Louis VIII ruled France for three years from 1223-1226. He was an active crown prince fighting England’s King John in the Baron’s War. Louis Capet invaded England, declared himself monarch, but was never crowned King of England. John’s enemies supported Louis’ claim, but the Vatican forced an abdication. On top of this, English nobles abandoned the French king leaving Louis without a power base. As a result, Louis VIII of France is a footnote in English history as a pretender to the throne.
England’s King John attempted to reclaim his right to Normandy through force of arms. France’s crown prince Louis Capet campaigned against England’s King John and eventually aligned with English nobles hostile to their own leader. In 1214, Louis met John at Roche-au-Moine, but the English monarch struggled to convince his barons to fight. The king retreated, his allies lost the Battle of Bouvines, and John returned home in defeat.
John’s nobles opposed the king’s taxation policies and grew even more confrontational after the loss of Normandy. They rebelled against John in the First Barons’ War. As part of the conflict, the barons offered crown Prince Louis of France the English throne. Louis accepted the offer, invaded Eastern Kent, and entered London unopposed. Despite lacking an official coronation, many nobles accepted the new king and paid homage per medieval tradition.
By mid-1216, Louis captured over half of England when John died suddenly. The death changed the course of the English monarchy. The nobles abandoned the French king in favor of John’s son, Henry. The nine-year-old’s regent put forth a call for all true Englishmen to oppose the foreign invader. In an instant, John’s death transformed English King Louis into a French invader. Henry III’s forces defeated Louis at the Battle of Sandwich in 1217. At the same time, the pope excommunicated Louis. The military reversal combined with the Papal action eviscerated Louis’ ambition and legitimacy. The Treaty of Lambeth forced Louis to abdicate, provided a wide ranging amnesty, and paid the French crown prince for his efforts. Most importantly, the agreement forced Louis to admit his reign illegitimate. Six years after his humiliating defeat in England, Louis ascended the French throne. Louis VIII ruled for three years before dysentery ended his life at age 39.
Few remember England’s King Louis. Officially, Louis never truly reigned as he was never crowned and signed a treaty surrendering any claim to the throne. However, English nobles supported his candidacy, he waged war to consolidate his claim, and then his opponent died of natural causes. Once an English candidate other than John availed itself, the barons essentially switched sides. At the same time, the pope declared Louis’ adventure illegal. With evaporating support, military defeats, and international pressure, Louis relinquished his claim on the English throne.