On the eve of Saint Andrew, 29 November 1436, a hard frost set in which would last until 12 February 1437. It brought with it the heavy snows that had been a feature of the decade and caused such hardship in towns and countryside alike. The harsh weather also provided the opportunity for a bold enterprise by Talbot. Having secured Rouen and recovered much of the Caux region of upper Normandy, including Fécamp, he had now undertaken to regain control of the upper reaches of the Seine and the eastern marches of the duchy. In January he left Rouen with a detachment of two hundred men-at-arms and six hundred archers from the troops York had brought to Normandy, and took Ivry after a short siege.1
On 13 February 1437 his men recaptured the important town of Pontoise, which had been in French hands for a year. A company of them camouflaged themselves with white bed-sheets so that they could creep across the outlying snow and frozen town moats without being seen. They then took up their positions, in hiding, at the foot of the walls to await their prearranged signal. In the meantime a small detachment had disguised themselves as peasants coming to market. Under the leadership of John Sterky, a man-at-arms from Talbot’s personal retinue, they boldly made their way to the town gates and were admitted by the guards on the bridge just before daybreak. Once inside, they raised the cry ‘Talbot! Saint George!’ At this signal the rest of the company waiting beneath the walls scaled the ramparts and burst into the town. The garrison and the sire de l’Isle-Adam, who happened to be in Pontoise at the time, had been celebrating Shrove Tuesday over-heartily the day before and were completely taken by surprise. They were forced to flee, breaking down the gate below the bridge to escape and leaving all their belongings behind them. A few gentlemen barricaded themselves into a gatehouse and sent to Paris and Saint-Denis for help but surrendered at sundown after none was forthcoming. The following Sunday a similar attempt was made on Paris itself but, aware of the events at Pontoise, the night-watchmen were on the alert and drove the raiders back across the frozen moats with cannon-fire.2
Over the next few weeks Talbot swept across the Vexin, capturing at least fifteen towns and the castle of Orville, near Pontoise, which commanded the roads into Paris from Flanders, Picardy and Brie. The garrison at Orville had refused to put up any resistance because its wages had not been paid, leading to the capture of the owner’s wife as well as his castle. Once in English hands, it caused considerable inconvenience in Paris: the garrison of Saint-Denis had to be reinforced to guard the men bringing in the harvest but, as the citizen of Paris complained, ‘really no one could decide which lot was the worse bargain’, for the Armagnacs levied appâtis and taxes every three months and the English captured anyone brave enough to venture out beyond the walls and held them to ransom.3
Small, privately owned castles like Orville caused problems out of all proportion to their size and importance because of the ease with which they could be captured by the enemy. In Normandy Talbot and York had initiated a policy of demolishing any fortress of this kind once it had been recaptured. This was not an innovation in itself, but the scale of it was new. In April, for example, John Salvein, the bailli of Rouen, paid out 1089l.t. (£63,525) in wages to workmen for demolishing at least eight, including castles at Préaulx, Rouvray and Saint-Germainsous-Cailly.4
York’s year of service was now drawing to a close. He had overseen the recovery of much of Normandy and dealt sympathetically with the grievances of the Normans, especially their complaints about abuses committed by the military. He had, however, found it difficult to extract the money owed to him for his salary and for the loans he was obliged to make out of his own pocket to finance certain sieges. (He was still owed £18,000 (£9.45m) in 1439.) He was therefore anxious to return to England but the council asked him to remain in France until his successor was in place. York agreed, a decision he came to regret because his replacement did not arrive until November. For six months, therefore, he was in the anomalous position of exercising an authority he no longer possessed. This undermined him and caused administrative problems, particularly with the service contracts of garrison captains, which ran out in June. The power of reappointment lay with York’s successor, but the payment of garrison wages was dependent on production of a valid contract, so monthly extensions had to be issued until the new lieutenant-general arrived, causing uncertainty and confusion.5
