Texts and Documents

Copyright, image use
and linking information

Contact information

Henry the Seventh by James Gairdner (pub. 1899)




So all the money spent and lives lost to preserve the independence of Britanny had been thrown away. The disappointment was undoubtedly severe both to the English people and to their king; nor was it greatly mitigated by the attitude or circumstances of those who should have shared the mortification along with them. For though Ferdinand and Isabella may have had their own unpleasant reflections on the event, even in the midst of their triumph at the conquest of Granada, which took place at that very time, they were still too much occupied in the south of Spain to care much about the north of France. While as for Maximilian, who had most to complain of, having been doubly, indeed trebly duped (for he had been cheated of a wife, and also of a duchy, by the very same act by which his daughter had been cheated of a husband), he too had far-off interests to defend which would make it diflicult for him to act with energy.

Henry, however, had not laid his plans so badly that serious loss could overwhelm all his calculations. From the first he had counted the cost of a possible breach with France, and had determined not to commit himself to it without reasonable security for his indemnification. Something of this we have seen already as regards the assistance he had given to Britanny. But if that had been all, he had now practically lost his securities; for Concarneau had been already wrested from the English before the annexation of Britanny, and it is clear there could have been no hope of defending Morlaix, though at what precise date and under what circumstances it was given up we do not find recorded. The utmost that could be done in Britanny now was to land men, ravage the country, and carry off booty -- a course which was actually pursued in the summer of 1491 both in Britanny and Normandy. As to securing a permanent position in the country there does not seem to have been a thought.

But we must not confine our view to the question between France and Britanny if we would understand the scope of Henry's policy. War was a thing that he himself would rather have avoided, and even where it made for his own interest and for that of England, he certainly did not wish to enter upon it without allies. We must, however, go back a few years to explain how he was led into the matter, and how he endeavoured to protect himself from loss.

Having secured his throne to some extent by his marriage with Elizabeth of York, the birth of his son, Prince Arthur, in September 1486 was an additional source of strength to him -- not merely because his children would unite the claims both of York and Lancaster, but because they would be a useful means of strengthening foreign alliances. And the young prince could hardly have been more than a twelvemonth old when a proposal was made by Henry to Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain for his marriage, as soon as he should reach a suitable age, to their infant daughter Katharine, who was just nine months older. The Spanish sovereigns, engaged in consolidating their power in the Peninsula as Henry was in strengthening his own position in England, considered that such an alliance might be for their mutual benefit, and sent a special envoy commissioned among other things to negotiate the match in concert with their resident ambassador, De Puebla. He arrived in London on the 1st of June, and had audience of the king along with De Puebla three days later, at which audience, as the latter informed Ferdinand, Henry opened his eyes wide with joy and broke into a Te deum laudamus when he found that they were armed with powers to conclude the alliance. Particulars were left to be discussed between the Spanish commissioners and others named by Henry, and after a good deal of conference a formal agreement for the marriage was drawn up on the 7th of July. This, however, was only a general statement of conditions as a basis for further negotiation; and an English embassy was to be despatched to Spain to make more complete arrangements.

The reason why the matter could not be fully concluded in England was that the Spanish ambassadors had been instructed to demand so high a price for the alliance that the English commissioners, however unwilling to break off, could not possibly agree to it. Henry was to bind himself never to aid the King of France in war, but to make war upon him whenever Ferdinand and Isabella did so, and never to make peace or truce with him till they did; in return for which engagement the Spanish sovereigns only promised not to make peace with France without including England. The disparity of conditions was obvious, but it seems to have been assumed as a matter of course that England had much more need of the help of Spain than Spain could have of that of England. Nor did the English commissioners dispute the assumption. They only pointed out that there was no reciprocity, and that it was very inexpedient, in any case, to put such terms into writing. Besides, the King of England had notoriously been indebted to the French king for most important favours, and it would not be honourable for him to insert a clause expressly aimed against France. The things Ferdinand and Isabella required Henry to do, said the English commissioners, might be justified when done far better than they could be when written as specific pledges. De Puebla was not satisfied with this Jesuitical answer; and the English, to content him, took a mass-book and swore before a crucifix that it was the will and intention of Henry first to conclude the alliance and the marriage, and afterwards to make war upon France at the bidding of Ferdinand and Isabella. Henry afterwards told the Spanish ambassadors he had been informed of the taking of this oath, and that he quite agreed to it. He seemed entirely the servant of the Spanish sovereigns, whose names he never mentioned without taking off his bonnet, with conventional courtesy, in the presence of their representatives.

