At the end of May 1444, representatives of England and France signed the Treaty of Tours. Initially it was heralded as great triumph for peace. However, as the details became more widely known, a great many feared England had been sold a bad deal. When England’s French territories were ignominiously overrun a few years later, these fears seemed vindicated.
In the postmortem that followed, many blamed the king’s councillors. Men like Cardinal Kemp, Bishop Adam Moylens and most of all the Duke of Suffolk. The king had been misadvised. Some said even treasonously misled. Others darkly speculated that perhaps Henry’s young French Queen had played a malign role in the implementation of the terms of the treaty.
But the search for convenient scapegoats ignored one very uncomfortable fact as far as the English were concerned. The primary driving force behind the peace agreement had been Henry VI himself.
But what exactly was agreed? And how was it arrived at? And, crucially, why did it ultimately prove so inadequate?
The War in France
By the early 1440s, the Hundred Years’ war was not going well for the English. The tide had turned against them with the successes of Joan of Arc at the end of the 1420s. Ever since then, the English had been on the back foot. In 1435, the Duke of Burgundy had abandoned his alliance with the English, effectively making the war unwinnable. Despite some minor successes since, the strategic reality was that England was now fighting a rearguard action.
Various abortive attempts at negotiating a peace in the late 1430s had all ended in failure. A major French offensive in 1442 once again placed the English under significant pressure. Money and resources, by this stage of the war, were growing increasingly scarce. However, the Lancastrian regime finally managed to scrape together enough funds to send an army to France.
English holdings in Gascony in the south and Normandy in the north were both under threat. But realistically, there was only enough money to raise one army. The dilemma, therefore, was where to send it. And then, of course, there was the question of who should command it.
The Duke of Somerset
The ageing Cardinal Beaufort was the king’s great uncle. By 1443 he had been a dominant figure in English court politics for four decades. As his last significant political act before retirement, he used his influence to get his nephew, John Beaufort, appointed to command the relieving army. John was elevated to the rank of Duke of Somerset to provide him with the necessary gravitas for such an important military mission.
It proved to be an unwise decision. In fairness, Somerset was not entirely lacking in military experience. He had fought on campaign in France with Henry V. He had, however, been captured by the French in 1421 and languished in French hands for 17 years. After his release he was entrusted with a naval command in 1440 to support the siege of Harfleur. As naval commander, to give him his due, he performed reasonably effectively. Nevertheless, the fact was that, by 1443, he had never commanded a field army. As far as the job in hand was concerned, he was entirely untested.
It was a flagrant snub to the then Lieutenant of France, Richard of York. York, by this time, had far more experience of the realities of the situation in France than Somerset. That said, York was not an especially experienced field commander himself. However, York’s right-hand man, Sir John Talbot, was the most gifted general the English had. It would have made far more sense to have given Talbot the field command under York’s supervision.
Of course, none of this would have mattered if Somerset had proven to be an effective general.
Unfortunately, things started to go wrong early on. The logistical challenge of assembling and organising such a large force proved beyond Somerset. The preparations for departure dragged on, delayed by a combination of Somerset’s inexperience and mounting health problems.
Things got so bad that Henry VI wrote to Somerset chastising him for his slow progress. It was a warning sign the king should have heeded. His father, Henry V, would have replaced Somerset before he even departed. But Henry VI was not his father.
When he finally arrived in France, Somerset was hopeless when it came to strategy. Rather than assisting either Gascony in the south or Normandy in the north, he opted for a third approach. Lacking any clear military objective, that approach simply consisted of wandering aimlessly around the Breton-Angevin borders, achieving nothing.
One of his only successes was taking the fortified town of La Guerche. However, even this proved problematic. True enough, La Guerche was part of the estate of the Duke of Alençon, an ally of the French king. However, it was also technically part of Brittany, a key English ally. The new duke of Brittany, Francois I, was incensed. He was also already more sympathetic to the French king than his predecessor; so the incident at La Guerche pushed him even closer to the Valois camp.
Having achieved nothing, Somerset’s army had little choice but to retire to Normandy at the end of the campaigning season. There, it was ignominiously disbanded in January 1444.
