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THE THREE HUNDRED YEARS WAR – PART 2: the just cause  



This is the second of three articles charting the course of continual Anglo-French conflict from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries. In the first article, I wrote about the rise and fall of the Angevin Empire, culminating in the Treaty of Paris (1259). This article picks up my narrative after the death of Henry III in 1272 and culminates in the Treaty of Bretigny (1360). The caveats to my work mentioned in the first article remain: i) I write from an English perspective; ii) I have omitted any historical events and matters that are not strictly relevant to my subject; iii) this is not a military history; iv) I make no claim to original research or a new interpretation. Since the facts I rely on are well known and relatively uncontroversial, I have used only those sources, and books readily available to the general public.



The Treaty of Paris resolved some practical issues between King Henry III and King Louis IX, but failed to address the combustible problem of English vassalage, which was the cause of their conflict. King Henry surrendered his hereditary claims to Normandy, Poitou (northern Aquitaine) and other places, in return for the retention of Gascony (southern Aquitaine). He also bound himself and his successors to give ‘liege homage’ to the French king for Gascony. By this, Henry and his successors had an irrevocable obligation to give fealty and service (including military service) to the French kings. Predictably, this condition was abhorrent to the Plantagenet kings as it was incompatible with their own sovereignty. The Treaty of Paris went well beyond Henry’s ducal authority in Gascony; it fettered his royal prerogative to make treaties, war or peace as he thought best. It was peace settlement born of the concurrence of French strength and English weakness and it could not last.


Things were hardly much different during the reign of Edward I. His focus was on the conquest of Wales and Scotland, though not simultaneously. That is not to say he was unmindful of his family’s inherited rights in Normandy and Poitou, but Edward I was a realist. He did only so much as was necessary to maintain the status quo in Gascony. He did dutiful homage to Phillip III in 1272 and to Phillip IV in 1285; however, on each occasion he took considerable care over the wording of his oaths so as to leave some scope for evading the worst of his feudal obligations.[1] Neither was he prepared to accept continual French breaches of the treaty that threatened his feudal rights. He raised the matter with Phillip in 1285 and obtained some redress in the form of a fresh treaty in 1286. Unfortunately, the peace was never wholehearted on either side. The habitual violence that accompanied any meeting of English and French mariners not only continued unabated, it got worse. On the 15 May 1293 a ‘great sea battle’ took place off the coast of Brittany. Norman ships flying ‘bausons of red sendal’ (no quarter) attacked an Anglo-Gascon flotilla sailing from the Cinque Ports. In a vicious hand-to-hand fight, the Normans were defeated and the survivors taken prisoner together with their ships and cargoes. For good measure, the Gascon sailors sacked La Rochelle on their way home.[2]


Phillip IV was furious. He commanded the offenders to be delivered to him for punishment and ordered the French prisoners to be released along with their ships and cargoes. He also extended his right to hear Gascon appeals and dispatched troops to the Gascon border.[3] Unfortunately, Edward misjudged Phillip’s intention. Edward was already committed to fighting Welsh and Scottish nationalists; the last thing he needed was a war with Phillip. He was, therefore, genuinely prepared to compromise sovereign to sovereign. Phillip IV, however, was intent on exploiting the situation to his advantage. By treating this as a feudal dispute between a disobedient vassal and his suzerain, he was able to seize Gascony for the French Crown and humiliate his rival; whereupon Edward renounced his homage and prepared to send troops to Gascony. It was only a gesture as there were insufficient English troops and loyal Gascons to retake Gascony. The best he could do was to prevent Phillip overrunning Gascony altogether.[4] By 1303 Phillip was under pressure from Flemish rebels in Flanders. He was, more or less, driven to restoring Gascony to the English Crown for the sake of a general peace. [5] The quid-pro-quo for such a peace was a double marriage between King Edward and Marguerite, Phillip’s half-sister, and also between Edward of Caernarvon (Edward’s son) and Princess Isabella, Phillip’s daughter. Nevertheless, despite the joinder of two royal families, disputations over English Gascony continued to flourish during the reign of King Edward II.[6]


King Edward II’s royal deficiencies are too well documented to doubt.[7] It is probably true that his domestic troubles were largely self-inflicted, but it is misleading to suggest that he was entirely responsible for the political and diplomatic problems that resulted in war with France. He inherited the thorny issue of homage, which neither his grandfather nor his father had managed to solve and which was problematic on both sides of the Channel. The Capetian kings found it difficult to enforce their feudal rights against a sovereign king and the Plantagenet’s found it intensely painful to swear allegiance to a foreign potentate. Edward was particularly unlucky in that during his reign four different kings ruled France: Phillip IV, Louis X, Phillip V and Charles IV. Edward II’s policy was always to evade giving homage if possible and if it was not possible, to delay the ceremony for as long as he could. He did homage to Phillip IV fairly quickly, but prevaricated over his oath to Louis X. He eventually acknowledged Louis as his landlord but did not swear liege fealty. He also managed to delay giving homage to Phillip V until it was rendered unnecessary by Phillip’s premature death. The other great problem Edward faced was his marriage to Isabella. It was meant to bolster the peace of 1303, but actually, it made things worse by highlighting Edward’s subservience to his father-in-law. It also raised the great, though latent, question of the French succession, of which more anon.


Providentially, an Anglo-French entente prevailed during much of Edward’s reign. Despite the inflammable question of homage and the repeated encroachments of French royal officials in Gascony, there was no serious threat to the peace of 1303 prior to 1322.[8] In January of that year, Charles IV ascended the French throne and once again Edward was expected to swear fealty to a French king. Unfortunately, the fateful confluence of political and diplomatic dramas that played out during the winter of 1323-1324 set in motion a sequence of events leading to the loss of Gascony and the War of Saint-Sardos (1324-25). Charles thoughtfully waited until August 1323 before inviting Edward to appear at Amiens 4 to do homage for Gascony between the 2 February and 15 April 132. Edward excused his attendance on the grounds that the political situation in England was too dangerous for him to leave the country. That letter was dispatched by envoy to France sometime ‘just before’ the 22 November 1323. Coincidentally on that day, Edward was informed of a serious incident in the small Gascon village of Saint-Sardos during which a French sergeant was murdered by one of Edward’s vassals. Although the question of homage and the affair of Saint-Sardos are separate matters, they both touch on Edward’s rights and obligations as Duke of Aquitaine. To understand how this interrelationship led to catastrophe, it is necessary to follow the chronology.


Unknown to Edward, Charles IV commissioned the building of a royal bastide (fortress) at Saint-Sardos. On the 15 October 1323, a sergeant sent by the French seneschal of Périgueux laid claim to the land by erecting a stake carrying the royal arms of France. However, the local Gascons opposed this claim. They feared that the privileges habitually granted to bastides would damage the local economy. Raymond-Bernard, Lord of the castle of Montpezat took matters into his own hands. He attacked Saint-Sardos, hanged the sergeant from the royal stake he had just erected and burned the village to the ground. On being informed of this, Edward immediately wrote a letter of abject apology to Charles assuring him that he personally had nothing to do with the incident and promising to punish the offenders. This letter was sent post haste after the envoy already en route to Paris with a request for the deferral of the homage ceremony. The envoy arrived at Paris on the 27 November with both letters. By then, however, the affair of Saint-Sardos had become a full-blown international incident. Anglophobia was running high in Paris aggravated by the refusal of Edward’s Gascon vassals to cooperate with the subsequent investigation. Charles even took the precaution of issuing a warning order for troops to muster at Toulouse for possible service in Gascony. Even so and despite his misgivings, Charles accommodated Edward on the question of homage, which was put back to the 1 July 1324. He also accepted Edward’s protestation of innocence in the Saint-Sardos affair.[9] However, he summoned Raymond-Bernard, Ralph Basset (Edward’s seneschal) and others to appear before him on the 24 January1224. Their failure to attend on that day resulted in the accused being outlawed and their possessions seized by the French Crown. The French seneschals of Toulouse and Périgueux were ordered to take possession of the castle of Montpezat by force if necessary.