This, it should bo mentioned, was at the time of Lord Woodville's unauthorised expedition to Britanny, when the feeling against France, even within his own kingdom, was such as Henry found it very difficult to control. But, as shown already, he had just extended the truce with that country to January 1490, and in the interval of eighteen months many things might occur; but he was not going to make war before that date, at all events, and not after it without a very clear understanding with the Spanish sovereigns. Such an understanding, however, he was himself very anxious to arrive at after the battle of St. Aubin and the death of the Duke of Britanny. Early in October he sent new proposals to Ferdinand touching France, and pressed for an immediate answer, and in December he sent Dr. Thomas Savage and Sir Richard Nanfan to Spain with full power to conclude both the political alliance and the marriage treaty. Meanwhile Ferdinand and Isabella had sent, in answer to the remonstrances of their own ambassador, some slight modifications of their original instructions, and of the terms on which they insisted as necessary to the treaty.

The great object of the Spanish sovereigns was to recover from France the counties of Roussillon and Cerdagne, a small patch of territory at the eastern end of the Pyrenees, which formed the key to Catalonia, and which had been mortgaged by Ferdinand's father to Louis XI. And it was hoped that Henry would enable them to achieve that object, as an alliance with the two powerful kingdoms of Castile and Arragon would strengthen his own weak position on the throne. Such an alliance, indeed, was sure to be popular in England, being quite in accordance with the traditions of national policy; and if it involved a breach with France it might not be the less popular on that account. So, as the possibility of the proposed marriage actually taking place was yet a long way off, the Spanish sovereigns resolved to see what price Henry was prepared to pay for it; and their first demand was, as we have seen, nothing less than that the resources of England should bo at their absolute control for the purpose of making war on France whenever they pleased to do so. They professed not to understand the objections raised to this in England, seeing that they only asked Henry to put in writing what he had actually declared to their ambassador in words; but to give a greater appearance of reciprocity, they would consent to Henry binding himself to make war at the request of Spain, as the Spanish sovereigns would at the request of England, neither party to make peace unless France should give up to England the duchies of Guienne and Normandy, or to Spain the counties of Roussillon and Cerdagne. In the former case Henry was to be free to make a separate peace, in the latter Ferdinand and Isabella. It is needless to say that the terms were utterly unequal, as France could be much more easily induced to give up a petty district in the Pyrenees than two such important provinces as Guienne and Normandy. Nor does it appear that Henry ever authorised his ambassadors to accept such terms. Yet when Dr. Savage and Sir Richard Nanfan reached the Spanish Court at Medina del Campo in March 1489, it was actually embodied in a treaty between the two countries. Care was taken, indeed, that the obligations which it imposed upon Henry should be only conditional; for, first, his existing truce with France was to be respected till January 1490; and secondly, at the expiration of that truce (unless England found herself immediately involved in war), either party should be at liberty to conclude a new truce with France, including the other in it. So that in fact it was England, not Spain, that thus held the key of the position; for if England found herself at war in January 1490, Spain was bound to aid her, at least till Roussillon and Cerdagne were restored; but if England was not at war at that date, either she or Spain could conclude a new truce provided the other party were included.

Still the state of matters, in view of actual war breaking out, was not favourable to England; for the French king, if at all hard pressed, could easily give up Roussillon and Cerdagne to Spain and so dissolve the alliance. But though the treaty was ratified by Ferdinand and Isabella at Medina del Campo, it had still to be ratified by Henry, and until that was done nothing was yet concluded. Meanwhile England was giving real assistance both to Britanny and to Maximilian against France without violating the existing truce; and things were going on so far well that Henry thought he might fairly ask for some new stipulations with regard to the marriage, which, however, were refused. Then came the treaty of Frankfort, which showed the weakness of Maximilian; and its acceptance by Britanny, which showed the weakness of the Duchess Anne. There was no need of Henry's ratification just then to bind Ferdinand to act along with him; for it was his clear interest to do so. And the treaty remained unratified by England till the 20th of September 1490, a year and a half after its ratification by the Spanish sovereigns at Medina, when the situation had very considerably changed, and owing to the failure of Chieregato's attempts at mediation, England found herself actually at war with France -- or at least upon the brink of it, for a truce was presently made for the winter months -- and so was immediately entitled to call upon Ferdinand and Isabella for assistance. But when he did so he had other proposals to lay before the Spanish sovereigns at the same time.