All Somerset had achieved was to antagonise the Duke of York and Francois I. It was a very expensive fiasco.
As for Somerset himself, his health, already poor, deteriorated rapidly in 1444. He would be dead before the year was out.
The Need for Peace
The disaster of 1443 was the last straw. The chances of parliament approving finances for another major campaign were essentially zero. Years of war and financial problems had left the Lancastrian regime denuded of resources and heavily in debt. Only a negotiated peace could save what remained of Lancastrian France, not to mention avert a looming fiscal crisis.
Fortunately for the English, the French were also open to the idea of peace. Charles VII was in a far stronger position than Henry VI, but years of war had also put a strain on French finances. Charles also faced potential problems elsewhere that made peace with England desirable. The French nobility was a self-interested bunch who could never be entirely trusted. In 1440 Charles had faced an open rebellion known as the Praguerie. It had been instigated by the Duke of Bourbon with the aim of deposing Charles and placing his son Louis on the throne. The rebellion had failed but Charles could not afford to be complacent.
Therefore, by 1444, there was a willingness on both sides to have another go at negotiating a peace. In March 1444 a delegation of Lancastrian ambassadors led by the Duke of Suffolk arrived in France charged with arranging a permanent settlement with the French.
The English Position
The English delegation set out with the aim of securing as much of their territorial gains as possible. They were keen to hold onto Gascony, Calais, and Normandy. To hold onto Normandy, it is likely that the English were willing to consider surrendering Anjou and Maine to the French. This had been a bargaining chip that had been floated in past negotiations, as early as 1439.
The English were also now willing to meet a key French demand – that Henry VI renounce his claims to the French throne. And, to seal the deal, the English were keen to find a suitable French bride for Henry.
The French Position
The French, for their part, saw Henry VI’s renunciation of his claims to the French throne as key. They were also open to the idea of a marriage.
In terms of territorial demands the French were happy to allow the English to retain control of Gascony and Calais. However, this was only on condition that Henry VI agreed to hold Gascony as vassal to Charles VII – a condition that the English found unacceptable.
The French, of course, wanted Anjou and Maine back. Margaret of Anjou’s father, René, was especially keen, since this province was part of his family’s ancestral holdings. Charles VII himself may not have viewed the recovery of René’s ancestral lands as such a high priority.
However, the big sticking point was always going to be Normandy. The French wanted Normandy. This was Charles VII’s red line.
Unfortunately, Normandy was the one English conquest that Henry V had made his nobles swear on his death bed that England would never return to France.
To surrender Normandy, therefore, was to flagrantly break with the will of the much-idolised Henry V. Nearly a quarter of a century after his death, Henry V’s influence over English political thinking was as strong as ever.
The Treaty of Tours
Given the serious nature of these key sticking points, not much was definitively agreed at the Treaty of Tours.
There was general agreement that continued English possession of Gascony and Calais was acceptable to both parties. However, the terms under which this could happen were still far from agreed. Crucially, both parties remained fundamentally at odds over the future of Normandy. Henry’s willingness to surrender his claims to the French crown were welcomed but could not be confirmed until the territorial disputes were resolved.
The only two definitive outcomes that had any immediate effect were an agreement to a temporary two-year truce and a marriage alliance. Henry VI would marry Margaret of Anjou, Charles VII’s niece.
However, Margaret’s father, René demanded the return of Anjou and Maine (lands traditionally held by his family) as part of the deal. This request, along with other details of the marriage alliance and truce would naturally have been conveyed back to Henry VI during the negotiations.
An Unsuitable Match
Many in England were later critical of the failure to obtain a marriage with one of Charles VII’s daughters. This, many believed, would have been far more suitable match for someone of Henry VI’s status. However, such an arrangement was unacceptable for the French. Nor would it have been particularly ideal for the English either.
Henry VI’s only Lancastrian heir that this time was his uncle, the aging Duke of Gloucester. Gloucester was a man well known for his hard living and, as result, he was not in great shape. The truth was that the Lancastrian court were desperate for Henry VI to produce a son and heir to ensure the future survival of the dynasty.