It is surely no exaggeration to say that the ‘War of Saint-Sardos’, which had such dire consequences for Edward, was started by mistake. He made three serious errors in his dealings with Charles. First, he never kept his promise to punish the offenders if they were guilty, which they assuredly were; nor did he deliver them over to French justice. Second, his continual attempts to defer giving homage created the suspicion (probably justified) that he was simply trying to avoid his feudal duty. Edward’s third and most serious blunder was to think he could get himself out of his difficulty by negotiating as an equal with the French king. Instead of accepting responsibility as a vassal of the French king, Edward tried to argue the toss with him. He sent another embassage to Paris charged with three tasks (in order of priority): i) secure a further postponement of the homage ceremony; ii) ‘mention’ Edward’s concern about the number of Gascon appeals pending on the French Parlement;[10] iii) in the matter of Saint-Sardos, they were to ‘suggest’ that this was perhaps best left to the two monarchs to discuss when they met for Edward’s homage. Charles, who was already on the verge of confiscating and occupying Aquitaine, was astonished by Edward’s impertinent suggestion that a king should compromise with a subject on the performance of his public duty. It was tantamount to treason.[11] He therefore presented the English ambassadors with stark choice: they must promise that the guilty officials would be given up, Montpezat would be surrendered and Edward would pay homage on the 1 July 1324 or face war.[12] Their courage failing, the ambassadors duly made the promise demanded, which they must have realised would not be honoured. When French officials next came to take possession of Montpezat they were again sent away empty-handed.


What followed had elements of farce that would be laughable were the situation not so serious. Edward sent yet another embassage to Paris led this time by the earl of Pembroke with instructions to secure a delay to the homage ceremony on Edward’s promise to surrender Montpezat. However Pembroke died of a heart attack while in France: it was a catastrophe. The remainder of the embassage reached Amiens on the 1 July but the king was not there. He had gone to Anet-sur-Marne and had already declared Aquitaine forfeit once it was obvious Edward would not appear. Once the English envoys reached him of the 5 July, he told them brusquely that owing to Edward’s failure to make amends for the crime of Saint-Sardos, he could not take his protestations of innocence seriously and ” because he found no man for Gascony or Ponthieu on the appointed day he had taken them into his hands before [the envoys] arrived.[13] Edward was now at war with Charles.


  • Charles of Valois invaded Aquitaine with a French army in August. He quickly overran most of English-held Gascony and arrived before the castle of La Réole, which surrendered on the 22 September 1324. A six-month truce was agreed whereby the English were confined to Bordeaux, Bayonne and a small strip of coast between Saintes and the eastern marches. English authority everywhere else was quickly expunged. As winter turned to spring, the French began preparations to renew the war. Edward was now in an impossible position. The political opposition in England was so hostile to his government that he dare not leave the realm either to give homage or (unlikely) to defend Gascony in person. Outmaneuvered by his artful opponent, Edward was forced send his wife Isabella and afterwards his son Edward of Windsor to France to negotiate the details of a peace treaty, the outcome of which could hardly have been worse for Edward. He lost virtually all of Gascony, had to pay French reparation costs in full and must still do homage for the pitiful remnants of Gascony. Rage though he might, Edward had no choice but to accept these terms. The Treaty was signed on 23 June 1325. Edward had lost control of Gascony, his wife and his heir. Once young Edward arrived in France, his mother and her lover Mortimer used him as a tool to depose his father. The end was inevitable. Mortimer and Isabella landed in Suffolk on the 24 September 1326. King Edward II, deserted by his friends, was deposed within four months.


‘It is as it is’[14]

Edward of Windsor was a noble and high-spirited youth with a warlike disposition quite unlike his father, but he was still a minor when he ascended the English throne. The direction of the realm, therefore, was taken into the hands of his mother and Sir Roger Mortimer. They exploited his youth and inexperience to arrogate royal authority for their personal aggrandizement and to suppress opposition to their injustices. It was, however, their incompetence in the direction of foreign policy that was most damaging to the Crown and to the kingdom. For three generations the raison d’etre of Plantagenet foreign policy was the subjugation of the British Isles under English dominion and the full restoration of Aquitaine in sovereignty to the English crown. In 1327, Edward III had no choice but to accept the fait accompli of a patched-up truce with Charles IV, whereby the French king undertook to restore the remnant of Gascony granted to Edward II, on condition that the English pay 50,000 marks in addition to £60,000 already pledged to the French Crown.


Charles IV died without male issue in February 1328. For the first time in three centuries there was no male heir to the French throne. Ironically, Charles’ nearest male blood relative was his nephew the king of England whose title came through his mother. The only other male candidate was Phillip of Valois, a nephew of Phillip V and second cousin to Charles IV. The line of succession could not be settled immediately, however, since Charles’ widow was seven months pregnant when he died. If she gave birth to a boy, he would succeed his father. If it were a girl, the baby would never wear the French crown. The choice in that eventuality was between Edward and Phillip. The prospect of a ‘foreign’ ruler horrified the French and despite the strength of Edward’s genealogy there were political reasons for not choosing him as the next French king. He was a foreigner and a minor, and his accession would give far too much power to his mother, whose wicked conduct towards her royal husband had alienated the French against her. Conversely, Phillip of Valois was a man of considerable political substance, an experienced man of affairs and the son of a French hero, and thereby “…entitled to a place at the centre of French political life, while his rival was by birth no more than Phillip the Fair’s grandson, an outsider to all but genealogists.”[15]


The so-called Salic law that they had in France has been the subject of scholarly debate and controversy. To Edouard Perroy, it was a ‘museum piece’ unearthed by Valois lawyers to strengthen their master’s royal claim. “ It so happened that by a stroke of luck unique to history this long line of kings from Hugh Capet at the close of the tenth century to Phillip the Fair at the dawning of the fourteenth always left at every generation one of more sons capable of succeeding them. Hereditary succession by the male line was on record in fact. It did not exist in law, since no precedent had enabled it to be formulated explicitly as a rule. The kings themselves consistently recoiled from the task, quite simple though it was, of decreeing how their inheritance was to devolve in future.” [16] Lately, Jonathan Sumption has argued that it was a rule ‘of recent origin, of doubtful legality, and, moreover, a rule of force rather than principle’. It was also contrary to civil inheritance law in France and elsewhere in Christendom at that time. Indeed, women were known to have inherited the throne in lands ruled by cadet branches of the Capetian dynasty.


The Salic law first appeared in 1316, when Phillip V succeeded to the throne instead of the infant daughter of his brother. It was far from obvious to his contemporaries that Phillip should succeed to the throne and there does not appear to have been any reason for him doing so beyond the presence of his armed supporters and his forceful personality. But even so, he had to buy-out his niece’s claim and bribe doubters with his use of patrimony. By contrast, when Philip died in 1322, his own daughter was pushed aside in favour of Charles IV without demure: ‘ practice was now law.’[17] It is reasonable to infer from Sumption’s analysis that in the event of a problematic or disputed succession political expediency was a more influential factor than strict hereditary right. The situation in 1328 was, however, different to that in 1316 and in 1322. In 1328, the legal issue was not whether a woman could succeed to the throne, but whether she could transmit a right of succession to her son. This was to the French no more than a legal quibble that was rendered academic by overwhelmingly sound political reasons for rejecting Edward, who did not have the support of any of the princes of the blood royal nor anybody else with influence. The Chronicler Saint-Denis summed-up the French view of the legal issue: ‘the mother had no claim, neither did the son’. Despite the difficulties, Isabella had no choice but to press her son’s claim lest it go by default. Whilst Edward’s legal right was not thereby diminished, it did mean war à outrance if he tried to enforce it. And the English were in no position to go to war for the Kingdom of France. Edward III was still in the power of Isabella and Mortimer, and there was a serious risk of civil war, which precluded any possibility of sending a military expedition to France. Queen Isabella, therefore, relinquished her son’s claim and recognized Phillip Valois as king of France. It should be noted, however, that Isabella gave way to superior force and not because she thought the French were right. Nor should we assume that English indifference was due to anything other than their preoccupation with the threat of civil war at home.[18]


In the autumn of 1328, Phillip summoned Edward do homage in person for Gascony. Isabella’s tactless defiance to this summons (‘’The son of a king will never do homage to the son of a count.”) infuriated Phillip who sequestered Gascon revenues in reprisal and repeated his summons. In February 1329, the threat of civil war in England was so grave that Phillip’s demand was put to Parliament for advice. The nature of the debate and what was said is unknown to us as the Parliamentary Roll is not extant. However, the editors’ note in my edition of PROME is quite clear. In 1328 when Edward’s claim to the French throne was first raised, Phillip of Valois had just succeeded to the throne ‘and his position was still insecure. Now [in 1329] the situation had changed. Edward had no choice but to obey the summons in the same way his father had’. Jonathan Sumption relies on chronicle sources for his assertion that Parliaments advise was unequivocally that Edward’s claim to the French throne was unsustainable and it was his duty to do homage for Gascony.[19] Be that as it may, Edward III dutifully travelled to Amiens and on the 6 June 1329 and gave homage in the usual form (‘Homage de foi et de bouche’) That is, he “…paid homage with words and a kiss only without putting his hands between the hands of the King of France.” [20] And he declined to do more until he had returned to England and taken further advice. Thus, Edward acknowledged Phillip as his landlord but not as his sovereign. To the modern historian Michael Packe this seemed more like defiance than homage.[21]


