The Saintonge War was a conflict primarily between the Kingdom of England and Francia, over the succession of the late king Harold of Aquitaine. Primarily a feudal dispute, the conflict was the culmination of years of deteriorating relations between the two kingdoms, made worse by the English king's growing power in France, rivaling the king's own. Fought from 1163 to 1166, the war was one of the largest conflicts between England and Francia to date, and was an important conflict in the history of Aquitaine.
In 1125 the king of England, Ulf I Haroldsson, was wed to Eleanor of Aquitaine, acquiring a major territory in continental Europe for the English House of Hereford. Aquitaine however was not as strong as it once was, as a recent war alongside Louis Capet, Count of Paris against the Norman king of France, Henry I, had ended in Aquitainian defeat, and a severe partitioning of the state among Eleanor's relatives and rivals alike. In 1137 England and Aquitaine launched an invasion of the County of Toulouse, as well as numerous other previously Aquitainian states, using the civil war between the House of Plantagenet and the House of Blois over the throne of France, nicknamed "The Anarchy", as a distraction. Ulf's campaign ceded him the Duchy of Guyenne, and following campaigns in the north of France the Duchy of Brittany, leaving him one of the most powerful nobles in France.
Ulf died in 1143, and his son Sweyn III attempted to unite Aquitaine and Guyenne once more, after the death of his half brother Harold. This caused immediate intervention by Henry II Plantagenet, who sought to limit the power of the English kings in France. The ensuing Saintonge War resulted in Aquitaine's formal separation from the crown of England, and its recognition as a vassal of the king of France.
In 1125 Ulf was wed to Eleanor of Aquitaine, a powerful duchess in the south of France. Eleanor had previously been married to Henry I, King of the Franks, and this caused deteriorating relations between England and France. Henry portrayed himself in as a higher moral authority, noting his experience as a crusader, and painting Ulf in a less desirable light. Over the next several years the relationship between the two kingdoms worsened. In 1129 Conan III, Duke of Brittany died, and civil war broke out in his realm. Ulf supported the claimant Conan IV, who had strong English ties and could be easily influenced by Ulf. Five years later Ulf personally led an army into Brittany, securing Nantes for himself against Conan IV after he failed to subdue his uncle, Alan. The French kings were largely distracted by civil war, nicknamed "The Anarchy", and were unable to counter Ulf's ambitious gains across the channel.
Eleanor's power had been heavily reduced in Aquitaine after the war between Aquitaine and Normandy from 1120 to 1121, with Aquitaine being partitioned between members of the House of Poitiers and other noble families. In 1136 Ulf launched an invasion of the County of Toulouse, supported by his wife's forces from Poitiers. Ulf also allied with the Count of Barcelona, who had a pre existing rivalry with the Count of Toulouse, William Capet. The invasion began with a naval invasion down the Gironde estuary, taking Ulf to the gates of Bordeaux, a city ruled by William's brother-in-law, Charles. Charles marched an army out of the city, hoping to intercept the landing army and defeat Ulf before he could properly prepare. Charles underestimated Ulf's army, and was defeated outside the city, but not before inflicting heavy casualties. Ulf retreated north to the town of Pauillac, a city aligned to Eleanor, where he met up with the rest of his docked fleet. At the same time Saintonge, ruled by Eleanor's cousin William, made a secret pledge to Eleanor over William of Toulouse, and the Army of Poitiers marched into Saintonge on route to relieve Ulf's men. William was reluctantly appointed commander of a joint Saintonge-Poitiers army, which first saw combat at the Battle of Salignac, a minor engagement against a portion of Charles' garrison.
The Count of Toulouse mobilized his army, and called upon the other counts formally under Eleanor's ducal control to support him, successfully mustering a considerable coalition of southern French states. One such ally would be Amanieu III, Lord of Albret, who had successfully elevated his family to a position of power following the rebellion over a decade earlier. William's coalition arrived too late to aid Bordeaux however, and a few weeks after Ulf's initial landing the city fell to the English and their allies. The English next turned on Bazas, an independent city to the southeast, and was met by William and the Lord of Albret. After a brief siege Ulf pulled back his men, causing William to order an immediate charge after the fleeing English. The Count of Toulouse would be ambushed however by the men of Poitiers, who devastated the coalition forces involved in the charge. Amanieu III, Lord of Albret, would be among those dead, being succeeded by one Bernard Ezi II. Numerous other castles were seized by the English, and many towns in western Aquitaine were pillaged.
This continued into 1137, when a peace treaty between King Stephen of France and Geoffrey of Anjou was signed, temporarily ending The Anarchy. Ulf was compelled to leave France, fearful of a possible intervention by the French king. A peace treaty was signed that ceded some of the Count of Toulouse's possessions on the western coast of France to Ulf, as well as some minor territorial possessions to William of Saintonge, such as the County of Nérac. This peace continued until 1139, when it was discovered that the Lord of Albret was supporting dissidence in Ulf's French possessions. He returned to France toward the end of that year, receiving Bordeaux with relatively little fighting. William, Count of Toulouse was joined by additional allies, including Angoulême, the city of Cahors, and Turenne, threatening Poitiers itself.
