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

Michael D. Miller

Chapter 30: The aftermath of the Treaty of Arras 1425: Years 1435 - 1437

 

The effect of the Treaty of Arras in England

The news of the Treaty of Arras was greeted in England first with a stunned dismay, and then with an explosion of wrath. Philip-the-Good, the 'fals forsworn' Duke of Burgundy, the breaker of solemn alliances made with England, was the villain of the piece. When Philip took possession of the territories on the Somme, which were nominally in English control, indignation rose to fever-pitch. The mob rioted, and burnt down houses owned by Flemish merchants in the City of London. [Philip was at first greeted enthusiastically in his new territories, where the English had made no serious attempt to raise taxes. His welcome became less effusive when he started to levy them]. Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, now the King's only remaining uncle and the next in line to the Throne, was not slow to exploit the situation. He was in a strong position, even though he had done so much to ensure that the English were outwitted at the negotiating table. He had always been popular with the common folk, and he did not hesitate to inflame their passions. He had exasperated the Council over the years with his impossible behaviour, and his influence among the Great in the Land had waned for some time. Now he could, and did, say that if only his advice had been taken in 1434, and a strong force had been dispatched to France at that time, [page ] then the whole fiasco would have been avoided. 'I told you so' is never welcome news, but here he had a chance to exploit the situation to the full and took full advantage of it.

The obloquy heaped on Philip's head was scarcely deserved, because for some time the way that Philip was thinking should have been obvious to all. The truce which he had reached with France in 1431 was so long (6 years) that it can only have been a harbinger to a full peace settlement between Burgundy and France. It is difficult to accept that the English intelligence gathering was so poor that they had no full knowledge of all that had been agreed and done at Nevers in January 1435, even if Philip did not reveal all of it when he met the English Council in Paris in April 1435.

The invitations to the Congress of Arras had been issued by Philip, and not by some other authority such as the Papal See. The English had simply 'misread the signals' and had nobody to blame but themselves. Instead they blamed everyone else, and for this 'misreading' John, Duke of Bedford, the Regent of France, although he was now dead, must take the main share of the blame.

If the English lost their heads, it soon became apparent that Philip, with his customary coolness, was keeping his. In September 1435, he sent envoys to King Henry VI, to Humphrey and to Cardinal Beaufort with letters urging that favourable consideration should be given to the French 'final offer' coupled with the proposal that the renunciation of the Crown of France should wait until Henry came of age. His envoys were very badly treated. At the time, the person of an envoy or a herald was regarded as sacrosanct, but this did not prevent them being imprisoned when they landed at Dover. Their papers were taken from them and were read by the Council. It was noted that King Henry VI was no longer addressed as the King of France, a slight which brought tears to his eyes, and played some part in the brusque and unmannerly dismissal of the envoys.

Parliament was called to Westminster on 10th October 1435. It was opened by King Henry VI and addressed at length by the Chancellor, John Stafford, Bishop of Bath. His main theme was 'The Revolt of the Duke of Burgundy' who had broken his treaty obligations even by calling together the Congress of Arras. Nevertheless, as a true son of peace, King Henry VI had sent a delegation which had made great and noble offers, only to have them thrown back in their faces.

The offers made by the French had been insulting and derisory, and it was clear they only wanted war. The English had been reasonable and conciliatory, but the French had not shown a similar spirit. The Bishop glossed over the French 'final offer', and left his audience in no doubt that the Duke of Burgundy had deserted the Alliance and was even now preparing to make war on England as an ally of King Charles VII. King Henry VI now had no choice but to defend his title to the Crown of France, or see himself 'stripped of the name, style, title and honour of King of France'.