Edward was back in England by the 11 June; within weeks, he received a demand from Phillip to acknowledge ‘liege’ fealty by the 28 July 1330 or lose the rest of Gascony.[22] Queen Isabella and Mortimer prevaricated to gain time for the Gascon defences to be strengthened. Negotiations were started but broke down; by August Edward was in default and faced the complete loss of Gascony. Parliament met in November to debate the defence of the Gascony; but, this was overtaken by the fall of Isabella and Mortimer, which dominated proceedings. Nothing, therefore, was done to strengthen the Gascon defences or to resolve the problem of Edward’s homage. By the end of December frustrated French ambassadors arrived in England to seek Edward’s answer. By now, Edward had entered on his adult personal rule and he was anxious to placate Phillip and prevent the loss of Gascony. Negotiations were relatively successful due to Edward’s conciliatory approach and his policy of giving way to French demands whenever possible. A settlement was reached on the 9 March and ratified by Edward before the end of the month. Edward’s acknowledged that his earlier homage include the word ‘liege’.

Edward was in no position to resist Phillip’s demand, but the significance of this new oath was not lost on him or his advisors. The obligation to provide military service as and whenever required touched the fault line of Anglo-French relations. The Plantagenet kings neither could nor would ever accept the full consequences of their fealty to the French kings. To them, homage was a ritual to be avoided if possible and got through if that was unavoidable. Indeed, the words of their previous oaths were deliberately ambiguous to fudge this issue. Liege homage went much further than simply providing troops. It placed an intolerable constraint on Edward’s sovereign prerogative. He might for example be required to take the part of France — seen by the English as their natural enemy — against (say) the Flemings or Germans who were regarded as England’s natural allies. It also damaged England’s commercial interests. The king therefore travelled incognito to France, where he met Phillip at Pont-Sainte-Maxeme sometime between the 12 and 16 April 1331. Both men were eager for a permanent resolution of the Aquitaine problem, though for different reasons. Edward wanted to re-focus English attention on the conquest of Scotland, whereas Phillip was fixated on a crusade to the Holy Land. Edward’s conciliatory approach had him gained him some relief but not much. He was forgiven for his ‘dilatoriness on the matter of the oath’ and relieved of an obligation to repeat the ceremony. Phillip also authorized a joint judicial commission to examine and then to effect ‘a mutual restoration of Aquitaine territories seized by force since the war of Saint–Sardos’; he also lifted the banishment of Gascons involved in the war. But that was as far as he would go. The clock could not be turned back. The lands confiscated in 1325 would not be returned the English Crown. Phillip did not preclude the possibility that Edward could sue for their return, but he retained absolute discretion to do what he thought proper. It was not an equitable settlement. It resolved some minor grievances of the recent past, but it did not address the deeper, fundamental issues that dated to the Treaty of Paris 1259. Phillip saw no reason to concede what the law did not demand of him.


Edward’s diplomacy had achieved nothing so far. His Gascon inheritances remained diminished by French occupation, and the giving of liege fealty to Phillip had further weakened his authority. Yet despite that, he had no choice but to continue negotiating with the French king, since the only other options were war or surrender, both of which were unthinkable.[23] Edward could not contemplate war with France until he had subdued the Scots, and the idea of abandoning his claim to Aquitaine or submitting it to arbitration were anathema to him and to his subjects.[24] It is, nonetheless, questionable whether diplomacy had any further usefulness, as neither Edward nor Phillip seems to have been well served by it. The process itself was cumbrous and unlikely to produce the ‘imaginative compromise’ that was required.[25] In the early fourteenth there was no regular, arrangements in England and France for managing international relationships. Ad hoc embassages were dispatched as events or circumstances demanded. The ambassadors who led these embassies were accompanied by large stately retinues and lived in magnificent style very much in the public gaze. They moved slowly (‘a dignified pace’) taking time to proclaim their master’s wealth and power for the benefit of foreigners and their rulers. Necessarily, their instructions were given in advance and more often than not, they were overtaken by events. In which case, new instructions had to be taken causing yet more delay as a messenger was dispatched post haste to take new orders.


Furthermore, those charged with conducting talks were rarely professional diplomats. Usually they were bishops or high status members of the lay nobility, lacking the diplomatic expertise and skills required to achieve success. Those charged with advising the ambassadors also had shortcomings. For the most part they were lawyers and antiquarians, ‘students of precedent and form’. They possessed expert knowledge of ‘the ancient and complex territorial dispute between England and France’, but were consumed by process and detail. They did not always see the issues and problems as political in nature, requiring political solution. Except on those rare and obvious occasions when legal form was beside the point, they tended to regard the problems in legal terms entailing a detailed forensic analysis and a legal solution. They were, in fact, obsessed with arguing about process rather than outcome, and also with minutiae. As the talk continued ‘their slow, sinuous but familiar path neither king saw the dangerous drift towards war’. [26] I am not sure that last sentence, which comes from Perroy, is altogether fair. Personally, I am not convinced that either king allowed the situation to drift aimlessly towards war. I believe that war was unavoidable. The fundamental problem of English vassalage was unsolvable by diplomatic means as the relative positions of the English and French were so utterly opposed. Ideally, the English crown would hold all of Aquitaine in full sovereignty; whereas, the French could not countenance the cession of the least part of sovereign French territory to a foreign power, nor could Phillip concede or moderate any of his strict feudal rights over Aquitaine.


Edward was playing for time. By keeping the talks going and by not giving Phillip any excuse to confiscate what was left of Gascony or to intervene in Scotland, Edward was better able to prepare for the reckoning with Phillip, which he knew must come. To which end, he instructed his commissioners in the joint Anglo-French judicial commission to continue their conciliatory line in the talks. He was even prepared to commit to joining Phillip’s crusade in return for the restoration of Gascony ante bellum the War of Saint-Sardos[27]. This moderate approach seemed to have borne fruit by the spring of 1334. After one particular day of talks, the English ambassadors were convinced that an equitable settlement of the Aquitaine problem had been achieved. However, as they arrived back at their lodgings, they were told to return to the French court, where their hopes of peace were dashed by Phillip’s proclamation that the settlement just agreed must include the Scots.[28] So there it was at last: Edward could not have a settlement on Gascony without abandoning his conquest of Scotland. He risked further confiscation of Gascony and the involvement of French soldiers north of the Tweed, and possibly even an invasion of England from the north. Phillip’s intervention in Scotland marked the moment of no return in the drift towards the Hundred Years War. The Scottish question rankled with Phillip no less than Edward; it was a distraction that imperiled the crusade, which he was committed to leading in the Holy Land. The French were bound to Scotland by an alliance that Phillip for honour’s sake could not ignore,[29] even at the cost of postponing the crusade.[30] In the summer of 1335, therefore, as the English army was assembling on the Scottish border, the French Royal Council committed to sending a seaborne force of six thousand soldiers to Scotland to restore the throne to Robert Bruce’s heir, David II.


An open breach between the two foremost kings of Christendom was bound to disrupt the crusade. In the hope of preventing such disruption, Phillip wrote to Edward on the 7 July 1335 ‘inviting him to submit his dispute with David II to the ‘impartial arbitration’ of the Pope and Phillip himself.[31] It is, I think inconceivable, that Phillip could have made such a crass suggestion unintentionally. He must surely have realised how that would simply inflame the situation. Scotland was to Edward at this time what Gascony was to Phillip: non negotiable. Edward’s reply was instant and unequivocal. ‘There was no danger of the Scottish problem endangering the proposed crusade, since Edward would soon pacify the rebellious Scots effectively and permanently. Furthermore, Phillip should not interfere in a domestic matter between Edward and his Scottish subjects. Finally, the idea of arbitration was obnoxious to Edward who was dealing with his own subjects and vassals. It was as complete a rebuff as could have been drafted.’ Desperate Papal efforts to broker a permanent peace were brushed aside by the parties. In March 1336, therefore, at a private meeting with Phillip, Pope Benedict XII cancelled the crusade.[32] It was a blow to Phillip’s hopes and his pride, but even more damaging to Edward as it removed his best bargaining lever for obtaining concessions and freed the French fleet for redeployment from the Mediterranean to Norman ports, where it could be used against the English.