This had a direct impact on the summer campaigns of 1437. On his return from the Vexin Talbot was commissioned to stamp out the remaining pockets of resistance in the Caux region. York agreed to call out a further three hundred men-at-arms and nine hundred archers from the garrisons to add to Talbot’s existing company for this purpose, but many captains were reluctant to let their men go, fearing that the wages of these absentees would be deducted from their payrolls and that their own fortresses would be placed in jeopardy. Guillaume de Broullat, captain of the outpost at Dreux, for instance, did not send the ten men-at-arms and thirty archers demanded of him because Armagnac field armies were operating in the vicinity and a large stretch of the ancient castle wall had tumbled down, leaving a breach which required all his manpower to guard. (This may, of course, have been a lie: Broullat had made the same excuse in 1431 and his seventeen years as captain were remarkable for his having had no deductions made by the treasury because, uniquely, he recorded no absences from muster and no gains of war. The following year he surrendered Dreux in return for a large bribe.) To enforce his demands for men York was obliged to impose heavy financial penalties on captains who failed to comply, effectively the deduction of six months’ wages.6
Talbot needed such a large army because the recovery of Tancarville, the huge fortress on the Seine between Caudebec and Harfleur, could not be put off until the arrival of the new lieutenant-general. Several smaller places had already been captured, either by assault or by freeing prisoners in exchange for their capitulation: all had been demolished. The siege of Tancarville began in August and dragged on until early November, a frustrating but necessary exercise requiring huge numbers of men and William Gloucester, master of the king’s ordnance, to bring it to a successful conclusion.7
Tancarville’s recapture was possibly hastened by the arrival of Richard, earl of Warwick, who landed at Honfleur on 8 November 1437. Warwick had spent a lifetime in the service of the crown and had only reluctantly agreed to accept the office of lieutenant-general, complaining that it was ‘full far from the ease of my years, and from the continual labour of my person at sieges and daily occupation in war’. It was a measure of how politically charged the appointment had become that it was engineered to prevent the obvious candidate, Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, taking up the position. Gloucester’s role as protector of England was coming to an end as his nephew approached the age of majority, when he would personally take up the reins of government. It was natural that he should wish to seek a new sphere of authority, but neither Cardinal Beaufort and his faction, nor Louis de Luxembourg, who travelled to England to express his opinion in person, wanted Gloucester to step into Bedford’s shoes.
Warwick was not of royal blood, but he had been Henry VI’s personal governor and tutor, and his distinguished military career made him an acceptable compromise candidate. Though he was persuaded to accept the post of lieutenant-general in April, he was not prepared to sign his contract until his terms and conditions had been fully determined and he had been repaid the sums he was owed by the crown, including £12,656 8s. 11⁄2d. (£6.64m) from his tenure as captain of Calais between 1423 and 1427. It took almost three months of haggling before the formal appointment was eventually made on 16 July, but then, despite attempting to sail seven times in eleven weeks, he was forced back by violent storms at sea and so arrived late in Normandy.8
Though Warwick had enjoyed a long and respected career in arms, he was now almost fifty-six and not in the best of health. Like York, therefore, he was content to remain in Rouen and leave the defence of Normandy in the capable hands of Talbot, Scales and Fauconberg. Warwick had not been at the helm for a month when news arrived that Philippe of Burgundy, in an attempt to salvage his wounded pride over his failure at Calais the previous year, had now laid siege to Le Crotoy, an important fortress on the north bank of the bay of the Somme. He had built a bastille outside the town and garrisoned it with a thousand soldiers, not craven Flemish militiamen this time, but men ‘skilled and renowned in arms’, including four knights of his Order of the Golden Fleece. Philippe himself was directing the operations but prudently did not expose himself beyond the mighty stone walls of Abbeville.
