Part Seven: Richard III & Louis XI

Louis XI

Okay! Part Seven! If you missed Friday’s post covering Richard’s marriage to Anne Neville, then you can catch up here. Today, we’re going to cover Edward IV’s disastrous 1475 military campaign in France and Richard’s disagreement with his brother over the end result.

Without further ado, let’s begin. On August 17, 1473, Queen Elizabeth gave birth to a second son with Edward IV (their sixth child together). The child was christened Richard, presumably in honor of “our” Richard, Duke of Gloucester, as well as the brothers’ father, the Duke of  York. For our purposes, the second of the “Princes in the Tower” was now born.

With peace in England restored and the Lancastrian threat temporarily nullified, attention turned to the bit players in the 1470/1471 drama – France and Burgundy. Namely, the Yorkist government was none too pleased that Louis XI had gone so far in aiding Marguerite of Anjou and Prince Edward’s return to England. Edward IV set his sights on war with France like many a good English king before him.

Part of his preparation included securing the border with Scotland, which in this case meant negotiating enough of a peace settlement that England could safely devote its attention across the Channel. This alliance was cemented by the betrothal of Edward’s third daughter, Princess Cecily, with James III’s eldest son, the Duke of Rothesay (and future James IV) in November 1474.

Concurrently, Edward strengthened his alliance with Charles, Duke of Burgundy (married to his sister, Margaret), so that the two were in lock step for a coordinated strike against France. Remember, too, that France had taken the events of 1471 as an opportunity to declare war on Burgundy, a situation that could arguably have ended up far more dire for Charles had Edward not won the day. The two men reached agreement in July 1474 that once France was beaten, Edward would be crowned king.

It’s worth highlighting England’s relationship with France at this point – or, more specifically, the House of York’s. By 1475, the events of Henry V’s conquest of France were a distant memory, but the glory of them certainly still thrived in public consciousness. England’s attitude – at least formally – when it conquered Normandy and then negotiated the Treaty of Troyes that positioned Henry V (but really Henry VI) as a king of France was that it held these lands by right, underpinning the actual “conquest.” Thus, when those territories were lost in the 1440s and 1450, there was an acute sense of loss. How England managed those territories and the span of its ambition was a point of division in Henry VI’s government – and arguably the cause of the factionalism that would eventually do him in.

Henry VI’s closest advisers were men who belonged to the “peace party,” while his cousin (and Edward and Richard’s father), the Duke of York, was originally in line with the party who favored  more aggression. I’m over-simplifying, but I think it’s fair to call York the political heir of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester (brother of Henry V and son of Henry IV). York’s refrain through the 1450s was not only reform, but a return to the glory days, brought about by effective governance. Literally and figuratively, Edward IV and Richard were his political heirs, tasked with executing this plan. If the 1460s were drowned out by more pressing concerns at home, then the 1470s could see a return to the master Yorkist plan.

The goals were lofty; the end result less so. We can only guess at what Edward and Richard personally thought of the military campaign when they set out in July 1475, but within days they were face-to-face with their sister, Margaret, who told them that Charles had already broken from their attack plan. When Charles finally turned up, it was without his army, and within a month his presence became more of a liability than a help. Edward was fed up and unable to take on the French without the additional military support, so he double-crossed Charles and opened up negotiations with Louis instead. The end result was a new treaty between England and France in which Louis paid Edward a hefty annuity and Edward’s eldest daughter, Princess Elizabeth, was betrothed to the Dauphin (the future Charles VIII).

In other words, the potential for English glory had been sold. So, too, had England’s good word as Charles – as bad an ally as he was – was rather angry. Richard has long believed to have been fiercely opposed to the new French peace. Late in August, Richard was absent when the two kings met, the consensus being that Richard was among those who objected to the treaty. Richard met Louis shortly thereafter, but whatever the conversation was, it didn’t result in a specific pension to him. It’s almost certain that one was offered since other English noblemen, including William, Lord Hastings and John, Lord Howard, secured them to varying degrees of enthusiasm.

This episode is often presented as evidence of Richard’s moral – or at least, patriotic – purity. But it’s worth mentioning that he didn’t walk away from France empty-handed. According to Desmond Seward, Richard accepted expensive gifts from Louis at Amiens. Is it possible that he, understanding the English would be livid they financed an expensive war and saw no returns from it, found it prudent not to advertise he, too, could be bought? Then again, we don’t know that that’s what those gifts were, assuming record of them is true. Face-to-face with a king, it could have been considered a bridge too far for a duke to outright refuse any and all gifts offered. Tangible, one-time gifts are very different – symbolically, at least – from recurring payments.

There are two major takeaways from this episode. The first concerns Richard’s relationship with Edward. There’s little indication that the brothers’ disagreement over how to handle Louis affected their relationship, but it illustrates two things: the brothers weren’t carbon copies of one another and Richard wasn’t afraid to publicly disagree with Edward. If anything, this situation shows how close they were, and how powerful and well-established Richard was by 1475. His value was so proven that he had the ability to stage a mini protest at his brother’s expense, and the fact that he was allowed to suggests Edward respected him.

The other takeaway is that France had good reason to be cautious about Richard. In 1475, Richard’s opposition to the peace treaty was notable, but not wholly alarming. Edward IV was only 33, he had two sons, and George was still above Richard in the line of succession. But when the events of 1483 rolled around, France found itself having to face the reality of Richard’s supremacy and there was little love lost between him and the House of Valois. Just as they did in 1471, France would again decide its better play was allying themselves against the House of York, and their experience with him in 1475 had to have weighed into that calculation.

Another factor on the European stage at this point was, of course, Henry Tudor. As I mentioned during Part Four, Henry spent a portion of the 1460s as a ward of William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, but he was legally stripped of his father’s earldom under Edward IV and stood to gain much when Henry VI was briefly restored in 1470-1471. In fact, the restoration allowed his mother, Margaret Beaufort, and his uncle, Jasper Tudor, to bring him to London to meet the Lancastrian king (his half-uncle). When Lancaster was destroyed at Tewkesbury, Jasper fled with Henry for the continent, aiming for France and ending up in Brittany.

A fun fact about Henry Tudor is that he arguably had a clearer (if not better) claim to the French throne than the English. Jasper and Louis XI were first cousins – Jasper’s mother, Katherine of Valois, was the sister of Louis’s father, Charles VII – and as such, Henry could claim some familial bond to the French Royal Family. Seeking refuge in France made sense, but the fact that they ended up at the court of Duke Francis II of Brittany was a windfall for for the small duchy. Francis held a pawn that both Edward and Louis wanted, and as of 1475, Francis had clearly decided to keep them safe and in his possession for the time being. Edward made several plays to gain custody of Henry throughout the 1470s, sometimes even using Margaret Beaufort as a conduit, but as the end of Edward’s reign wore on, and Richard’s began, Henry’s continued presence abroad would become an increasing liability.

And with that, we’ll pick up next time with George’s downfall.

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