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

Michael D. Miller

Chapter 43: The calm before the storm: Years March 1452 - July 1453


A son and heir

After nearly eight years of barren marriage, Queen Margaret found herself with child, and in February 1453 announced the joyful news. There was jubilation in the Lancastrian faction. If it should be a boy, then all the pretensions of Richard, Duke of York, to the Throne would disappear. If it was a girl, then there may have been some trouble in finding her a suitable husband when the time came, but she would still be the heir to the Throne, and Richard could still forget that he had any claim to it.

The Yorkists lost no time in casting doubt on the child's parentage, and declared that it must be illegitimate.

There had been rumours that Suffolk had been her lover, but these rumours would no longer serve the Yorkist cause; Suffolk had been murdered by the seamen in May 1450. [page] Rumours were now circulated that Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, had taken Suffolk's place in the Queen's bed, and yet other rumours were put about that Margaret, on finding the King to be impotent, had taken some lusty knight or squire of the King's entourage to give her a child as a matter of policy. None of this was impossible, neither is it to be totally excluded. Margaret was bewitchingly beautiful, and somebody may have been willing to run the very considerable risks of obliging her. To engage in adultery with the Queen was considered treason, and the penalties were dire. On the other hand, the King and the Queen were surrounded by considerable households running into hundreds of people, and it was almost impossible to obtain the necessary privacy or discretion. Margaret was far too sensible a person to run the risks of having her child proven to be illegitimate, or even the lesser risks of blackmail, and thus compromising for ever the Lancastrian dynasty. Her whole record shows outstanding loyalty to her husband. The Yorkists might declaim that the child was no:-

"Naturall sone of Kynge Henrye",

but the only real possibility is that the child was the King's, however long he had taken to beget it.

On 13th October 1453, the Queen gave birth to a handsome son, whom she named Edward. He showed early and precocious promise of growing into a lusty man, with a greater resemblance to his grand-father King Henry V than he ever bore to his ninny-like father. What sort of man he would have become we shall never know. Edward was killed at the battle of Tewksbury 1471 whilst still in his eighteenth year.

The tenor of the government

After the humiliation of Richard, Duke of York in early 1452,  [Chapter ] there could not be any question that the King was obliged to keep his promises, which he gave in August 1450, to allow Richard a place in the government. Richard had rebelled, and had been lucky to escape with his life. The faction of Queen Margaret and Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, was predominant, and it was only natural that people sympathetic to the Lancastrian cause should be appointed to the Great Offices of State.

This was not done on a whole-sale basis which totally excluded those whose sympathies lay with the House of York, and there was an attempt to balance the government by including them, but always taking care that their influence was limited. The careful and conscientious Cardinal John Kemp, hitherto Archbishop of York, was translated to the See of Canterbury when John Stafford died in May 1452. He was a man who commanded a measure of respect from both factions, having been in government for nearly a quarter of a century.

More strongly committed to the Lancastrian cause was William Booth, Bishop of Lichfield and the Queen's Chancellor, who was appointed Archbishop of York. Equally strongly committed was Nicholas Close, Bishop of Carlisle, who became Bishop of Lichfield, thus making room for William Percy to become Bishop of Carlisle. This introduced Percy influence into the Western Marches, which was a stronghold of the Neville family, the bitter rivals of the Percy Earls of Northumberland. The King's two half brothers, Edmund and Jasper Tudor, were raised to become Earls of Richmond and Pembroke respectively. It is true that they caused consternation in 1453 when they evinced strong Yorkist sympathies, but basically, they were loyal Lancastrians. To balance this, John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester, who was a close friend of Richard, became the Treasurer. Overall the influence on the Council was all Somerset's, and there was no place for Richard, Duke of York.

[Edmund and Jasper Tudor were the sons of the union between Owen Tudor and Catherine of Valois, the widow Queen of King Henry V see page . Edmund, who died in 1456, and his Countess Margaret Beaufort were the parents of the future King Henry VII. Jasper Tudor took his nephew to Brittany to avoid Yorkist vengeance, and shared his exile before returning to the victory of the battle of Bosworth 1485]

Renewal of the War in France - October 1452

The people of England's former Southern Provinces of France had always thought of themselves as being ruled by England, and were not taking kindly to their new French masters. [page ] Whilst ethnically French they had, in marked contrast to the Normans, grown accustomed to an easy-going English administration and would have liked it to continue. Although King Charles VII had been careful not to interfere with their English patterns of trade, they found some other parts of French rule irksome, and in particular his decree that they, like all other Frenchmen, were liable for service in the French armies. This was too much, and in March 1452, they dispatched Pierre de Montferrant, the Souldic de la Trau, and John de Foix, Earl of Kendall, on an embassy to London to appeal for an expedition to rescue them. They could not have arrived at a more inopportune moment, because the strife between Richard, Duke of York, and Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, was still not settled. [Chapter ] England may have received their approach favourably, but England did not have the money to finance an expedition and had no hopes of raising any. There was however another factor which prevented their mission from being the failure it must otherwise have been.

