Reign of Henry VII page 5
The affairs on the Continent were now in a state which demanded the most serious attention, but which were by no means likely to be settled to the honour of the country by a monarch of the penurious character of Henry VII. If ever a monarch was bound by gratitude to succour another prince, it was Henry VII. He had been protected in Brittany from all the attempts of the Yorkist monarch for years. The Duke Francis, who had been his host and friend during his long exile, was now growing old. He appears never to have been of a very vigorous mind, and now mind and body were failing together. He had two daughters, and the hone of securing the patrimony of the eldest, Anne, drew the attention of many suitors, the chief of whom were Maximilian, King of the Romans; the Duke of Orleans, the first prince of the blood in France; and the Count D'Albert, a powerful chieftain, at the foot of the Pyrenees. But hostile alike to all these wooers was Charles VIII. of France, who, though he was under engagement to marry the daughter of Maximilian, and therefore apparently debarred from the hand of Anne of Brittany, was resolved, if possible, to secure her territory. It was the bounden duty of Henry of England to support the Duke of Brittany against the designs of France, on both private and public grounds: on private ones, from the personal obligations we have referred to; and on public ones, because Brittany was now the only independent province of France which had not been absorbed into the French monarchy, and therefore the only point on which we could maintain a check on the ambition of France; a friendly power capable of affording us aid, and accessible ports in protection of our vessels in the channel, and often of our own coasts.
To attain a clear idea, however, of the relative positions of France and Brittany at this period, we must go back five or six years. Louis XI. died on the 30th of August, 1483. His son Charles was then only fourteen years of age, and Louis had left him subject to the tutelage of the Princess Anne, his elder sister. Anne was married to Pierre de Bourbon, Lord of Beaujeu. The Duke of Orleans though he had himself not reached the age of four-and-twenty, resented this regency of Anne of Beaujeu, thinking himself more entitled to it. He attempted to assert that pretension by arms; but he was defeated, and driven to seek protection in Brittany. The historian, Philip de Comines, to whom we have been so greatly indebted for information on these times, was involved in the reverse of Orleans, whose cause he had espoused. He was shut up for eight months in one of those celebrated iron cages of Loches, which had been constructed by Louis for the pre-eminent punishment of particular victims.
The flight of the Duke of Orleans to the Court of Brittany was seized upon by that of France to promote its own views. It declared war on Brittany, with the avowed purpose of compelling Francis to surrender the duke; and, farther, of obliging him to pardon and restore several noblemen who had murdered Pierre de Landois, the favourite minister of Francis, and had fled to the Court of France. The regency of France was jealous of the presence of the Duke of Orleans at the Court of Brittany, because, though already married to one of the sisters of Charles VIII. and of Anne of Beaujeu, he was desirous to repudiate the French princess, and secure Anne of Brittany and the province. France had resolved to obtain that province, and include it in the kingdom at all costs.
The Duke of Orleans was induced to reconcile himself to the French Court, but soon began to conspire again, and was obliged to return to Brittany. That unfortunate country was now rent by contending factions, and one of these parties, to oppose the Duke of Orleans, committed the fatal error of inviting Charles of France to send them aid. They stipulated that this aid should not exceed 400 men-at-arms and 4,000 foot; but Anne of Beaujeu, who
acted in the king's name, possessing a good deal of the craft of her father, Louis XL, poured into the province 16,000 men. In May, 1487, at the very time that Lambert Simnel was threatening Henry VII. from Ireland, the French troops were advancing into Brittany in three divisions. One of these took Ploermel, the second Vannes, and the third besieged Nantes, in which lay the Duke Francis and his daughters.
Maximilian, the King of the Romans, had sent a body of 1,500 troops to assist Francis, and these, now joined by a body of Bretons, under Count Dunois, cut their way through the French lines and relieved Nantes; but the French troops went on and took Aurai, Vitre, and St. Aubin-du-Cormier. Fresh troops were still pouring in from France, and Maximilian was unable to contribute any further assistance. In this dilemma, Francis sent repeated importunate entreaties to Henry to come to his rescue. France, at the same time, sent to him, praying him to be neuter, alleging that Charles was only seeking to drive his revolted subjects out of Brittany. Henry was bound by honour to give prompt succour to his old friend; he had received from Parliament two-fifteenths for the purpose, and was actually urged by it to send efficient succour to prevent France seizing this important province. But Henry could not find in his heart to spend the money in active service; he proposed to mediate between the parties. This suited the views of France exactly, because while Henry was negotiating they could continue to press on their victories.
