On 23 October 1447 Henry VI wrote to Matthew Gough and Fulk Eyton, praising their diligence as commissioners, sending them the letters of discharge for Osbern Mundeford and Richard Frogenhalle, and urging them to bring their good work to a swift conclusion so that his intention, wish and desire in ceding Maine could be accomplished and his honour upheld.1
Gough and Eyton have been considered a strange choice for such a role. Neither had any diplomatic experience – but then diplomacy was not what was expected of them. They were not members of the council of Rouen, so they had no political influence or authority. Both were self-made men, professional soldiers who had made their careers in France and distinguished themselves in action, not least in Gough’s retaking of Le Mans in 1428 and Eyton’s cunning recapture of Lillebonne in 1436. Perhaps more important than any of these things was the fact that they appear to have had the trust of both the establishment and the common soldier. When the council at Rouen needed someone to lead the unemployed field armies out of Normandy into the dauphin’s service in Alsace in 1444 it chose Gough; when it needed someone to impose order on the soldiers living off the land in 1446 it chose Eyton. It was their experience in dealing with these potentially dangerous bands of trained and armed soldiers, many of whom were disillusioned and disaffected by their enforced idleness and sudden loss of income, which fitted them for the role of commissioners for the delivery of Maine. The authorities obviously expected trouble from the dispossessed.
What they did not expect was that Gough and Eyton would join the resistance. Gough already had long-standing connections with Maine and was himself a property-owner in the county. Neither he nor Eyton appears to have attended the Le Mans conference, at least not in an official capacity, thereby avoiding the unpleasantness of being forced to back the French commissioners against the English landholders. Nevertheless, when Charles decided to send an embassy to press his claims, they were the ones with whom the negotiations had to be held, since no one of higher authority was available in the area.
Gough and Eyton were perhaps fortunate that the French embassy was led by the Bastard of Orléans, an intimidating figure for mere esquires but nevertheless a soldier himself and one who had originally conceded that compensation should be paid to the dispossessed. On 30 December they agreed terms which acknowledged the difficulties facing the English commissioners. Gough’s request for a delay was granted, providing he gave his bond that Maine would be handed over on 15 January 1448. The truce was extended to cover that period and as soon as Le Mans itself was surrendered and security given for the surrender of Mayenne-la-Juhez and other places, the recently agreed one-year general truce until 1 January 1449 would apply, even if Gough was unable to force the recalcitrant Mundeford to yield Sillé-le-Guillaume, Fresnay-le-Vicomte and Beaumont-le-Vicomte. These three fortresses stood in a triangle to the north of Le Mans in the marches with Normandy and Mundeford may have been trying to redraw the border along the river Sarthe to include them in the duchy rather than the county.
The agreement allowed any English who wished to leave to go before 15 January, taking their portable property with them: those who wished to stay could do so. Gough and Eyton also secured a commitment that they would receive Charles VII’s letters permitting René and Charles d’Anjou to make the truce and alliance and Charles’s personal promise to make the Angevin brothers consent to the articles of their agreement with the Bastard.2 Given how little room they had for manoeuvre and that they were not diplomats, Gough and Eyton had probably secured the best deal possible in the circumstances.
