Treaty of Troyes 1420 : signed and sealed in the name of Henry V and Charles VI
Part 1 of Treaties and Trouble Ahead: can a treaty envisaged to create the conditions for the resolution of disputes between nations, kings and their peoples, be the catalyst for chaos and internal division that leads England to civil war in the middle of the 15th century?
The Treaty of Troyes 1420 was sealed and ratified by two Kings, following the meetings that took place in Troyes. This document ratified by a mad French King (Charles VI of Valois) and arguably a great Lancastrian King (Henry V) would impact long after both Kings were dead, some 30 years later and lead England into to civil war. Does the Treaty of Troyes lead to a a set of unintended consequences, creating a domino effect, a chain of events, that in Victorian times would come to be known as the War of the Roses? Is this too ‘far-fetched’ or at the least a plausible hypothesis?
In this series of posts about the impact of Treaties designed to create accord, peace and the resolution of international disputes can we explore the intriguing connections between treaties ostensibly designed to resolve conflict in England’s favour, having the reverse effect within England itself, its government, Kings and the ruling elite. Would this obsession with France lead England to its own downfall and cause the decimation of a generation of the great families and the men who fought with and followed them?
Who should govern France an English King or a French one had been disputed for decades. indeed the best part of a hundred years. No coincidence really when if we cast our minds back to a certain Norman the conqueror, whether of Viking descent or not, the Royal families of England descended from William I certainly had some French blood coursing in their veins. There are times when the English Court only used French for polite conversation. There were English Kings who not only most commonly spoke French, it is even questionable whether they spoke English at all. But by the time of Henry V, if you believe his heroic aura largely cast by the fictional account of Shakespeare’s history plays, being English was about a a particular cultural and national identity, separate and different from being French. Or was it, let’s get back to the Treaty of Troyes.
Leading up to the Treaty of Troyes Henry V maintains his right to both the crowns of England and France
Troye would enshrine the right of Henry V to be King of France as well as England. Could it also lead to the rise and ultimate supremacy of a new dynasty of relative royal upstarts, the Tudors? With the obvious benefit of hindsight ‘Be careful what you wish for’, might have been the best advice to King Harry?
But we are seeing events from a ‘birds-eye view’ across time and with some knowledge of what transpires subsequently. Does Henry make avoidable errors or could he have planned better for his succession? Do Kings fail in their obligations to educate and parent their heirs to be better equipped for the their future succession or are they just too wrapped-up in maintaining a grip on day-to-day government and/or have little concern or loyalty to what happens after they are gone? For Harry in his prime, making such headway and just
But Harry was hot on a series of successes, a military and charismatic leader who had been achieving significant success, could he really have had the vision and foresight of what would transpire and even if he could would the tenuous link back to the Lancastrians be enough for him to claim the Tudors as his kin? An extension of the Lancaster line of succession or not? The unintended consequences were immense, a secret marriage that would lead to the creation of a new dynasty, the Tudors and would also extend the succession crisis for years to come.
We think of treaties as a means of achieving peace but the aims were much more complex for these monarchs. They were about power, land money, personal ambition, national pride, pure vanity, ego and somewhere along the way a means to acquire a politically advantageous and preferably wealthy wife. The Treaty of Troyes, designed to create a lasting peace would have potentially had a quite different and long term impact for England. So what went wrong?.
Historical background and the climate in which the treaty is agreed
In 1415 England and France had enjoyed a sustained peace for some 25 years. A truce ironically called by the much discredited Richard II (last Plantagenet King) who was usurped by Henry’s father (Henry of Bolingbroke.)
Henry IV had grabbed the crown by usurping Richard II and was ultimately the instrument of his murder. It was not the first time and definitely not the last time a ‘would be heir presumptive’ impatient to secure the crown for himself and his successor, would murder an incumbent monarch as an act of expedience. But when Henry IV had died another young King would come to the throne, more in the mould of his ancestor Edward the III, a charismatic leader, a warrior King who defeated the french at Agincourt and was restoring the pride of the English nation. This Lancastrian king was driven by the desire in the spirit of his Angevin and Plantagenet ancestors,to acquire territory, land and ultimately the twin crowns of England and France. The question was could he achieve it at a cost to the realm that was acceptable?
