CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

Reconquest

Once the reconquest began it seems to have acquired a momentum of its own. On 26 August the combined armies of the Bastard of Orléans and the counts of Eu and Saint-Pol appeared before Mantes. Summoned to yield, several hundred of the inhabitants crammed into the town hall to hear an address urging them to do so by their mayor, who had refused to take the oath of allegiance on his inauguration in November 1444 on the grounds that the truce was in force. They unanimously agreed ‘that a way should be found, without having to suffer the destruction of the town by cannon or otherwise, to obtain a good composition, the most advantageous and honourable that could be had’.1

Since Thomas Hoo’s lieutenant showed signs of wishing to resist, some of the townsmen seized one of the fortified gates and insisted they would open it if he did, forcing him to agree to the surrender. According to the terms of capitulation, the garrison and all those of any nationality who wished to leave were given safe-conducts allowing them to do so, taking their goods but no weapons or armour with them. Those who remained and swore allegiance to Charles were to be confirmed in their property, positions, liberties and privileges ‘as they were before the descent of the late king Henry of England’.2

The surrender of Lisieux and Mantes set the pattern for the coming campaign. Most walled towns, when forced to choose between capitulation on generous terms which maintained the status quo, and being assaulted and probably losing everything, sensibly chose the former. Often, if the garrison chose to resist, the inhabitants either rose up and forced them to submit or made their own overtures to their besiegers and let them into the town. The French chroniclers naturally saw this as an overwhelming wave of popular support for Charles VII: a crushed and conquered people joyously welcoming their liberator. The prosaic truth was that it owed more to self-interest than patriotism.

This was perhaps more obviously illustrated by the number of captains who accepted money to hand over their strongholds. The most startling example of this was Longny, which was surrendered at the end of August 1449. The captain of Longny was François de Surienne: his wife and family were resident in the castle and in his absence he had entrusted the lieutenancy to his son-in-law, Richard aux Épaules, the last surviving member of an ancient Norman family. It is possible that Épaules was angered by the way the English administration had disowned and abandoned his father-in-law at Fougères: he would later claim – to a French inquiry – that he had tried to dissuade Surienne from undertaking the mission, believing he was dishonouring himself and his family.

The facts remain that he accepted 12,000 écus (£875,000) from Pierre de Brézé to let the French into the keep; he stood by while they overcame the resistance and took prisoner some of the castle’s defenders, probably the Spanish and other foreign soldiers of fortune whom Surienne regularly employed in his service; he again stood by as his mother-in-law, who was justifiably ‘very unhappy’ with him, was told to leave, taking her goods with her; then he accepted the captaincy of Longny on behalf of Charles VII and took the oath of allegiance to his new master. He later received 450l.t. (£26,250) ‘to distribute among twelve French-speaking companions of war, who were in the said place with him and under [him] . . . and of his alliance, both for having been the cause, with him, of the reduction of the said place, as for having reduced and put themselves in the king’s obedience . . . and performed the oath’.

Rather than a principled change of allegiance because he felt his family had been dishonoured and betrayed by the English, these facts suggest the self-serving action of a man who saw the opportunity at one stroke to gain the captaincy for himself, throw off the shackles of his Aragonese father-in-law and enrich himself. There is a certain malicious enjoyment to be had in learning that he did not enjoy his ill-gotten gains for long. In 1451 he began an action against the heirs of the original owners of the castle, seeking 10,000l.t. (£583,333) in compensation for repairs he had done to it, only to have parlement eventually judge that Longny was rightfully theirs and should be returned to them.3