Edward was in a difficult position. The war in Scotland was going badly. It was taking longer and costing more to subdue the Scottish nationalists than he had expected, and the English gains of 1335 were threatened by a French plan to raise and equip a force of 26,000 men for service in Scotland, and possibly also in England. In the Channel, the French were sinking English ships, killing their sailors and damaging their commerce with Flanders. French raids on the English east and south coast ports were increasing and causing much alarm among the civilian population. The redeployment of the French fleet to the Channel merely added to English concerns since it was seen as the prelude to a full-on French invasion, which the inhabitants of the southeast were arming themselves to resist. For all practical purposes, Phillip was treating Edward and his subjects as enemies wherever he found them. Things were hardly any better for the English in Gascony. Phillip’s plan to seize the remains of the duchy was well advanced. His officials, who were there already, were brazenly enforcing French royal authority at the expense of ducal authority. Also, the ‘flurry’ of litigation in the royal French courts that was emanating from Edward’s truculent Gascon vassals was undermining ducal authority. Phillip had already rejected out of hand Edward’s last proposals for a peaceful settlement of their differences, when on the 30 April he proclaimed the arriéve-ban summoning all able-bodied Frenchmen of military age for war service with the Crown.


As it happened, however, the casus belli for war was not Phillip’s threat to England or French piracy in the Channel, but Edward’s position as a peer of France. His refusal to extradite Robert of Artois a French outlaw who had taken refuge in the English court after being condemned as a traitor in France gave Phillip the excuse to confiscate what was left of Edward’s French inheritance,[33] which he did by proclamation on the 24 May 1337, ’…on account of the many excesses, rebellions and acts of disobedience committed against our royal majesty by the king of England, duke of Aquitaine.[34] To ensure there was no misunderstanding, Phillip did not send his demand for Artois’ extradition through diplomatic channels (i.e. sovereign to sovereign); he sent it to the English Seneschal of Gascony who was instructed to deal with the Master of the Royal Archers when he arrived in Gascony for the purpose. This was an unequivocal ‘sovereign to subject’ communication and tantamount to a declaration of war. Phillip’s actions found Edward at a considerable military disadvantage. He could not conquer Scotland and defend Gascony at the same time. Neither did he have the ships to challenge French naval supremacy in the Channel and the Atlantic, and his financial problems seemed insurmountable.


Edward’s solution to all these difficulties was to broaden the war. In 1337 and 1338 he set out to create an anti-Phillip coalition. The Holy Roman Emperor Ludwig IV and a cluster of German princes who had cause to fear Phillip’s territorial ambition agreed to fight on Edward’s part for gold. The Flemings were forced to join this coalition by Edward’s embargo on the export of wool and leather to Flanders.[35] They suspected (probably correctly) that Edward was using them. To maintain the coalition and to convince the unreliable Flemings that Phillip was not their lawful suzerain, Edward with the consent of the English parliament resurrected his claim to be the legitimate King of France. In a public challenge to Phillip dated the 3 October 1337, Edward claimed the French crown on the ground of his closer degree of kinship to Charles IV. ” Wherefore we give you notice that we will claim and conquer or heritage of France by the armed force of us and ours, and from this day forward we and ours challenge you and yours and we rescind the pledge of homage we gave you without good cause.” [36]  Henceforth, Phillip and his French subjects were treated as enemies of Edward. In 1338, he travelled to Antwerp to cement his alliance. There, he found his allies “…slippery, timid and tepid. They were hesitant and dilatory, and not much was achieved”.[37] It would be wrong, nevertheless, to describe the period 1337 to 1340 as a ‘phony war’ (as Christopher Allmand does). [38] The fighting may have been desultory and indecisive but it was bloody nonetheless, and both sides were guilty of atrocities and cruelty. Furthermore, the economic impact on northern Europe was considerable.[39]


Edward’s coalition depended on his ability to pay his allies and to lead an English army on campaign in the Low Countries: by 1340 he could do neither. His debts far exceeded any subsidy from Parliament and the Crown’s feudal revenues. The German’s, would fight only so long as English gold lasted and the Flemings were unreliable allies anyway. It was this crisis that prompted Edward to take the next logical step. On the 26 January 1340 he formally assumed the title ‘King of France’ and received the recognition of those Flemings who did not side with the Count of Flanders on Phillip’s side.[40] In the same month, he held his first French ‘court’ in Ghent to which his new vassals were summoned to swear their allegiance to him as ‘the successor to St Louis and Phillip the Fair’. He styled himself ‘King of England and of France’, quartered his royal arms with those of France and dated his documents ‘in the fourteenth year of our reign in England and in the first in France.’[41] It was a remarkable and dramatic escalation of the conflict, which transformed its fundamental nature, astounded the Church and the secular rulers of Christendom, and has been the source of scholarly muddle ever since.


There are three questions that historians find difficult to answer conclusively. First, did Edward have a legitimate and superior title to the French throne? Second, was his claim at this time based on principle or expediency? And finally, was it the cause of the Hundred Years War? I will deal with the last question first since it is the most straightforward. The simplistic view taken by Edward’s sternest critics of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that his claim was the cause of the Hundred Years War flies in the face of the facts as we now know them and of common sense. Phillip’s confiscation of Gascony marked the moment war became inevitable. The occupation of Gascony by French soldiers soon afterwards marked the start of hostilities. These acts took place months before Edward wrote to Phillip claiming the French throne and years before he assumed the title of King of France. As Ian Mortimer is quick to point out, Edward’s dynastic claim was a symptom of the conflict, not its cause.[42]


The issue of legitimacy, however, is more problematic. The objection to a woman succeeding to the French throne was hardly relevant to Edward’s claim for obvious reasons. His claim was sui generis in that it turned on the question of whether a woman could transmit such a title to her son. The French lords answered that question with a resounding no. Although the English bowed to superior force, there is no suggestion they accepted the French interpretation of the ‘rules’ of succession. It could be argued that by giving homage to Phillip in 1329, Edward effectively renounced his claim to the French Crown, The counter argument put forward at the time by his advisors is that Edward could not be held to an oath given while he was still a minor and furthermore an oath he was coerced into giving. It is arguable, as Jonathan Sumption suggests, whether that argument is weakened by Edward’s liege homage’ of 1331.[43] Personally, I do not think that Edward’s claim — such as it was — is emasculated by his concession in 1331. In the first place, he made no concession about the legitimacy of his title or that he accepted the legitimacy of the French lords’ decision. He simply bowed to superior force. To do otherwise was folly. It would commit him to a war he could not win at that time. He saw the risk of confiscation and war clearly, which he sensibly decided to prevent by making a limited concession that his oath of 1329 was liege fealty. Moreover, I can see no rational reason for Edward to pursue a claim, which he and everyone else knew was false. I must now turn to the question of motive.


We can be sure that Edward’s reason for pressing his title at this point was expediency. He was seeking to gain a tactical advantage. No doubt if the throne fell into his hands he might think again, but at this time he showed no genuine desire to rule two kingdoms. His war aim was to recover all of English Gascony in full sovereignty, plus of course any other lands he managed to conquer during the war. But, by turning his dispute into a dynastic one, Edward shed the feudal straitjacket that cast him as nothing more than a disloyal and disobedient vassal’, and dispensed with the tiresome duty of swearing fealty to the French crown. Thereafter he referred to his opponent as ‘Phillip of Valois who calls himself the king of France’, with whom he was able to treat on equal terms. Nevertheless, if Edward wanted to steady his allies and influence the neutrals, he could not afford to put forward spurious claim; there must be some legal and moral legitimacy to his claim no matter how ambiguous or arguable it was.