Of Charles VII’s daughters, the oldest available candidate was only 10 years old in 1444. She would clearly not be able to produce any royal heir for years. A queen of childbearing age was therefore a high priority for the Lancastrian regime. Margaret of Anjou fitted that bill, Charles VII’s daughters did not.
A Secret Term
It later emerged that René’s request for the return of Anjou and Maine was granted as a secret term in the treaty. This was Charles VII’s price for granting a truce and a marriage alliance. Certainly, this term was present in the treaty when it finally became public at the end of 1445/early 1446. However, due to its obvious sensitivity it was kept a closely guarded secret in the initial instance.
Assuming it was agreed in the spring of 1444, this must have happened at some point before Margaret’s formal betrothal to Henry on 24th May 1444.
However, since it was supposedly a ‘secret’ term, there is no way to determine for certain that it was formally agreed as early as the spring of 1444. Was it definitively agreed at the time? Or was it, in fact, kicked into the long grass by making its inclusion conditional, for example, on the marriage and coronation of Queen Margaret occurring first?
Was there some kind of disagreement or prevarication in the English camp as to whether it should even happen at all? And who, within the English camp was pushing hardest for its acceptance?
Whatever happened, nothing public would be heard of the existence of this term for well over a year.
To convert a temporary truce into a permanent peace, many unresolved disagreements still needed to be ironed out. With that in mind a large French embassy arrived in London, in July 1445, to thrash out the details. The key delegates read like a who’s who of the most powerful noblemen of the French court. The master of the royal household, the Archbishop of Rheims, the master of requests and the royal chamberlain were all present. So too were representatives of many of the most powerful French noble houses. There were no representatives from Burgundy, however. Despite having been reconciled with Charles VII, the Duke of Burgundy was still not entirely trusted by the French king.
The English delegation was, as usual, dominated by familiar figures from the Lancastrian court. There were the Duke of Suffolk, Chancellor Cardinal Kemp, and Bishop Adam Moylens, keeper of the privy seal. All three men were veterans of past peace talks and would have known their opposite numbers very well. Given the importance of the occasion there were others present to greet the French delegation who had not been a regular feature of past talks. Amongst them was Gloucester, a man with a fiery reputation, a well-known hawk, and vociferous opponent of any kind of peace. More importantly, Henry VI was present in person.
A Bizarre Impression
Henry VI took front and centre stage in the opening proceedings. Determined to secure peace, he made every effort to convey a friendly and convivial welcome to the French delegation. He cast aside the normal royal formalities to walk over to the French delegates and greet them all in person, shaking their hands.
This was not normal.
The usual protocol in most European courts was for visiting delegates to remove their hats and kneel before the monarch. Touching the king’s person, let alone shaking his hand, was unheard of. The French delegates interpreted it as a sign of naivety and weakness.
Then, as Cardinal Kemp began his opening address to the French, he was interrupted by the king, who chastised him for not being ‘friendly’ enough. Henry continued making diplomatic faux pas throughout the proceedings, openly hinting that he disagreed with his uncle Gloucester’s hawkish views. He continued to make convivial remarks, pat French delegates on the back and generally give the impression of a king who was naïve and pliable.
Despite the friendly overtures (or perhaps because of them) the French position remained unchanged. Henry’s behaviour had done nothing except persuade them that he was desperate for peace.
After weeks of wrangling, the French offered few meaningful concessions from their original position. They were willing to throw in some additional territory around Calais as well as the Limousin and the Massif Central. That was it. Normandy must be returned to France or no deal. Henry may only hold Gascony as a vassal of Charles VII.
The only tangible point agreed, in the end, was that negotiations should resume in the autumn. The French casually suggested that perhaps the matter might be resolved by a meeting of the two kings. The prospect of such a meeting suited the French well. It was obvious that the pliable Henry VI would be no match for the wily and experienced Charles VII.
The Secret Term
However, at some point during the July negotiations, Henry VI is said to have verbally promised Bertrand de Beauvau (close friend of René of Anjou) that he would cede Anjou and Maine.
