Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Worries of Charles VII of France: August 1453 to January 1455

The court of Charles VII was still reveling in the victory of the Battle of Castillon and the subsequent siege of Bordeaux when news of Henry VI’s death reached Paris.  As the French King and his advisors thought about how the turn of events in England would affect their enemy’s foreign policy, there was a bit of a mystery as no one knew exactly who would succeed Henry.  The fact that neither did the English wasn’t comforting to Charles as he learned that both York and Somerset were claiming the English Crown, he saw it both as an opportunity to fully push English forces out of France and a potential problem if York were to prove victorious in the certain civil war.  Soldiers were sent to join the French forces besieging Bordeaux as well as instructions to report the news of Henry’s death and the succession crisis unfolding in England then he wanted to know if it was possible to capture Calais from the garrison there.  Finally Charles thought about how his son the Dauphin, Louis, would react to the news considering their estrangement and what would Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, do now that England was on the verge of civil war.

The months past until 19 October when finally Bordeaux surrendered to French forces thus ending the 300-year English hold on Guyenne in southwestern France, the English soldiers were allowed to return to England on order by Charles.  The King would later learn that this decision had given York the numerical advantage that would prove decisive in the coming “Winter War” that would see York transformed into Richard III.  But at the time, Charles hoped the influx of defeated soldiers would escalate the chaos that seemed to be consuming England with two rivals claiming the crown.  Charles hoped to use this chaos to take Calais, however the French forces found that the garrison wasn’t about to surrender thanks to the efforts of Lionel de Welles, 6th Baron Welles, the deputy captain of the garrison charge of Calais.  When the Burgundians looked like they were about to interfere before the end of 1453, the French had no choice but to retreat and Charles wondered if the Burgundians activity was the result of Louis convincing Philip to intervene.

Early in 1454, news reached Paris that London had opened its gates to York who had been proclaimed Richard III.  To Charles the apparent ascension of York to the throne meant that English foreign policy would shift dramatically back to the “war party” that had been marginalized the latter half of Henry VI’s reign in favor the Somerset-led “peace party” that the French used to their advantage the last few decades.  As the French court continued to follow what was happening in England, Charles tried to find out what Louis was doing in regard to the situation as well as Philip and his son Charles in Burgundy.  But Charles also had to consider rumors about the Count of Armagnac and his sister, though only rumors it was disturbing on the surface and the King didn’t like the implications if they were true.

The news reached Charles on the result of Bosworth it did not surprise him and decided on a wait-and-see approach when it came to Richard’s actions in regards to the conquered territory of Guyenne.  In the months that followed, Charles tried to persuade his nephew Peter II, Duke of Brittany, to ally with him against the English if the need were to arise and also sent overtures to Philip in Burgundy.  Neither would give the King a clear answer resulting in Charles decided to make sure that he had enough forces to repel an invasion.  Throughout the summer of 1454, Charles tried not to think too much of the English and with no immediate threat seemingly on the horizon he decided to let down his guard.  Then when he heard that the Earls of Devon and Warwick had left Calais headed for Paris with a far too small entourage befitting their status made the King and his own councilors wonder why the two men were coming.

In their audience Devon and Warwick told of Richard’s wish to present Margaret of Anjou as a possible wife to Henry IV of Castile and hoped that Charles would not have any objections.  The King along with his advisors were surprised, but kept it from the Englishmen.  Although many of his advisors wondered what Richard was up to, Charles knew exactly what was going on.  The King reminded them that he still had two nephews in England after Henry VI’s death only to get bewildered looks in response; Charles explained that his sister Catherine had married one Owen Tudor and had given birth to Edmund and Jasper Tudor, the earls of Richmond and Pembroke respectfully.  Then he reminded them of the widow of John, Duke of Bedford, who married a minor English nobleman before stating that Richard was simply attempting to avoid another scandal by marrying his wife’s niece to a brother King in Henry IV.  To Charles it simply showed that Richard was not planning on launching a military campaign to reconquer Guyenne in the near future and decided it would be prudent to develop a good relationship with the new King of England.  The next day Charles told the two envoys that he approved of Richard’s plan to present Margaret to Henry IV for marriage, the French king told his English guests that his wife would be pleased that her brother’s daughter would once again be a Queen.  Charles appointed a trusted man to accompany Devon to Castile to help with the negotiations and suggested the men return to Calais to sail to Castile immediate so as the Dauphin wouldn’t interfere in their mission.

After the three men left Paris for Calais, Charles relaxed in his vigilance against a soon return of English soldiers.  Throughout the rest of 1454, Charles started to reinforce French rule in Guyenne and also thought about the legacy of his first great military captain, Joan of Arc.  Condemned and burned as a heretic, Joan’s tainted reputation also tainted Charles’ reign and as the aging King looked into the future and the possibility that his own soul would be in danger with such an association he did not want to leave anything to chance.  Then after Epiphany 1455, Charles learned that the Portuguese embassy led by the Marquis of Valenca that had escorted the Infanta Joan to England had arrived in Calais and was heading to Paris.  Charles put down the letter Margaret had sent him a few days previously and ordered preparations to be readied for the embassy’s arrival.

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