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THE THREE HUNDRED YEARS WAR – PART 3 : the dogs of war


This is the third of three articles charting the course of continual Anglo-French conflict from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries. The first, covered the rise and fall of the Angevin Empire, and the Treaty of Paris (1259). The second, continued my narrative from the accession of Edward I until the Treaty of Bretigny (1360). In this article, I conclude with the campaigns of Henry V and the Treaty of Troyes (1420). The caveats to my work mentioned previously 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 Bretigny, which was agreed between the plenipotentiaries of England and France during the spring of 1360 was meant to end the war between their two kingdoms, or so the English thought. King Edward III had agreed in principle to renounce his claim to the French throne in exchange for sovereignty of all the French lands he had inherited as a vassal and many of those he had subsequently gained by conquest. All that remained during the summer, therefore, was for the two kings to renounce their respective titles. The so-called ‘renunciation clause’ was complex and far-reaching, and the devil was in the detail. In fact, so difficult was it to agree the details, the renunciations clause had to be removed from the body of the treaty document, to be dealt with in a separately in another document, in due course. It was an omission that bedeviled Anglo-French relations for the next fifty years.

The Treaty of Bretigny bought nine years of relative peace between the Houses of Valois and Plantagenet, but it did not bring peace to the French people. Like the earlier treaties, it resolved some minor grievances without addressing the fundamental question of sovereignty that was driving Anglo-French conflict. Edward’s failure to press for the implementation of the renunciation clause ensured that at some point in the future sovereignty would be a casus belli. Whether this failure was an early indication of Edward’s failing powers or simply Plantagenet hubris we cannot be certain. After all, Edward had stopped calling himself the king of France and King John of France was not actually claiming any feudal jurisdiction in the English held lands. Edward may have believed that by not actually renouncing his title he could keep the defeated French compliant to the peace. The French, not unnaturally, were loath to consummate an international treaty that ceded so much of their sovereign territory to a foreign power. They were, however, in a weak position: King John was a prisoner in London, their Treasury was empty, the nobles were divided and the peasants were war-weary. Yet for all that, they never accepted the  peace willingly. As soon as they could, they made their feelings known. In 1363, at the instigation of the Dauphin, the French Estates denounced the Treaty of Bretigny. It was, of course, a purely symbolic gesture since they were in no position to antagonize the English by not observing the peace.

King John died in 1364 still a prisoner in England. His successor Charles V embarked on a plan to eradicate the English presence from France.[1] By adopting a mixture of diplomacy, bribery and limited force against English sympathisers (never against England directly), Charles was able to extend his royal authority in Brittany, Burgundy and Flanders; thus, isolating the English from potential allies. Edward’s apparent indifference to Charles’ activities facilitated French ambition, which included dabbling in a foreign succession dispute that triggered a resumption of the Hundred Years War. England and France were drawn in on opposite sides in a wrangle over the Castilian throne. Charles VI’s aim of putting a French puppet on the Castilian throne was scotched by the Prince of Wales’ victory at the battle of Najera in 1367. but it did not stop the fighting. By 1369 the Prince of Wales needed money to finance another campaign in Spain. Although, the Gascon Estates voted the Prince Edward a hearth tax to be paid by all of King Edward III’s Gascon subjects, not everyone agreed to pay. John of Armagnac and Arnaud Amanieu, Lord of Albret did not to allow the tax to be collected in their provinces, citing ancient privilege. Dissatisfied with the Prince’s response and without waiting for the outcome of an inquiry ordered by King Edward, they took their case to the French king as overlord. [2] Charles was well aware that to hear this appeal would be a breach of the Treaty of Bretigny justifying a resumption of the war, but it was a risk he was prepared to take. Charles believed that France was stronger than it had been in 1360 and that England was weaker. But even so, it was necessary for obvious reasons to give the whole matter mature consideration and observe the legal proprieties. He therefore took legal opinion from French and Neapolitan jurists, who advised him that owing to the non-performance of the ‘renunciation clause’ he was still the suzerain in Aquitaine with jurisdiction to hear the appeals, and had a moral and legal duty to protect his subjects from the discretion of a ‘disloyal vassal’. Moreover, the lawyers also counseled that the peace of Bretigny was hardly threatened since all ‘the Plantagenet’ had to do was his duty and submit to ‘his master’s judgement. The rest of the treaty would therefore remain in force; but if it were broken that would be the fault of the English king.

Charles waited for a month or so until all his preparations were complete before summoning the Prince of Wales to present himself before the French Parlement to answer the charge that he had denied justice to the Gascon Lords. [3] The Black Prince did not his mince words in reply. “We would willingly attend on the appointed day” he wrote “since the king of France commands it, but it will be with our helmet on and sixty thousand men at our back.”[4] He was, in fact, so angry that he threw the French messenger into prison. Predictably, he did not present himself in Paris on the appointed day. Equally predictably, Charles confiscated Aquitaine. King Edward tried to open negotiations with Charles, as he was anxious to prevent war and to preserve his conquests. But it was to no avail, Charles was determined on war and ignored Edward’s missives. Edward therefore resumed his title as the King of France. The war was on again.

The 1370s was a bad decade for the English. They were ill prepared for the resumption of war in France and distracted by a political crisis at home. The decline and subsequent deaths of England’s greatest heroes King Edward and the Prince of Wales had a detrimental effect on the conduct of the war and on English political stability. After an abortive effort to lead an expedition to France in 1372, King Edward withdrew from public life and into the bed of his concubine Alice Perrers. It is difficult to gauge Edward’s contribution to the conduct of the war thereafter due to his physical and mental decline: perhaps not much. Although the Prince of Wales commanded public respect, he was now too ill to fight or to take the reins of power from his ailing father[5]. Edward’s other sons were of no account. John Duke of Lancaster (John of Gaunt), a man of limitless ambition and limited ability was far too engrossed in his own royal ambition in Spain to provide the type of leadership the English needed. In any case he lacked the prestige accorded to redoubtable and successful warriors. Edmund of Langley was simply not up to the job and Thomas of Woodstock was too young. By the middle of the decade, practically all of the English possessions in France were lost.

By 1375 signs of war weariness were apparent in both kingdoms. King Edward declined into senility, the Prince of Wales lay dying and the English were still coming to terms with the economic and social consequences of the plague; the social discontent in England is therefore unsurprising. The situation in France was as bad, if not actually worse. There, the populace had endured the violence of war for more than forty years. Even during the so-called’ periods of truce, violence was never far away owing to the depredations of marauding bands of unemployed soldiers who, when not engaged in crime, sold their services to the feuding French nobility. Things were especially hard for those who were unlucky enough to be in the path of an Anglo-Gascon chevauchée. King Charles V had achieved much during his reign by undoing the Bretigny agreement, but he had re-kindled a war that he lacked the resources to win. The exhaustion of the two kingdoms forced a truce that lasted for thirty-five years.

The problems of the past did not disappear with the accession of Richard II (a minor) in 1377 and Charles VI (also a minor) in 1380. However, the change of monarchs did provide some scope for a negotiated end to the war. King Richard was not involved in the English victories in France and was by nature pacifistic. Neither was there any appetite among the English polity to resume the fighting. Richard continued to hold the provocative title of ‘King of England and France’, but his references to Charles VI were conciliatory. Rather than calling Charles ‘our adversary of France’, he referred to him as ‘our cousin France’ or ‘our father France’. Richard’s obvious deference to and his admiration for Charles grated with his English subjects. Though they might not want war,  Richard’s pro-French policy culminating in his marriage to a French princess and a strengthening of the truce was unpopular. The political situation was further aggravated by the fact that Richard and Charles were not ordinary kings. Charles was periodically mad necessitating rule by a Regent during his incapacity and leading to a factional power struggle in France. Richard was probably mad and bad to such an extent that in the last year of the fourteenth century Parliament pronounced him to be ‘useless, unfit and insufficient for the government of the realm’.

Henry Bolingbroke, John of Gaunt’s eldest son, seized the English throne from his cousin on the 30 September 1399. Richard was incarcerated in Pontefract Castle, where he died a few months later.[6]Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown”. Shakespeare’s phrase may seem hackneyed but it is still an apt comment on the woes that befell King Henry IV. He was continually troubled by plots to kill him or rebellions to depose him. His political enemies, many of whom were his erstwhile supporters, had no qualms about accepting French gold and soldiers in their efforts to overthrow the Lancastrian regime.[7] Despite the existence of a truce, the French sought to exploit English weakness by stirring the pot of their fractured politics. Charles VI never recognized Henry as England’s rightful king. In fact, he assembled a fleet and an army to invade southern England in Richard’s name. He changed his mind, however, and confirmed continuance of the truce once he heard that Richard was already dead.[8]

The political instability in England was matched if not exceeded by the anarchy  in France. During Charles VI’s minority and his periodic bouts of madness, a Regency Council governed France. Two powerful factions vied for leadership of the Council. It was a situation that was bound to promote a destructive rivalry between Louis Duke of Orleans and Phillip Duke of Burgundy who held the reins of government alternately during Charles’ incapacity, and sought to influence him during his lucid periods. Although the dukes’ rivalry was fueled by personal hatred, it did not escalate into civil war until the first decade of the fifteenth century.[9] Duke Phillip’s death in 1404 and Duke Louis’ murder at the hands of Burgundians in 1407 had a profound affect on Anglo-French relations. The Duke of Orleans was the principal agitator for a war with England that would drive them out of France altogether. He had already (in 1406) attacked English castles in Gascony and promised aid to the earl of Northumberland in his rebellion against King Henry. Orleans was resolved to continue hostilities against the English in flagrant breach of the truce. His death therefore relieved Henry of his fears for Gascony and scotched French support for Northumberland’s rebels. However, Louis’ murder plunged France into open civil war between the Armagnacs and the Burgundians, in which both sides sought military assistance from the English (whilst no doubt holding their noses).

Now it so happened that Henry Prince of Wales the king’s eldest son and the leader of his Council was keen to lead an expedition to France in support of the Burgundians; in fact, he had already began the necessary preparations. The quid pro quo for the Plantagenets was possession of some Flemish castles and a dynastic marriage between the Prince of Wales and Anne of Burgundy. King Henry, however, was against such an alliance. He believed that exploiting division in France served his best interests and that this was best achieved by supporting the rebel Armagnacs. Henry must also have realised the necessity of avoiding any fighting between his Gascon and English subjects; not, could he have been oblivious to the damage an alliance with Burgundy might do to his wider interests in Brittany, Aragón and Navarre. In any case, he disliked the Duke of Burgundy, who still refused to recognize his authority as king of England. Henry therefore cancelled the Burgundian expedition, summoned Parliament and dismissed the Prince of Wales as leader of the Council. Prince Henry was replaced in his father’s trust by his brother Thomas of Lancaster and relegated to the political sidelines.

Unfortunately, the Prince’s negotiations with Burgundy were too far advanced to ignore. Despite his declared preference, Henry did not prevent the English expeditionary force led by the earl of Arundel embarking for Flanders; where, in November 1411 English archers were the decisive factor in a notable Anglo-Burgundian victory against the Armagnacs. By 1412, both sides were clamouring for an English alliance. Their cause being desperate, the Armagnacs offered the most. They acknowledged Henry as king of England and promised sovereignty of all Aquitaine together with suitable marriages to  girls of royal blood. It promised Henry everything he could have desired. Henry duly signed the Treaty of Bourges (1412) with the Armagnac faction and declared his intention to lead an English army personally to France. Thus was England drawn inexorably into the French civil war: it was unlikely to end well.

On the 10 August 1412, Thomas, now the Duke of Clarence, disembarked 1000 men-at-arms and 3000 archers on the Cotentin Peninsular. But it was a trap: the Armagnacs had betrayed Henry. The French factions had resolved their differences, forgiven each other and identified the English as their common enemy. Clarence’s force was not merely unwelcome they were treated as invaders. Nonetheless, Clarence reacted boldly and swiftly to the new situation. He attacked the Armagnacs for their treachery, sacked the Duke of Berry’s lands, demanded compensation and cut a swathe of death and destruction across France all the way to Gascony. He arrived back in England just in time for his father’s funeral.

‘France being ours, we’ll bend it to our awe, or break it all to pieces’[10]

For more than fifty years the Treaty of Bretigny had dominated Anglo-French relations. The focus was exclusively on territories in southwest France. Neither side gave any thought to the other parts of the Plantagenet inheritance. However, no sooner was King Henry V crowned than he renewed the Plantagenet claim to the French Crown. He also demanded implementation of the Treaty of Bretigny and raised the further question of England’s ancient rights to Normandy, Maine, Anjou, Touraine, Provence, Nogent and Beaufort. He backed away from these demands only twice: in 1415 and again in 1416 for tactical reasons.[11] The fact is that, without prejudice to his claim to the French throne, Henry always sought the effective restoration of the Angevin Empire in full sovereignty and he was determined to get his way. In the words of Dr Maurice Keen, these were not new issues ‘but old issues newly raised’ since they had not been discussed since the peace of Bretigny. From the beginning of his reign, therefore, Henry directed his energy, and that of his government and his subjects to preparing for war.

Dr Gerald Harriss suggests that Henry used war as an instrument of policy rather that profit.[12] He was, I think, distinguishing between Henry’s foreign policy and that of his great-grandfather on two points, the first being a question of principle. Whereas Edward III was prepared to trade his claim to the French throne for territorial concessions, Henry was not; though, he might pretend to negotiate if it suited his purpose. The choice he offered the French was blunt, either they surrender to all his demands or go to war.[13] During the summer of 1415, he wrote to Charles VI clarifying that while he might have been prepared to bargain over the size of Princess Catherine’s dowry[14] and his territorial inheritance, he could not in conscience abandon his claim to the French throne. Diplomacy was, of course, necessary for appearance sake, but Henry never took the negotiations seriously. He was keen to maintain and exploit French disunity by playing the Armagnacs and Burgundians off against each other. Every time it appeared that Anglo-French diplomats might have  agreed a compromise, Henry returned to his original demands. It was everything or it was war. Never at any time did he halt his military preparation. In any case, the idea of war with France was not unpopular in England. It was a unifying influence after the political instability of his father’s reign. By 1415, the whole kingdom was united behind Henry’s ‘just’ demands.

The second point of difference between Henry and Edward III was in the execution of policy and especially in the type of war each king waged. Henry eschewed the plundering ‘tip and run’ chevauchées so prevalent in the fourteenth century, in favour of a more methodical conquest of territory. It is a moot point whether chevauchées had any military value beyond enriching the English warrior class with ransom money and booty. French historians tend to the view that they were not only heartless but also aimless, producing no military benefit for the damage and suffering they caused. Modern English speaking historians take a different view. They argue that chevauchées were part of a strategic plan to provoke the French to battle or at least to weaken their resources and morale. Although Edward III’s strategy delivered notable victories at Crecy and Poitiers, it did not actually enlarge English holdings in France or subdue French resistance to English authority. So that at the first opportunity, they had reneged on the treaty and won back practically all that they had lost. In contrast, Henry prepared an army that was well officered and equipped for siege or open warfare. In addition to the mounted knights, men-at-arms and the ubiquitous Anglo-Welsh archers, Henry assembled a modern (by fifteenth century standards) artillery train with gunners, combat engineers and artisans. It was a crack professional ‘all arms’ force well able to seize, hold and consolidate territory and towns in France. [15] Henry was also more ambitious than his great grandfather. He knew he needed to defeat the French in battle, but if he claimed to be the king of France, he must act like the king of France. He could not possible countenance inflicting pain and suffering on those whom he claimed were his French subjects. English march discipline was therefore generally good. That said, of course, some of his actions during his campaigns demonstrated his mercilessness towards French rebels who opposed him, not excluding defenceless civilians. It is notable, nonetheless, that by fifteenth century standards, even the French regarded Henry as a just and honourable man, and likely to make a better king than Charles VI or his son. If we judge these different strategies by results, then it is a notable fact that Henry’s strategy — albeit facilitated by French division and incompetence — succeeded for a time in putting an Englishman on the French throne.

