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Were the Wars of The Roses an Inevitability?

In my spare time I have been reading Henry IV by Chris Given-Wilson. It’s a massive book, full of information, probably the most complete work on Henry since Wylie’s four-volume effort in the 19th Century. Frankly, I’m finding it hard going. Not because it’s a bad book (it isn’t) or because Given-Wilson is a bad writer or a poor historian (the very opposite is true) but because, quite frankly, I find Henry a deeply unsympathetic character, and the more I learn about him the less I like him.

One of the interesting snippets I have picked up from this book is that in the 1390s Henry spent over £400 in legal fees chasing up various land claims that he thought he was entitled to pursue. OK, £400 does not sound much in 2020, maybe a Solicitor’s hourly rate; but in the 1390s 1000 marks (about £667) was the basic annual income qualification for an earldom. An ordinary person would consider themselves well paid on 6d a day (2.5p modern money) or 3 shillings (15p) a (six day) week. A woman working in agriculture was often only paid a third of that. And no one was paid for the numerous religious holidays – for the ordinary person, they were time off without pay. So a good annual income was maybe £4 or £5 at best. Many would have received far less. So £400 was a heck of a lot of money.

Now, you may say, and it’s true, that pursuing legal claims for land (often dubious) was pretty much a national sport for the nobility and gentry of the late middle ages. Look at the Pastons, for example. They were always chasing up some claim or other, or someone was chasing them.

But the Pastons, in the 15th Century, were barely established as gentlefolk. They had recent ancestors who had been actual bondmen. So it’s not surprising their grip on their property was tenuous, and that they had to scrap for every penny. Similarly, it’s not hard to understand some impoverished baron trying to expand his holdings a bit – the value of land was not what it had been before the Black Death and tenants – and even labourers – had that little more edge than they had had previously.

Henry of Bolingbroke, by contrast, was heir to what was undeniably the greatest inheritance ever brought together under one roof. What’s more, he had married a very wealthy heiress. OK, he had had to share the de Bohun inheritance with Uncle Gloucester (how sad!) and his mother-in-law was still alive and inconsiderately drawing her dower, but the lordship of Brecon alone was worth £1,500 a year!

So, to be blunt, Henry was a greedy so-and-so. He was suing his Uncle Gloucester and the Earl of Warwick, and various other people, because he was not satisfied with his enormous slice of the pie.

Here’s the rub – his father, John of Gaunt, was no better, despite being incomparably the richest private individual in England. (By several streets.) Through the 1390s he persuaded Richard II to confer further sweeteners on him. For example, the duchy of Lancaster was given its special status on an hereditary basis, instead of for life. Then there was the little matter of the grant of the Duchy of Aquitaine. (This latter was in part entangled in the very complex peace negotiations with France, but did Gaunt really need another great duchy?)

Richard II was rapidly running out of things to give – England’s resources were strictly limited – but there really is no indication that the Lancaster family would ever have been satisfied.

Some people will say – “Ah, but Richard II was a lousy king.” Well, for a start, he was rather more effective than is often realised. A lot of the negative stuff is pure Lancastrian propaganda, much of it invented after Richard’s deposition. (How familiar!) The reality is though that even a sovereign with the talents of Elizabeth I and Henry II rolled together would have struggled to succeed with a cuckoo in the nest as large as the Lancasters were. Remember the problems Warwick gave Edward IV? Compared to John of Gaunt – and even more to Bolingbroke post-inheritance – Warwick was a mere country squire.

Richard II had to do something about the Henry Problem. If his chosen solution failed, it was because it was, in fact, too generous, too mild, too humane. When their positions were abruptly reversed, Henry made no such mistake. Objectively, one of them was sure to be the death of the other, it was just a matter of time.

That being the case (and the same would have been true had matters gone the other way) there was set up in English politics a turbulence that was always going to cause problems sooner or later. To a point, the impact was seen straightaway. Henry IV’s reign was extremely troubled because many of his subjects simply did not see his kingship as valid. He was not, after all, Richard II’s right heir, and he had obtained his position by illegitimate force. It took him until at least 1405 (maybe 1408) to resolve matters and secure his crown. It was done by painful attrition, and with a bit of luck along the way. But it only really postponed the issue for a generation.

Henry V did his best (at the very start of his reign) to conciliate his father’s remaining enemies – such as were still alive plus their heirs – and to a very large extent this succeeded. He was further helped by his remarkable successes in France, the more or less complete inability of his obvious dynastic rival, the Earl of March, and by the fact that the third Duke of York was still a little boy.

However, it only took the failure of Henry VI’s kingship to bring the dynastic issue back on the table, and then set the whole structure of Lancastrian kingship tumbling down. Could it have been avoided? Probably not, except in a magical world where Henry VI is much more effective as a ruler and finds the cheat button that releases unlimited resources to enable the French war to be won. In the real world, there was not a chance.

 

 

 

St Maurice, patron saint of knights….?

 

Saint Maurice by Matthias Grünewald c 16th century

On reading Chivalry by Léon Gautier, I learned that St Maurice was the patron saint of knights. Another interesting fact about him is that he’s often depicted as a Black African man in armour. He apparently came from Upper Egypt, so he probably was black. I’m reminded of the Black Madonnas. We’re always surprised by such images, yet why? The southern shores of the Mediterranean are the continent of Africa, so go figure!

Anyway, the book Chivalry is French, and so I must believe St Maurice may have been the patron saint in France, and the rest of Europe perhaps, but I can’t find any reference to him being the patron saint of knights in England. In this country it was St George. As I’m a writer, I’m always on the lookout for facts to add as background, and I thought that as a lot of my present characters are knights who are often embroiled in army campaigns, St Maurice should surely get a mention. Easier said than done.

St Maurice in Magdeburg Cathedral, circa 1240-50

St Maurice is rather rare here. There don’t seem to be all that many parish churches dedicated to him. I went to catholic.org and found the following:-

“….Maurice was an officer of the Theban Legion of Emperor Maximian Herculius’ army, which was composed of Christians from Upper Egypt. He and his fellow legionnaires refused to sacrifice to the gods as ordered by the Emperor to insure victory over rebelling Bagaudae. When they refused to obey repeated orders to do so and withdrew from the army encamped at Octodurum (Martigny) near Lake Geneva to Agaunum (St. Maurice-en-Valais), Maximian had the entire Legion of over six thousand men put to death. To the end they were encouraged in their constancy by Maurice and two fellow officers, Exuperius and Candidus. Also executed was Victor (October 10th), who refused to accept any of the belongings of the dead soldiers. In a follow-up action, other Christians put to death were Ursus and another Victor at Solothurin (September 30th); Alexander at Bergamo; Octavius, Innocent, Adventor, and Solutar at Turin; and Gereon (October 10th) at Cologne. Their story was told by St. Eucherius, who became Bishop of Lyons about 434, but scholars doubt that an entire Legion was massacred; but there is no doubt that Maurice and some of his comrades did suffer martyrdom at Agaunum. Feast day – September 22nd….”

Nothing there about being patron saint of knights, although to be sure he was a Christian soldier in the time of the Emperor Maximian Herculius. (250 – c. July 310)

Wikipedia Wikipedia says St Maurice is patron saint of weavers and dyers , as well as patron saint of the Duchy of Savoy (France) and of the Valais (Switzerland) as well as of soldiers, swordsmiths, armies, and infantrymen. Aha! Maybe that’s it – he was patron saints of fighting men in general. That fits…but why isn’t he around much in England?

I was curious, and so had a poke around on Google, and soon came upon Plympton St Maurice in Devon. Surely the history of this town would explain the St Maurice part of its name?

from Old OS Map

According to local history “….Plympton St Maurice was originally called St Thomas, although when the name changed was uncertain, but it changed between St Maurice and St Thomas several times before St Maurice became more generally used….During the 13th and 14th century, Plympton St Maurice was bigger than Plymouth and far more important as a port. There is an old rhyme which states that ‘When Plympton was a Busy Vale, Plymouth was a fuzzy dale’. However the life blood of Plympton soon became it’s poison, as the Tin Mines on Dartmoor produced a lot of silt which was washed downstream, this caused the river to silt up, and took away the port….” Not much luck there. Nothing at all to suggest why St Maurice took root there. 