The fifteenth of January 1448 came and went but Maine was still in English hands. A further period of grace until 2 February was granted ‘at the request of the people of Le Mans’ but by this time Charles VII had lost patience and decided to back up his demands with the threat of force. Learning that he was ‘assembling from day to day a great army of people with the intention of waging war’, Thomas Hoo, the chancellor of Normandy, wrote a desperate letter to Pierre de Brézé, the Bastard of Orléans’s colleague on the recent delegation to Le Mans: ‘for truthfully, whatever words have been said to you, or you have been given to understand, by Fulk Eyton, captain of Caudebec, or others, have no doubt that the promises, which have been made and settled touching the deliverance of the said town of Le Mans, shall be kept and fulfilled point by point, whatever delay there has been or may be’. Hoo begged Brézé
that for your part you would not put anything into motion by which war or any other disaster may follow, which God forbid: such a thing would not be easily smoothed over, but be the total destruction and desolation of the poor people. The more especially also that if the soldiers were once assembled in the field, either upon the one side or the other, it would be very hard to make them withdraw and depart, and it would be only money wasted and a great expense.3
The role of the English commissioners was increasingly compromised as no surrender took place in February. Charles VII complained directly to Henry VI, explicitly naming Gough, Eyton and Mundeford, accusing them of resorting to ‘subterfuges, pretences and dissimulations’ and telling his nephew that he should declare them disobedient and repudiate them. Henry, in the meantime, had dispatched Adam Moleyns and Robert Roos to France. They landed at Honfleur on 15 February and three days later Hoo wrote again to Pierre de Brézé in a panic on learning that Charles’s army had now taken to the field and was rumoured to be on its way to lay siege to Le Mans. Moleyns and Roos had ‘ample powers to discuss and settle the affair of Le Mans’, he assured Brézé, as once more he begged him to exert his influence to secure the withdrawal of the army.4
By the time Moleyns and Roos had made their way into Charles’s presence in early March, he was at Lavardin, some nine miles north-west of Le Mans, where he had established himself in the castle so that he could watch the progress of the siege in comfort. The Bastard of Orléans had been given command of the army and, with the aid of Jean Bureau and his famous guns, he began the first formal siege of a town in northern France since the Truce of Tours. The English now had no choice. If there was one thing worse than having to leave their lands and properties to go into exile, it was the prospect of having Le Mans taken by assault and losing everything, including their own freedom and probably their lives as well.
Moleyns and Roos lost no time in confirming the agreement made by Gough and Eyton on 30 December, exempting only Fresnay-le-Vicomte, the fortress closest to the Norman border, which would remain in English hands, and Mayenne-la-Juhez, which, four days later on 15 March, they agreed to surrender ‘really and in fact’ on 27 March. As a salve to their pride the Treaty of Lavardin also addressed the question of compensation: the vague expression of ‘reasonable provision’ was turned into a payment of 24,000l.t.(£1.4m), a figure which was calculated as being ten times the annual value of the ceded territories. This was not to be paid in cash, but was to be deducted from the appâtis levied in Normandy due to Charles VII.5
Besieged by the French and betrayed by their own king, the defenders of Le Mans had now no option but to surrender. On 15 March 1448 Matthew Gough and Fulk Eyton reluctantly completed their commission and formally handed the town over to Charles VII. At the gates of Le Mans, however, they staged a final protest, declaring that they had surrendered only to secure the promised peace and that their action was no reflection on the validity of Henry VI’s claim to sovereignty: if the French failed to fulfil their side of the bargain, then the English could legitimately resume possession of Le Mans. Their protestation was formally recorded and registered, and endorsed by Mundeford and the English captains who witnessed it.6
If Henry VI and his ambassadors had taken such an uncompromising view of the surrender of Maine, the future might have been very different. Instead of seeing it as a binding condition for peace, however, they had seen it as an expression of goodwill which might induce Charles to make peace. The naivety of Henry’s secret undertaking was now exposed in all its folly as it secured nothing more than a two-year extension of the Truce of Tours until 1 April 1450, which Charles magnanimously granted on the day that Le Mans was surrendered to him.7
It would be the last concession he would ever make, for he had no intention of making a permanent peace. As he told the men of Reims just six months after regaining possession of Maine, he had already decided that he would recover Normandy as well.8 In preparation for that end, throughout the period of the truce he had been employed in a series of military reforms which would transform his army. With the aid of his constable, Arthur de Richemont, who was the prime mover in the process, he had finally forced through some of the changes he had tried to make in 1439.