Henry V led three expeditions to France during his reign: in 1415, from 1417 until the Treaty of Troyes in 1420 and from 1421 until his death in 1422. The invasion of 1415 should be viewed in the context of the diplomacy that preceded it, which touched on the core problems of Anglo-French relations. Henry could no more moderate his claim to be the rightful king of France or his demand for the restoration of his Angevin inheritance in full sovereignty, than Charles VI could agree to them. The restoration of the ‘Angevin Empire’ would pose an existential threat to the Valois dynasty and to France as a sovereign kingdom. Henry’s seeming obduracy was fueled by his burning sense of injustice at French perfidy, which had deprived him of his just rights. Besides, Henry had already entreated divine justice for his cause and God’s judgement can only be known after trial by combat. Whatever hopes Henry may or may not have had for the campaign of 1415 (and I am not going to speculate about that), he was surely, at the very least, intent on proving the justice of his cause to the Roman Church and the secular rulers of Christendom.

Henry’s victory at Agincourt on the 25 October 1415 is regarded as one of the greatest military triumphs in English history. It elevated England’s martial reputation to the first rank of military men and it bought Henry great renown in the courts of Christendom, and a popularity and authority at home unknown since the heyday of Edward III’s reign. A small English army, ravaged by illness and trapped by a larger enemy force had in a single day destroyed the flower of French chivalry: it was a miracle. However. The campaign that preceded the battle can hardly be said to have presaged such success. The only tangible strategic gain from the whole campaign was the capture of Harfleur; the siege of which took longer and cost more in the lives of his men than Henry could have anticipated. Though combat losses were relatively few, the men succumbed to dysentery in their thousands, bivouacked as they were in the low-lying marshes surrounding Harfleur. By the time the town was taken, Henry had barely half of his original force fit for service. The losses suffered changed the nature of Henry’s campaign. It is questionable whether his decision to march north to Calais was an act of bravado, or a gambler’s attempt to avoid battle.[16]

Even so,Henry could not afford to rest on his laurels.  It was from Harfleur that he  intended to launch a second expedition during the summer of 1416. His plan  was, however, dislocated by a conjunction of military and diplomatic developments during the first half of the year that demanded his attention. First, and most worrying, was a French military resurgence. Far from being cowed by the loss of Harfleur and their crushing defeat at Agincourt, the French led by the warlike Duke of Armagnac moved to recapture Harfleur as soon as possible. The town’s defences, which were virtually destroyed in the siege, had not been fully repaired. Moreover, blockaded as they were by a Franco-Genoese fleet in the estuary and by Armagnac’s army on the landward side, the English garrison was cut off from their sources of resupply and reinforcement. By the summer of 1416, the situation was dire. The men were starving and trapped in the Town. Instead of preparing for a second expedition, therefore, Henry’s energy was necessarily diverted to preparing a relief force for the strategically important port of Harfleur.

Contemporaneously with the problem of Harfleur, Henry had also to deal with a diplomatic initiative led by Sigismund of Luxembourg King of the Romans and Holy Roman Emperor elect. He had been sent by the Council of Constance to secure a permanent Anglo-French peace as a precursor to ending the papal schism.[17] Sigismund began his talks in Paris with the French Regency Council who were in the grip of the hawkish Armagnacs and therefore decidedly lukewarm about a compromise peace.  The problem was that nothing could be achieved in France without an accommodation with John the Fearless Duke of Burgundy. In late spring, therefore, Sigismund moved to England to speak to Henry. He brought with him William of Bavaria as joint mediator and representative of the French Crown. William was the Dauphin’s father-in-law and cousin to the French Queen Isabella. It was also hoped to involve the Dukes of Bourbon and of Orleans, both of whom were already in London as Henry’s prisoners since Agincourt. By these means Sigismund and Queen Isabella hoped to bypass the Duke of Armagnac who was an obstacle to peace. Meanwhile, in England Henry was in continual touch with the Duke of Burgundy and his representative. Although he did not get active Burgundian assistance, a truce was agreed and extended to ensure their neutrality for the time being. Henry had assured the Duke that he would not break the truce by agreeing anything with the Duke’s enemies that was contrary to Burgundian interests.[18]

The ‘conference of London began on the 28 May 1416. Although Henry suspected that the French delegates were prevaricating in the hope that Harfleur would be retaken, he could not ignore this effort to achieve a diplomatic solution. The only thing of substance to emerge from the discussions was a proposal for an Anglo-French truce of three years to allow time for a properly informed peace conference to take place. Under this agreement, the siege of Harfleur would be lifted and the town would be surrendered to the neutral control of agreed mediators pending the outcome of the peace conference. Henry was so worried by the situation in Harfleur that he was minded to accept the truce even though it would prevent him from following up his success at Agincourt for three years. However, the French lords in London could not agree to the truce without first taking instructions from the Regent’s Council in Paris. Henry was furious: he declared publicly that the duplicitous French were scheming against peace, and proclaimed his intention to send a relief force to Harfleur forthwith. Faced with the complete collapse of the conference, the French moved urgently to put the proposal to Paris.  Under pressure from Armagnac (now Constable of France), the Council denounced the proposal for a truce; however, it was decided that they would  draw out the talks until Harfleur was recaptured, by pretending that the truce might be acceptable.  Henry was not fooled, he began fitting-out a force to relieve Harfleur.[19]

By now, however, Sigismund’s Anglophile sympathies were public knowledge. On the 15 August in the City of Canterbury he gave Henry everything he could reasonably have expected from the recent diplomatic manoeuvring. Sigismund and Henry signed a ‘perpetual alliance’, which not only approved of Henry’s war to recover “…our crown and realm of France and our other rights and inheritances” but promised to “…help and support Henry, his heirs and successors in the possession or retention of the said rights, lands and domains.” [20]  The Treaty of Canterbury gave Henry international recognition of the justice of his cause and the promise of help to recover and hold his ‘just rights’ if needed. Not that Henry needed much help; on the same day that the Treaty was signed, Henry’s brother John Duke of Bedford routed the Franco-Genoese fleet off the Seine Estuary in perhaps the most significant naval engagement of Hundred Years War. The battle, which lasted for seven hours was hard-fought but ended in bloody ruin for the Franco-Genoese fleet that lost at least three carracks and countless lesser vessels. It was the enemy who fled as Bedford and his tired men sailed into the estuary. Armagnac lost no time in abandoning the siege.

Despite the euphoria of these successes, Henry knew that the key to his success lay in his ability to secure a rapport with John the Fearless. No doubt, the Duke was a fascinated bystander of the diplomatic manoeuvering during the summer. And It may not have surprised him to be invited to join the Emperor Sigismund and Henry in a ‘next steps’ conference to be held in Calais. I think it is fair to say that by this stage Henry was resolved to wage war in France beginning in 1417, and that the conference was being used to arrange an accommodation with John the Fearless that ensured that the French remained divided by civil war. Sigismund may still have harboured hopes of an Anglo-French peace but at this stage that was an unrealistic hope. Sigismund and John were not the best of friend. However, it suited Henry’s purpose to use the conference to reconcile the Emperor and the Duke. John was suspicious and would not come to Calais without taking an English hostage as security for his safety. The Duke of Gloucester fulfilled that role admirably. Moreover, John’s whole approach to the conference was equivocal. He would not give Henry active assistance nor even recognize his claim to the French throne unless and until it was certain that Henry would win, in which case he would come openly to Henry’s side. He also insisted that his refusal to help must not be construed as though he was acting contrary to Henry’s best interest. It was such a vague and valueless promise that historians wonder why Henry accepted it without demur. He was taking a risk, but it was a calculated one. He didn’t actually need John’s active participation but he did need his ‘benign neutrality’. Such was the antipathy between Armagnacs and Burgundians that there was little or no chance of them combining their forces against the English invader at this time. Once the Calais conference broke up, Henry returned to England for the opening of Parliament on the 19 November. At the same time he sent an embassy to France to extend the truce agreed in the summer. It was disingenuous of him, since his mind was clearly set on war. The purpose of summoning parliament was to provide the money and support he needed for his next expedition. He was given a subsidy of two tenths and fifteenths. It was a generous subsidy but not unconditional. Three quarters of the tax would be collected in February 1417 and the remainder in November 1417. Meanwhile no further grants would be made under any circumstances.[21]

The aim of Henry’s second expedition to France was to conquer Normandy — town-by-town, castle-by-castle if need be — and restore it to the English Crown in full sovereignty, and with the king of England as its duke. He realised it would take longer and cost more in blood and money than any English expedition since the 1350’s, but it was necessary. His plan had two overlapping elements. First, he must win the fighting so as to impose his authority in Normandy, and elsewhere in France if the opportunity presented itself. He was greatly aided in this by the French civil war. A combination of the Duke of Burgundy’s campaign north east of the Seine to restore his hegemony in Paris, and the penury and maladministration of the royal government in Paris had deprived Charles VI of an effective field army able to defend Normandy.[22] France’s only substantial defence of its west coast was a naval flotilla deployed in the Seine Estuary to oppose a possible English landing at Harfleur. The defence of Normandy itself relied solely on the separate garrisons deployed there in towns and castles. Second, Henry needed to administer his conquests wisely and efficiently. He could not allow funds to be raised by looting his Norman subjects. Some form of taxation would be required but arranged in such a way as did not alienate his Norman subjects. He also understood that fear was no substitute for genuine authority and so he invoked the rich Anglo-Norman history of the past as a means of securing acceptance. To this end he also appealed to Norman separatism and their well-known antipathy to government from far-away Paris. Finally. A crucial piece of Henry’s settlement plan was the grant of land and titles to his English soldiers and administrators ‘a sort of Norman Conquest in reverse’.[23]

Henry’s intention to mount a triple assault on the French heartland simultaneously from England, Germany and Burgundy’s domains proved impracticable as the Holy Roman Empire would not declare war on France.[24] Neither could Henry rely absolutely on Burgundian cooperation. There is little doubt that Henry and John the Fearless had agreed to concert their actions. However, they were fighting for different things and there was always the risk of a conflict of interests that might be awkward if, for example, the Burgundians advanced into Normandy or Henry’s troops strayed too close to Paris.[25] Henry embarked for Normandy on the 23 June 1417. On the 29 June a French flotilla guarding the Seine Estuary was routed, enabling Henry to disembark his army at Touques about ten miles south of Harfleur. By this time, Burgundy was advancing from the north issuing ‘inflammatory manifestos’ enroute The French who faced fighting on two fronts and were heavily outnumbered deployed their only field army to defend Paris, leaving the Normans to their own devices. By the 4 September Henry had invested, captured and sacked the town of Caen, as a brutal example to others who might resist his will. He then overran southern Normandy as far as Alencon and Belléme (in Perche). The speed with which the Norman submitted was astonishing. Falaise fell in February 1418, the Cotentin Peninsular was overrun by the spring (only Cherbourg held out), by July Henry had established a bridgehead across the Seine at Ponte-de-l’Arche between Rouen and Paris and by the end of July Rouen was under siege. Henry progress had so alarmed the French government that they swallowed their pride and opened negotiations with Henry. His demands, however, were unchanged: the hand of Princess Catherine, restoration of his Angevin inheritance circa 1200 in full sovereignty and his claim to the French throne ‘firmly and emphatically stated’.

The year of 1419 was to prove decisive for Henry’s aspirations in almost every respect. In January Rouen the capital of Normandy fell to his troops. A powerful English army was now entrenched seventy-five miles from Paris. According to an anonymous Paston correspondent, Henry’s army had already captured 7 cities, 31 Towns, 81 castles, and 6 abbeys in Normandy.[26] The threat to French sovereignty from the English king was now so grave that John the Fearless was on the point of abandoning his ‘benign neutrality’ and joining the Armagnacs and the Dauphin in a unified opposition against the English. But it all went disastrously wrong for French hopes on the 10 September 1419. The Dauphin’s men murdered the Duke of Burgundy on the bridge of Montereau during a conference, which he had attended in the hope of healing French divisions.[27] It was a treacherous act of supreme stupidity, which fatally divided French opinion and ended any chance of unity. The Queen, the Burgundians and those Frenchmen not living under the Dauphin’s control set themselves against the Dauphin’s succession. He was regarded as ‘the tool of a vulgar clique of extremist politicians and was either a murderer or manipulated by murderers’. He could not be allowed succeed to the French throne. It was this that drove the Burgundians into an alliance with Henry. Even so, dealing with the English was not regarded by anybody in France as the ideal solution but only as the ‘least worst’ option. It offered peace and the best opportunity of ending Armagnac hegemony. Besides, there was no guarantee that the Armagnac regime would not themselves seek an accommodation with King Henry against the Queen and the Burgundians. Even in their extremity, it seems that the French factions were more intent in continuing their blood feud than uniting against France’s natural enemy. The gash in the duke of Burgundy’s head caused by the assassins axe was indeed ‘the hole by which the English entered France.’[28] Henry quickly recognized John’s murder as an opportunity to achieve all of his aspirations. With the duke dead, the Dauphin discredited and the only other Valois candidate imprisoner in England, Henry had a realistic chance of succeeding to the French throne. [29] There was no prospect of French unity and given that neither side in the civil war was strong enough to resist him on there own he could dictate his own terms.

The Treaty of Troyes ranks alongside the Treaty of Bretigny as the most important treaties of the Hundred Years War, though they were quite different. Bretigny was intended to regulate a feudal dispute. Troyes was a dynastic settlement. Its core purpose was to settle the French succession on Henry V who would marry Princess Catherine of France so that their heirs and descendants would be the legitimate successors to the French throne. It was a revolutionary solution to the problem of Anglo-French conflict that had seemed intractable. Whereas Bretigny had floundered on the vagueness of the ‘renunciation clause’, which proved to be unenforceable, Troyes was clear, comprehensive and authoritative. It took the form of a series of letters notionally emanating from Charles VI covering the succession, Catherine’s marriage to Henry, Henry’s Regency, separation of the two kingdoms and some technical land matters. All that remained were the several legal and political obstacles.

The Plantagenet claim to the French throne had already been rejected by the French owing to the Salic law. To overcome this, Henry dropped his claim and invoked the royal authority of Charles VI to ‘take Henry as his son in consideration of his marriage to Princess Catherine’, and to nominate Henry as heir apparent to the French throne. Charles’ natural son Charles Count of Ponthieu, Duke of Touraine and Berry (the Dauphin) was thereby disinherited. Though there were some misgivings about this, it was ratified on the grounds that the Dauphin was guilty of treason (les majeste) and therefore barred from the succession. This judgement was confirmed by the Lit de Justice in 1421. Thus were the dual questions of sovereignty and cession rendered otiose. Normandy, Aquitaine and all the other territories claimed by the English would remain within the sovereign French kingdom as part of the Crown Estates. Moreover Henry who was appointed Regent during Charles’ incapacity swore to govern wisely, to respect French customs, law and language, not to ‘Anglicize’ the French civil service and to keep his two kingdoms separate. In return, Henry extracted oaths of loyalty from the French polity at large. Finally, to ensure legitimacy (after all Charles VI was mad) the Treaty provided that its terms must by ratified by the ‘Estates’ of both kingdoms: as indeed they were.

It is a tribute to Henry’s political acumen and the skill and professionalism of his diplomatic corps that Troyes was the only treaty during the Hundred Years War to address all the objections of both sides. It did not, nevertheless, meet with universal approval in France or in England. The fact that it was accepted by a ‘sufficient body of Frenchmen’ to ensure peace was due entirely to the real-politick of the situation. But the point was not lost on Frenchmen that Henry had only been able to drive such a hard bargain due to their division.

Although with hindsight we know that the Treaty of Troyes marked the summit of English achievement during their French wars. However, at the time it was still considered to be work in progress by Henry who spent the rest of his life fighting those who would not accept his dominion. The modern historical consensus is that even if he had lived longer his chances of subduing the whole French kingdom were at best slim. The problems were both political and practical. Politically, the French would never willingly accept a foreign monarch imposed on them. Gerald Harris captures the real situation perfectly: “The task [Henry] had set himself was far more difficult and longer than that in England. He had exploited and deepened divisions he now had to heal; neither did he possess the intuitive understanding of his new subjects, or their natural loyalty, which underlay his leadership of the English nation. If he commanded the respect of some Frenchmen and met their longing for peace, others would always hate and repudiate him as a usurper.”[30] Moreover, the Anglo-Burgundian alliance, which was the cornerstone of Troyes settlement, was ‘thoroughly unnatural’.[31] Despite the political machinations of their duke, the Burgundians were loyal Frenchmen. They bowed to real politick in 1420 but had no long-term interest in replacing the House of Valois with the House of Plantagenet, especially if a credible Valois Dauphin should emerge to lead them. The wonder is that it took them until 1435 to unite with their fellow Frenchmen to drive the English out of France.