Richard aux Épaules was at least a native Norman. Two other turncoats did not have that excuse, though both changed allegiance for the same reason: they had married wealthy Frenchwomen and had more to lose by remaining loyal. John Edwards, the Welsh captain of La-Roche-Guyon on behalf of Simon Morhier, was persuaded by his wife and a bribe of 4500l.t. (£262,500) to take the oath to Charles VII and continue in his post. He was followed a month later, in October 1449, by Richard Merbury, an Englishman who had been a member of Bedford’s household and, since at least 1425, captain of Gisors. His wife’s parents acted as intermediaries and negotiated that, in return for surrendering Gisors and taking the oath, his two sons, John and Hamon, who had been captured at Pont-Audemer, were released without having to pay ransoms. Merbury did not retain his captaincy: it was given to Raoul de Gaucourt as a reward for his lifelong service to the French crown and in consideration of his great age. Merbury’s compensation for delivering such an important English stronghold was to be confirmed in possession of his wife’s territories and created captain of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. His English lieutenant, one ‘Reynfoks’ (possibly the ‘Raynforth’ who had accompanied Matthew Gough to Alsace in the summer of 1444 and was later living off the land in the Caen region), received 687l.t. (£40,075) from Pierre de Brézé for his part in delivering Gisors to Charles VII.4

By the beginning of September 1449 Vernon, Dangu castle and Gournay had also surrendered. The English garrison at Vernon had maintained a show of defiance, mocking the herald sent to demand the keys of the town by giving him all the old keys they could find. When the francs-archers, in their first distinguished action, captured an artillery emplacement on an island in the river, leading to the bridge also being taken, the inhabitants decided to surrender ‘whether the English wished it or not’. The garrison, under protest, accepted their decision, requiring sealed letters confirming that they had not consented or wished to capitulate but had been forced to do so, and obtaining a delay in the handover in the hope of relief from Rouen. As this was not forthcoming, town and castle were surrendered together.5

The first stronghold to put up any real resistance was Harcourt, where the garrison was commanded by Richard Frogenhalle, one of the captains who had resisted the handover of Maine. The siege lasted fifteen days and was distinguished both by casualties killed by artillery on each side and by the Bastard of Orléans displaying at the gate a painting of Frogenhalle hanging upside down by his feet. This was the standard method of publicly denouncing and humiliating someone who had breached the chivalric code of conduct. Frogenhalle’s alleged crime was to have broken his oath not to take up arms again against the French. Tanneguy du Châtel had exacted a similar vengeance against Suffolk, Robert Willoughby and Thomas Blount in 1438, denouncing them for perjury and hanging ‘very unpleasant pictures’ of them at the gates of Paris: ‘each one showed a knight, one of the great English lords, hanging by his feet on a gallows, his spurs on, completely armed except for his head, at each side a devil binding him with chains and at the bottom of the picture, two foul, ugly crows, made to look as if they were picking out his eyes’.6

September saw the pace of the reconquest quicken as François, duke of Brittany, and Arthur de Richemont invaded lower Normandy from the west with an army six thousand strong. Leaving the duke’s brother, Pierre, to guard the Breton marches, and avoiding the great English frontier fortresses, they pushed their way up the Cotentin peninsula, capturing first Coutances, then Saint-Lô and finally Carentan and Valognes. Not one of them offered any resistance, though the smallest garrison in Normandy, Pont-Douve, just outside Carentan, where Dickon Chatterton was captain, refused to surrender and was taken by assault.7

Elsewhere in the duchy the men of Dieppe ventured out and took Fécamp by surprise, their success being crowned by the capture of ninety-seven English soldiers on board a ship which sailed into the harbour immediately afterwards, unaware that the place had just changed hands. Touques, Essay, Exmes and Alençon all fell without a fight; at Argentan the townsmen displayed a French standard to indicate where the French could gain entry; the garrison retreated to the castle but a cannon blew a hole large enough to admit a cart through the walls, forcing the defenders into the keep, where they too made their submission.8

And all the while, despite the desperate pleas for assistance or relief, Beaufort and the English administration sat tight in Rouen and did nothing. Even Talbot, once famed for his energy and boldness, was conspicuous by his failure to venture out into the duchy but, unlike the French, he had no field army at his disposal. No soldiers could be spared from the hard-pressed garrisons and the thirteen hundred men promised from England for June 1449 had not materialised: only fifty-five men-at-arms and 408 archers mustered for service under Sir William Peyto at Winchelsea on 31 July.9

