1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bouvines
BOUVINES, a village on the French-Belgian frontier between Lille and Tournay, the scene of one of the greatest battles of the middle ages, fought on the 27th of July 1214, between the forces of Philip Augustus, king of France, and those of the coalition formed against him, of which the principal members were the emperor and King John of England. The plan of campaign seems to have been designed by King John, who was the soul of the alliance; his general idea was to draw the French king to the southward against himself, while the emperor Otto IV., the princes of the Netherlands and the main army of the allies should at the right moment march upon Paris from the north. John’s part in the general strategy was perfectly executed; the allies in the north moved slowly. While John, after two inroads, turned back to his Guienne possessions on the 3rd of July, it was not until three weeks later that the emperor concentrated his forces at Valenciennes, and in the interval Philip Augustus had countermarched northward and concentrated an army at Péronne. Philip now took the offensive himself, and in manoeuvring to get a good cavalry ground upon which to fight he offered battle (July 27), on the plain east of Bouvines and the river Marque—the same plain on which in 1794 the brilliant cavalry action of Willems was fought. The imperial army accepted the challenge and drew up facing south-westward towards Bouvines, the heavy cavalry on the wings, the infantry in one great mass in the centre, supported by the cavalry corps under the emperor himself. The total force is estimated at 6500 heavy cavalry and 40,000 foot. The French army (about 7000 cavalry and 30,000 infantry) took ground exactly opposite to the enemy and in a similar formation, cavalry on the wings, infantry, including the milice des communes, in the centre, Philip with the cavalry reserve and the Oriflamme in rear of the foot. The battle opened with a confused cavalry fight on the French right, in which individual feats of knightly gallantry were more noticeable than any attempt at combined action. The fighting was more serious between the two centres; the infantry of the Low Countries, who were at this time almost the best in existence, drove in the French; Philip led the cavalry reserve of nobles and knights to retrieve the day, and after a long and doubtful fight, in which he himself was unhorsed and narrowly escaped death, began to drive back the Flemings. In the meanwhile the French feudatories on the left wing had thoroughly defeated the imperialists opposed to them, and William Longsword, earl of Salisbury, the leader of this corps, was unhorsed and taken prisoner by the warlike bishop of Beauvais. Victory declared itself also on the other wing, where the French at last routed the Flemish cavalry and captured Count Ferdinand of Flanders, one of the leaders of the coalition. In the centre the battle was now between the two mounted reserves led respectively by the king and the emperor in person. Here too the imperial forces suffered defeat, Otto himself being saved only by the devotion of a handful of Saxon knights. The day was already decided in favour of the French when their wings began to close inwards to cut off the retreat of the imperial centre. The battle closed with the celebrated stand of Reginald of Boulogne, a revolted vassal of King Philip, who formed a ring of seven hundred Brabançon pikemen, and not only defied every attack of the French cavalry, but himself made repeated charges or sorties with his small force of knights. Eventually, and long after the imperial army had begun its retreat, the gallant schiltron was ridden down and annihilated by a charge of three thousand men-at-arms. Reginald was taken prisoner in the mêlée; and the prisoners also included two other counts, Ferdinand and William Longsword, twenty-five barons and over a hundred knights. The killed amounted to about 170 knights of the defeated party, and many thousands of foot on either side, of whom no accurate account can be given.
See Oman, History of the Art of War, vii. pp. 457-480; also Köhler, Kriegsgeschichte, &c., i. 140, and Delpech, Tactique au XIII e siècle, 127.