So I guess it’s just one of those things. St Maurice didn’t really make it to England. The best I can do to mention him is have a character say in passing that he’s the patron saint of knights on the other side of La Manche.

 

THE THREE HUNDRED YEARS WAR – Part 1: the Devil’s brood

Preface

I conceived this article as a defence of King Henry V against the accusation that he was a war criminal. It became apparent, however, that my research was drawing me away from Henry’s campaigns towards a broader study of the origin and causes of the Hundred Years War. Soon, I was reading material going back to the Norman kings. But it was not until I began to organize my notes that I realised I was in fact researching a conflict that has its genesis in the coronation of the duke of Normandy in 1066 and did not end officially until the nineteenth century.[1] As I have neither the wit nor the time to survey the whole course of Anglo-French history over seven centuries, there are necessarily limitations to my approach and also to my subject matter. In the first place, my narrative relates solely to events occurring from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries; it was a period marked by continual fighting, of which the Hundred Years War is but an episode. In the second place, I am writing from an English perspective. In the third place, the limits of my ambition demand the omission of historical events and matters, which, however important they may be in themselves, are not strictly germane to my subject. In the fourth place, even though my narrative touches on war, this is not a military history. And in the fifth place, I make no claim that this is a scholarly work of original research or new interpretation. Since the facts upon which I rely are well known and relatively uncontroversial, I have used only those sources, books and articles found in the published historiography of the period and readily available to a dabbler in history such as I.

 

I have, for the sake of convenience, structured my narrative around three articles, each of which closes with the signing of a pivotal Anglo-French peace treaty. The treaties of Paris (1259), Bretigny (1360) and Troyes (1420) were all unsuccessful attempts to make a permanent peace. Although they resolved some process problems of the past, their collective failure to address the fundamental question of sovereignty created new ones for the future.   I am using them as markers in my narrative because, though they were unsuccessful, they chart the progressive escalation of the dispute from a limited quarrel between vassal and suzerain into an international war of conquest, driven by three interlocking and overlapping factors: rivalry, kinship and inheritance.

 

Prologue

Context is an important factor in any historical judgement and context for Anglo-French violence during the middle ages is found in the aftermath of the Norman Conquest. Once England’s Anglo-Norman polity steered the national focus away from the Nordic world dominated by the Scandinavians to the Latin world dominated by the French, a clash between the foremost kingdoms of western Christendom was inevitable: motivated by political, military, commercial, diplomatic and maritime rivalry. This was especially so, given their geographic proximity astride the strategically important Channel and their shared kinship, culture and language. The English kings and their barons were at this time and for all practical purpose French. They spoke French and not English. They adopted the French chivalric code. They aped French culture, fashion and art, and they had relatives in France. Most importantly, they held rights to inherited lands in France. It was the bitter squabbles arising from these inheritances that triggered a continuous cycle of hot and cold war between the two realms.

 

The unification of the English crown with the duchy of Normandy in 1066 created a situation that if not unique was certainly unusual. As the sovereign king of England, William the Conqueror was the equal of his French opposite number Phillip I (the Amorous). However, as Duke of Normandy William was also a French peer and bound to King Phillip by a feudal obligation of fealty and service (including the possibility of military service). There was in this arrangement an obvious risk that William’s royal sovereignty might be constrained by his French vassalage. The fact that the risk did not materialize during William’s reign was due to a combination of Norman strength and Capetian weakness. On William’s death, however, the kingdom and the duchy were divided between his sons. William Rufus received the English crown. Robert Curthose inherited Normandy. It was a sensible death settlement, which removed any conflict of interest for William II. However, it was unpopular with the new king and with his successor Henry I, who resented the loss of Norman power and wealth, and ever after sought the reunification of kingdom and duchy. For many reasons this was not possible until after the death of King Stephen, the last Norman king. Stephen died without a suitable heir of his body in 1154 and was succeeded by Henry Fitzempress[2] duke of Normandy and also of Aquitaine, and Count of Anjou and Maine. Henry II ascended the throne of England with the consent of the barons. He was the first and arguably the best of his line.

 

‘They come from the Devil and they can go to the Devil’[3]

Henry Fitzempress pro-genitor of the Plantagenet line was a French prince. He was born in Anjou in 1133 and he died there in 1189. His father was Geoffrey Count of Anjou and Maine, and conqueror of Normandy. His mother was the Empress Matilda, daughter of Henry I, granddaughter of the Conqueror and one-time claimant to the English throne. He was by the time of his accession, an experienced soldier and man of affairs, and incredibly ambitious. In addition to his native French, he spoke some Latin but no English. For every year he spent in England, he spent two in France.

 

As Henry II king of England ‘by the grace of God’, Lord of Ireland and Scotland, duke of Normandy, duke of Aquitaine, and Count of Anjou and Maine, Henry held sway over lands and peoples stretching from the Grampian mountains in the north to the Pyrenees in the south, including most of western France. What is now called the ‘Angevin Empire’ is considered by at least one eminent historian to have been in its extent and heterogeneous nature comparable to the Holy Roman Empire[4]. Henry did not, however, gain this empire through conquest; he acquired it from his parents and from his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine[5]. Neither did his acquisitions amount to an empire in the conventional sense. Henry did not have an imperial title. His domains did not share a common legal code, language, culture or administrative bureaucracy. They did not have an imperial army or one capital city. On the contrary, each region had its own distinctive identity, culture, legal code and army based on feudal military service. The Norman bureaucracy, for example, most resembled the English system, whereas Aquitaine represented feudalism at its worst: effective governance was impossible there.

 

Although it was not obvious at the time, the vast Angevin inheritance laid the foundation for future conflict. Henry was now the mightiest of over-mighty subjects. He held direct sway over the larger part of France, including its two richest and most important duchies of Normandy and Aquitaine; whereas, Louis VII’s direct authority was limited to the Isle de France, a few square miles surrounding Paris.[6] Henry, had already shown himself to be a rebellious and inordinately ambitious subject and the authority he now wielded was a tangible threat to Capetian ambition; especially, as he had access to English and Norman wealth to finance his ambition. However, Henry’s priority on entering his new kingdom was to restore royal authority, which during the civil war between Stephen and Matilda had fallen into abeyance. It took him four years to destroy all the adulterine castles built without royal authority during the anarchy, and to ensure the resumption of all crown lands, rights and revenues alienated during Stephen’s reign. Henry also took the opportunity to lay sound foundations for the enforcement of royal justice throughout his realm. By 1158 he had succeeded to such an extent in England (though not Wales) that he was able to turn his attention to his continental inheritance.

 

As in England, so on the continent: Henry’s priority was to consolidate his hold over the French fiefs. Though he recognized his feudal obligations of fealty and service to King Louis VII, these were honoured more in the breach than the observance. By giving homage to Louis, he was simply paying lip service to the feudal myth that the man crowned in Rheims ruled the whole of France.[7] When it came to his French lands, Henry would do exactly as he pleased. He therefore, lost little time in strengthening their borders. His objective was to create a zone of vassal territories as a buffer against invasion, and also as a link between Normandy in the north and Aquitaine in the south. The most important of these territories were the Vexin, Brittany and Toulouse. The Vexin commanded the invasion route to Normandy from the northeast; Brittany gave Henry control of western France and acted as a link between Normandy and Aquitaine; Toulouse, strengthened Henry’s authority in the south and gave him a port on the Mediterranean shore. A combination of his own political acumen and Louis’ ineptness ensured that by the 1170’s Henry had overlordship of all three territories.