Henry sought to strike a bargain. the French crown, lands and money but the negotiations broke down. A king in the 15th century is still measured by his conquests, his lands and the revenues he can leverage from them and his people as a subsidy to fund his military conquests and excessively expensive lifestyle. When the opposition refuse to negotiate and you are a warrior king, what action would you take? You go back to war and seek to force your enemy to concede, your tax your people and extract even more for even less and keep pressing.
Henry raised a force of 11.000 and set to lay siege to Harfleur at the mouth of the Siene with himself in command.
They set the siege and are 5 weeks in but its not only the townsfolk who suffer. Its August and conditions are hot and insanitary for the English force as well. Terrible disease takes grip and Henry V’s force is reduced by deaths from sickness by more than 25% of the English, that is some 2.5k to 3k men. Harfleur holds out for another 4.5 weeks until late September.
Henry eventually begins to undermine Harfleur’s immense defenses. Harfleur is taken but Henry V continues onwards at breakneck speed deep into Normandy. Henry V’s objective is to press through to the safety of Calais which had remained firmly in English hands but he meets a large entrenched french force of opposition. He wins the day ultimately and continues to press on ruthlessly taking the other key towns and making inroads towards Calais.
English are increasing the pressure on France, Henry V is wanting to press his advantage and capitalise upon this opportunity. This is in the climate of the 100 Years War. It was not continuous conflict but it had sapped both sides and there had been no overall winner, the ebb and flow would often lead to now outright winner. It was more a snatch and grab, countered by another from the opposition. It wasn’t really in the interests of either side to not reach a final conclusion and save the vast costs both human and financial that these running disputes had cost England and France for a large part of a century.
Henry V was in a position of military domination in Northern France, his alliance with Burgundy had worked well. Burgundy was hungry for revenge on the Capetian kings because the Dauphin had been party to the murder of duke John the Fearless of Burgundy in 1419.
- The Dauphin views the Duke of Burgundy as a traitor and enemy meets with the Duke of Burgundy and has him murdered. Not unsurprisingly Burgundy then aligned with Henry V and the alliance proved effective.
- The Dauphin is also detested by his own Mother, who is acting as Regent , given the mental instability of her husband, King Charles VI (Valois) of France and the devious acts of her son, she too was ready to settle with Henry and meet with new Duke of Burgundy to achieve a lasting peace, the meeting place is Troyes.
The pressure was on France, Henry had the upper hand and classically a pragmatic dynastic marriage could secure peace and accord for France without more bloodshed but at what price? Imagine how pressured the circumstances must have been to induce a King and Queen to disinherit their own son (their heir) and worst still marry his sister to their mortal enemy. But desperate times called for radical solutions.
What was the Treaty of Troyes?
The meeting at Troyes is set with strict conditions and the parties limited to a supporting force of 2,500 men each. Henry writes to his brother, advising him in England of his expectations and optimistic outlook, whilst Humphrey as Duke of Gloucester was left as Warden of the realm:
“To our right trusty and well-beloved brother [the Duke of Gloucester, Warden in our realm of England and to all the [others] of our Council there.] For as much as we knew well that your desire was to hear joyful tidings of our good speed touching the conclusion of peace between the two realms…we signify unto you that, worshipped be our Lord…our labour has sent us a good conclusion. Upon Monday, the 20th day of this present month, we arrived in this town of Troyes and on the morrow we had a convention between our mother, the Queen of France, and our brother, the Duke of Burgundy…”
From this letter we can see the confident earnest intent and optimistic expectations of Henry himself the day before the meeting. It was a permanent peace they were planning for and the substance of the treaty confirms this. It is a permanent union of the two realms that is contemplated;
” After our death [Charles VI], and from that time forward, the crown and kingdom of France, with all their rights and appurtenances, shall be vested permanently in our son [son-inlaw], King Henry [of England], and his heirs.” Clause 6 Treaty of Troyes.”