The écorcheurs were gone, having disbanded, joined the royal army or relocated to more profitable pastures such as Italy. The problem of soldiers left unemployed because of the truce had initially been dealt with by sending them off with the dauphin to Alsace. The following year, 1445, Charles and Richemont went a step further, creating from their ranks what became the first standing army in France. Fifteen captains chosen by the king were each put in charge of a company of one hundred ‘lances’, each ‘lance’ being a unit which actually consisted of four or five fighting men rather than a single man-at-arms. The companies were subjected to muster and review by royal marshals and were distributed in groups of lances around the regions. Originally it had been intended that they should be stationed within the walled towns and billeted on the inhabitants, but there was such local hostility that most of the bonnes villes obtained exemption by paying a tax instead. (This was in addition to the annual levy established in 1439 to pay the wages of the royal army.) The system proved so successful that it was extended throughout Languedoc the following year, creating a further five hundred lances at the constable’s command.9
In April 1448, immediately after the surrender of Le Mans, another reform was instituted, creating a body known as the francs-archers. In return for exemption from certain taxes (hence the fact that they were called ‘free’) every community of between fifty and eighty households was now required to provide at its own expense one combatant, usually a crossbowman, to render military service in the royal army. The idea was to create a nationwide body of trained and well-equipped soldiers who could be quickly and easily mobilised when required. An incidental effect of their introduction was to give even rural villages and parishes a vested interest in Charles VII’s military adventures: in future every corner of the country would have its representative in what was now emerging as a truly national army.10
No such measures had been taken in England or in Normandy, despite Suffolk’s warnings to parliament in June 1445 that all the strongholds of the duchy should be rearmed, restocked and kept in a state of readiness for the resumption of war. Both the political will and the finances were lacking to put this into effect. There was nothing to be had from England, where Henry’s marriage and the coronation of Queen Margaret had emptied what was left in the treasury. In the duchy the natural temptation to see the truce as an opportunity to pay less tax for defences which were not needed at the time was reflected in the decision of the estates-general, meeting at Rouen in the spring of 1447, to refuse a request for 100,000l.t. (£5.83m). Eventually, and only by a grudging majority vote, the representatives made a grant of just 30,000l.t. (£1.75m), obliging the government to impose an extra levy of 10,000l.t. (£583,333) by royal prerogative, which did not require their consent.11
The speed with which Charles VII had raised an army of six thousand men and moved against Le Mans shocked the English into action. Preparations were at long last put in place for Edmund Beaufort to cross from England to take up his appointment as lieutenant-general and governor of Normandy. On 31 January 1448, ‘in case that war follows’, Henry ordered the urgent recruitment of a thousand archers to accompany Beaufort to France. On 6 March, as arrangements were being made for the impressing of ships and mariners to convey him across the Channel, Henry authorised that Beaufort should receive the full £20,000 (£10.5m) annual payment due to him in time of war, instead of the half-payment he had received during the truce, because, the king explained, ‘it is come to our knowledge that a great power and a mighty siege is laid before our town of Le Mans, and sharp war daily made to our subjects being therein, the which is no sign of peace, but a likelihood to the war’. An extra two hundred men-at-arms and two thousand archers were also added to the earl’s company; significantly too Beaufort would be joined by his brother-in-law, John Talbot, who was recalled from his lieutenancy of Ireland for that purpose. At the end of the month, in anticipation of his new role in Normandy, Beaufort was raised to the rank of duke of Somerset and on 8 May 1448, a full fifteen months after his formal appointment, he finally made his official entry into Rouen.12
There had been no lieutenant-general resident in Normandy since York’s departure in September 1445 and those two and a half years had seen a steady deterioration in the duchy’s defences and administration. Only 2100 men were now stationed in garrisons, down from around 3500 before the truce began, a reduction in numbers dictated by the inability to secure higher grants of taxation from the estates-general to pay their wages. Not only did the soldiers have to contend with irregular and sometimes partial payments but also the terms of the truce denied them all the usual legitimate gains of war such as ransoms and booty.13
As a result many took the remedy into their own hands, supplementing their official pay as best they could. A detailed receipt for the wages for the last quarter of 1447 paid to the English captain of Coutances, in the southern Cotentin, offers some interesting insights into the state of the garrison there. His lieutenant, Robert Nytes esquire, had seven men-at-arms serving on foot and twenty-two archers under his command. In addition to substantial deductions for unexplained absences, defaulting on service and lacking equipment (one archer had no helmet on the day of muster), large amounts were also withheld for soldiers who did not reside in garrison as they were supposed to do: 30l. 6s. 8d.t. (£1769) was deducted for the wages of two archers who were said to run taverns, a profitable sideline when military wages were uncertain, though one of them was also described as a ‘looter of the countryside’. The same amount was also deducted as half the wages of four other archers, Colin Frere, ‘who lives in the countryside’, Richard Clerc and Henry Havart, ‘looters of the countryside and quarrelsome’, and John Conway, ‘also quarrelsome and living off the countryside’.14
That more than a quarter of the archers were not in residence and almost a fifth were pillagers is a striking indictment of the lack of discipline within the garrison. And, of course, they were not the only ones exploiting the neighbourhood. A couple of months later, in February 1448, the vicomte of Coutances paid the 6l.t. (£350) bounty to Lancelot Howell for bringing to justice a fellow Welshman described as a ‘thief, looter, living off the countryside and keeping a great number of dogs at the expense and charge of the poor people’. Why he had the dogs is not explained, but it is possible that it was a hunting pack, enabling him to supplement his wages, or lack of them, with regular supplies of fresh meat.15
The problem of unemployed soldiers living off the land was even worse in the lawless frontier areas in the marches of Normandy and Brittany. In the summer of 1447 a large and efficiently led band was operating in the area. Unusually it was led by a member of the English aristocracy. Roger, lord Camoys, had been captured at Le Mans in October 1438 and spent nine years ‘in hard prison’ because he could not pay his ransom. Despite his title, he was a younger son, and the truce imposed during his captivity deprived him of the opportunity to restore his finances through the profits of war. On his release, therefore, he gathered round him ‘a great assembly of soldiers’ who were similarly ‘unwaged’ and, like others before him, made the fortified abbey of Savigny his base and lived off the land, indiscriminately pillaging and ransoming both in enemy territory and his own: the English lieutenant of Harcourt castle even went so far as to reinforce his garrison so that he could better defend the place against Camoys.