Henry sent over to the French Court Christopher Urswick, his almoner. Urswick found the lady of Beaujeu, now Duchess of Bourbon, engaged in the siege of Nantes. That able woman professed to be delighted with the mediation of King Henry, and sent Urswick to the Breton Court at Rennes, by which she gained further time to prosecute her operations, well knowing that what Duke Francis wanted was help, not talk. The duke, on hearing what Urswick had to say, replied, with great chagrin, that having been Henry's protector during his youth against all his enemies, he had looked for some more effectual aid from him in his distress than a barren proposal of mediation; that if he would not act from gratitude, he ought to do it from policy, for Brittany was the only province now left which could give him an entrance into the heart of France; and that, if obtained by France, it would prove a thorn in the side of England, and render great damage to its power and commerce.
This reply was conveyed by Urswick to the French Court, and he was then recommended to send a messenger with it to London, while they themselves continued pressing on their campaign against the Duke of Brittany.
When the English saw this pitiable conduct of their miserly king, they began to lament the glorious days of Creecy and Azincourt. Sir Edward Wydville, the uncle of the queen, indignant at the disgrace of his country, sailed from the Isle of Wight with a brave band of 400 men. and landed at St. Malo, in Brittany. No sooner was this heard of at the French Court than Urswick and his embassy had a narrow escape of being assassinated by some infuriated courtiers; but Henry sent speedy word that these adventurers had passed over without his cognisance or consent. To satisfy them further, he assured the French that he would forbid further adventures of the kind, and he did so; but he watched every turn of affairs to make a penny by it. He therefore now seized on the generous enthusiasm of the nation to coin money out of it. He professed to coincide in the public feeling, and his minister, the wily Archbishop Morton, talked of the necessity of resorting to strong measures to repress the French. Parliament, in its patriotic zeal, fell into the snare, and, strongly representing the necessity of preventing France seizing a province of so much importance to the security of our traffic, granted a large supply.
No sooner had this false monarch got the money than he contented himself with sending Urswick to warn the French that he should be compelled by Parliament to send troops to Brittany, but to let them know secretly that the number would only be limited, and that they would be restricted to operations within Brittany itself. The consequence was that the French, in July, 1488, attacked with a powerful army the united forces of Brittany and its allies - the soldiery of Wydville and Maximilian. Sir Edward Wydville and his brave 400 were cut to pieces; the Duke of Orleans was taken prisoner, and Brittany lay prostrate at the feet of France. The poor Duke Francis was compelled to submit to a treaty, in August, at Verger, by which he surrendered to the French all the territory they had conquered, and was bound never again to call in assistance from England or any other country, nor to marry either of his daughters without the consent of the King of France. Having signed this humiliating treaty, the poor duke sank and died of a broken heart, on the 7th of September, only three weeks afterwards.
The people of England received these tidings with undisguised indignation. Twice had they voted large sums to enable their ungrateful and pusillanimous king to aid his old benefactor and the ally of England; twice had he put the money in his coffers, and sold the honour of the country and the fortunes of the unfortunate ally to the French, wholly insensible to honour or shame. But whilst the public were foaming in wrath over this despicable conduct, the indefatigable French were pressing on. Anne, the young orphan duchess, was a mere child of only twelve years of age. Around her were only contending rivals and their adherents. One of her suitors, the Count d'Albert, seized her and attempted to carry her off. He was intercepted by the Count Dunois, who brought the princess back to Rennes behind him on his war-horse. But all this time the French were seizing town after town. Pontrieu, Guingamp, Concarneau, Brest, and other places of importance, had fallen into their hands. The news of this awoke such a fermentation in England, and Henry was upbraided in such vehement terms for thus, as the sovereign of a great people, sacrificing the honour of the nation, and permitting the helpless orphan of his benefactor to become the prey of France, that he was compelled to rouse himself. He determined to send ambassadors to Maximilian, to his son, the Archduke Philip, to the Kings of Spain and Portugal, inviting them to act in concert with him for the repression of French ambition. Having taken this magnanimous, and, if it had really been intended to follow it up rigorously, most admirable step, Henry called a Parliament, and demanded more money to carry on the war.