Without the resources of men and money which Charles VII had in abundance, Talbot could do nothing except ensure that Rouen itself did not fall into French hands. Yet he too was about to share the experience of so many of the captains and garrisons he had been unable to prevent being captured. At the beginning of October the combined armies of the Bastard of Orléans, the counts of Eu and Saint-Pol, René d’Anjou and the indefatigable seventy-eight-year-old Raoul de Gaucourt converged on Rouen and Charles came in person to observe the progress of the siege. Two attempts to summon the city to yield were thwarted by the garrison, who sallied out and prevented the heralds approaching the townsmen.

The Rouennais still had bitter memories of the long and terrible siege of 1418–19. They had also had a foretaste of what was to come as no supplies had been able to get into the town for six weeks before Charles VII’s army appeared before their gates. A group of them therefore seized control of a stretch of wall between two towers and signalled their willingness to admit the French. On 16 October the Bastard led a scaling party to the section of wall, placed his ladders against it and, having knighted a dozen of his companions, including Guillaume Cousinot, urged them over the ramparts. They had reckoned without Talbot, who, at last galvanised into action, personally led a counterattack in which some fifty or sixty Frenchmen, including Rouennais, were killed or captured, the wall was regained and the invaders repulsed. The next day, however, the townsmen went in such numbers to Beaufort to demand that their archbishop should be allowed to negotiate a surrender on their behalf that he reluctantly gave his consent. This was as far as he was prepared to go, for when the terms offered were brought to him Beaufort gave them such a hostile response that the citizens rebelled, forcing him and the rest of the English to retreat into the safety of Rouen castle, where they barricaded themselves inside. The Rouennais therefore opened the gates, handed over the keys to the Bastard and forced the garrison guarding the bridge to surrender.10

With the town now in French hands, Beaufort, Talbot and the chancellor, Thomas Hoo, found themselves trapped in the castle with some twelve hundred soldiers, many of them refugees from surrendered garrisons. With food already in short supply and no prospect of relief, they had no realistic option but to negotiate their way out. Charles, who seems to have disliked Beaufort personally as well as for what he represented, was determined to extract the highest price possible. He surrounded the castle with his men and a huge array of guns, as if in preparation for a siege, and demanded that Beaufort surrender not only Rouen but all the strongholds left in English hands in the entire Caux region, namely Caudebec, Tancarville, Lillebonne, Harfleur, Montivilliers and Arques. In addition he was to pay a ransom of 50,000 saluts (£4.01m) within twelve months and provide eight hostages for the fulfilment of the terms, including his brother-in-law, Talbot, and his stepson, Thomas Roos, as well as Richard Frogenhalle and Richard Gower, son of Thomas Gower, captain of Cherbourg, the last remaining English fortress in the Cotentin. On these conditions Beaufort, his wife, children and anyone else who chose to go with him would have safe-conducts to leave for England, taking with them all their belongings apart from heavy artillery, prisoners and bonds.11

On 29 October 1449 Beaufort set his seal to the surrender of Rouen, purchasing his life at the cost of his honour. The news of the treaty was greeted with shock, outrage and shame in England, particularly because it involved the loss of other key strongholds which were not even under attack at the time. The siege had lasted less than three weeks from start to finish and although the castle had been invested no bombardment of it had begun: Beaufort’s capitulation without any show of resistance could properly be regarded as treasonable. This was perhaps brought home to him before he left France, for having boarded ship at Harfleur he did not return to England but instead diverted to Caen.12