Was this the official royal seal of approval on the infamous ‘secret’ term that had been part of the original treaty ever since May 1444? Was Henry simply assuring Bertrand that he would indeed honour this existing agreement?
Or was this royal assent to a French request that had been kicked into the long grass since May 1444? Was this Henry making his final decision (as far as Henry was ever capable of making a final decision) to hand over Anjou and Maine, having delayed making it since May 1444?
Either one of these two explanations would account for why the details of the treaty had not been made public prior to this time.
Surrendering Anjou And Maine
Either way Henry’s motive for surrendering Anjou and Maine was probably to encourage his wife’s influential Angevin family to put pressure on Charles to adopt a more conciliatory line.
But, also either way, Charles VII recognised weakness and inexperience when he saw it. When his delegation returned to brief him, later that summer, he responded in November by insisting on the full return of Anjou and Maine before further negotiations could proceed.
Now why did Charles do that?
No doubt he took Henry VI’s behaviour that summer as a sign of a weak king, desperate for peace, whose hand could now be forced. Also, English prevarication on this and, quite likely, other issues was now trying his patience. It was nevertheless a warning sign. Charles wanted the entire matter resolved quickly, one way or the other. Could he perhaps force the pliable Henry to concede to all his terms? Maybe. If so, happy days, then maybe there really could be peace. If not? Well, if not, Charles was prepared for war.
The rash promise to simply ‘hand over’ Anjou and Maine therefore became public knowledge at the end of 1445/early 1446. Needless to say, it caused all sorts of problems. These were further exacerbated by Charles’ demand and Henry’s agreement that it should happen quickly.
It caused uproar in parliament in the spring of 1446. Parliament could not overrule the king, but it nevertheless made it fundamentally clear that it was a policy that went against their council. As far as they could, they washed their hands of any responsibility for it.
Gloucester was naturally enraged and would no doubt oppose and denounce the deal at every opportunity.
And there were other problems.
Edmund Beaufort was the current governor of Maine; a province from which he benefited with significant income. He would need to be compensated in some way. Henry decided this could best be achieved by appointing him to the governorship of Normandy. But this created yet another problem. Richard of York had held this position for some time and would clearly be disgruntled at losing this office to Somerset.
The Conspiracy Theories
So, what happened in 1444-1445? What was the truth behind this ‘secret term’?
The narrative that emerged amongst those who were hostile to the Lancastrian regime was laden with suspicion and paranoia.
The main theme focused on the conspiracy theory that Henry VI was surrounded by corrupt and evil councillors. It was suggested that some of these men were even traitors, plotting against England and its king, perhaps making secret deals with France.
These men, more specifically Suffolk, Moylens and Kemp, had deceived the king into accepting French demands to hand over Anjou and Maine.
Having made this treacherous agreement, they continued to pressurise the king to honour it. Later, during the latter part of 1445 in particular, Henry’s young French queen increasingly cajoled him into handing over the province. She was no doubt working in the best interests of her father and uncle, not England.
As far as the regime’s detractors were concerned, none of this would have happened if the king had better councillors. And the most malign influence of all was clearly Suffolk. He was the primary architect of the disastrous treaty after all.
Well, that’s one view anyway. Clearly, the idea that some secret, insidious, treasonous plot was afoot was extremely far-fetched. Nothing more than the politic polemic of the day. So, is there a more reasonable explanation of what happened?
Chain of Events
Taking a step back from the propaganda wars of the time, let’s summarise the chain of events we can be reasonably certain of:
- The French requested the return of Anjou and Maine in the spring of 1444.
- Whatever agreements were made the details remained secret. However, a two-year truce did indeed follow. So too, did a marriage.
- At the peace conference of July 1445, Henry VI’s behaviour demonstrated that he was clearly more enthusiastic than anyone else in the English delegation to reach agreement with the French.
- At this conference Henry was the most enthusiastic peacemaker, pressuring his own councillors to be more ‘friendly’ and accommodating.