Before I turn to the immediate events leading up to the Treaty of Bretigny in 1360, I must write a little about the course of the war by way of context.[44]   After 1340 Edward abandoned his foreign coalition, preferring instead to rely on his seasoned English and Welsh troops. A war of succession, which broke out in Brittany during 1341 gave him the pretext to bring his army to France on behalf of one of the parties. Not unnaturally, King Phillip took the part of the other side. What started as a ducal dispute soon became an international war between England and France. The English established their military supremacy with hard fought victories at Morlaix (1342), Auberoche (1345) and Crecy (1346). The battle of Crecy was a triumph for the discipline and professionalism of Edward’s infantry over the élan of Phillip’s mounted knights. King Phillip fled the field with his royal and political reputations in tatters. The flower of French chivalry was humbled and soon after the English captured Calais, which they held for two hundred years. But the war was not continuous; it was interrupted by the pestilence of the Black Death, which temporarily disorganized, social, economic and military activity in England and France.[45] Furthermore, the nature of English and of French society was such that neither side was able to maintain a large standing army in the field for a long time. And, there was also the papal policy of consistently offering mediation. All these factors, coupled with the death of Phillip in 1350 unsettled French society. Opposition to the Valois line was increasing; factionalism was breaking down political unity, stirred up by Charles of Navarre (known as Charles the Bad) who was another claimant to the French throne. It is possible that he and Edward were planning to destroy the Valois line and divide France between them.[46]


Even the fact that King John (who had succeeded his father in 1350) came to terms with Charles of Navarre at Nantes In1354 was insufficient to overcome the French disadvantage. Most royal councilors were by this time receptive to the notion of peace with Edward even at the price of French territory. Contact between ambassadors was ongoing and the French prepared for the ‘worst of surrenders’.[47] Edward agreed in principle to trade his claim to the French throne for territory. All that remained to be agreed was the extent of the land to be yielded to him. This was finalized at the Treaty of Guines (1354). In exchange for renouncing his claim to the French throne, Edward was to receive in full sovereignty: that part of Aquitaine known as Gascony (anti bellum the war of St-Sardos), Poitou, Limousine, Maine, Anjou and Touraine. Edward was delighted. He had achieved almost all his war aims, though he dared not say so too loudly. The terms agreed were highly controversial and could not be published straight away lest the fragile peace be endangered.[48] Edward’s fears were soon realised. On hearing the agreement, the opposition of the French lords hardened. In the autumn of 1354, King John was persuaded to repudiate the Treaty of Guines. The temporary truce was revoked and the war resumed. As far as Edward was concerned no other course was possible now.


The chevauchée that Edward Prince of Wales led from Bordeaux to the Languedoc in the autumn of 1355 marked the opening of a new chapter in the Hundred Years War. The English raiders inflicted terrible havoc and destruction on the French civil population and their property, as they rode from Bordeaux to the shores of the Mediterranean and back, laden down with booty and unmolested by a French army, which stood idly by and watched. Militarily, the raid achieved little; no ground was taken, no castles were captured, and no battle was fought. The value of the raid, however, lay in its effect on French morale. King John’s authority was challenged in his own back yard and he was shown to be powerless to protect his people from English depredations. The shock wave was felt in Paris, where plots, coups and counter-coups widened the division between the King and the Dauphin and between the various political factions: worse was expected in 1356.


It was the presence of Henry Duke of Lancaster with a small English Army in Brittany, and Prince Edward with his larger Anglo-Gascon force in Gascony that created a problem for John and an opportunity for Edward in 1355/56. Despite his military successes, a decisive war-winning campaign had thus far eluded King Edward. Perhaps this was an opportunity to put that right. It seems that in the spring of 1356 he conceived a plan to lead a third English army in France. It was anticipated that after the king had linked-up with Lancaster’s force, they advance from the west and rendezvous ‘somewhere on the Loire’ with Prince Edward’s army coming up from the south. We must be careful not to attribute to this some sort of strategic masterstroke by Edward, since it was in fact nothing more than a vague pipe dream. It was a plan that required three English medieval armies manoeuvring on exterior lines, without maps, active communications, active intelligence, relying on extempore logistics and in enemy territory, to co-ordinate their movements so as to combine their strength for a decisive battle against an outnumbered foe. There was simply too much that could go wrong, and indeed did go wrong before it even started! Edward’s efforts to raise another army for service in France came to nought owing to the threat posed by the Aragonese Galley Fleet that was spotted off the coast of Kent. Instructions were sent to Lancaster and to Prince Edward to rendezvous on the Loire. In the event, however, no junction between the English armies was achieved owing to the movements of the enemy and the English failure to synchronize their movements. Prince Edward reached the Loire to find that he was alone. Worse still he did not know at that point where the French army was. In fact it was only a few miles away in an good position to cut the Anglo-Gascons’ line of communication from Bordeaux. Edward waited for three days for news of Lancaster that never came. It was only when he realised that the French were threatening his rear that he ordered an immediate retreat. There is some dispute as to whether the prince was retreating or actually manoeuvring to bring the French to battle near Poitiers. It is a purely academic argument since a battle did tale place on the 19 September 1356, which was an even more astounding English success than Crecy. The French army was destroyed; King John and his son Phillip along with scores of French nobles were captured. The irony of Poitiers is that it gave Edward the decisive victory that he craved. King John was held captive in London (albeit highly honoured), and France descended into anarchy and revolution in his absence. Even so, it still took Edward four years to consecrate Poitiers with a permanent peace treaty.


While John was a prisoner in London, Edward tried twice to force terms on the French. The first Treaty of London (1358) ceded the following territory to Edward in full sovereignty: Guines, Saintoge, Poitou, Limousine, Quercy, Rouerget, Bigone, Ponthieu, and Calais. John’s ransom was put at 4,000,000 ecus payable by installments. Though this was less that Edward had demanded at Guines, these were still tough terms for the French to accept. They were ceding sovereignty of about a quarter of sovereign French territory. However, such was the anarchy in France that even the hawkish Dauphin accepted this humiliation as the price for peace. The return of Charles of Navarre to France and further fighting in Normandy forced the French nation to it knees. They were unable to pay the first installment of John’s ransom. The opportunistic Edward saw the opportunity to get even more from the beleaguered John by changing the terms of the peace already agreed in principle. The second Treaty of London was much severer than the first. Edward tinkered with the ransom and the installment plan, but his new territorial demand was astonishing; all that was ceded in 1358 plus all the land between the Loire and the Channel together with Anjou, Maine, Tournai, Normandy and the coastal region between Calais and the Somme, all in full sovereignty. It return, Edward renounced his claim to the French crown. If ratified, this treaty would destroy France. It shows, the depth of John’s desperation to go home that he should have agreed, however reluctantly, to such severe terms. Unsurprisingly, the Dauphin and the Estates General rejected this treaty, which they said was neither tolerable not practicable. It was obvious now that if King Edward III wanted to restore the ‘Angevin Empire’, he was going to have to conquer it. Even he realised that that was not feasible despite the obvious French difficulties.[49]


The Treaty of Bretigny was more than just an agreement between King Edward and King John, it was meant to secure a general and a permanent peace in Christendom.[50] The conference opened on the 1 May 1360 in the wake of Edward’s failed attempt to force his terms on the French. “Sixteen French ambassadors, twenty-two English ones, three papal legates and an observer sent by the king of Navarre, all with their [bodyguards, staffs and servants]. The chief negotiators were all veterans of past occasions of this sort.[51] The English constrained by events took a more conciliatory line than hitherto and did not maintain their territorial demands of 1359. Once this was known, negotiations did not take long. By the 3 May, the essential details were agreed in substantially the same terms as those of the first Treaty of London. Edward was to hold in free sovereignty all the provinces to the southwest that had once belonged to the Angevins, ‘in the same manner as the king of France and his ancestors held them’. In addition to Gascony, this meant Poitou, Saintoge, Angoumois, Perigold, Limousine, Quercy and Rouerget together with certain (unspecified) territories bordering on Gascony. In the north he was to get Ponthieu, Calais and the town of Montreuil in Picardy. In return, Edward would renounce his claim to the French throne. The detail remained to be settled, of course, and as might have been anticipated the devil was indeed in the detail. The treaty ratified by the English Parliament did not include the so-called ‘renunciation clause’. That was put aside in a separate document for discussion later. Sadly, neither Edward nor John complied with their obligations under the treaty. Though the next decade was peaceful this failure to enforce the terms of the agreement on both sides was to dominate Anglo-French diplomacy for the next half-century. But that, as they say is another story.

[1] M Prestwich – Edward I (Yale 1997) p.314: Maurice Powicke – The Thirteenth Century (Oxford 1988, 2nd edition) pp.290-292; Powicke’s analysis of the Gascon question (pp.270-318) is a useful introduction to the real politick of Anglo-French relations in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. See also, Marc Morris – Edward I: a great and terrible king (Windmill 2009) p.204

[2] Powicke pp. 644-645, points out that this was not an isolated incident, though it was the most serious thus far. Powicke is in no doubt that the Cinque Port flotilla were sent to avenge some earlier French outrage.

[3] Powicke pp. 648-649; Morris pp. 264-265: both these authors explore Phillips motive and his means for recovering English lands in France

[4] Edouard Perroy – The Hundred Years War (Eyres & Spottiswoode 1965 -English trans) p.65, provides a useful analysis of Edward’s military, political and fiscal problems at home and in France at this time. Peroy asserts that the conquest of Gascony was relatively easy for Phillip’s troops: “three short summer campaigns in 1294,1295 and 1296 sufficed to enable Charles Valois to occupy the whole of Aquitaine”: Perroy exaggerates, though not by much..

