By the spring of 1433 it had become clear that the English kingdom of France was under serious threat. As a direct consequence of Philippe of Burgundy’s truces with Charles VII and his subsequent withdrawal from an active military role, the burden of defending the realm now fell entirely on the English, stretching Bedford’s military and financial resources to the limit. The regent had been unable to prevent Armagnac captains raiding deep into the heart of Normandy or closing in on Paris itself. Plots to betray major towns and fortresses to the enemy were rife and required constant vigilance. And the strained state of relations with Burgundy raised the spectre of an irrevocable breach between the allies which could only exacerbate Bedford’s difficulties. Without substantial and regular aid from England, the regent was acutely aware that his position in France was unsustainable.
In April 1433 Bedford therefore convened a crisis meeting at Calais. It was attended by Gloucester and Cardinal Beaufort, together with representatives of both the councils of England and France, and its purpose was to agree a strategy to safeguard the future of the English kingdom of France. The choice of venue was significant, coming only a few weeks after the mutiny of the Calais garrison, which Bedford had ended by promising to pay the soldiers’ overdue wages from the local customs. His first actions on entering the town, however, were to withdraw his promise and order the arrest of the mutineers. One hundred and twenty of them were evicted from Calais but, when Bedford returned to the town after his wedding, he personally supervised their trials, in which four men were sentenced to death and a further 110 banished. Though mutiny could not be tolerated, his actions were seen as vindictive and unnecessary, further souring his relations with Calais, but also with his brother Gloucester, who had always championed the town.1
The two brothers were already at loggerheads, each disapproving of the other’s handling of affairs within their respective jurisdictions. Bedford blamed Gloucester for the abysmal state of England’s finances, which had deprived him of the men, money and goodwill he needed to defend the English kingdom of France; Gloucester, who had always believed he could do a better job than Bedford in prosecuting the war, blamed him for the reverses of the previous year.
When they met in Calais, therefore, it was no surprise that they were unable to agree and Bedford’s demands for an increased commitment from England did not receive a sympathetic hearing. All that he was able to secure was another loan of 10,000 marks (£3.5m) from Beaufort, to finance the recapture of Saint-Valery, a Burgundian stronghold in Picardy which had just been taken by the Armagnacs. The loan purchased the cardinal’s way back into favour with his nephews but it must have given Bedford further cause for alarm that the English treasury was unable to find any stream of income from which Beaufort could be repaid: the only security he could be given was letters of obligation provided by sympathetic members of the council.2
It was an indication of the depth of Bedford’s concern that he decided he would have to go to England in person to rally support for the cause in France and to investigate the true state of English finances. On 24 May 1433 he ordered writs to be sent out summoning a parliament to meet at Westminster on 8 July and early in June he sailed for England with his new bride.3 His arrival meant that Gloucester had to give up his authority as protector to his elder brother, enabling Bedford to make sweeping changes in the government and administration.
He began in parliament with a passionate speech to the king, lords and commons defending his own conduct in France:
he had heard from the report of several persons how a false and perverse belief was being put about and spread among very many people in the realm of England, namely that the damage and loss which our aforesaid lord king had sustained in his realm of France and in his duchy of Normandy must have resulted from the negligence and carelessness of the duke himself, which was to the scandal of his person and to the grave damage of his name, reputation and honour, but also to the sadness and sorrow of his heart.
