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The Reign of Henry VI page 8


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But, far beyond these petty advantages, every day demonstrated that the unnatural alliance of the Duke of Burgundy with England against his own sovereign was hastening to an end. Nothing but the duke's resentment against Charles for the murder of his father could have led him to this alliance; and nothing but the decided ascendancy of the English could havo retained him in it. That ascendancy was evidently shaken; the English influence was on the wane, the spirit of the French people was rising in bolder form against it; and Charles, who seemed at length to acquire a politic character, made earnest overtures to the duke for reconciliation. Charles did not hesitate to express his deep regret for the death of the duke's father. His envoys pleaded his youth at the time - the overgrown power of those about him - his inability to guide or prevent their actions. He made the most solemn assurances that that base deed had been planned wholly without his knowledge, and was regarded by him with disgust and abhorrence. In proof of his sincerity it was shown that he had dismissed and banished the bloody perpetrator of the deed, Tannegui du Chastel, and all his accomplices, and he offered to make every atonement in his power.

The humiliations and distresses to which Charles had long been subjected had gratified the revenge of Burgundy, and he was now sufficiently cool to perceive as clearly as any one that nothing in reality could be more fatal to his interests than the union of France and England under one crown. The English had already given him more than one cause of offence; he did not forget that Bedford had refused to surrender the government of the Duchy of Orleans to him when it had been given, him by the English council. And now, while Charles was assiduously courting him, and he was in this tone of mind, Bedford unluckily added fresh and deep cause of resentment.

Ann of Burgundy, Duchess of Bedford, sister of Philip, died at Paris, in November, 1432. Here was snapped a bond of union which, by the judicious endeavours of the duchess, had proved a strong one. In two months after her death, Bedford, who could not plead the impetuosity or thoughtlessness of youth, married Jaquetta of Luxembourg, a vassal of Burgundy, and that without giving the slightest announcement of his intention to the duke. Burgundy felt the proceeding a direct insult to the memory of his sister, and probably Bedford was quite as conscious of the fact, and, therefore, had omitted to communicate his intention to Philip. Philip expressed his resentment in no measured terms, and Bedford retorted with equal indignation. There were numerous individuals at the Burgundian court ready to fan the flame of dissension. The Count of Richemont and the Duke of Brittany had long been striving to carry over Philip to the French side. The Duke of Bourbon, who had also married a sister of Philip, threw his weight most joyfully into the scale.

The Cardinal of Winchester, who, whatever his feuds with Gloucester, had long been giving the most prudent counsel, in the exhausted state of the finances of both countries, to attempt a peace, now saw with consternation this quarrel, which threatened to throw Burgundy into the arms of Charles, and thus augment immensely the difficulties of England. He hastened to interpose his good offices, and prevailed upon the two incensed princes to consent to a meeting at St, Omer But here the old proverb of bringing a horse to water was seen in its full force. Each duke expected that the other should make the first visit. Bedford stood upon his being the son, brother, and uncle to a king, and Philip upon the greatness of his own independent dominions. Neither would condescend to make the first move, and they parted with only increased bitterness. Bedford, in this case, permitted his pride to sway him from his usual prudence, and, though he did not live long, it was long enough to cause him deeply to repent his folly.

The Duke of Burgundy was now quite prepared to reconcile himself to Charles. A point of honour only stood in the way, and diplomacy is never at a loss to get rid of such little obstacles. By the treaty of Troyes he was solemnly sworn never to make peace with Charles without consent of the English. To surmount this difficulty either by establishing an actual peace between the three parties, or by so far putting the English in the wrong as to justify in the eyes of the world a peace without it, it was suggested by his brothers-in-law, Richemont and Bourbon, to endeavour to get up a congress under the mediation of the Pope, as the common friend and father of all Christian princes. Eugenius IV. set himself with alacrity to effect this desirable but difficult work, and prevailed so far as to have a grand congress summoned to meet at Arras, in August, 1435.

To give effect to this assembly, care was taken to render it the most illustrious convocation of princes and diplomatists which Europe had yet seen. The Pontiff sent as his representative the Cardinal of Santa Croce; the Council of Basil, then sitting, also delegated the Cardinal of Cyprus. The Duke of Burgundy, one of the most powerful, and by far the most magnificent prince of the age, came attended by all the nobility o^ his states. Beaufort, Cardinal of Winchester, represented his relative, the King of England, attended by twenty-six nobles, half English and half French. Charles VII. appointed as his plenipotentiaries the Duke of Bourbon and the Constable Richemont, who were attended by twenty-nine peers and ministers. Besides these there came envoys from Norway, Denmark, Poland, and Sicily, from many of the German and Italian states, and from the cities of Flanders, and of the Hanseatic League.

