In June 1441 the members of the council at Rouen wrote an extraordinarily frank and dramatic letter to Henry VI. They complained that they had repeatedly sent him letters and messages without response. Now they were writing ‘in extreme necessity, and we tell you that our malady is nearing death or dissolution and, as regards your lordship, very nearly total destruction’. For two years the king had encouraged them to believe that Gloucester was about to come to them; they had been disappointed in this, and in the arrival of the duke of York, which ‘was promised by you and awaited in vain by us for so long that we despair of it. We now have no reason, cause or occasion to give or promise hope of comfort to [your people].’
They did not know what to do, they said. They felt abandoned ‘like a ship tossed on the sea by changeable winds, without commander, without helmsman, without rudder, without anchor, without sail, floating, disabled and wandering in the midst of tempestuous waves, overburdened by agony, harsh fortune and every adversity, far from the safety of port and from human aid’. Fifteen days earlier Henry had received their letters telling him that Creil, ‘one of the notable places and centres in France’, had fallen and that Pontoise would be next. Now they had to inform him that ‘your chief adversary and his son’ were indeed besieging Pontoise and how long it would hold out they could not say. Talbot was at Vernon gathering all the troops he could muster to go to its aid. ‘It is a great injury to you, our sovereign lord,’ they concluded, ‘that the said lord Talbot does not have enough men, for he has a high and notable courage in his wish to employ himself on your behalf against your said enemies.’1
In fact, as Talbot led his relief column into Pontoise, the duke of York was finally making his way into Rouen. He arrived at the head of the largest army to embark for France in recent years: nine hundred men-at-arms, including a large noble contingent of two earls, four barons, six bannerets and thirty knights, and 2700 archers. Its military credentials were rather undermined by the fact that it was also accompanied by a significant number of well-born women who had chosen to accompany their husbands, among them the duchesses of York and Bedford (the latter, Jacquetta of Luxembourg, having secretly married Bedford’s chamberlain, Richard Wydeville, just a year after the death of her first husband) and the countesses of Oxford and Eu.2 The English holder of the title count of Eu was Henry, lord Bourgchier, who had just been appointed captain of Le Crotoy, at the mouth of the Somme. Just as Scales had been put into Pontoise, Bourgchier had been drafted into Le Crotoy to bolster the garrison and demonstrate its value to the crown. The previous captain, Walter Cressoner, had struggled against Armagnac raids and the indiscipline of neighbouring English garrisons and Le Crotoy was under constant threat of attack from the sea by Burgundians, Armagnacs and Bretons alike. Knowing that he was taking on a difficult and dangerous commission and mindful of the potential consequences of failure, Bourgchier obtained Henry’s promise that he would not be held responsible for surrendering if a relief army was not sent to his aid within a month of being besieged. He then accepted a seven-year term of office on a salary of £1000 (£525,000) in war and £867 (£455,175) in peace. By March 1442 he had also been appointed governor-general of the marches of Normandy and Picardy, a newly created position supplementing those of Talbot, Scales and Fauconberg.3
Within three weeks of arriving in Rouen, York mounted a rescue mission to Pontoise, crossing the river at Beaumont-sur-Oise by means of boats he had brought with him in carts and bridges made from wood and cord. With the numbers at his command, it should have been possible to raise the siege completely, but once again, the Armagnacs refused to be drawn into battle. Having learned from the English at Harfleur the previous year, they had dug themselves in securely, surrounding their encampments not only with ditches but also with wooden palisades, stakes and carts, and installing cannon and artillery. To fight would mean abandoning, even temporarily, these defences and the captured strongholds of the bridgehead and Saint-Martin’s Abbey, which the besiegers were not prepared to do. Even a diversionary raid on Poissy by Talbot failed to draw them out.