Philip-the-Good, Duke of Burgundy, now entertained serious misgivings that France, since her victory in the South, was becoming much too powerful, whilst his own hold on Burgundy, and in particular on his Flemish territories, was beginning to look precarious. Already Ghent had rebelled, breaking down her bridges and ringing out the great bell Roland, the dread tocsin which called men to arms. Other cities could follow suit, and he could soon have a full scale rebellion on his hands. His relations with the French Court had deteriorated. King Charles VII much resented Philip's efforts to suborn his restless and antagonistic son, the Dauphin Louis, from his true allegiance, and further Pragueries were to be expected. [For the meaning of this expression, see page ] There was no love lost between father and son. Charles was equally angered by Burgundian efforts to gain the loyalties of Rene, Duc de Bar and the titular King of Sicily and Queen Margaret of England's father, by filling his empty pocket with gold. Philip had impoverished Rene by demanding a huge ransom after Rene's capture at the battle of Bulgneville 1431 [page ] and possibly thought that after so long, some recompense was due. In any case, Rene ought to be grateful for some coins to jingle in his pocket. All in all, Philip had done much to annoy Charles. Now it looked as though the chickens were coming home to roost, and Charles would intervene in Flanders where France had many ties. It could be disastrous if he did.

It was at this point that Philip's formidable and very able Duchess Isabella reminded him that he still had many friends in England. Herself a descendant of John of Gaunt,   [page ] she was thus related to King Henry VI, and knew there was nothing England would like better than to recover her southern French provinces. England had no money, but Burgundy had plenty. What could be simpler than financing an English expedition? That would keep the French King busy in the South whilst Philip restored order in his Flemish territories. Philip agreed, and Isabella's envoys arrived in London at the same time as Montferrant and Foix.

Queen Margaret and Somerset seized the opportunity with glee. Here was a chance, at Burgundian expense, to re-establish their tarnished reputations in the eyes of their subjects. It was true that a younger commander should be appointed, and Richard, Duke of York, who was only 41 years of age, seemed the most obvious choice. His loyalties were most suspect, and there was a natural revulsion to allowing him to live down the disgrace into which he had just fallen. Many other suitable commanders were known to be sympathetic towards him, and it may have been unwise to furnish them with a large body of troops. There was however John Talbot, the veteran Earl of Shrewsbury, who had been fighting in France all his life. John was born in 1388 or 1390 and was thus 63 or 65 years old, an advanced age for the time. John was known to be loyal, having fallen for Queen Margaret's beauty the first time he set eyes on her in 1445. He would still do anything for her, and his name and reputation would raise troops with ease.

All through the summer of 1452, Shrewsbury prepared his expedition. To put the French off the scent, it was given out that his troops were intended for Calais, although that City was in no danger. It was then said that he was ordered to deal with the pirates in the Channel, who were as always a nuisance. On 2nd September 1452, all pretence was dropped, and he was handed his commission as the King's Lieutenant in Acquitaine. In mid-October,  he landed 3, 000 men at a point on the coast of Medoc which is still known as 'L, Anse a l'Anglot.'

The moment was very well chosen. Taken by surprise, King Charles VII was able to dispatch only a small force to the South, and it needed time to arrive on the scene. The Governor of the City of Bordeaux and the Senechal of Guienne attempted to parley, but the citizens would not wait and threw open the gates to welcome the English soldiers with open arms. Overcome with joy, the people of the Bordelais gave a similar welcome to Shrewsbury's army. Castillon admitted his men, although Fronsac, Bourg and Blaye held out for the moment. Well pleased with the first results, Shrews-bury halted his campaign for the winter months, and settled down to wait for the promised reinforcements. These arrived in March 1453 under the command of his son, also John Talbot, Viscount de L'Isle, and Lords Moleyns and Camoys. With 5, 000 men under his banner, Shrewsbury felt confident that he could deal with any French force sent against him.

Although taken by surprise, King Charles VII was not unduly worried, and took time to assemble a considerable force in which artillery played a prominent part. In June 1453, it struck hard, rapidly re-capturing Chalais and Gensac. In July 1453, it laid siege to Castillon with the intention of forcing the English army to fight a pitched battle.