 

Louis erred by divorcing Eleanor the heiress of Aquitaine; it cost him control of that duchy and enabled her to marry his most powerful and dangerous rival. He compounded that gaffe by allowing Henry virtual carte blanche to acquire overlordship of the Vexin and Brittany. Henry was an experienced and competent soldier. He had no objection in principle to using force to gain his ends. However, he was not a lover of war for its own sake and preferred to achieve his objectives through diplomacy, of which he was a consummate master. That was his approach to the problems of the Vexin and Brittany. He first secured the betrothal of his son and heir ‘young Henry’ to Princess Margaret the infant daughter of Louis VII. It was a masterstroke, which not only intruded a possible Plantagenet king into the House of Capet but also brought the Vexin within Henry’s control as part of Margaret’s dowry. We could excuse, Louis’ sanguinity about the marriage and the dowry on the grounds that due to the bride and grooms tender years he believed that neither their marriage nor the loss of the Vexin could happen for many years — if they happened at all.[8] If Louis did believe that, he was badly mistaken. Henry, with his eye on the main prize, saw the childrens’ ages as no impediment to marriage. Within two years of their betrothal they were married, much to the ‘fury and dismay’ of King Louis VII.

 

The acquisition of Brittany was also achieved by a ruse that Louis should have spotted but didn’t. First, Henry intrigued to have his troublesome brother Geoffrey installed as lord of Brittany. Geoffrey died two years later; whereupon, Henry as his brother’s executor arranged for his own son Geoffrey to marry Constance the Bretton heiress. Although King Louis VII surprisingly acquiesced to the marriage, the Bretons did not. They rebelled at the prospect of a Norman overlord. It took Henry consecutive campaigns in 1166, 1167 and 1168 to bring his truculent vassals to heel.[9]

 

Henry first laid claim to Toulouse in 1159 on the dubious ground that it was part of his wife’s inheritance. He adopted a two- pronged strategy of diplomacy and force. Overtures of friendship to Count Raymond Berengar of Barcelona and the promise of a marriage between the count’s daughter and Henry’s son Richard, were backed-up by sending a powerful mercenary army to besiege Toulouse. King Louis who at last seemed to understand the danger posed by his most acquisitive vassal intervened decisively to resist Henry’s claim. He entered Toulouse and dared his ruthless vassal to attack him. It was a challenge that Henry declined. After satisfying themselves with some senseless pillaging in the local countryside, Henry and his mercenaries withdrew and agreed a truce. Toulouse eventually fell into Henry’s hands in 1173. The count of Toulouse, who was surrounded by enemies gave-up the unequal struggle to become Henry’s vassal. Angevin power had reached the Mediterranean shore.

 

By the 1170’s Henry’s Angevin empire was approaching its peak. And it was obvious even to the listless, easy-going Louis that it was a significant threat to the Capetian rule in France. Encouraged by his increasingly nationalistic advisors, it became Louis’ settles policy to challenge Angevin power by exploiting Henry’s vassalage to French advantage and by taking every opportunity to undermine Henry’s ducal authority. Louis’ first opportunity to implement his aggressive policy arose from the discontent within Henry’s family. Henry had decided to divide his domains among his sons. His eldest son Henry got England;[10] Richard received Aquitaine and Geoffrey was given Anjou and Maine. John got promises. However, these were purely titular honours, the boys were not given any actual authority. The Angevin empire would continue under Henry’s dominating and domineering leadership. It was a decision that unwittingly sowed the seeds of the Angevin downfall.[11] In 1173 Henry’s sons (except John) rebelled against him. They were aided by their mother Eleanor and her ex-husband Louis VII, who saw the opportunity to weaken Angevin power. The boys were keen but callow; they lacked the experience and the wherewithal to challenge their father. The rebellion — which started with an attack on Normandy by Henry ‘The Young King’ and Louis, and then spread to England — was a miserable failure. The rebels were no match for their energetic and seasoned opponent who defeated them in detail. They had no plan, objective or even a modicum of co-operation between the various elements. As it was, the rebellion was serious enough since it enjoyed the support of the nobility on both sides of the Channel. It would have been difficult even for Henry to cope if the rebels had had a plan and co-ordinated their efforts.[12]

 

The years 1175-1182 marked the zenith of Angevin power. King Louis was a broken man and Henry’s estranged wife Eleanor was in custody. His sons, however, were still not pacified. King Louis VII died suddenly on the 18 September 1180. His incapacity and weakness had facilitated Henry’s rise to power by enabling him to increase his domains and vassal territories to the point where he was seeking to extend his authority beyond the borders of France. It was indeed fortunate for the Capetian dynasty that Louis’ heir, Phillip Augustus, though still only fifteen was of a different mien to his father. [He] was possessed of great political sagacity…Though not a great soldier, he was a shrewd and quite unscrupulous diplomat…He gained more by making skilful use of his opponents mistakes than his own successes.”[13] Once he had established his personal rule in France, Phillip turned his attention to the destruction of Angevin power. His plan was to ferment and exploit the discord that already existed between Henry and his offspring. By 1185, he was ready to begin his great project. Following Geoffrey’s death in 1186, Phillip exercised his authority as suzerain to declare that the Vexin had reverted to the French crown.[14] Although Henry ignored Phillip at first, he was bought to the conference table when Phillip sent troops to occupy the Vexin. Phillip had flexed his muscles and forced Henry to seek a truce, which was quickly agreed. Nevertheless, the tide was turning against Henry. But it was the events consequent upon Saladin’s victory over the Christians at the battle of Hattin in 1187 that triggered a chain of events leading directly to his downfall. Hattin provoked large number of Christian knights to join the surviving Crusaders in the in the Holy Land. Henry and Phillip were slow to respond. Richard, however, was keen to go. Furthermore, since Richard was now heir to the throne following the premature death of Henry the Young King, he sought certain assurances about his position, which Henry could not give since he intended to supplant Richard with John as heir to the throne. It was the catalyst for the last and most poignant rebellion of Henry’s reign.

 

Henry began his final tryst with destiny by fermenting a rebellion against Richard in Aquitaine. Richard crushed this with his usual vigour and thereafter allied himself with Phillip Augustus, who had already seconded Richard’s right to the throne. On the 18 October 1188 ‘his demand to be recognised as heir apparent having been refused by Henry, Richard knelt before Phillip and did homage for all his continental lands saving only the fealty he owed to his father.‘ The end came quickly. Assailed on all sides, deserted by his family and most of his barons, driven from his birth place the now dying Henry was forced on the 4 July 1189 to submit wholly to the will of Phillip ‘in such a way that whatever the king of France should provide or adjudge, the King of England would carry out in every way without reservation’. Even so, the worst was left until the last: his favourite son John had also deserted him. He died soon afterward with the words ‘shame, shame on a conquered king’. He was fifty-six years old.[15]

 

Coeur de lion

King Richard the lionhearted hated peace and all the works of peace, and he passionately loved war.[16] He reigned for ten years, of which only five months were spent in England. The remainder of his reign was spent overseas as a Crusader, as the captive of the Holy Roman Emperor and campaigning in France against Phillip Augustus. He knew nothing of England. He did not speak English. And he thought nothing for selling the great offices of state and important royal castles to the highest bidder. He also empowered Prince John with virtual Palatine powers in Nottingham, Derby, Lancaster, Gloucester, Devon, Cornwall and Glamorgan. All of which made it easier for John to conspire with Phillip Augustus against Richard. Richard’s only experience of lordship was as duke of Aquitaine, a semi autonomous fiefdom. It seems he equated kingship with power and not responsibility.

 

He had no reason to fear the conspiracies of his brother or Phillip whilst on crusade, since the Anglo-French nobility were loath to attack the lands of an active Crusader. However, he was vulnerable after he fell into the hands of Frederick VI, the Holy Roman Emperor. Thereafter, Phillip took every opportunity to annex the Vexin and lay siege to Rouen, the capital of Normandy. John was no less anxious to profit from Richard’s absence. He hurried to France to pay homage to Phillip for Angevin lands and he became betrothed to Phillip’s sister. A plot was also hatched to invade England and seize the crown.[17] Richard’s throne was saved, however, by the timely actions of his mother, who obstructed John’s plans by procuring a renewal of the oath of allegiance to Richard given by every English noble. And in the nick of time, Hubert Walter arrived from the continent with the news that Richard was alive and being held for a ransom of 150,000 marks (about £1bn in today’s money). Due, in no small part, to the machinations of Phillip Augustus, the Emperor Frederick VI came to terms with Richard who was released. In a famous message, Phillip warned John of his brothers impending return “Look to yourself, the Devil is loosed[18] John fled to the French court.

 

Richard was aware that an oppressive ransom must be paid and that he had little choice for the moment but to accept the loss of a large chunk of Normandy and the other lands ceded by John to Phillip.[19] He was also well aware of a coming war between the Holy Roman Empire and Phillip Augustus for dominance of Christendom. It was a war in which Richard proved himself to be the willing instrument of Frederick’s resolution to break the power of France. Even as he journeyed home from Germany, Richard made alliances with the leading Flemish and German princes in what was the first ‘great coalition against the king of France’.[20] Despite set backs and the untimely deaths of Frederick and Richard, it held together by mutual economic interest and English gold until it was finally broken by the French victory at Bouvine in 1214.

 

Richard arrived back in England in early spring 1194. Within two months, he set sail again for France accompanied by a mercenary force of crack professional soldiers. He knew that the conflict with Phillip would be a long and arduous struggle for which the English Fyrd and his feudal levies would be unsuitable.[21] It was, in GO Sayles opinion the first international war of western Christendom. Richard and his picked force played a significant part in the fighting. Despite many tactical truces and ‘uneasy periods of peace’, the desultory fighting showed that Richard had lost none of his martial skill and spirit. By 1198, he had recovered almost all of the Vexin. In truth, Phillips resources were overstretched. His kingdom and the House of Capet were almost lost. That it never came to pass was due primarily to the deaths of Frederick VI and Richard I in 1199.

 

Softsword

It fell to King John to oversee the dismantling of the Angevin Empire. Richard’s death heralded a change in the balance of power between the French and English crowns. It was not just that John was not made of the same stuff as his brother; he was also in a much weaker position. The supporters of Prince Arthur of Brittany — son of John’s deceased brother Geoffrey — challenged his succession to the throne.[22] Phillip’s support for John’s claim came at a price. Phillip was intent of creating an explicit suzerain and vassal relationship between the king of France and the king of England. John had to do homage for his French fiefs and pay 10,000 marks for ‘relief’ of his fiefdoms. Furthermore, he was forced to acknowledge that in any conflict of loyalty, John’s French vassals owed a prior loyalty to the French crown. John was in a difficult position. He had neither the money nor resources to challenge Phillip. Normandy was not defensible at this time, and he had still to consolidate his rule in England. While he almost certainly did not like Phillips terms, John bought some time by accepting them: it was also cheaper than war. Even so, John’s acceptance of the terms marked his complete humiliation; he was now an acknowledged vassal of the French crown.[23]

 

Once his royal title was acknowledged, John set about gaining control of his most troublesome duchy. Aquitaine was a notoriously independent fief. This was not due to any special privileges the Aquitaine’s had been granted, but purely to the fact that they took their vassalage lightly. Only armed force could keep them in order. And it was in these troubled waters that Phillip was most keen to fish next. He challenged John’s authority by commanding him to accept homage from the Count of Angoulême and his nephew the Count of Limoges both infamous rabble-rousers noted for their antipathy towards the dukes of Aquitaine.[24] The Angoumois lay at the heart of Aquitaine and was strategically important. With this in mind, and thinking he might be able to pacify Angoulême, John ‘cast aside’ Isabella of Gloucester his wife of ten years and married the Count of Angoulême’s daughter Isabella. In doing so, he disrupted the plans of Hugh le Brun Lord of Lusignan who was already betrothed to her. The Lusignan’s waited for some time; possibly they were expecting John to compensate them for their disappointment. However, John was oblivious to their hurt and did nothing to placate them. His complete disregard for other peoples’ feelings alienated even his allies and soured their loyalty. On this occasion, he turned the Lusignan’s into formidable enemies, whereas they might have made equally formidable allies.[25] Their relationship became to strained that the Lusignan’s complained to Phillip that John had ‘unjustly attacked them’. Their appeal came at a bad time for Phillip but he could not ignore it. His instinct nevertheless was to handle it with a light touch. Having met both parties, Phillip agreed not to pursue the matter of the appeal if John did his feudal duty and allowed his vassals to present their grievance in his feudal court. Unfortunately, John was not acting in good faith. He offered the Lusignan’s their day in court but did everything he could to obstruct and humiliate them. He even charged them with treason and invited them to prove their innocence in trial by combat with his champion. It was an outrageously provocative offer and rather than demean themselves the Lusignan’s appealed once more to Phillip. John was therefore summoned to Paris to explain his errant behaviour to a bench of French barons. Predictably, John ignored the summons and was punished. Aquitaine, Anjou and Poitou were forfeit to the French crown.[26] Phillip was now taking the opportunity to rid France of Angevin dominance. He formally broke all feudal ties with John and invaded Normandy.

 

Phillips determination to enforce his royal authority throughout France and his innate antagonism towards the Angevins ensured that an enduring peace was unlikely. Even so, the fighting that started in 1202 was due to John’s stupidity in bullying his vassals and ignoring his suzerain. Nor did his foolishness end there. Warren compares the contest between Phillip and John to a card game in which John holds most of the trump cards but plays them so badly he fails to win a trick. He continued to antagonize friend and foe alike with his intolerant personality and tyrannical ways. In particular, his complete disregard for the advice William des Roche and his attempt to belittle the most powerful baron in Anjou cost him dear Spurned and publicly humiliated, William joined the royal forces against John. As a result, John was forced to cover the Loire, while simultaneously trying to reach for Normandy: it was impossible.[27] But most damaging of all to John was the rumour of the death of Arthur of Brittany.[28] It caused the Bretons to turn against John and attack Normandy from the southwest. By 1204 Phillip had complete possession of Normandy

 

The situation in England was equally problematic. John’s rule was oppressive. The English barons were already beginning to take collective action to resolve individual grievances. At the heart of their discontent were John’s financial extortions. He was so desperate to raise an army to recover Normandy and protect what was left of the Angevin lands that he did not modify his unscrupulous financial demands. Nevertheless, by 1206, he was able to lead an army of sorts to France. Landing at La Rochelle between July and October, John mounted several ‘pin-prick’ raids against targets in the southwest of France. Limited though this campaign was, it rattled Phillip and enabled John to recover part of Poitou. However, he soon realised that if he wanted to recover Normandy and all his other lands, he needed a much bigger army and an international alliance to do it. He therefore returned to England and began to plan that next campaign; nevertheless, his fortunes continued to deteriorate.

 

Between 1207 and 1213 John argued with the Pope; England was interdicted and he was excommunicated. At home, he annoyed the English barons to such an extent that in 1216 they rebelled and sought to replace him with a French Capetian prince. And yet, despite these problems John still managed to raise a larger army and to revitalize the coalition of Flemings, Germans and English that had almost defeated Phillip during King Richard’s reign. Fear of growing French power had moved the Holy Roman Emperor and the Count of Flanders to make common cause with John against Phillip Augustus. Although, John had expectations of an Alliance with Count Raymond IV of Toulouse and King Peter of Aragon, it came to nothing as Peter’s Cathar forces were already embroiled in a nasty little war with French Crusaders[29].

 

John launched a two-pronged attack against Phillip in February 1212. An army comprising Germans under the command of the Holy Roman Emperor, Flemings commanded by the Count of Flanders and English troops led by the earl of Salisbury landed in the north. In the south, John with his contingent of mercenaries and a ‘goodly number of English knights’ landed at La Rochelle. John’s strategy was to make Phillip divide his forces and then to defeat him in detail, but it didn’t work. John made initial progress, receiving the homage of the Lusignan lords and advancing beyond the Loire. His failure to provoker Phillip into anything rash, however, sowed the seeds of failure. Desperately, John moved southwest to besiege the castle of La Roch-aux-Moines. Soon a royal army under Phillip’s eldest son Louis appeared before him in battle order. Though John was keen to engage the enemy, the Lusignan’s and the Poitouvins were not. Taking John’s gold was one thing but risking all in the chance of battle was quite another. John was, therefore, forced to raise his siege and retreat to La Rochelle. Meanwhile in the north, Phillip’s army destroyed the coalition force on the 27 July 2014 at Bouvine, ending any hope John had of reconstructing the Angevin empire. Phillip was now the most powerful ruler in Christendom; he had destroyed Angevin power and installed his own tame candidate as Holy Roman Emperor.

 

The Treaty of Paris 1259

The loss of Normandy was followed, in 1215, by the signing of Magna Carta, which established that in theory John was not above the law; in fact, he continued to act as though he was and the Great Charter failed to curb his excesses. On the 21 May 1216, therefore, Prince Louis, the eldest son of the French king landed in Kent with a French army at the invitation of the English barons. He came to depose John and seize the English Crown, to which he had a tenuous claim. It was a time of extreme crisis for the House of Plantagenet, which faced being replaced by the House of Capet. Within a few months the French army and rebel barons controlled almost half of England, including crucially, London and the Home Counties. Only John’s death on the 18/19 October 1216 prevented his deposition in favour of the French claimant.

 

John’s heir was his son Henry of Winchester aged nine. When John knew he was dying, he entrusted young Henry to the care of the Pope and to Sir William Marshall ‘the greatest knight in Christendom’ with twelve men of substance and quality, who were united in their to loyalty to Henry. The English heir also had the support of the church and crucially the Pope.[30] But above all, Henry possessed the inestimable advantage of not being King John. Nor was he associated with his father’s mistakes. His supporters acting with commendable speed crowned young Henry at Worcester before the end of October 1216. It was the crucial first step in defeating the pretender Louis who despite, his strong position could not find an English bishop to crown him. Henry’s coronation made Louis look like a usurper. Seven months later, Louis’ army of French troops and English rebels was routed by royal troops at the battle of Lincoln, ensuring that Plantagenets and not Capetians reigned in England.[31]

 

Henry’s reign though long was not glorious. He was an easy-going but ineffective king and certainly no soldier.[32] He lacked the resources and the inclination for continuous campaigning, and had continually to deal with rebellions against his misgovernment. In fact, the English position in France deteriorated under Henry. Louis IX overran Poitou (northern Aquitaine) and consolidated the French Crown’s holdings in the south. It was as much as Henry could do to hold onto southern Aquitaine (now called Gascony for convenience). Louis desired Gascony on the grounds that following the death of Arthur of Brittany (circa 1203), it had reverted to the French Crown. In 1259, Henry, fearful of the loss of Gascony and lacking baronial support for another campaign, made peace with Louis in Paris.

 

The Treaty of Paris was meant to resolve all the issues that lay between Henry III and Louis IX. Under its terms, Henry abandoned all claims to Normandy, Poitou and all his other fiefs except Gascony, for which he did homage. Despite resolving the immediate dispute, the treaty raised others for the future, which ultimately proved insoluble by peaceful means. Louis was criticised by his nobles for being too soft, but he had no doubt who was in the stronger position following the Paris treaty. The vassalage of the English Crown was now enshrined in an international treaty rather than in feudal custom. Louis said he would rather have the English king as a vassal than an irresponsible enemy. In the event, Louis was too optimistic. The Treaty of Paris created a new feudal relationship between the two monarchs, which was to prove irreconcilable with English sovereignty.

 

In the first place, it replaced ‘ordinary homage’ with ‘fealty homage’, which was a superior homage placing an unbreakable obligation on the English Crown to provide military aid to the French king against any of his enemies, whenever it was demanded. Furthermore, English Kings were expressly forbidden from acting in concert with, or giving help to the enemies of Louis IX and his successor’s. It is not difficult to see how this treaty obligation would damage England’s military, diplomatic and economic interests. The notion that a sovereign king could be the vassal of a foreign power was revolutionary. It went well beyond Henry’s ducal authority by proscribing the Crowns prerogative to make treaties, war or peace as the king thought best for his kingdom. I need hardly add that the Treaty of Paris was repugnant to Englishmen.

 

In the second place, it undermined Henry’s ducal authority in Gascony by providing for the interference of French royal courts in the local affairs of Gascony. It was precisely this provision that encouraged Gascon factionalism between pro-French and his pro-English vassals. The fact that the Treaty was followed by thirteen years of relative peace was due more to Henry’s incapacity than the utility of the treaty. Henry died in 1272 and was succeeded by his son Edward, a man of completely different mien to his father.

[1] The English claim to the French throne was not officially abandoned until 1803, during the Napoleonic wars.

[2] The name Plantagenet is purely as a term of convenience in this article. Henry Fitzempress (as he was known to his contemporaries) did not adopt Plantagenet as his family name. It was not until the fifteenth century that any member of the English royal family styled themselves as Plantagenet and that was Richard, Duke of York in 1460.

[3] AL Poole – Doomsday Book to Magna Carta (Oxford 1982 edition) p.344n.2; this is Heraclius Patriarch of Jerusalem’s well-known judgement of the Angevins, after Henry declined to go to Jerusalem’s assistance in 1185.

[4] Poole p.318; see also Christopher Allmand – The Hundred Years War (Cambridge 2001 edition) pp.7 & 8

[5] He inherited England and Normandy from his mother, Anjou and Maine from his father and Aquitaine from his wife.

[6] WL Warren – King John (Eyre & Methuen 1978 edition) pp.54-56; although Louis VII was the feudal overlord of all French provinces, they were under the personal control of lesser aristocracy who were more or less autonomous. There was no feeling of patriotism that bound these lords to the king of France as their natural leader. Henry’s actual obligation to pay homage to Louis was more imaginary than real. He was so powerful that Louis dared not rebuke or punish him for breaches of protocol. This was not the case, however, after Phillip Augustus succeeded his father.

[7] Henry’s situation was not unique. William the Lion did homage for his earldom of Leicester to Henry II. Later, following his involvement in the rebellion against Henry of 1173-74, William was forced to give homage to Henry as his overlord for the kingdom of Scotland.

[8] Richard Barber – Henry Plantagenet (Boydell 1964) pp. 91-92; Claudia Gold – King of the North Wind: the life of Henry II in five acts (William Collins 2019) pp.217-218; Henry sent Thomas Becket, his Chancellor, to Paris to prepare the ground for this marriage, which was the cornerstone of his Vexin policy and in support of which he spared no expense. In a marked display of wealth and power, Becket overawed Louis and the Parisians with his generosity, and the size and bearing of his entourage. However, when Henry followed this up by travelling to Paris, he did so in a style so humble and simple, that Parisians were even more astonished. His approach worked perfectly.

[9] The Bretons and the Normans were traditional and inveterate enemies. As late as spring 1940, they showed themselves to be the toughest soldiers in the French army .

[10] Henry’s eldest son Henry was crowned co-king of England in 1170. Thereafter, he was known as ‘Henry the Young King’. It is the only time in English history that a father and son have reigned simultaneously.

[11] Barber p.140; citing EW Stubbs (Ed) – Roger Benedict (from 1169); the Chronicle of the reign of Henry II and Richard I AD 1169-92, commonly known under the name of Benedict of Peterborough (Rolls Series 49, London 1867) p.6, for a scholarly account of Henry’s troublesome progeny; also Poole p.318; Gold p   . See also, Frank McClynn – Lionheart and Lackland (Vintage 2007) passim for a popular assessment of Henry’s children.

[12] Poole pp. 330-338; contains a useful summary of the course of the rebellion; Barber pp.160-183 provides a more detailed account; see also Gold pp.197-250 for a modern interpretation of events

[13] Poole p.342

[14] Barber pp.213-233; Henry the Young King had died in 1183 fighting Richard and his father for Aquitaine. Geoffrey of Brittany was on the point of insurrection when he died in 1186.

[15] Barber pp. 229-233; Henry was taken ill during the winter of 1188/89 and it had returned in the summer. He was also suffered from blood poisoning from a wound on his head. He was literally dying while Phillip was making his demands but insisted on remaining in the saddle; though he had to be supported. He died on the 6 July 1189. Only his beloved bastard son Geoffrey remained at his side

[16] GO Sayles – The Medieval Foundations of England (Methuen & Co 1966) passim

[17] Poole p.383; Flemish mercenaries assembled at Witsand and the cooperation of Denmark was obtained. Richard was aware of these events but remained sanguine “My brother John” he said ” is not a man to conquer a country if there was anyone to offer even the feeblest of resistance”. Anyhow, Phillips Danish alliance broke down owing to the intervention of Pope Innocent III and Frederick VI, who both thought he was meddling in Danish affairs. Phillip had not yet realised that his plans for a strong and united France clashed with the Emperor Frederick’s own ambition for the hegemony of Christendom.

[18] Poole p.365

[19] Poole p.366; the raising of the ransom, burdensome though it was, is testament to the soundness of the English Exchequer and the fiscal systems introduced during Henry II’s reign. It transpired that the English were not required to pay the whole ransom; Frederick remitted 17,000 marks as an inducement to Richard to join a Germanic coalition against Phillip. Leopold of Austria, who was the lord that actually kidnapped Richard received 25,000 marks for his trouble.

[20] Poole p.367; publishes the list of Richard’s allies

[21] Warren pp.56-63; Poole p.389; the English Fyrd was essentially a home defence force and the feudal obligation of his English and French vassals was for short service. Furthermore, those in the south of France had no direct interest in a campaign in the north. The recruitment of picked professional soldiers from the plethora of Anglo-Norman knights and men-at-arms was expensive, but it was the best answer to Richard’s dilemma. Besides, the use of mercenaries by the kings and princes of Christendom was commonplace.

[22] Warren pp.48-50; the question of the English succession at this time is not without interest. Richard nominated John as heir apparent in the full knowledge of Arthur’s primo geniture claim as the eldest son of Geoffrey (Johns deceased elder brother). Although the late king’s wishes were not of paramount importance, in cases like this where there are two claimants there is always an element of election. To the English Barons, the argument that the grandson of Henry II should take precedence over his surviving son lacked credibility for three reasons. First, the inheritance of the crown based on primo geniture was a continental concept alien to English culture and custom at this time. Whether or not it was ‘introduced’ by the Normans is immaterial, since the fact is that no eldest son of an English king inherited the crown unopposed between 1066 (William I) and 1272 (Edward I). And as Dr Warren observes even Ranulph Glanville the English doyen of medieval jurisprudence found this a difficult question. He produced arguments for and against Arthur. Besides, and perhaps crucially, Arthur was a minor who had been raised in France by traitors (Geoffrey rebelled against his father the king.) and it was said that he hated England. Moreover, his father had never himself been heir to the throne. Ultimately, Arthur was passed over because he had no support among the English barons. The situation regarding the Angevin French fiefs was, however, more complicated as inheritance followed continental law. John had to establish his right to that by force of arms.

[23] Warren p.54; the payment of relief by the vassal to the suzerain was commonplace in feudal societies. But as Warren points out, nobody had ever asked Henry II or Richard I for such a payment. They seized their inheritance; they did not ‘negotiate for it. Neither had the French king ever dared to prescribe their relationship with their vassals.

[24] The Count of Angoulême asserted a de facto independence by ignoring the dukes of Aquitaine and a de jure independence by swearing fealty direct to the French crown. Richard defeated him in battle but he was unbowed and continued to challenge the duke with Phillip’s assistance.

[25] The Lusignan’s were a well-heeled family with a famous ancestry. Hugh le Brun had a distinguished reputation for service in the Holy Land. His uncle had a reputation for heroism second only to the Coeur de Lion himself. They were also rebellious vassals of the duke of Aquitaine. However, their prowess in battle in the Holy land earned them the comradeship and then the firm friendship of King Richard. Indeed, they played a big part in helping Richard to quell the troublesome Angoulême’s. Hugh’s betrothal to Isabelle was meant to end their destructive quarrel.

[26] Warren pp.74-75 and Appendix A; the legality of Phillip’s expropriation of Normandy is the subject of scholarly discussion. John was summoned to Paris as the duke of Aquitaine and Count of Poitou. He was not summoned as the duke of Normandy. Although It would have been necessary to rectify that omission, it is not clear whether a subsequent judgement was passed on John as duke of Normandy. Of course, Phillip did not need a court judgement to conquer Normandy. It was the prize jewel of Angevin lands in France, and Phillip was determined to have for the crown. However, he did need to justify the legitimacy of his seizure of Normandy to a sceptical French polity. Dr Warren deals with this point in his biography of John.

[27] Warren pp. 80-84; Roche supported John’s claim to the throne in 1199. He was a most able and effective ally to John between 1199 and 1202. “ With William as an ally, John could have tackled Phillip in Normandy confident that the strategically vital counties along the Loire were in safe-hands”

[28] Warren ibid; Arthur simply disappeared. The rumours of his death were very damaging to John’s cause. Although there s a suggestion that John killed Arthur in 1203 in a drunken rage; however, it is not conclusive evidence.

[29] In the summer of 1213, French Crusaders under the command of Simon de Montfort routed Peter’s army at the battle of Muret. King Peter was killed in the melee and Raymond fled to Toulouse, his power broken.

[30] Sir Maurice Powicke – The Thirteenth Century (Oxford 1982 2nd edition) pp.1-2: in 1213, following John’s difficulties with the Church in Rome, he confessed his disobedience and did penance, including giving homage to the Pope for his kingdom, which was now a Papal fief. John was then accepted back into the church. It was the best thing he could have done because it prevented young Henry from being usurped by French Louis. Pope Innocent III took Henry under his protection and provided a papal emissary to work with William Marshall and the twelve trustees to defend Henry’s interests.

[31] Most of the rebel barons returned to royal loyalty after Henry’s coronation. The few remaining recalcitrant who survived Lincoln also submitted.

[32] Powicke p.84: professor Powicke calculates that between 1224 when he assumed his majority and 1259, Henry made three serious efforts to recover and protect the Angevin lands in France; from spring 1224 until spring 1227; from August 1229 until June 1231 and finally from June 1442 until April 1443, a total of sixty-nine months (just over one month for every year of his reign).

A contemporary of the House of York

James III of Scotland’s reign overlaps the whole of Yorkist rule in England, succeeding on 3rd August 1460, more than seven months before Edward IV’s first coronation, to 11th June 1488. almost three years after Richard III’s death at Bosworth and including Henry VI’s re-adeption. His uninterrupted reign spanned the decisive battles of Mortimer’s Cross and Stoke Field and was to end at the hands of his own countrymen, led by his eldest son, but it could have terminated six years earlier and the future Richard III would have been at or near the scene. He became King of Scotland in his minority, as did his successor, reigned in an era when the later “British Isles” consisted of only two nations (following Alexander III’s victory at Largs in 1263) and was killed a mere four miles from a Scottish triumph at Bannockburn.

James III’s reign began as his father was blown apart at Roxburgh by an exploding cannon and he was crowned at Kelso a week later. By most accounts, although Norman MacDougall disagrees, he was almost nine at the time. His mother was Regent for three years, during which Roxburgh Castle was dismantled and Berwick reconquered, before she too died prematurely, to be succeeded by the Kennedy brothers and then Lord Boyd. James’ 1469 marriage to Margarethe of Denmark was arranged by the Boyds, bringing the Orkneys and Shetland Islands to the Scottish realm and ending payment to Norway. James attained his majority and the Boyd influence continued, although some of their number were executed.

James established good relations with England and contracted his eldest son, James Duke of Rothesay, to Edward IV’s second daughter Cecilia. At the same time, he moved against the (MacDonald) Lord of the Isles and fell out with both his brothers – the Duke of Albany and the Earl of Mar. Mar died in suspicious circumstances and Albany left for France.

Edward IV then launched an invasion under the Duke of Gloucester, accompanied by Lord Howard and Albany. Berwick fell and has been part of England ever since. James sought to resist but was arrested at Lauder Bridge, near Thirlstane Castle, by some Scottish rebels, who hanged some of James’ favourites there and imprisoned him at Edinburgh Castle. The English army had made their point and left for home, taking Albany back into exile, eventually to France, where he died in a duel in August 1485. His son was later regent for James V and fought at Pavia.

James III had re-established his authority by that year, as Richard III and Norfolk died in battle that very month. James executed another Albany supporter, but the end was in sight as Margarethe died in 1486. By spring 1488, his sons were fifteen, twelve and eight. Another revolt evolved and this time the Duke of Rothesay was involved. A battle took place to the west of Stirling and James was either killed during the conflict or in flight. Rothesay succeeded him but this Stewart minority was to be mercifully short.

Joan of Arc or Boudicca? Boudicca every time for me, I fear….

Joan of Arc at the Coronation of Charles VII, by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, 1854

Joan of Arc means a great deal to France, but I’m afraid I have never really cottoned on to her. Perhaps because I’m a little uncomfortable when it comes to people who “hear voices”. Not that I’m saying she deserved her horrible death. Far from it. No one deserves that. But when it comes to great female warriors, I prefer Boudicca/Boadicea. Clearly I will never become St Sandra!

Anyway, today (17th July) in 1429, at Joan’s urgent behest, the Dauphin was crowned Charles VII of France at Reims. Joan was in attendance (see illustration above). It was in the middle of the Hundred Years War, and the English were at the gates, so to speak. The King of England, Henry VI, was a child of about eight, but even if he’d been twenty-eight he wouldn’t have been much good. He was useless. Period. Later, during his long periods of “madness”, he was simply even more useless.  So his uncle, John, Duke of Bedford, was regent. Bedford was a good leader and things were going well…until a peasant girl threw a spanner in his works.

Jeanne d’Arc, known as The Maid of Orléans, came from nowhere, having visions and believing herself to be under the guidance of God’s angels and saints. Dressed in armour as a man, she took command of the French army and caused Bedford a bit of bother. Which the duke did not appreciate, of course.

To cut a long story short, she was eventually captured, tried and sentenced to burn at the stake as a witch. This dire event took place on 30th May 1430

The English get all the blame for this atrocity, but it wasn’t entirely their doing. To begin with, she’d fallen into the hands of Jean II, Count of Luxembourg, who sold her to the English for 10,000 gold livres. see here.

To read more about Joan’s fate, go to the Guardian

And I still prefer Boudicca/Boadicea, I’m afraid.

The Central Line Consort?

Kathryn Warner has been Edward II’s main chronicler for a few years now, writing about the King himself, his times, his great-grandson Richard II, several other relatives the roots of the “Wars of the Roses”. This book is about Edward’s daughter-in-law, although he tried a little to prevent his eldest son’s marriage during his own reign and apparent lifespan.

However, Edward III did marry Philippa of Hainault and the marriage lasted for over forty years, during which time they had twelve children. Edward and their sons, particularly their eldest Edward the “Black Prince“, played a full part in victories at Crecy and Neville’s Cross. In a parallel with Richard III and his siblings, a thirteenth child, one “Thomas of Windsor”, has been added by modern writers serving as posthumous surrogate mothers, although not the same writer who gave Richard an elder sister, “Joan”, and added an “Edward” to Mary de Bohun’s sextet of children by the future Henry IV.

This is one of the relative few biographies I have purchased of a royal woman and feels very much like another one in particular. The first chapter, just like Ashdown-Hill’s best tome, explores the subject’s family in great detail but, unlike Eleanor and Paul Johnson’s Elizabeth I, Philippa of Hainault becomes pregnant regularly and has children, their ages are regularly mentioned and she, with Edward, formulates marriage plans for them, not all of which come to fruition.

This is a fascinating book, delineating a veritable matriach. As for our subtitle, peruse the above map. Hainault is on the eastern loop of the Central line, near Newbury Park. Elephant and Castle, on the Northern Line and near the Thames, is reputedly named after Edward II’s mother, although probably in error.

Shadow King: the Life and Death of Henry VI


Shadow King: The Life and Death of Henry VI by Lauren Johnson

Head of Zeus Publications, 2020, paperback, 700 pages, £12.00
ISBN 978-1784-979645

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Henry VI has gone down in history as one of England’s worst kings. Not for being cruel or despotic; on the contrary, his nature was kindly and pliant, peace-loving and deeply devout – qualities that made him likeable as a person but hopeless as a monarch, a faint wavering shadow of his shrewd, martial father. His life would have been very different, and he may have become a better ruler, had he grown to manhood under the guidance of Henry V, this perfect model of the medieval warrior-statesman. Instead, by the latter’s untimely death in 1422 with his French kingdom far from pacified, the infant Henry only received the dire legacy of an unwinnable war, and perpetual bitter conflict between members of his family over the implementation of the late king’s will and their respective powers on the minority council.

Such is the context for the opening chapters of Lauren Johnson’s sympathetic new study, which sets out to ‘explore Henry VI as an evolving individual struggling in an extraordinary situation. In short, to consider him as a man.’ Recently released in paperback, Shadow King is a handsome volume, illustrated with 24 colour plates, family trees of the Houses of Lancaster, Beaufort and York, and three helpful maps, (France 1415 – 53; Wars of the Roses battles 1455 – 71; and 15th century noble landholding in England and Wales).

The well-referenced text falls into logical sections: Henry’s minority 1422 – 37; adult rule to 1453, including his marriage to Margaret of Anjou; political and mental breakdown, culminating in his deposition by Edward IV at Towton in 1461; his fugitive years, short-lived re-adeption, and eventual fate in the Tower of London. A brief ‘Afterlife’ and epilogue conclude the sad, strange stories of this unfortunate king and his queen, followed by two appendices, ‘Where did Henry VI die?’ and ‘Key Characters’, 68 pages of notes, and an extensive bibliography of primary and secondary sources.

Stylistically, some passages read like an historical novel: ‘The inky waters of the River Thames rippled and slid beneath the wherrymen’s oars. In places the peaks of the waves glistened, light falling from the windows of Winchester Palace as bursts of laughter and music echoed out.’ (Page 45). Such imaginative touches bring the text to life for many readers, although my own preference is for Johnson’s straight prose, which I found admirably clear and refreshing. Why gild the lily?

As for content, I particularly enjoyed the first two sections. Johnson makes excellent use of some seldom-used sources to paint a convincing, detailed picture of Henry’s early life. Her exposition of the complex political situations in England and France, (riven by its own civil war between the Armagnacs and Burgundians), and the equally complex personal war between Henry’s kinsmen, is lucid and easy to follow; and she offers some perceptive analyses of the likely effects on an impressionable child of having to perform the rituals of royalty surrounded by such constant conflict and tension. Theoretically wielding absolute power but practically powerless to control his feuding councillors, it’s no wonder that Henry grew up hating discord, and wishing only to please and appease the people closest to him, emotionally or literally.

However, as the story moved into more familiar territory, I felt some disappointment. Plainly no fan of Richard, Duke of York, Johnson gives short shrift to his justifiable reasons for expecting a primary place on Henry’s council/in his confidence, and justifiable chagrin at being passed over for lesser men. York’s assumption of pre-eminence was based on his royal pedigree: descended from the second and fifth sons of Edward III via his mother and father respectively, he was one of England’s wealthiest magnates with a claim to the throne arguably stronger than Henry’s. This was not lost upon the king’s beloved Beaufort kin, a legitimated line sprung from John, Duke of Lancaster’s affair with Kathryn Swynford, who, (along with sundry other jealous rivals), persistently undermined York in Henry’s malleable affections. Had Henry managed to keep his powerful cousin on-side, the Wars of the Roses might never have happened; instead, he progressively alienated York, and wounded his pride, by showing an unfair and obvious partiality for the base-born Beauforts . It seems a shame that Johnson doesn’t extend her even-handed approach to Duke Richard, or treat him as another ‘evolving individual struggling in an extraordinary situation’ who, no less than Henry VI, deserves to be viewed ‘as a man’ trying to do his best for his country, his family and himself.