Bedford then challenged anyone, of whatever rank, who wished to uphold such a charge against him to repeat it before the king in parliament and offered to prove his innocence in a judicial duel ‘according to what the law of arms demands and requires’. Though Bedford undoubtedly meant what he said when he offered to fight his accuser to the death, he must have known that it was extremely unlikely that anyone would take up his challenge and that his emotionally charged rhetoric would elicit a public vote of confidence. This he duly received. The king, Gloucester and members of the royal council all denied knowledge of any such scandalous rumours and the eleven-year-old king gave his ‘most special thanks’ to ‘his true and faithful liege and his dearest uncle . . . for his good, laudable and fruitful services expended in many ways’.4
Having obtained the royal endorsement and stamped his authority on parliament, Bedford set about taking personal control of the English government. It was clear to him that the best interests of neither country were being served by Gloucester, whose lack of judgement, jealousy and quarrelsome nature were creating friction and faction among the aristocracy, or by the royal council, whose independence and narrow interests were at odds with the wider concerns of his nephew’s two kingdoms. Bedford began by securing for himself a twelve-year appointment as lieutenant of Calais and captain of all the fortresses in the Calais marches: only Guînes, where Gloucester was captain, was excluded and that was to be handed over to Bedford in 1436 when Gloucester’s term of office ended. This meant that Calais, which had always been ruled and funded directly from England, would retain this special status but its interests would no longer be considered separately and independently: Bedford would now be able to incorporate it into his overall strategy for the defence of the English kingdom of France. In return he conceded the partial reversal of his judgement against the mutineers of the Calais garrison: parliament was allowed to restore the wages, lands and rents of those who lived in the town.5
This was followed by the removal from office of Gloucester’s nominees, including the treasurer, who was replaced by Ralph, lord Cromwell. It was immediately clear that the exchequer was empty and that all its revenues for the next two years were already assigned to repay loans to the crown. Within two days of his appointment Cromwell instituted reforms and economies to address the situation and began an audit so that he could present its results to the king in the next session of parliament. It revealed that ‘all the revenues and profits, ordinary and extraordinary, certain or casual, which pertain to you for any reason are insufficient for the burden and satisfying of your ordinary annual charges by the sum of £35,000 [£18.38m] per year and more’. And that was without including any expenditure on the war in France.6
This was a powerful argument in favour of a peace settlement with Charles VII but the negotiations mediated by Cardinal Albergati had already foundered. The representatives of the three parties had reconvened in March 1433 at Seine-Port, a deserted village between Corbeil and Mantes. The English, in a gesture of goodwill which they hoped would lead to a lengthy truce, had then offered to bring their Agincourt prisoners to Dover and provide facilities for them to confer with the Armagnacs, if the conferences were relocated to Calais. In anticipation of the delegation’s arrival the dukes of Bourbon and Orléans were moved to Dover, and Bedford, Gloucester, Beaufort and members of the councils of both kingdoms stayed on in Calais until 23 May. Their wait was in vain for the Armagnacs refused to come.
Albergati succeeded in bringing them all back to the table at Seine-Port in June, but the most he could persuade the Armagnacs to offer was a four-month truce, which even their own ambassadors conceded would be of little effect, saying that ‘if their master had a hundred thousand écus [£1.46m], he could not enforce it, because only foreigners served in his war, he had abandoned the country to them, and they would not obey him in this’. The English rejected the offer outright, seeing it as merely an opportunity for the Armagnacs to provision their strongholds and prolong English expenses in besieging them. They would consider nothing less than a truce for twelve months. Albergati gave up and went to Basle to report his failure to the general council of the church meeting there.7
The Parisians had no hesitation in blaming their own chancellor, Louis de Luxembourg, for this unsatisfactory result. It was noted that he had spent the time between the two peace conferences at Corbeil gathering troops in Normandy which he brought to Paris in the first week of July. Perhaps as a result of Armagnac propaganda, the citizen-diarist believed that Albergati and Regnault de Chartres, the principal Armagnac negotiator, had already agreed and signed a peace treaty: it was only Louis de Luxembourg, ‘a man of blood’ whom Bedford had left in charge in his absence, who refused to sign it. The people therefore detested him: ‘It was said secretly – and openly too, often enough – that if it were not for him France would be at peace, so that he and his accomplices were more hated and cursed than ever the Emperor Nero was.’8
This was unfair, for what the Parisians did not yet know was that there had been a seismic shift in Armagnac policy. Despite Jehanne d’Arc’s intervention on his behalf, Arthur de Richemont had never been readmitted to Charles VII’s presence and it was no secret that he hated Georges de la Trémoïlle, who had procured his banishment and reigned supreme as court favourite. Knowing this, Bedford had offered to ‘cede’ the county of Poitou to Richemont’s brother, the duke of Brittany, and a number of lordships, including La Rochelle, and all Trémoïlle’s possessions in Poitou to Richemont himself, in the hope of winning his support for a closer Anglo-Breton alliance. The offer was a hollow one, since none of these places was actually in English hands, but it was meant to give Richemont an incentive to conquer them and revenge himself on Trémoïlle.