Frustrated of his main purpose, York resupplied Pontoise and installed new men in the garrison, including John, lord Clinton, who had accompanied him from England, and the veteran captain and director of the siege of Mont-Saint-Michel, Sir Nicholas Burdet. He then withdrew downriver, establishing a second bridge to enable him to return to Normandy and prevent supplies reaching the besiegers from Paris. Ambroise de Loré, however, in his capacity as provost of Paris, a post which he had obtained after the city’s fall in 1436, succeeded in bringing at least one ship-load of victuals through to the admiral at Saint-Martin’s. Apart from some skirmishing and much crossing and recrossing of the Oise in an attempt to cut off the besiegers, York was unable to do anything more and returned to Normandy, promising to return again with aid for the garrison of Pontoise.4
As soon as he had gone, however, Charles VII resumed his siege and ordered a major bombardment to begin. On 16 September the sires de Lohéac and de Bueil were commanded to lead an assault through the breaches in the wall and, in a bitterly fought assault, they seized the church of Notre Dame, killing twenty-four of the thirty Englishmen defending it. Three days later a general assault was launched in which both Charles VII and the dauphin personally took part. The first man to enter Pontoise was a Scot, who was rewarded for this feat with lands confiscated from the écorcheur captain Anthoine de Chabannes. The besieged put up a fierce resistance but were overwhelmed by superior numbers: in the bloodbath that followed the attackers lost very few men but between four and five hundred Englishmen were killed, including Burdet. Lord Clinton and hundreds more were taken prisoner; fifty-three people were captured sheltering in the Cock and Peacock inn alone.
Since Pontoise had been taken by assault rather than by agreeing to surrender, the laws of war authorised that the property of all the inhabitants was forfeit and their lives were at the king’s mercy. They were treated with unusual severity. The citizen observed them being brought to Paris:
It was a sad spectacle, for they took them away eating the bread of sorrow indeed, coupled together two and two with very strong rope, just like hounds being led out to the hunt, and their captors riding tall horses which went very fast. The prisoners had no hoods, all bareheaded, each wearing some wretched rag, most of them without shoes or hose – everything, in fact, had been taken from them but their underpants . . . All those who could pay no ransom they took to the Grève by the Port-au-Foin, tied them hand and foot with no more compunction than if they had been dogs, and drowned them then and there in the sight of all the people.5
With the capture of Pontoise the English lost their last remaining stronghold in the Île-de-France. It had taken Charles VII five years to expel them, an indictment of his lack of will rather than means, but also a tribute to the tenacity of the English. Things were changing, however, as Charles’s military reforms, his building up of his artillery under the Bureau brothers6 and his employment of new tactics at the siege of Pontoise all demonstrated. Ironically all these innovations, which turned him into a much more powerful adversary, had been learned from the English. And the military initiative had now passed to the French.
Four days before the fall of Pontoise the English lost another major town by more traditional means. Robert Floques, who had seized Conches-en-Ouche in Normandy the previous autumn, had established himself as its captain and begun to extend his sphere of influence within a twelve-mile radius of the town. In May he had bombarded the castle of Beaumesnil into surrendering, then stormed and taken the fortress of Beaumont-le-Roger. On 15 September he captured Évreux with the aid of two local fishermen, one of whom was performing the night-watch and looked the other way while his colleague, pretending to fish from a boat in the river, brought scaling ladders and a party of men-at-arms up to the walls. The town – head of its own bailliage –was swiftly taken by assault. A local man, Thomassin le Mareschal, ‘one of the most senior leaders of the enterprise’, who had ‘secretly facilitated Robert Floques’s exploit’, was rewarded with a valuable tax-collecting office. Floques himself was reimbursed the 6000 écus(£437,500) it had cost him to take the town and acquired a new and more important captaincy; two years later his son would become bishop of Évreux, a sign that the capture of such a prominent place was still appreciated by his king.7
Perhaps the loss of Évreux alerted the English administration to the dangers posed by fishermen apparently going about their business, for in October they suspended the traditional facility offered to herring boats from Dieppe allowing them to put in to Calais. This had been left in place even after Dieppe fell into Armagnac hands in 1435 and was used by substantial numbers of fishermen. In the light of the loss of Évreux it was too much of a security threat to be permitted to continue.8
By the end of 1441 the successes of the previous year in recapturing Harfleur and Montivilliers had been more than outweighed by the loss of Creil, Pontoise and Évreux and the establishment of an aggressive Armagnac enclave based at Louviers and Conches-en-Ouche. The arrival of York and his large army had failed to tip the balance in England’s favour and Talbot’s valiant efforts to save Pontoise had been futile.
