Category Archives: Rouen

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?

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under 100 top Britons poll (BBC), 100 Years War, Agincourt, Angevins, British Kings and Queens, Charles VII of France, Civil War, Edward IV, General MacArthur, Henry I, Henry II, Henry VI, Jeanne d'Arc, King John, King William Rufus, King William the Conqueror, Kings of France, Lancastrians, Maine, Medieval battles, Medieval France, Medieval government, Medieval History, Medieval Normandy, Military History, Neviles, Norman Kings, Normandy, Philip II of France, Richard Duke of York, Rouen, Shakespeare, Wars of the Roses, White Rose, Yorkists

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’?

Leave a comment

Filed under 12th Century England, Angevins, Anjou, Battles in Britain, Boulogne, British Kings and Queens, Civil War, Famous women, Feminism, Henry I, Henry II, History, King Stephen, Lincoln, Medieval battles, Medieval government, Medieval History, Medieval Normandy, Military History, Normandy, Queen Matilda, Rouen, Scotland, Sheriffs, Women's Rights, Worcester

A Brace of Battles: Bremule (1119) and Bourgtheroulde (1124)

On your imaginary forces work. It is the 26th March 1124, exactly 888 years ago. The place is the small town of Bourgtheroulde, about ten miles southwest of  Rouen, the key city of Normandy.

A rebel force of about 40 knights, led by Waleran (Count of Meulan) schemed to consolidate their authority at Vatteville (roughly 20 miles due west of Rouen). Their strategy, if successful, would strike a blow against King Henry I’s power in Normandy. Yet, King Henry’s loyal Norman forces had not been idle. Their scouts had located Waleran’s rebel force, and so the Norman  loyalists prepared to intercept the rebels. One of the loyalist leaders was Odo Borleng, Castellan of Bernay (about 20 miles due south of Rouen). In contrast to Waleran, Odo Borleng was “only” a Knight of lesser nobility; but he displayed heroic leadership qualities. His loyalist force contained archers, mounted knights and foot soldiers. Odo himself dismounted and elected to fight on foot, thereby signifying to his forces that whatever the outcome of the impending battle, he would not flee. Odo’s heroic example heartened his men. In contrast, Waleran was too headstrong: he pitched in too early, leading his 40 knights against the loyalist archers. The result was disaster for the rebels. In just over half an hour the rebels were routed. Waleran and most of the other rebel knights were captured. Henry himself was not at the battle, he was then in Caen, where he received news of the defeat of his enemies.

Perhaps the battle at Bourgtheroulde was little more than a glorified skirmish; but its impact was profound. King Henry I had faced a serious threat to his authority from rebel forces between 1123 and 1124. The victory at Bourgtheroulde was decisive: it marked the end of the rebellion, and therefore confirmed Henry’s authority, both in Normandy, and in England.

Let us now press the re-wind Button and travel back five years to 1119

In August 1100, Henry had acceded to the throne of England in peculiar circumstances: his brother, King William II, had died in a hunting accident. Henry’s other brother, Robert, was Duke of Normandy. Henry had the political sagacity to realise that his newly won royal authority in England required him to reunite Normandy and England. He thus focussed all his energy on reuniting England with Normandy, which he achieved with his stunning military success at Tinchebrai in 1106; in the process, capturing Duke Robert. Even so, Henry still faced major challenges to his authority in Normandy. Henry may have eliminated the threat from Duke Robert; but Robert’s only legitimate son, William Clito, born in  1102, became increasingly the pivot of baronial opposition to Henry in Normandy. Even worse, King Louis VI of France, crowned two years after Tinchebrai, was determined to weaken Henry’s authority in Normandy. As Henry’s nominal overlord in France, Louis VI was a continual thorn in Henry’s side after 1108.

The Battle of Bremule, 20th August 1119

The tensions between Henry and Louis finally erupted in 1119, at the Battle of Bremule, fifteen miles south-east of Rouen. Pitched battles were rare in the Middle Ages, mainly because they were too much of a gamble. A monarch could lose everything in a battle (including his life). At stake in Bremeule was the prize of Normandy.

King Louis had assembled a force of 400 knights, including William Clito and William Crispin (whom Henry I had pardoned after Tinchebrai and again in 1113). King Louis’s force also included some important French magnates. In opposition, King Henry had assembled a force of 500 knights, including three of his sons: Richard and Robert (both illegitimate) and Henry’s heir, William the Atheling. Bremeule therefore saw a clash ‘of sons and heirs’. William Clito, son and heir of Duke Robert, had been born in October 1102. He was thus nearly seventeen years old when he fought at Bremeule. Henry’s heir, William the Atheling, sixteen years old when he fought at Bremeule, was therefore only a year younger than William Clito. The two heirs’ close proximity in age, added an undoubted sense of ‘needle’ to the battle.