It was impracticable for England to subjugate a whole kingdom as large, as populace and as rich as France. Their resources were simply not equal to the task. The strain was already beginning to tell in 1419. The truculence of Parliament concerning the cost of war, the complaints about the escalating cost of maintaining Normandy, which fell on the English, and the cooling of English ardour for restoration of the king’s rights all suggest the onset of war weariness. It is possible that by 1420, Henry’s ambition did not match that of his subjects. Finally: even if we accept that the Treaty might have been durable during Henry’s life, it had no chance of surviving long after his death on the 31 August 1422.

[1] Edouard Perroy – The Hundred Years War (Eyre & Spottiswoode 1965-English translation) pp141-155: Charles V was much more politically astute than his father. Perroy takes the view that during the 1370’s he ‘dominated both kingdoms’, being both wise and realistic. This was in stark contrast to the leadership in England.

[2] Jonathan Sumption – The Hundred Years War Volume 2: trial by fire (Faber and Faber 2001 edition) pp.540-585: those hoping for a comprehensive analysis of event from 1366 to 1369 need look no further than this chapter of Lord Sumption’s definitive history of the Hundred Years War. See also Perroy pp158-160: Lord Albret was betrothed to the French Queen’s youngest sister. I cannot escape the suspicion that the Gascon lords and Charles were conspiring to create a situation whereby Charles could bring the question of Aquitaine sovereignty to the fore and to his advantage.

[3] Sumption (Vol 2) ibid: Perroy p.160: Charles VI manufactured a ‘quasi rebellion’ against the English in Gascony by encouraging upwards of 900 appellants to bring their grievances to the French Parlement in Paris. His aim was to justify his interference in the affairs of Aquitaine and lay the blame on King Edward for any adverse consequences.

[4] John Jolliffe (editor & translator) – Froissart’s Chronicles (Harvill Press 1967) p.209

[5] The Black Prince had fought his last campaign in 1370.

[6] Ian Mortimer – The Fears of Henry IV (Vintage 2008) pp.210-217: scholars are divided about how Richard died and whether Henry IV was complicit in his death. Mortimer summarizes the evidence and concludes that Richard was probably killed at Henry’s command. Nigel Saul – Richard II (Yale 1999 edition) pp. 424-427: also rehearses the various versions of Richard’s end, but offers no opinion of his own.

[7] Mortimer (Fears): pp.284-285 and passim: John Barratt – War for the Throne: the battle of Shrewsbury 1403 (Pen and Sword 2010) pp. 113-115; the Epiphany rising in January 1400, was followed by the Percy’s rebellion of 1403 and Owen Glendower’s rebellion in Wales. In 1404, the French landed troops at Dartmouth at the invitation of Margaret Countess of Oxford, to support an uprising in the name of King Richard. In the same year, they were involved in a plot to raise rebellion in Essex and the Count of St Pol invaded the Isle of Wight. The Percy’s rebelled again in 1408. These rebellions were all crushed relatively quickly with the exception of Glendower’s rebellion, which lasted until 1410.

[8] Mortimer (Fears) pp.210-217: there is confusion about how Charles could have known that Richard was dead by early January 1400, since it was not official announced until late February 1400. Mortimer hypothesises that somehow a French spy discovered that King Henry had ordered one of his knights to ‘dispose of Richard if the Epiphany rebels looked like freeing him’. The spy assumed that Richard was ‘disposed of’ immediately. However, Henry was merely taking a precaution against the possibility that Richard might be freed. In fact, Richard was not murdered until February once the fuss had died down.

[9] The Duke of Orleans was the leader of a group that included the Count of Armagnac and his Gascons. Consequently, they were known as ‘the Armagnacs’. The opposing faction led by the Duke of Burgundy was called the Burgundians.

[10] William Shakespeare – Henry V Act 1 Scene 2

[11] GL Harriss (Editor) – Henry V: the practice of kingship (Alan Sutton 1993 edition) pp.186-187: Henry indicated a willingness to negotiate on his terms for peace in 1415 and 1416 only because he was anxious to demonstrate ‘his moderation’ to the Council of Constance and to Sigismund who were attempting to broker a permanent Anglo-French peace. See also Jonathan Sumption – The Hundred Years War Volume 4: cursed kings (Faber and Faber 2016 edition) p.658, who offers a different opinion. He believes that Henry’s claim to the French throne was ‘a mere bargaining counter to be exchanged for an acceptable territorial concession’.

[12] Harriss p.204

[13] Perroy pp. 236-238: professor Perroy’s point that Henry’s diplomacy was intended to force the French to surrender to his demands or go to a war is well made.

[14] By this time, a dynastic marriage to Charles’ daughter Catherine was a key component of Henry’s diplomatic strategy.

[15] Christopher Allmand – Henry V (Yale 1997 edition) pp.66-73; Christopher Hibbert – Agincourt (Pan 1964) p.73; Juliet Barker- Agincourt (Abacus 2015 edition) pp. 54-69 & 147-149; Sumption (Vol 4) Chps 9 and 10

[16] Allmand pp.78-85; Sumption (Vol 4) pp.431-442; Ian Mortimer – 1415: Henry V’s year of glory (Vintage 2009) pp.383-387; Juliet Barker – Agincourt (Abacus 2015 edition) Chp 12 passim; Christopher Hibbert – Agincourt (Pan 1968) pp.71-77 and Anne Curry – Henry V (Penguin 2018) pp.72-73: each of these historians discusses Henry options after the fall of Harfleur in the context of his original intention. The various scenarios put forward though plausible are perforce speculative and based on reasoning rather than evidence. Henry kept his original plan to himself and it has not come down to us. The only contemporary mention of his intention is an a letter written on the 3 September 1415 (that is during the siege) to the Mayor and Jura of Bordeaux by one Dr Jean Bordui, archdeacon of Medoc and one of Henry’s Gascon clerks with him at Harfleur. “ I have heard it is not his intention to enter the town but to stay in the field. In [a] short while after the capture of the town, he intends to go to Montivilliers and then to Dieppe, and afterwards to Rouen and then Paris.“ This is not, of course, proof of Henry’s intention since we do not know Bordui’s source. He might have heard this from the king, in which case it has evidential value, or he might have heard it from a third-party, in which case it is gossip. I do not think, however, that it is deliberate misinformation ‘in case the letter should fall into French hands’ (Mortimer p.384). The whole purpose of disinformation is that it should fall into enemy hands. If the letter was not intended to be seen by the enemy and is not actually seen by them, the only people it could possibly deceive  are Henry’s allies. Why would Bordui do that?

[17] Sumption (Vol 4) Ch12 pp.468-529

[18] Sumption (Vol 4) P.499: an Anglo-Flemish trade truce in April 1416 had ensured the neutrality of Flanders in the Anglo-French war, but it did not make Burgundy neutral in respect of his other domains. It was therefore agreed between Henry and the Duke that in the event of an English invasion of France, Henry’s troops would not enter the Duke of Burgundy’s domains. In return the Duke would not let any of his subjects fight against the English.

[19] Sumption (Vol 4) pp.493-497: Chris Givern-Wilson (Gen Ed) – The Parliamentary Rolls of Medieval England 1275-1504 (Boydell 2005); Vol 9 Chris Givern-Wilson (ed) – Henry V 1413-1422 p.178 (PROME): “the French full of pride and thinking nothing of the said defeat [at Agincourt], and weakness have absolutely refused to reach an agreement

[20] PROME Vol 4 pp186-187; It is clear from the Parliamentary ratification of the Treaty of Canterbury that Henry believed his diplomatic and military successes were due to divine intervention: God really was on Henry’s side (he thought).

[21] PROME Vol 4 pp. 175, 180, 181: ‘the shoe was beginning to pinch’

[22] Sumption (Vol 4) p.529: by the summer of 1417, the French position was hopeless. In the north Burgundy had raised an army of around 11,000 men aimed at overthrowing the French government in Paris and restoring the Burgundian regency. Henry had assembled an army of roughly 11,000 men in England. The only available French field force (the combined troops of the Dauphin and the Constable) amounted to perhaps 5,000, and their priority was the defence of Paris.

[23] Anne Curry – Henry V (Penguin 2018) pp.82: Henry confirmed Norman rights and privileges so long as they accepted his rule.

[24] Sumption (Vol 4) pp.517: the Empire’s priority was to end the papal schism, which could not be achieved without French support.

[25] John the Fearless was intent on overthrowing the Armagnac government in Paris. He had already tacitly acknowledged that depending on the circumstances at the time he might be prepared to acknowledge Henry as king of France; however, Henry could not rely on that since John undoubtedly had his own agenda.

[26] James Gairdner – The Paston Letters: 1422-1509 Volume 2 (Cambridge 2010 edition) pp.5-8 [1]: this is the earliest document in the published Paston collection. Although it is undated, the content suggests it was written between 1419 and 1420.

[27] Sumption (Vol 4) pp. 643-659: this contains a detailed account of the circumstances pertaining to the murder of the duke John.

[28] Sumption (Vol 4) p.654 note 34: this remark was made in 1521 to Francis I as he viewed John’s broken skull, during a visit to the Carthusian monastery at Champmol where John was re-buried.

[29] Sumption (Vol 4) p. 658: Sumption’s proposition that until the murder of John the Fearless, Henry’s claim to the French throne was nothing more than a bargaining counter to be exchanged for suitable territorial concessions is misleading since it is based on the false premise that Henry’s negotiations in 1415 and 1416 were genuine attempts at achieving a diplomatic solution. It is clear from his letter to Charles VI in 1415 that his claim to the French throne was not ‘a bargaining counter’. Moreover, one can also infer from his conduct during diplomacy that it was for him merely a policy tool to achieve his foreign policy aims by misleading the French, keeping them divided and ensuring they were blamed for the breakdown of talks.

[30] Harriss p.205

[31] Allmand p. 146

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


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.



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.



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).

War, English Delusion, and the effect on the Economy (4)

It was fortunate for Henry V that someone on the Orleanist side of politics decided to murder the Duke of Burgundy. This persuaded the new duke, Philippe the “Good” to take Henry’s side, a development which led to the Treaty of Troyes and Henry’s marriage to fair Catherine of France. Henry had by this time conquered a fair chunk of Normandy, but this had stretched his resources considerably. Thanks to the new alliance he could paint himself as the legitimate ruler of France, and some Frenchmen, like Burgundy, were willing to come over to his side.

At the same time, although the cause of the Dauphin and the Orleanists looked bleak, the fact remains that they were in possession of the majority of French territory and the resources that went with it. Henry would need to conquer this, castle by castle, town by town, and every new garrison needed more soldiers and the means to supply them with necessaries.

The bright spot was that the conquered territories did provide a source of revenue. The bad news was that the English Parliament was increasingly of the view that the war was “nothing to do with us, guv.” In short, they saw the conquest as Henry’s conquest rather than England’s, and, in their view, it was up to Henry to defeat his “rebels” at the expense of the Kingdom of France.

That a typical Englishman of this time had his chest swelled with pride at the thought of English military glory, but at the same moment did not want to pay towards the costs should not really surprise us. It was a characteristic of the English almost all the way through.

Henry V’s early death in 1422, with nothing really resolved, was another good example of the “hospital pass”. To Henry V, the glory, to Henry VI the criticism for failing to do the impossible.

It was fortunate for the English that the management of their position in France fell to John, Duke of Bedford, Henry V’s next surviving brother, who just happened to be one of the most able men to grace the entire middle ages, let alone the fifteenth century. Bedford won a stunning victory at Verneuil (1424) which was, if anything, more impressive than Agincourt, though rather less famous.

After that, though, the Anglo-Burgundian position slowly but surely began to deteriorate. There were a number of reasons for this, and one was certainly that Philippe of Burgundy was never 100% committed, except to his own interests. Another key factor was that French gradually improved their military establishment, not least by investing heavily in artillery. But above all, the limitations of English resources in terms of both men and cash became increasingly apparent as the years went by.

As I have remarked before, what is astonishing about Lancastrian France was not that it fell when it did, but that it lasted so long. The Treaty of Arras (1435) detached Burgundy from the English side, and that should have been the end. As it was, the English were not finally expelled from Normandy until 1450, while the last English intervention in Gascony failed in 1453. The tactics of Agincourt no longer worked. The French had developed a well-organised, well-equipped, professional army, while England struggled to raise field armies of any size at all.

Much of this prolongation of the war was down to English pluck and determination, to say nothing of good fortification, but it was really a hopeless cause. If Henry VI had been a more talented ruler – which would not have been hard – or if some of his generals (notably the first Duke of Somerset) had been a bit more inspired than they were, then maybe, just maybe, the disaster might have been stretched out a little longer. Alternatively, if certain English statesmen – notably Humphrey of Gloucester – had been more realistic and less deluded, then something might have been saved of the English possessions in France. As it was, a losing fight against overwhelming odds could only have one end.

The effect on England, as a nation, was disastrous. The self-image of a country that was a great military power was shattered. The treasury was not only empty, but massively in debt, despite years of war taxation. The King’s government was feeble at best, and disorder was commonplace, even to the extent of outbreaks of fighting between rival families. Of course, it must be admitted that Henry VI was one of our least effective monarchs, and that his tendency to favour the incompetent Beauforts over the (relatively) competent Duke of York did not help. The political crisis began long before the final defeat in France, but that defeat added a whole new level to it.

Since all attempts at political compromise failed, it was all but inevitable that what we now call the Wars of Roses should break out, even though the first “battle” (St. Albans 1455) was little more than an unseemly squabble. But the root of political instability in England was the disastrous policy of war with France.




‘This is indeed a mystery’ I remarked.’ What do you think it means?’‘I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suite theories, instead of theories to suite facts.’


In Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story A Scandal in Bohemia,[1] Holmes and Watson are puzzled by an anonymous and undated note, which they have received. It was the only case in which Holmes was worsted by a cleverer adversary: the beautiful Irené Adler. Holmes seldom referred to her as anything other than the Woman because in his opinion ‘she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex’. Since this story first appeared in 1888, Holmes’ dictum has become the cornerstone of forensic investigation methodology. Criminologists, detectives, judges, lawyers, doctors, scientists, and many other professionals rely on factual data to support their judgement or opinion.


Facts are important to historians also; they are the building blocks of history and historians must not get them wrong; as AE Houseman famously remarked, ‘accuracy is a duty not a virtue’. The difficulty for English medieval historians is that the facts they rely on are often found in old manuscripts, which are hand written in ancient Latin or French by men who were not witnesses to the events they record, and whose narrative may reflect their particular political or geographic point of view. These difficulties increase where contemporary records are incomplete or not available. The historiography of King Richard III suffers from most if not all of these problems. Almost all the accounts we have of his life and reign were written by a small number of people in southern England after his death. We know quite a bit about how the people in London and the south viewed his reign and character, but little of what the rest of the country thought. Our opinion of Richard has been pre-determined for us by people who, for whatever reason, took a particular a view and preserved those ‘facts’ that supported their view. The generally poor opinion of King Richard III stems from this incomplete material: the Tudor narrative. Horace Walpole, writing during the age of reason was not impressed; he declared that while Richard might well be as execrable as they say he was, there is no reason to believe so on the available evidence.[2]


Charles Ross in his biography of King Richard identified the ‘extraordinary problems of the evidence’ as the key issue for those seeking answers to the vital questions of when and why Richard claimed the throne.[3] They have to deal with the paradox of his good reputation prior to April 1483 and the crimes he is supposed to have committed thereafter. Ross’ modern solution to this problem was to ignore the Tudor narrative in favour of inferring Richard’s ‘character and motives from a close scrutiny of the events themselves without preconceptions’; it has, he says, resulted in a more critical appraisal of the Tudor narrative and a better understanding of its value. Such objectivity is to be applauded; though, it does come at a cost. Ross also considers that because historians now have a better understanding of the Tudor tradition and of fifteenth century English politics, they are unwilling to throw the ‘whole bodily out of the window, especially when it can be confirmed by contemporary evidence.[4] What worries me about that proposition is that it presupposes that the contemporary sources and the Tudor writers are independent of each other: they are not. Of the major chronicles for this period, only Mancini’s narrative was written in King Richard’s lifetime. The other major source is the Second Continuation of Crowland, written about eight months after Bosworth. The English vernacular chronicles were not written until a decade or more afterwards and are so confused and contradictory that they have little or no probative value. Furthermore, the source of these accounts and also of some contemporary foreign chronicles was a member of a cabal of Tudor malcontents who wanted to seize Richard’s throne. It is illogical to think that two separate accounts emanating from the same witness can corroborate each other. The essence of corroboration is that two different witnesses give the same evidence independently.