Richemont, however, was more interested in acquiring his hated rival’s lands by less strenuous means and had been plotting with the Angevin party to overthrow their mutual enemy. In June 1433 Raoul de Gaucourt’s lieutenant at Chinon secretly opened a postern gate at night to admit a band of armed conspirators, including the Bretons Prégent de Coëtivy and Pierre de Brézé. They seized Trémoïlle at sword-point from his bed, wounding him in the process, and, when questioned by a terrified Charles VII, who thought they were about to commit regicide, informed him that they had done it ‘for his own good and for the good of the realm’.
The tables were now turned. Trémoïlle was charged with financial irregularities, removed from office and exiled to his castle of Sully. The queen’s brother, Charles d’Anjou, became the new court favourite and Richemont returned in triumph. The Angevin-Breton party was now back in power, bringing with it a return to the pro-war policies of the Jehanne d’Arc era.9
The possibility of securing a lasting peace, which had always been remote, had now been removed altogether and the renewed belligerence of the Armagnacs did what diplomatic efforts had failed to do: it persuaded the Burgundians that the English alliance was still in their best interests. For, despite the six-year general peace that had been agreed in 1430, Burgundian territories were everywhere under attack, from Saint-Valery in Picardy to Pacy-sur-Armançon in the duchy of Burgundy itself. Clearly the Armagnac ambassadors had been correct when they admitted that Charles VII could not enforce a binding truce on his foreign mercenaries who lived off the land and had nothing to gain by peace.
In the summer of 1433 Philippe sent an embassy to England to test English opinion. It was led by the Anglophile Hue de Lannoy, but even he detected a certain frostiness in the atmosphere, which the earl of Warwick explained in forthright fashion: ‘We English, to tell you the truth, are exceedingly displeased and disappointed that, whilst the king was in France, my lord of Burgundy, your master, has neither seen him nor visited him.’ Bedford was more emollient, seeking to heal the personal breach between himself and Burgundy: ‘By my faith, I promise you that it displeases me much that my brother-in-law has such a bad opinion of me; for I do not hate him; he is one of this world’s princes whom I have always loved the most. And I know well that the way we have conducted ourselves is greatly prejudicial to my lord the king and to the public good.’10
In the dispatches he sent home Lannoy was able to reassure Burgundy that the English were not, as he had feared, intending to make a separate peace with the Armagnacs, though he picked up rumours that ‘certain persons’ were pushing for a marriage between Henry VI and one of the infant daughters of Charles VII. This is the first real indication we have that there were those among the young king’s councillors who had begun to look beyond the stated English objective of a mere truce towards a more permanent settlement. This was not, as some historians have characterised it, the emergence of a ‘peace faction’ as opposed to a ‘war faction’, which is a simplistic view that does not take into account the fact that both ‘parties’ were equally committed to the preservation of the English kingdom of France but sought to achieve that aim by different means. Though opinions became more entrenched with the passing years there was never an explicit division along party lines. Gloucester was a diehard opponent of any concession to the French and unswerving in his belief that the military option was the only way forward, but in this he was virtually alone. On the other side, even Cardinal Beaufort and the earl of Suffolk, who are generally seen as leaders of a ‘peace faction’, were not inclined to support anything more than limited concessions to secure a lasting peace and both did more than most to support the war effort: Beaufort was its chief financier and Suffolk, with thirteen years of continuous military service in France already under his belt, would return to arms again in the crisis of 1436. With the exception of Gloucester, probably every person of any influence in the royal council believed that a lasting peace could not be achieved without diplomatic engagement with the enemy. The only point at issue was the price by which peace could be purchased.11
In 1433 the earl of Suffolk was already one of those looking to a long-term and peaceful resolution of the war. His capture at Jargeau had brought an abrupt and permanent end to his military career. He had earned a swift release at the beginning of 1430 by promising to pay his captor, the Bastard of Orléans, an enormous ransom of £20,000 (£10.5m) and, more significantly, to endeavour to secure the release of the Bastard’s two half-brothers, Charles d’Orléans and the count of Angoulême. This gave him a personal interest in a negotiated settlement and, as part of the process, in the summer of 1432 he acquired custody of the captive duke. Together, he hoped, they could act as intermediaries between the English and the Armagnacs.
