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An Analysis of the causes of the Wars and the course which they took.

Michael D. Miller

Chapter 29: Burgundy deserts the alliance with England - 1435


The meeting at Nevers - January/February 1435

Philip had made a 6 year truce with France in 1431 as an obvious preliminary, to those who cared to read the signs,  to a full peace treaty[page ]. He had loathed and despised La Tremoille, and could never have done business with somebody he regarded as a parvenu wretch. Now the 'adventurers' were gone, and France once more had a government of high-born and respectable people. Cautious as he was by nature, Philip now felt the time had come to take his objective of peace with King Charles VII a step further.

A meeting was arranged at Nevers in January 1435. It began with the air of a family gathering of Philip himself, his sisters, and his two brothers-in-law, who were Arthur of Brittany and Charles, Compte de Clermont who had figured so prominently in the battle of the Herrings 1429 [page ].

Charles had recently become Duke de Bourbon on the death of his father John, one of the Agincourt prisoners, who had died on 5th January 1434 in the Tower of London. There also came the Chancellor of France, Regnault de Chartres. The first days were pleasantly spent in hunting, feasting, and enjoying the other entertainments which their host, the Compte de Nevers, could offer.

Business conferences began on 20th January 1435, and it was soon apparent that the French had come with very detailed instructions. It was soon agreed that a peace Congress should be held at Arras on 1st July 1435, to which the English should be invited. The Pope should also be asked to intervene and send emissaries. The French should make 'reasonable offers' to the English, and if they were refused, then Philip undertook to assist in 'pacifying the country'. If Philip should feel obliged to break with the English and join King Charles, then extensive lands would be made over to him. Philip should recognise King Charles as his liege lord. No reference was made to an apology for the murder of John-the-Fearless 1419, but from what followed, it seems nobody saw any difficulty about that. The conferences broke up on 6th February 1435 in complete harmony.

It was inevitable that the news of what had been done at Nevers should soon become known, if only because envoys were promptly dispatched in all directions with invitations to the Congress, and these included London, Paris and the Papal See. Furthermore, Philip never made any secret of his participation and what he hoped to achieve, although the English were later to accuse him, on totally spurious grounds, of being underhand and devious. The Regent was not present in Paris when Philip came to see him in April 1435; he had departed from the City, to which he was never to return, in high dudgeon when the news of Nevers reached him.

The English Council in Paris received Philip, and he explained his view that peace was an absolute necessity. The War was now, and had been for some time, too bitter to continue. There had recently been instances where the medieval courtesy of giving quarter to a defeated garrison had not been observed. Although history was littered with examples where this civilised custom was honoured in the breach rather than the observance, it was intolerable that the soldiers of two Christian nations should behave towards each other in this barbarous way, and it was symptomatic of the nature the War had assumed. Quite apart from this, the French now had a crowned King of their own, and they would never accept King Henry VI whatever the treaty of Troyes 1420 might say.

All this would have been reported to the Council in London, so there can never have been any doubt of what Philip was trying to do. The English meanwhile suffered a grave misfortune shortly before the Congress opened. La Hire and Pothon de Xaintrailles had seized Rue at the very mouth of the Somme. Because of its geographical situation, this was very serious, and the Regent summoned John, Earl of Arundel to dislodge them. His force was overwhelmed by the French, he was taken prisoner, and his foot was shattered by a cannon-ball. Although his captors gave him every attention, he died at Beauvais on 1st June 1435. The Regent could not easily afford the loss of so experienced a commander.

The Congress of Arras July - September 1435

Although this was due to start on 1st July 1435, it took the entire month of July for the delegates to assemble.

Two English delegates were the first to arrive, Sir John Radclyff, the Senechal of Guienne and William Lyndwood, the Keeper of the Privy Seal. John Holland, Earl of Huntingdon, William de La Pole, Earl of Suffolk, and the Bishops of Norwich and St David's arrived shortly afterwards, but John Kemp, Archbishop of York did not reach Arras until 25th July. The English delegation still lacked its chief, Cardinal Beaufort, who did not arrive until 23rd August. On 12th or 13th July, Cardinal Albergati and his fellow Cardinal, Hugh de Lusignan, Cardinal of Cyprus arrived in Arras, but Philip-the-Good, whose invitations had called all together, delayed his arrival until 27th July. On 31st July, the French delegation made a belated appearance. It included Charles, formerly Compte de Clermont and now the new Duke de Bourbon, Arthur of Brittany, and the Archbishop of Rheims. Observers attended from Sicily, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, Poland,  Italy and many French cities. Each delegation had brought a considerable train with it so that the gathering reassembled an armed camp, even if a peaceable one. There were many feastings, parties, and much hunting, jousting and all manner of other amusements. Philip had carefully stage-managed the Congress. This was to be no mere gathering of a small number of people into the then equivalent of smoke-filled rooms to reach some unimportant truce; it was to be impressed upon all that it was a serious attempt to reach a great peace and so conclude a great and terrible war.