A week after the surrender of Rouen another iconic place in the history of these troubled times was given up. On 5 November François de Surienne delivered Fougères to the duke of Brittany, alleging that he had held out for five weeks against heavy bombardment in the face of desertion by his men, who had returned to defend their own garrisons, which were now under threat, and abandonment by the English government, which had promised but failed to send him reinforcements under Robert de Vere. Four hundred men had indeed crossed to France with Vere in September, but had got no further than Caen, where the bailli and inhabitants had begged them to stay to protect their town. Surienne had received 10,000 écus (£729,167) to evacuate Fougères, but he had lost Verneuil, Longny and all his lands in both Normandy and the Nivernais. His bitterness at the way his actions had been disowned by Suffolk and Beaufort would lead him to resign his prized membership of the Order of the Garter, enter the service of the duke of Burgundy and ultimately become a naturalised subject of France.13

It was only now, when it was already too late, that the English government took steps to assist Normandy. On 21 and 22 November one thousand longbows, two thousand sheaves of arrows, 2880 bowstrings, 1800 pounds of gunpowder and a host of other armaments were sent to Caen and Cherbourg with two gunners and a ‘cunning’ or skilled ‘carpenter for the ordnance’. On 4 December Sir Thomas Kyriell contracted to serve in France with 425 men-at-arms and 2080 archers, but Suffolk could not find the money to pay their wages or their transport costs. The treasurer had to pawn the crown jewels to raise loans for the expedition because ‘we be not as yet purveyed of money’ and the king was obliged to plead with the major West Country landowners to be kind enough to lend their naval assistance to lower Normandy. Even in death Cardinal Beaufort was still the crown’s banker-in-chief: his executors made loans totalling £8333 6s. 8d. (£4.38m) and Suffolk himself lent £2773 (£1.46m).14

Parliament had been hastily summoned on 6 November as news of the fall of Rouen broke: foreseeing the stormy sessions that lay ahead, Sir John Popham, a veteran of Agincourt and the French wars, who had been chosen by the House of Commons as its Speaker, declined to serve, pleading age and infirmity. The most politicised parliament of the century now sought vengeance on those it held responsible for the unfolding disaster: those who had brokered the Truce of Tours. Adam Moleyns, bishop of Chichester, was obliged to resign the privy seal. On 9 January 1450, as he was attempting to deliver their back-pay to Kyriell’s unpaid and rioting troops who were waiting to embark at Portsmouth, he was attacked, denounced as ‘the traitor who sold Normandy’ and murdered by Cuthbert Colville, a long-serving army captain.15

Rumours ‘in the mouth of every commoner’ that the dying Moleyns had accused Suffolk of treachery forced the duke to make an emotional statement to parliament. He movingly recounted the long service of his family in the king’s wars: the deaths of his father at Harfleur, his eldest brother at Agincourt, two others at Jargeau and a fourth in France as a hostage for the payment of his own ransom; his personal thirty-four years in arms, seventeen of them spent ‘without coming home or seeing this land’. Would he have betrayed all these things ‘for a Frenchman’s promise’?

It was meant to be a rhetorical question, but parliament believed he had. On 28 January he was committed to the Tower and ten days later he was formally impeached as a traitor who for years had been a ‘follower and abettor’ of Charles VII. The release of the duke of Orléans, the handover of Maine, the failure to include Brittany among English allies and, it was implied, Henry’s marriage to Margaret of Anjou, disparagingly referred to as ‘the French queen’, were all now seen as evidence of his diabolical machinations to sell the two kingdoms to the French. Many of the charges were ridiculous, reflecting parliament’s desire to find a scapegoat, rather than genuine causes of concern. Suffolk protested that he was not solely responsible: ‘so great things could not be done nor brought about by himself alone, unless that other persons had done their part and were privy thereto as well as he’. On 17 March, in an assembly of the lords, Henry ‘by his own advice’ cleared Suffolk of the capital charge and sentenced him to five years’ banishment, beginning on 1 May, for the lesser crimes of corruption and peculation. As he was crossing the Channel on 2 May his ship was intercepted by a royal vessel, he was taken prisoner and, after a mock trial by the crew, beheaded in the name of ‘the community of the realm’.16