Suffolk was undoubtedly one of those members of the royal council who promoted the idea of a marriage between Henry VI and a Valois princess and he freely admitted to Hue de Lannoy in the summer of 1433 that he now had greater hopes of a general peace than he had ever had before. He permitted Lannoy to meet Charles d’Orléans in his presence but it was an uncomfortable occasion. Charles told Lannoy that he was ‘in good bodily health but he was unhappy that he was spending the best years of his life as a prisoner’; he indicated his eagerness to serve as an intermediary for the cause of peace but made it clear by his gestures that he did not dare to say what he really wished and he was not allowed to write a personal letter to Burgundy. So desperate was Orléans to obtain his freedom, after almost eighteen years in captivity, that a few weeks after this opportunity eluded him he agreed to recognise Henry VI as the true king of France and his supreme lord, even in unconquered Mont-Saint-Michel. The duke of Bourbon had made a similar submission in 1429 but neither man regained his liberty. 12
The official purpose of Lannoy’s mission was to present Henry VI with letters urging him either to make peace or a long general truce, or alternatively ‘to make such and so terrible a war that the pride of the enemies may be humbled and, by this means, they may be forced to come to the said peace or truce’. This was, of course, a polite way of saying that Burgundy wanted more money and men to defend his own interests, obliging the king’s councillors to point out the quite astonishing level of their commitment to the English kingdom of France: the English were currently paying for four months the wages of 9700 soldiers: 1600 were besieging Saint-Valery with the count of Saint-Pol and 500 men in Burgundy’s pay; 1200 were in the field to safeguard the lower marches of Normandy with the earl of Huntingdon; 900 were in the field in Alençon and Maine under the earl of Arundel; added to which there were ‘more than 6000’ serving in garrisons in France, Normandy, Anjou and Maine.13
These surprising figures are borne out by other independent evidence. Arundel’s contract for service, for instance, obliged him to recruit two hundred men-at-arms and six hundred archers, but it often happened that the overall numbers exceeded the contractual requirement, particularly if there was difficulty in obtaining sufficient men-at-arms, in which case several archers might be accepted in lieu of each missing man-at-arms. An audit of soldiers serving in garrisons from Michaelmas 1433 to Michaelmas 1434 reveals that 488 mounted men-at-arms, 523 foot men-at-arms and 2925 archers, or 3936 men in total, were employed in Normandy and the counties of Alençon and Maine alone. A further 2000 in garrisons in France does not therefore seem unreasonable.14
Lannoy’s mission to England was not successful in terms of mobilising an immediate surge in troop numbers, but it did renew military cooperation between the two allies, both of whom had an interest in weakening the Armagnac grip on the Gâtinais area south of Paris. In June 1433 Perrinet Gressart and his nephew by marriage François de Surienne were able to capture Montargis, a stronghold some seventy miles south of Paris, by means of a barber in the town who was bribed by the woman he wished to marry into showing them where to scale the castle walls. His treachery cost Gressart and Surienne 2000 écus (£145,833) but they still turned a handsome profit, having been promised 10,000 saluts (£802,083) by Bedford for taking Montargis. Surienne, who always wore the red cross of England even when fighting in Burgundian pay, became captain of Montargis, providing him with the excuse he needed to withdraw from the Burgundian army and turn Montargis into a second La-Charité-sur-Loire.15