If the gathering had been leisurely, then so were the preliminaries under the chairmanship of Cardinal Albergati assisted by his fellow Cardinal Hugh. When the serious negotiating began on 12th August, it was fast and furious. The English suggested a truce for 20 years. They knew the French would reject this, although their co-proposal of a matrimonial alliance seemed to have some appeal to them, but it did open the way for them to request that the French should make their own proposal. When it came, it reassembled closely the Proposal made to King Henry V in 1415 in Winchester on the eve of his sailing to France, coupled on this occasion with a renunciation of the Crown of France. The French in their turn knew the English would refuse this.

Implored by the Cardinals to make some offer which the other could accept, the English offered to 'cede' all lands beyond the River Loire except Gascony and Guinne, and to pay an annual rent of 120, 000 saluts for the style and arms of the Crown of France. Not surprisingly, the French countered that the status quo was the most they could accept and insisted on the renunciation of the Crown, although they were prepared to pay 150, 000 saluts a year.

Just as Cardinal Beaufort reached Arras on 23rd August, the Congress received a rude shock. La Hire and Pothon de Xaintrailles were reported to be ravaging Artois. In a fury, Philip ordered his men to horse. Many of the English and French accompanied him. The robbers were intercepted at Corbeil, where they were required to release their prisoners and disgorge their booty. They were not arrested or punished, but they were treated to a stern lecture from Philip to the effect that they had escaped summary hanging by a hairs breadth, as indeed they had.

Re-assembling in the last days of August 1435 after this rude interruption, the Congress found it had an impossible task. The English would not renounce the Crown of France, and the French would agree to nothing unless they did so. Nevertheless, the English made an offer to accept the status quo with some re-definition of the frontiers. The French then riposted with their final offer; they would grant the English the whole of Normandy in return for a renunciation of the Crown. They added the offer of a 'daughter of France' to King Henry VI (without a dowry), and required the release of the Duke of Orleans, now the sole remaining Agincourt prisoner. The English rejected these terms, and left Arras on 6th September 1435, saying that as terms could not be reached, it was pointless to continue the Congress.

By doing so, the English revealed, not for the last time, how poor their diplomacy was. It was only to be expected that the French, who were skilled bargainers, would delay the announcement of substantial concessions until a very late stage; when that stage was reached, they indicated a willingness to make very substantial concessions, the whole of Normandy together with a Royal marriage. It seems not to have crossed the minds of the English that they were not the only parties to the Congress. Burgundy was there in her own right, and Philip-the-Good was its prime mover. It is almost unbelievable that in the eight months since the meeting at Nevers, the English were unaware of what had been agreed there. The French were bound to make 'reasonable offers' if Burgundy was to be weaned away from her alliance with England. These offers had now begun to emerge, and if any thought had been given to the matter at all, it must have been apparent to the English that their alliance with Burgundy was now in considerable danger. This should have lead to the English envoys remaining at the negotiating table to explore the French offers further. The whole of Normandy, suggested at this late stage, was probably not the limit of the territorial concessions which the French were prepared to make. There were perhaps others to be wheedled out of them, and the French, who had shown they were prepared to pay money, could not seriously have expected the English to accept a Royal bride without a dowry. Such a thing was most unusual by the customs of the time.

It is possible that the English decision to abandon the Congress owed as much to arrogance as to anything else; they had conducted themselves throughout as though they had just won the war instead of being well on the way to losing it. There were however two other factors which played their part in the fatal error of leaving the Congress and riding for home.

The first of these was the renunciation of the Crown of France, and here Cardinal Beaufort revealed the fumbling and indecisive side of his nature which has been remarked upon earlier,  [page ]and which negated any desire for peace which he may have nurtured. The Cardinal was now in his 60s, and by the standards of the time, he was an old man.

He had all the fixations of an old man, as Philip-the-Good found when he urged him to show some flexibility on the matter. Philip was soundly berated by the Cardinal until the sweat ran down the Cardinal's face that the Crown of France was rightfully placed upon King Henry's head. The Treaty of Troyes 1420 had so provided, and the young Henry had been so crowned, and the matter was not negotiable. Philip pointed out that the French were afraid that if King Henry remained King of France, the way would be open for the English to make a further claim to the whole of France at a later date. This was simply brushed aside, and instead the Cardinal made a fundamental error. He may have intended that this point, that not even King Henry VI could renounce the Crown of France whilst he was still a minor, should have remained private between himself and Philip. He should have appreciated that such an important point could not remain private once it had been mentioned; it had to be made public. If the English had been proper diplomats, and had understood the deviousness that diplomacy requires, this point would have been kept in reserve in case they ever did wish to press their claims to the whole of France at a later date. Then it could have been pleaded that renunciation by a minor was ineffective.