In August 1447 the company was in the Exmes region, where the vicomte ordered Camoys ‘to leave immediately’ and threatened to hang any soldiers who joined him. Camoys then moved on to Alençon, where his men were again ordered to abandon him, on pain of death, and by September he was at Saint-James-de-Beuvron, where he began to repair the dismantled fortifications to establish a new base. After several months of living off the land his activities were ended by Thomas Hoo, the chancellor of Normandy, who spent 100l.t. (£5833) hiring unemployed soldiers from Fresnay-le-Vicomte to ‘suppress his damnable enterprises’. Whether there was an armed confrontation or indeed what happened to Camoys is unclear, though he would later serve with distinction as the last English seneschal of Gascony, suggesting that his rank as a banneret had saved him from serious punishment for his earlier misdemeanours. Many of his men found their way to Le Mans, where they were said to have assisted in the town’s defence during the siege, though the reviewer of Gough and Eyton’s troops at the end of November 1447 was explicitly ordered to ensure that no men-at-arms or archers associated with Camoys had been employed by the English commissioners.16
When Beaufort arrived in the duchy in May 1448 he determined to address some of these problems, holding a simultaneous duchy-wide muster to find out the state of the garrisons and launching a major drive against corruption among royal officials. His inspectors had the power to scrutinise accounts and receipts and to fine or imprison offenders. As a result of their inquiries Beaufort decided to abolish the post of local receivers of taxes (the customary perquisite of their employment was creaming off a proportion of the money collected) and fined or sacked officials found guilty of fraud or corruption.17
Beaufort’s desire to put his house in order did nothing to halt the rapid decline in relations between the duchy and its neighbours. Though he would later be blamed for this, in reality there was probably little he could have done: Charles VII was determined to find fault so that he could renew the war when he was ready to do so. On 22 August 1448 he sent his nephew a long list of complaints about the behaviour of ‘those who are on this side of the sea’, insinuating that things had deteriorated since the advent of the new lieutenant-general. In particular he accused Mundeford and some of the other refugees from Maine of seizing and rebuilding the fortress of Saint-James-de-Beuvron, ‘which borders on the frontier of Brittany, Mont-Saint-Michel, Granville and other disputed places’, in contravention of the terms of the truce.18
Though it was debatable whether or not Saint-James-de-Beuvron belonged to the English, refortifying an abandoned stronghold was unquestionably a breach of the truce. Charles VII made much of this issue but what he really objected to was not so much the offence as Beaufort’s handling of it. Hoo had acted decisively to stop Camoys rebuilding the place. Beaufort simply referred the matter to Moleyns and Roos, ‘who had greater knowledge of the truce than he had’, and sent Mundeford himself to seek them out in Brittany, where they were on another diplomatic mission. Mundeford, not surprisingly, displayed little enthusiasm for his task and gave up when he did not find them where he had expected to do so.
