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Henry’s Howlers (2) Diplomatic Disasters: Mayhem in Maine and Nonsense in Normandy: 1440-1450.

(1) Introduction

Just over 70 years ago next week, on 12th March 1942, General MacArthur, Commander of the US Armed Forces in the Pacific, was compelled to quit the Philippines in the face of the invading Japanese Armies. Arriving in South Australia a week later, General MacArthur declared: “I came through and I shall return.” General MacArthur fulfilled his pledge. Together with the US Armed Forces, MacArthur returned to the Philippines in October 1944. To crown his military achievement, MacArthur personally accepted the surrender of the Japanese Armed Forces in August 1945.

Going back in time over 700 years from 1945, King John was compelled to quit his territory of Normandy, in December 1203. King John’s inglorious departure from Normandy was mainly the result of the advance of French Armed Forces, led by King Philip II. John did try to return to Normandy ten years later; but in contrast to General MacArthur, King John’s attempted comeback ended in disaster at the battle of Bouvines. Normandy had been a vital component of the Anglo-Norman Régime for 150 years (1066 to 1214); reaching its height under Henry I and Henry II. After Bouvines (1214) the province passed under French control, where it was to remain for the next 200 years.

(2) Lancastrian Expansion in France 1415 to 1425

If the English did not return to Normandy under King John, they certainly did under the Lancastrian Monarch, King Henry V. In August 1415, King Henry V and his Anglo/Welsh Army invaded Normandy, winning a stunning victory over the French Armies two months later at the Battle of Agincourt. The seal was set on Henry V’s success by the Treaty of Troyes, in 1420. By this Treaty, King Henry V married Catherine of Valois (daughter of King Charles VI of France). By this Treaty, Henry’s heirs would be recognised as Kings of France. King Henry V was to die in August 1422; but by then he had an heir, as his son King Henry VI had been born in December 1421. Young King Henry was recognised as King of France, most notably in Normandy. English control in Normandy was further consolidated in August 1424 with the great English victory over the French Armies at the Battle of Verneuil (in eastern Normandy).

(3) Resurgence of the French Forces in France  1425 to1440.

England in the first half of the 15th Century was affected by economic recession and was also plagued (literally) by a falling population. John Hatcher and Mark Bailey estimate the population of England in the mid-fifteenth century at somewhere between 2.25 and 2.5 million, far below the peak of 6 million around 1300. [‘Modelling the Middle Ages’ (2001), pp29 and 31]. It was these economic and social constraints, rather than the intrepid determination of Jeanne d’Arc that meant that the English Armies could never hope to retain control of half of France.

The result was that the English Armies gradually gave ground in parts of France. In 1429, English Forces withdrew from Orléans (thereby ceding control in Central France). Six years later in 1435, the English military presence in France received a major setback. In the summer of 1435, by the Treaty of Arras, England’s ally, Burgundy defected to the French Forces. Just as bad, the Commander of the English Armies in France, the Duke of Bedford, died at the early age of 46, in September 1435.  The Duke of Bedford (brother of Henry V) had been the victor at Verneuil, so his loss was keenly felt. It was therefore no surprise that the English Armies lost Paris in 1436, following this military ‘double whammy’.

(4) Defence of Normandy 1440 to 1446

The retention of Normandy was perhaps the crucial factor in maintaining Lancastrian prestige. When Henry VI formally assumed royal powers in 1437, despite the fall of Paris the year before, there were still solid grounds for optimism about the English position in Normandy:-

  • The two stunning English victories of Agincourt (1415) and Verneuil (1424) had both occurred in Normandy, reinforcing English prestige in that province.
  • Groups of English soldiers had settled in Normandy, marrying local girls, and working farms. In 1432 (a few years before Henry VI’s assumption of power) a university was founded in Caen for the education of these settlers. It seemed as if an English community was taking root in Normandy, alongside the native Normans. There was of course some Norman resistance to this English immigration (even a riot in 1436); but overall, one feels that a genuine Anglo/Norman ‘multi-cultural’ society was developing in Normandy in these years.
  • By 1440, there were substantial garrisons in 45 towns in Normandy, with impressive fortifications for the major cities of Rouen, Caen and Alençon.
  • Between 1440 and 1446, Richard, Duke of York was the English Commander in Normandy. He generally followed a defensive military strategy; husbanding his resources, and avoiding major conflicts with the French, whilst at the same time trying to maintain English strength in Normandy. This sensible strategy helped maintain English authority in Normandy, though it was under pressure because of Henry VI’s blunders (see below).

Lancastrian Blunders in Normandy: 1443

In 1443, without even informing Richard of York, Henry VI authorised John Beaufort, newly created 1st Duke of Somerset, to lead an English military expedition to western Normandy and the Loire region. The Army earmarked for this ill-fated enterprise was a force of 4,250 soldiers (which Richard of York could have utilised).

Arriving in Cherbourg in August 1443, Somerset’s Army moved down the western border of Normandy, taking La Guerche, on the Normandy/Brittany border (a meaningless exercise). Even worse, for reasons that are still not entirely understood, Somerset then disbanded his force and simply returned to England (where he soon died). The whole enterprise had been farcical, and merely served to leave Richard of York disenchanted with Lancastrian Government.

(5) Defeat and Disaster in Normandy: 1446 to 1450.

Within four years, English authority in Normandy collapsed:-

  • In December 1446, Richard Duke of York’s command in Normandy was ended by King Henry VI. Richard himself made no protest, though significantly, his captains in Normandy did. Richard of York was replaced as English Lieutenant in Normandy by one Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset (brother of John Beaufort). Somerset’s appointment was a mistake. He seemed to follow his elder brother John in his military ineptitude. Edmund Beaufort dragged his feet in Normandy, though to be fair to him, by the time Somerset took up his commission in Normandy, irreparable damage had already been done to English control in Normandy by the disastrous English cession of Maine.
  • It is a truism of medieval government that the possession of the province of Maine was essential to English authority in Normandy. The reason is that Maine is adjacent to Normandy’s southern border. Maine therefore acted as a ‘Buffer Zone’, protecting southern Normandy from invasion. As Normandy’s northern frontier was the English Channel, this meant that Normandy’s defenders could concentrate on strengthening their western and, above all, their eastern, borders, against outside attack. This obvious military equation was understood by all medieval rulers. In 1096, King William II wanted to regain Normandy from his older brother, Duke Robert of Normandy. He therefore ‘leased’ Normandy from Duke Robert for £6,666 (thereby allowing Robert to participate in the 1st Crusade). However, to ensure he kept hold of his newly won Duchy, King William II made sure he took possession of Maine, which he achieved in the winter of 1096/1097. Just over one hundred years later, at the start of the 13th century, King Philip II of France was about to launch his final offensive against the English King John. In particular, Philip wanted to gain Normandy. King Philip of France invaded Normandy in the summer of 1203; but only after he had obtained Maine, in spring 1203.
  • It is therefore difficult to understand precisely why King Henry VI was so determined to surrender Maine to King Charles VII of France in the 1440s. He must have known that such a surrender would gravely threaten English possession of Normandy. Henry’s principal negotiator with Charles VII was the Earl of Suffolk. He, too, must have known the risk he was running when he secretly negotiated with the French as early as 1445. Maine was finally surrendered to the French in 1448, without any reciprocal gesture from the French. It is one of the worst acts of appeasement in British diplomatic history. Military retribution now swiftly followed the loss of Maine. In July 1449, King Charles VII declared war, and sent three armies into Normandy. It was no accident that one of these three invading armies entered Normandy from Maine, capturing several Norman towns, including, symbolically, Verneuil.
  • It was soon all over. A belated attempt was made by Henry VI in 1450 to retrieve something from the wreckage. An English Army under Sir Thomas Kyriell landed at Cherbourg, hoping to relieve the English community under Somerset in Caen. The enterprise was doomed. The French forces intercepted Kyriell’s Army ten miles short of Caen, at Formigny. There, the French Army overwhelmed Kyriell’s force, aided by their expert use of gunpowder artillery. Somerset himself surrendered on 24th June 1450 and was allowed to escape to the English garrison at Calais.