William, Count of Saintonge again claimed the role of commander of Ulf's French allies, which now included Elias IV, Count of Périgord, after Sweyn, Jarl of Essex was married to Elias' daughter Joana in 1138. Sweyn accompanied his father to France, who was now in his sixties, acting as a commander of the English forces in his own right. After the capture of Bordeaux Sweyn split off from the main English army with a smaller force, marching against Lord Albret while his father marched north to aid the Count of Saintonge. Bernard Ezi II, Lord of Albret had pillaged and occupied Nérac, and Sweyn sought to take back the county. Bernard Ezi had been preoccupied in the west after Nérac, pillaging towns loyal to the English along the coast. When he received news of Sweyn's advance he returned east hastily to aid the garrisons he had stationed, meeting Sweyn at Mézin. Bernard Ezi would be decisively defeated by the English, leading to the fall of Nérac a few weeks later.
Sweyn pursued the Lord of Albret into the lordship itself, laying siege to Albret in 1140. By this time war had broken out between the Angevin duke Geoffrey and the late King Stephen of France's son, William, again distracting other French nobles from intervening against the English. Ulf began 1140 by securing a decisive victory against the Count of Angoulême at Chalais. Combined with William of Saintonge's successful siege of Angoulême itself in April, the Count was forced to relent to English demands. The remaining coalition loyal to William of Toulouse rallied at Sarlat, where they were met by the English in the summer of 1140. Forces from Toulouse, Cahors, and Turenne were tasked with the defense of the city against Ulf and William of Saintonge, but in the ensuing battle the coalition would be defeated. This devastating battle left William of Toulouse willing to negotiate a peace treaty, and departed for the negotiation table at Castillon, where the bishop of the city was to act as a mediator.
In the Treaty of Castillon a large concession known as the Duchy of Guyenne was granted to the English, including Bordeaux, Bazas, and other cities in southern Aquitaine. The county of Targon, which separated Guyenne in two, was established as an Aquitanian vassal, as were Turenne and Angoulême. Nérac was returned to Poitiers, and any territories seized by the Lord of Albret were also returned. Bernard Ezi was forced to swear fealty to the English as well. Most importantly, William of Toulouse conceded the earlier agreement made with Eleanor in the wake of the 1121 invasion of Aquitaine, which had made William the heir to Aquitaine and all of Eleanor's territories. Instead Eleanor's children by Ulf would ascend to the throne of Aquitaine, passing the large French territory into the hands of the House of Hereford in the not too distant future. The Bishop of Castillon also saw his bishopric expanded, gaining territory controlled by the city of Cahors, possibly as a bribe on Ulf's part.
Ulf I Haroldsson died in 1143 while traveling near Fontenay, and was succeeded by his son as Sweyn III of England. In an attempt to quell complaints from his brother Björn, Jarl of the Five Boroughs Sweyn ceded all possessions in Brittany to Björn. Ulf's son by Eleanor of Aquitaine was crowned duke after the death of his mother, as well as duke of Guyenne, with William, Count of Saintonges serving as his regent for the next few years. Sweyn III Ulfsson was crowned in London in the weeks following his father's death. It is possible that Sweyn feared his brother Björn, as he may have been jealous of the underage Harold as Duke of Aquitaine over himself, and Sweyn's concessions to him in Brittany were an attempt to quell his complaints and remove him from England, where he could threaten the king.
Sweyn's growing power in southern France attracted attention from the kings of France. Geoffrey Plantagenet had seized the throne of France and ended The Anarchy after the Battle of Bouvines, being succeeded by his son Henry II in 1151. Henry II allied with the Count of Champagne and the Duke of Burgundy against Aquitaine. Henry II's son Richard was born in 1157, leaving Henry more confident in his position as king, and he began preparing for war against England. In the north Sweyn exerted further influence across Brittany, leading an invasion in 1058 to punish the local barons of the region. Conan IV was defeated and forced to abdicate, granting the remainder of Brittany to his daughter Constance, who was betrothed to Sweyn's brother Björn, the Count of Nantes. Growing tensions arose over how money for the crusader states of the Levant should be collected, and in 1059 Sweyn attacked a French arsenal near Brittany. This severally weakened Henry II, and Sweyn was able to continue his war in Brittany without fear of retaliation.