Charles also complained that Beaufort had compounded his fault by his arrogant behaviour: he had allegedly threatened to withdraw the safe-conducts and arrest Charles’s envoys, Raoul de Gaucourt and Guillaume Cousinot, while they were in Rouen seekingredress. He had also ‘with too much arrogance or ignorance’ disrespectfully addressed letters to Charles himself as ‘the most high and powerful prince, the uncle in France of the king, my sovereign lord’. This was, as Charles pointed out, a far cry from the former lieutenant-general’s flowery ‘very high, very excellent, and very powerful prince and very formidable lord’–but then York had been a suppliant seeking a marriage alliance, not a king’s lieutenant dealing with alleged breaches of a truce.19
That Charles’s complaints were largely manufactured for negotiating purposes is evident not only in his avowed intention to regain Normandy, declared only a few weeks later, but also in his response to accusations that his own men had ‘seized many places, both in the Caux region and in Maine, and that they have committed numerous murders and robberies’ on Henry’s subjects. Charles explained this away with the answer that ‘with regard to the places seized, none can be found except in disputed territory or where there is disagreement’, an argument that also applied to Saint-James-de-Beuvron. His excuse for issuing pardons to malefactors, such as brigands hiding in woods, was equally disingenuous: they had not been given ‘because he regarded or held them to be his subjects or obedient to him, but to remove them from their evil and damnable way of life’.20
It is abundantly clear that there were violations of the truce on both sides. Saint-James-de-Beuvron, as a border fortress, features regularly in accusations by the English against the men of Mont-Saint-Michel. In February 1447 they were ‘by subtle means’ imprisoning and imposing fines on Norman subjects; a few months later an inquiry was held into their having seized Richard Holland at Saint-James-de-Beuvron and put him to death. In September they carried off cattle being driven from Brittany to the English garrison of Avranches and in the same month Charles VII pardoned a man who had served at least twenty years in the garrison at Mont-Saint-Michel, during which time he had both waged war against the English and, sometimes working alone, sometimes with his fellow soldiers, acquired large quantities of booty by robbing, pillaging, ransoming and battering those on his own side, including clergymen.21
Not all acts of violence and breaches of the truce were committed by individuals or groups acting on their own volition. The agreement allowing clergymen to resume possession of their revenues from lands ‘in the other obedience’ caused endless trouble in practice and resulted in a series of tit-for-tat confiscations by the state. The abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel was soon in dispute with the English authorities over its rights to collect its customary revenues in Normandy. In September 1448 Beaufort ordered the bailliof the Cotentin to seize all ‘fruits, profits, revenues and emoluments’ from clergymen ‘of our uncle’s party’ as a response to Charles’s having prevented the collection of, and appropriated, similar monies in his territories belonging to Norman churchmen. This was evidently a particular problem in the wider Cotentin region because the following March Charles ordered to be taken into his hands all those lands, property, rents and revenues within his jurisdiction belonging to the bishops and cathedral chapters of Coutances and Avranches and the abbots of Savigny, Montmorel and La Luzerne.22
This sort of action was not just aggravating for those involved: it was indicative of an escalating tension and hostility which neither side addressed. Henry VI responded to his uncle’s catalogue of complaints by referring them back to Beaufort, saying it was impossible to deal with such matters at a distance, but also secretly instructing his lieutenant-general to spin out the negotiations for as long as he could without actually causing a rupture with France. Meetings between the ambassadors of both sides in November failed to achieve any advance towards a permanent peace settlement, only an agreement to meet again for further discussions before 15 May 1449.23 By that time, however, England and France were already unofficially at war.
Beaufort had seen this coming and had sent Thomas Hoo, the chancellor of Normandy, and Reginald Boulers, abbot of Gloucester, a member of his council at Rouen, to make an appeal on his behalf to the parliament which opened on 12 February 1449 at Westminster. There is no indication whether the speech was composed by Beaufort and his advisers or by the abbot, who made the presentation before both houses, but it was cogently and powerfully argued, presenting three main points.
The first is to show the great and well equipped army of the enemy, provided with all manner of military gear. The enemy daily fortify, repair, and reinforce all their garrisons on the frontiers of the king’s obedience, moving about and riding within the said obedience, armed in large numbers, contrary to the tenor of the truces, committing innumerable murders and taking the king’s subjects prisoners, just as if it was full war, along with other great and lamentable injuries, such as countless public robberies, oppressions and plunders.
