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

Michael D. Miller

Chapter 75: King Richard III's foreign affairs


A bad start 

France, Burgundy, Brittany and Scotland were well aware that all English Kings were under a measure of pressure from their nobles to engage in some war-like foreign adventure, and France and Scotland felt uncomfortable on two particular issues. Whatever successive treaties might provide, had the English ever really abandoned the project of recovering the provinces in France that had once been theirs? The 100-years War had been fought with this end in view, and whilst it had ended in a French victory, it had caused untold suffering and devastation in France. This they had no wish to see repeated. Scotland was uncomfortably aware that, shortly before he died, King Edward IV had given Richard, Duke of Gloucester, carte blanche to carve out for himself a Duchy in South West Scotland if he could. This was a means of keeping employed his dynamic and restless younger brother, and of giving him some lands he could call his own which he did not hold of his King. He could call himself a Prince there.

In spite of the honeyed words and gracious phrases which Richard's ambassadors addressed to both Courts at the start of his reign, both King James III and King Louis X1 were well aware of the true nature of the man who had become King of England. Richard was an aggressive man, and when he identified an enemy, a process which never took him very long, his first instinct was to attack him with a pre-emptive strike. Initially he seems not to have understood or to have had any sympathy with diplomacy, or even to comprehend that its uses could gain him the time he so badly needed to consolidate his position in England, particularly after the trauma of Buckingham's rebellion. There is an undoubted parallel between King Richard III and Brigadier Rittie-Hook in Evelyn Waugh's amusing novels of the Second World War. To the Brigadier, the art of war lay in seeking out your enemy and 'biffing' him until he begged for mercy. His troops never received any training in defensive tactics at all. The Brigadier did not consider it was necessary.

Already before his brother had died, relations with France had become very bad, so much so that the Calais commander thought that there was open warfare. As a means of expressing his pique at the successful way that King Louis X1 had outwitted him over Burgundy, and had then ceased to pay the useful annual tribute of 50, 000 livres [Chapter], King Edward IV had sent the Queen's brother, Sir Edward Wydeville, to sea with a squadron of ships to harry French shipping in the Channel. The French had responded vigorously with a squadron under the command of the anglophobe Marechal d'Esquerdes, and fights of an indeterminate nature had raged up and down the Channel and the Western Approaches. In May 1483, the process was brought to nought by the flight of Sir Edward to join Henry Tudor in Brittany; he had realised from the arrests of his relatives at Stoney Stratford on 30th April and the flight of his sister into sanctuary that Richard would behead every Wydeville that he could lay hands on and wished to deny him the chance so far as he was concerned. There was however a cheaper way to persue the same policy, and Richard let it be known among the English pirates, hitherto kept in check by the fear of the gallows and the rope, that they now had free license to attack French shipping.

Pirates are not selective creatures, and they interpreted their new-found permission in the broadest possible way. They seized every ship they could find, and soon storms of protest were flooding in from Scotland, the Hansa League, Burgundy, Brittany and the Mediterranean countries besides France. Richard thought this was evidence that his policy was working, and if these other places chose to identify themselves as his enemies, this was all to the good. It did not seem to occur to him, or if it did to worry him unduly, that English ships would be seized in retaliation, and that England's commerce would be damaged.

The time was not altogether bare of diplomatic activity. In June 1483, Richard instructed his ambassador at the Breton Court to sound out Francis, Duke of Brittany, and to seek assurances that Sir Edward Wydeville would not be allowed to invade England or otherwise attack him. With tongue in cheek, he suggested a commission to enquire into the piracy problem. No mention was made of Henry Tudor who, at this time, Richard discounted entirely as a political force. In August he received a reply which obviously puzzled him. No mention was made of the commission, the Bretons seeing this as a delaying tactic, but Duke Francis told him that the French had demanded that he should hand over Henry Tudor to them. Knowing that they would use him to attack England, he had refused, whereupon King Louis X1 had threatened to seize him by force. Duke Francis needed 4, 000 archers to prevent this with another 4, 000 standing by. If these men were supplied, he would hand Henry Tudor to the English. Richard did not know what to do. Why should he go to all this trouble and expense to secure some worthless personage? He was much pre-occupied with the problems of the Princes in the Tower and Buckingham's incipient rebellion, and sent no answer. [pages ] Duke Francis saw the lack of a reply as evidence of Richard's insincerity, and felt he was free to support Henry Tudor's expedition in October 1483 to take part in Buckingham's rebellion. [page ] It all came to nothing, but this encouraged Duke Francis to allow Henry Tudor to hold Court in Rennes Cathedral during Christmas 1483, when he was accepted by the exiles as the rightful King of England. Even worse, he solemnly undertook to marry Margaret of York, the late King's eldest daughter.