 

(6) To what extent was King Henry VI’s Lancastrian Government  responsible for the loss of Normandy?

Even allowing for the economic and social constraints  of recession and declining population, Henry VI should still take most of the blame for the disastrous loss of Normandy:-

(i) Henry’s decision to divide English military command in 1443 between Richard Duke of York and John Duke of Somerset was clearly a major error.

(ii) Henry’s decision to cede Maine (in conjunction with the Duke of Suffolk) was a blunder.

(7) How did the Lancastrian disaster over Normandy contribute to the later outbreak of the Wars of the Roses?

(i) In general, the devastating loss of Normandy greatly undermined public confidence King Henry VI’s Lancastrian Régime. In the February 1450 Session of Parliament, great concern was expressed by the Commons that ; “If war should occur, which God forbid, the country of Normandy is in no way sufficient in itself to offer resistance against the great might of the enemies.(My italics). [‘The Parliament Rolls of Medieval England 1275-1504’, (2012), page 55.] Parliament was clearly aware of the Lancastrian shortcomings in military planning. One therefore feels that the subsequent collapse of English authority in Normandy might well lead to disenchantment with Henry VI – the first pre-condition to outright opposition.

(ii) Richard Duke of York in particular had genuine grounds for grievance against the Lancastrians. He had defended English authority in Normandy for six years, and yet had been treated shabbily by Henry VI. He had not been informed about the abortive 1443 military enterprise in Normandy, and had been replaced by another Duke of Somerset as English Commander in 1446. One of the key conflicts in the later Wars of the Roses was the bitter vendetta between Richard of York and the Somersets. Perhaps that enmity has its origins in the English defence of Normandy in the 1440s.

(8) Conclusion.

The English monarchy never did return to claim authority in Normandy. To that extent, the loss of Normandy in 1450 was the final demise of the famous Anglo/Norman nation inaugurated by the Norman Conquest of 1066. The great English monarchs, King Henry I and King Henry II, would have been appalled at this fracturing of the Anglo/Norman state. In Shakespeare’s History Play, ‘The Third Part of King Henry VI’, Shakespeare seems to blame Henry for the losses in France.

In Act 1, Scene 1, of this play, Shakespeare has King Henry VI trying to defend his foreign policy before his English Magnates.

King Henry States: “I am the son of Henry the Fifth,

Who made the Dauphin and the French to stoop,

And seized upon their towns and provinces.”

This desperate plea earned a swift retort from the Earl of Warwick:

“Talk not of France, since thou hast lost it all.”

It is hard to disagree with Warwick’s  judgement.

Question

I am deliberately uploading my March’ Wars of the Roses Blog’ on 4th March, 2013. Why is the date, 4th March, so significant in the Wars of the Roses?

 

 

 

 

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The Resurrection of King Richard III: February 2013

Exactly a week ago today, on 4th February 2013, we had the electrifying news that the skeletal remains discovered in a Leicester Car Park were those of King Richard III, the last ‘medieval monarch of England’. Experts from the University of Leicester confirmed that DNA from the bones matched the DNA of Richard’s descendants.

(A) The  Enduring Fascination of King Richard III.

(1) Richard III reigned for only two years (26th June 1483 to 22nd August 1485); yet he is one of the most famous monarchs in British History. Richard III is one of the few British monarchs to have a society named after him. ‘The Richard III Society’, founded nearly 90 years ago in 1924, is today a flourishing society. There is also a ‘Richard III Society’ in the USA, founded over 50 years ago in 1961.

A major function of both these societies is has been to rehabilitate the posthumous reputation of King Richard III. Shakespeare effectively executed a ‘hanging job’ on the last Yorkist monarch in his famous play:’ The Tragedy of King Richard III’ (written in 1593). In Shakespeare’s complete canon of cads only Iago exceeds Richard in criminal conduct. In his play, ‘The Third Part of King Henry VI (1591), Shakespeare portrays Richard as exultingly murdering the ‘saintly’ King Henry VI: “Down, down to hell; and say I sent thee thither.” [Act V, Scene VI.] However, Shakespeare was not alone in damming Richard III’s reputation. Another ‘saintly’ historical character, Sir Thomas More, did much to blacken Richard’s reputation in his ‘History of Richard III’ (written between 1512 and 1519). More’s account was little more than political propaganda. As Professor Hicks remarked about twenty years ago: “How was More’s  Richard III ever regarded as objective?” [M.A.Hicks, page 39, in ‘The Wars of The Roses’, Macmillan, 1995.] More is still often regarded as a very upright historical character. In the year 2000, More was even glorified by Pope John Paul II, who declared More to be the Patron of Catholic Politicians.

(2) The other reason for Richard III’s enduring fascination is the question of the ‘Princes in the Tower’. On 9th April 1483, King Edward IV died, only 41years old. Edward IV’s premature death caused a constitutional crisis, as his two male heirs were both minors: Edward, Prince of Wales (12 years old) and Richard, Duke of York (just over 9 years old).

Immediately after his father’s death, Edward Prince of Wales became King Edward V, but he was never crowned. Both Edward and Richard were effectively removed from the monarchy, and their uncle, Richard of Gloucester, became King Richard III. Both princes were lodged in the Tower of London, but both soon disappeared from public view, and, within a few months, were presumed dead. This is not the place to go into a long analysis on the sad fate of the two young princes; but Richard III must be counted as one of their potential ‘murderers’. If the princes had survived Richard III’s coronation, it was in Richard’s self-interest to exhibit the princes, if only to head off potential unrest.  He might therefore have given the order for their execution. However, there are two other possible ‘murderers’ who also might have ordered the princes’ murder.

(i) Henry Tudor (King Henry VII)

Like Richard III, Henry Tudor was a usurper. He had a weak claim to the English Crown (mainly through his mother, Margaret Beaufort). After he took the throne in August 1485 (by defeating Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth), Tudor made sure he eliminated any rival claimants to the throne. Chief among these was Edward, Earl of Warwick (Richard III’s nephew). Henry Tudor ordered his execution in 1499. One feels that Tudor would have been equally prepared to have the two young princes executed after his accession to the Crown.

(ii) Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham.

A devious character, he played the key role in helping Richard accede to the English Crown in 1483. In recognition for Buckingham’s ‘Kingmaker Role’, King Richard III showered Buckingham with rewards, especially in Wales. (On this matter, Shakespeare’s ‘Richard III’ is simply erroneous).