Though modern authors may claim to be objective, the reality is that it is almost impossible to avoid taking sides. The contradiction in Richard’s reputation is such as raise ‘unhelpful issues of guilt and innocence’ within a hostile, adversarial situation in which every scrap of information is heavily scrutinized in case it sheds light on the mysteries of Richard’s protectorship and reign.[5] Consequently much of Ricardian historiography evinces a preconception of his guilt or innocence that biases judgment. In his defence, Richard’s apologists tend to excuse even his most doubtful actions; whereas his critics’ interpret everything he does negatively and in terms of his perceived vices: violence, greed, deceit, ruthless ambition and murderous intent. His good acts are regarded as self-serving; if he is kind it is because he wants something, if he is generous he is ‘buying’ support, if his justice is firm he is a ruthless tyrant and if his sleep is disturbed by grief for his dead son and wife it is because he has a bad conscience. This preconception stems, I believe, from historical hindsight; the outcome of events in the summer and autumn of 1483 is now a matter of historical record and some historians assume that because they resulted in Richard’s accession, he always intended that outcome. That conclusion is, of course, a non sequitur and, perhaps, an example of the ‘insensible twisting of facts to suit theories’ that Holmes’ deprecates. It is also an illustration what happens when historians’ copy from each rather than analysing the prime source material de novo and critically.


I see this tendency in two post 2012 biographies by David Horspool and Chris Skidmore respectively.[6] They are well written and researched, and make good of use local records, contemporary private documents and correspondence, and obscure manuscripts, identified only by their National Archives reference number, to highlight the minutiae of Richard’s life and reign. Unfortunately, on the ‘key questions of when and why Richard aimed for the throne, neither book tells us anything we didn’t already know or mounts an argument we haven’t heard before, or even contains an original thought. That is not a personal attack on the authors since I believe they genuinely aspired to do more; it is, however, a disappointment. David Horspool sought neutrality; he said he wanted to write an account of Richard’s life ‘without keeping a foot in either the anti or pro Ricardian camps’. Similarly, Chris Skidmore wanted to bring balance and ‘more accurate’ scholarship to his assessment of Richard. What I find particularly upsetting is the possibility that these authors, however sincere they are, may actually believe that the habitual, one might almost say ritualistic, recycling of the conventional Tudor narrative could pass for balanced and accurate scholarship. That said, I do think there is some force in the proposition explored by both writers (and others) that the pre-contract — whether true of false — was a device for deposing Edward V to pave the way for Richard’s accession. What I do not accept, however, is that he was motivated by personal ambition or that it was pre-planned. That explanation of his behaviour is superficial and smacks of lazy history. It gives too little weight to the wider impact of complex factional divisions in 1483, or the fear of civil war that was undoubtedly on the minds of Richard and the members of parliament. It also pays too little heed to the constitutional view that parliament as the national assembly had unfettered authority to pass legislation affirming the royal title and obviating the need for litigation, which was in any case impracticable.


Consequently, this seems an appropriate subject for me to write about; especially since it is five hundred and thirty-four years ago this month that parliament passed Titulus Regius onto the statute book. It is also an opportunity for me to revisit my previous articles on this subject and to renovate them with new research and fresh thinking. I make no apology for that. However, in view of the complex arguments raised by both sides in this controversy, I think it best to first summarise the relevant facts insofar as we know them.


The summer of discontent

The untimely death of Edward IV in the spring of 1483 exposed the deep division and animosity between the queen’s kindred, the old Yorkist nobility and dissident Lancastrians, which hitherto had been checked by the force of Edward’s personality and his political acumen. The king was barely laid in his coffin before Queen Elizabeth, her sons Thomas Marquis of Dorset and Sir Richard Grey, and her brother Anthony Earl Rivers attempted to seize the reins of power by crowning the boy King Edward V before suitable arrangements could be made for his minority rule. They were particularly keen to marginalise Richard Duke of Gloucester, Edward’s paternal uncle and the senior royal duke, and the man whom the late king had nominated as Lord Protector and Defender of the Realm. Gloucester was on the Scottish border when he heard of his brother’s death. After a respectful but brief period of mourning, he came south to a pre-arranged rendezvous with the king, who was also travelling to his capital accompanied by his maternal uncle Rivers, his half-brother Sir Richard Grey and two thousand Woodville soldiers.


The story of Gloucester’s bloodless coup at Stony Stratford on the 30 April and 1 May 1483 is too well known to need repeating. The upshot was that Rivers and Grey were arrested with their servants, for plotting to kill the dukes of Gloucester and Buckingham (who had rendezvoused with Gloucester at Northampton). The Woodville soldiers were dispersed peacefully and the king continued to London in the company of his uncle Gloucester and his cousin Buckingham. The Queen panicked on hearing of the arrests and fled into the comfortable sanctuary of Westminster Abbey, taking her youngest son and heir presumptive, and her daughters with her. On the 10 May 1483, the King’s Council unanimously appointed Richard duke of Gloucester as Lord Protector and Defender of the Realm pending the king’s coronation, which was fixed for the 22 June.


We do not know much about events during May and early June. The impression we have is that as late as the 5 June 1483 preparations for the coronation were proceeding normally. On that day Gloucester arranged for those who were to be knighted by King Edward, to come to London at least four days before the coronation. On the same say he wrote to the citizens of York apologising for the fact he that was too busy with the coronation preparations to deal with their recent request for financial relief. I mention these matters because of their ordinariness, which is in stark contrast to Gloucester’s second letter to the York citizens five days later. In that letter, he requested troops to help against the queen and her blood adherents who were planning to murder him and Buckingham. The inference that he was suddenly alarmed by a murderous conspiracy is doubtful, as he had known about that risk since Stony Stratford or earlier. If he was responding to that threat, he had left it too late. The troops from York could not reach London much before the end of June. I believe that something else happened between the 5 and 10 June 1483 to alarm Gloucester.


The ‘wicked bishop’

Philippé De Commynes a Flemish knight in the service of Louis XI provides a possible explanation for his change of attitude.


 ‘The Bishop of Bath and Wells (Robert Stillington) revealed to the duke of Gloucester that            King Edward, being enamoured of a certain English lady promised to marry her provided he could sleep with her first and she consented. The bishop said that he had married them             and only he and they were present. He was a courtier so did not disclose this fact and           helped to keep the lady quiet, and things remained like this for a while. Later King Edward       fell in love again and married the daughter of an English knight, Lord Rivers.’ [7]


If true, it made Edward’s subsequent marriage to Elizabeth Grey bigamous and their offspring illegitimate, and unable to succeed to the throne.[8]   I believe it was Stillington’s news that so shocked Gloucester. Sir Clement Markham suggests that Stillington told him and the council about the pre-contract on Sunday the 8 June 1483.[9] All we know about this meeting is what we can glean from a letter written by Simon Stallworth to Sir William Stonor dated the 9 June, in which he writes:


 ‘…My Lord Protector, my Lord of Buckingham and all other Lords, as well temporal as      spiritual [sic] were at Westminster in the council chamber from 10 until 2 but there was          none that spoke to the queen. There is great business against the coronation, which shall         be this day fortnight as we say…’[10]


The meeting lasted for four hours and was evidently not routine. The fact that nobody spoke to the queen suggests that negotiations with her had broken down and that something significant was afoot. Stallworth’s phrase”…great business against the coronation…” is ambiguous: perhaps deliberately so. Most historians think he meant ‘in preparation for or in anticipation of the coronation’ but such an interpretation is not supported by Stallworth’s use of the phrase ‘great business’, which hardly suggests routine administrative affairs. Moreover, the word ‘against’ has eighteen different meanings in the Oxford English Dictionary, five of which use it in the sense of ‘resistance to or opposition to…’ It is possible that Stallworth is referring obliquely to a discussion about Stillington’s revelation, including the propriety of proceeding with the coronation. This possibility is not entirely speculative, since within a week of the letter the coronation was postponed and soon after it was cancelled.

If we take as a working hypothesis that Gloucester was convinced it was true by the 10 June, it puts a different complexion on his second letter to York. It raises the possibility that far from, responding to a threat to his person, Gloucester was preparing for what may happen once Stillington’s allegation was made public. I doubt not that the fear of civil war weighed heavily on his mind; nor do I doubt that he was also conscious of the personal consequences for him and the opportunities it presented. The letter to York provides a convenient cover story, important enough for them to treat it urgently but that gives nothing new away if it falls into the wrong hands. Things came to a head on the morning of Friday 13 June 1483 at the Tower. There, Gloucester met Lord Hastings, Lord Stanley, the Archbishop of York (Rotherham), the Bishop if Ely (Morton) and others, whom he believed were conspiring against him. By lunchtime on the 13th the whole nature of the protectorship had changed irrevocably. Hastings was summarily executed on a convenient log. The Archbishop of York, the Bishop Ely and sundry others were arrested, and there was panic on the streets of London. Three days later Thomas Bourchier, Archbishop of Canterbury persuaded the Queen to allow the duke of York to leave sanctuary to attend his brother’s coronation. By lunchtime Gloucester had the king and the heir presumptive in his care and control. By teatime, in council, Edward’s coronation was postponed from June to November. Despite the turmoil, which these events inspired, Londoners in general blamed Woodville inspired conspirators for the unrest.[11] It was about this time that Gloucester made the decisive decision to issue warrants for the execution of the king’s uncle Rivers, his brother Sir Richard Grey and others. It is confirmation of Gloucester’s intention to claim the throne; he would not otherwise have ordered the execution of the king’s blood relatives.


Bastard slips shall not take root

Bastard slips shall not take root: that was the uncompromising theme of Dr Ralph Shaa’s sermon on the 22 June 1483 at St Paul’s Cross. Taking his text from the Old Testament[12], Dr Shaa preached to the dukes’ of Gloucester and Buckingham, and a ‘huge audience of lords spiritual and temporal[13] on the illegitimacy of King Edward IV’s children. Exactly what he said, however, is a source of great controversy. The crux of the problem is the paucity of reliable accounts of what was said between 22 and 26 June 1483. The extant chronicles are, to use Paul Kendall’s colourful phrase, a ‘mosaic of conflicting detail’ about Gloucester’s title to the throne.[14] This confusion is in sharp contrast to the certainty of the Parliamentary Roll, which set out the chain of events and royal title with admirable clarity. Nevertheless, many historians are convinced that the allegations against the King’s legitimacy were invented by Gloucester to justify his usurpation. The best way to get to the bottom of that conundrum is to follow the chronologically of events.


Dr Shaa’s sermon was not a spontaneous outpouring of public indignation at the illegitimacy of Edwards’s offspring. It was pre-arranged by Gloucester or by others on his behalf to bring to public notice the illegitimacy of the dead king’s children and to put forward his royal title. Though, he was keen to distance himself from the question of deposition, Gloucester’s presence at the sermon is another indication of his intention to replace his nephew as king. Mancini describes how it was said that ‘the progeny of King Edward should be instantly eradicated, for neither had he been legitimate king, nor could his issue be so. Edward was, they said, conceived in adultery.’ This narrative is the only surviving account of the meeting written during Gloucester’s lifetime. [15] However, we must treat it with caution since it is hearsay and not eyewitness testimony; it may or may not be correct.   It is noteworthy that Mancini does not mention the pre-contract at this point in his narrative, though he does later on. Similarly, the reliability of the vernacular chronicles is questionable given that they were written a decade or more after Gloucester’s death and after King Henry VII’s deliberate attempt to expunge all knowledge and memory of Titulus Regius and the invalidity of Edward IV’s marriage. The Great Chronicle follows Mancini in alleging that Shaa preached the illegitimacy of king Edward; whereas, Fabyan says that Shaa also declared the bastardy of Edward’s children. It is this confusion over what was or was not said by Dr Shaa that lies at the heart of the controversy. The importance of Shaa’s sermon, however, lay in the fact that it set in motion a train of events that were to put Gloucester on the throne with astonishing speed, even by modern standards. Within three days of this sermon, he was offered the crown. The next day he was king of England.


With the exception of Mancini, the sources refer to a meeting that took place on Tuesday the 24 June at the Guildhall, with the Duke of Buckingham in the chair. Present were the Mayor of London, his brethren ‘and a good many’ London citizens. Buckingham is supposed to have spoken wonderfully well for “a good half hour” on behalf of the duke of Gloucester, extorting the audience to admit the Lord Protector as their liege lord. Fabyan writes that Buckingham was so eloquent that he never even stopped to spit. The audience ‘to satisfy his mind more in fear than for love, had cried in small number yea! Yea!’.[16] Mancini records a speech made by Buckingham to the lords on the 24 June. This may be the same meeting referred to above, though this is not absolutely clear. According to Mancini, Buckingham argued at this meeting that ‘it would be unjust to crown this lad, who was illegitimate, because his father King Edward [IV] on marrying Elizabeth, was legally contracted to another wife to whom the [earl] of Warwick had joined him. Indeed on Edward’s authority the [earl] of Warwick had espoused the lady by proxy — as it is called — on the continent.’ [17] This is an undoubted reference to a pre-contract, although Mancini has managed to get the details of Edward’s amour wrong. Our other primary source, the Second Continuation of the Crowland Chronicle, simply records Richard’s title precisely as it is put in Titulus Regius.


The following day, that is the 25 June 1483, the three estates of the realm (the lords spiritual, the lords temporal and the commons of England) met at Westminster. Gloucester’s decision to stop the writs of supersedeas cancelling Edward V’s planned parliament was probably deliberate. He doubtless saw the value of having the members of parliament in London to consider his claim to the throne. Although this was not a properly constituted parliament, pretty much all its members were present. Neither was this a tame Ricardian quorum; the lords spiritual, temporal and the commons who attended were those who would have constituted Edward V’s first parliament.   On any view this was a gathering of national authority.[18] Gloucester’s claim was put forward precisely; some parts were good, others not so good. The evil done to the realm by the Woodvilles, the falseness of Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Grey were put forward and discussed by the three estates. The meeting approved a petition to Gloucester that he should assume the seat royal. On the 26 June 1483 at Baynard’s Castle the petition was presented to the duke who was pleased to accept it. He dated his reign from that day.


‘Doubts, questions and ambiguities’

King Richard III was crowned on the 6 July 1483. If he hoped it would unite the various noble factions behind a Yorkist king his hope was dashed. The power struggle that bought him to the throne was not decided; it had merely changed its nature. What we now call ‘Buckingham’s rebellion’ of October and November 1483 was not a national uprising against King Richard. It was a deliberate and carefully prepared dynastic challenge to his crown by the supporters of Henry Tudor assisted by the Woodvilles and disaffected Yorkists. Although, Richard crushed the rebellion and executed Buckingham, neither its cause nor the rebels were exterminated. Henry Tudor continued to make mischief from the sanctuary of France.


King Richard faced another and more urgent problem: Edward V’s deposition and his accession happened so quickly that many of his subjects were bemused by what had occurred. Quite apart from the effect of a rumour that two princes’ were dead, people had qualms about the status of the June petition and Richard’s election to the crown at a non-parliamentary meeting. The author of Titulus Regius recognised this problem and attempted to deal with it in the preface. He acknowledged that because the three estates were not on the 25 June assembled in proper form of parliament, ‘various doubts, questions and ambiguities are said to have been prompted and engendered in the minds of various people’. The preface continues, ‘…in order the truth may be known and perpetually kept in mind’ it is necessary for the petition to be incorporated in an act of settlement validating Richard’s royal title with the authority of parliament and removing ‘…the occasion for all doubts and uncertainties and all other legal consequences that might thereof ensue.’ [19] This is an important point, to which I shall return.