[5] Powicke pp.649-688; summarizes the complex web of diplomacy between the monarchs and princes of northwest Europe at this time. It is a good introduction to the problems faced by Edward and Phillip in achieving their own foreign policy objectives

[6] Powicke p.654; Powicke also gives a fascinating insight into the legal argument between English and French lawyers over the feudal status of Gascony (pp.650-653). His penetrating analysis is worth quoting at length: “It was impossible to break from the past. The status of Gascony had become involved in a network of juristic learning; the boundaries were not clearly fixed, old disputes had not been settled. In Edward II’s reign all sorts of thorny difficulties survived to become even more complicated…The duty of the duke to take an oath of fealty as well as to do homage in person was disputed. The marriage between Edward of Caernarvon and Isabella raised the great problem of the French succession. The treaty of 1303 was but an incident, a breathing space in the interminable wrangle which the Treaty of [Paris] 1259 had produced.

[7] Kathryn Warner – Edward II: an unconventional king (Amberley 2014) pp.14-16 contains a helpful summary of Edward II’s historical reputation. See also May McKisack – The Fourteenth Century: 1307-1399 (Oxford 1959) pp.107 for a damming and unsurpassed assessment of Edward’s character faults.

[8] Jonathan Sumption – The Hundred Years War 1: Trial by Battle (Faber and Faber 1990 edition) pp. 86-91.

[9] Sumption (battle) p.92; see also Warner p.177. Warner make the point that at this time Edward was angry with Charles for not extraditing the English traitor Roger Mortimer who had been at the French court. The question is: did Edward’s anger cloud his judgement about the Saint-Sardos affair?

[10] Sumption (Battle) pp.86-90; refers to the ‘mosaic of competing jurisdictions’ which existed in Gascony. The boundaries were still undefined and ancient disputes were still unresolved. Edward’s litigious Gascon vassals were as much to blame as anybody for this state of affairs, since they were determined to exploit the dual jurisdiction to their best advantage in local inter-family feuds. It became a frequent device to bypass ducal control in order to gain an advantage over opponents. This situation was a source of genuine grievance for the English, since the pronouncements of the French Parlement left them defenceless against the continual French encroachment into the land and affairs of Gascony, except for retaliation. The problem was not that this would lead to war, everybody accepted that; the real danger was that war would come at a time of the French king’s choosing.

[11] Sumption (Battle) p.93

[12] Sumption (Battle) p.94; Peroy passim; Charles IV is also known to history as Charles the Fair. There is no doubt that he did not try to take advantage of Edward’s domestic troubles. Neither does the evidence support an inference that the Capetian monarchs had a deliberate policy to disinherit the Plantagenets. In this instance and in others since 1259, it is much more likely that the French employed a policy of strict enforcement of their feudal rights backed-up by brutal punishment for the slightest infringement. However, I believe there is merit in Peroy’s opinion (p.65) that Charles was being unreasonable to Edward’s ambassadors (‘he would not listen to reason’). Their instructions did not authorise them to make the promise requested and it would have been treasonable for them to diminish the Crown estate by promising parts of it to a foreign potentate. Besides, any promises made under these circumstances of duress, is unenforceable.

[13] Sumption (Battle) p.95; Warner pp. 178-179

[14] Mortimer (Perfect King) pp. 200-201; ‘it is as it is’ seems to have been Edward’s personal motto, which was first seen in public at a tournament in 1342 embroidered on all of Edward’s heraldic devices. Nobody is really sure what it means: is it fatalistic (things cannot be changed)? Or is it celebratory (things are as they should be). It might even have been a reference the immutability of his title to the French throne. Mortimer discusses these possibilities and others.

[15] Sumption (Battle) p.107

[16] Sumption pp. (Battle) 68-69; Perroy p.71; both of these superb historians analyses this issues involved and come to the same conclusion. Sumption’s analysis is, as one would expect, of almost judicial clarity and objectivity. Perroy’s analysis though more emotional is equally effective.

[17] Sumption (Battle) ibid; this section is based entirely on Sumption’s own work

[18] Sumption (Battle) p.109: asserts that the fact Edward was passed over for the French crown was a matter of indifference to his English subjects. It was, he suggests, ‘only the Queen Mother who felt strongly about the issue’. However, see McKisack p.111 who argues convincingly that ‘contemporary feudal practice and the prevailing uncertainty about the law of succession made it almost inevitable in these circumstances that a claim should be proffered on behalf of Edward III a direct descendant of Phillip IV through his mother. Failure to make such a claim would be tantamount to letting it go be default and Isabella’s overtures for alliances with Gelderland, Brabant and Castile suggests that she might have had some notion of taking action at a later date.

[19] Sumption (Battle) ppp109-110: Sumption cites a number chronicles sources to which I do not have access: Foedera convetiones, literae et acta publica – ed T Rymer, ne A Clarke et al 7 Volumes (1826-29) pp.775, 783, 784, 789; Lettres d’état enregistrées au Parlement de Paris sous le régne de Philippe de Valois, ABSHF, xxxiv (1897), 193-267, xxxv (1898) 177-249; Annales Londinieses, W Stubbs (ed) – Chronicles of the reign of Edward I and Edward II (1882) PP. 247-249. See also

Chris Givern-Wilson (Gen Ed) – The Parliamentary Rolls of Medieval England 1275-1504 (Boydell 2005); Vol IV – 1327-1348 (Seymour Phillips and Mark Ormrod (Eds) p. 96 (PROME): There are two circumstantial points that are worth considering when discussing the lords’ advice. First, Edward was still a minor in the power of his mother and Sir Roger Mortimer, and accordingly he did all that was asked of him as Duke of Aquitaine when swearing fealty to Phillip. Second, the advice was given ‘against a background of barely suppressed tension’ caused by the earl of Lancaster’s rebellion, which was only suppressed at the cost of Mortimer’s complete domination of the government. I am confused by the significant difference between the note in PROME and Sumption’s conclusion from the chronicles. Was Edward required to do homage because his claim was unsustainable in law, or because it was unsustainable (unenforceable) in fact? See also John Joliffe Froissart’s Chronicles (Harvill 1967) pp. 53 -54 and Ian Mortimer – The Greatest Traitor (Vintage 2010) p.221.

[20] Geoffrey Brereton (editor and translator) – Jean Froissart Chronicles (Penguin 1978) p.55; see also, John Jolliffe (editor and translator) – Froissart’s Chronicles (Harvill 1967) pp. 53-66; which contains a more detailed account of the homage ceremony.

[21] Michael Packe – Edward III (Law Book Company 1983) p.44

[22] McKisack p.112; Perroy pp.82-84: the French drew attention to the ambiguity of the first oath even though it was the same oath sworn by Henry III in 1259, by Edward I in 1274 and again in 1286, and by Edward II in 1308 and 1320. Perroy speculates whether Phillip’s ‘brusque’ demand was the prelude to another confiscation. It is noteworthy that by the time of Phillip’s demand for ‘liege’ fealty the French were already in occupation of the Agenais and Saintonge

[23] PROME Vol 4 pp.154-155; Edward sought Parliaments advice in September 1331. He asked the lords whether they thought he should go to war to recover his rights. Parliament offered him three options: arbitration, negotiation or war. Arbitration and war being too risky, the lords advised further negotiations in the form proposed by King Phillip himself ballasted if possible by a diplomatic marriage settlement.

[24] Sumption (Battle) p.119; see also PROME V4 pp. 153-156

[25] Sumption (Battle) pp146 & 152-184 passim; Mortimer pp.124-126; Sumption charts the course of Anglo-French diplomacy in detail, which I can only summarise.

[26] Perroy pp.88-89; see also Sumption (Battle) pp118-122

[27] Perroy pp. ibid; suggests that Phillip was keen to take the Cross following a suggestion from Edward. It is clear, however, that Edward had no intention to go on a Holy Crusade while Scotland was unconquered; Sumption (Battle) p.155, considers Edward’s promise to go on Crusade was ‘indistinct and probably dishonest’.

[28] Perroy ibid

[29] Perroy ibid; Sumption (Battle) pp.123-151 passim; Mortimer (Perfect King) pp.95-96 & 453.n42

[30] Perroy p.88; ‘Phillip of Valois felt that it lay neither with his interests nor his duty to abandon his Scottish ally’

[31] Sumption (Battle) pp.152-184

[32] Sumption (Battle) ibid the Papal Legate produced a draft compromise meant to disengage Phillip from the ‘British conflict’ so that he could concentrate on the Holy Crusade. It was futile gesture; Phillip regarded the attempted mediation as impertinence since this was not a dispute between sovereign kings but between a sovereign and his vassal on a subject that touched the authority of the French crown.