The events in Rennes over Christmas 1483 at last jolted Richard sufficiently so that he belatedly saw Henry Tudor for what he really was - a political enemy of the first magnitude. It encouraged Richard to re-double his naval operations, and not simply rely on the pirates. During the winter, several flotillas put to sea, one of them commanded by Lord Scrope of Bolton. A Breton fleet was reported to be about to sail from Flanders to Brittany, and this was made a special target. It seems unlikely that it was intercepted, but the intention to attack it was certainly there.


The suspicions of the Scots were raised in the second half of 1483 when King James III had asked for a truce of eight months. After a delay, Richard replied that he would agree to one of two months only. In November, James had expressed himself as "marvelling" that Richard had not been more positive. In February 1484, Richard openly began preparing for an invasion of Scotland by a 'Host Royal', by which he meant substantial forces by land and sea. The proposed date for the invasion was May. The Scots, alarmed, asked France for an alliance, and on 13th March 1484, 'the auld alliance' against their traditional enemy, England, was revived. In April Richard asked for a Scots embassy to be sent to him. This was nothing more than the normal courtesy before commencing hostilities, but the Scots, emboldened by their new alliance with France, refused.

Richard now found how difficult it was to raise troops for his proposed war. In 1482, most of his soldiers came from the North, but now many of his main northern supporters were in the South keeping an eye on unreliable Southerners.

[pages ] He had a measure of success on land, but not nearly enough to make a substantial difference. In late June or early July, Richard, whilst in Scarborough, had the mortification of seeing an English squadron being resoundingly defeated by a Franco-Scottish fleet. Two of his best ships, with two of his best captains, were captured. It was therefore something of a relief when, on 21st July, the Scots king accepted an invitation to a peace conference to be held at Nottingham Castle.

Even now Richard's cup of humiliation was not quite full to the brim. On 22nd July that incurable romantic Alexander, Duke of Albany, made one last desperate bid for the Scottish Crown by invading Scotland with a small force. The first objective was the small town of Lochmaben, where a fair was being held. Recovering from their initial surprise, the local townsmen and gentry seized their weapons and beat him off. Many prisoners were taken, including some English. Alexander only escaped because he was mounted on an excellent horse. Back in England, the jibes at his expense and the open jeers and sneers at the English Court were more than his proud spirit could bear. Despairing of the English, he took himself off to France. There in 1485 he died of injuries received in a tournament.

The peace conference held in Nottingham Castle in mid September 1484 brought the unfortunate Scots war to an end. There were some positive gains; there were agreements to deal with the twin nuisances of pirates and border raids, and a further agreement that James' eldest son and heir should marry Anne de La Pole, the daughter of Richard's sister Elizabeth and John de La Pole, Duke of Suffolk. A truce was also agreed for a terms of three years. Surprisingly short as it was, it received the approbation of both sides. [There was an odd proviso to this term. The truce in respect of Dunbar Castle was to last for six months only without prejudice to the three year term elsewhere. This untidy arrangement seems to reflect Richard's anxiety for an end to hostilities and his confidence that if the Scots attacked the Castle, it could be held] The Scots probably had their eyes on Berwick and on Albany's Castle at Dunbar, now firmly in English hands, and were not willing to forego these two prizes for longer than they could help. Richard probably thought that three years was long enough to neutralise Henry Tudor once and for all, and could then turn his attention to Scotland without having to worry what was going on behind his back. In marked contrast to his views a year before, he now regarded Henry as a most serious menace to his Throne and Crown. After the events in Rennes Cathedral over Christmas 1483, Richard's only son and heir had died suddenly in April 1484, and it seemed most unlikely that his Queen Anne would bear him another. [pages ] He had alienated everybody by giving them ample reason to regard him as an enemy, and a most dangerous one at that, and now his House and Dynasty seemed threatened. Now events elsewhere were to shape a course over which he had no control, but which was destined to ensure his downfall.

