English King John’s obsession with regaining lost French territories resulted in a 12-year war, which culminated in the confrontation at Bouvines in northern France. The campaign strategy had been sound; a planned pincer movement between John’s army, advancing from his Aquitaine stronghold, while his allies, the Holy Roman Emperor Otto IV and the Count of Flanders, converged from the north. But John was unexpectedly repulsed, and Philip II was able to concentrate on Otto’s threat. In the initial encounter, Otto’s central Flemish infantry drove forward ‘pursuing (Philip) terribly, like enraged dogs’. But Philip rallied his soldiers, and the Duke of Burgundy’s cavalry overwhelmed the Emperor’s left flank. When the French broke through on the right, they were able to envelop their opponents. Despite a heroic stand by the Count of Boulogne, victory was total, with 9,000 captured. Otto escaped, but was soon deposed and beaten to death by priests in ‘mortal expiation’. The humiliated John slunk back to England and Magna Carta.
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