I’ve spent the past couple of weeks reading up on the Norman invasion and its impact on English history. This is in connection to research on the role of the Norman earls of Cornwall during the 11th-12th centuries. I’ve found myself engrossed in the Norman ducal/royal family and their constant intrigue and back-stabbing of one another; it appears that Sunday dinners at William the Conqueror’s home would not have been very welcoming. The Conqueror fought against his eldest son, Robert Curthose, and after his death in 1087 the three remaining brothers proceeded to fight with one another over the inherited possessions. The final champion of these dynastic squabbles was the unlikeliest and the youngest: Henry I. By 1106 he had claimed the English kingdom and had taken possession of the Duchy of Normandy. But he had to fight against the French monarch of the time – Louis VI (“the Fat”) – in order to secure it.
It is this period of history – the second decade of the 1100s – that has made me stumble across something of a missing piece: the name of a war. I had simply assumed that all the wars of history had been named – either during the war itself or by historians after. So, for example, the recent Gulf Wars were named so by the media during these periods, whilst other wars, such as The Wars of the Roses were given years after the fact. And then we have the examples of wars that are renamed due to unfolding events: the Great War of 1914-18 was later labelled the First World War due to the break-out of another “Great War” in 1939. Whilst contemporaries at the outbreak of the Hundred Years’ War could never have known that it would last a century (in actual fact 116 years), and has been bundled as one continuing conflict rather than the various separate ones that it actually consists of.
And so to the war between Henry I and Louis the Fat. The two monarchs came to blows over territory in northern France and nature of the relationship between both. Although Henry was an equal of Louis in terms of both being kings, the Duchy of Normandy was held by previous Norman rulers on condition that they acknowledge the French king as their feudal overlord. Henry’s success in adding Normandy to the England by 1106 threatened Louis, and the Norman appeared to desire further expansion by taking the strategically placed castle at Gisors. This castle was placed between the Normandy capital of Rouen and Paris, and seemed to violate an earlier agreement that it remain neutral. A summit was arranged between Louis and Henry in 1109 where Louis ordered Henry to retreat from Gisors. This was refused. Louis then offered to fight Henry in a fight of one-on-one combat to resolve the issue. Henry again refused. So war began.
The dispute dragged on for a decade. It is seen as having been resolved in 1119 at the Battle of Bremule where Louis’ army was completely defeated. The monarchs met at Gisors in 1120 and it was settled that Gisors remained in Henry’s hands. However, the feudal arrangement was re-stated, with Henry’s heir – William – doing homage to Louis for Normandy.
This ended the war. But the war of what? There appears to be no name attached to this conflict. So, perhaps this humble blog should be the first to title it! A first proposal is that of the War of Gisors. The castle at Gisors was the initial reason for the outbreak of war, and it was the setting of the final conclusion; but this doesn’t seem to capture the imagination very well. Perhaps a grander title could be found? Having read about the war I started thinking about the various English-French wars that took place in the medieval period into the early-modern period; war after war, century after century. Is the War of Gisors the very beginning of these conflicts? Yes, one could deduce that it is rather a war between a duke of Normandy and a king of France, but Henry was predominately the king of England. Therefore, the grander title is this: the First Anglo-French War.
Of course, I have yet to do a detailed research into this war but I’d like to think that history of a sort has been made on this post. Let’s popularise the First Anglo-French War and give this seemingly nameless conflict an identity.