Having been amply rewarded by Richard III for helping him  accede to the Crown in the summer of 1483, Buckingham then turned against Richard in the following autumn. Buckingham’s reasons for his sudden change of allegiance are still uncertain; but Professor Carpenter has suggested: “Possibly Buckingham had some idea that a rebellion in favour of Henry Tudor might remove Richard and culminate in his (i.e. Buckingham’s) ascent to the throne.” [Christine Carpenter, ‘The Wars of the Roses’, page 212, Cambridge, 1997.] Extending this line of argument, Buckingham would have had no scruples in having the two princes murdered in the Tower after Richard’s accession in June 1483.

(B) Richard III’s Fall From Power 1483-1485

  • Richard’s usurpation engendered opposition from those Yorkists who supported the young King Edward V. This culminated in a major rebellion against Richard in southern England, led by the Duke of Buckingham in the autumn of 1483, and involving Henry Tudor. Even so, Richard crushed this rebellion with ease, so one feels that Richard’s ultimate overthrow, in August 1485, was not primarily linked to the circumstances of his usurpation. Richard’s very short tenure as King of England was due to a combination of long run factors and chance events.
  • Long Run Factor: Richard III’s Narrow Power Base.

Richard’s power base was the north of England. Richard had remained loyal to his elder brother, King Edward IV, when Edward had temporarily lost the English Crown in 1470. After Edward IV’s dramatic recovery of the English Crown in 1471, he rewarded Richard for the latter’s loyalty (especially in the north of England). In 1471, Richard was appointed High Sheriff of Cumberland and granted the lordship of Middleham. From 1471 onwards, Middleham Castle (in North Yorkshire), became Richard’s power base.

In the following year, 1472, Richard was appointed President of the Council of the North. This was King Edward IV’s experiment in devolution, and was designed to strengthen Yorkist government in the north of England, in an era of restricted communications. Richard seems to have successfully governed North England. According to one contemporary chronicler, Domenico Mancini:  “He (Richard) kept himself within his own lands (Northern England) and set out to acquire the loyalty of his people through favours and justice. [EHD, Volume IV, edited A.R. Myers, page 330.]

Richard’s policies in the North of England were very successful in the 1470s. Together with the Percies in Northumberland, Richard virtually ruled Northern England.  Richard’s crowning glory occurred in August 1482 (six months before Edward IV’s death). In that month, Richard led a northern English Army that re-captured the key fortress of Berwick upon Tweed. This military triumph protected northern England against Scottish incursions, thereby increasing Richard’s popularity in Northern England,

In a sense, Richard was a northern king imposed on a largely hostile south of England, including London. This meant that Richard’s power base was narrow, and it became even narrower after the southern Rebellion against him in the autumn of 1483 (The Buckingham Rebellion). The Rebellion was ended by Buckingham’s execution for treason. Richard signed the death warrant , not in London; but at Grantham (a Yorkist borough enfranchised by King Edward IV in 1463). Richard’s response to this southern rebellion was to dispossess disloyal southern magnates. This was understandable. What was less sensible was to replace them by ‘planted’ northerners. This mistake meant that Richard passed up the opportunity of broadening his narrow power base by getting southern support.

Thus, when Richard faced Henry Tudor’s invading Army at Bosworth in August 1485, his Army was mainly commanded by northern magnates; one of whom was to prove disloyal (Lord Stanley), the other was to prove indifferent (Lord Northumberland)

  • Short-Term Factors: Chance Events.

Historians have tended to play down the importance of chance events as major factors influencing historical change. Chance events tend to be very specialised. They fit into the Karl Popper mode of unique events: they cannot be replicated. As they are so varied, they do not  easily fit into the pattern of the ‘Hierarchy of Causes’, so beloved of historians. I may say that my personal instinct is to favour long run causes, which can be tabulated in importance. For example, in my recent, January Blog, on the internal weaknesses affecting Henry VI’s Lancastrian Regime, I focussed on economic factors. That is, I was applying a neo-Marxist analysis to the weaknesses of the Lancastrian Regime in the mid-Fifteenth Century. I am perfectly happy with this line of argument, as historical experience does show some linkage between economic pressure and political conflict. In other words, economic factors are significant in the hierarchy of causes. Similarly the extent and nature of a political power base is an important long run factor explaining the retention (or loss) of government. (For example, the British Labour Party’s power base in northern England in 2013 is like Richard’s power base in 1483 – too narrow to retain government.)

However, perhaps we need to pay more heed to chance factors in explaining historical events, including Richard’s loss of power. There were at least two major chance events that collectively may explain Richard’s brief two year reign.

(i) Family Tragedies: 1483 and 1485.

On 9th April 1484, Richard’s only son(and heir), Edward of Middleham, died, aged only ten years old. This was a great personal tragedy for Richard, who received the sad news whilst in Nottingham (again, not London). On a practical level, it meant that Richard had no direct heir (he then designated his nephew, Lord Lincoln, as his heir). Just as bad, Richard’s own wife, Anne Neville, died on 16th March 1485. This was an ‘unlucky death’, as Queen Anne was then only 29 years old. It is thought that this chance event, a double tragedy, made Richard more reckless as a monarch. In particular, it might explain Richard’s headstrong actions at Bosworth, when he threw caution to the winds in his desire to personally eliminate Henry Tudor (instead of retiring northwards to re-group his forces, as his commanders advised).

(ii) Opposition of France 1485

It is not generally realised how much Henry Tudor depended on French help at the battle of Bosworth (certainly not mentioned by Shakespeare). Estimates of the size of the French forces vary, but 3,500 seems about right, and this clearly  was a major factor explaining Tudor’s ultimate triumph, especially as the French forces had superior weaponry. Not only that, but Tudor’s invading force was conveyed to Wales in French ships.

It seems that this determined French support for Henry Tudor was simple ‘bad luck’ for Richard, the result of a series of chance events and coincidences.

To begin with, in 1483, in France, as in England, a minor became king . In France, Charles of Valois became King Charles VIII of France on 30th August 1483 (he was then thirteen years old). The Regent was Charles’s elder sister, Anne of Beaujeu.  However, young King Charles VIII was threatened by his uncle, Louis, Duke of Orleans: just as King Edward V had been threatened by his uncle (Richard). The Regent Anne decided to oppose Richard (the Duke of Orleans was pro-Richard).

(C) Conclusion.

King Richard III remains a figure of controversy.  Even his skeletal remains are a cause of debate. It is absolutely right that Richard III receives an honourable interment; but the actual place of interment is today a matter of some dispute. One feels that Richard himself would prefer his final resting place to be in the North of England (York Minster would be an obvious resting place). However, it seems that Leicester Cathedral will have the honour of harbouring Richard’s remains, despite the fact that Leicester was a Lancastrian stronghold in the Wars of the Roses. Still, one feels that Richard would appreciate this irony; perhaps it is for the best.

(D)Conclusion.

King Richard III is one of the few medieval kings to lose his crown by losing his life in battle. Name two other medieval monarchs who similarly lost their thrones by losing their lives in battle.

 

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Henry’s Howlers: (1) Economic Background to the Wars of the Roses (1437-1450)

(1) Introduction: King Henry VI (1422-1461 and 1470-1471)

On 6th November 1429 in Westminster Abbey, Henry of Windsor (son and heir of King Henry V) was crowned King Henry VI of England.  This royal investiture in London was only the first half of a ‘double coronation’. Two years later, on 2nd December 1431, in Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, Henry was also crowned King of France. Henry was then only four days short of his tenth birthday. About fourteen years after his French Coronation, on 23rd April 1445, Henry aspired to another Gallic royal triumph when he married Margaret of Anjou. Yet all this youthful promise was to come to nought:-

  • Within thirty years of his Paris coronation, in 1461, Henry VI had lost both his English and French Crowns. The Yorkist Edward Earl of March was crowned King Edward IV of England on 4th March 1461. Almost exactly four months later, on 3rd July 1461, Prince Louis of Valois was crowned King Louis XI of France.
  • Even worse was to follow. Within ten years of his English deposition, on 21st/22nd May 1471, King Henry VI was sadly  done to death in the Tower of London: almost certainly on the orders of King Edward IV. Henry was then about 50 years old.