Treaty of Troyes delegates full full regency powers to Henry V to act during Louis’s remaining life as French King:
“The power and authority to govern and to control the public affairs of the said kingdom shall, during our lifetime, be vested in our son, King Henry, with the advice of the nobles and wise men who are obedient to us, and who have consideration for the advancement and honor of the said kingdom….”
“[It is agreed] that the two kingdoms shall be governed from the time that our said son, or any of his heirs shall assume the crown, not divided between different kings at the same time, but under one person who shall be king and sovereign lord of both kingdoms; observing all pledges and all other things to each kingdom its rights, liberties or customs, usages and laws, not submitting in any manner one kingdom to the other.”
Treaty of Troyes and Marriage Agreement for the French Kings Daughter to be Wife and Queen to Henry V
Part of the agreement would be the marriage of the french kings daughter, Catherine of Valois to Henry, uniting the previously warring kingdoms as two realms two crowns, ruled by the same man.
Catherine would be come Queen of England and Wife to Henry but that happy estate would be very short lived. The Treaty was agreed in May 1420, Catherine was married to Henry in France 2 June 1420, crowned Queen in 1421 she was just 20.
She would quickly provide Henry with an heir in the December of 1421, born at Windsor Castle. Henry had already returned to campaigning in France before his son was born. He was taken ill whilst laying seige to Meaux and would not live to meet his son.
In summer both sides would suffer from heat and disease, not just those being besieged. Henry caught dysentery, realised he was unlikely to recover and hastily made plans with his brothers John Duke of Bedford (who had led the French dominions and fought most of his life in France and Humphrey Duke of Gloucester to provided the needed protection for his legacy and the heir that he would never meet. By August 31st 1422 Henry was dead and a young Queen was now the Dowager Queen at far too young an age with a vulnerable young Prince Henry (later Henry VI) without a father needing to be protected and learn quickly how to hold his place and live long enough to inherit his realm. He would need help, he would need strong protection from his Uncles. He was only 9 months old at the time of his father’s death. Boy kings had not struggled in the past including Richard II. How could such an outcome be avoided for the next Lancastrian king? This boy would become Henry VI but would he be well and strong enough to reach his majority?
How did the Treaty of Troyes impact upon our intriguing history?
The Treaty of Troyes was intended to have long and lasting positive consequences for both England and France but it had been agreed at a very high price and had little time to be implemented and maintained before its instigators were already dead and buried. The impact was already profound on British history:
- The English potentially had the right to hold the crown and lands of both realms surpassing even the lands held by the Plantagenets before King John lost the majority of the spoils of war but their charismatic leader was dead and there would be potentially a chasm in royal leadership hat needed to be plugged quickly.
- France would never forgive Isabeau of Bavaria for selling France short and deserting the Dauphin, despite that he was a far from admirable individual in his own right.
- Henry VI was less than 1 year old, when Henry V’s died, this was relatively unexpected. There had been no time to plan for such an early transfer of power. His own kin were strong and might hold the country together for a period of time but a boy king was vulnerable and arguably a french Queen would not be popular amongst the English nobility and great families.
- Potentially a line had been introduced to the English royal blood that would introduce a propensity, maybe even a genetic propensity to mental illness via Charles the VI, Catherine the Queen’s father. Henry VI is already vulnerable if he inherits a medical condition that problem obviously becomes even more likely to lead to his downfall and that of the House of Lancaster.
- How would the great families react to the death of a hailed King replaced by a child, ‘protected by his uncles’ with the danger of a French Queen influencing matters of state throughout the heir’s minority? Catherine as a dowager queen has gone from national asset, a spoil of war to being a potential supporter of the French cause from within the English camp.
- The memory of Mortimer and Isabella’s treachery and the three years of control of the kingdom before Edward III reasserted his rights as King,was not forgotten in he collective memory and especially amongst the ruling elite that currently led by Henry’s brothers were seeking to stabilise government and keep the line of succession going for the family the House of Lancaster. The two brothers were without immediate heirs themselves, luck for Henry VI, he might not have lived through boyhood never mind his majority if they had.