It is necessary to preface my following analysis with some general observations. First, when considering Titulus Regius from a historical point of view, it must always be borne in mind that it is, a legal document in which the draftsman (almost certainly a canon lawyer: possibly Robert Stillington Bishop of Bath and Wells) has been careful to cover all the key elements of the case. Charles Ross was wrong to dismiss it as ‘pure propaganda’; though, it is by its nature a partisan document intended to assert Richard’s royal title. Moreover, the attack on the validity of Edward IV’s marriage and the legitimacy of his children was a deliberate attempt to re-define a political problem as a legal one and therefore not entirely convincing in establishing its proponents good faith. Although there was neither a law of succession in medieval England nor hardly any strict rules governing the process, it was — with some notable exceptions — customary for the throne to pass from the king to his eldest surviving son. Prince Edward was the dead king’s eldest son and everyone naturally expected him to succeed to the throne; to deprive him of this inheritance on a point of law was incomprehensible to some people and seemed unjustified to others. In particular, parliament’s bastardization of Edward V without recourse to the judgement of a church court has attracted much historical criticism. It is important to understand in that context that Titular Regius is also an important constitutional document in which the author has been equally careful to define parliaments authority to validate King Richard’s title in legislation without recourse to litigation. It is important to distinguish between these legal and constitutional points.


Second, it is essential not to over simplify the circumstances leading to Titulus Regius in 1484. The common tendency to interpret them solely in the context of King Richard’s personal ambition ignores the wider influence and dynamics of factional interests. None of the legal impediments to Edward V’s accession were insuperable. His bastardy could have been ignored. Parliament could, had it so wished, have passed an Act of Succession for Edward V validating his title forever. After all, Edward IV and Elizabeth had lived openly as man and wife for many years and their son Edward Prince of Wales was acknowledged on oath by the entire English nobility as the heir apparent. Parliament could just as easily have revoked Clarence’s attainder to allow his son Edward Earl of Warwick to succeed to the throne ahead of Richard. And yet they did nothing to stop Titulus Regius: why? That is the key question in this debate


Third, too much emphasis is placed on the pre-contract allegation at the expense of considering Titulus Regius as a whole. The marriage of Edward and Elizabeth’s was attacked on four separate grounds, only one of which needed to be proved for the marriage to be invalidated. In this regard, the charge of witchcraft is significant. It was not a supplementary charge, and the assertion that it was notorious posed a serious problem (which I will come to) for those attempting to defend the marriage on legal grounds.


Titulus Regius

The main body of Titulus Regius is taken verbatim from the petition and is organised in three parts. The first part is an attack on Edward IV’s reign. Much has been made of this but it is a convention common to this type of document. The second part sets out the grounds for the disqualification of Edward’s children’ from the royal succession. The third part is a recapitulation of Richard’s title as the rightful king of England according to God’s law, natural law and the ancient customs of the realm by right of succession and election. It is, essentially, an attack on Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Grey on four grounds.

’The ‘feigned marriage between Edward and Elizabeth Grey was ‘presumptuously made without the knowledge or the assent of the lords of the land.’


And also by sorcery and witchcraft committed by the said Elizabeth and her mother Jaquetta duchess of Bedford as is the common opinion of the people and the public voice   and fame throughout the land, and as can be adequately proved hereafter at a convenient time and place if thought necessary.


The said feigned marriage was made privately and secretly without publishing of bands, in a private chamber and a profane place and not openly in the face of the church according to the law of God’s church but contrary to it and the law and custom of the Church of England.


And also how, when he contracted the feigned marriage and previously for a long time after the said King Edward was and stood married and troth plighted to one dame Eleanor Butler, daughter of the earl of Shrewsbury with whom the said King Edward had made a contract of matrimony long before he made the feigned marriage with the said Elizabeth Grey.’

The document concludes that if all this is true ‘as in very truth it is’, then Edward and Elizabeth had lived together in adultery and that their children were bastards ‘unable to inherit and claim anything by inheritance by the law and custom of England.‘ Clarence’s son was also barred from the succession, as his father was a convicted traitor.[20]


It is necessary first to first dispose of a claim that the Titulus Regius did not reflect Gloucester’s royal title put forward in June. Charles Wood raised this issue over half a century ago.[21] His sole point was that the text of the petition as set down in the Parliamentary Roll does not agree with the various chronicle versions of the royal title claimed in June. He overlooks the fact that the chronicles also differ from each other and deduces that the original petition was altered later, possibly more than once. He further deduces that Mancini’s account is the correct one and dismisses the second Continuation of Crowland’s version because it is based on Richard’s Act of Settlement rather than actual events. He therefore argues that it cannot be relied upon as corroboration of the Parliamentary Roll. His conclusion is that Richard was clearly ‘making it up as he went along’ to justify his usurpation, by, for example, introducing Eleanor Butler who was conveniently dead. Others have since followed Wood’s line of argument uncritically.


The answer to this point is straightforward and contained in one of Richard’s signet letters. On the 28 June 1483 (that is two days after his accession), he wrote to the Captain of Calais and the townspeople in response to their concerns about the events in England and their effect on the garrison’s oaths of allegiance to the king etc. In his reply, Richard mentioned his accession and his royal title. After referring to the June petition, the letter goes on ‘…the copie of the whiche bille [petition] the king wille (i.e. desired/instructed/ordered) to be sent unto Calais and there to be redd and understanded togeder with these presentes’ Wood is not alone in construing this to mean that the petition will follow after the letter. He has, however, misread the letter, since it says no such thing. From their ordinary, everyday meaning, Richard’s words indicate that the petition was enclosed with the letter.[22]


David Horspool follows Wood’s line; he alludes to the difficulty of understanding the precise nature of Richard’s claim to the throne, ‘let alone what Richard actually believed’. [23] His argument on this point is best put in his own words: ‘The argument that the text of the petition was enclosed with the letter to Calais does not seem convincing as the letter clearly states that the petition “will be sent unto Calais and ther (sic) to be redd & understanded, togeder with these presentes’.’ I.e. it is not an enclosure but will come on later…’ Unfortunately, any misunderstanding’ is entirely David Horspool’s and of his own making. It results from a mistake, which were it not so serious might be dismissed as a schoolboy howler. Horspool has misread and misquoted, and thus completely changed the meaning of Richard’s letter by omitting the word ‘to’ after the word ‘wille’ in his extract quoted above. The fact that this misquotation supports his theory about the vagueness of Richard’s royal title may be the coincidental outcome of a careless mistake. It may equally be that his preconceived theory of Richard’s character has ‘insensibly’ led him to twist the facts to fit his theory.


Personally, I cannot think of a sensible reason why King Richard would refer in the letter to a petition setting out his title, which said petition was to be read in conjunction with the letter (‘these presents’), and not send the petition. It defies the facts and common sense. I must also question the rationale of Woods reasoning. The idea that the details of Richard’s royal title were changed after the June meeting is not a valid inference to draw from the differences between the various chronicle versions and the Parliamentary Roll text. There are many other reasons why they may differ, not the least of which is that the chroniclers misunderstood what was said. Neither does it follow logically that because Crowland quotes directly from the act of succession he is not reporting what actually happened. I must now turn to the substantive legal arguments for and against Titular Regius; in doing so, I will use headings adapted from the main body of Titular Regius.[24]


The ‘feigned’ marriage was made without the knowledge or assent of parliament.

Edward’s failure to get parliamentary approval did not invalidate his marriage to Elizabeth Grey; it was, however, a monumental political mistake since it alienated his most powerful subject, Richard Earl of Warwick (the Kingmaker), and his most ambitious subject and heir presumptive, George Duke of Clarence. Royal marriages were matters of national policy, about which the whole realm had an opinion. A good match with foreign princess bought with it the benefits of alliances, power, prestige and (not to be sniffed at) trade. A king might love where he could; but he married for reasons of state. Edward’s clandestine marriage to Elizabeth Grey was by definition outwith the consent of his subjects. It might not be invalid but it was divisive.


The said ‘feigned’ marriage was achieved by sorcery and witchcraft

Everybody knows that the existence of sorcery and witchcraft was taken more seriously in the fifteenth century than it is today: much more seriously in fact. Fifteenth century English society believed implicitly in God and the Devil; in, the goodness of the Holy Spirit and the badness of evil spirits. The ancient arts of magic were widely acknowledged and took many forms. There were some whose activities were innocent, such as those who used herbal lore for healing the sick, or studied astronomy or astrology; however, there were others who practiced black magic. Significantly, cases of Devil worship, while common on the continent, are unusual in accounts of English witchcraft. On the continent, sorcery and witchcraft were held to be heresy, punishable by the most excruciatingly painful death; whereas in England, it was considered to be a felony and therefore not automatically a capital offence.


If you were high born, however, an allegation of sorcery and witchcraft could have devastating consequences. For example, in 1419, Henry V’s stepmother the Queen Dowager Joan of Navarre was convicted of witchcraft and imprisoned. In 1441, Eleanor Cobham Duchess of Gloucester was convicted of witchcraft and treason; she was imprisoned for life and forcibly divorced from Duke Humphrey. The draftsman of Titulus Regius knew this when he accused Elizabeth Grey and her mother Jaquetta of bewitching Edward IV into a clandestine marriage. It is not, as some historians seem to think, merely an add-on in the case against Edward’s marriage. The use of witchcraft could invalidate a marriage on its own, either because it caused impotence or the bewitched person could not give an informed consent to the marriage. I doubt that impotence was a problem for Edward IV, so this issue turns on consent, which in the canons falls under the heading of ‘force and fear’. ‘The decretal Cum locum begins “since consent does not take place where there is fear or coercion, it is necessary for all coercion to be eliminated when someone’s assent is required. Now marriage is contracted by consent alone, and, when it is sought the person whose intentions are in question should enjoy full security, lest he say out of fear that he is pleased with something he hates, with the result that usually follows from unwilling nuptials.” ‘ [25]


The trial in 1441 of Eleanor Cobham Duchess of Gloucester on charges of sorcery, witchcraft and treason was a precedent and a model for the accusation against Elizabeth and her mother. It is possible that some of the charges against Eleanor Cobham were fabricated in order to discredit her husband Humphrey Duke of Gloucester; but they were not entirely fanciful, since she had in her service priests of doubtful repute and she was politically ambitious. It was ambition that bought her down and destroyed her husband’s influence at court. In 1440, Humphrey was heir presumptive; if the king should die childless before him, Humphrey would succeed the throne. He was, in the general opinion, a man of power at court and influence over the king, much to the chagrin of his political opponents. Unfortunately, rather than wait for nature to take its course Duchess Eleanor tried to peer into the future to see when Henry would die ‘so that she would be queen.’[26] It was a foolish mistake since it played into the hands of her husband’s enemies, who were bent on destroying him. Eleanor Cobham was, herself, hated and mistrusted for her vaulting ambition, her self-importance and her voracity. In June 1441, her associates Roger Bolingbroke, Thomas Southwell, John Home and Marjery Jurdane (or Jourdemain, also known as the witch of Eye [-in-Westminster]) were arrested and charged with conspiring to bring about the king’s death: Bolingbroke through necromancy, Southwell by celebrating Mass unlawfully with strange heretical accoutrements and Home for taking part with both. Jurdane confessed that she had been long employed by the duchess as a sorceress to concoct potions and medicines to ‘make Duke Humphrey love and marry her.’ Thus incriminated, Eleanor was questioned by an ecclesiastical court on the accusations of sorcery and witchcraft, and by the King’s Council in connection with an alleged conspiracy to murder the king. At first, she strenuously denied all the allegations, but following the admissions by Bolingbroke and Jurdane, she confessed to five of the twenty-eight charges on the indictment, including the fact that she used witchcraft to make duke Humphrey marry her. After further enquiries, Bolingbroke, Southwell, Home and Jurdane were indicted on counts of treason, felony and sorcery in that ‘on various occasions after April 1440…they had used magic figures, vestments and instruments, and invoked evil spirits to anticipate when the [king] would die.’[27] It was also alleged that Eleanor Cobham as wife to the heir presumptive wanted to be queen and wanted to know when it would happen. The outcome was, of course, inevitable. Bolingbroke suffered the full horror of a traitor’s death; Jurdane, of a witch’s death. Southwell died in custody before he could be brought to the scaffold (suicide?). Home was pardoned.


For her spiritual offences, Eleanor Cobham was condemned by an ecclesiastical court of bishops to do public penance and divorced from her husband. She was never tried on the charge of treason. Instead, the King’s Council made administrative arrangements for her to be imprisoned for the remainder of her life. Duke Humphrey was by this time powerless to protect her. Nonetheless, her imprisonment without trial raised certain ‘doubts and ambiguities’ in the minds of some, about whether her case had been resolved by due process of law. It was clear that English peers were entitled to be tried by the judges and peers of the realm; however, there was no provision for the trial of a peeress. Consequently, in 1442 a petition was presented in parliament ‘that all doubt and ambiguity about the trial and judgement of (Eleanor Cobham’s) conviction for treason and felony be removed’. The trial for peeresses was put on the statutory basis that the ‘judges and peers of the realm’ must try them. Eleanor Cobham died still a prisoner in 1457.[28]


The allegation that Elizabeth and her mother had bewitched Edward into marriage is not the only allegation of witchcraft made against members of the Yorkist royal family: nor is it even the first. During Warwick’s rebellion of 1469/70, while the king was a prisoner in Warwick castle, Thomas Wake, one of Warwick’s men, accused Jaquetta of witchcraft. The details of her offence are obscure but it seems that Wake brought to the castle a small lead figure fashioned like a man. The figure was broken in the middle but had been repaired with wire. Wake said that Jaquetta made the figure for use in witchcraft. He also produced John Daunger a witness who said that Jaquetta had two more figures: one for the king, the other for the queen. As there is no accusation that she actually used the figure for supernatural purposes and unless it was held that the mere possession of a lead figures amounted to witchcraft, it is difficult to see on these facts what evidence there was to justify a prosecution. But that is hardly the point, since this accusation was, in all probability, an early attempt to impugn the validity of Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth; and it had Warwick’s bungling footprints all over it. Fortunately, for Jaquetta, the outcome was as predictable as the allegation. Edward recovered control of the kingdom and, unsurprisingly, the case against Jaquetta collapsed. Wake, who had a personal grudge against Jaquetta’s husband, Lord Rivers, was accused of being malicious and Daunger retracted his evidence. In February 1470 the King’s Council (Warwick being present) formally exonerated Edward’s mother-in-law.


Accusations of witchcraft continued to hound the royal family. The duke of Clarence’s conviction and execution for treason has its genesis in the earlier trial and convictions of Thomas Burdet, John Stacy and Thomas Blake for imagining the king and his heir’s deaths by necromancy. Burdet was a servant and close personal friend of Clarence. His involvement in a treasonous plot that could only benefit Clarence, threw suspicion on the duke who made things worse by challenging, what seems to have been, a just conviction and by accusing the king of practicing necromancy.[29] In 1483, Gloucester accused Elizabeth Woodville and her supporters of forecasting his death. I think we can disregard the assertion of the later Tudor historians that he also accused Elizabeth of bewitching his body. King Richard has, himself, disproved that possibility from the grave. I do not offer these examples as proof of the allegation in Titulus Regius but as an indication of the notoriety and significance of witchcraft/sorcery within Yorkist royal circles. The draftsman of Titulus Regius obviously appreciated this point since he inserted a clause at this point stating that the invalidity of Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Grey was a matter of public notoriety; thus reversing the burden of proof.[30] In law, if something was so well known as to be notorious ‘neither witness nor accuser is necessary’.[31] Henry Kelly’s assertion that notoriety only applied to the witchcraft charge and not to the pre contract is irrelevant, since Titulus Regius raised a presumption that the marriage was invalid and everybody knew it was; therefore the burden of proving it was valid fell on Edward and Elizabeth’s children or Elizabeth. Furthermore, Edward’s marriage to Eleanor Butler was secret; it could not by definition be notorious.


That is an important point since the circumstances of the wedding are inconclusive. The best account comes from the pen of Robert Fabyan and was written thirty years or more after the event he describes.