So how is King Henry VI remembered today?

  • Is it that he is the youngest person ever to have succeeded to the English Crown? (Henry succeeded to the English Crown on 31st August 1422, when he was just nine months old.)
  • Is it that King Henry VI is the only King of England to be recognised as King of both England and France? (31st August 1422)
  • Is it that King Henry VI founded  both Eton College (in 1440) and King’s College, Cambridge (in 1441)?

For me, King Henry VI’s chief claim to fame is that, as Head of the Lancastrian Monarchy in England, he presided over one of the worst governments to rule in medieval England. Furthermore, so ineffective was King Henry VI, that he helped to cause the murderous conflict that was to engulf England in the mid-fifteenth century: The Wars of the Roses!

(2) Economic Recession 1440-1480

(i) Compared with the economic boom that occurred in 12th century England, the economic situation was very bleak in the mid-fifteenth century. Historians now refer to the mid-fifteenth century as ‘The Great Slump’. This economic downturn was especially severe for certain sections of English society:-

a) The Magnates (Great Nobility), who saw their rental income fall.

b) Woollen cloth manufacturers, who experienced a decline in woollen cloth exports.

c) Workers involved in manufacture, who were increasingly under-employed (or unemployed).

As is the case with most recessions, certain sectors of society did quite well, such as agricultural labourers.  John Hatcher and Mark Bailey have suggested that: “By the middle of the fifteenth century the purchasing power of a day’s labour seems to have more than doubled”.

[John Hatcher & Mark Bailey: ‘Modelling the Middle Ages’ (2001), page 48]

Yet overall, the recession was profound.

(ii) King Henry VI’s Lancastrian Government shared in this economic gloom. On 6th November 1449, a new session of Parliament met at the Dominican Friary, Ludgate, London. Immediately, the Commons  petitioned Henry VI on the state of royal finances. The petition is worth quoting in full:

“The Commons assembled in this your present parliament pray you to consider; whereas your chancellor of your realm of England, your treasurer of England, and many other lords of your council, by your high command, showed and declared the state of this your realm to your said commons at your parliament l; last held at Westminster; which was, that you were in debt for £372,000, which is a great and grievous sum.”

[‘The Parliament Rolls of Medieval England 1275-1504, Volume XII’ (2012), page 107]

Worse then followed.  According to the Commons Petition, royal income was only £5,000 a year, while royal expenditure was £24,000 a year. Such financial pressures on governments are not restricted to the mid-fifteenth century: they are also only too apparent in 2013! The point is, such financial problems imposed severe constraints on Henry’s Government, which in turn was a great source of instability in mid-fifteenth century England (as the Commons Petition implied). In addition, financial pressures meant that the Lancastrian Government could not properly defend Normandy against the encroaching French Forces (see my forthcoming February Blog). The question is: How far were Henry VI and his ministers responsible for the financial mess in which they found themselves in 1450?

(3) To what extent was King Henry VI’s Lancastrian Government responsible for the Government  Financial Chaos in 1450?

On one level, Henry VI was simply the victim of the ‘Great Slump’. It has been estimated that English woollen cloth exports had collapsed by a third between 1440 and 1450. There had also been a decline in imports of wine in this period. This major contraction of international trade in turn meant a great reduction of crown revenue from customs duties. Royal revenue from the customs duties had been £40,000 in 1421 (towards the end of King Henry V’s reign).  In contrast, King Henry VI could only count on an average annual customs revenue of £28,000 between 1446 to 1448.

However, on another level, there is no doubt that the Lancastrian Government  made things worse for themselves, and Henry VI himself  should shoulder a lot of the responsibility:-

  • There is some evidence that Henry VI’s Government had got itself into a trade war with Burgundy (an independent Duchy in North Western Europe). This had led to Burgundy banning the import of English woollen cloth into Burgundy. Apparently, Henry’s Government had been feeble in its response to this prohibition. The Commons Petition in the Parliament that met at Westminster (February 1449) expressly complained that: “As yet no redress has been made, to the most intolerable harm of all the commons of this realm. . . many cloth makers, that is to say male weavers, fullers and dyers. And female combers, carders and spinners.” [‘The Parliament Rolls of Medieval England 1275-1504, Volume XII’ (2012), page 60].
  • King Henry VI was excessively generous in making grants to supporters and for ‘good causes’. Right at the beginning of his rule, in 1438, one of Henry’s council clerks (in modern language, a top civil servant) had complained that Henry had pardoned a collector of customs, thereby losing the Crown £1,300. Exactly ten years later, in 1448, Henry VI expressly willed the huge yearly sum of £1,000 to go towards the building costs of King’s College, Cambridge. He even earmarked part of his own Duchy of Lancaster income to pay the £1,000. Needless to say, the money soon dried up. Such was Henry’s financial profligacy, that by 1450, his Government was reduced to mortgaging its future income to meet its current debts. The proceedings of the February 1449 Parliament also record a grant of 2,500 marks (about £1,700) to the Duke of Somerset and £1,000 to the Duke of Suffolk. [‘The Parliament Rolls of Medieval England Volume XII’, page 68] Both of these payments were to be paid from taxation revenue due to Henry VI’s Government in 1450.

(4) How did Economic Pressures contribute to the Outbreak of the Wars of the Roses?

One of the greatest 19th century philosophers of History, Karl Marx, pointed out the link between economic factors and political events. There is clearly some link between economic pressure and later political conflict. For example, no student of 20th century conflict would surely deny the links (direct or indirect) between the Wall Street Crash in the USA in 1929 and the later international conflicts in Manchuria (1931) and Abyssinia (1935).

Similarly, the ‘Great Slump’ of 1440 to 1480 was the clear backdrop to the murderous conflict between the Lancastrian and Yorkist Forces in England between 1455 and 1465.                                                                                              (i) Pressure on their rental incomes made the Magnates more disposed to use violence to protect their living standards. For example, a Lancastrian Force of 700 soldiers, led by Lord Egremont (son of the Earl of Northumberland) attacked a group of Yorkists at Heworth, outside York, in August 1453. This ‘battle’ was in effect the start of the Wars of the Roses; yet the real cause of the Lancastrian aggression was the fact that one member of the Yorkist group had  inherited two valuable manors (one in Yorkshire, one in Lincolnshire). Both these manors had originally belonged to the powerful Earls of Northumberland. This powerful Lancastrian family evidently wanted to regain these manors, probably to compensate for their declining rental income. (See my forthcoming April Blog for details).