A Praguerie

That redoubtable old blackguard, King Louis X1, died at the end of August 1483, and was succeeded as King of France by his 11-year old son, King Charles VIII. A Regency was necessary, and Charles' elder sister, Anne de Beaujeu, assisted by her husband, took up the reins of government. Characteristically, Richard had not taken the opportunity posed by every change of administration to seek better relations with France. Perhaps he discounted the Regent as a mere woman; if he did, he made another of his serious errors. Anne was to prove herself an intelligent, cool-headed, strong-nerved and extremely able lady.

Probably falling into the same error as Richard seems to have made, the now immediate heir to the French Throne, Louis Duc d'Orleans, decided that the time was right to rebel and seize the Throne for himself. He gathered around him a number of like-minded nobles, and invited Maximilian of Austria, now the reigning force in what remained of Burgundy, Francis, Duke of Brittany, and King Richard III of England to join him in a Grand Coalition with the object of unseating King Charles VIII and Anne de Beaujeu. This was a project as quixotic as it was fantastic and, paying no regard to the politics and ambitions towards France of each of these countries, must have been born of a fevered imagination. What it did do was to throw Brittany into turmoil. The ageing Duke Francis was ill and was unable to attend to business, and his Court was divided on what it should do. Pierre Landais was still the Treasurer and the main force in the Breton government [this was the man who saved Henry Tudor from being extradited in 1476-see page ] and he and his faction supported Orleans. This ensured that the other Breton nobles, who loathed Landais for much the same reasons as the Wydevilles were hated in England, sided with Anne de Beaujeu. It was however very risky to become embroiled in a French civil war, or even to sit on its sidelines as a neutral,   without substantial military support from England, regardless of whether she joined in the war against Anne.

By June 1484, Richard realised that he had made a series of fundamental errors. It was unwise to fight a war on two fronts, an outright war with Scotland to the North, and a war in all but name to the South. His own position was jeopardised by the death of his son, and the piracy which he had encouraged was damaging the Countries trade and thus his own tax yield. He therefore re-acted most favourably to a Breton embassy in June which suggested that the piracy should be suppressed, a source of complaint from Burgundy and the Hansa League as well. Richard was as good as his word.

The pirates were told, in the firmest terms, that the 'good times' were past, but the gallows and the rope remained. Relations with Brittany began to improve. It was something of a God-send when, in August 1484, the Bretons asked for military help. He was quite prepared to provide it but there was a price - the extradition of Henry Tudor and his band of exiles. The Bretons seemed receptive to the idea, and in September, Sir James Tyrell was sent to Brittany to negotiate the details.

All this would have been discussed in the Council where it reached the ears of Thomas, Lord Stanley. He told his wife Lady Margaret, still languishing in her guilded cage, and left her to make what use she would of the news that her son was now in mortal danger; Thomas thought it better that he did not know what she did, and distanced himself from the following events. Margaret promptly dispatched Doctor Christopher Urswick to seek the advice of Doctor John Morton, sitting out his exile in Antwerp where he had refused Richard's blandishments of a pardon. Urswick reached Antwerp, probably in September, and the two worldly-wise prelates were soon agreed that Henry must leave Brittany at once. Where was he to go? There was only France, where surely Anne de Beaujeu would find a use for him, but it was first necessary, indeed prudent, to be certain that she would welcome him. Morton gave Urswick a letter of introduction to Anne, and sent him on his way.

The quick-witted Anne immediately saw the advantages of having Henry Tudor in France as a counter-weight to Richard whom she saw as a probable, and possibly very dangerous,   enemy. She gave Urswick safe-conducts for himself and Henry, and also some money for the journey, and bade him make all haste. There was little time to be lost.

