Sunday, 10 September 2017

Philip the Good VIII

Margaret of Anjou
Tumult In England

As a result of the Anglo-French agreement the English, now on the losing side of the war, were looking to ally themselves closer to Charles VII, in the hope that this might at the very least slow the rate of attrition. The death of the Duke of Somerset in May 1444 and Cardinal Beaufort’s retirement to his see of Winchester, meant that The Earl of Suffolk was able to step in to fill the power vacuum. His mishandling of the Truce of Tours;

‘Set the seal on the recovery of the Valois [Charles VII] and confirmed his conquests.’[i]

As part of the truce Suffolk promised to return the County of Maine to the French, but kept his promise secret for fear of a popular uprising.

Duke of York
Suffolk proposed a marriage between the twenty-three year old Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou, daughter of René of Anjou. Margaret’s marriage to Henry in April 1445 and her dominance of her biddable husband meant that an inveterate enemy of Philip’s was now, in alliance with Suffolk, in the driving seat in England.

In 1447 Suffolk’s power increased with the deaths of Cardinal Beaufort and Duke Humphrey of Gloucester[ii], six weeks apart. Henry VI’s other uncle the Duke of York was sent to Ireland as Lieutenant there[iii]. Suffolk made himself a duke and made his ally the new Duke of Somerset Lieutenant of France in York’s place.

Somerset was not a natural soldier and found himself facing a reinvigorated Charles VII who returned to the fight when Suffolk failed to make good on his promise to return Maine. Optimistically Suffolk had been reducing his forces while Charles increased his military capabilities.

France Resurgent

Duke of Somerset in Rouen
Early in July 1449 Charles asked Philip whether he should wage war against the English; he did not wait for a reply before placing his four armies on the borders of lower Normandy. The invasion converged on the duchy from north, east and west. The eastern army found itself outside Rouen in October.

Holed up in Rouen, Somerset was helpless to fend off the French onslaught and was only saved by the arrival of John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury. Talbot’s presence was not sufficient to assuage the fears of the English living in the town and Somerset weakly asked the Archbishop of Rouen to negotiate a surrender. Charles VII rode into the city on 10th November 1449;

‘The king of France rode into his said city….to meet the king there came on horseback into the fields the archbishop of the said city, accompanied by many bishops, abbots and other churchmen.’[iv]

This aroused the fury of the folks back home when the news arrived in England. The war was still popular with the populace who felt little effect from its terrors.

Fortress at Caen 
It took seven months for Charles VII to take Caen where the Duke of Somerset was hiding out after fleeing Rouen[v]. This last English stronghold in Normandy held out as Suffolk lost favour with the English for his role in the loss of English holdings in France. Isabella returned to Brussels in the spring of 1450 to the news that Suffolk, enemy to all her hopes of an English alliance, had been arrested for treason.

Henry VI exiled Suffolk but he was picked up crossing the channel by one of the king’s ships and Suffolk was decapitated by the sailors[vi]. Queen Margaret was viewed as supporting French interests over the English who viewed her as partly responsible for the English defeats. On the other side of the channel, to bolster his own legitimacy as king[vii] Charles VII decided to resuscitate the reputation of Joan of Arc. The legality of her trial was questioned by Guillaume Bouille, one of Charles’ councillors  and head of the College of Beauvais.

Trouble was rife throughout Philip’s realm. Apart from the troubles in Ghent, Bruges was also a trouble spot as was Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Leiden. In 1451 revolt flared up in Besançon; taxes were not paid and citizens plotted to seize control of the city government.

Philip sent the Marshall of Burgundy Thibauld de Neuchâtel to negotiate with the town. When the negotiations failed Neuchâtel was attacked as he made a clandestine departure from the town. Philip authorised the use of force and Neuchâtel returned in October with 1,600 men. He found the town in the grip of the plague and the ringleaders of the plot were given up for execution.

During early 1450 Philip was embroiled in another financial dispute with the burghers of Ghent who had refused his demand for an increase in taxes[viii]. During this period many medieval towns were discontented with their rulers[ix] and Ghent was no exception. Burgundian hegemony had been won at the expense of thousands of Ghent dead in the previous century[x] and it was to remain a thorn in the side of all of the Burgundian dukes. Ghent was;

‘The most powerful town in the duke’s territories, extremely wealthy in all respects, incredibly large, and with an exceptionally numerous population[xi].’[xii]

Ghent was part of France and held from Charles and the city appealed to Charles for help staving off any revenge Philip took against the town for refusal of his demands. Charles was eager to involve himself in the Ghent debacle to undermine Philip and weaken his authority. .