The capture of Montargis opened the way for Philippe of Burgundy to begin a major campaign on the border of his duchy for the recovery of places lost to the Armagnacs in 1431. From July to November Philippe led his armies in person, spending over 150,000francs (£8.75m) of his own money in the process. Lord Talbot, newly released from his four-year captivity since the battle of Patay, was dispatched from Paris at the head of sixteen hundred soldiers to assist in this campaign, helping to retake Pacysur-Armançon and many of the Burgundian towns on the river Yonne. In the meantime lord Willoughby and Bedford’s father-in-law, the count of Saint-Pol, were operating in Picardy, recovering Saint-Valery for the Burgundians on 20 August 1433 after a three-month siege. Eleven days later, while making preparations to lay siege to Rambures, the count died suddenly, so it was left to his brother, Jehan de Luxembourg, and the new count, who confusingly shared his uncle’s name, to continue the campaign.16
The twenty-five-year-old earl of Arundel, acting as lieutenant in the lower marches of Normandy, was also making headway in Maine. On 10 March 1433 he issued a pardon to the churchmen and inhabitants of Sées, which he had just recaptured from the Armagnacs in the town’s fifth change of ownership since 1418. He also successfully targeted the neighbouring fortresses, belonging to Ambroise de Loré, which Willoughby had failed to take the previous year. Bonsmoulins surrendered relatively quickly and its fortifications were demolished to prevent its use by the enemy again. Saint-Cénéry proved a more difficult nut to crack, not least because Loré’s wife and children were in the castle and the defenders were determined not to let them fall into English hands. They held out for three months but Arundel’s great bombards succeeded in making a huge breach in the wall and most of the Armagnac leaders, including Loré’s lieutenant in charge of the castle, were killed attempting to defend it. Since Loré himself did not come to their rescue in time, the remaining besieged had no choice but to surrender and were allowed to leave on foot but without any of their possessions. It was a measure of Saint-Cénéry’s strategic importance that the treasurer of Normandy, John Stanlawe, was personally sent to supervise its demolition in February 1434.17
Arundel himself moved thirty-six miles south-west, to the other side of Alençon, to besiege Sillé-le-Guillaume, which agreed to surrender in six weeks’ time if no relief arrived. The army that Loré had raised to help Saint-Cénéry was now commandeered by the duke of Alençon, Arthur de Richemont and Charles d’Anjou and diverted to Sillé-le-Guillaume. Arriving just before the deadline, the relief force squared up to Arundel’s army and some skirmishing took place, but neither side was prepared to commit to battle. Nevertheless, the Armagnacs sent their herald to Arundel, demanding the return of the hostages given for the surrender on the grounds that a relief force had indeed been brought, according to the terms of the capitulation. Arundel conceded the point, handed over the hostages and made as if to withdraw. As soon as the Armagnacs had dispersed, however, he returned to Sillé-le-Guillaume and, catching the garrison unawares, took the place by assault.18
Despite these military successes, there was still no security for the civilian population as the Armagnacs kept up the pressure elsewhere. In September La Hire led a raid from his base at Beauvais, forty-five miles north-west of Paris, into the heart of Artois and the region round Cambrai, over eighty miles away, rounding up peasants for ransom, plundering and burning houses, mills, churches and villages with impunity.19
The combination of renewed Armagnac aggression so close to Paris and frustration at the failure of Cardinal Albergati’s peace talks led to two major conspiracies to betray the capital to the enemy. The two plots were apparently independently conceived and both were planned for the last week of September. One involved a number of wealthy citizens, who had arranged for several thousand Armagnacs to be stationed in quarries and other hiding places outside the city. In a variation on the subterfuge which had tricked Verneuil into submission in 1429, two hundred Scots would enter Paris wearing the cross of Saint George and pretending to be English soldiers escorting a hundred ‘prisoners’ who were, in fact, their fellow countrymen. They would enter the gates at noon, when the gatekeepers were eating their dinner, kill them, capture the gates and fortresses, and admit the armies waiting outside.