(ii) The total Lancastrian mismanagement of the national finances was itself politically de-stabilising. It caused uncertainty and concern amongst the general population. Such concern could easily erupt into popular unrest, as actually happened in the summer of 1450 with the major civil strife in London known as Cade’s Rebellion. One of the complaints of the rioters in Cade’s Rebellion was that: “The King himself is so beset that he may not pay for his meat and drink, and he owes more than ever any King of England ought.” [‘English Historical Documents, Volume IV’, edited by A.R. Myers, page 267]

Nor could public opinion in 1450 fail to notice that the magnates who financially benefitted at a time of national stringency were the Dukes of Somerset and Suffolk. Both these Magnates were very close to King Henry.     Both these Lancastrian magnates were generally unpopular in 1450. The Duke of Suffolk was especially hated. According to the rioters in Cade’s Rebellion, he was: “the false traitor the Duke of Suffolk.” [English Historical Documents. Page 267]. Suffolk was effectively lynched by the mob in 1450. That left the Duke of Somerset to fly the Lancastrian Flag. Perhaps it was no accident that it was personal dislike of Somerset that fuelled the Duke of York’s opposition to the Lancastrian Government which was to be one of the bases of the Wars of the Roses a few years later.

(5) Conclusion

In his play King Henry VI, Part II (Act V, Scene I), Shakespeare has Richard Duke of York address Henry in the following way:-

“King did I call thee? No, thou art not a king,

Nor fit to govern and rule multitudes.”

Is York’s mocking speech justified?  Read the next exciting episode (February 2013) of my new ‘Wars of the Roses’ Blog, entitled: “Henry’s Howlers (2), ’Nonsense in Normandy and Mayhem in Maine.’

Question

King Henry VI is one of four medieval kings of England who were murdered after losing their throne. Who were the other three?

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Curtain-Up on the Wars of the Roses: The Battle of Wakefield (1460)

Cast your mind back over 550 years.

You have arrived in Wakefield. It is Tuesday, 30th December 1460. It is only mid-afternoon; but darkness comes early at this time of the year.

In the gathering gloom, you walk the short distance to Wakefield Green, Between Sandal Castle and the River Calder. Wakefield Green is sadly littered with many dead bodies. Sandal Castle, lately occupied by Richard Duke of York, is strangely silent. Over by the River Calder, you espy a crowd of foot-soldiers loitering on Wakefield Bridge.  Plucking up your courage you wander across to the soldiers. They are gruff; but not unfriendly. They are retainers of Lord Clifford, the well-known Lancastrian supporter.  They tell you that they are guarding the place where earlier in the day Lord Clifford killed a prominent Yorkist leader, Lord Rutland. You are surprised and saddened by their news, as Lord Rutland is only 17 years old. A Renaissance Prince has been cut down in his prime. How could such an outrage have been allowed to happen?

The Battle of  Wakefield. 30th December 1460

  • In 1460, the forces of King Henry VI had been furiously engaged with the supporters of Richard, Duke of York, in what is commonly known as the Wars of the Roses. By December, Richard had taken part of his forces (about 9,000 soldiers) to his castle at Sandal, near Wakefield. Richard’s commanders included his own son, Edmund (Earl of Rutland) and Richard (Earl of Salisbury). Richard’s strategy was aimed at overpowering King Henry’s forces in Northern England.
  • However, the Lancastrians had called Richard’s bluff. They had secretly assembled an army twice the size of Richard’s force in West Yorkshire. This Lancastrian Army was commanded by Henry Beaufort (3rd Duke of Somerset), Henry Percy (3rd Earl of Northumberland) and Henry (9th Lord Clifford).
  • Having previously reached Sandal Castle on 21st December, Richard’s army had then quit the safety of the castle nine days later. Historians are still uncertain why Richard of York made such a strategic mistake. There are several theories:-

(i)                Richard’s Army was growing short of supplies, and so his army needed to forage for provisions.

(ii)              Only part of the Lancastrian Army was visible on Wakefield Green, at the foot of Sandal Castle. The rest were hidden in nearby woods. Richard of York therefore thought that his forces were not at risk.

(iii)            There is a possibility that both sides had agreed a temporary truce. Truces were very common in medieval warfare, and were virtually always respected.

  • Whatever the reason, Richard of York‘s decision was a blunder. Although daylight hours were restricted in late December, the Lancastrian Army, 18,000 strong, soon overwhelmed the Yorkist Army (only half the Lancastrian strength). In this military rout, virtually the entire Yorkist leadership was eliminated. Richard of York was killed in battle; Edmund Of Rutland (wounded and defenceless) was hacked down on Wakefield Bridge. The Earl of Salisbury did escape from the battlefield, only to be executed the following day.

Impact of the Battle of Wakefield

Historians regard the Battle of Wakefield as marking a decisive step in the Wars of the Roses. As Professor Michael Hicks has written, the Battle of Wakefield “raised the stakes yet further…….From Wakefield on, every victorious side systematically despatched any opposing leaders who fell into their hands, thus making the results more decisive.”  [‘The Wars of the Roses’, by Michael Hicks (2010), page 160].

The Lancastrians had certainly raised the stakes by killing young Rutland. They went even further after the battle. They beheaded the bodies of Richard of York, Edmund of Rutland and Richard of Salisbury. They also beheaded the bodies of Sir Thomas Neville and William, Lord Harrington. The former was the fourth son of Richard of Salisbury: the latter was Salisbury’s son-in-law. The Lancastrians then had these severed heads placed on the various gateways of York.

A contemporary chronicler, added: “The head of the Duke of York they also in contempt crowned with a paper crown.” [EHD, Volume IV, edited A.R. Myers, page 286

Conclusion

I entitled this Blog: ‘Curtain-Up on the Wars of the Roses’, and this title is deliberate. Shakespeare used the Wars of the Roses as the backcloth to his cycle of  three plays on the reign of King Henry VI. Shakespeare clearly knew his historical sources, including the contemporary source above mentioned, which is referred to in his play: “The True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York and the Good Henry the Sixth” {3 Henry VI}.  In Act 1, Scene 4 of this play, Shakespeare creates a magnificent inter-play between the captive Richard of York and Margaret of Anjou (Henry VI’s queen). In a famous speech, Margaret humiliates Richard of York. She finishes by putting a paper crown on Richard’s head:

“A crown for York, and lords, bow low to him.

Hold you his hands whilst I do set it on.

Ay, marry, sir, now looks he like a king,

Ay, this is he that took King Henry’s chair,

And this is he was his adopted heir.”

 

The rhyming couplet that concludes Margaret’s dramatic actions again reveals Shakespeare’s historical knowledge. Two months before the Battle of Wakefield, King Henry VI had agreed to Parliament’s Act of Accord, by which Henry had ‘adopted’ Richard of York as heir to his throne.

Finally, the ‘Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary’ defines the term ‘curtain-up’ as “the beginning of something which is very exciting or dramatic”.  My 2013 Blogs (regular and monthly) will focus on a key period of the Wars of the Roses between 1450 and 1461. This explosive period in English History was full of dramatic personalities and exciting events. I hope my readers  will find my historical  jottings  equally exhilarating and theatrical.

Question.

In the above Shakespearean Scene, what famous appellation does Richard of York bestow on Margaret?

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A Tale of Two Cities: A Tale of Two Matildas

(1) The Empress Matilda and Matilda of Boulogne: Marriage and Children

(i) Just under 900 years ago today, on 17th June 1128, The Empress Matilda married Geoffrey, Count of Anjou, in Le Mans, chief city in the province of Maine  (in northern France). The Empress Matilda was the daughter, and the only surviving legitimate heir, of King Henry I of England. Matilda’s title, “Empress” was derived from her first marriage to the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry V. Matilda had been betrothed, and later married, to the Emperor Henry between 1114 and 1125. Henry had died in 1125, the royal couple having had no surviving children.