It was left to François de Surienne to bring the only ray of light at the end of a depressing year. In December one of the English prisoners captured at Pontoise, who had been released on parole to find his ransom, told him that many of his fellow captives had been taken to Courville-sur-Eure, some twelve miles west of Chartres, and that the place was badly guarded. Acting on this prisoner’s inside information, Surienne sent into Courville three or four of his men disguised as peasants carrying sacks of apples to market. They found part of the garrison absent and the rest sleeping, made their way to the captain’s room and seized him from his bed. With him as their prisoner they were able to release all the English from Pontoise and open the gates to allow Surienne and his men into the town. Courville was captured and pillaged.9
The Aragonese thus won himself a valuable haul of booty and prisoners in addition to having the satisfaction of rescuing some of the miserable Pontoise prisoners. A grateful duke of York appointed him captain of Courville and suggested that he might like to apply his considerable talents to the capture of Gallardon, a fortress eleven miles east of Chartres. Surienne obliged and with the aid of Thomas Hoo, captain of Verneuil, raised a force of 120 men-at-arms and 380 archers, all mounted. The fact that this was a risky raid into enemy territory was recognised by encouraging the army to be aggressive: only half its wages would be paid by the king; the rest would come from levying appâtis and the gains of war, which Surienne and Hoo were allowed to divide equally between them. By mid-February 1442 Surienne was installed in Gallardon with a large garrison of 60 men-at-arms and 190 archers and busy restocking it with artillery and munitions shipped from Rouen to Mantes and then hauled the last thirty miles over land.10
Though heartening, Surienne’s successes were insignificant compared with the loss of places of the magnitude of Pontoise and Évreux. The army York had brought with him having returned to England at the end of its six-month contract of service, the need for another expeditionary force to recover lost ground became imperative. It was a measure of the desperation felt in Normandy that when, on 15 February, a delegation from the council in Rouen sailed from Harfleur to plead for more aid, it was headed by lord Talbot, a man not noted for his diplomatic skills but whose record in the defence of the English kingdom of France was second to none.
York fully appreciated Talbot’s military abilities. He had promoted him to lieutenant-general for waging war and reappointed him captain of Rouen, a position from which he had been removed by Somerset. Such was Talbot’s commitment to the English cause in France that he had not set foot in his native land since 1435. His arrival was therefore bound to make an impact and was designed to coincide with the first meeting of an English parliament in over a year. As parliament was attended by all the great lords of the realm as well as many knights of the shire, it was a useful gathering at which to recruit a new army. It was also an opportunity for Talbot, in person, to put Normandy’s needs to the decision-makers on whose grants of taxation the funding of any expedition would depend.
The England to which Talbot returned cannot have been much to his liking. Henry VI was more interested in building his twin foundations of Eton and King’s College, Cambridge, than in prosecuting the war in France. His assumption of personal power meant that the old guard had seen their powers and influence much diminished. Cardinal Beaufort had continued his search for a permanent peace, toiling away in conjunction with the newly liberated duke of Orléans and the duchess of Burgundy but without success. Orléans had been as good as his word, persuading the dukes of Burgundy, Brittany, Alençon and later even Bourbon to push Charles VII for new peace negotiations with England, beginning in the spring of 1441. Charles was suspicious of their motives, however, fearing that this sudden union of old enemies might lead to another Praguerie, but also increasingly convinced by his military successes in both northern France and Gascony that a negotiated peace was not necessarily to his advantage. His refusal to appoint ambassadors led to the deferral of the negotiations to November and then May 1442. The English delegation duly arrived in Calais in February 1442 to prepare the ground for the May conference, but they waited in vain for Charles’s ambassadors and in June they abandoned hope and returned home.11
As the tortuous peace process slowly ground to a halt, Beaufort’s standing at court steadily diminished. His arch-rival Gloucester had also seen his influence wane since his angry protests at the release of Charles d’Orléans, and he was replaced as captain of Calais, a position which had always been close to his heart, at the beginning of 1441.12 That summer, however, he was the victim of an attack which left him socially and politically ostracised and removed the last vestige of his authority and influence. Who was behind the plot was never discovered – it could have been any one of the many enemies Gloucester had made over the years, including the cardinal or the increasingly powerful William de la Pole, earl of Suffolk – but it was particularly cruel because it aimed to destroy him through his wife.