The second plot involved secretly bringing a number of soldiers in small boats into the city along the moats between the Saint-Denis and Saint-Honoré gates, where there were no houses for them to be observed. They intended to launch their attack on the feast of Saint-Denis, when the Parisians could be caught off-guard at their patron’s celebrations and massacred. Both conspiracies were discovered and those involved beheaded as traitors.20
In November there was widespread panic in lower Normandy when the garrison of Avranches learned through six captured soldiers from Mont-Saint-Michel that the duke of Alençon had entered the duchy with a large army the previous day to seize one of four towns which had been sold to the enemy. The bailli of the Cotentin wrote ‘in haste’ to warn Caen, Bayeux, Saint-Lô and Neuilly l’Évêque that they were all at grave risk of betrayal and attack, urging them to pay special attention to their watches by day and night and adding the no doubt heartfelt prayer, ‘may Our Lord have you in his holy safe-keeping’.21
It was a sign of the times that, on the cusp of the new year, the abbot of Saint-Ouen in Rouen received royal permission to hold its courts of forest pleas within the abbey precincts, as he could not find a justice who was prepared to go out into the forest because of the war and fear of being attacked by enemies and brigands. A couple of weeks later, on 13 January 1434, a former vicomte of Pont-Audemer was excused having to travel in person to attend the chambre-des-comptes in Paris ‘for fear of the dangers both by water and by land.’22
The council of Normandy wrote to the bailli of Caen about the same time, informing him that rumours were again circulating that the Armagnacs were assembling ready to capture certain towns in Normandy and telling him to have it proclaimed throughout hisbailliage that no one from the countryside carrying weapons (even a simple wooden staff) or wearing armour should be allowed to enter a town unless they left them outside. Hot on the heels of this letter came another, ordering him to inform the captains of Falaise, Bayeux and Avranches to be on the alert as their towns had been sold to the enemy.23
On 29 January La Hire attacked a convoy of some two thousand pigs, together with large quantities of cattle and sheep, which was being driven to Paris. Not content with killing the escort, seizing the beasts and holding the merchants to ransom, La Hire’s men returned to the scene of the ambush to search the field: ‘and they cut the throat of every man, alive or dead, who wore an English emblem or who spoke English’. The following week they carried out a night attack on Vitry, a few miles outside Paris, sacking and burning it, and then La Hire’s brother, Amado de Vignolles, established a base a mere twenty miles north of the capital at the castle of Beaumont-sur-Oise, which had supposedly been dismantled. It was no wonder that the Parisians felt abandoned. ‘There was at this time no news of the Regent’, the citizen of Paris noted in his journal, adding bitterly, ‘No one governed, except the Bishop of Thérouanne, a man whom the people detested.’24
Bedford had not abandoned the English kingdom of France, though he must have been sorely tempted. On 24 November 1433 the House of Commons had presented the king with a lengthy petition which lavished praise on the way in which Bedford, ‘through his great wisdom and valour, with long and continuous personal labour, peril and danger’, had ‘nobly done his duty’ in preserving the French kingdom:
and as often as the matter required it, he has subjected his person to the deed and to the danger of war as the poorest knight or gentleman who was there in the king’s service, and undertaken many great and noble deeds worthy to be held in remembrance forever; and in particular the battle of Verneuil, which was the greatest deed undertaken by Englishmen in our time, save for the battle of Agincourt . . . in addition, the said commons consider that the presence and residence of my said lord of Bedford in this realm since his arrival has been most beneficial, and that the peaceful rule and governance of this realm has thereby greatly grown and been increased by both the noble model and example that he has given to others . . . and also in assisting through his great wisdom and discretion by means of advice and counsel to the king and to the said rule and governance.25
In short they begged the king to ‘will, pray and desire’ Bedford to stay in England, a petition that the lords seconded. Such a ringing personal endorsement must have been music to Bedford’s ears, especially given the reasons that had brought him to England in the first place, but he believed it was his sacred duty to bear the burden of governing France that his brother had laid upon him.
After considering the matter for several weeks he put his own proposals to parliament, setting out the terms under which he would spend more time in England, until his nephew came of age. These included his right to be consulted upon the appointment of members of the English council, officers of state and bishops, and upon the dismissal of secular appointees; that before any parliament was summoned he should be informed of the potential date and place, ‘wherever I shall be in my lord’s service’; and that a book should be kept of the names of all those ‘old and feeble’ servants who had spent their lives in his grandfather’s, father’s and brother’s service, so that they might be rewarded with appropriate offices and annuities whenever these fell vacant. He also asked that he should be paid £500 (£262,500) for his expenses in crossing the Channel as required but offered to accept a salary of only £1000 (£525,000) a year, payable proportionately for the amount of time he spent in England. This was a direct reproach to his brother, Gloucester, who had raised his own annual salary as protector to 8000 marks (£2.8m), despite the financial difficulties of the realm.26
Indeed the entire package was implicitly critical of Gloucester, whose position was now reduced to that of a senior member of the king’s council. What the new arrangement cleverly succeeded in doing was to make Bedford the highest authority in both kingdoms during the king’s minority, but without undermining the principle of their separate governance set out in the Treaty of Troyes.27 Bedford would not actually be ruling England from France, but it was now enshrined in law that the most important decisions in England could only be taken after consulting him and bearing in mind his advice, even if he was in France. It was Bedford’s intention that, in future, the two realms would be working with a common purpose.