The French preparations were made with great care. Earth ramparts were dug in such a way that they could both besiege the town and repel any relieving force. The French army had a considerable number of guns, and most of these were posted behind the earthworks. A reserve of guns was established in an artillery park from whence it could be rushed to wherever it was needed. A small force was posted in the Priory de Saint-Florant, the most likely point of the English approach; its task was to warn of the English advance, to put up a token resistance, and then to run away, thus tempting the English to follow, when they would come up against the main French positions. A rear-guard was posted on Mount Horable to the North-East. Its task was to cover any French retreat, and to act as a mobile reserve in any other eventuality.

The French plan worked to perfection. On the day of the battle, 17th July 1453, a huge cloud of dust arose, and acted as a smoke-screen to hide their main positions. The English advance from Bordeaux first encountered the Priory, whose garrison did all that was expected of them. Pausing the refresh themselves from the contents of the Priory's cellars, the English decided on a frontal attack. Prudence would have dictated a mounted reconnaissance but, rashly, Shrewsbury decided to pursue what looked like an initial success and press on with a dismounted attack. The French guns fired a salvo which decimated the English front ranks and the sweating French gunners strove to re-load their pieces and fire again. Soon the English soldiers were charging up the French earthworks and engaging in ferocious hand-to-hand fighting before being repelled by the French soldiers. Time and again they charged, and time and again they were driven back. The losses began to mount, either from the swords and pikes of the French soldiers or from the fire of their trusty guns. The day wore on, but still Shrewsbury persisted. What decided the battle was the attack launched on the English left flank by the French reserve from Mount Horable. This began to roll up the English line, and the English army was routed. Soon it fled from the field.

This was the last battle of the several periods of strife which together are known to history as the 100-years war, which lasted from 1337 to the day at Castillon in 1453.

The English claims to France were forever laid to rest in this battle which is noteworthy for two other reasons. The use of the French rear-guard on Mount Horable was one of the very few examples of manoeuvre on the battlefield once battle had been joined, although manoeuvres before battle were frequent and sometimes very skilful. [Chapter ] The roles of careful preparation on one side, and reckless bravery with the minimum of preparation on the other, had been reversed since the epic fight at Agincourt 1415, nearly 40 years before. Truly the French commanders had learnt the lesson well, and had put it to good effect when they destroyed the English army. The English losses were very heavy. Besides innumerable losses among the rank and file, most of their commanders died. They had lead their soldiers from ther front, the position of greatest danger, and had paid the price for doing so. John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, was so badly disfigured that his own herald could only recognise him from his teeth. His son's body was found nearby with so many wounds that it was a marvel that he was not cut to pieces.

The victorious French army then went on to subdue the rebellious provinces, which put up such a stern fight that their operations were not completed until the surrender of Bordeaux in October 1453. The effects of England's previous defeats in France had been devastating enough to her domestic politics. The loss of the battle of Castillon was catastrophic, the more so as its news was received in London at a particularly crucial moment.

Parliament 1453

Parliament was summoned to meet in Reading on 6th March 1453. Although nobody realised it at the time, it was due to continue until April 1454. Its sittings were not continuous, and were broken by many prorogation's and adjournments, the main one being from 2nd July to 12th November 1453. It was during this summer period that the King lost his mind, and what happened thereafter belongs to a later Chapter. [Chapter ]

It was unusual for Parliament to be called together at the start of the spring and summer months, when the plague could be expected to disrupt its proceedings. It seems Reading was chosen because the plague was less likely to wreck its ravages there than in the Capital, and also the town was much less sympathetic to the Yorkists than was London. There was thought to be greater loyalty in Reading to the ruling dynasty. No taxation had been granted since 1449, and the Crown was in dire need of money. It was true that Burgundy was financing the expedition to the South of France, but some expenses still fell onto the English Treasury. It would have been useless to call Parliament any earlier, because the Resumption Statute 1451 [Chapter ]had not been given sufficient time to prove itself. By now it had, and it was hoped that Parliament would be suitably impressed.

The Common House was indeed impressed. Previous Resumption Statutes had failed in their objects, but the 1451 Statute was living up to all the Common House's hopes. Parliament now considered that it should be as good as its word and, now that resumption was at last effective, provide the King with the money he still needed. This was the most generous of all the Parliaments of King Henry VI's reign; tonnage and poundage were granted to the King for life as were the wool duties. Englishmen were to pay 50/= in place of 40/= the sack, and foreigners 100/= in place of the previous 63/4=. Taxes on aliens living in England were substantially increased. A 1/15th and a 1/10th were also authorised, to be paid in two halves in November 1453 and November 1454. This was Henry's most successful Parliament, and before they dispersed on 2nd July, he came to the Common House in person to thank the members.

