England, 1208. The Pope declares an Interdict on England because the King would not agree to the Papal choice for Archbishop of Canterbury.

In our reality, King John tried to tough it out and to get clergy to support thim, but he was not very aggressive about it. Eventually he failed and surrendered the Kingdom to the Pope, resulting in a rut that had to be resolved 500 years later.

But what if he were to act boldly and to open the churches by the sword, declaring himself Supreme Governor of the Church in England, basically doing a Henry VIII and founding Anglicanism 300 years earlier? There is no Luther nor Calvin to supply the doctrinal stuff but the King could, for example, send out feelers to Constantinople.

And then he remains allied with Raymond VI of Toulouse. And he has lands in Aquitaine. And Toulouse has a powerful ally in the Albigensian Wars...

Would this work, or would this fail? What would be the big obstacles to overcome?

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    $\begingroup$ Aquitaine: King John did not lose Aquitaine; the crown of France did not have any reasonable cause to take it, and it remained a possession of the English crown until the 15th century. About "feelers to Constantinople": in the 13th century there was no doctrinal difference between the Western and the Eastern Churches; the only points of contention were either administrative in nature or referred to the practicalities of performing sacraments, e.g., whether the bread used for Communion should be leavened or unleavened, or whether lay people should receive both bread and wine or only bread. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Apr 27 '17 at 7:02
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    $\begingroup$ @a4android: I edited the question replacing the phrase about developing a duple with "acting boldly". $\endgroup$ – AlexP Apr 27 '17 at 7:07
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP: The Great Schism dates from 1054. $\endgroup$ – chrylis -on strike- Apr 27 '17 at 9:02
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    $\begingroup$ @chrylis: I know that. But. The Great Schism was fundamentally a personal matter between Pope Leo IX and Patriarch Michael Cerularius; the two Churches separated administratively, but not doctrinally. Ever since, the Eastern and Western Churches, while not in full communion, have recognized to each other the status of a holy and apostolic church; there has never been a time when one of the churches did not recognize the validity of the ordinations, consecrations or sacraments performed by a priest or a bishop of the other. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Apr 27 '17 at 9:53
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    $\begingroup$ I totally don't see the Eastern Church supporting this AT ALL. $\endgroup$ – MissMonicaE Apr 27 '17 at 12:04

King John the Much Maligned actually did resist admirably to the Papal pressure, and, more importantly, England backed him up to the hilt; the Papal Interdict of 1208 is probably one of the best examples showing that although medieval people were deeply religious they didn't actually care all that much about the Church with capital C and its hierarchy.

The context is that the Pope of that time, Innocent III, consecrated Stephen Langton as Archbishop of Canterbury (and head of the Church hierarchy in England) without the King's consent; the regular procedure was that the King would propose a candidate (or a short list of candidates) and the Pope would confirm and consecrate the candidate (or pick one of the list); in case of disagreement it was expected that the King and the Pope would negotiate. That the Pope consecrated a head of the English church without Royal consent was a hostile move; the King responded by refusing to allow Stephen Langton to enter the country, and, for good measure, seized the lands of the archbishopric. The Pope escalated the conflict by placing the kingdom under the Interdict.

The Interdict, in the mind of the Pope, was the ultimate deterrent, the nuclear option as we would say. In principle, priests were prohibited to perform any religious service other than the baptism of the young children and the confession and absolution of the dying. No Mass was to be celebrated, no communion, no confession, and most importantly, no marriages could take place. This would put the country under enormous pressure, hoped the Pope, and the King would have no choice but to submit. What happened in reality was quite different.

Essentially, both King John personally and England collectively chose to ignore the Interdict. Churches remained open, marriages were celebrated, life continued as before; those priests who manifested excessive obedience to the Pope and tried to enforce the Interdict found that life had become quite hard: their lands were seized (as were the lands administered in the benefit of the Papal See itself), they were driven out of the country, their mistresses were arrested and held until the sinful priest payed a hefty fine.