In contrast to her childless first marriage, Matilda’s second marriage to Count Geoffrey of Anjou was more fruitful. The Empress Matilda had three sons by her second husband:-

  • Henry, later Duke of Normandy and King of England. Born in the city of Le Mans, 5th March, 1133.
  • Geoffrey, later Count of Nantes. Born in 1134.
  • William, later Count of Poitou. Born in 1135.

(ii) Matilda of Boulogne was probably born in 1105, just three years after the Empress Matilda. Matilda’s own royal ancestry was astonishingly similar to the Empress. Like the Empress Matilda, Matilda of Boulogne was a grand-daughter of King Malcolm III of Scotland, and his Anglo/Saxon wife, Queen Margaret. Matilda of Boulogne and the Empress Matilda were therefore cousins; and their close kinship probably sharpened their later rivalry

Matilda’s sobriquet comes from her father, Eustace III, Count of Boulogne, who had married Mary of Scotland. In 1125, Matilda of Boulogne married Stephen, Count of Mortain. This marriage gave Matilda of Boulogne a link to the English monarchy, because Stephen was the nephew of King Henry I. Matilda and Stephen had several children, including two surviving sons: Eustace and William.

(2) The start of their rivalry

(i) After William the Atheling’s premature death in 1120 (see my November 2011 Blog), the Empress Matilda was Henry I’s only legitimate heir. However, her gender was against her, even though King Henry I had taken great steps to get his Tenants-in Chief to recognise the Empress Matilda as his successor.

When King Henry I died in December 1135, Stephen moved quickly. Displaying rare qualities of resolution, Stephen declared himself King of England. His monarchical ambitions were probably encouraged by his wife, Matilda of Boulogne. Matilda may well have lacked the merciless streak of Lady Macbeth; but she certainly shared that aristocratic diva’s ambition. Matilda’s reward was to be crowned Queen Consort of England, on 22nd March, 1136.

(ii) The Empress Matilda was equal to this challenge.

Displaying mature political insight, the Empress realised that the possession of Normandy would be the vital factor in thwarting Stephen, and furthering her own claims to the English Crown. In reaching this decision, Matilda was very much imitating her father; as it was Henry I’s great victory in 1106 in Normandy (Tinchebrai), which really consolidated his rule in England. The Empress delegated the conquest of Normandy to her husband, Geoffrey of Anjou. This decision was totally vindicated. By 1144, Geoffrey, Count of Anjou, had effectively annexed Normandy (Rouen had been captured in January 1144). Geoffrey then arrogated to himself the title ‘Duke of Normandy’. Exhibiting adroit political judgement, in 1149 Matilda and Geoffrey transferred the title to their eldest son, Henry, then sixteen years old. As Duke of Normandy, Henry presented a formidable challenge to Stephen and Matilda of Boulogne, a challenge that ultimately they were unable to resist.

(3) Matilda of Boulogne and The Empress Matilda at odds in England: 1141

The struggle between these two formidable royal Amazons perhaps reached its zenith in 1141.

  • Leaving her husband to conquer Normandy, The Empress crossed the Channel to England in 1141, to take the fight directly to Stephen & Matilda of Boulogne. Landing in England, The Empress rallied the Angevin forces, aided by her half-brother, Earl Robert of Gloucester (a formidable warrior).
  • However, Matilda of Boulogne was not idle in support of her husband, King Stephen. Matilda called up troops from Boulogne, and besieged Dover Castle.
  • The struggle reached its climax in February 1141, in the important city of Lincoln. The forces of the Empress, commanded by Earl Robert, overwhelmed Stephen’s Army in Lincoln. Part of Stephen’s Army deserted him (especially the King’s cavalry). In the laconic phrasing of the contemporary chronicler, Henry of Huntingdon; ”so King Stephen was left alone with his infantry in the midst of the enemy.” [EHD, Volume II, page 33]. Like Shakespeare’s tragic king Macbeth, Stephen bravely fought on; however, in contrast to Macbeth, ”the king was taken prisoner.”
  • At least, King Stephen was still alive; but there was little else to encourage his supporters. Arriving in London, The Empress Matilda began to act as the de facto ruler of England. As befitted a monarch, the Empress began to issue writs and charters. One such charter, to William de Beauchamp, restored to him the shrievalty of Worcestershire. The Empress was sensibly trying to build up her power in Worcestershire, at a time when Waleran, Earl of Worcester, favoured Stephen and Matilda of Boulogne. The wording of this charter was particularly significant. It began: “Maud the Empress, daughter of King Henry, and Lady of the English, to the archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, barons, justicars, sheriffs and all her liegemen, both French and English, of the whole of England.”[EHD, Vol II, page 468].  The very wording of this charter suggests that the Empress was already fairly confident of her success.
  • If so, the Empress’s confidence was misplaced. Faced with the daunting prospect of Stephen’s imprisonment, a lesser queen would almost certainly ‘have thrown in the royal towel’. Matilda of Boulogne was made of sterner stuff. Far from being demoralised, Stephen’s capture spurred Matilda to take up the royal cudgels on behalf of her failing husband. Henry of Huntingdon takes up the story: “The empress was recognised as ruler by the whole people of England except in Kent, where the Queen and William of Ypres continued to fight against the empress with all their might;”  (my italics)  [EHD, Vol II, page 334].  When the Empress Matilda’s forces tried to capitalise on their success by besieging Stephen’s brother, Bishop Henry of Blois, in Winchester, Queen Matilda of Boulogne and her forces raised the siege. Their military success was enhanced by the capture of Earl Robert of Gloucester, effectively the commander of the Empress’s Army. Matilda of Boulogne’s triumph led to the release of her husband King Stephen, in exchange for Earl Robert.

(4) The End of the Struggle: 1143 to 1153

The determination and resolution of the two Matildas ensured that the struggle would be protracted. At length, in 1148, the Empress Matilda recognised the existing stalemate, and returned to Normandy, to re-join her husband, Count Geoffrey. By then, the Empress’s banner was effectively being defended by her eldest son, Henry, Duke of Normandy. Even this dynamic Angevin champion found it hard going against the stubborn resistance of Queen Matilda of Boulogne (and King Stephen). Only after Queen Matilda’s death, just over 860 years ago, on 4th May 1152 (probably of fever), did Stephen’s royal curtain start to come down in the English monarchical theatre.

At least death spared Queen Matilda of Boulogne from witnessing the  demise of her elder son, Eustace in August 1153 (when he was only twenty-four years old). The death of his heir also knocked out any stuffing that  remained in King Stephen; and in November 1153, he reached a compromise with the Angevins in the Treaty of Winchester.

By this important Treaty, Stephen “established Henry, Duke of Normandy, as my successor to the Kingdom of England and have recognised him as my heir by hereditary right, and thus I have given and confirmed to him and his heirs the Kingdom of England.” As the political curtain finally came down on this ruinous English Civil war, the stage was set for the triumphs of the Angevin political theatre.