This piece of mendacious casuistry may have been lost on King Henry VI's 'subjects' in France, for whom it was also intended to persuade them that 'their King' had done all he could to make peace, but it certainly had its effect on Parliament. There was no talk but of continuing the War, and if necessary extending it to Burgundy as well. It was soon agreed that a force of 1, 200 men-at-arms and 5, 000 archers should be sent to France. Richard, Duke of York was appointed to command it as the King's Lieutenant-General, with William de La Pole, Earl of Suffolk, Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury and Edmund Beaufort, Earl of Mortain [This was the Edmund Beaufort who later became Earl of Dorset, Marquis of Dorset and Duke of Somerset] as his subordinate commanders. A vigorous diplomatic effort was also mounted with embassies being sent to Guelders, Liege, Cologne, the Emperor and the Grand Master of Prussia with the aim of founding an alliance against Burgundy. Even Jacqueline of Hainault, the one-time Duchess of Gloucester whom Humphrey had so shamelessly abandoned in 1422, [page ] now found that the English had some use for her. [Jacqueline had escaped from prison, and this seems to indicate that she had somehow made her peace with Philip-the-Good in the meantime] Piracy, hitherto visited by severe penalties, was now to be allowed and indeed encouraged against Flemish vessels. Flemish residents in England were to be required to take an oath of allegiance to King Henry VI, and nearly 2, 000 did so. William Morfote, a notorious pirate hailing from Winchelsea, suddenly found himself respectable once again, with a pardon in his hand, and an injunction to prey on any Flemish ships he could find.

Income Tax

Money had to be found to pay for the expedition, and now there could no longer be the spurious belief that the French taxpayer would find it; in any case, there were not many French taxpayers left. Besides other taxation, a graduated form of income tax was introduced on freehold lands and offices at the following rates:-

Annual Income Rate in the Pound

5 - 100 6d

100 - 400 8d

over 400 2/=

Anyone with an income of more than 400 was rich and substantial in those days, and probably only Dukes, Earls, and some of the richer merchants came within this class.

It is easy to see what Parliament intended, namely to find an alternative source of taxation by taxing income, and to the unpractised eye, it all seemed to be very simple. What Parliament did not appreciate was that the Devil lay in the detail. Income tax is difficult to collect without a large and experienced bureaucracy, which is also expensive. It is not easy to see how the King's officers in the counties, the Sheriffs, could have coped with the problem without a substantial addition to their staffs, which in the early stages would have lacked experience. Besides, income tax depends on reliable accounts, and few people, not even the great merchants and the big estates.kept accounts in anything other than the most rudimentary form. Not even the Treasurer's accounts were beyond reproach. Assessments would be made, and lengthy and time-consuming arguments would ensue. The opportunities for abuse, on both sides, would be legion, and would be fully exploited. Once the expenses of collection had been provided for, it is difficult to see a substantial net yield of tax from this source, and certainly not for some time to come.

There were easier taxes to collect such as customs duties, but these were already so heavily laden that they would bear no more. Additional customs-duties had already had to be abandoned, because they simply could not be paid.

[page ] The massive debts of the Crown were, to some extent, revealed by Lord Cromwell's budget in 1433 (page ).

The Crown was given leave to borrow up to 100, 000 to meet immediate expenditure. There seemed no realistic prospect of raising enough money by taxation to repay the loans the Crown would have to seek. This could only mean that the Crown would inevitably slide yet deeper into debt. [A proviso was added that nobody was to be forced to lend against his will]

The War in France

St-Denis had changed hands yet again with its capture by the French on 1st June 1435. During the last week in August 1435, and before the signing of the Treaty of Arras,   (page ), the English and some Burgundians who had taken service with the English colours, set about its re-capture.

Marshal de L'Isle-Adam accompanied John, Lord Talbot and Lords Willoughby and Scales in the siege. After bombarding the City and cutting off its water supply, a grand assault was ordered. The besiegers made a gallant effort, carrying scaling ladders through the moat in water up to their necks.

It was repulsed, but the relieving force commanded by Arthur of Brittany was too small, and on 4th October 1435 the garrison marched out with the honours of war. This was to be the last occasion that the English and the Burgundians fought together side by side. On his return home, the Marshal was reminded by Philip-the-Good that he was now a neutral, and was forbidden to take any further part in the fighting except in the service of Burgundy.

Apart from this success, misfortune dogged the English cause during the remaining months of 1435 and the early months of 1436. They had already lost Porte-St-Maxime,   and Melun when, on 29th October 1435, Marshal de Rieux captured Dieppe. The peasantry of Caux rose in support of King Charles VII, and Fecamp, Montevilliers, Tancarville, Lillebonne, and then even Harfleur itself fell to the French armies.