Talbot, with Fauconberg and Kyriell, swiftly came to the rescue, crossing the Somme on the famous ford at Blanchetaque under the noses of the besiegers. Instead of attacking the Burgundians directly, however, they merely skirted round Le Crotoy and began a ten-day raid into Picardy, terrorising the inhabitants and gathering a rich haul of prisoners, horses and other beasts. Terrified of an attack from their rear, the Burgundians abandoned their bastille, their guns and their siege and a mortified duke was forced to retreat to Arras.9
Talbot had scarcely returned to Rouen when he was ordered to go to the relief of Montargis, one of the few English enclaves left outside Normandy. Throughout the summer Armagnac forces had been trying to secure the region between Paris and the Loire to ensure that supplies could be brought safely into the capital. The town of Montereau-sur-Yonne, besieged since August, was taken by assault on 10 October and, although Scales attempted to raise a relief army, the English captain, Thomas Gerrard, was obliged to surrender the castle two weeks later. Château Landon and Nemours had also fallen, leaving Montargis isolated.
The captain of Montargis was François de Surienne, the Aragonese nephew by marriage of Perrinet Gressart. The wily captain of La-Charité-sur-Loire had finally – after thirteen years of successful evasion – surrendered his fortress and taken the oath to Charles VII on 6 October 1436, but only after being formally appointed its captain for life on an annual salary of 400l.t. (£23,333) and receiving a one-off payment of 22,000 saluts (£1.76m). Surienne, however, had joined the English, on whose behalf and in return for a large reward he had captured Montargis in 1433. Self-interest, rather than ideology, had kept him loyal. As heir to half Gressart’s fortune, which included the Norman lordship of Longny, he avoided its forfeiture by allying with the English and until 1440, when Charles VII finally accepted that he could not be bought again, escaped the confiscation of the lands in Armagnac allegiance.10
Surienne had provided another important service for the English besides his capture of Montargis. After the fall of Paris he had maintained contact with four informants within the heart of the new Armagnac administration: three were lawyers in the parlementand the fourth a clerk in the chambre-des-comptes, their offices giving them privileged access to sensitive information. Thus they had learned that some clergymen and citizens of Meaux were plotting to deliver the town to Charles VII and that two prisoners from the garrison at Vernon had been persuaded to betray the place in return for remission of their ransoms. The informants were present when the plans and dates for the fruition of both plots were fixed and they had sent this information to Surienne via his pursuivant. As a result the two conspiracies had been foiled and those involved arrested and executed. The informants were unmasked, however, and on 26 March 1437 two of them were beheaded as traitors, together with the pursuivant; a third was spared death because he was a clerk in holy orders but committed to perpetual imprisonment in an oubliette. The following week the fourth informant, who had previously come under suspicion and had handed over his wife and two sons as pledges for his good behaviour, was arrested at Beauvoir and he and his servant were also executed.11
Shortly after these executions Surienne had taken it upon himself to go to London, ostensibly to secure payment for his outstanding wages as captain of Montargis, but as the money for this should have come from the Norman treasury it may have been a cover for confidential discussions with the English administration. When the estates-general met in December after his return, it granted 300,000l.t. (£17.5m) in taxes to pay garrison and field army wages for five quarters but also levied a further 10,000l.t. (£583,333) ‘for certain secret purposes concerning the king’s welfare’.
That same month the Armagnacs laid siege to Montargis, but, after discussions with their leader, Xaintrailles, Surienne agreed to negotiate a surrender if the besiegers withdrew. Charles VII undoubtedly hoped that Surienne could be detached from his English allegiance, as Gressart had been, offering him an enormous sum of money and restoration to his former office as bailli of Saint-Pierre-le-Moûtier if he surrendered Montargis and changed allegiance. Surienne falsely encouraged him to believe that this was possible, reaching an agreement in January 1438 that a truce would be observed at Montargis. Surienne would keep his garrison in the castle, buy his supplies from Orléans and other towns (rather than foraging or levying appâtis), allow the Armagnacs free access to the town and give four hostages, including his nephew, as a pledge for his surrendering the castle as soon as he was paid his money in full. It would take Charles VII the best part of a year to raise the cash but, when Regnault de Chartres and the Bastard of Orléans delivered it in person on 18 November 1438, Surienne duly led the 150 men-at-arms and 150 archers of his garrison from Montargis into Normandy. In the meantime, with a financial acumen and moral casuistry worthy of his mentor, in September he had renewed his Englishcontract to serve as captain of Montargis for another year from 1 October and accepted 3375l.t. (£196,875) as an advance on his wages. Needless to say, he did not reimburse the money when he left six weeks later.12
When Surienne agreed terms with Charles VII in January 1438, the army that Talbot and Fauconberg had raised to go to the relief of Montargis became redundant. Rather than simply disperse it, they spent the spring in and around Évreux, holding themselves in readiness to repel any renewed Armagnac attacks and occupying their time by recapturing and demolishing two small fortresses and leading an expedition round Paris to resupply Creil and Meaux.13 This latter duty highlighted a problem that had worsened significantly in recent months. The harsh winters of the preceding years had steadily impacted on the ability to provide seed corn for the next planting, on the productivity of vines, fruit and nut trees and on the availability of foodstuffs for domestic animals. The summer and autumn of 1437 were exceedingly wet, leading to a failure of crops right across northern Europe and consequently such a shortage that wheat and corn prices doubled and then trebled.