    ‘In most secret manner, upon the first day of May, King Edward spoused Elizabeth, which        spousals were solemnised early in the morning at a town called Grafton, near Stony Stratford; at which marriage were no persons present but the spouse, the spousess, the Duchess of Bedford her mother, the priest, two gentlewomen and a young man to help the priest sing. After which   spousals ended, he went to bed, and so tarried there three or fours hours, and after departed  and rode again to Stony Stratford, and came as though he had been hunting, and there went to  bed again’


It is a plausible story of a secret marriage; the date and the location of the king are corroborated from contemporary records of his known movements. There is nothing substantive in this narrative to support the proposition that Edward was bewitched into a marriage he did not want other than Fabyan’s insinuation about ‘What obloquy ran after this marriage, how the king was enchanted by the Duchess of Bedford and how after he would have refused her‘, which, infuriatingly, he passed over, along with ‘many other things concerning this matter’. This and perhaps the fact that the 30 April was St Walpurgisnacht (otherwise known as the ‘night of the witches’), has encouraged speculation that Edward might have attended a Black Mass at Grafton at which potions, and aphrodisiacs were used to enhance sexual pleasure and to deprive Edward of his senses, so that he could not say no to the marriage.[32] It is not impossible that that is indeed what happened but this material does not prove it. The contrary argument is that Fabyan got the date wrong; the wedding actually took place much later, possibly in August.[33] This argument is based on the premise that Edward is unlikely to have been able to keep his marriage a secret for five months, and that some grants made by the king would seem to be unnecessary if he had just married Elizabeth ‘who could be expected to give him an heir of his own body.‘ It is an explanation for Edward’s delay in revealing the marriage but not necessarily the explanation. The problem with this speculation is, however, that it flies in the face of the facts. Edward plainly did escape his attendants to marry Elizabeth in secret. It’s hard to believe that a man of his resourcefulness and sexual appetites could not successfully repeat the exercise. On the second point, there was no guarantee that the queen would or could bear him a son; indeed, she did not actually do so for six years. Besides, there are many other reasons why Edward might have made the grants. It might, for example, have been patronage expected of him by people who knew nothing of his marriage to Elizabeth and he did not wish to encourage their speculation by not making these grants, which on the face of it were reasonable.


Ultimately, I believe that the actual circumstances of the wedding are beside the point. The invalidation of Edward’s marriage on the ground that he was bewitched did not (in 1483) turn on proof that he was actually bewitched. Titulus Regius was expertly worded so that it was sufficient for the accusation of witchcraft to be plausible not only because of the notoriety surrounding previous allegations of witchcraft within the royal family but also because for many of the King’s subjects it was the only possible explanation for his otherwise inexplicable marriage to a commoner with no dowry or assets, and a large and voracious family to support.


The said feigned marriage was made privately and secretly

The historian Mortimer Levine dismisses the clandestinity of this marriage as a matter of no consequence[34]. He argues that clandestine marriages are valid, binding on the parties and enforceable in law. He is right in principle, but he has over simplified the law in 1483 and jumped to the wrong conclusion. In the fifteenth century, questions of legitimacy were not determined solely on the basis of whether the parents were validly married. There were many subsidiary principles used to determine legitimacy, the most famous being ‘legitimisation by subsequent marriage’. This principle also relied on the parents’ good faith. The reasoning was that parents and children should not be penalised for their ignorance of an impediment. If one of the parents was unaware of the impediment, the children of that union were presumed to be legitimate in law. However, it is unnecessary to consider this issue as the clandestinity of Edward and Elizabeth’s marriage raises the presumption of bad faith, which puts them outside this rule. If their marriage had been open, with banns declared, people would have had an opportunity to object and Edward’s previous marriage to Lady Eleanor Butler might have come to light. Contrary to what Levine says, the secrecy of their wedding is far from irrelevant; it goes to the heart of the problem of their children’s illegitimacy.


Edward had made a contract of matrimony long before he made the feigned marriage

The pre-contract raises two objections; first, that the pre-contract is an invention and second that in any case it would not, on these facts, bastardise Edward’s children. The first objection is a question of fact and turns on the supposed absence of written proof of Stillington’s allegation. It this perceived gap in the paper trail, which sceptics use to challenge the existence of the pre-contract. However, to suggest that there is no written evidence of Edward’s prior marriage is plainly nonsense in the face of the documents we do have: the Parliamentary Roll’s, which confirms the prior marriage, Commynes’ memoirs naming Stillington as the ‘whistle blower’, officiate and only witness apart from the bride and groom, and the Crowland Chronicle. What we do lack, however, is Stillington’s written testimony; we also lack the type of circumstantial detail that adds colour to the bishop’s revelation: the who, what, when, where, how and why questions.[35] Common sense suggests that the mere fact that it was a secret ceremony precludes the possibility of any written contract or promise and it is difficult to know what else would satisfy the sceptics if they doubt even parliament’s integrity in accepting the petition verbatim. Anyhow, it does not necessarily follow from the absence of written proof that Stillington was lying, or that he and Gloucester conspired to tell lies. Moreover, the absence of such written testimony or other proofs is hardly surprising due to the fact that in 1485, King Henry VII was intent in suppressing all knowledge of King Richard’s royal title.


He ordered Titulus Regius, to be repealed without being read (itself unusual in the annals of parliament). The repeal of Titulus Regius was necessary to bolster King Henry’s own weak title, which depended on the legitimacy of his wife Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV. However, his order that all copies should be annulled and utterly destroyed’ on pain of punishment suggests there was more to it than that. Titulus Regius was, he said, ‘to be cancelled, burned and put into oblivion’. Henry’s intention was by his own admission to ensure ‘…that all things said and remembered in the said bill may be forever put out of remembrance and forgot.’ His explanation that he could not bear to have this infamy of his wife and her family remembered is doubtless true but it is not the whole truth. It was a blatant attempt to rewrite the history of King Richard’s royal title. I take Horspool’s point that it doesn’t necessarily follow that Henry thought the pre-contract story was true. However, when coupled with the arrest and subsequent pardoning of Stillington and Henry’s refusal to allow the bishop to be examined by his judges on the facts of the pre-contract, then the inference that he may have had something to hide is almost irresistible. At a time when King Henry would have welcomed proof positive that the pre-contract was a slanderous lie, he chose to suppress it rather than disprove it.


Neither are there any grounds for doubting Stillington’s credibility as a truthful witness to the marriage. Nobody has produced evidence that he invented the pre-contract story either on his own or as part of a conspiracy with Gloucester (as he then was), or that he allowed Gloucester to put him up to it. He did not receive any discernable reward for his revelation there is little force in the assertion that the pre-contract story was known to be false at the time. The only doubts that were expressed came from sources in southern England after his death, at a time when Henry VII was actively suppressing the true history of Titulus Regius.


The pre-contract story was also credible to King Edward IV’s subjects. His promiscuity was notorious. Crowland describes him in general terms as ‘a gross man so addicted to conviviality, vanity, drunkenness, extravagance and passion.’[36] Mancini is more descriptive:


‘He was licentious in the extreme: moreover it was said that had been most insolent to    numerous women after he had seduced them, for, as soon as he grew weary of the         dalliance, he gave up the ladies much against their will to the other courtiers [Hastings,   Rivers and Dorset?]. He pursued with no discrimination the married and unmarried the    noble and the lowly: however he took none by force. He overcame all by money and         promises, and having conquered them, he dismissed them.’[37]


Finally, it is important to bear in mind that the draftsman of Titulus Regius had no need to allege bigamy. As I have already argued, the charge of witchcraft and the claim on notoriety were sufficient to invalidate Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth without the need of a court judgement. If the pre-contract story was not true it’s inclusion in Titulus Regius was a dangerous embellishment, a mistake of the first magnitude, which I do not see such a careful draftsman making.

The second objection raises two questions of law, which I shall deal with individually.[38]

  • The first point relies on the current principle of English law that that bigamy ceases once one of the spouse’s dies. Richard’s detractors argue that no objection could be raised against the validity of Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Grey or against the legitimacy of their children born after Eleanor Butler’s death on the 30 June 1468. However, in the fifteenth century the law was different; in those days under canon law, adultery when coupled with a present contract of marriage was an impediment to the subsequent marriage of the adulterous couple. Based on the facts of this case, the law in 1483 presumed that Edward had ‘polluted’ Elizabeth by adultery; consequently, they were forbidden from marrying at any time in the future, even after the death of Eleanor Butler. Medieval canonists considered this harsh, even unjust. Consequently, to mitigate its effect on an innocent party in a bigamous marriage, exceptions to the rule were allowed. For example, if Elizabeth Grey did not know of Edward’s previous marriage to Eleanor Butler, she would not be committing adultery knowingly and there would be no impediment to her marrying Edward after Eleanor’s death. Of course, whether this exception applied depends on facts we cannot now prove: did Elizabeth know about the pre-contract when she ‘married’ Edward? Unhappily for Edward and Elizabeth no investigation of the facts was or is necessary since the application of this exception rested on the legal presumption that Elizabeth acted in good faith. Owing to the fact that her marriage to Edward was clandestine, the law presumed bad faith on her part. Thus, she could not avail herself of its protection.[39]


  • The second point of law turns on the argument that as Edward and Elizabeth ‘had lived together openly and were accepted by the Church and the nation as man and wife’, King Richard’s claim was too late. Edward and Elizabeth lived openly together for nineteen years. Furthermore, fifteenth century matrimonial law recognised the validity of what we would call a ‘common law marriage’. It was also possible in certain circumstances to presume the legitimacy of any resulting children. However, the problem for Edward’s children continues to be the secrecy of their parents’ wedding. The presumption of validity only extended to marriages conducted in facie ecclesia. Furthermore, canon law specifically allowed questions of bastardy to be raised after the parents’ deaths, in order to settle issues of inheritance. Finally, it was and is a precept of English law that an illegal or improper act cannot be by its continuation over a long time. Far from making things better, Edward’s nineteen-year cohabitation with Elizabeth made them worse.


The Constitutional question

The constitutional question is simply whether Parliament had authority to determine the validity of Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth and the legitimacy of their children. The gist of the argument against parliament is that as a ‘secular court’ it had no such authority, which lay exclusively with the church courts. It is a superficially strong objection against Titulus Regius and no less so for being the first, and the only remotely contemporary one. The Second Continuation of the Crowland Chronicle contains this passage.


 ‘At this sitting [1484] parliament confirmed the title by which the king in the previous        summer ascended the throne and although that lay court found itself (at first) unable to give    a definition of his rights, when the question of the marriage was discussed, still, in          consequence of the fears entertained of the most persevering (of his adversaries), it             presumed to do so, and did so.”[40]


I have used Henry Riley’s nineteenth century translation because in my personal opinion, modern translations that simplify the text in the interests of clarity or ‘good English’ lose too much detail in the process. They are also symptomatic of a general dumbing down of discussion about Titulus Regius by historians. I believe Riley’s text is more accurate and better captures the events and the atmosphere in parliament: the difficulty in defining the king’s rights, the fact that it was only enacted after a debate and the great fear that afflicted even the most resolute. I feel sure that these emotions were present and expressed. We get an idea of the issues that troubled parliamentarians from John Russell’s draft sermon, which he prepared for the opening of parliament. Russell clearly opposed the enactment of Titulus Regius in the form of the petition. He went so far as to describe it as ‘a document conceived in malice and ending in corruption’. It is impossible to believe that after hearing the Lord Chancellor’s explosive sermon criticising the petition and the petitioners, the matter was not debated with keen interest on all sides. It is true that the debate is not recorded in the Parliamentary Roll but we know from an MP’s extant diary of the 1485 parliament that such debates took place, especially on important issues such as the royal title.[41]


Russell was not of course advocating that parliament should refuse to validate Richard’s succession: far from it. His objection was to process and not outcome. He argued that to ratify Richard’s title by inheritance was fraudulent because it was based on ‘false’ information and because it involved a determination on the validity of Edward’s marriage, which he believed parliament should not do. Russell feared above all things division and sedition. He had in mind the October rebellion, which was indicative of the continuing divisions in the English polity. He believed that Titulus Regius in this form was more likely to result in a disputed succession and civil war. He saw the need for an exclusively political solution, which he believed would avoid stepping on the Church’s toes and being more honest and open was something the realm could come to accept. Although he doesn’t say exactly what he had in mind it was probably a simple declaration by parliament that the crown was vested in King Richard and his heirs forever.[42] Russell’s sermon also contained the following statement on the nature and authority of parliament


 ‘In this great body of England we have many diverse members under one head. How be it            they may all be reduced to (iij) chief and principal, which make this high and great court at    this time, that is to say the lords spiritual, the lords temporal and the commons.’ [43]


That is a reference to parliaments political role; significantly, Russell does not imply that parliament is in this instance acting in its judicial capacity. Even so, there was a problem with the notion that parliament could simply declare Richard as king; it, would have been unacceptable to Richard. He was weaned on the Yorkist doctrine of ‘strict legitimacy’ (succession by inheritance). No medieval English king could willingly accept a ‘constitutional’ title granted by parliament since a) it undermined the divinity of kingship and b) what parliament gave it could take back.


Richard harshest biographers suggest that it was fear of his reprisal that encouraged parliament to pass the Act of Settlement;[44] but I disagree for three reasons. First, the sources for these statements are questionable since they are based on hearsay and they only emanate from Richard’s political opponents. Second, no reprisals were taken against Russell despite his public opposition to the petition, he was not discriminated against or ‘punished’ in any way and continued to serve King Richard throughout his reign. The whole theme of Russell’s sermon was unity, which brings peace and stability. I do not think it was the fear of Richard or his henchmen that afflicted the MPs, but fear that a disputed succession would result in a resumption of the Wars of the Roses.[45] Third, the Parliamentary Roll for the 1484 sets out Titulus Regius in full, adding simply that the bill was read, heard and fully understood by everybody present, and that the lords and commons agreed to it. As Rosemary Horrox points out “The enrolled text becomes a statement of the king’s right (and a very detailed one), but there is no suggestion that it was the king’s statement of that right. As presented here (in the Parliamentary Roll), Richard is entirely passive: his only input to receive the bill and send it to the commons for approval.   The lords then gave their assent, and the king, with that assent declared the contents of the bill (and therefore the Roll) to be true.” It would seem that king Richard was deliberately distancing himself from the bill. This may have been in part due to his realisation that the decision the decision to challenge the validity of Edward IV’s marriage was contentious.[46] It is also worth noting Horrox’s later opinion that although parliament seems to be acquiescent “… the impression from the Roll is that this was something to be earned. There is no suggestion, as the hostile Crowland Chronicler insisted, Richard was browbeating parliament from a position of strength.”


The depositions of Edward II and Richard II are testament to the need for parliamentary assent to the dethroning of a crowned and anointed monarch. The Duke of York’s disputed claim to the throne in 1460 is further evidence that a disputed royal succession was a matter of state, which could only be resolved by the king and parliament.[47] The precedents therefore support the necessity for parliamentary assent to a royal succession where the title is controversial.   Naturally, those involved in the fourteenth century depositions had to conform to the legal niceties; nevertheless, the decision in each case was political as was the outcome. The situation in 1483 was completely different; it was, to use legal jargon, sui generis (unique). Both Edward II and Richard II were demonstrably unfit to rule. Whereas, Edward V was a minor; he had not been crowned and was too young to be guilty of misrule. The attack on the validity of his parent’s marriage was therefore a device to give sufficient cause for Edward’s deposition and the barring of his siblings from the line of succession. The overriding raison d’état was the fear that Edward V’s minority would result in Woodville hegemony and a resumption of civil war. On that basis alone, the proposition that only the church courts had jurisdiction, is a doubtful one. To explain that argument I must delve briefly into the evolution of parliament into the king’s court of justice and a national assembly made up of the ‘three estates of the realm’.


In the beginning, the feudal parliament was the king’s court; it was the highest court he had. From the thirteenth century, it began to develop a dual role as a court of law and a political body involved in affairs of state. It became not just the king’s highest court but also his most solemn council. By the fifteenth century, the concept of parliament as a nationally representative body was prominent. Henry V famously told the Pope that he couldn’t change English law without the assent of Parliament. In 1420, the Treaty of Troyes had to be ratified by the English Parliament. By 1467 the Lord Chancellor, Robert Stillington was able to declare that justice depended on the ‘three estates’ of the realm that sat in parliament. It is in that context that Dr AR Myers considers that Parliament’s declaration of Richard III’s legitimacy and Edward V’s bastardy, and their recognition of Richard’s hereditary right, ‘justly grounded on the laws of God, nature and the realm’, was the most important step in the evolution of parliament at that time. ‘This is’, he writes, ‘a specially striking example of the way that the older notion of parliament had had grafted onto it the idea of a national assembly acting on behalf of the three estates, combining with the king to provide an authority of parliament, which would otherwise have been lacking.’ [48] The importance of this declaration cannot be overestimated since it sets out clearly parliament’s own definition of its authority and why it acted as it did on the question of the royal title. After acknowledging that the people at large may not have understood the royal title expressed in the petition, the declaration continues.


