. Semple (London, 1953), 191 no.71 (papal letters of 13 September).

King John's Diary & Itinerary