In England, where the southern counties were especially affected, the scarcity would last for two years. In France the agricultural crisis was compounded by the war: punitive enemy raids, the garrisons, field armies and écorcheurs living off the land, and the scorched-earth policy to deter siege and rebellion had all taken their toll and both sides in the conflict suffered. Famine stalked the land. Every time an armed convoy escorted supplies into Paris it was accompanied by poor people from the countryside hoping to find better conditions there; when it left, several hundred starving citizens would leave with it, because they could obtain no food in the city and were dying of hunger. As always, disease went hand in hand with famine, especially in the close confines of the urban areas. The cities of Flanders were badly affected and thousands died in Paris, where the epidemic wiped out whole families and spared neither Charles VII’s sister, the abbess of Poissy, nor the bishop of Paris. Wolves again came scavenging into the city, carrying off dogs and even a child.14
The worst-affected area in Normandy was the Caux, where the desolation was such that it was still evident to Sir John Fortescue a generation later. The value of rents fell by a half and a priest in the diocese of Rouen, prosecuted in 1438 for non-residence, claimed that there was not a single man left living in his parish, only five or six women.15
The scarcity of supply meant that it was difficult to maintain an army in the field. This was perhaps a contributing factor in Charles VII’s decision to direct his main campaign of the year against the English in Gascony, where there was greater potential to live off the land than in the north. The diversion to this area of his mercenary captains, including Xaintrailles and Roderigo de Villandrando, also temporarily solved the problem of their depredations within his own lands.16
An inability to support the army in the field because of the lack of victuals and provender may account for the fact that neither side embarked upon a sustained or coordinated military campaign in northern France in 1438. The marches of lower Normandy were on high alert throughout the winter of 1437–8 as spies operating in Brittany reported intelligence that an invasion army was secretly assembling at Laval and Mont-Saint-Michel and that Richemont had returned to the duchy and was rebuilding the dismantled border fortresses of Pontorson and Saint-James-de-Beuvron. At the same time reports that the duke of Burgundy was planning to besiege Guînes in the Calais marches prompted the council in England to contract Edmund Beaufort to go to its relief with a force of two thousand men. None of these threats really materialised. Burgundy did embark on a grand scheme to flood Calais and its marches by destroying one of the sea-dykes but was obliged to withdraw his workmen after it proved impracticable. In Normandy the market-place at Torigny-sur-Vire was captured by marauding Armagnacs and the early spring saw two sea raids on the Channel coast, one near Caen, the other near Bayeux: both were repelled and at least two of the perpetrators were captured and beheaded as traitors at Bayeux, suggesting that they were from Dieppe, rather than Brittany, the usual suspect where piracy was concerned.17
Dieppe was certainly the focus of some attention in the summer. The town was too strongly fortified to be taken except by a long and costly siege, so Talbot and Kyriell had to content themselves with reducing some of the neighbouring towns and fortresses. By July, however, they were in the vicinity of Harfleur, responding to an appeal from some Armagnac traitors in the garrison who were resisting the imposition of a new captain. On 3 May 1438 the final agreement had been signed for the exchange of two of the longest-held prisoners of the conflict: Charles d’Artois, the forty-one-year-old count of Eu, who had been captured at Agincourt in 1415, and John Beaufort, the thirty-five-year-old earl of Somerset, who had been captured at Baugé in 1421.