Eleanor Cobham had been Gloucester’s mistress before she became his wife and their marriage, though childless, was happy. Beautiful and ambitious, she had revelled in her husband’s position, particularly after the death of Bedford made him heir to the unmarried Henry VI. Like most of her class, she regularly consulted astrologers, a profession which required literacy and numeracy and was therefore usually practised by clerics. Astrology went hand in hand with medicine and was regarded as a respectable way of determining treatment and predicting recovery from illness. It could also be used to pinpoint favourable auspices for events: the sire de l’Isle-Adam, for instance, was said to have consulted an astrologer before choosing the date for his Burgundian coup in Paris in 1418. Jean, duke of Alençon, had his nativity cast by an astrologer to find out why his life had been so unfortunate and was given both an astrological talisman to bring him good luck and protect him from disease, and a powder which had the extraordinary ability todetect enemies and to give perfect intelligence of important questions in dreams.13
Alençon’s use of such devices illustrates the fine line between astrology, which was respectable, and magic, otherwise termed necromancy or sorcery, which was not. The fifteenth century saw a number of high-profile individuals charged with witchcraft. In 1419 Henry V ordered the arrest of his stepmother, the dowager queen Joan, and her confessor-astrologer, Friar Randolf, on charges of trying to destroy him ‘by sorcery and necromancy’. The queen was put under house arrest and forced to surrender her dowry and other revenues to avoid trial, conveniently increasing Henry’s revenues by 10 per cent at a time when he urgently needed cash for his campaigns in Normandy. He tacitly admitted that the accusation was a false one by ordering her release and the restoration of her money when his conscience was needling him at the end of his life.14
Jehanne d’Arc was also convicted of making ‘superstitious divinations’, though the accusations of her witchcraft were subsumed in the greater crimes of heresy, apostasy and idolatry. One of the most infamous subjects of a sorcery charge, however, was her companion-in-arms, Gilles de Rais, who had financed the annual plays in Orléans to commemorate her memory. Rais kidnapped a cleric in a dispute with a local church and, as a result, was investigated by the bishop of Nantes and charged with a range of appalling crimes; his prisoner was forcibly rescued by Richemont and after ecclesiastical and secular trials Rais admitted invoking devils and the kidnap, rape, sodomy, torture and mutilation of a vast number of children between the ages of six and eighteen. He and his accomplices were executed at Nantes on 26 October 1440.15
Gilles de Rais was unusual in being a male accused of witchcraft, but, as with most of the alleged sorcerers, there was a strong political element in the charges brought against him. This was certainly true of the duchess of Gloucester, who had consulted two eminent astrologers, Thomas Southwell, her physician and a canon of Saint Stephen’s at Westminster, and Roger Bolingbroke, principal of Saint Andrew’s Hall, Oxford. At her request they drew up Henry VI’s horoscope and predicted that he would die from a serious illness in July or August 1441. This was just what Eleanor wished to hear, for she would then become queen, but ‘imagining’ or predicting the death of a king was treason.
How or why her activities came to the notice of the royal council is unclear but she was arrested, tried in the ecclesiastical courts and on 21 October 1441 found guilty of treasonable necromancy; although her life was spared, she was committed to life imprisonment and on 6 November forcibly divorced from her husband by Archbishop Chichele and Cardinal Beaufort. Her alleged accomplices were all condemned to death: Southwell was fortunate to die in the Tower before his execution, Bolingbroke was hanged, drawn and quartered and Margery Jourdemayne, the ‘Witch of Eye’, from whom Eleanor had bought potions to help her conceive Gloucester’s child, was burned at the stake.16
Eleanor’s trial, conviction and divorce caused a public scandal of epic proportions and they ruined and humiliated her husband, who became a pariah at court. Whatever his many faults, he had always been loyal to Henry VI and did not deserve to have his last years tainted by suspicion of sorcery and treason.