 ‘And moreover, the court of parliament is of such authority, and experience teaches that the  people of this land are of such nature and disposition that the manifestation and declaration  of any truth or right made by the three estates of this realm assembled in parliament, and   by authority of the same, before all other things commands the most faith and certainty,  and in quieting men’s minds, removes the occasion of all doubt and seditious language.  Therefore at the request and by the assent of the three estates of the realm, that is to say  the lords spiritual and temporal and the commons of this land assembled in this present   parliament by authority of the same, be it pronounced, decreed and announced that our   said sovereign lord the king was and is the true and undoubted king of this realm of  England … by right of consanguinity and inheritance, as well as by lawful election,     consecration and coronation.’[49]


So there we have it: parliament did not regard itself as a judicial body giving judgement in a court case. Indeed, it could not do so in the name of the three estates since the commons lacked judicial authority. Only the lords in parliament had the power to try court cases bought before them. The bill was passed as an Act of Settlement to which the king and the three estates assented.[50]


It is right to say, as Chrimes does, that whatever the prevailing relationship was between state and church, ‘ecclesiastical courts were neither expected nor required to enforce statutes in cases within their jurisdiction’.[51] Furthermore, fifteenth century civil judges were usually careful not to encroach on the English Church’s rights or authority where spiritual matters were concerned. Even so, the exclusivity of canon law in the ecclesiastical courts did not stop Parliament from passing statutes prescribing their jurisdiction and, on occasion, supplanting canon law.[52] Legislation was also enacted to prevent canon law overriding substantive ecclesiastical law; even matters that fell well within the Church’s purview did not escape statutory definition. For example, issues related to temporalities, sanctuary, benefit of clergy, legitimacy by subsequent marriage and heresy were not left entirely to Church judgement.[53] This was especially so, on cases (like this) that touched the boundary between church and state. By the last quarter of the fifteenth century statute law had surpassed common law and some canon law in importance. The view that parliamentary statutes bound judges was prevalent even then.


Even if we accept for the purposes of argument that a church court ought first to have determined the question of legitimacy, it was simply impracticable. First there is the problem of the ‘law’s delay. Following the sovereign’s death, time is of the essence. His successor has to assume the reins of government speedily to ensure the continuous peace, prosperity and defence of the realm. Litigation in those circumstances would have been unduly time-consuming. And it would also have raised the possibility of an appeal to the Pope, which were to happen would have had political repercussions rendering any legal judgement nugatory. It is unlikely that the English Parliament would accept the notion that a foreign power could determine the next king of England in a courtroom. Third, there is the factional dimension; a purely legal judgement was unlikely to resolve the factional dispute underlying this whole episode, or reduce the risk of civil war. The royal succession could not be decided by a lawyer or a foreigner or in any way that ignored the realpolitik in which the whole question of Edward V’s legitimacy arose. A legal solution was impossible to achieve in 1483.


The claim of Edward of Warwick

Finally, I must address the claim that even if Edward IV’s children were illegitimate, Edward of Warwick was the rightful heir to the throne ahead of Gloucester. Mortimer Levine challenges the view that Edward of Warwick was barred from succeeding because his father was an attainted traitor. There are two limbs to Levine’s argument. First that Clarence’s Act of Attainder only specifically barred Edward of Warwick from inheriting his father’s ducal title and second, the common-law principle against attainted people from inheriting, does not apply to the royal succession. By way of example, he cites Henry VI and Edward IV, both of whom succeeded to the throne after being attainted. Levine regards Clarence’s attainder as unimportant and an excuse to bar Warwick from the crown, and a legal pretext for Gloucester’s usurpation. He may be right about Warwick’s exclusion being a pretext but he has, nonetheless, underestimated the importance of the attainder and the difficulties posed for young Warwick. Professor Lander has described the attainders passed on the Yorkists in 1459, which gives us a feel for the nature of attainment “ They were to suffer the most solemn penalty known to the common law. Treason was the most heinous of all offences. Its penalties ruined the traitor’s descendants as well as the traitor himself. The offender was held worthy of death inflicted with extremities of bodily pain…his children, their blood corrupted, could succeed to neither the paternal nor the maternal inheritance. The traitor died in the flesh, his children before the law.” The children of an attainted traitor lost all their civil rights. They had no status.  Some even questioned their right to live after attainder.[54] It’s true, that that Henry VI and Edward IV succeeded to the throne after they were attainted, but they both had powerful armies at their back to enforce their right. In 1483, nobody was interested in supporting the child of traitor, who was incapable of ruling England anyway. It is quite possible that if a strong faction of nobles had supported him, his attainder might have been reversed. However, that never happened.[55]



There is something Dickensianly repellent about a ‘wicked uncle’ who, to benefit himself, deprives his nephews and nieces of their just inheritance through legal trickery and sharp practice; that is the opinion of King Richard III that persists. The reason for this, is found in the historical treatment of the king beginning in the sixteenth century and continuing to the twenty-first century. The early histories were influenced by the Tudor narrative, which described King Richard as irredeemably wicked. Later historians have, with a few exceptions, followed suite. The historiography is marked by a tendency to simplify the issues to overcome gaps in the evidence and to judge King Richard through the prism of modern attitudes and culture. Nowhere is this more apparent than the historical treatment of Titular Regius. It is natural that some people will think there is something unjust and dishonest about depriving children of their rights without them being heard. We don’t need the Tudor histories to realise that King Richard’s contemporaries had doubts and uncertainties about the manner by which he came to the throne, or that his title was ambiguous to some; we know that this was so from contemporary documents. Moreover, we also know that those doubts uncertainties and ambiguities were expressed at the time and they were resolved by the national Parliament. The problem. I have tried to highlight in this article is that the intellectual debate about the events of 1483 has become personalized and is prejudiced. Insufficient attention is paid to the realpolitik of the time. The underlying fear was of a resumption of the Wars of the Roses and was the driving force behind Edward V’s deposition. There was no appetite for a boy-king in such highly charged circumstances, especially one controlled by the Woodvilles


Although I have little doubt that Parliament was empowered to enact Richard’s Act of Settlement, I sympathize with Chancellor Russell’s view that to enact the petition verbatim was not the best way to resolve the doubts, uncertainties and ambiguities of doubters. it was possibly even disingenuous, in that it used the law to mask a crude political act. Having said that, I cannot escape the fact that the bill seemed to have been passed through the three estates without a mention of dissent in the Parliamentary Roll. I believe that those who argue that this was through fear of Richard and his henchmen do parliamentarians a disservice by suggesting they were so craven. Ultimately, the importance of Parliament as the national law–making institution under the King’s estate transcended the canon and the common law in resolving state issues of this weight and importance


I have written elsewhere of my belief that Richard III was an exceptionally brave man in the fullest sense: on the battlefield and in the council chamber. I also believe he liked to do the right thing. Evidence of these qualities and his potential for good are seen in the significant judicial reforms he made in what was his only parliament. However, I believe he relied overmuch on his courage to overcome all obstacles: consequently, he did not always do the right thing for himself. The thorny question of his royal title is arguably one of those issues wherein he might have done better to temper his strong sense of right and wrong with a more realistic stance. A simple parliamentary declaration that he was king would not have softened the blow for Edward IV’s children or have met the Yorkist ideal and it was not in his nature be less than the man he was; nevertheless, it may have had a better chance of acceptance, thus enabling him to consolidate his reign.[56]


[1] A Conan-Doyle – The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Penguin 1981) p.1

[2]. Horace Walpole -The Historic Doubts and Refutation of the Traditional Account of Richard III’s life and reign (1768) published in Paul Murray Kendall (editor) – Richard III: the Great Debate   (Folio Society 1965)

[3]. Charles Ross – Richard III (Yale 1999) at p.64. This is still considered to be the standard biography of Richard III

[4]. Ross at p. LXVI

[5]. John Gillingham (editor) – Richard111: a medieval kingship (Collins & Brown 1993) passim

[6] David Horspool – Richard III: a ruler and his reputation (Bloomsbury 2017); Chris Skidmore – Richard III: brother, protector, king (Weidenfield & Nicolson 2017)

[7] . Phillipé De Commynes – Memoirs: the reign of Louis XI 1461-1483 (Penguin 1972) pp.353-354.

[8]. Sir James Gairdner – History of the Life and Reign of Richard III (Longman Green 1878) pp.113-115.

[9]  Sir Clement Markham –Richard III: his life and character (Alex Struick 2013 paperback edition) at p.101.

[10] Alison Hanham – The Cely Letters (EETS Oxford 1975) pp. 159-160. Stallworth’s correspondence is helpfully reproduced in full in Peter A Hancock- Richard III and the murder in the Tower – (The History Press 2011) Appendix 1, pp.158-59

[11] Hanham (Cely Letters) pp.184-85; see also Michael Hicks – Richard III (Tempus 2000 edition) p.45, for a different translation of this letter.

[12] The Book of Wisdom, Chapter 4, Verse 3 ‘Bastard slips shall not take deep root, nor take firm hold.’ Scholars generally agree that the book of Wisdom deprecates any compromise with false idolatry. Richard’s strong sense of right and wrong was probably in tune with such views.

[13] AH Thomas et al [eds] – The Great Chronicle of London (London 1938) pp.231-233

[14] Paul Murray Kendall – Richard the Third (Geo Allen & Unwin, 1955) p.477, note 21

[15] AJ Armstrong (ed) – Dominic Mancini: the Usurpation of King Richard III (Oxford, 1969) at p. 95

[16] The Great Chronicle; ibid

[17] Mancini p. 97

[18] SB Chrimes – English Constitutional Ideas in the Fifteenth Century (Cambridge 1936) pp.123-125

[19] Chris Givern-Wilson [Ed] – The Parliamentary Rolls of Medieval England 1275-1504 (Boydell 2005), Vol XV. Rosemary Horrox [Ed] – Richard III 1484 p.14 [PROME]

[20] PROME pp.14-18

[21] Charles T Wood – The deposition of Edward V (Traditio Vol.30, 1935) p.236

[22] Anne Sutton-Richard III’s ‘Tytylle & Right’; a new discovery (Ricardian, Vol IV, No 57, June 1977) pp. 2-8, together with subsequent correspondence with Charles T Wood in J Petre (ed)-Richard III: crown and people (Richard III Society 1985) pp.51-56.

[23] David Horspool-Richard III: a ruler and his reputation (Bloomsbury 2017 edition) pp.164-165 and 290, note

[24] I am summarising three articles about this matter. Mary O’Regan – The Pre-Contract and its Effect on the Succession in 1483 (Ricardian) Vol IV, No 54 (Sept 1976) pp. 2-7; this is reproduced in Richard III: crown and people pp. 51-56; also, Anne Sutton (Tytylle & Right) ibid; also R H Helmholz – The Sons of Edward IV, a Canonical Assessment of the Claim they were Illegitimate, published in PW Hammond (ed) – Richard III: loyalty, lordship and law (Richard III and Yorkist Historical Trust 1986) pp. 91-103.

[25] HA Kelly – The Case Against Edward IV’s Marriage and Offspring: secrecy, witchcraft: secrecy: pre-contract (Ricardian Vol. XI No.142 September 1999) pp. 329-330.

[26] Ralph Griffiths – The Trial of Eleanor Cobham: an episode in the fall of Duke Humphrey of Gloucester (Bulletin of John Ryland’s Diary 1969) 51(2) pp. 381-399

[27] Griffiths ibid

[28] Griffiths ibid

[29] Michael Hicks – False, Fleeting, Perju’d Clarence (Alan Sutton 1980) chapter IV passim; see also, John Ashdown-Hill – The Third Plantagenet: George Duke of Clarence (History Press 2014) chapters 11 and 12 passim. Both these biographies deal with the issues of the Burdet trial comprehensively and each contains a nuanced interpretation of events. David MacGibbon’s claim that Clarence accused Elizabeth of witchcraft did not form part of the accusation against him at his trial (See David MacGibbon – Elizabeth Woodville (Amberley 2013) pp.104 and 216, notes 18 and 21.

[30] PROME ibid

[31] PROME ibid; see also Helmholz p.98

[32] Annette Carson – Richard III: the maligned king (History Press 2014) pp. 138-140 citing WE Hampton- Witchcraft and the Sons of York (Ricardian March 1980)

[33] David Baldwin -Elizabeth Woodville (History Press 2010) pp.10-11, pp150-154 passim; Susan Higginbottom – The Woodvilles (History Press 2015) pp.31-32

[34] Mortimer Levine – Tudor Dynastic Problems 1460-1571 (George Allen and Unwin 1973), esp pp.28-31; Professor Levine is a historian and not, in the legal sense, an expert witness on 15th century canon law.

[35] See John Ashdown-Hill – The Secret Queen: Eleanor Talbot (History Press 2016) pp.120-139 for an intriguing discussion of the circumstances of Edward’s alleged marriage to Eleanor: how they met, became lovers and were secretly married. See also Peter A Hancock – Richard III and the murder in the Tower – (History Press 2011) pp.33-43 for an alternative theory. Like all conjecture these theories are based on inferences drawn from circumstantial evidence. Though both theories are credible, differences in detail suggests that at least one of them is wrong.

[36]. Nicholas Pronay and John Cox (editors) – The Crowland Chronicle Continuations 1459-1486 (Richard III and Yorkist History Trust 1986) p.153.

[37]. Mancini p.67

[38] Levine ibid

[39] Helmholz ibid

[40] Henry Riley (Trans) – Ingulph’s Chronicle of the Abbey of Croyland with continuations by Peter Blois and anonymous authors (London 1854); see also Pronay and Cox, pp.169-170, which is an honest attempt to provide scholars with a serviceable edition of the second continuation. However, the authors’ simplification and modernization of complex Medieval Latin has changed the sense significantly, as can be seen by the following extract, which is provided for comparison. “…I come to the parliament which began about the 22 January (1484). In that assembly indeed the title by which the king, in the previous summer, had ascended to the height of the crown was corroborated even though that lay court was not empowered to determine on it since there was a dispute concerning the validity of a marriage, nevertheless, it presumed to do so and did so on account of the great fear affecting the most steadfast.” It is also worth considering Alison Hanham’s pithy translation, which is due, in part to her desire to translate Medieval Latin into ‘good English’. ‘Over and beyond confirmation of the title by which the king had ascended to the dignity of the crown the previous summer, that lay court took it upon itself to give a ruling on the validity of a marriage. It could not do so, but it did because of the great fear that afflicted the most staunch.’ (Alison Hanham – Remedying Mischief; Bishop John Russell and the royal title. [Ricardian Vol.12, No.151, December 2000 p.146])

[41] Nicholas Pronay et al – Parliamentary Texts of the Late Middle Ages (Clarendon, Oxford 1980) at p.186 (“A Colchester Account of Proceedings in Parliament 1485, by representatives of the Borough of Colchester Thomas Christmas and John Vertue’)

[42] Russell’s drafts are reproduced by JD Nichols [Ed] – Grants etc. from the Crown during the reign of Edward V (Camden Soc 1854) pp.xxxv-Lxiii; and also by Chrimes pp. 167-191; the draft sermons are also discussed extensively by professor Alison Hanham (Remedying Mischief) passim; see also PROME pp.2-4, 8. []

[43] Chrimes ibid

[44] Horspool pp. 161-165 passim; Horspool prefers innuendo to outright statement but it is clear the he damns Richard’s motives and his methods. Its a pity therefore that he undermines the credibility of his argument by cherry picking his examples and, even then, getting some of the facts wrong. For example, he states that Richard’s use of the pre-contract to bastardize Edward broke with ‘established precedent principally in not giving the children in question or their mother a chance to reply’. It is an erroneous point, since there was no ‘established precedent’ for this situation; it, was unique. What precedent does show, is that no king could be deposed without the assent of ‘three estates of parliament’ and it is in that context, and not a court case that the deposition should be seen. See also Skidmore pp.184-195.

[45] Pronay and John pp.169-171

[46] See PROME Vol XV pp. 5 and 7

[47] Anne Curry and R.E. Horrox – 1460 PROME, Vol XII, Henry VI Parliament, October at pages 510 and 518. Even though the situations in 1460 and 1483 were different, the principle that the royal accession was not justiciable was well established

[48] A R Myers – Parliament 1422 -1509 [published in RG Davies & J H Denton (eds) – The English Parliament in the Middle Ages (Manchester UP 1999 edition) pp.153-154].