Urswick hurried to Vannes and delivered his warning in late September. Already the negotiations between Tyrell and Landais had progressed so far that Landais was even now making arrangements to round up the exiles. Urswick pointed out that the other exiles could not be warned without alerting Landais; they would have to take their chance. With Urswick and four or five companions, Henry rode hard for the frontier. The party avoided the main routes, and travelled by lanes and by-ways, stopping only to rest and water their horses. Landais, finding that the birds had flown, sent a mounted party in pursuit. It arrived too late. Henry's party had crossed the frontier into the safety of France a bare hour ahead of them.

Duke Francis recovered his health shortly afterwards, and was greatly enraged when he found out that he had lost his main bargaining counter with England. Sending for Landais to demand an explanation, he discovered something else as well; taking advantage of the position, Landais' many enemies had cut off his head. Duke Francis however put no bar in the way of the other exiles travelling to join Henry, even providing them with money for the journey. Without Henry Tudor, they were of no further use to him, and he thought it was as well to be rid of them.

Before the end of 1484, Henry had set up his Court at Montargis where he waited for Anne to indicate what uses she had for him. Anne did not want him at her own Court, and was happier with him some distance away. Henry's Court now consisted of about 300 people, the most notable being his now elderly uncle Jasper, the one-time Earl of Pembroke, Thomas, Marquis of Dorset, Sir Edward Wydeville and Sir Edward Poynings. A steady trickle of refugees reached them from England. The English students in Paris, among them Richard Fox, the future Bishop of Winchester, made their way to Montargis. Very soon, there was to be a substantial, and most welcome, reinforcement of professional soldiers.

John de Vere, Earl of Oxford, escapes

For 10 years, John had eked out a weary existence as a prisoner in Hammes Castle, one of the outlying forts of the Calais defences and the maximum security prison of the time. The years had taken their toll, and in 1478, he had attempted suicide by jumping from the high walls into the moat. He still remained defiant, and took no steps to make his peace with King Edward IV, which he might have achieved, because he still hated the Plantagenets for what they had done to his father and elder brother in 1462. [pages ] King Richard III was less likely to give him a pardon, but at least he could rejoice in the company of Sir James Blount, the Captain of Hammes, who regarded his post at Hammes as almost as much imprisonment as Oxford was suffering himself.

Blount welcomed the presence of a cultivated man such as John, and the two men often talked far into the night.

When Henry set up his Court at Montargis, Oxford broached the suggestion that they should join him. He knew Blount was sickened by what was popularly supposed to have happened to the Princes in the Tower, and that Blount did not think King Richard III's rule could last for long. Blount was initially hesitant, but Oxford eventually won him over. The garrison was showing signs of disaffection for the same reasons, but it would be impossible to take it with them. Such a large body of armed Englishmen would invite misunderstanding from the French who would attack them. Rather ungallantly, they left the garrison in the charge of Lady Blount and slipped out of the Castle.

Their arrival at Montargis caused two predictably opposite reactions. Henry Tudor was delighted to see them. John was one of the most prominent noblemen of England, whose presence beside him would command enormous prestige. Richard in London was furious, and ordered the Calais garrison to ensure that Hammes Castle remained true to its allegiance. The Castle's garrison was indeed disaffected and, commanded by Lady Blount, another of the redoubtable ladies of the 15th-century, put up a spirited resistance. Henry sought and obtained from Anne de Beaujeu permission to raise the siege, Anne even advancing money to buy arms. In January 1485, Henry and his force managed to beat off the besiegers for long enough to allow Lady Bount and the garrison to escape. Richard may have regained his Castle. Henry gained a number of professional soldiers.