Gloucester’s very recent downfall removed the one man to whom Talbot could have looked for assistance in drumming up support for his recruitment mission in the spring of 1442. On 24 March, just before the parliamentary session ended, Talbot contracted on York’s behalf for an army 2500 strong to serve in France for six months. Traditionally a quarter of such an army would have consisted of men-at-arms, the military elite recruited from the ranks of the nobility and gentry who could afford to equip themselves with the expensive armour, weaponry and horses that this rank demanded. It was a measure of the warweariness of these classes that they now refused to serve in anything like the numbers required. Even Talbot, newly elevated on 20 May 1442 to the earldom of Shrewsbury in recognition of his services in France, could not arouse their enthusiasm for war service: they sensibly preferred the safer and more profitable exercise of their civilian duties, upholding the judicial and financial administration of the shires, which could be carried out from the comfort of their own homes.17
When Talbot mustered his troops on 15 June after landing at Harfleur he had achieved the required goal of 2500 men, but only two hundred of them were men-at-arms and just three hundred of the archers were mounted. That he had been able to fulfil the quota at all was due to the fact that there was a much larger pool of archers to draw from than men-at-arms. Archery was a highly skilled craft, requiring physical strength and regular training just to pull the great longbow. By law every man in England between the ages of sixteen and sixty, regardless of status, was therefore obliged to practise at the archery butts every Sunday and feast day. Anyone who could not shoot a minimum of ten aimed arrows into a target in the space of a minute was regarded as unfit for military service. The problem with archers – particularly foot-archers – was that they were unable to withstand a concerted enemy attack, which is why a substantial proportion of men-at-arms was also needed to protect them. That so few archers among Talbot’s recruits had horses was also a problem: such men were ideal for garrison duty but their lack of mobility made them less effective when employed on campaign. The poor quality of the army would hinder Talbot’s capabilities in the field but it was still costly. Henry was forced to pawn the crown jewels to raise the £1500 (£787,000) necessary just to transport the troops over the Channel: ‘us needeth in haste great and notable sums of money . . . for the setting over of the said army [or] . . . as far as the said jewels will stretch’.18
The summer campaign of 1442 was a saga of missed opportunities. Charles VII, the dauphin and the bulk of their forces were occupied in Gascony, drawn there by the urgent need to relieve the siege of Tartas before the sire d’Albret fulfilled the agreement he had made with the English seneschal, Sir Thomas Rempston, to hand over the town and swear allegiance to Henry VI. This disaster averted, Charles remained in the area, besieging and capturing Saint-Sever, Dax and La Réole and even threatening Bordeaux.19
Rempston himself was taken prisoner at Saint-Sever, a personal disaster for a man who had already spent seven years as a French captive after the battle of Patay because he could not pay the ransom demanded. Even though he had been able to obtain a prisoner-exchange to reduce his payment by half, his finances had not yet recovered and he was still in prison several years after his second capture. In March 1446 William Estfield, a London merchant, bequeathed him £10 (£5250) ‘towards his ransom, if he is still alive’; his whereabouts throughout this period remains a mystery, though he was back in England by January 1449. Another eminent victim of this campaign was one of Charles VII’s most successful captains and staunchest allies. Étienne de Vignolles, the great La Hire, was mortally wounded and eventually died, aged fifty-three, at Montauban on 11 January 1443. Such was his reputation even among his enemies that Guto’r Glyn, the Welsh poet, described him and his lifelong comrade-in-arms, Poton de Xaintrailles, as the Castor and Pollux of France: his name is still immortalised, somewhat inappropriately, as the Jack-of-hearts in a deck of French playing-cards.20
Before departing for Gascony Charles had left an army in the north under the command of the Bastard of Orléans with a watching brief over English activity. Talbot had decided his priority was to secure the eastern reaches of Normandy and in July 1442 he laid siege to Conches-en-Ouche. The Bastard responded by setting siege to Gallardon, where François de Surienne’s garrison had just been depleted by the departure of twenty men-at-arms and eighty-three archers in the company of Matthew Gough. Talbot refused to be drawn away until Conches surrendered at the end of August, enabling him to go to the relief of Gallardon. The Bastard raised his siege on Talbot’s approach but the continuing presence of his army in the region prevented Talbot from making an attempt on the more important strongholds of Louviers or Évreux and persuaded Surienne that there was no point in his continuing to hold Gallardon. On 30 October the Aragonese issued a joint receipt with Matthew Gough, Thomas Gerrard and Thomas Stones for 2900saluts(£232,604) from the Bastard as a down payment on 10,900 saluts (£874,271). For this sum the four captains had consented to evacuate both Gallardon and Courville, leaving no English presence in the region of Chartres. Gallardon, it was mutually agreed, would be demolished to prevent its being used again by either side. A curious footnote to this story reveals that the money received for the surrender might not have enriched the individual English captains but rather the Norman treasury. In March 1445 Thomas Hoo, by now elevated to the chancellorship of Normandy, issued a receipt to the Bastard for 1000 saluts (£80,208), paid in wines and silks, which was to be set against the debt he owed for the demolition of Gallardon and Courville.21
Talbot’s campaign in the east having fizzled out with no major gains to justify the financial outlay involved in deploying so many men, he decided to tackle Dieppe, the last Armagnac stronghold on the Norman coast. By the time he did so it was already too late, for the six-month contract of service of the army he had brought from England was almost at an end: some were persuaded to stay on but the core of the besieging army was six hundred men drawn from the Norman garrisons. It was not until the end of October that sufficient men had gathered for Talbot to leave his headquarters at Jumièges and march on Dieppe.
