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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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