[49] PROME Vol XV ibid; see also Myers p.153

[50] For the text of Titulus Regius see Rolls of Parliament (Rotuli Parliamentorum), 6 volumes (London 1776-77) vol. 6, at pp.240-42.  A photographic facsimile of the original (with the seal shown) is available online at . There are two versions: the first in Middle English and the second with modern spelling. Despite some suggestion that Titulus Regius is not an ‘Act of Parliament’, it clearly is. It states the ‘law’ of the land insofar as king Richard’s royal title is concerned. It is also is described in the Statute Book as an ‘Act of Settlement’. An ‘Act of Parliament ‘ is defined at:

[51] Chrimes p.285

[52] Chrimes pp.285-288; see also Myers pp. 146,149 and 153

[53] Chrimes ibid

[54] J R Lander – Government and Community 1450-1509 (Edward Arnold 1980) p.203; see also J G Bellamy – The Law of Treason in the Later Middle Ages (Cambridge UP 1970) pp. 8-9, 13 and 21. Although the punishment of traitor depended on royal clemency, it usually involved a particularly gruesome, humiliating and painful death and forfeiture of everything the traitor owned. The children of an attainted man could inherit nothing from their father; as professor Bellamy points out, if he succeeded to anything after the attainder, it would happen by grace rather than right. One commentator even questioned why a traitor’s children should be suffered to live at all.

[55] See Charles Ross – Edward IV (BCA 1975) p.155, in which professor Ross discusses Clarence’s exemplification as Henry VI’s heir. See also Levine pp. 26-27 for his opinion. It is interesting to ponder Edward of Warwick’s wider significance as a Yorkist heir once Titulus Regius was repealed.   Henry VII’s response was to keep the hapless boy imprisoned in the Tower until he was old enough to be decently executed.

[56] PROME Vol XV p. 97; this was the solution to the conundrum of Henry VII’s lack of a royal title. In stark contrast to elaborate the justification of Richard’s title in Titulus Regius, Henry VII, in his first parliament, simply declared that the crown and all its possessions was vested in Henry and the heirs of his body forever and had been so since the 21 August 1485: justification was deemed unnecessary.

The Strange Death of Lancastrian England

When Henry IV had his final succession statute passed through Parliament he made no provision for the throne beyond his children and their offspring. Neither the Beauforts, the Yorks, or even the Hollands got so much as a line. This was quite understandable, given that he had four sons and two daughters. No one could have been expected to anticipate that those six young people would produce but two legitimate heirs between them. Of these, Blanche’s son, Rupert of Germany, died in 1426. The other was the future Henry VI, who would turn out to be (arguably) the least capable person ever to rule this country.

That Henry IV had doubts about the Beauforts (especially the eldest, who was certainly conceived in Sir Hugh Swynford’s lifetime) seems to be clear from his decision to explicitly exclude them from any rights to the succession in his exemplification of Richard II’s statute of legitimisation. But – at the time – any prospect of the Beauforts getting a sniff of the crown was remote in the extreme, and Henry’s exclusion of their claim was almost an irrelevance.

Once Henry V had dealt with the Cambridge Plot and gone on to win the Battle of Agincourt, the prospects for the Lancastrian dynasty looked rosy indeed. A few years on, with the Duke of Burgundy murdered by supporters of the Dauphin, Henry found a powerful ally in the new Burgundy (Philip the Good), and soon afterwards concluded the Treaty of Troyes with Charles VI, by which he (Henry) was declared Heir and Regent of France, and married to Charles’s daughter, Katherine of Valois. The Dauphin (future Charles VII) was disinherited.

This might be seen as the high-water point of the entire Lancastrian dynasty. What could possibly go wrong? Well, for a start, there was an awful lot of France still to conquer, and the people living there had not simply laid down their arms and accepted Henry on hearing of the Treaty. Meanwhile, Parliament, back in England, was already growing reluctant to pay for the necessary war. As they saw it, Henry had won his (not England’s) realm of France – great! Now it was now up to that realm, not England, to pay the cost of putting down the ‘rebels’ who so inconveniently still occupied the greater part of it. This probably seemed quite reasonable to the Honourable Members, with their typically English dislike of paying tax. However, assuming that the war was to be won, it was a completely unrealistic attitude to take.

Henry’s next brother in age, Thomas, Duke of Clarence was killed at the Battle of Bauge (21 March 1421). Clarence made the mistake of advancing on the enemy without his supporting archers, and the result was a costly defeat, both in terms of men killed and captured and in the boost the victory gave to French (or technically Armagnac) morale. Among those captured was the head of the Beaufort family, John, Earl of Somerset. He was to remain a captive until 1438, though it must be said he was not much missed.

So matters stood when King Henry died on 31 August, 1422, at the relatively young age of 35. Ironically, he never wore the crown of France as his father-in-law, the hapless Charles VI, contrived to outlive him.

Some authors have suggested that if Henry had lived, things might have turned out differently. I doubt it, because it wouldn’t have made the English Parliament any more generous, and that was the key factor. As Regent of France Henry was succeeded by his brother, John, Duke of Bedford, one of the most able rulers to emerge in the entire middle ages. Bedford was an efficient soldier, politician and administrator. He proved the former by commanding at the Battle of Verneuil (17 August 1424) which was in some respects a more crushing victory than Agincourt. His skill as politician and administrator prolonged the life of the English Kingdom of France, and it’s unlikely that anyone (even Henry V) could have done much better.

Bedford’s task was not made easier by his only surviving (and younger) brother, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. Gloucester was to prove something of a loose cannon throughout his remaining career. He was Protector of England (during Bedford’s (usual) absence from the country), but his official powers were limited, much to his frustration. When he was not arguing with his uncle, Bishop Henry Beaufort, he was ‘marrying’ Jacqueline, Countess of Hainault and Holland, and fighting against England’s ally, Philip of Burgundy, in an attempt to secure her inheritance. (I say ‘marrying’ because, inconveniently, the lady already possessed a living husband, and in due course the Pope declared her ‘marriage’ to Humphrey invalid. Not that matters were quite that simple.)

Humphrey went on to marry his former ‘wife’s’ lady-in-waiting, Eleanor Cobham. This was clearly a love match, not least because it seems Eleanor was his mistress before he married her. However, they were fated not to have children together, and Humphrey’s only offspring, Arthur and Antigone, were illegitimate.

Bedford’s own marriage, to Anne of Burgundy, was arranged for reasons of state, but nevertheless it proved a successful one at a personal level. Unfortunately, it also remained childless. This may help to explain why Bedford was so quick to marry Jacquetta of Luxembourg after Anne’s death. It is sometimes suggested that the swift remarriage angered Anne’s brother, the Duke of Burgundy, but if so it was only in the way of one more straw on the camel’s back. Philip’s attachment to the English alliance had been waning for some time. He was able to see the way the wind was blowing. Bedford’s death (14 September 1435) made matters still worse and left the English leadership in some disarray, but the Congress of Arras was already in progress at the time. Although the English were invited to take part, the terms offered to them were totally unacceptable. Burgundy, on the other hand, was accommodated and was happy to make a separate peace with Charles VII. From that moment on the English Kingdom of France was doomed (if it was not already) and the remarkable thing is not that it ultimately fell, but that it struggled on until 1453.

Objectively, the English probably ought to have accepted the Arras peace, however harsh, as it would have left them something of their conquests. However, this is to ignore the political situation in England. Hardliners such as Gloucester essentially regarded the acceptance of anything short of the terms of the Treaty of Troyes as bordering on treason. This was a totally unrealistic view to hold, in view of the improvement of the French position in both political and military terms, but questions of personal and national honour were in play, and common sense was banished from the equation.

Henry VI began his personal rule at the age of 16 in 1437. While the depth of his incompetence was not yet apparent, even the most able of rulers would have faced a daunting task. The kingdom was next door to bankruptcy and quite unable adequately to finance the cost of fighting the ongoing war in France. The reinforcements sent abroad gradually grew smaller in number, and it was increasingly difficult to find commanders of a suitable rank who were willing to participate. While the war had, in the past, been profitable for some private individuals – if not for the nation – anyone with any sense could calculate that the opportunities for profit were shrinking by the day, while on the other hand there was a much increased prospect of being captured and having to pay ransom oneself. In other words, the war was an increasingly bad investment.

As for the Lancastrian dynasty, it now comprised, as far as males were concerned, Henry VI and his Uncle Humphrey. It scarcely helped that these two were completely at odds as to how to settle the war, the King being for peace at almost any price, while Gloucester was of the ‘one last heave’ school, and believed that a suitably large English army (preferably led by himself) would smash the French in another Agincourt and enable the English to impose their own terms. (It was actually an academic argument, as Parliament was not willing to finance the cost of such an expedition, and it’s questionable whether enough men could have been put together even had the taxes been forthcoming.)

The Duchess of Gloucester’s ill-advised attempts to find via astrology and/or magic whether she was to bear a child, and for how long Henry VI would live were a perfect gift to Gloucester’s political opponents. Her fall from grace (which involved not only penitential parades through London but life imprisonment for the unfortunate woman) had consequences for her husband, whose remaining political influence was virtually destroyed overnight. Since they were forcibly divorced, Gloucester could, in theory, have married again but in practice he did not. So when he died on 23 February 1447, the sole remaining legitimate male member of the Lancastrian family was Henry VI himself. (Unless you count the Beauforts, and as far as legitimate accession to the throne or the Duchy of Lancaster is concerned, you really shouldn’t.)

By this time, Henry had secured a sort of peace (no more than a short truce bought at the cost of great concessions) and as part of the bargain had married Margaret of Anjou. Though in due course this union produced a son, Edward, it would appear that the deeply-religious King found married life something of a chore. There is no real reason to assume that Prince Edward was not fathered by Henry, but there were rumours around that he was not. Rumours were of course a commonplace of medieval England. (They were often slanderous, and are only taken seriously by historians when they are negative and concern Richard III.)

The Lancastrian dynasty, which within living memory had seem rock solid and beyond challenge, was now on its last legs. The loss of Lancastrian France was inevitable, given the crown’s lack of resources. However, there were many in England all too ready to blame the disaster on the shortcomings of the King and his advisers. Henry’s limited political skills, his tendency to put complete trust in certain favoured counsellors to the exclusion of his powerful cousin, York, and the rising influence of Queen Margaret all added to a toxic political mixture. Of course, in addition to all this, the King was increasingly troubled by mental health problems that at times left him catatonic for months on end. These attacks gave York a couple of opportunities to rule as Protector, but the usual way of things was that as soon as the King recovered he went back to his reliance on Queen Margaret and whichever Somerset was currently alive.

Despite his dismal record as a ruler, very few people seem to have disliked Henry VI personally, and that is one reason why he survived in power as long as he did. Indeed, it might be argued that even York and his allies did all they could to keep Henry on his throne. It was only after the Battle of Wakefield and the death of York himself that the Yorkist faction decided they had no choice but make a clean sweep.


The Lonely Death of Duke Humphrey


{Humphrey of Gloucester’s quarters marked by a plaque, now near Bury St. Edmunds’ Tesco and opposite the railway station.}

Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, was the youngest son of Henry IV (Bolingbroke) and so the youngest brother of Henry V, with whom he fought at Agincourt.After the death of Henry V, he became Protector (in England) for his nephew Henry VI, although his powers were always limited, and at times superseded, not least when his elder brother, Bedford, came home from France.

Humphrey was a man of pronounced opinions, and was not always noted for his responsibility. For example, his actions in trying to take power in Flanders, on the basis of a very dubious marriage to Countess Jacqueline of Holland,Zeeland and Hainault, helped drive a huge wedge between England and its principal ally, Burgundy.

By 1441, Jacqueline was long gone, and Humphrey was married to his sometime mistress, Eleanor Cobham. It was through this lady that his enemies opened their attack against him.

Why did Humphrey have enemies? It is simplistic to speak of a ‘war party’ and a ‘peace party’ at court. There was a range of opinions, and most people recognised that the long, losing war with France needed to be settled by negotiation. The burning question of the day was how far should concessions be made. Humphrey was not inclined to make any concessions at all. He strenuously opposed the release of the Duke of Orleans (in English custody since 1415) and seems to have taken the view that nothing much would do except the implementation of the Treaty of Troyes in full. Given the military situation in France at this time (and indeed for some years before) this was totally unrealistic. Humphrey appears to have thought that ‘one last push’ would do it. That a powerful English army, sent into France, would win another Agincourt and the supporters of Charles VII would just give up.

The snag with this theory is that England did not have the resources (in men and money) to put such an army in the field. The crown was hugely in debt, and Parliament was reluctant to find money for ambitious ventures on the scale required. (In addition, there is really no reason to think that even another Agincourt would have made Charles VII give up. His armed forces had gone from strength to strength, and the French had amply proved their resilience.)

Henry VI was strongly in favour of peace at almost any price. His preferred advisers (Suffolk and Somerset) took a similar view, but undoubtedly felt threatened by Humphrey and his supporters. The King’s uncle was still popular in certain circles (notably London) and he and those who thought like him were apt to categorise any concession to the French as treason – or at least the next thing to it.

(The parallel with Richard II and his dispute with his Uncle Gloucester, Thomas of Woodstock, in the 1390s is almost complete. Except that Humphrey had at least seen serious action in the field, which was more than could be said for Woodstock.)

Eleanor Cobham consulted astrologers. There was nothing wrong with this, as it was common practice among the upper classes. Where she made her mistake was to ask Thomas Southwell and Roger Bolingbroke to cast a horoscope for Henry VI. They predicted he would die in July or August 1441. This was ‘imagining the death of the King’ and counted as high treason. How the powers-that-be learned of the matter is unknown, but governments generally have spies. Southwell was lucky to die in prison, Bolingbroke (the principal of St Andrew’s Hall, Oxford) was hanged drawn and quartered and Margery Jourdemayne (who had provided Eleanor with potions to help her conceive) was burnt at the stake, presumably because her actions were considered treasonable.

As for the Duchess herself, she was made to perform a Jane Shore style penance through the streets of London on three occasions, then imprisoned for life. She was also forcibly divorced from her husband by the church authorities.

Although there was no suggestion that Duke Humphrey was personally involved in the matter, the outcome of these events was that he became a pariah at Court, and much of the obstruction to the King’s peace plans were removed.

However, Gloucester’s enemies still did not feel secure. In particular, the proposed cession of Maine (as part of the package that would eventually bring Margaret of Anjou to England) was highly controversial and was likely to lead to opposition which Gloucester would be well qualified to lead. The Parliament of February 1447 was likely to provide a suitable platform. Suffolk (or someone close to him) decided that a pre-emptive strike against Humphrey would be the thing, and the only suitable method was an accusation of treason.

The Parliament was moved at short notice from Cambridge (where Humphrey had some support in the University) to St. Albans. When Gloucester arrived he was greeted by two knights, John Stourton and Thomas Stanley (apparently the father of that Thomas Stanley). They persuaded him to go straight to his lodgings instead of attending the King. Later that day, a group of peers, headed by Somerset, arrested him, and his request to be allowed to see Henry VI were denied. Over the next few days forty of his followers, including his natural son, Arthur, were arrested.

Although Yorkist chronicles suggest that Gloucester was murdered, it seems more likely that the shock brought on a major stroke or a similar medical event. He lay in bed for three days, unresponsive, before dying on 23 February 1447.

Eight of his followers, including his son, were found guilty of treason, but were quite literally reprieved on the gallows and given pardons. It is highly unlikely they were guilty of anything. The allegations were that Gloucester had been planning a rising in Wales, or that alternatively he had planned to kill Henry VI during the Parliament, make himself King and free his wife. Neither seems credible.

Had Humphrey not died when he did, it’s unlikely he’d have been given a fair trial, as some of his property was granted away several days before his death, and much more on the day of it. He was rich and therefore a target for the land-hungry. The Duke of York, outside the ruling clique and with considerable property, no doubt took due note. It is hardly surprising that York grew increasingly suspicious of the likes of Suffolk and Somerset – he had good reason.

On the last day of the Parliament, Eleanor Cobham was declared legally dead, to ensure she had no possible claim on Duke Humphrey’s estate. It is interesting to note that Edward IV was not the first to think of such a device.


Conquest; Juliet Barker.

The Reign of King Henry VI; Ralph A. Griffiths.

 Henry VI; Bertram Wolffe



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