[33] Sumption (Battle) pp.172-174; Sumption argues that strictly speaking Edward’s refusal to extradite Artois was not grounds for confiscating Gascony since Edward was self-evidently acting in his sovereign capacity as king of England to make an alliance with whomever he chooses. However, such considerations counted for little with the French who feared such an alliance might threaten their interests. See also Christopher Allmand- The Hundred Years War (Cambridge 2001 revised edition) p.12, who takes a different line. He suggests that by sheltering Artois, a traitor and Phillip’s enemy, Edward was guilt of breaking his oath of fealty to Phillip. It is a classic illustration of the conflict of interests placed on the English king/French duke that was created by the Treaty of Paris 1259 and was the root cause of Anglo-French discord

[34] McKisack p.115

[35] Sumption (Battle) p.189; Edward’s embargo on the export of Wool, though it damaged the English economy, had catastrophic consequences for the Flemish economy. Most of the population worked in the cloth-making industry and were entirely dependent on English wool for their livelihood, ‘there being virtually no other raw material’. The embargo coupled with a poor harvest ensured that many textile workers went hungry during the winter. In 1337, public order in Ghent and Bruges broke down.

[36] Brereton pp. 59-60

[37] Alfred H. Burne – The Crecy War: 1337-1360 (Greenhill Books 1990 edition) p.24

[38] Allmand p.14; see also Perroy pp.95-105

[39] Sumption (Battle) Chp7, 8, 9 contains the best and most thorough account of the diplomatic, financial and military activity between 1337 and 1340; Perroy ibid provides the best summary of events during that period.

[40] Sumption (Battle) ibid; Perroy ibid; Mortimer (Perfect King) pp.136, 137, 144, 148 & 162-165

[41] Sumption (Battle) pp291-296; Perroy ibid; Mortimer (Perfect King) p.144: Edward’s title seemed more a matter of convenience depending on who or what it was intended for. He did, for example style himself as king of England and of France in one document and as king of France and of England in another.

[42] Mortimer (Perfect King) p.135; see also Perroy pp. 95-97; Allmand pp. 7-12 contains a useful discussion on the causes of the war and provides some interesting alternative general interpretations of the cause and nature of the war.

[43] Sumption (Battle) pp. 294-295

[44] For those interested in the military history, Jonathan Sumption’s uncompleted ‘History of the Hundred Years War’ in four volumes is the definitive English account (The fifth and final volume is awaited.). The best general introduction remains Edouard Perroy’s superb History (English translation 1959). It is also still worth referring to Alfred Burn’s two-volume military history The Crecy War’ and ‘The Agincourt War ’(1955)

[45] A general truce was agreed in 1347 and repeatedly extended.

[46] Allmand p.17

[47] Jonathan Sumption – The Hundred Years War 2: Trial by Fire (Faber and Faber 1999 edition) pp.132-133.

[48] Sumption 2 (Fire) p.133: the terms agreed at Guines were better than Edward managed to get at Bretigny in 1360, when John was his prisoner and an English army stood at the gates of Paris.

[49] Sumption (Fire) ibid

[50] Perroy p178

[51] Sumption (Fire) ibid

Shakespeare? Tudor propaganda? How about some Yorkist propaganda instead….?

The Tudors were past masters with propaganda, and there just wasn’t much of it being used against them. So how about we expunge them from history? How about we produce proof that Richard III was the victor at Bosworth….? Good idea, I think! You saw it here first, folks – and just to make sure there is no doubt, here is a photograph of Richard III’s 1485 Christmas address. It was the first of many, many more.

And what triggered the above sentiments? Well, it is this book Not because of its opinion of President Trump, but because of its analysis of how and why Shakespeare depicted the history of his, Shakespeare’s, England. And why certain kings, disapproved of by the Tudor regime, were subjected to vicious and vile propaganda in order to lessen their claims and reinforce what legitimacy the Tudors and Lancastrians had. Which was very little. The House of Tudor became legitimate in the end, simply because possession is nine tenths of the law, not because they had always had the right to the throne.

Tyrant - Greenblatt - 1



Was Henry VII always so clever….?

drawing of young Henry VIIYet again, I tell you the old story of looking for one thing and happening on something else. This time an article that questions the ultimate effectiveness of Henry VII’s reign. Well, rather it raises questions that historians don’t seem to have asked before now. It is well worth reading, especially as there are links to other articles for those who follow our period.


A truncated reign and a truncated monarch

Right at the start of this series, Helen Castor (left) takes a black marker pen and illustrates the cause of the 1553 crisis on a large sheet of paper. Beginning with Henry VII, very few of his legitimate male descendants were alive at the start of that year – eliminating the obvious illegitimate cases, we have Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, aged seven (a Catholic in Scotland) and Edward VI, aged fifteen, whose health took a turn for the worse at that time. There were, however, nine healthy legitimate female descendants: Lady Margaret Douglas, Mary Stewart who was Lady Margaret’s niece of ten and already crowned in Scotland (but living as a Queen consort in France), Henry VIII’s two bastardised, but included by law, daughters Mary and Elizabeth, Lady Frances Grey (nee’ Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk in suo jure) and her three daughters Jane, Catherine and Mary together with Frances’ niece Lady Margaret Clifford. In short, the “Tudor” male line was on the propinquity of its termination, although a medical explanation for this was not given.

In the first programme, Castor showed how Edward’s “devise for my succession” developed during that fateful year. First, he hopes that one of the Protestant Grey sisters will have a male heir to succeed him with Frances as the new King’s grandmother and Regent. Then his illness accelerated and there are crossings out on the devise, such that “the Lady Jane’s heires male” becomes “the Lady Jane AND HER heires male”, in the hope that he will live long enough for Parliament to enact this document and supersede Henry VIII’s own legislation, which named the Catholic Mary as heir after Edward, although the Greys would be preferred to the Stewarts. On the left is the “Streatham Portrait“, previously thought to have been of Jane, but not commissioned until half a century later.

During the first half of 1553, Lady Jane was married to Lord Guildford Dudley, son of the Duke of Northumberland who was Lord Protector at the time. Lady Catherine Grey also married, as did Guildford’s sisters, one to Lord Henry Hastings, later Earl of Huntingdon. In the event, fate overtook Edward’s plans and his devise, as letters patent, had no legal status at his death on 6 July. Darnley’s claim as the last “Tudor” male was to be ignored and England was to have a Queen Regent, as Northumberland took his son and new daughter-in-law from Bradgate in Leicestershire, via Sion House to the Royal Apartments in the Tower for her reign to be proclaimed on 10 July, although Jane took the fateful decision that her husband was to be created Duke of Clarence and not King.

In the second programme, Castor explains how the Privy Council erred by sending Northumberland to East Anglia to arrest Mary, removing the realm’s best military commander from the capital, where the professional soldiers and their weapons were. Mary moved from Kenninghall in Norfolk to Framlingham Castle to strengthen her position and gathered support from those who still adhered to her Catholic faith and who had “known” her from afar for her whole life. There was to be no arrest of Mary, nor was there to be a pitched battle as Henry VIII’s first-born child outmanoeuvred Northumberland, at his Cambridge base, in order to march upon London.

The third episode begins with a naval mutiny ensuring that Mary had some artillery to enforce her claimand the Privy Council officially dethroning Jane. Mary took the Tower, Jane, Guildford and their fathers became prisoners and Mary was proclaimed. For Jane, there could be no return to her earlier life at Bradgate. Except for Northumberland, there was to be no trial until November and even then Jane, Guildford and Suffolk had their sentences of death suspended – until Thomas Wyatt rebelled in the Protestant interest in mid-January, in protest at Mary’s plans to marry Phillip II. Mary then signed the three death warrants, the teenage couple went to the block on February 12th and Jane’s father eleven days later. Cranmer, who had been part of her Privy Council, was attainted and deprived but lived to face Mary’s further wrath at a later date. Darnley married the other Queen Mary and was killed a year or two later in his own realm. For nearly fifty years from that July day when Edward VI’s eyes closed for the last time, England had no male claimant descended from Henry VII and the throne was disputed solely by Queens Regnant.

Castor concludes by pointing out that Jane, proclaimed Queen by the Privy Council who had served Edward VI, should be reckoned as a real monarch of England, even though she had been illegally proclaimed and then dethroned. In some ways, her turbulent final year taught her cousin Elizabeth a valuable lesson – not to take a husband, especially as the most likely such candidate was her fellow survivor: Lord Guildford Dudley’s younger brother, Robert.