Seeing that placing an Interdict on England was one thing, but having it enforced was quite another, Pope Innocent excommunicated King John (in 1209), with no effect other than (a) determining the King to consider seriously the possibility of a war against the Pope and (b) reinforcing the King's determination to redirect the revenues of the Church; Wikipedia says that "around 14% of annual income from the English church was being appropriated by John each year". The King's revenues increased, the country carried on as before: what's not to like. And the King and the Kingdom continued in this happy state until 1213, when a compromise with the Pope was sought.

The issue was King Philip II of France, Philip Auguste as the French call him. King Philip saw the excommunication of King John as a very convenient pretext for going to war against England, and was busy building a fleet and gathering an army; whether he had the consent of the Pope of not is not clear, but he definitely did not have any material support from the Pope. King John performed an admirable show of contrition, declared himself a humble vassal of the Pope and agreed to pay annual tribute -- which was about one tenth of the annual income he had collected from the lands of the Church during the years of the Interdict, and which both parties tacitly forgot after three or four years anyway; in exchange, he got the Pope to allow him to make war upon France.

And here comes the actual interesting point where history did truly lay balanced on a fine point; for John's campaign proceeded quite well initially, or at least not worse than any other medieval military campaign, despite the growing reluctance of the English lords to support John in foreign adventures; the English took Anjou; their ally Emperor Otto IV of the Holy Roman Empire attacked from the north. All seemed to go so well.

But then came emperor Otto's defeat at Bouvines (today on the border between France and Belgium, at that time in Flanders), which in the real history ended all hope of restoration of the Angevin Empire, sealed the fate of King John (who not only acquired the nickname Lackland for losing many of the possessions on the mainland, but also ran out of money and had to accept to sign the Magna Carta), and launched France on its way towards becoming a superbly centralized state (which it still is).

But the outcome of the battle of Bouvines was not preset; on the contrary, it is believed that the Allies (the Holy Roman Emperor, England, Boulogne and Flanders) had the advantage of numbers. The fortunes of the battle fluctuated during the day; at one point King Philip himself was "unhorsed and narrowly escaped death" (words from the Wikipedia article). In the real history the French won and the Allies lost. But if Philip had been killed or taken prisoner, if William Longespée ("Longsword") had succeeded in taking the bridge instead of being taken prisoner, history would have been different. The English crown would have kept the Angevin lands (Normandy, Brittany, Anjou, Touraine), would have kept Aquitaine -- about the one third of France! France would be much smaller, while England would be just one of the provinces of an Empire spanning the Channel.

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    $\begingroup$ So in this alternative History, if England had won, King John would not have to sign the Magna Carta? That would have a BIG consequences,,, $\endgroup$ – Julian Egner Apr 27 '17 at 12:01
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    $\begingroup$ @JulianEgner: Not sign the Magna Carta. Not lose the territories on the mainland -- which were larger than England, more fertile, and more populous. France would not have a sea coast to the Channel and the Atlantic. The Holy Roman Empire may have taken a step towards becoming a functional structure with at least a little functional centralization (but then it had many such chances and wasted them all). A pivotal point. (And the battle was lost by Otto of the HRE, not by John of England, but yes, the effect was that the alliance lost the war.) $\endgroup$ – AlexP Apr 27 '17 at 13:47
  • $\begingroup$ Interesting alternate history, but it seems pretty clear that fortunes can and would swing wildly regarding feudal lands. Given Henry III's debacle in France and loss of Guyenne just a few decades after King John's time, the fact that France had some more exceptional rulers coming their way (like St. Louis), and that fact that conquest of Paris in the 1400s didn't kill France, it is hard to imagine that even a victory of Bouvines would have been anything more than a temporary gain for England. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Apr 27 '17 at 13:56
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    $\begingroup$ @kingledion: But now John is an exceptional ruler -- instead of John Lackland he is John the Great, while Philip is a loser. Without John's losses the French crown would not have any great advantage over the English crown as regards revenues, and Henry III would not have had any motive to go and try to invade France... Once a pivotal point changes its orientation everything which follows is altered. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Apr 27 '17 at 14:04
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    $\begingroup$ Someone forward this to Connie Willis. Might be an interesting setting for her time traveling historians. $\endgroup$ – Draco18s no longer trusts SE Apr 27 '17 at 14:54

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