If the object was to exhibit the hauteur and unreasonableness of England rather than that of showing the enormous difficulties in the way, the stratagem fully succeeded. All Europe, almost, was brought together with much cost and with much parade to note the result, and the feeling would, of consequence, be proportionate. This brilliant gathering of princes and delegates opened their proceedings by a series of fetes, tournaments, and galas; but even in these the good understanding between the French and Burgundians was so undisguised as to augur no favourable termination of the affairs which brought the congress together. The conference was opened in the Abbey of St. Vaast by the Cardinal of Santa Croce, with the usual lamentations over the horrors of war, and eulogies on the blessings of peace. But when the propositions on both sides came to be laid before the assembly they were found to be wide as the poles asunder. The French plenipotentiaries offered to cede Guienne and Normandy to the English, but subject to all the conditions of homage and vassalage. The English, who were not disposed to abate a jot their demands of independent possession of all the lands they now held in France, were so indignant at what they cod -sidered the arrogance of this proposal, that they abruptly refused to submit any counter-proposition of their own, but rose and left the assembly. On this there was a general outcry against the intolerable pride and unreasonableness of the English. The fact was, that the two cardinals, who came openly as mediators, were in reality the decided partisans of France and Burgundy. Every means was now used to represent the conduct of the English in the most odious light, and a draft of a treaty ready prepared between Burgundy and France was openly produced, considered, and signed on the 21st of September. The English had already left Arras on the 6th.

No sooner was the ratification of this treaty made known, than universal rejoicings took place all over France and Burgundy. On the other hand, the English loaded the Duke of Burgundy with the bitterest reproaches, as a perjured violator of the treaty of Troyes. In London the indignation of the people was so intense that they fell on the Flemings, a numerous body of traders there, because they were subjects of Philip, and cruelly abused and murdered some of them. When Philip sent, pro forma, a herald to London to announce this treaty, and to apologise for his abandonment of that of Troyes, the council received him with great marks of indignity, and, in studied insult, assigned him his lodgings at a shoemaker's. These violent proceedings were as unworthy of a great country as they were propitious to the cause of Burgundy. His breach of a solemn treaty was notorious; these outrages went to justify him. He had felt the odium of his own movement so much as to obtain from the cardinals, in full assembly of the congress, a solemn absolution from all his oaths to the English. So notorious had been the repeated perjuries of almost all concerned in that new alliance, that the Lord of Lannoy, when it came to his turn to swear, exclaimed, " This is the sixth peace to which I have sworn since the commencement of the war. The others are all broken; but as for this, whatever others do, I declare before God I will observe it."

Charles, on his part, had been compelled not only to implore Philip's forgiveness of the murder of his father, but to surrender to Burgundy all the towns of Picardy lying between the Somme and the Low Countries, with other territories, to be held for life without fealty or homage. The sacrifices of honour and domain had been enough between the parties to lay the foundation for future heart-burnings, had the English but acted with tolerable policy; but their violent conduct tended to draw off a too scrutinising glance from the new allies, and to cement their union. To add to the mischief, Bedford died at Rouen immediately after receiving the news of this disastrous treaty. Bedford had, in the main, been an able and prudent manager of the English affairs in France, but he had not been a successful one. Circumstances had fought against him. The distractions of the council at home, and the consequent diminution of his resources, had crippled him. The strange apparition of the Maid of Orleans had set at defiance all human counsels. His horrible execution of that innocent and most meritorious damsel had sullied his reputation for humanity, and his haughty conduct to the Duke of Burgundy had equally injured the estimation of his political wisdom. The sudden rending of that old tie, and the power with which it invested France, probably hastened, as it undoubtedly darkened, his end. He was buried on the right hand of the high altar of the Cathedral of Rouen, where his grave yet meets the eye of the English traveller; and the reputation which he won amongst his enemies in France is evidenced by the reply of Louis XL, who was entreated to remove his bones from so honourable a sepulchre: - "I will not war with the remains of a prince who was once a match for your fathers and mine; and who, were he now living, would make the proudest of us tremble. Let his ashes rest in peace, and may the Almighty have mercy on his soul!"

Three days after the signing of the treaty of Arras, died also Isabella of Bavaria, one of the most infamous women who ever figured in history. The deed which united her old ally Burgundy with her own son, whom she hated with a most unnatural hatred, was to her the crowning point of her deserved misfortunes. She left a memory equally abhorred by French and English.