Once again, the battle did not last very long, perhaps just over an hour. Once again, Henry’s opponents lost the initiative by pitching into Henry’s forces too recklessly, though there was a fierce struggle between both armies before Henry’s force finally won the day. In particular, William Crispin made a direct attack on King Henry I. Crispin struck a blow against Henry’s head (Henry having dismounted). The blow could have been fatal; but luckily for Henry, Crispin’s blow was deflected by his hauberk. Crispin was then immediately hacked to death by Henry’s bodyguard. Bremeule was a triumph for King Henry I. As just described, Henry himself led by example, being in the thick of the battle. Henry’s force also captured 140 French knights. Finally, Bremeule helped to consolidate Henry’s authority in Normandy, symbolised by the investing of William the Atheling with the Duchy of Normandy in 1120.

King Henry’s Treatment of his Captives.

A mark of a successful (and esteemed) medieval monarch was magnanimity towards the monarch’s former enemies. King Henry II certainly displayed such magnanimity towards his former enemies. For example, in 1175, Henry II restored the Earldom of Norfolk to Hugh Bigod, who had rebelled against Henry between 1173 and 1174. This was a particularly lenient gesture by Henry II, as Hugh Bigod was a ‘Serial Rebel’ – he had also rebelled against King Stephen in 1141. For good measure, Hugh Bigod had also rebelled against the Church, having being excommunicated by Archbishop Becket in 1169. In 1177, Henry II also restored the Earls of Leicester and Chester to their estates, both magnates having rebelled against him between 1173 and 1174.

King Henry I evidently bequeathed such monarchical benevolence to his grandson, King Henry II. Almost immediately after becoming king in 1100, Henry I had faced a formidable baronial rebellion led by William Warenne (Earl of Surrey). Henry therefore dispossessed Warenne of the Earldom; but, having asserted his royal authority, Henry then restored Warenne to the Earldom of Surrey two years later, in 1103. Such monarchical leniency had the effect of increasing baronial respect for Henry’s newly established regime. Henry displayed similar indulgence to his former enemies after the Battle of Bremeule. Henry chivalrously returned King Louis’s warhorse to the French King. This was a particularly altruistic act, because warhorses were very highly esteemed in Medieval Europe.

However, King Henry I drew the line at those captives who, having sworn personal loyalty him, then subsequently betrayed their oaths. Three such rebels had fought with Count Waleran at Bourgtheroulde. They were: Geoffrey of Tourville, Odard of Le Pin, and Luke of La Barre. Despite their treachery, King Henry I still showed mercy by not having the first two miscreants executed – though they were blinded. The third mutineer, Luke of La Barre, was different. He had compounded his disloyalty by singing obscene songs about Henry I. Perhaps Luke knew what his fatewould be, so he ended his own life in dramatic fashion, by beating his head against the stone wall of his prison cell, until he fell, dead.

The ultimate Fates of William the Atheling & Wiliam Clito

On one level, the Battle of Bremeule was a sort of Medieval Boxing Championship, with the winner receiving Normandy, rather than a Lonsdale Belt. Seen in this light, King Henry I’s son, William the Atheling, was clearly the victor, as he was invested with the Duchy of Normandy several months after Bremeule, in 1120. Yet in reality, neither of these youthful protagonists emerged victorious  at the Battle of Bremeule.

In November 1120, fairly soon after his investiture, William the Atheling, died tragically in the ‘White Ship’ Disaster. William was then only 17.5 years old (see my previous blog in November 2011). William Clito similarly had an untimely death. He died of a gangrenous wound sustained in battle, in July 1128. He was then 25 years. Neither William the Atheling nor William Clito left any legitimate heirs. Their premature deaths therefore  meant that the direct male line from William the Conqueror was now extinguished. The result was political and military upheaval in England after King Henry I’s death in 1135; but that is another story.

Concluding Comments

(1) As you will probably have gathered, I began this Blog with a quotation from Shakespeare. Which of his plays is the origin of this quotation?

(2) The rebels who were ambushed by Henry’s forces at Bourgtheroulde on 26th March 1124 actually began their incursion against Henry the previous night, 25th March 1124. For much of English History, 25th March was effectively New Year’s Day. When did England (and the rest of Britain) adopt 1st January as New Year’s Day?

(3) The battles of Bourgtheroulde and Bremeule were both located near to Rouen the chief city in Normandy. If the political link between England and Normandy had somehow survived the Middle Ages, then today Rouen would possibly have been as important as Paris. Think about it!

Leave a comment

Filed under Angevins, British Kings and Queens, Henry I, Henry II, History, Kings of France, Louis VI of France, Medieval battles, Medieval France, Medieval History, Medieval Normandy, Military History, Norman Kings, Normandy, Rouen