Beaufort had summoned them many times to answer for their violations of the truce and required them to cease, but he had had neither remedy nor reasonable answer: ‘wherefore it may be supposed, by their perverse deeds and contrary disposition, that their intention is not to proceed effectively to any good conclusion of peace’. Further evidence of this was that Charles had ordered all noblemen to arm, equip and hold themselves in readiness to answer a summons to war within fifteen days, on pain of forfeiture, and had recruited in excess of sixty thousand francs-archers whom he ‘expressly ordered that they do nothing other than exercise with their said bows and armour’.
The second part is to show that if war should occur, which God forbid, the country of Normandy is in no way sufficient in itself to offer resistance against the great might of the enemies, for many great reasons. First, there is no place in the king’s obedience there which is provided for either in terms of repairs, equipment, or any kind of artillery. Almost all places have fallen into such ruin that, even where they are full of men and materials, they are in so ruinous a condition that they cannot be defended and held. To make adequate provision for such repairs and equipment would incur inestimable expense.
The last meeting of the estates-general in Normandy had declared the impossibility of levying future grants because of the general poverty of the duchy, the abbot told parliament: the only alternatives left to the lieutenant-general were that the number of soldiers would have to be reduced, money would have to come from England or the land would have to be abandoned to the enemy.
For his final point the abbot drew attention to the fast-approaching deadline for the end of the truce: ‘it will last for only fourteen months more, and therefore it is thought that it is now the right and necessary time to begin your provision for the safeguard of that noble land’. He ended with an emotional appeal from Beaufort himself
to have that noble land in your good and special remembrance, calling to mind the great, inestimable, and well nigh infinite cost and expenditure both of goods and blood that this land has borne and suffered for the sake of that land; the shameful loss of it, which God forever forbid, would not only be to the irreparable damage of the common benefit, but also an everlasting slur, and permanent denigration of the fame and renown of this noble realm.24
Beaufort’s appeal fell on deaf ears. Parliament had heard all this many times before and had become inured to such dire prophecies. It sounded unnecessarily alarmist: after all, the truce was still holding and there was no reason to assume it would not be extended again. There was also an increasing divergence of interest between those Englishmen who held lands in France and those who did not. The men who sat in both houses of parliament no longer had the same level of investment in, or commitment to, England’s territories in northern France.
Throughout Henry V’s reign and indeed until Bedford’s death many members of parliament were veterans of the war in France. Many knights of the shire and an even higher proportion of peers had taken part in military campaigns and could claim to have fought at Agincourt or Verneuil. Some had benefited from the conquest by acquiring lands which, after the ending of the Anglo-Burgundian alliance and the recent cession of Maine, had been lost again: the promised compensation never materialised, the French rebate onappâtis being swallowed up by the Norman defence budget. Others, who had spent years in France and acquired valuable lands and properties there, had returned to England to invest their profits and pick up the threads of their political and social life.
Sir John Fastolf is a prime and well-documented example of a man from the ranks of the minor gentry who rose to high office and made his fortune through the war in France. From his profits of war he had invested £13,885 (£7.29m) in purchasing property and £9495 (£4.98m) in improving it – but it was all French money spent in England. In 1445 the annual income from his English lands was £1061 (£557,025), compared with £401 (£210,525) from his French lands, a sum that would substantially reduce after the surrender of Maine, where much of his property lay. Despite having fought almost continuously in France since 1412, he never returned there after his retirement to England in 1439. Though he remained passionately committed to the preservation of English possessions in France, and spent much of his old age raging against the ineptitude of English policy there, he had become an absentee landlord and captain.25 Fastolf’s enrichment as a result of his military career was exceptional but his experience was not. There were few old soldiers among the gentry who did not wish to return home for their final years.
But a growing proportion of the knights of the shires had never seen active service in France, let alone acquired lands or offices there. As the opportunity for enrichment declined, so did the attractions of volunteering for campaign duties, resulting in an increasing difficulty in recruiting men-at-arms for the expeditionary forces. It was not that they had no interest in maintaining English lands overseas, just that they had other priorities at home and a pardonable belief that those who had benefited from the conquest should be the first to defend it. The attitude was not new but, for the first time in twenty-five years, the circumstances were. Beaufort and his colleagues in Normandy had seen the dangers of a resurgent French militarism: their compatriots in England did not. The consequences would be fatal for what remained of the English kingdom of France.