Inheritance is about more than lands and titles, the tangled web of co-mingled blood genetics and family genealogies surely?
There were specific vulnerabilities in the close intermarriages amongst the Noble and Royal families of the land already. Boy kings did not have a great record in England, think of Edward II, and Richard II for example. Henry VI showed little early promise or evidence of the charisma and military capabilities of his father and would later suffer a complete breakdown and sustained periods of mental incapacity. Henry V had not and could not have envisaged such a downturn in the House of Lancaster so rapidly and all his hope and celebrations of Troyes and his well received marriage already are dashed and in pieces.
Lawyers will always advise anyone considering a will, a long term legal instrument to consider carefully what happens if things go wrong but in reality neither France or England could have considered that both Kings would be dead within 2 years of the sealing of the agreement. But perhaps they should have done.
The Treaty of Troyes is it the cause or just a marker in the events that coincide to create the climate for civil war?
It is perhaps not the letters of the treaty that create the problem, it is the lack of a broader view of what happens if something goes wrong and circumstances change? But we know from the National archives that Henry V at least changed his Will three times, he was aware of the need to forward plan to some degree. But he was living in the full bloom of success in France, at the peak of his powers, when Troyes was negotiated and agreed, there was not any reason to believe his health would fail and he would dies so soon. But he surely must have known and used the mental incapacity of the French king in aquiring the French crown. Did no one contemplate what that might mean for the royal line going forward? What was their concept and understanding of mental illness? But with Catherine producing that heir, the Treaty of Troyes has put in motion from a position of English strength, quite literally the seeds of mental illness that would at least contribute to if not cause the downfall of the House of Lancaster, a dispute amongst cousins and the creation of a new dynasty with at best a tenuous English Royal pedigree.
Treaties and Trouble Ahead: an attempt to reach an accord creates the circumstances in which treaties are agreed at a given point in time, in the 14th century treaties signal a pause in hostilities but rarely resolve the core issues. Troyes could have been different if Henry V had lived to fulfill his full promise. But alternatively he might have waned and failed to live-up to his early successes as he aged.
Shakespeare and English jingoism made Henry V a heroic figure in literature and also in our cultural consciousness, a symbol of the Agincourt spirit, conjured and called upon even in WW2 propaganda when Laurence Oliver played Henry himself. The quote so famous it need hardly be stated again but the reality and tragedy is that forwards from Troyes, Lancaster and England are set on a course of conflict not against a foreign power but an internal struggle of Lancasters Yorks and Tudors. The Lancasters and Yorks descended from sons of Edward III, foolishly descend in a battle for the succession and decimate a generation of nobles in the course of pursuing their fractional ambitions. What a waste, and yes the Treaty of Troyes is the marker if not the exact instrument that at least marks and signals the potential for disaster that will turn Englishmen against each other. This was not the first time and not the last but this treaty marks the start of a conflict based on nothing more than a family disagreement, a failure after the debacle of Richard II to secure a clear line of succession. As one generation of nobles kills another feuds simmer and boil over in a series of complex events all coming back to Troyes, the marriage of Henry V to Catherine of Valois and the birth of a king, probably disadvantaged by his genetic inheritance from birth who would reach his majority and have his father’s brother killed (Humphrey of Gloucester.) So don’t feel too sorry for Henry VI either he too would continue the policy of using violence to silence any political threat of substance. There are more treaties and troubles ahead that is for sure and as England moves towards civil war we can further explore what other tries mark or mar the descent into civil war.
2 Kings Dead, a beautiful 21 year old widowed French queen living in England, a 1 year old heir to the the throne, two Dukes as Uncles and their loyalty to Henry V certain but to his heir is it for him or themselves that they are running France and England? Part 2 of Treaties and Trouble Ahead will focus what happens next and the downfall of the Lancastrians and how another treaty marks a decisive moment in our history.
More Reading and references on the Treaty of Troyes 1420
- Treaty of Troyes References and Transcscript with thanks to Fordham University
- National Archives artefacts relating to the Treaty: