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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).

Henry III: Son of Magna Carta

Matt Lewis’s biography of Henry III will be released on 15th October 2016, in time to celebrate the 800th anniversary of his coronation.


The book will seek to understand the real impact of this oft-forgotten king and his long rule and examine why he is so forgotten by history.

The editing is just completed and here is a page to whet your appetite for the book, detailing Geoffrey de Neville’s problems trying to bring order to Gascony.

Edward, the Black Prince.

I came across a conversation recently where people were regretting the early death of the Black Prince, because apparently everything would have been much better had he lived.

Unfortunately, even people interested in English history tend not to appreciate that at the end of Edward III’s reign England was 1. losing the war with France (badly) and 2. almost bankrupt.

So unless the Black Prince was secretly a magician who could conjure gold out of the air – paper currency being a thing as yet unknown – he would have struggled with the same issues Richard II and his Council faced – that is, how to raise money without upsetting the easily-upset English taxpayer. And if you look at Edward’s track record with his taxpayers in Gascony, it would probably not have been pretty.

A rather similar conversation can be had around Henry V. It is true that at his death the English military position had not collapsed (as it had in 1377) but the problems with money had already started. Parliament was not for splashing out. Not even for Henry V. Poor old Henry VI never had a chance – arguably his followers did extremely well to hold on to as much as France as they did for as long as they did.

If I am going to regret anyone’s early death it would be Edward IV’s. Had he lived another ten years Richard of Gloucester could have continued happily in Yorkshire, Henry Tudor would be a mere footnote in history, and a whole lot of sorrow would have been avoided.

DUKE RICHARD OF YORK (1) : the man who would be king

On the 10th of October 1460, Richard Plantagenet 3rd duke of York walked into Westminster Hall wearing the full arms of England undifferenced. After a moment, he put his hand on the empty throne. When asked if he wished to see the king, he replied “I know of no one in the realm who would not more fitly come to me than I to him”. With those words, he declared to all those present that duke Richard had finally renounced his allegiance to king Henry VI and claimed the English crown by right of strict inheritance. York’s motive has puzzled historians ever since. Was it really his ‘natural disposition’ to champion the public interest, or was it the notion that he was the rightful king all along that stirred his ambition? This is the first of three essays in which I hope to explore that question from a personal perspective. I should add for the avoidance of doubt, that I have no intention of considering the validity duke Richard’s title: that is for another time. Neither is this a potted biography; I have included a few details of what I believe are some relevant friction points in his life for purely contextual reasons.

Background

Richard of York was the only son of Richard Earl of Cambridge, a Yorkist who was executed for plotting the overthrow of the Lancastrian Henry V. He was also the nephew of a Yorkist. His maternal uncle was Edmund Mortimer, earl of March, who, arguably, had a superior title to the crown than the king. Richard himself became the Lancastrian government’s severest critic.  In the circumstances, it’s easy to overlook the fact (as some historians do) that whilst he was born into a Yorkist family and died pursuing his Yorkist birthright, he was actually raised a Lancastrian.

The execution of his father in 1415 left the infant Richard in a perilous situation. As the orphan of a traitor he could expect little favour from the king. Furthermore, the death of his paternal uncle Edward 2nd duke of York at Agincourt left him without any obvious relative to take interest in his welfare. Fortunately the king treated young Richard fairly. Perhaps it was the memory of Edward’s loyal service and sacrifice that softened Henry’s attitude towards a Yorkist brat: who knows? In any event he was made a royal ward and allowed to succeed to the duchy of York, an inheritance that protected him from the full effect of his father’s attainder. Richard was given into the custody of Sir Robert Waterton, a stern and devoted Lancastrian, under whose tutelage he remained until 1423. In that year Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland — another Lancastrian adherent — purchased Richard’s wardship for 3000 marks. The high price reflected Yorks potential as a royal duke and the only heir to the vast Mortimer inheritance.

By 1424 Richard was betrothed to Cecily Neville who was Westmorland’s daughter by Joan Beaufort: she was nine and he was thirteen. It was a prestigious match and a lucrative one for the Neville’s. It was also a useful union from the king’s perspective. York was the heir to Edmund Mortimer; he would inherit Mortimer’s vast estates and his title to the throne. Lancastrian concerns about York’s title were never far from the surface throughout his minority. It represented an implied threat to the Lancastrian dynasty, which could not be ignored. One way to neutralize this threat was to attach him to a staunchly Lancastrian family and draw him ever closer into their affinity. York was knighted in 1426; two years later he took up residence in the royal household. In 1430, he and his retinue (twelve lances and thirty-six archers) accompanied the king on his coronation expedition to France. In 1432 whilst still a minor he was granted the livery of his estates. The ultimate accolade came the next year when Richard was made a knight of the Order of the Garter, a mark of royal favour and surety to his loyalty. Richard of York was raised to be a useful Lancastrian peer and he seems to have concurred with that for most of his life.

The king’s Lieutenant General in Normandy

His first experience of the vicissitudes of public service occurred between 1436 and 1445, during which time he served two tours as Lieutenant General for Normandy. It was his experiences and achievements during these tours that confirmed his Lancastrian loyalty whilst indicating his eventual Yorkist destiny. His appointment in 1436 was in succession to John duke of Bedford whose death the previous year had triggered a crisis.   York’s brief was simple: to provide good government, to preserve the military status quo and not to make any permanent decisions. The appointment was for one year only, until the king reached his majority and made a permanent appointment. Despite his inexperience, Richard’s performance was creditable. He worked well with John Talbot who drove the French from northern Normandy and he did useful work addressing the grievances of his subjects where he could. By the end of his tenure in 1437 the military situation was slightly better; Normandy was returned to English authority and he had done nothing to limit the king’s future freedom of action. The English conquests in France were regarded as the legitimisation of the Lancastrian dynasty; York, by his service had acknowledged that legitimacy.

He was sent to Normandy again 1440, arriving by the summer of 1441. The English situation remained critical and the resources insufficient. The task was still to maintain the status quo. The only things that had changed were York’s powers and the English policy. York had been given the full military and civil powers of a governor but now the king’s peace policy was official and York was expected to fight a holding campaign that would encourage the French to the negotiating table. The peace policy was remarkably divisive in England and I will deal separately with its ramifications for York.

In a brilliant opening campaign York and Talbot drove the French back to Paris, almost capturing Charles VII. Unfortunately, without a substantial reinforcement of men and material Normandy continued to be vulnerable. The English could not sustain their effort and by the spring of 1442 the French had recovered the lost ground. The ultimate humiliation occurred in the autumn of 1442, when York was commanded to ‘sue for peace’. It was part of the king’s increasingly desperate search for peace in the face of a disintegrating military situation, especially in the south. In the circumstances, Normandy was considered expendable. The following month, Talbot’s failure to re-take Dieppe was the nadir of York’s governance. Eventually, York managed to achieve a stalemate of sorts. This was due to a relaxation of pressure by the French who had their own reasons for engaging in peace talks with the English.

In April 1443 the Garter King of Arms visited York, he told him of the Council’s new plan. The Council were “aware of the threat to Normandy and Gascony had appointed John Beaufort duke of Somerset to lead an army via Cherbourg and south of the Loire and give battle to the French.” At Somerset’s request Garter emphasised that this expedition was not detrimental to Yorks command in Normandy.

The plan was for Somerset to seek out and defeat Charles VII and his main force. This was a fundamental change of policy from a defensive war to an aggressive one. Given its inevitable impact on York’s mission, it important to understand the circumstances.   The Council’s realisation that they could not afford to defend Normandy and Gascony, coupled with French intransigence, had prompted this volte-face. The concept of a single force organised and equipped to find and defeat the enemy’s main force was militarily sound; if successful, it promised decisive results. However, there were risks if — as was the case here — it was an all or nothing gamble. It was important to stop Charles VII ranging throughout France at will demonstrating that he was the actual king of all France. It was also an opportunity to relieve Gascony and provide a shield for York in Normandy.

Another factor that may have affected the Council’s thinking was their disappointment at York’s performance. The view in London was that despite the men, money and material invested in Normandy, York ‘had done precious little’ since 1441’. It’s difficult to know what York thought about this since he showed no outward animosity.   Doubtless he was worried about the possible impact of Somerset’s expedition on his own mission, particularly if king Charles VII moved north, as was his intention. Somerset was bound to follow, which could result in him intruding into Normandy, with the inevitable confusion about who was in command. If York knew of the criticisms of him at home, he might well have been resentful, and doubtless anxious about his own position if Somerset was successful.

Historians seem mostly concerned about how all this affected York’s relationship with Somerset. It is possible that it heralded the irreconcilable differences between York and the Beaufort’s that were to bedevil the future. The general opinion of John Beaufort was poor; he was not admired for either his military or his personal qualities and we have no reason to doubt that York shared that opinion.   Nonetheless, we cannot date the breach from this time. Even if York was resentful we have no reason to believe that he was anymore resentful of the Beaufort’s than any other member of the Council.

The expedition was a military and diplomatic disaster. Somerset dragged his heels getting started; he attacked the Bretons instead of the French (The Bretons were England’s allies.). He sacked the Breton town of La Guerche and, according to duke Francis of Brittany, acted like a ‘conqueror’. Once the Council had managed to smooth over the diplomatic furore, Somerset was commanded to desist from attacking the king’s friends.

Somerset’s stupidity didn’t just provide Charles VII with a good laugh; more seriously, it reduced the English options and levers for securing peace on their terms. The unpopular William De le Pole, 1st duke of Suffolk had the unenviable task of securing a favourable peace from a position of weakness.   Suffolk was well aware of the problems and the risk to his reputation if things went wrong. He demurred, pointing out his unsuitability for such a task. His objection, however, was overruled; he had to go.   Fortuitously, duke Francis of Brittany was still prepared to act as an intermediary between Henry and Charles, which alleviated Suffolk’s problems to some degree. Also, it also suited Charles’ purpose at this time to make peace with the English, due to his own domestic problems.

Margaret of Anjou

No one knows who suggested that Henry VI should marry Margaret, the daughter of Renee duke of Anjou, Lorraine and Bar. Discussions had been taking place for some time without progress and it is possible Margaret was first mentioned then. It is also possible that the idea came from the French who understood the benefits of such a match. From the English perspective the benefits were not so obvious. Margaret was only a junior royal (she was niece to the French queen); furthermore, she was not an heiress and came with a small dowry. She was also an inconsequential match for the king in diplomatic terms. The marriage secured with major territorial concessions from the English and only a two-year truce. The reaction in England was likely to be anxious at best and hostile at worst.

As the king’s leading advisor Suffolk was committed to peace. A tougher envoy less dedicated to peace may have been able to drive a harder bargain than a limited truce, the loss of Anjou and Maine, and the miserly dowry given for the future queen of England. Suffolk was right to warn the king about his unsuitability for this task. Following the truce, York was supernumerary in Normandy. All he had to do were routine administration and the settlement of his own affairs. In the summer of 1445 he was recalled from Normand never to return.

At this stage, York seemed to support the king’s desire for peace, and also his proposed marriage to Margaret of Anjou. In fact the duke tried hard to secure a suitable marriage for his own son Edward. He was negotiating for the hand of Joanna a daughter of Charles VII. It suited Charles’ purpose to engage in discussions with York (Although, he suggested that his daughter Madeleine was a more suitable match.) and they seemed to be going positively until York’s recall to England. If a suitable marriage could be arranged, it would place the duke’s family closer to the French throne than the king. He was still keen on the idea even after his return to England and intended to raise the issue with Henry. However, nothing came of it.

Assessment of York’s achievement

It is difficult to assess York’s performance objectively as contemporary opinions were often biased. One contemporary domestic commentator thought he was “ impressionable and ineffective”. A foreign chronicler writing after York’s death considered he was an effective, determined and honourable governor. According to PA Johnson, York’s biographer, he left Normandy “…very much as he found it. In a rough and ready way it could be defended. In a rough and ready way it was governable”.

We need not be too critical of him. He was given essentially defensive missions with insufficient resources, some of which he lost for Somerset’s ruinous expedition. As governor of Normandy York did what he was instructed to do. When he left it was defensible. It was not as defensible as he or others would have liked, and he could possibly have done more; however, his efforts were undermined by some hare-brained policies from Westminster. He also displayed the positive side of his character: a genuine concern for the welfare of those he governed and personal courage: moral and physical.

York was about to set out on a new chapter in his life, which would transform him from a loyal, dutiful Lancastrian into a rebel Lancastrian.

To be continued…

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