The pretences of this huckstering king were now become too transparent to deceive any one. All the money hitherto voted for a war that never took place was still in Henry's coffers. The people thought that ho ought first to bring out that before he asked for more. Parliament, therefore, made strong opposition, and finally reduced his demand of £100,000 to £75,000. But, when they had voted, the indignant people refused to pay it, considering that the selfish monarch had their cash already in hand. Great disturbances arose in the endeavour to enforce the collection of the tax. This manifested itself especially in the north, where Henry had used such endeavours to soothe and win the inhabitants.
The Earl of Northumberland directed the collection to be enforced, accompanying the command with such menaces as he deemed necessary to procure obedience. But these had a contrary effect. The people flew to arms, and, turning their vengeance first against the earl, as the rigorous instrument of an imperious monarch, they stormed his house and put him to death. They then declared war against the tyrant, as they termed Henry, himself. Their leader was a fiery fellow of the common order, named John a Chambre, but, as they assumed a formidable aspect, Sir John Egremont, one of the Yorkist faction, put himself at their head. Henry lost no time in dispatching Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey, who soon suppressed the insurrection, and hanged John a Chambre and some of his accomplices. Sir John Egremont escaped to Flanders to the Duchess of Burgundy.
Henry now sent over to Brittany a body of 6,000 men under Lord Willoughby de Broke; but he limited their service to six months, which was, in fact, to render them nearly useless, and he would not even afford that aid until he had exacted from the poor orphan girl, the young duchess, the surrender of her two best sea-ports in security of payment. He moreover compelled the duchess to bind herself by the like oath to him as she had taken to the French king, not to marry without his consent. These pitiful demands conceded, the English force landed, and a Spanish band about the same time advanced through Roncesvalles to create a diversion in the south of France. Maximilian found himself too much engaged in Flanders by the French and by his own rebellious subjects, whom the French stirred up, to send reinforcements to Brittany, but the success of the two English commanders, the Lords Daubeney and Morley, at the head of 2,000 archers, and about three times that number of Germans, effected a decided diversion in their favour. They fell on the insurgent army, besieging Dexnude, and slew 8,000 of them, the fury of the English soldiery being roused by the death of their favourite general, Lord Morley. The Spaniards on one side, and this defeat on the other, kept the French in check, more especially as it was known that Henry was continually sending to caution Lord de Broke not to risk his soldiers. The French, therefore, were quite willing to wait events, knowing that the English troops would be withdrawn by the stingy English king at the end of the fixed term; for the Bretons were too poor to find them provisions, much less to discharge their pay. Neither provisions, carriages, artillery, nor military stores could be obtained. The Court of Brittany was torn by contending factions, the great object being not to defend their country from the French, but to secure the hand of the duchess each for their own leader, and thus to secure to themselves the favour in her Court.
Henry of England was in all haste to evacuate the country where he was thus wasting his beloved money. The troops were recalled, and then commenced one of those extraordinary schemes with which the plots of princes occasionally surprise the world. The same scheme appears to have occurred almost simultaneously to Charles of France and Maximilian of Austria, to be carried out by different means. This was to marry Anne of Brittany, and thus secure her province. Neither party wished the other to know of its intentions, and both worked secretly towards its own end. Charles VIII. was already affianced to Margaret, the daughter of Maximilian, who, though yet a mere girl, was educating at Paris, and already bore the title of Queen of France. She was to receive a rich dowry, and as she was, next to her brother Philip, heir to all the dominions of the house of Burgundy, Louis XI. had deemed her the most desirable wife in Christendom for his son. But now Charles beheld Anne of Brittany, not the possible heiress of large possessions, but the actual mistress of the only province wanting to complete and render compact the great kingdom of France. The opposition of England, Flanders, and Spain, raised the value of this possession in his eyes, and he resolved at all costs to relinquish Margaret of Flanders and secure Anne of Brittany. To this end a treaty was entered into through Maximilian himself, by which Charles agreed to return to the Duchess of Brittany all the towns the French had taken from her, only placing, as a guarantee of the duchess's allegiance, the towns of St. Malo, Fougeres, Dinant, and St. Aubin, in the hand of an indifferent party, till Charles's claim on the duchy was satisfactorily decided.
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