The other was the malign hand of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. Humphrey did not attend the Congress, but remained in London at the side of the young King. [The Regent, by now a dying man, did not attend either] Activated by no higher motives than aggressiveness towards the French and a desire to thwart the Cardinal by whatever means he could, he had the opportunity, which he fully exploited, to poison the mind of the King and to ensure that instructions sent to the envoys in Arras negated all the Cardinal was trying to do. Yet the Cardinal took no steps to deal with him. It would have been acceptable to the Congress, and Cardinals Albergati and Hugh would certainly have allowed it, to seek an adjournment so that instructions could be obtained from London. Cardinal Beaufort should have gone to London himself, accompanied by the most prominent members of the English delegation, to deal with Humphrey's influence in person.

There can be little doubt that the French offers were seriously made, and this must have been apparent to the English delegation. After the Congress was over, and the French had made peace with Burgundy so that they had nothing more to gain so far as Philip-the-Good was concerned, they even sent a delegation to London to repeat their offer, this time leaving the question of renunciation until King Henry VI came of age. They required an answer by 21st January 1436. The Council, by now beside itself with rage at the Treaty of Arras [page ] contemptuously rejected the proposal.

Thus the War in France, which was one of the principal factors leading to the Wars of the Roses, was set to continue its disastrous course.

If the English diplomacy was so appalling that they threw away the best chance they were ever to have of concluding a disastrous war on favourable terms, the French on the other hand had played their cards with considerable skill. They owed the English no favours, but were bound to make 'reasonable offers' if they were to wean Burgundy away from the Anglo-Burgundian Alliance, without which the English position in France would have been impossible. These they had patently made. Nobody could reasonably criticise their stance on the matter of the Crown, and their territorial offers (even if they suspected that the English would refuse them) had been generous. Now the time had come to call on Philip to honour the word he had given in Nevers.

The Treaty of Arras 1435

As soon as the English had departed on 6th September 1435, the French approached Philip. Philip too was a good player of cards, and pointed out that he was bound by treaty with England. Cardinal Albergati and Cardinal Hugh went to work on him, and Philip allowed himself to be persuaded that he should abandon such an ungodly deal, particularly as the Cardinals were prepared to give him absolution for doing so.

Philip was a cautious man, and also covered himself by asking all the observers who had attended the Congress to give him advice. He got the answer he wanted, which was unanimously in favour of peace. On 10th September, Philip announced he was ready to meet with the French.

The fact that the very next day Philip's Chancellor put forward his terms indicates that he had come to the Congress knowing what he was going to demand, and the added fact that the French so readily agreed them further indicates that a lot of preliminary work, either at Nevers or since that time, had been done between the French and the Burgundians to make sure they would be acceptable. As early as 21st September 1435 the Treaty of Arras was signed. King Charles VII formally apologised for the murder of John-the-Fearless 1419, and this was accepted. The provinces of Macon, Auxerre, Bar-sur-Seine, Peronne, Roie and Montdidier were made over to Burgundy. So were the French lands on the Somme subject only to a right of re-purchase. Philip was excused doing homage to King Charles, and Burgundians were excused from serving in French armies. Philip was virtually a King within his own domains.

Philip had got all, and possibly more.that he could have hoped to gain had he remained true to the English Alliance, and final victory had attended its arms. He now had extensive dominions, and security from his Armagnac enemies.

This was what he really wanted. He had no incentive to go on fighting a war from which all hope of victory had gone.

The death of the Regent

Parliament's concern for the health of John, Duke of Bedford, had turned out to be well grounded [page ]. It had been declining for some time, and had been exacerbated by the extreme exertions he had not hesitated to make in carrying out his duties. Possibly his illness after the raising of the siege of Lagny 1432 [page ] had something to do with his end. He died at Rouen during the night of 14th September 1435, just as his old ally and friend, Philip-the-Good, was making his peace with their joint enemy a short distance away in Arras.

Few Englishmen were mourned by the French people in English-occupied France, but John was certainly one of them.

His fair dealing and good administration were respected and remembered long after the provinces returned to the rule of the French King, when they enjoyed neither of these virtues.

It says much for his governorship that men remembered him as a just ruler even though a terrible war was still going on.

There were other consequences at home. The immediate heir to the Throne was now Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, until young King Henry should marry and produce heirs of his own.

The common people may have rejoiced in this, as Humphrey had retained his popularity with them, but their can have been few in the nobility who could have welcomed the prospect of Humphrey as King of England. He had too many scores to settle with them for the slights, for such he would have seen them, visited on him over the years. Cardinal Beaufort in particular could have expected rough treatment. It was not an attractive picture. Also it brought Richard, Duke of York, who had claims of his own [pages ], a step nearer to the Throne.

No doubt John, on his deathbed, reflected on his life's work and all he had done to carry out the wishes of his dead brother, King Henry V.[page ] No doubt he also saw that it was all wasted effort, and that he had spent his life in pursuit of a chimera which was never to be grasped. It is possible that he died as much of a broken heart as any other cause.

Copyright Michael D. Miller 2003