I was also disappointed by the brief, conventional accounts of the battles of Wakefield and Towton, the great Lancastrian victory followed shortly by the catastrophic defeat which cost Henry his crown, changing his life – and the course of English history – forever. In a work of this magnitude, it’s inevitable that some areas will be less well researched than others; nonetheless, for such a crucial episode, it was frustrating to see some old Wakefield myths perpetuated and enlarged. Like other commentators unfamiliar with the place, Johnson describes Sandal Castle as ‘majestic’ when, as castles go, it’s quite small (Sandal would fit inside the truly majestic Pontefract Castle several times over) and utilitarian. Interestingly, the ‘meagre’ household expenditure of £4 6s 7d for the Christmas – New Year period is cited to show that the castle was poorly provisioned, whereas to me it says precisely the opposite: it was already so well provisioned that little further spending was required. (I say ‘little,’ but the sum in question represents around 18 months – three years’ pay for a labourer, or six months’ pay for a liveried archer – it’s all relative!). This debatable interpretation is then used to present a version of the battle of Wakefield which simply doesn’t make sense: York, Salisbury, Rutland and their men, driven by hunger to hunt in the deer-park ‘north of the River Calder,’ ambushed by the Lancastrian army and slaughtered. Said deer park wasn’t just north of the river – it was the Outwood, some three miles north of Sandal and two miles north of Wakefield city, with its chantry chapel of St Mary perched on the Calder bridge; an unnecessarily long way to go when Sandal Castle had its own deer-park to the south, literally on its threshold, and miles of nearby river for fishing and wild-fowl hunting. (For my personal take on the battle, see this article ) I also found her treatment of Towton somewhat superficial, and lacking reference to more recent studies such as those by George Goodwin and Tim Sutherland.

Suffice to say, if I wasn’t such a pro-Yorkist anorak about this period in Wars of the Roses history, these criticisms wouldn’t have occurred, and I would have read the whole book with the same relish as I devoured the earlier sections! So, on the whole, I’m happy to recommend Shadow King as a worthwhile read, an enthralling tragedy which left me moved and thoughtful, and which will make a valuable addition to my bookshelves.

Mont-St-Michel and its history as you’ve never seen it before….

“….The historic island commune of Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy, France, is a stunning visual display, with its medieval monastery rising up out of the sea. Four hours away in Paris, the Musée des Plans-Reliefs offers its own captivating look at the landmark with a meticulously handcrafted 300-year-old relief map.

“….Now the museum is partnering with Microsoft to wow visitors and take them further into the look and feel and story of Mont-Saint-Michel through the use of mixed reality and the software giant’s HoloLens technology….”

Well, I’d never heard of HoloLens technology before, but Microsoft seem to have mastered it. This display sounds astonishing, and well worth a visit if you can make it to Paris. To read more, go to this article.

 

A French Medieval Lenten Repast

the good man of ParisGood Friday falls today and in commemoration of the crucifixion of Christ we offer several meat free loosely-based receipts from the medieval manuscript Le Menagier de Paris or The Goodman of Paris.  First published anonymously in 1391, it is amusingly similar to Mrs. Beeton’s famous 19th century book of household tips covering diverse subjects such as food, medicine, herbs, gardening, marital accord and its corollary of good wifely behavior.

For those who follow food trends across the globe, it is always amazing and perhaps comforting to find that the French, whether living in medieval times or soaking up rays in Southern California, tend to stick to the tried and true products and gustatory formulas of their beloved patrie.  Looking through Raymond Oliver’s excellent history “The Gastronomy of France” one realizes that most medieval recipes can still be found in Jacques Pepin’s newest cookbook or on a menu at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons in Oxfordshire.

The following receipts are adapted from a menu in the 1540 Le Menagier de Paris:

First Dish and Plate

sorrel

Sorrel is an easily grown herb.  Its name simply means “sour” and it is often used in a cream-based soup.

 

Cress and Sorrel with Vinegar

1 bunch of Watercress, 1 bunch of Sorrel, several handfuls of peas and Arugula (Rocket).  Layer the ingredients on a large white plate or bowl.  Dress with:  Olive oil, Red Wine Vinegar, Dijon Mustard, Salt & Pepper.  If dressing is too bitter, a hint of sugar is appropriate.

***

The French consider figs and bay leaves a match made in heaven in much the way we might pair chicken with tarragon, fish with fennel and seafood with bacon or ham.

 

bay

Fig Crostata with Bay

1 1/2 cups of flour (approx. 200 grams), 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 stick of cold butter (110 grams), ice cold water.   Dice cold butter.  In a food processor, pulse flour and salt.  Add the diced butter and mix until it has a mealy appearance.  Add small amounts of water until it binds.  Place dough on a cold surface and knead with a bit of flour until it forms a ball  – don’t over knead!  Place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or overnight.  When ready to use, roll out to a nine inch circle.  Add:

Figs cut into quarters, several teaspoons of honey, lemon juice and a pinch of salt.  Mix and add to the crostata.  Place two bay leaves on top.  Fold over the edges of the crostata so that the pie mixture won’t spill out while baking.  Use an egg wash if you wish to have an attractive appearance.  Place in an oven heated to 375F (approx. 190 Celsius).  Bake for approximately 35 minutes.  While the bay leaves will perfume the crostata, they should be not be eaten.

Second Dish

Most of the French Lenten dishes that are included in medieval texts appear to be freshwater fish:  Trout, Eel, Perch, Pike, Carp with the occasional Cod, Sole or crustacean thrown in for variety sake.  But in looking for a dish that would satisfy a hungry penitent but not overtax one’s culinary ability, let’s turn to the New World for a receipt.   The classic “Charleston Receipts,” first published in 1950 by the Junior League, showcases the overlapping ethnic influences of anyone who ever passed through this romantic coastal city.  That would include the Creeks to the Spanish, French, British and Africans.  This receipt comes straight from Paris:

Fillet of Sole Marguery as submitted by Mrs. Robert Small

1 large sole or flounder, 2/3 cups of white wine, 1 tablespoon of flour, 2 cups of heavy cream, cooked shrimp, fresh sliced mushrooms, butter and salt.  Place filleted sole or flounder in a buttered pan and sprinkle with salt.  Pour a portion of white over the fish.  Bake twenty minutes, basting often.  Remove fillets to platter.  Thicken stock in which the fish has been baking with flour.  When well blended, add cream, shrimp, mushrooms (that have been sautéed in butter).  Now add remaining wine.  Pour this over fillets; garnish with parsley and serve piping hot.

fish

It would seem sinful to offer a dessert on Good Friday given that the recipes above feature wine, butter, heavy cream, honey and sugar.  So let’s wait until Sunday when the Easter Bunny will deliver his chocolate eggs and candy-laden baskets.

Notes:

Watercress, pea, sorrel salad by Darren Robertson and Mark Labrooy

Fig Crostata, Melissa Rubel Jacobson, Food and Wine Magazine

Sole Marguerey, Charleston Receipts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elizabeth Woodville and witchcraft in medieval England….

 

Elizabeth Woodville meets Edward IV in 1464
(Photo by Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Aha, so Elizabeth Woodvile was a witch, and so was her mother, Jacquette of Luxembourg. Well, everyone knew that already, because Philippa Gregory wrote about it in great detail. So it just has to be true!

Anyway, joking aside, this History extra article is interesting for the information it gives about what the English medieval world thought about magic and so on.

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