Parliament responded to Bedford’s acceptance of a greater role by granting a tax of a fifteenth and a tenth and extending duties payable on imports and exports. Recognising that cloth was becoming a more valuable export than raw wool and that a new stream of income would be needed as collateral for loans, parliament also introduced a new tax of twelve pence in the pound on the value of all exported cloth. This financial package was less than Bedford had hoped for, but it was as much as the realm could afford.28
The estates-general of Normandy, meeting at the same time, granted 160,000l.t. (£9.33m) expressly for the maintenance of the garrisons. This too was not considered sufficient, and a number of extra direct levies were made, including a duchywide tax of 20,000l.t. (£1.17m) to finance a new siege of Mont-Saint-Michel and local impositions to fund the demolition of Saint-Cénéry and repay loans Bedford had made to pay for the earl of Arundel’s campaigns in Maine.29
Bedford himself would remain in England until July, trying to scrape together cash and loans for the new campaigning season, but in February John, lord Talbot, signed up to lead just under a thousand troops to France. They mustered in preparation for embarkation on 11 March 1434 and made their way first to Rouen, then to Paris, capturing the small fortress of Jouy, between Gisors and Beauvais, as they did so. Talbot, with the ruthlessness which was to become his hallmark and would make him feared throughout France, hanged all the garrison.30
In Paris, after consultations with the French council, he joined forces with the earl of Arundel and the sire de l’Isle-Adam and went to lay siege to Beaumont-sur-Oise. They arrived to find that it was deserted: Amado de Vignolles had learned of their approach and removed himself, his men and their property to the more secure fortress of Creil, fourteen miles further upriver. Pausing only to destroy Vignolles’s new fortifications at Beaumont, Talbot followed him to Creil and surrounded the town. The besieged defended themselves vigorously at first but Vignolles was killed by an arrow during a skirmish and his death sapped morale. When Louis de Luxembourg arrived with reinforcements, some six weeks after the siege began, the defenders came to terms: on 20 June 1434 they were allowed to leave, taking their belongings with them.31
On the same day that Creil was taken Bedford held his final meeting of the English council at Westminster to urge upon the king’s councillors the importance of observing the terms of the agreement he had made the previous December. He cannot have been confident that they would do so, for Gloucester had not waited for him to return to France before making another attempt to undermine his authority. This time he did not merely foment rumours. On 20 April he presented a formal memorandum to the council which was extremely critical of recent mismanagement of the war. He followed this by offering to lead a huge army to France in person to win so decisive a victory that there would no longer be any need to levy taxes in England to support the war.
Bedford was deeply angered but he could not afford to dismiss these proposals out of hand because, however unrealistic, they had won enthusiastic popular support and raised expectations among hard-pressed tax-payers. A carefully worded response had to be composed to prevent ‘murmur and grouching’ among the populace. ‘My lord of Gloucester’s offer . . . should, with God’s grace, have been of great avail . . . if it had been, or were, possible to put it into execution’, he was told. An expedition on this scale would cost between £48,000 and £50,000 (£25.2m and £26.25m) and, as the treasurer informed him, recent experience had proved that it was impossible to raise even half that amount.32
Bedford’s practical alternative to his brother’s grandiose scheme was to offer to maintain two hundred men-at-arms and six hundred archers at his own cost, if a similar force was funded out of the Lancastrian estates of the crown and the garrisons of Calais and its march were placed at his disposal for the defence of the whole English kingdom of France. It was not enough, but it was the best he could do. With a heavy heart he informed the king that his subjects in France, especially the Parisians, could not last much longer without greater assistance. He called God to witness ‘how great a pity it were to lose that noble realm for the getting and keeping of which my lord that was your father, to whose soul God do mercy, and many other noble princes, lords, knights and squires and other persons in full great number have paid with their lives’. Then he returned to France to dedicate the rest of his own life to the service of his king and country.33