The affairs of England in France demanded the utmost promptitude and address, but this important moment was wasted through the violence of the factions of Gloucester and Beaufort. The cardinal endeavoured to secure the appointment of his nephew Edmund Beaufort, afterwards Duke of Somerset, as regent of France; but the Duke of Gloucester insisted on the choice of Richard, Duke of York, who was finally adopted; but not till six months of most invaluable time had been wasted. Before his arrival the French had profited by the delay to recover Meulon, Pontoise, and other places on the Seine. Richemont had been active in Normandy, exciting the people to revolt, and Dieppe was surprised. The Duke of Burgundy - though his subjects, who had much commerce with England, were averse to a war with that country, and the people of Picardy, who had been made over to him, were in rebellion - still was actively preparing for an attack on Calais. Paris had thrown off the English yoke. The Parisians had always been attached to the Duke of Burgundy, and equally ready to renew their allegiance to Charles. In the night they opened the gates to Lisle Adam and the Count Dunois; threw chains across the streets to prevent the entrance of the English; and the Lord Willoughby, first retreating with his garrison to the Bastile, then made terms to evacuate the city.

The turn which was given to affairs immediately on the arrival of the Duke of York showed what might have been done by a more prompt occupation of his post. The Duke landed in Normandy with 8,000 men. He soon reduced the towns which had revolted or surrendered to the enemy. Talbot defeated a considerable army near Rouen; he retook Pontoise in the midst of a fall of snow by dressing a body of men in white, and concealing them in a ditch. He then advanced to Paris, and carried desolation to its very walls, but failed to take it.

Meanwhile, the Duke of Burgundy had invested Calais. The Duke of Gloucester, with a fleet of 500 sail, and carrying 15,000 men, set out to raise the siege, and landed at Calais on the 2nd of August, 1436. Philip did not wait for this army; he hastily abandoned the siege, or rather his troops - a wretched rabble of militia from Ghent, Bruges, Ypres, and other Flemish towns - abandoned him. They had fought too much with the English to venture to fight against them, and, at the first approach of Gloucester, they ran in a wild panic. The contagion became general, and the whole army, men-at-arms, archers, everything, 30,000 in number, decamped with such precipitation as to leave behind them all their artillery, ammunition, and baggage. The Count of Richemont, the Constable of France, who had come to witness the recovery of Calais from the English, was borne away in the rueful flight, to his infinite chagrin. Gloucester, who arrived four days after this disgraceful retreat, made instant pursuit, sending messengers to Philip to beg him to stop, as he had promised, and measure lances with him; but the humbled duke made no halt. The English now rushed furiously into Flanders, plundering town and country, the soldiers making a rich booty, and Gloucester paying the duke off the old scores incurred by his conduct to Gloucester's quondam wife, Jacqueline of Holland.

On the 3rd of January, 1437, died Queen Catherine, the widow of Henry V. Soon after the death of Catherine's illustrious husband she retired to an obscurity which was scarcely broken during the remaining fifteen years of her life. She had fixed her affections on a handsome yeoman of the guard, Owen Tudor, a Welshman. This fortunate fellow, who thus became the father of a race of England's kings, was originally, it is believed, a common soldier. His father had been one of the followers of Owen Glen-dower, and he himself was at Azincourt with Henry V., where, for his bravery in repelling the fiery charge of the Duke of Alencon, Henry made him one of the squires of his body. It was in this post, keeping guard at Windsor when Catherine retired there with the infant Henry VI., that he attracted the queen's attention. Spite of his humble origin and condition - for he could not then be worth forty pounds a year, or he must have taken up his knighthood - Catherine, the proud daughter of the kings of France, did not disdain to bestow upon him her favour, and eventually her hand. This marriage was, of course, concealed with all possible care. So completely was this the case, that no proof of it whatever exists, or has been discovered; not even the research of Henry VII., her grandson, with all his boast of royal descent, could obtain it. Yet no doubt whatever seems to have existed of the reality of the marriage. Gloucester, the protector, was highly incensed at this act of Catherine, regarding it as a disgrace to the royal family. It appears clearly that, though he was aware that the husband of Catherine was a plebeian, he was not aware of his identity, for Tudor continued to reside with the queen till about six months previous to her death.

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Pictures for The Reign of Henry VI page 8

The Seal of Henry VI
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Burning of Joan of Arc
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Death of Cardinal Beaufort
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Queen Margaret
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