(5) Conclusions

  • On one level, the Empress Matilda had won ‘the Battle of the Two Matildas’. The Empress outlived Matilda of Boulogne by fifteen years. Dying on 10th September 1167, the Empress was to witness the great successes of her son Henry II’s reign.
  • However, Matilda of Boulogne had greatly prolonged Stephen’s reign, after the disaster of the battle of Lincoln. Though her son Eustace died early, at least her younger son, William, succeeded to the title of Count of Boulogne.
  • Both Matildas are linked to two cities: Le Mans & Boulogne. The Empress Matilda married in Le Mans (1128). Her eldest son and heir, King Henry II, was born there (1133). Finally, when he knew he was facing death, in 1189, King Henry II retired to Le Mans. King Stephen’s wife, Queen Matilda, was always associated with Boulogne. Her father, Eustace III, was Count of Boulogne. Her younger son William inherited his grandfather’s title in 1153. Even when he died, in 1159, the link with Boulogne was retained, as Queen Matilda’s daughter, Marie, became Countess of Boulogne in her own right.
  • Both the Empress Matilda, and Matilda of Boulogne, are justifiably part of the 12th Century pantheon of vigorously effective female governors (along with Queen Edith Matilda and Eleanor of Aquitaine). Such capable and successful female rulers were a key reason explaining the political and economic progress of that dynamic century.

(6) Postscript

As we have seen, the Empress Matilda confirmed William de Beauchamp as Sheriff of Worcestershire in 1141. Amazingly, he was still Sheriff of Worcestershire thirty years later. In 1170, in King Henry II’s ground breaking ‘Inquest of Sheriffs’, William de Beauchamp was still entered as Sheriff of Worcestershire [EHD, Vol II, page 470]. As far as I know, William de Beauchamp holds the record for the longest continual shrieval tenure In England. However, it seems that his tenure was too long, because it had evidently led him into corrupt practices. In 1170, King Henry II dismissed William de Beauchamp as Sheriff of Worcestershire. Perhaps the fact that Henry’s mother, the Empress Matilda, had died three years earlier, in 1167, meant that Henry felt he could dismiss de Beauchamp when Henry returned from his four year sojourn in France in 1170.

(7) Questions

i) This Blog has been entitled ‘A tale of Two Cities’. What is the link with that title and the year 2012?

ii) Why can 2012 be described as ‘A Tale of Four Matildas’?

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Does History repeat itself? The English victories at Verneuil (Normandy): August 1173 and August 1424.

In the two hundred years or so following the Battle of Hastings, set-piece battles were actually rare in England and France. This may have been the result of a laudable desire of the competing protagonists to settle their differences by negotiation rather than conflict. In this sense, the period from 1066 to c.1266 stands out as an impressive epoch of peace and moderation in Western Europe, particularly in contrast to the first half of the 20th century.

Another, more likely, reason was that battles were themselves too much of a gamble for the rival commanders. All could be lost within a few hours. There are several examples of decisive major battles between 1066 and c.1266:-

  • The Battle of Stamford Bridge, 25th September 1066. The Anglo-Saxon victory saw the death of King Harald Hardrada of Norway, and marked the virtual end of serious Viking invasions of England – though there were later Viking incursions in 1069/1070 and 1102.
  • The Battle of Hastings, 14th October 1066. The Norman victory saw the death of King Harold of England, and the establishment of a new Cross-Channel State, and with it, the Anglo/Norman Dynasty.
  • The Battle of Tinchebrai, 28th September 1106. The victory of King Henry I of England saw the restoration of the Anglo-Norman State, and the effective elimination of Duke Robert as a serious threat to Normandy.
  • The Battle of Lincoln, 2nd February 1141. King Stephen’s defeat greatly revived the Angevin cause in their conflict with Stephen.
  • The Battle of Alnwick, 13th July 1174. William the Lion’s Scottish invasion of Northern England was repulsed by Northern English forces, thereby greatly helping King Henry II defeat the Great Revolt of 1173/1174.
  • The Battle of Bouvines, 27th July 1214. The defeat of King John’s Allies caused the final end of the Anglo/Norman state, and precipitated the events leading to Magna Carta.
  • The Battle of Evesham, 4th August 1265. The defeat of Simon de Montfort’s forces signalled the revival of King Henry III’s monarchy, and, with it, the succession of the future King Edward I.

The decisive nature of these battles can be partly gauged from the personal fate of the losing commanders. Three of them actually lost their lives in battle:-Harald Hardrada, Harold of England, and Simon de Montfort. Three others went into captivity as a result of their defeat in battle: Duke Robert, King Stephen, and King William the Lion. The seventh ‘defeated protagonist’, King John, was neither killed nor imprisoned as a result of Bouvines; but that was obviously because he was not actually present on the battlefield! Even so, the defeat of his allies at Bouvines led to John’s de facto coercion by his barons, leading to his concessions at Runnymede a year later.

What, then, of King Henry II’s success at Verneuil (August 1173)?

  • In 1173, King Henry II faced a major challenge to his authority. Three of his sons rebelled against him: Henry the Younger, Richard and Geoffrey. They were motivated by a desire for more authority within the Angevin Empire; and, up to a point, Henry II was possibly too rigid in denying them any power. These sons were joined by rebel barons in England, such as Hugh, Earl of Chester, and Hugh Bigod, Earl of Norfolk. This revolt in itself was a major threat to Henry II’s power; but what turned a serious revolt into a major challenge was the adherence of two foreign monarchies to the rebels’ banner: King Louis VII of France, and King William I of Scotland (The Lion). Both these two monarchs were motivated by sheer opportunism: the desire to profit by Henry II’s apparent weakness to gain territory for themselves. King Louis VII wanted to weaken the Angevin Empire by gaining Normandy. King William I wanted to regain northern English counties he had had to relinquish to Henry shortly after the latter’s accession to the English Crown. Philip, Count of Flanders, also threw in his lot with Henry’s opponents.
  • A lesser monarch than Henry II would perhaps have quailed under this combined assault; but Henry II was made of sterner stuff. He rallied his loyal forces to destroy this serious threat to his power. We have already seen how Henry’s northern sheriffs rose to the challenge by defeating King William I at Alnwick. What, then, of King Louis VII of France?
  • In May 1173, Henry’s enemies launched their invasion of Normandy. Philip, Count of Flanders invaded Normandy from the north-east. King Louis VII then invaded central Normandy from the south-east, targeting the fortress-town of Verneuil. Their combined invasion was a pincer movement on the great prize: Rouen, capital of Normandy. If Rouen fell, then Normandy would probably be lost to Henry. This in turn would greatly diminish his authority as King of England.
  • Philip’s northern invasion had seemed successful; but his brother, Matthew, Count of Boulogne, had been mortally wounded in their advance. Losing heart, Philip of Flanders withdrew from the invasion. Showing great military acumen, Henry now exploited his adversaries’ weakness by taking the offensive against the invading forces of King Louis VII of France. What happened next is best told by a contemporary chronicler, William of Newburgh, regarded by historians as a generally reliable writer.
  • Once Henry had heard of Count Philip’s abandonment of his invasion, Henry II: “concentrated his mercenary forces, together with as many others as felt bound not to desert him in his hour of extreme need, he sent a message to the king of France, who had already wasted the greater part of the summer in besieging Verneuil, to this effect: that he should either raise the siege or shrink not from fighting a decisive battle [my italics] on a certain day.” (‘English Historical Documents’, Volume II, page 373). Knowing the potentially disastrous consequences of fighting a decisive battle, King Henry II was either courageous or simply reckless – probably both. As it was, King Louis VII of France solved Henry’s military quandary by imitating his ally, the Count of Flanders, and abandoning the siege of Verneuil. Whatever Louis’ reasons, it was not an heroic act, nor even a pious one.
  • Although no battle was actually fought at Verneuil between the rival forces of Henry II and Louis VII, the withdrawal of the French forces must be counted as a great military success for Henry II. Normandy was safe, and on 11th August 1174, Henry II entered Rouen in triumph, accompanied by his welsh supporters. In consequence, Henry II’s authority was greatly strengthened. As no battle was fought, it is not possible to precisely date Henry’s military success at Verneuil. Even so, the date of 9th August 1173 is as good as any, because it was on that date when King Henry’s army ascended the hills overlooking Verneuil. They could see that the citadel was still in loyal hands, and they might also have even seen the retreat of Louis’ army, as Henry ordered his forces to harry Louis’ rearguard.