On his return to France the count had been appointed Charles VII’s captain of Normandy between the Seine and the Somme. When he went to take possession of Harfleur some of Marshal de Rieux’s men refused to accept him, barricaded themselves into a gatehouse and sent to Rouen for assistance. By the time Talbot’s forces got there, however, they had already made their peace with the count and the opportunity had passed. An attempt to blockade Harfleur failed at the end of August when forty-two Armagnac ships apparently succeeded in getting through by the simple device of flying the English red cross.18
For Talbot, a choleric man at the best of times, the frustration of these events must have been intensified by the knowledge that, with more men at his disposal, he might have been able to retake Harfleur. Even more annoying was the fact that those men should have been available to him but were actually employed elsewhere serving the personal ambitions of their commander, who happened to be Talbot’s brother-in-law.
When Edmund Beaufort had contracted to serve in France on 22 March he had done so as captain-general and governor for the king in Maine and Anjou, with a seven-year term of office. He had already raised an army of 346 men-at-arms and 1350 archers which he was able to muster within four days of his commission, so it was clear that his expedition had been in preparation long before the council sought his services. The Burgundian threat to Guînes passed before he set sail, so Beaufort reverted to his original intention of securing the lands in Maine that he claimed as the family inheritance from Bedford. He was able to do this only because his uncle, Cardinal Beaufort, financed his expedition to the tune of £7333 6s. 8d. (£3.85m), but that money was a loan which would have to be repaid by the English treasury. As Gloucester would later complain, it was a wilful misdirection of money and resources which could have been better employed elsewhere.19
Beaufort carried out a brief campaign on the Norman-Breton border, capturing La Guerche (and losing it again ‘through misgovernance’) before settling in Alençon, where he made a four-year truce, regulating the appâtis levied by each side, with the duke of Alençon and Charles d’Anjou, count of Maine. As his own castle of Mortain had been demolished in 1433 to prevent it being taken by the enemy, he made good his claim to Bedford’s lordship of Elbeuf by building a fortress there.20
That Beaufort was able pursue his own agenda at public expense was an indication of the supremacy at the English court of Cardinal Beaufort. His independent commission meant that Warwick, despite being lieutenant-general of Normandy, had no authority to force him to deploy elsewhere; in any case, as Beaufort was his son-in-law, Warwick may not have wished to curb his territorial ambitions.
However, a new factor was coming into the equation which would profoundly affect the future of the remnants of the English kingdom of France. On 6 December 1437 Henry VI had attained his sixteenth birthday. Though this was not the usual legal age of majority, by common consensus he had reached an age at which he could begin personally to take up the reins of government. Since his accession as a nine-month-old baby, England had effectively been ruled by committee: power and influence had been won and lost by jockeying for position among relative equals. Henry’s assumption of personal kingship changed all that: political authority and patronage would flow from the fountainhead of his throne alone. In future aspirant politicians would have to win the king’s ear and his confidence if they wished to have any impact on the events of the day.
Henry had simply been a cipher up to this moment. Now he was to emerge from the shadows with an enormous weight of expectation on his youthful shoulders. Those who had expected him to be cast in the same mould as his father, or even his uncles, were to be disappointed. Henry lacked any real political ability.21 Accustomed from birth to having decisions made on his behalf and being advised by others, he never acquired the independence, judgement and decisiveness of thought that medieval kingship demanded. He had little understanding of the deviousness of others, his naivety frequently leading him to accept what he was told at face value, to the detriment of himself and his country. He was easily influenced, susceptible to flattery, profligate with his gifts and overly lenient in the administration of justice. Perhaps worst of all was his inability to foresee the consequences of his own actions.