The Rebellion of Louis, Duc d'Orleans

The cautious and sensible Anne de Beaujeu still had her problems, and these centred round that foolish youth Louis. She did not feel able to support Henry Tudor in any expedition to England whilst Louis still posed a threat to her which might result in France being attacked by a coalition of Burgundy, Brittany and England. Even though this possibility began to look increasingly unlikely in early 1485, Henry was unable to move her with his pleas for armed help. Then, quite suddenly, things altered dramatically. Louis openly rebelled, but found that he had little support. Anne moved against him at once, and we can see Henry and his band of exiles in her armies. By the end of March 1485, Louis' rebellion collapsed ignominiously with very little fighting.

Louis made his submission to Anne; if this had been England, he would probably have lost his head. In France, pragueries were regarded more gently as a sudden rush of blood to the head, and were not always so drastically punished. Anne forgave him, and he later achieved his ambition in any case. King Charles VIII's reign was short lived, and he died without heirs. In 1498, Louis became King Louis XII, quite constitutionally and without any rebellion.

In April 1485, Anne now felt free to turn her attention to another of her priorities, the unseating of the war-like King Richard III and the replacement of his aggressive instincts by an English regime which would be more friendly towards France. Planning could now begin in earnest, and on the French side, it went very smoothly. There was a hiatus from the English side in the shape of Richard's proposal to marry his niece, Margaret of York, in March 1485. [pages ] Had the marriage taken place, a lot of the support in England on which Henry was depending could have disappeared. Although nothing came of the hideous idea,  [pages ] it was a time of great worry for Henry, and this was added to by an unlooked for, and very unwelcome, attempt at desertion from his own camp. Thomas, Marquis of Dorset received letters from his mother Elizabeth, Dowager Queen of England.in which she pointed out that her son should reconsider his position. His half-sister was about to become Queen of England by the obscene expedient of marrying her uncle Richard; the family fortunes, for some time in the doldrums, now looked like moving into sunnier pastures. Should not Thomas desert Henry and hurry home to claim his share now that the Wydevilles looked like been restored to Royal favour? Surprising as it may seem, since Thomas was fully aware that Richard hated him and had already gone to great lengths to imprison and behead him, he was naive enough to fall for the bait. Secretly, he slipped away from Montargis. Henry, who had never really trusted him, sent horsemen in pursuit. They brought Thomas back as a prisoner, looking and no doubt feeling very foolish. In the subsequent interview, Henry did not mince his words. When Henry sailed for England in August, Thomas and John Bourchier were left behind as security for the money Henry had borrowed in France. Until it was repaid in full, there was no question of their sailing for home.

Anne de Beaujeu advanced 40, 000 livres, and with this helpful start, Henry could raise further loans. Then came the men. There were at this time some 400 to 500 English exiles, and there was also the force of professional soldiers that had come from Hammes. A Scots contingent, apparently 1, 000 strong, was lead by Sir Alexander Bruce of Earlshall; King James III put no bar in the way of their participating, since he had had recent and most disagreeable dealings with Richard, and nursed feelings similar to those of Anne. They seem to have been recruited at the time of the Franco-Scottish alliance in 1484 by Bernard Stuart d'Aubigny, who commanded the Scots Royal Guard in France. There were a number of French soldiers, perhaps 1, 800 in number, made redundant after disbanding a field force in Normandy. Marechal d'Esquerdes suggested that they be sent with Henry instead of getting into idle mischief at home. There were some volunteers of the sort who always attached themselves to an expedition such as Henry's. There was also a force of artillerymen, together with their guns, which had been hired from private individuals.

It is very difficult to make a realistic estimate of the strength of the Tudor army when it sailed from France and, as always, we are bedevilled by the confusing and contradictory accounts given by the chroniclers, Polydore Vergil, Phillipe de Commyngs, Jean Molinet and John Mair. Working backwards from the Tudor strength at Bosworth, said to have been 5, 000 officers and men, and making allowance for the substantial English and Welsh contingents who later joined Henry, it is reasonable to suggest that no more than 2, 500 to 3, 000 men accompanied him on sailing from France. Even this modest number would have put a great strain on the shipping resources of the time, although medieval troop transports were always very crowded. However this may have been, on 1st August 1485, Henry Tudor's fleet slipped down the River Seine with the tide and sailed for the open sea.

Copyright Michael D. Miller 2003