Philip attempted to interfere with the annual elections in Ghent to place his own men on the town council. In this he failed. In January 1450, at a meeting of the three Estates of Flanders, attempting to negotiate Philip complained;

‘About the aggressions which the Ghenters have committed and are still committing against the duke and his government.’[xiii]

Ghent agreed to hold new elections. In August Philip moved from negotiation, legislating a change in the status of non-resident burgesses[xiv] making them subject to the rule of law.

A Turn of the Screw

The following year an attempt was made to seize power in the city on Philip’s behalf, organised by two of his secretaries, Pieter Baudins and Jooris de Bul. The coup failed and when Philip ordered the town to give up the three leaders of the rebellion his demand was refused on the grounds that it infringed Ghent’s civil liberties. The three finally appeared before Philip at Termonde on the promise of a pardon.

In the winter of 1451-2 the common people of the town rose up, revolting against the burgesses, Philip and his officials and anyone else who courted their disfavour by not agreeing to their demands. In October two of Philip’s supporters in Ghent were executed for their parts in the attempted coup of the previous summer.

A general strike was proclaimed when Philip withdrew his bailiff and other officials in protest against the executions. On 16th November the town chose a rechter ende justiciar to fill in for the bailiff until such time as Philip agreed to allow his return. The Justiciar

‘Will swear to look after your rights, prerogatives and privileges, to receive your fines and dues and keep account of them in good time, just as your bailiff has been doing.’[xv]

This did not suit the townspeople who chose their own representatives and overturned the civic constitution and elected government of Ghent, replacing it with rule by three hoofdmannen or captains.

Several of Philip’s partisans were executed in the market place. The new representatives of Ghent wrote to Charles VII, Bruges, Liège and Brussels for aid and support in their rebellion. The executions of opponents of the new rulers of Ghent continued as a lengthy dossier of misdeeds and peculations of the old rulers was drawn up.

The discovery that Philip had prohibited the supply of corn to Ghent and set up a blockade around the town, did not go down well with the townspeople. The appeals to other towns were extended to Termonde, Courtrai, Oudenaarde, Aalst and Ninove. Bruges refused assistance and only Tournai[xvi] offered support. Most of Flanders supported their duke.


The Hundred Years War – Alfred Burne, Folio Society 2005

The Reign of Henry VI – RA Griffiths, Sutton Publishing Ltd 1998

Europe: Hierarchy and Revolt 1320-1450 – George Holmes, Fontana 1984

The Fifteenth Century – EF Jacob, Oxford University Press 1997

Margaret of Anjou – Helen E Maurer, Boydell Press 2003

Isabel of Burgundy – Aline S Taylor, Madison Books 2001

Philip the Good – Richard Vaughan, Boydell Press 2014


[i] The Hundred Years War - Burne
[ii] After an arrest of trumped up charges laid by Suffolk – he was possibly murdered with a slow poison
[iii] Formerly Lieutenant of France 
[iv] Henry VI - Griffiths
[v] His handing over of Rouen to the French was a blow to the prestige of the Duke of York who was captain of Rouen and responsible for its safety; York and Somerset were never to see eye to eye again
[vi] Whose captain Henry Holland was the Duke of York’s son-in-law
[vii] His mother Isabeau had disavowed Charles’ claim to the throne of France in favour of her grandson Henry VI
[viii] Philip promised to abolish all other taxes in return for 24 Flemish groats on all sacks of salt sold in Flanders
[ix] There was a burgeoning middle-class of artisans and Guild members who opposed Philip’s desire to wipe out the gains proffered the townspeople of Ghent following the Battle of the Golden Spurs
[x] At the battle of Roosebeke in 1382
[xi] Circa 200,000
[xii] Philip the Good - Vaughan
[xiii] Ibid
[xiv] Who were almost immune from justice, as were resident burgesses as part of liberties granted in 1297
[xv] Philip the Good - Vaughan
[xvi] A French town

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