Our Lady of Victory, near Senlis, France (1225)
The Abbot Orsini wrote: “Dedication of Our Lady of Victory, near Senlis, in the year 1225, by Guarin, Bishop of Senlis, and Chancellor of France. This abbey was built by Philip Augustus, in thanksgiving for the victory which he gained over the Emperor Otho IV, at Bouvines, in the year 1214.”
The Battle of Bouvines took place on July 27th 1214, and although it is no longer much remembered as a famous battle, it is one in which the world was changed in its aftermath. Easily one of the most significant battles to take place in the Middle Ages, there were combatants from several European countries taking part on one side or the other.
With the death of King Richard the Lion-hearted, his brother John claimed the lands of Normandy along with England, even though he had no right to them, as they rightfully belonged to his nephew, a boy named Arthur. John probably killed Arthur, as he was the one with the most to gain. When King Philip Augustus heard that John was claiming to be the Duke of Normandy, he called him to account for his nephew. When John refused, King Philip took away his right to rule Normandy. Rather than submit, John joined forces with the German Emperor and the Count of Flanders in open rebellion.
King Philip went to Mass with his troops just prior to the battle. His army probably numbered in total about 15,000 men, while the allied forces arrayed against him were nearly double that size. Knowing that his noblemen were anxious about the upcoming battle, King Philip took off his crown and placed it upon the altar, saying: “If anyone here thinks he can wear this crown more worthily than I, let him step forward to take it.” Philip’s men loudly reaffirmed their faith in their king and went enthusiastically to the battle.
The battle was hotly contested, and both King Philip and Otto IV of Germany had several horses killed beneath them. At one point when King Philip was unhorsed he was surrounded by Flemish pikemen. It is related that his life was only saved due to the superior plate mail armor he wore, but later events came to demonstrate that it was also because of the intervention of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
King Philip captured the Count of Flanders and took him back to France to display him to his nobles like a pet in an iron cage. The victory did much more than bring an end to the king of England’s claims to Brittany and Normandy, it also helped strengthen the monarchy in France as it simultaneously weakened the monarchy in England. When King John returned to England, his position was so weakened that he felt compelled to sign the Magna Carta, which greatly limited his power over his subjects. Otto IV of Germany was deposed soon after he returned to his own realm.
In thanksgiving for his victory, King Philip Augustus founded the Abbey of Victory between Senlis and the Bishop Mount, to honor the Mother of God for this signal victory.