Arques suffered a worse fate, being burnt to the ground. The French armies were closing in around Paris itself. In early 1436, they entered Pontoise from whence the townsfolk had already expelled the English garrison. Charenton, Brie-Compte-Robert, St-Germain-en-laye, Corbeil and Vincennes fell to them in rapid succession. The fall of the City of Paris itself was now only a question of time.

In Paris the English commander, Lord Willoughby, had many difficulties to contend with. The population was starving because the English had pursued a 'scorched earth' policy on the lands they had been forced to abandon, and no provisions were to be had except at famine prices which few could afford to pay. Willoughby's problems were compounded by two untoward events. Some of the garrison mutinied and marched off. Willoughby was unable to persuade them to return to their duties. Sir Thomas Beaumont was sent to reconnoitre with a small force in the direction of Pontoise.

Near Epinay, he found the French army with its new Burgundian allies. Unwisely, he engaged it. He was taken prisoner and his force was destroyed. On 13th April 1436, Jean, Compte de Dunois, the Bastard of Orleans, Arthur of Brittany and Marshal de L'Isle-Adam appeared before Paris with their army, and assaulted the Porte-St-Jacques. With the willing aid of the townsfolk, they soon captured it. Aware that the populace still had a lingering fear of the Armagnacs and put a greater trust in the Burgundians, Jean and Arthur allowed the Marshal to take the lead.

Lord Willoughby and the garrison were allowed to march out of the City with the honours of war. The people were not so forgiving. Derisive shouts of "A la queue" and "Au renard", a reference to King Henry V's cognisance of a fox's brush, followed the retreating English soldiers. Thus King Charles VII regained his capital. As the young Dauphin, he had been driven out of Paris in 1418, and the English had occupied the City in 1420. Now in 1436 he could return. By one of the supreme ironies of history, the same man had driven out the Dauphin and had then regained it for King Charles VII - Marshal de L'Isle-Adam.

Philip-the-Good attacks Calais 1436

Philip was a patient man who was not easily roused to anger. When so roused, his anger was not easily assuaged. Even after he had suffered the gross affront of having his envoys so rudely treated, [page ]and the even grosser insult of the attempt to suborn some of his subjects and treaty-partners from their allegiance to him, [page ] he still continued to urge the cause of peace upon the English. Two of his nobles who were close to the English, John of Luxembourg and his brother the Bishop of Therouanne, were asked to write to the Council in London recommending a more peaceable approach to the situation than that which the English seemed to have in mind. [The two brothers had rendered many services to the English. Jacquette, now the Dowager Duchess of Bedford, was their niece] Some letters were accordingly written to London by both these noblemen.

Whilst replies were awaited, news reached Philip of the capture of Flemish ships by English pirates, who were operating under the license, and with the encouragement, of the English Crown. This was too much, but Philip, although furious, did no more than remonstrate in strong terms. Even though this remonstrance was, in modern diplomatic language, no more than a protest, it was received by a Council which was still in the grip of the mania which had possessed it ever since the Treaty of Arras 1435 had been signed. The remonstrance was treated as a declaration of war. This was a curious attitude to adopt. England, when in alliance with Burgundy, had been unable to subdue the French; it was doubly unlikely that she would succeed in doing so with Burgundy as an enemy, especially if she took the field at the side of France.

In mid-May 1436, the first contingent of the English force, which had been raised in accordance with the decision made in late 1435, [page ] was brought to Calais by Edmund Beaufort, Earl of Mortain. In view of what was about to happen, it was a welcome reinforcement of the permanent garrison. Richard, Duke of York landed in Normandy later in the same month. Philip meanwhile had resolved on an attack upon Calais, and was raising troops for this purpose.

Philip found it was not an easy task. The Burgundian gentry, bewildered by the sudden change in sides and still deeply suspicious of the French, were loath to take up arms against their erst-while allies. They had fought alongside the English for so long, and had formed so many friendships with them, that they now found it difficult to see them as the enemy. Some of the Flanders cities, notably Brussels, had reservations, although for different reasons. They were traders and merchants, and England was their chief market. For longer than men could remember, they had handled English wool, the main commodity in their trading, and they had grown very prosperous in the business. It made little impact upon them that the English, in another studied insult to Philip, had given a 'concession' of Flanders to Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. One Duke or the other made little difference so long as they could continue to trade and grow even richer than they already were. Philip found however a more ready response in Ghent and Brugges. These Cities had long resented the Calais Staple, which they thought gave Calais an unfair advantage in the wool trade, and they had no objection to taking a hand in the capture of Calais and thus ending the hated Staple once and for all. By one means or another, Philip assembled a well equipped army which was especially strong in artillery to bombard the walls. The pride of the force was three huge guns, one of which required 50 horses to draw it. In July 1436, the siege began.