In the meantime the situation in Normandy became increasingly desperate. On 20 November Matthew Gough and his lieutenant, an archer turned man-at-arms turned chronicler, Christopher Hanson, surrendered the isolated fortress of Bellême after no relief force came to their assistance. Even the supposedly impregnable Château Gaillard, which had previously required many months to starve into submission, capitulated on 23 November after a siege of just five weeks, proof, surely, of the lack of provisions and munitions in the Norman garrisons about which Beaufort had complained. On 8 December the Bastard of Orléans took six thousand soldiers, four thousand francs-archers and sixteen great cannon to lay siege to Harfleur. Alone of all the English strongholds required to submit as part of the capitulation of Rouen, Harfleur had refused to surrender. Abetted by the English government, which sent in supplies of barley, wheat and malt, Harfleur managed to hold out until Christmas Day, but then was forced to agree to submit on 1 January 1450. So many English were in the town, among them sixteen hundred soldiers in garrison and a further four hundred ejected from captured strongholds, that an extension of two more days was granted to allow them all to be evacuated by sea.17

From Harfleur the Bastard made his way to Honfleur, on the other side of the Seine estuary, which withstood a combination of heavy bombardment and mining for four weeks before it too agreed to yield if no relief was brought before 18 February. The French evidently thought that there might be an attempted rescue as they took the precaution of fortifying their position, but Beaufort remained at Caen and Kyriell’s army was still waiting to embark in England, so the surrender went unchallenged and the defeated garrison also took ship for home.18

It was not until the middle of March, more than three months after he had contracted to serve, that Kyriell finally arrived in France. Had he landed at Caen, he could have joined forces with Beaufort and begun a campaign to extend the English frontier beyond Caen and Bayeux. Instead, and inexplicably, he landed at Cherbourg, the only other port still in English hands but an isolated outpost on the northernmost tip of the Cotentin. He had with him 2500 men and a great artillery train, which suggests that this was not just a field army but one equipped for recovering captured strongholds. Alarmed, the French authorities at Coutances sent urgent messages to the duke of Brittany and the admiral, marshal and constable of France, begging them to come ‘with all strength and diligence’ to repel the enemy.19

Kyriell’s first action was to lay siege to Valognes, eleven miles from Cherbourg: it surrendered after three weeks but only after the arrival of reinforcements of 1800 men brought from Caen, Bayeux and Vire by Robert de Vere, Matthew Gough and Henry Norbury. This was the first and last success of the campaign. Kyriell now resumed his sixty-mile journey to Caen, avoiding Carentan by taking the direct route across the bay using the fords of Saint-Clément, which were only accessible at low tide. Jean de Bourbon, count of Clermont, was alerted to his crossing by the watchman on the church tower at Carentan and mobilised his forces to follow them while sending to Arthur de Richemont at Saint-Lô for assistance in intercepting them.

On 15 April 1450, with some three thousand men under his command, Clermont caught up with the English near Formigny, a village ten miles west of Bayeux. Warned of their approach, Kyriell had time to choose a defensive position with his back to a small river and to dig ditches and plant stakes to protect his front line against cavalry attack. With his superior numbers and strong position, he was easily able to repel a flanking attack by Clermont’s forces and his archers even sallied out to seize two of their small field guns. Pierre de Brézé succeeded in rallying the fleeing men and launched a full-scale attack which could also have been defeated had not Arthur de Richemont arrived at this critical moment with two thousand men of his own. Caught in a pincer movement between the two forces, Kyriell attempted to turn his left flank to meet the new threat but in the confusion his forces disintegrated and were overwhelmed. Gough and Vere managed to fight their way through to the old bridge across the river with the remnants of the left wing and were able to escape to Bayeux. Kyriell, Norbury and many men-at-arms were taken prisoner but the rest of the English army, the unransomable rank and file, were slaughtered where they stood. Three thousand seven hundred and seventy-four Englishmen were buried on the field in fourteen grave pits; the French, by comparison, lost only a handful of men. It was the French revenge for Agincourt.20