Henry showed no aptitude for, or even interest in, military affairs: despite the desperate plight of his French kingdom, he was said to have been the first English king who never commanded an army against a foreign enemy. It was symptomatic of his nature that he dissipated the proud and exclusively martial tradition of the Order of the Garter by bestowing membership on his friends and companions rather than on those who had earned this distinction by their exploits. He was insular to an extreme degree, the remoter regions of his realm beyond England exciting neither his curiosity nor sympathy: he did not repeat his one and only childhood sojourn in France; he never set foot in Ireland, let alone Gascony; even Wales, the birthplace of his father, merited only a single fleeting visit, in 1452.
Perhaps the only aspect in which he resembled his father was his deeply and sincerely held religious beliefs, though the ostentatious piety, bordering on saintliness, so often attributed to him owes more to Tudor propaganda than reality. Henry V’s belief that God was on his side had led to Agincourt and the conquest of northern France; Henry VI’s more compassionate faith convinced him that it was his God-given duty to bring peace to his war-ravaged kingdom of France. Though he lacked the strength of character to stand up to the more belligerent members of his council, from the moment of his assumption of personal rule the path to peace became more compelling than the old reliance on the sword.
It was therefore significant that one of his first actions was to appoint ambassadors to treat for peace with France. In this he had the full support of Cardinal Beaufort. As most of his loans to the crown were secured on the income from taxes on wool, the cardinal had, by default, become ‘the chief merchant of wools in [the] land’, with a vested interest in restoring good relations with Flanders. This meant a rapprochement with Burgundy, which Beaufort had also come to believe was in the best interests of the future security of English possessions in France. He had enjoyed good relations with the duke, until his defection in 1435, and in the duchess, his niece, he had an able and willing mediator. The duke of Brittany, never an enthusiastic ally or enemy of either side, was also keen to promote peace. Charles d’Orléans, despite the long incarceration in England which had deprived him of any personal influence he might have had at the French court, was regarded by all parties as a potential intermediary whose presence at any peace conference was absolutely essential; he too was eager to serve. The only senior figure adamantly opposed to a peace which would inevitably require some concessions to the French was Gloucester. In this he probably represented the views of most Englishmen and certainly those who held lands in France.
The young king’s personal intervention ensured that the negotiations would go ahead. Orléans was brought to London in preparation for his voyage to Brittany, where the duke had offered to host the conference at Vannes. Though it duly opened at the end of May 1438, Orléans did not attend, probably because he could not finance his journey himself, as the English required him to do. His absence and the opposition of Gloucester and his faction on the council caused the collapse of the talks without any progress towards peace.22
Despite this, discussions between the English and Burgundian representatives continued in Rouen and elsewhere, leading to a summit meeting in the Calais marches between Cardinal Beaufort and the duchess Isabella of Burgundy in January 1439. Delegates from Flanders, Holland and Zeeland met representatives of London and the Staplers to draw up lists of mutual grievances and compensation which would enable a resumption of the all-important shipment of wool into Calais. At the same time the cardinal and duchess agreed to hold formal peace negotiations later in the year at Calais: Charles VII’s representatives were to be invited to attend and Orléans would also be present.23
By the end of June 1439 all the delegates were gathered in or near Calais. This time there would be no mediation by the church: neither the papacy nor the council at Basle was represented; indeed the latter’s offer to send a deputation was rejected outright by the English, who felt betrayed by the way that the legates at Arras had favoured the Armagnacs. As at Arras, Cardinal Beaufort was not a member of the English embassy but was to act as a ‘mediator and stirrer to peace’. The duchess of Bedford and Charles d’Orléans would occupy similar roles, though none of them, and least of all Beaufort, could claim to be impartial.