Postscript: Does History repeat itself?

  • Almost exactly 250 years after King Henry II’s great military success at Verneuil, English forces were again desperately defending their occupation of their territories in France, including Normandy. After King Henry V’s decisive military victory at Agincourt, in October 1415, England had regained control of Normandy, lost centuries before by King John.
  • After the sudden death of King Henry V in 1422, a combined Franco-Scottish Army took the offensive against the English forces in France (as in 1173).  A preliminary English victory, at Cravant in Burgundy, on 31st July 1423, eased the English position; but the decisive battle would very likely be fought in Normandy, the lynch-pin of English territory in France in the 1420s (as in the 1170s).
  • The decisive conflict was not long in coming. On 17th August 1424,at Verneuil in Normandy, a combined Anglo/Norman Army, about 8,000 strong, faced a combined Franco/Scottish Army possibly twice as strong. The Anglo/Norman Army, ably commanded by John, Duke of Bedford (the late King Henry V’s brother), destroyed the Franco/Scottish Army. Though Anglo/Norman losses were high, at around 1,600 men, they were dwarfed by the 6,000 losses sustained by the French and Scots, the latter losing both their leaders, the Earls of Buchan and Douglas. As already mentioned, pitched battles in the Middle Ages could involve death for the rival commanders.
  • Even so, King Henry II would have applauded the significance of the Anglo/Norman success in 1424. It guaranteed the English retention of Normandy for the next 25 years, and even then, Normandy was only lost to the French by the incompetence of Henry V’s heir, King Henry VI. In the same way, Henry II’s success at Vereuil in August 1173, guaranteed the Angevin retention of Normandy for thirty-one years, till 1204 (possibly also due to the incompetence of the reigning English king). Perhaps therefore, History really does repeat itself!

Two questions for all my Angevin supporters . . .

  1. Which famous 19th century German philosopher is often credited with coining the proverb, ‘History repeats itself,’ and what caveat did he add?
  2. What is the nickname of King Louis VII of France?

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Does Magna Carta Mean Nothing to You?

Most of us would probably pause before answering such a leading question; but I suspect that few of us would emulate the classic response  to this question by the late comedian, the great Tony Hancock: ’Did she die in vain?’ The equally brilliant scriptwriters, Ray Galton & Alan Simpson, penned this immortal quip in their script for the ‘Hancock’s Half Hour’ episode of ‘Twelve Angry Men’, broadcast on BBC Television on 16th October 1959.

Galton & Simpson’s  famous witticism is ageless; but can the same be said of Magna Carta, issued  seven hundred and ninety-six years ago today, 15th June, 1215?

Background to  the Promulgation of Magna Carta

  • Baronial resentment played the critical role in the negotiations with King John in 1215 which led to Magna Carta; and part of their resentment stemmed from the financial demands placed on England by Richard I’s crusading zeal. Even so, it was John’s policies and failures that ultimately precipitated the final struggle between nobility and monarchy in 1215.  John’s Justicar, Peter des Roches, was an abrasive foreigner who greatly increased taxes. Another foreigner who antagonised English opinion, this time at local level, was Sheriff Philip Mark, from Touraine. Yes, he was Sheriff of Nottingham, so perhaps there is something in the ‘Robin Hood’ story. John would probably have survived such unpopularity, had it not been for the disastrous defeat of John’s Angevin allies by the French at the Battle of Bouvines, on 27th July 1214. This major defeat spelt the final loss of Normandy, and, with it, any hope of Angevin recovery. In England, the devastating military reverse of Bouvines shattered John’s authority, thereby igniting the baronial resentment which in turn paved the way to Magna Carta.
  • Revolt actually began in October 1214, when King John had returned to England from Europe. This revolt of ‘the Northerners’ later spread to include some tenants-in-chief from southern and eastern England. From then on, the  opposition against John gathered apace, extending to include some knights.
  • As in any political conflict, possession of London was the key to ultimate success. Both sides now tried to get London support. John granted London the right to have a mayor elected within the City, in a charter of May 1215. It did no good. The Londoners let in the opposition on 17th May 1215. At this point, John had to open up negotiations with the opposition at Runnymede, which ended with the issue of Magna Carta about a month later, on 15th June, 1215.

Was Magna Carta a ‘Freedom Charter’ for society?

  • It could well be argued that Magna Carta was essentially a ‘rich man’s charter’, as it really benefitted the barons. Chapters 2 to 16 dwelt with baronial concerns, such as scutage (taxation in lieu of military service) and reliefs (a sort-of inheritance tax). The final chapter, the so-called ‘security clause’, empowered twenty-five barons with the task of compelling the monarch to keep Magna Carta’s provisions.
  • However, Magna Carta was no mere ‘baron’s charter’. Chapters 39 & 40 were applicable to all sectors of society, and still have a resounding ring to them:-

‘No free man shall be seized, imprisoned, dispossessed, outlawed, exiled or ruined in any way, nor shall we attack him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers and the law of the land.’

‘To no one will we sell, to no one will we deny or delay right or justice.’

Even today, in 2011, these chapters have a resounding ring to them.

  • Magna Carta was also a freedom charter for the rest of Britain, not just England, as chapters 56 to 59 extended various rights to Scotland and Wales. Alan of Galloway, Constabule of Scotland, was one of the notables listed in the preamble to MagnaCarta.

Final Thoughts on Magna Carta

Looking back eight hundred years or so since the Runnymede agreement of 15th June 1215, Magna Carta now seems to be primarily the political swansong of the Angevin Empire; rather than the precursor of British liberties. Yet this is probably too narrow a judgement. The third re-issue of Magna Carta, in 1225, remains the earliest statute on the English Statute Book. Seen in this way, Magna Carta does mean a lot to all of us. Magna Carta is as ageless as Galton & Simpson’s classic one-liner; and is therefore a fitting accolade to a glorious empire.

Question

As usual, I will round off this month’s blog with a little problem-solving exercise:-

Henry Fitz-Ailwin became the first Mayor of London, nominated by King Richard I in 1194. As we have seen, King John allowed London citizens to elect their own mayor in May 1215 just before issuing Magna Carta. The office of Lord Mayor of the City of London therefore has a very long history and the current Lord Mayor is Michael Bear. There also is a Mayor of London, elected by the voters. When was the office of ‘Mayor of London’ established, and who is currently the Mayor?

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Filed under Angevins, British Constitution, British Kings and Queens, Civil War, Criminal Law, English Common Law, Galton and Simpson, Henry II, History, King John, Law degree courses, London, Magna Carta, Medieval History, Politics, Robin Hood, Scotland, Sheriffs, Tony Hancock, Wales