The Council in London did not need to issue a panic stricken call to the populace to come to the defence of Calais, although the call was readily answered. In truth, it was a one-sided contest, because the burghers soon found they were no match for the professional English soldiers who formed the bulk of the garrison. The Burgundian artillery was never permitted to come within range of the walls, while Philip had the mortification of seeing the English daily driving their cows out to graze in the meadows surrounding the City. A daring attempt to block the harbour with barges sunk at high tide was foiled by the townsfolk, men and women alike, who sallied forth at low tide to dismantle the barges and scatter their contents. Philip found that he could not hold his army together, even though he showed them a characteristically insolent challenge sent to him by Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. During the last days of July 1436, a large number of Philip's men deserted, leaving arms and equipment behind. It was a bitter pill to swallow, but Philip had no choice but to abandon the siege and disband his army.

This opened the way for Humphrey to claim his "inheritance" of Flanders. Hurrying across the Channel once Philip was safely out of the way, he made a foray into Burgundian territory in August 1436, burning and sacking as he went, before returning to Calais nine days later. His performance did not impress some anonymous onlooker, who penned the following doggerel:-

"The protectour with his flete to Calys then

Did lande, and rode into Flaunders a litle waye,

And litle did to counte a manly man."

 

Richard, Duke of York's expedition

The expedition had completed its landings in France during May 1436 and found that King Charles VII, with a characteristic folly born out of lethargy and cowardice, had made no attempt to follow up the military successes of early 1436 or the English preoccupation with the siege of Calais. Richard was thus able to re-capture the whole of Caux, and also the towns of Fecamp, Tancarville and Lillebonne. By the autumn, his scouts had penetrated as far as the walls of Paris.

There was little it could accomplish in the way of a permanent conquest. Although Richard, young as he was, soon proved himself an able an resourceful commander who was well supported by his sub-ordinate officers, this was no war such as King Henry V had fought. Then the country-folk had been passive, and the French Crown had been unable to control the political rivalries and dissension's which surrounded it. Then too Burgundy had been sympathetic and supportive. Now the peasantry harassed the English army at every step it took, and the English could no longer look to Burgundy for help. The French armies were now commanded by a new breed of commander, and were a much more formidable proposition. Their efficient field artillery did much to obviate the advantage which the English had hitherto enjoyed with the lethal longbow, and they used it to good effect. The French had one great disadvantage in their King. Had he shown any of the drive, resolve and dynamism which his own commanders displayed, there was every possibility of inflicting a massive defeat on the English. Even so, it was soon apparent that the expedition was unable to complete its task, and in 1437 Richard asked to be relieved of his command.

Thus the expedition which represented the greatest effort which England could then mount was a failure. Had the Council not been so blinkered, chiefly because of the influence which Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, the King's uncle and the immediate heir to the throne, was still able to wield, the conclusion would then have been drawn that the conquest of France was impossible. Had it been so drawn, then, in all probability, the disasters which were to rain upon the head of King Henry VI would have been avoided.

Scotland

King James I of Scotland had been released from his long but easy captivity in England in 1424. In that same year, he had married Margaret Beaufort and had also been crowned King of the Scots at Scone. [pages ] Great things had been hoped for from this easy-going and popular young man and his English Queen, not least in England. He had spent his youth at the English Court, where he had learnt much about the art of government and had made many friends. Having served with King Henry V's armies in France, he had also acquired a considerable military experience. A truce had been agreed with England to run for 7 years from 1st May 1424, and this was later extended by another truce for 5 years which was due to expire on 1st May 1436.