Beaufort’s ally, archbishop Kemp, led the English embassy, which included supporters of both Gloucester and the cardinal as well as four representatives from the Norman council. Charles VII’s embassy was led by Regnault de Chartres, archbishop of Reims, and the Bastard of Orléans, who in this way met his half-brother, the duke, whose interests he had so loyally upheld, for the first time in twenty-four years. The Burgundians were nominally included in this embassy but the duke remained on hand and available for consultation twenty miles away at Saint-Omer
To avoid a repeat of the débâcle at Arras, the English had a three-tiered set of instructions. In the first instance they were to make the usual bold assertion of the king’s rights to the crown and full sovereignty, which, it was optimistically claimed, was ‘the most reasonable means of peace’. If this failed, as it inevitably would, the minimum they were empowered to accept in return for a ‘perpetual peace’ was Normandy, Anjou and Maine, with an enlarged Gascony (as it had been in 1360) and Calais, all in full sovereignty. Finally, if Henry’s title to the crown was the only obstacle in the way of peace, the ambassadors were to refer to Cardinal Beaufort ‘to whom the king had opened and declared all his intent in this matter’. Beaufort’s solution was to urge the French to accept historical precedent going back to the days of Charlemagne for a de facto division of the realm, with neither king claiming exclusive right to the crown except within their own territories.24
The French were equally hard-line in their opening gambit, demanding a total renunciation of Henry’s right and title to the crown and to all the lands and lordships he held in France: those that he might be permitted to retain must be held of Charles VII and the original landowners restored; the duke of Orléans must be released without paying a ransom.
After several weeks of acrimonious exchanges and much coming and going between the different camps by Orléans and the duchess of Burgundy, a compromise was reached. In return for what they called a half-peace, which was a truce for between fifteen and thirty years, the French demands for Henry’s renunciation of the crown and admission of Charles’s sovereignty would be put in abeyance and they would recognise his right to hold Calais and its marches, his current possessions in Gascony and all of Normandy and its appurtenances, except Mont-Saint-Michel for the period of the truce. Throughout that time Henry would have to refrain from using the title ‘king of France’, either verbally or in writing, restore all those driven out by the conquest and release Orléans without ransom, though he would have to pay the reasonable expenses incurred in his captivity.
While Beaufort remained in Calais to maintain appearances that the peace talks were ongoing, archbishop Kemp returned to England to put these terms to the young king and his council. The two clerics seem to have believed that the suspension of Henry’s claims offered a genuine way forward: Gloucester would later say of Kemp that ‘it was his single opinion and labour’ to argue the case for acceptance but he failed to convince his compatriots. Several memoranda drawn up for presentation to the council give us an insight into the discussions. The most powerful argument for accepting was financial: constant warfare, famine, pestilence and emigration had halved the population of Normandy, so that it could no longer provide the level of revenue necessary to continue the war on its own; England was unwilling and indeed unable to support the burden.
On the other hand, acceptance would dishonour the memory of Henry V, ‘who surpassed all mortal princes in his noble reputation for honour, wisdom, courage and every virtue’. More persuasively, if Henry stopped using the title ‘king of France’ over such a long period, it might be seen as an admission that he had no right to it, especially as Charles would strengthen his position by continuing to call himself king and exercising royal rights and prerogatives; pragmatically, even if the truce lasted only fifteen years, when it ended it would be impossible to resurrect and enforce Henry’s claims and previous position. If Henry surrendered his conquests outside Normandy he would lose two counties and around fifteen towns while gaining only Harfleur, Montivilliers and Dieppe in exchange. Restoring those who had left Normandy would create a fifth column within the duchy and alienate those who had been given their lands for services to the English crown; if any form of restitution was to be made, the French should pay compensation to those forced to give up their property. It can have come as no surprise to anyone that Gloucester, when asked his opinion, replied that he would rather die than accept the terms on offer.25
When Kemp returned to Calais with news that the offers had been rejected, he found that the French had expected nothing less and had already withdrawn. This was not the end of the process. Charles called a meeting in October of his estates-general at Orléans, in the presence of representatives of the dukes of Burgundy, Brittany and Orléans, and it was agreed that the English should be invited to resume peace talks on 1 May 1440. Before he left Calais Cardinal Beaufort secured a three-year commercial truce with Burgundy which allowed the exports of English wool from Calais to recommence, reopened trade routes and guaranteed the safety of merchants and merchandise.26 It was not the perpetual peace, nor even the long truce he had hoped to achieve, but it was a major step forward in Anglo-Burgundian relations. And the quest for a diplomatic termination to the war would continue.