The garrison of the outlying castle of Charlemesnil surrendered as his vanguard approached but Talbot’s plan was not fully to blockade Dieppe by land and sea: he had neither the men nor the ships to do so effectively. Instead, on the heights of Le Pollet to the east of the town, overlooking the harbour, he built ‘a very strong and huge bastille of wood, of great circumference’ and installed Sir William Peyto with a garrison of five hundred men under his command, including Talbot’s own bastard son, Henry, and many of his personal retinue. William Fforsted, master of the king’s ordnance and a veteran over several reigns of campaigns in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Gascony, Normandy and France, had apparently scouted out the site the previous year, personally accompanying Talbot ‘to the parts of Dieppe’ with ‘secret ordnance of war’. Now he poured two hundred cannon, bombards, catapults and other artillery, great and small, into the bastille and began a bombardment of the walls, towers and houses of Dieppe.22
Just a week after the siege began, the English bastille at Granville, in the bay of Mont-Saint-Michel, was surprised and captured by Louis d’Estouteville. This was a flagrant instance of negligence by a garrison captain, for he had been warned two months earlier to pay special attention to his watch because intelligence had revealed that Estouteville was planning a secret enterprise against Granville and intended to make his assault from the sea using scaling ladders. This was precisely what happened. Had the captain been responsible to Talbot, he would undoubtedly have been prosecuted and severely punished; as he was the bastard son of lord Scales and responsible to his father, he escaped the consequences of his dereliction of duty.
Granville was a stronghold of enormous strategic importance. It had excellent natural defences, standing on a rocky peninsula so narrow that it was almost completely surrounded by sea. When the Armagnacs had first captured it, in 1436, the only building had been the parish church of Notre Dame, which had been a place of pilgrimage since ancient times because of the miracles said to have taken place there. After Talbot had recaptured it a major programme of fortification had been undertaken which had created a town and castle in the fields around the church, making Granville ‘the strongest and most useful place, commanding all the country by sea and by land, that one could choose and find in order to hold the said country of Normandy and its neighbouring marches in subjection’. It was now occupied by the men of Mont-Saint-Michel.
All the neighbouring garrisons had to be swiftly reinforced to resist the threat they posed and in December Andrew Ogard, Simon Morhier and Pierre Cauchon were sent from the council in Rouen to discuss ways and means of retaking the fortress with lord Scales and Matthew Gough. The latter, who already had a company of sixty men-at-arms and 180 archers employed at the king’s wages, was persuaded to extend their service until Easter in return for a one-off payment of 1000l.t. (£58,333). Taxes were levied locally and duchy-wide to fund a recovery campaign and the vicomte of Caen was sent on a mission to the Channel Islands to hire ships and mariners to blockade the place. Despite all their efforts, they could find no way to regain it ‘by force, by surprise or otherwise’ and Granville was never recovered.23
The loss of Granville persuaded at least one Norman, Raoulet Fontaine ‘called the Barber’, to defect from the neighbouring garrison at Tombelaine and join that of Mont-Saint-Michel. It was a decision with fatal consequences for himself as he was later stabbed to death in a quarrel with another member of the garrison after they had returned from a pilgrimage together to Santiago de Compostela. Fontaine had previously been a loyal servant of the English crown, however, and his defection at this time is unlikely to have been the only one.24
Estouteville wasted no time in adding to the fortifications at Granville to prevent its recapture, installing a captain and introducing stocks of men, victuals and artillery. The isolation of the place, however, made it difficult to find enough civilians to man the watches, leaving it vulnerable to recapture by the English. It was a measure of Granville’s strategic importance that in 1446 Charles VII responded to a petition from the captain and offered free houses and plots of land, together with exemption from all war taxes, as inducements to anyone prepared to settle there.25