Before this second truce expired, James had begun to wonder how he might profit from the English reverses in France. The English were anxious for a further truce, but James demurred. As a start, his daughter Margaret had been affianced to Louis, the young Dauphin of France in 1428. King Charles VII had been pressing for some time for Margaret to be sent to France, and in May 1436 she was dispatched. Mindful of his own ill-luck when he himself had been captured by English cruisers when bound for France in 1406, he took elaborate pains to ensure the same fate should not befall his daughter. There were some anxious moments during her voyage, but she safely reached the French Court during June 1436.

Next, again in 1436, James decided to attack and capture Roxburgh. He was not well supported by his nobles, with whom he was now at loggerheads, and it is possible that news of his attack was passed by one of them beforehand to those grim guardians of the Scottish Marches, the Percy's. James found Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland waiting for him, and his army was routed. He returned, much discomforted, to Scotland.

James had done much to bring some semblance of order into his anarchic Kingdom since his coronation, but he had failed to tame entirely his nobility. The Scots nobles were a murderous lot whose behaviour shocked even the English, themselves no strangers to the habit of murdering those with whom they disagreed, or whom they regarded as a nuisance. James had done much to counter the noble's influence by elevating the merchants, the burgesses and the small landholders, and giving them a say in public affairs, and this did not recommend itself to those who had traditionally had the ordering of things. There were now annual Parliaments (complete with Speakers), and proper Courts of Justice. The Customs duties had been reformed, and were now yielding a greater amount of revenue. The Western Isles, a fruitful and continuous source of strife, had been subdued and their colourful and aggressive chieftain, Alexander of the Isles, was languishing in prison. With his nobles however, James was less successful, and perhaps less than wise.

James felt that he had many scores to settle with the House of Albany, who he considered had made no serious attempts to rescue him from his captivity in England, but instead had deliberately left him there whilst they enjoyed the fruits of power. Robert, Duke of Albany had been the Regent of Scotland during the first part of James's long imprisonment, and on his death his son Murdach had taken his place, both as Duke and as Regent. Murdach himself had been taken prisoner at the battle of Homildon Hill by the Percys in 1402, and for a time had been James's companion in an English prison. Murdach had been exchanged in 1416 for the same Henry Percy who defeated James at Roxburgh. One of James's first acts on becoming King of Scotland was to arrest Murdach, put him on trial, and execute him. This was very high-handed treatment of the man who had headed the Scots government which had negotiated James's release. Murdach was scarcely mourned, but his treatment and death were resented. The use of the Royal Prerogative as James had learnt it in the English Court had scarcely been practised in Scotland, so that when the Earl of Strathearn and the Earl of March were deprived of their earldoms on spurious grounds, and the Earl of Douglas was thrown into prison for reasons which did not seem to merit such an extreme step, the other nobles began to fear for their safety.

What really brought matters to a head was the continued detention of some nobles as hostages in England. It was a well understood practice that from time-to-time these would be 'relieved' by others who would take their place until the time came for them to be similarly 'relieved'. It was particularly noticeable that some were not being relieved at all, but were being treated as permanent exiles by being left in English hands. Among these was the Master of Athole, the son and heir of the Duke of Athole. The Duke, greatly incensed by this treatment of his son, now hatched a plot to murder King James I.

The Duke of Athole did not take any part in the actual killing. Instead he chose as his instruments Sir Robert Graham, the Earl of Strathearn's uncle, and his own grandson, Sir Robert Stewart, who as the King's Chamberlain had ready access to the Royal Apartments. In February 1437, a Grand Council was summoned in Perth to receive a Papal Legate. The King was undressing before retiring for the night when Stewart admitted Graham and a number of armed men who burst into the Royal bed-chamber. There followed a fearful scene. One of the Queen's maids attempted to bar the door with her arm and had it broken. One of the King's attendants was killed, and the Queen herself was wounded. James had sought refuge in a closet, but was dragged out and stabbed no less than 28 times. Assassination is never a gentle matter, but for pure savagery the murder of King James I has few equals.

James had been a popular King among the common people, and his death was greatly mourned. The grief of the nobility, who resented James's determination to reduce their standing and their power, was distinctly less apparent. It cannot be denied that James had made some foolish mistakes, particularly where the nobles were concerned, but he had done his best to rule well and wisely by correcting many of the abuses which had plagued Scotland. With his death, Scotland suffered a grievous loss.

Copyright Michael D. Miller 2003