On the right is Paul Delaroche’s highly inaccurate painting of Jane’s end, painted as late as 1834. His version of her execution takes place indoors but we know that she died on Tower Green, as did most beheaded women.

For those of us more focused on the fifteenth century, we will be familiar with the concepts of a king Edward whose death was not announced for several days whilst a faction sought to establish control (1483) and of prisoners being executed to clear the way for a Spanish marriage (1499).

More Royal marital irregularity

Edward IV was not the only British late mediaeval king to play fast and loose with canon law. The other case dates from a century and a quarter before 8 June 1461 and had consequences for that king’s heirs; in particular his grandson:

Today in 1337, a first son, John, was born to Sir Robert Stewart, the Paisley-born High Steward of Scotland, and Elizabeth Mure at Scone. Sir Robert was heir presumptive to his uncle, David II, but David was eight years younger and widely expected to have children of his own. He was, indeed, to marry twice but failed to leave any heirs – although being imprisoned in the Tower for eleven years after the 1346 battle of Neville’s Cross didn’t help much, Sir Robert couldn’t have predicted this in 1336, when he undertook a marriage of sorts to Elizabeth Mure.

In the aftermath of Neville’s Cross, as Guardian of the Realm to his absent uncle, Sir Robert and Elizabeth sought to regularise their position under canon law through a dispensation and married properly in 1349. By this time, many of their four sons and six daughters had already been born and they were, arguably, legitimised by the marriage, which ended six years later when Elizabeth, now formally Lady Stewart, died. Sir Robert swiftly married Euphemia Ross, by whom he had two more sons and two daughters and is reckoned to have had eight illegitimate children as well. Jean Stewart, a daughter from his first marriage, married Sir John Lyon of Glamis, from whom the late Queen Mother was descended.

Shortly after this second marriage, David II was ransomed under the Treaty of Berwick, which was a Scottish town until Richard of Gloucester’s 1482 invasion. Joan “of the Tower”, his first wife and Edward III’s sister, died in 1362 and David married Margaret Drummond in 1364, whom he “divorced” in 1370 although this was reversed by the Pope. Although they had been on bad terms, David II died in 1371 and Sir Robert succeeded him as Robert II, to reign for nineteen years.

John, the eldest of his fourteen children, was created Earl of Carrick and was influential during his father’s reign and succeeded him as Robert III in 1390, to be crowned on his birthday. His reign was largely dominated by his brothers, Robert Duke of Albany and Alexander Earl of Buchan. His elder son, David Duke of Rothesay, died in 1402 in Albany’s custody at Falkland Palace. In 1406 he sent his younger son, James, to France only for English pirates to capture him.

Robert III died when he heard this and the new prisoner in the Tower succeeded as James I. He was held there for about seventeen years and returned with Joan “Beaufort”, Henry V’s apparent cousin, as his queen. Albany’s son and successor, Murdoch, two of his sons and his father-in-law were executed for delaying James’ release and the Lancastrian policy of religious persecution was adopted.

From 1436, a plan to depose or kill James was formulated and it involved Walter, Earl of Atholl and Caithness, a septuagenarian son of Robert II’s Ross marriage. It seems highly likely that he was motivated by a disbelief in the validity of the Mure marriage and thus the legitimacy of the offspring of it. The “Avignon” conspirators killed James I at the Blackfriars in Perth during February 1436/7 but his son was crowned and the House of Stewart survived. The surviving Robert_II_of_Scotland Robert_III,_King_of_Scotlandplotters, including Atholl, were tortured and executed.

So were John of Carrick, his siblings and descendants legitimate? It seems never to have been determined by the Church except through the 1347 dispensation. Carrick’s line has ruled Scotland ever since and England from 1603, except for the interregnum whilst Henry VII, a scion of bastardy himself, married his daughter Margaret to the senior Mure-Stewart: James IV.

That petition:
“The kings of France and Scotland, bishops William of St. Andrews, William of Glasgow, William of Aberdeen, Richard of Dunkeld, Martin of Argyle, Adam of Brechin, and Maurice of Dunblane. Signification that although Elizabeth Mor and Isabella Boutellier, noble damsels of the diocese of Glasgow, are related in the third and fourth degrees of kindred, Robert Steward of Scotland, lord of Stragrifis, in the diocese of Glasgow, the king’s nephew, carnally knew first Isabella, and afterwards, in ignorance of their kindred, Elizabeth, who was herself related to Robert in the fourth degree of kindred, living with her for some time and having many children of both sexes by her; the above king and bishops therefore pray the pope that for the sake of the said offspring, who are fair to behold (aspectibus gratiose), to grant a dispensation to Robert and Elizabeth to intermarry, and to declare their offspring legitimate.

To be granted by the diocesan, at whose discretion one or more chapelries are to be founded by Robert.

Avignon, 10 Kal. Dec. 1347

Hard of understanding?

Just in case anyone is still misled by Hicks, here is the reply from today’s Times, written by the experts where DNA analysis was devised:

Richard’s skeleton

Sir, Professor Hicks, in his letter [Dec 5] commenting on our research findings, suggests that the skeleton found in Leicester is not that of Richard III. He states that “there are lots of candidates” yet seems unable to specify one who ticks all the boxes [buried in the choir of Greyfriars, battle injuries, aged mid-30s, same mitochondrial DNA {mtDNA}, scoliosis, etc.] He overlooks the fact that the publication represents a detailed analysis of Richard’s maternal-line relatives across seven generations in order to account for others sharing the same mtDNA type through known relation – and that this mtDNA type is exceedingly rare and therefore highly unlikely to have shown a match by chance.

Hicks also claims that we “presumed the bones to be those of Richard and sought only supporting evidence”. A cursory reading of the paper and an examination of our statistical analyses makes it abundantly clear that the opposite is true. We considered all relevant lines of evidence and made every effort to weight the analysis against the remains being those of Richard III, yet still produce a highly conservative probability of 99.9994 per cent in favour. Lastly, Hicks refers to “wild accusations of bastardy”. Nowhewere do we make any such accusations.

T.King, University of Leicester

MG Thomas, UCL

K Schürer, University of Leicester

Not only are there no “wild accusations of bastardy” by those who understand science but at least one of the nineteen links (from John of Gaunt to John of Dorset) is traditionally thought of as an illegitimacy but may reveal Dorset to be a legitimate Swinford. Our advice to Hicks might well centre upon aiming his fire away from his own lower limbs. He must know what happened at Roxburgh in 1460.

The legitimisation of the Beauforts.

When Richard II and John of Gaunt decided (in view of the latter’s rather belated marriage to Katherine Swynford) that the Beauforts should be legitimated, they did two things. First they obtained a dispensation from the Pope removing any impediments to the Gaunt-Swynford marriage and legitimating the Beauforts. For example, the fact that Gaunt had served as a godparent to one of Katherine’s Swynford children had to be dispensed as this was a bar in canon law to the marriage. Once these hurdles were overcome and the couple married, as far as canon law was concerned their children were legitimate.

So why did Richard II go on to pass a Parliamentary statute legitimising the Beauforts? After all, under canon law they were already legitimate! The answer is that In England that was not enough. They had to be legitimate under common law as well, and common law stated that children born before marriage were illegitimate. The Statute of Merton (1235) had reaffirmed this common law position despite the opposition of the clergy.

Richard II and Gaunt were busy men, and didn’t have statutes passed for the fun of it. They were well aware that, without statutory underpinning, the Beauforts would not be eligible to inherit land. So the statute was passed. Yet another example of how, in English law relating to inheritance, the common and statute law of the land trumped canon law every time.

Some years later, John Beaufort, Earl of Somerset, asked for an exemplification of the legal position from his half-brother, Henry IV. He was possibly concerned about the impact of Henry’s usurpation on the statute law of Richard II, especially given that he, Somerset, had suffered some pains and penalties at the time, including his loss of the marquisate of Dorset.

Henry obliged, by producing Letters Patent which confirmed the status quo with the addition of a provision that this did not apply to inheritance of the crown itself.

Henry’s legal right to do this has been questioned. Certainly, no modern Government would ask the Queen to modify a statute by issuing Letters Patent, and if the Queen did so it would unquestionably be illegal. However, in the middle ages (and long after) the Crown had the right to vary or ‘dispense’ statutes if it saw fit. King James II was still doing this in the late 17th Century, and it was only the Glorious Revolution that led to the practice being made unequivocally illegal.

So Henry IV probably felt that he had the right to exclude the Beauforts, and it is at least arguable that under the law as it was understood at that time he was entitled to do so. It would, after all, have been straightforward enough to put a revised statute through Parliament had he deemed it necessary.

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