The Yorkist faction, having being worsted in Richard, Duke of York's rebellion in 1452, found that their influence in this Parliament was much less pronounced than it had been in 1451. The underlying feeling was very much in favour of the ruling dynasty. The Chancellor, Cardinal John Kemp, Archbishop of Canterbury, was a sick man,  [he died on 22nd March 1454] so the session was opened by Marmaduke Lumley, Bishop of Lincoln. A former protege of Suffolk, he was felt to have a safe pair of Lancastrian hands. The Speaker was Sir Thomas Thorpe, a knight for the Shire of Essex and a known Lancastrian supporter. He had been ousted from his post in the Treasury by John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester, when he became Treasurer, and strongly resented it even though he had since become a Baron of the Court of Exchequer. If the Yorkists were in any doubt about their unpopularity, it was demonstrated by the granting of two petitions. The first of these sought to annul any legal disabilities suffered by the families of Lord Say, William Crowmer and John Bailey following their condemnation and execution during Jack Cade's rebellion. [page ] Since these men had not been convicted by the Royal Courts, but had been murdered by the mob, this can only have been a stalking horse for the second half of the petition, that a previous petition for the arrest of Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset and his friends, should be quashed and consigned to oblivion.

The second petition prayed that all exemptions from the 1451 Resumption Statute in favour of the Yorkists should be cancelled. It was made very clear that Parliament had little favour for the Yorkist faction, although in a short while, this was to change.

There was much talk about establishing a corps of archers, 19, 000 strong, to be called out in case of need. Rather like today's Territorial Army, it seems to have been the intention that the men should remain in their civilian occupations until they were required for military service. There was confusion over their exact role. Were they intended as a pool of reinforcements to Shrewsbury's army in the South of France? Or were they intended to overawe Richard, Duke of York and his friends from attempting another rebellion or staging some military coup? Although the number was later reduced to 13, 000, nothing ever came of the proposal and the corps was never established, so we shall probably never know what the purpose was. It has been suggested that the whole idea was the fantasy of historians, but a schedule has survived showing the proposed contributions of each county. [Appendix ] The suspicion does linger that a Parliament of Lancastrian sympathies intended to warn the Yorkists to keep the peace and to behave themselves.

July and August 1453

When on 2nd July 1453, each Knight of the Shire and each burgess of the town mounted his horse and turned its head for home, they must have enjoyed a feeling of some satisfaction. They were not due to meet again until mid-November, and there seemed little business which remained.

The Yorkists were now quiet and subdued, and seemed unlikely to start another uprising; even the rule of Queen Margaret, Somerset and the witless King, much as they detested the first two, was better than civil strife. After a long and bitter struggle over Resumption, it seemed the battle was won and the 1451 Statute was working well. If the King needed more money, they had given it to him. With the Treasury replete once again, many of the countries ills could be dealt with and would in time disappear. Shrewsbury seemed to be making good progress in the South of France, and there seemed every prospect of the recovery of the Southern Provinces. It seemed that at last things had taken a turn for the better.

Then disaster struck with a double blow. During the latter part of the month, news of the terrible disaster of Shrewsbury's defeat and death at Castillon reached their ears. During the summer months, King Henry VI, the countries Chief Executive, lapsed into madness. Once again, all was in turmoil.


Numbers of archers to be provided by each county

Parliament March-June 1453

(Rot. Parl. V 232)

County/Town/Area No County/Town/Area No
Bedford    201 Stafford 173
Buckingham 205 Somerset 405
Cambridge 302 Dorset 254
Huntingdon 133 Surrey 175
Cornwall 142 Sussex 329
Cumberland 74 Southampton (County) 385
Devon 284 Warwick 236
Essex 368 Leicester 226
Hertford 183 Wiltshire 476
Yorkshire 713 Worcester 149
Gloucester 424 Westmorland 56
Hereford 130 Bristol 91
Kent 575 York (City) 152
Lancaster 113 Hull 50
Lincoln 910 Lincoln(City) 46
Middlesex 105 London 1, 137
Northampton 346 Norwich 121
Nottingham 200 Newcastle 53
Derby 141 Southampton (Borough) 46
Norfolk 1, 012 Coventry 76
Suffolk 429 Nottingham(City) 30
Northumberland 60 Durham(Bishopric) 300
0xford 419 Lords of the Realm 3, 000
Berkshire 309 Wales and Chester 3, 000
Rutland 64 Shropshire 192


Copyright Michael D. Miller 2003