- Henry VI himself (not Suffolk, nor Moylens, nor Kemp) is recorded as promising the French that Anjou and Maine would be surrendered.
- In November 1445, Charles VII responded by insisting on a rapid timetable for the handover. Henry VI agreed.
- The details of the treaty increasingly became public knowledge after this. The surrender of Anjou and Maine was now clearly an integral part of it.
- In April 1446 parliament distanced itself from the decision, making it clear that, as far as they were concerned, it was Henry’s decision and Henry’s alone.
The Truth No-one In England Could Face
There is no need for conspiracy theories about ‘evil’ councillors or partisan French queens to explain why England agreed to hand over Anjou and Maine. The only explanation you need is the one that jumps out from Henry’s behaviour in July 1445. i.e., Henry VI himself was the main driving force behind it.
It was Henry who was by far the keenest to placate the French. Simply handing over Anjou and Maine as a ‘goodwill’ gesture was a promise that he made in person in July 1445. If anything, the likes of Suffolk, Moylens and Kemp probably tried to restrain him. They probably tried to get him to hold back on any definite agreement on Anjou and Maine until more favourable terms could be at least thoroughly discussed. But, by July 1445, if the ‘secret term’ had not already been agreed, Henry removed any doubts by providing the French with personal assurances.
Once Charles had followed this up by insisting on a rapid timetable for implementation (and Henry acquiesced to it) the details of the treaty had to become public.
So why were the regime’s opponents so keen to blame ‘evil councillors’ rather than confront the king directly? The answer, of course, is simple. In late medieval England ‘evil and corrupt councillors’ were a far less frightening prospect than a naïve and incompetent king.
Hoping For The Best
In the end, the main practical barrier to surrendering Anjou and Maine was not parliament, or Richard of York or even the bellicose Gloucester. It was, of all people, Edmund Beaufort. Beaufort proved to be a far more effective roadblock to handing over the province than parliament, York and Gloucester combined.
Beaufort simply refused to hand Anjou and Maine over without very substantial compensation. ‘What’s in this for me?’ was his mantra throughout the process. The governorship of Normandy was a nice inducement, but not enough. Beaufort also wanted hard cash – and lots of it. Others with vested interests in the province, seeing Beaufort’s success, sought to emulate his example. Each dragging their feet to see what goodies Henry VI’s regime might offer to encourage them to make things happen a bit faster.
These delays frustrated Henry VI and increasingly antagonised the French. Charles VII, having lived with treachery for most of his life became increasingly suspicious. He may well have hoped for the best. However, Charles was astute enough to plan for the worst. Henry, alas, continued to hope for the best. He refused to even contemplate the worst.
The reality was that England should have taken Charles VII’s deal in July 1445.
People like Gloucester, clinging desperately to the old dreams of Henry V, were living in a fantasy world. And the English parliament was also seriously deluded.
England’s French dreams were now on borrowed time. After a century of war England was a spent force. The cold hard truth was that the English no longer had the resources to effectively hold onto their French possessions. And now Charles VII also realised England lacked effective leadership.
Furthermore, Charles knew something else that the English did not. By 1445 France had a standing professional army. It was a permanent force of 9,000 men, funded by a properly thought-out system of direct taxation. But it was not a medieval army, like the French armies the English had faced before. It was a new kind of army, a renaissance army. An army that was taking full advantage of the latest innovations in modern artillery on a scale never seen before in the Hundred Years’ War. England had no such force. Nor was it remotely likely that its myopic parliament would ever agree to finance one. And Charles VII knew it.
The clock was now ticking.
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References and further reading
Henry VI enthroned: Miniature by the Talbot Master, (Royal MS 15 E vi)
John Beaufort: Drawing from effigy, made after Schebbelie’s drawing depicted in Gough, Richard, Sepulchral Monuments in Great Britain, vol 2, part 2, p. 132, London, 1796. James William Edmund Doyle, 1886.
Chales VII: Painting by Jean Fouquet, C15th
Henry VI: Alleyn Bequest, 1626.
Margaret of Anjou: Illustration by Antoine Francois Seregent-Marceau 1787 (British Museum)