The battle of Formigny ended what little hope there had been that the reconquest of Normandy could be stopped, least of all reversed. The victorious French swept on to Vire, a choice no doubt dictated in part because its captain, Henry Norbury, was now a prisoner in their hands; Vire offered a perfunctory resistance, then surrendered in return for Norbury’s release without ransom and the garrison’s freedom to depart for Caen with their belongings intact. The director of the artillery at this siege, incidentally, as at other unnamed places, was John Howell, a Welshman not in the English garrison but in Richemont’s service.21

Clermont and Richemont now went their separate ways, the former to join the Bastard in laying siege to Bayeux, the latter to assist his nephew at the siege of Avranches. The defence of Bayeux was in the hands of Matthew Gough but even he could not endure the battering of Bureau’s guns, which, in the space of sixteen days, reduced the town walls to rubble. Two unauthorised attempts to take Bayeux by storm were repulsed in a single day, resulting in many deaths on both sides from arrows and gunshot, but in the end Gough was forced to capitulate before a full-scale assault took place. The English were allowed to depart for Cherbourg on 16 May, taking their wives and children with them but leaving behind all their property. Since there were over four hundred women, and a great many children, now all destitute, the French charitably provided them with carts to transport them to Cherbourg. Wounded soldiers were allowed a month’s grace before having to leave, but the rest of the men, including Gough, had to march out on foot, each carrying a stick in his fist as a sign that they were unarmed and carried nothing with them, this also being the universally recognised symbol of being under safe-conduct.22

Four days before the evacuation of Bayeux, Avranches had also surrendered after a spirited defence lasting three weeks which was said to have been inspired by the wife of the captain, John Lampet. She donned male clothing and went from house to house, urging the inhabitants to join in beating off the besiegers with missiles, before reverting to feminine dress to enchant François of Brittany into granting the best terms once resistance was no longer an option. Since the duke died not long afterwards it was assumed she had either poisoned or bewitched him – though her charms did nothing more than secure freedom for the English to depart empty-handed.23

At the beginning of June the French armies reunited to lay siege to Caen. Twenty thousand troops surrounded the place and Bureau drafted in hundreds of miners, labourers and carpenters from all over the region to assist in digging mines which ran right into the ditches round the town and brought down a tower and stretch of wall near the abbey of Saint-Étienne. At this point, as both sides were well aware, Caen could be taken by assault. Henry V’s sack of the town in 1417 was still such a raw memory that neither side had the resolution to go through with one again. On 24 June 1450 Beaufort signed his second capitulation in eight months. The four thousand Englishmen in Caen, including Beaufort’s family, the bailli Richard Harington, Robert de Vere and Fulk Eyton, were again to be allowed to leave with all their movable goods, including hand weapons, but this time they must take ship for England and nowhere else. And the price had risen from 50,000 saluts (£4.01m) to 300,000 écus (£21.88m).24

Beaufort understood all too well the enormity of what he was doing, which is why he apparently made a desperate attempt to secure a different outcome. He offered 4000 écus and £50 (£291,667 and £26,250) to Robin Campbell, the lieutenant of Robert Cunningham, captain of Charles VII’s Scots bodyguard, to organise the kidnapping of either the Bastard of Orléans or one of three other named royal intimates and lead fifteen hundred Englishmen out of Caen. A third of these men were to be mounted and would descend on Charles’s lodgings ‘in order to seize him, and take him to Cherbourg, and put him to flight’; the rest would destroy the French artillery by torching the powder kegs and spiking the guns. The plot, if it was genuine, obviously failed, though when it was discovered some years later Campbell and another Scots guard were beheaded and quartered as traitors and their captain was dismissed and banished from court.25