In the final straw came when Harold, Duke of Aquitaine, Sweyn's brother, died unexpectedly at the age of thirty one. Sweyn claimed the throne of Aquitaine and Guyenne for himself, in the absence of a son to succeed Harold. Henry II built up his forces once more, and in 1163 the French king and his allies declared war on England. A French army was assembled in Chinon, while Sweyn led the English to Royan, where they joined up with Harold's former forces. In attempt to gain the support of William, Count of Saintonge, Sweyn proclaimed him duke in exchange for his fealty, and William was granted command of the French forces loyal to the English cause. The French gained the support of the Lusignan dynasty, led by Hugh VIII, one of the most powerful nobles under Harold's rule, and a chief supporter of autonomy for his possessions.
Sweyn marched north from Bordeaux and reached Ingrandes, where he met Henry II in battle. The French had occupied the nearby castle outside the city, which overlooked the bridge over the Charente. The English and French met near the bridge, before a massive charge of the French knights uprooted the English possession. The French pursued as far as Poitiers, where the English were besieged. At the same time Hugh had marched from La Marche and encountered William of Saintonge at Montmorillon. The Anglo-French alliance managed to repulse Hugh, but the battle delayed reinforcements from reaching Poitiers, which surrendered soon after. By early 1164 the French now controlled the capital of Aquitaine, but the alliance soon quarreled over the duchy's spoils. Henry II attempted to place his young son Richard on the throne, angering the Lusigans and other nobles. Hugh VIII in response made peace with the English that February.
A second English invasion of English and Breton soldiers, led by Sweyn's brother Björn, was launched from Brittany into Anjou. Henry II allied with John II, Count of Alençon, who spearheaded the French defense in the north. Björn marched as far east as Angers, before he turned north to relieve the siege at Fougères, led by John II. Despite the fall of Aquitaine, the majority of the duchy's vassals and forces were still aligned to Sweyn, who marched east against Toulouse, supported by Burgundy. William of Toulouse had seized English fortresses at Montauban and now marched toward Nérac, aided by rebellious nobles in Guyenne. At the Battle of Bergerac Sweyn would defeat a coalition of pro-Henry lords in Guyenne, diminishing the power of the rebellion in Guyenne. This was followed up by a successful siege at Sarlat that May, securing what was left of the duchy under Sweyn. Amanieu IV of Albret declared his support for Toulouse and the French king, and marched on Nérac from the east, trapping the county from two sides and forcing its surrender.
When Sweyn learned of this he immediately marched back west, meeting a combined enemy alliance at Marmande. In the ensuing battle William would be killed, launching Toulouse into crisis. Unable to support two major wars at once, Sweyn elected to make peace with the Lord of Albret and other supporters of William, securing a white peace in the south. In Brittany Björn defeated Henry II in Anjou itself, and had captured most of the lands of the Count of Retz. French forces were withdraw from Aquitaine that summer, and in August William of Saintonge retook Poitiers. The French coalition repulsed Björn back into Brittany, winning a decisive victory at Ancenis. A back and forth war continued into 1165, with a French occupation of Dol, and an unsuccessful raid on Nantes.
In early 1165 a French army marched against Poitiers, where William had himself crowned the previous year. Hugh of La Marche again declared war on Aquitaine, and joined the French invasion. At the Battle of Confolens the French would position their forces with Hugh's army on their left flank. William was partially surrounded, but not before breaking through the French left flank and devastating La Marche forces. Hugh would be killed in the battle, but nevertheless the battle became a decisive defeat for Aquitaine. Sweyn intervened and marched into Aquitaine from Guyenne, defeating the Viscount of Limognes and his allies at the Battle of Châlus.
By mid 1165 Henry II had reached Angoulême, receiving the count's surrender. The French had now penetrated into central Aquitaine, and threatened Saintes, an important city in William's regime. In July he marched south from Poitiers, concurrent to Sweyn's advance north, meeting Henry II had Cognac. In the ensuing battle the Anglo-Aquitanian alliance would successfully defeat the French, but the battle would not be decisive, as it allowed Henry and the majority of his forces to escape. Poitiers fell once more to French forces, while in the north Henry II's allies had made significant headway into Brittany. Similarly Thouars had fallen to Anjou after a successful siege, and the Lord of Parthenay surrendered his territory as well, essentially removing Sweyn and William from Poitou completely. In late 1165 Niort fell to Henry II, but he failed to defeat William at Fontenay the following month, where William had taken up court.
In early 1166 both sides agreed to peace negotiations, meeting in Chinon. Negotiated by the Archbishop of Tours, the ensuing treaty affirmed Björn's position as Duke of Brittany, William's position as Duke of Aquitaine, and Sweyn's position as Duke of Guyenne. However, William was forced to swear fealty to France, making Aquitaine a French vassal once more. Similarly the duchy lost La Marche and other territories. Although Henry II failed to seize the throne of Aquitaine directly, he had successfully acquired its vassalage, and had prevented the English from seizing it, thus splitting the southern French positions of Ulf Haroldsson in two.
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