The surrender of Caen spelled the end of the line for the few remaining English garrisons. On 6 July, after a brief struggle, Falaise yielded to Xaintrailles and Bureau in return for the unconditional liberation of its captain, John Talbot, who had been kept a prisoner after the surrender of Rouen because the terms of the capitulation had been breached by Harfleur’s refusal to submit. In a proud but forlorn gesture of defiance Falaise’s defenders secured the right to defer their submission until 21 July in case a relieving army came to its assistance. The last great stronghold on the southern frontier, Domfront, followed suit on 2 August.26

All that now remained in English hands was Cherbourg, a fortress capable of holding a garrison of a thousand men, which had never fallen to assault since the building of the town walls in the mid-fourteenth century. Standing on a narrow spit of solid rock, its triple concentric man-made defences were supplemented by a fourth, the sea, which twice daily turned the place into a virtual island. If ever a stronghold had the potential to be an English Mont-Saint-Michel it was Cherbourg. It had even survived as an isolated outpost before, spending sixteen years in English hands between 1378 and 1394. In 1418 it had taken Gloucester five months to reduce it, a feat he had achieved only with the assistance of a traitor in the garrison. Now it took just a few weeks.

The constable of France, Arthur de Richemont, personally conducted the siege and Jean Bureau again deployed his heavy artillery which had proved so effective in persuading other strongholds to surrender. Displaying the innovative skills which made him feared and admired in equal measure, Bureau even planted three bombards and a cannon on the sands, covering them with waxed hides pinned down by stones to protect them when the tide came in. By this means he kept up a regular bombardment from every side, though up to ten of his guns were said to have exploded on firing, a common problem with medieval artillery. The most notable casualty was the admiral of France, Prégent de Coëtivy, who was killed by cannon-fire from the garrison, but many others died from disease, which spread rapidly in the unhealthy conditions of the siege.27

Unlike so many other strongholds, Cherbourg had the benefit of supplies ferried across the Channel from England: two gunners were dispatched to its aid in June 1450, together with vast quantities of saltpetre, sulphur, bows, arrows and bowstrings, as well as wheat, malt and hops, Cherbourg then being ‘in great jeopardy and peril’ because it was ‘not so furnished with military hardware and victuals as necessity demands’. On 14 August two of the king’s sergeants-at-arms were paid for their expenses in seizing ships in western and northern ports ‘to be sent forth to the sea, for the rescue of our town and castle of Cherbourg’.28

It was too little and too late. Cherbourg had already surrendered on 12 August 1450. The very fact that it held out for so long, compared with the ignominious speed with which most fortresses fell, made its captain, Thomas Gower, a popular hero. He was praised as a ‘wise and valiant’ esquire ‘who had spent most of his life continuously in the service of the king and in warfare for the conservation of the public good in the realms of France and England’. What most people did not know, however, was that underpinning the usual public treaty of capitulation was a private deal which reveals that Gower had, in fact, been bribed to surrender. His son, Richard, who was, like Talbot, a hostage for the handover of Rouen, was to be released unconditionally; 2000 écus (£145,833) was to be paid to the members of the garrison; further sums were to be paid towards the ransoms of certain English prisoners, including 2000 écus for Dickon Chatterton, the captain of Pont-Douve; all expenses of returning the English and their possessions were to be paid; finally, and most incriminating of all, money was also spent ‘on gifts that it was necessary to make in secret to certain knights and gentlemen of the English party’.29

So the last bastion of the English kingdom of France did not fall after a heroic but futile defence: it was simply sold to the French. ‘Cherbourg is gone’ James Gresham wrote to John Paston a few days later, ‘and we have not now a foot of land in Normandy.’ The humiliation and anger felt in England were matched only by the jubilation in France. Just as Henry V had made the anniversary of Agincourt a day to be celebrated with special masses in England, so Charles VII decreed that the anniversary of the fall of Cherbourg should henceforth be a national festival of thanksgiving. The reconquest of the English kingdom of France was complete.30

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!