Meanwhile he was carefully observing all his engagements, while arming for a not far distant struggle. Throughout the year 1489, while his original truce with France still lasted, he was continually impressing soldiers and seamen, not for aggressive purposes, but for defence of the duchy. So also during 1490 he sent out various commissions of array against invasion and for the defence of Calais, and on the 11th of September -- just when the peace negotiations of Chieregato had definitively failed -- he concluded, first, a treaty with Maximilian for the defence of Britanny and for mutual aid against the common enemy. This was followed by a secret compact between them, dated one day later, by which each bound himself to declare open hostility to France and to make actual war upon it at his own expense within the next three years, with a proviso that Ferdinand and Isabella should be included in these arrangements if they chose. Thus a foundation was laid for a larger and stronger alliance than that which previously existed between England and Spain alone, and proclamation was made immediately afterwards (on the 17th of September) of a league between the three powers -- England, Spain, and the King of the Romans -- for mutual defence against France. This undoubtedly gratified the war spirit in England, and Henry, when three days later he ratified the treaty of Medina del Campo, drew up and signed at the same time another treaty with Spain, for the purpose of including all the three allies under the same obligations.

Now this new treaty, which was conveyed to Spain along with the ratification of the other, was certainly more favourable to Henry as regards reciprocity; but it was a much more definite arrangement altogether, and one which could not reasonably be objected to by an ally who really intended to keep faith. It was arranged with Ferdinand and Isabella, just as it had been with Maximilian, that if France should invade the territory either of England, Spain, or Britanny, and if either Henry or Ferdinand should proclaim war against France in consequence, and engage in actual hostilities, the other should be bound, a year after being requested so to do, to invade France at his own expense. It was further stipulated that, as the French king had actually usurped territories belonging to Spain, England, and Britanny, the English and Spanish sovereigns should declare war against him within three years, and invade France personally, with armies sufficient to reconquer the territories taken from them; that they should carry on the war without interruption for two years, and that neither should discontinue it within that time without the consent of the other; unless not only Spain should recover Roussillon and Cerdagne, but England also should regain Normandy and Guienne. Thus England would no longer be bound to fight merely for the benefit of Ferdinand and Isabella, only to be left in the lurch as soon as they had recovered Roussillon and Cerdagne. If the alliance against France was to be effective, Henry naturally asked that it should be cordial and reciprocal.

But would Ferdinand and Isabella accept this new treaty when they had already got Henry committed to one more to their advantage? That remained to be seen. The document was at least a test of their sin cerity, as to which Henry may well have had misgivings. No separate peace could be made by either party if this new treaty was accepted. But Ferdinand, as a matter of fact, had been making some efforts to arrive at a separate peace already. Secret messengers had passed between the two Courts with proposals for an arrangement involving the abandonment of Britanny if Charles would marry Joanna, second daughter of the Spanish sovereigns. But a peace between France and England Ferainand sought by all means to oppose, and when Chieregato was endeavouring to negotiate it he urged his ambassador at Rome to get the Pope to recall the nuncio's colleague, Flores, and to persuade his Holiness that mediation between France and Spain was much more important than between France and England, for peace between the latter two powers would immediately follow if France and Spain were reconciled. Henry perhaps did not know the full extent of Ferdinand's double-dealing. But he knew that the Spanish ambassadors in Britanny were at that very moment ostensibly disobeying the instructions they had received, and had just asked him to excuse them to their own sovereigns, for reasons with which he professed to be satisfied, for withdrawing the Spanish forces from the duchy. They would not be wanted, the ambassadors urged, during the winter, as a truce had been agreed to, but they would be sent back in spring.

It is needless to say that the new treaty was not accepted by Spain; and for a thousand plausible reasonsbthe troops were not sent back. Before the return of spring Nantes had fallen. The Spanish sovereigns were very sorry, and intended to redress the wrong. They professed to regard the affair as their own, but still they had no means of immediate action, and must trust to Henry and Maximilian, who were nearer at hand. They were most urgent that Henry should pour fresh troops into the duchy and make war upon France with all his power; and as soon as they themselves had secured their conquests in Granada they would do their utmost to assist. Henry must have seen pretty clearly how little help he was likely to get from Spain; but he was already involved in the responsibilities of war, and was busy still with commissions of array, raising men to repel invasion, which was expected all through the spring, and impressing sailors for a fleet to fight the king's enemies at sea. In May he received an application from Maximilian and Anne, as King and Queen of the Romans, asking aid against the French and promising repayment of expenses. In July, having apparently obtained the sanction of a Great Council to a step which was, strictly speaking, illegal, he appointed commissioners through out the country for a "benevolence" towards the war. In October he called Parliament together, and declaring to them his intention of invading France in person, obtained further a grant of two-fifteenths and tenths to furnish the expedition properly. And having so far prepared for the struggle, he next month made another effort to fix Ferdinand to some precise terms of co-opera tion. On the 22d of November he drew up two new treaties with Spain, the one binding both parties formally to declare war against France before the 15th of April following, and to begin actual hostilities by the 15th of June at latest; the other binding Ferdinand and Isabella to send their daughter Katharine to England as soon as Prince Arthur should complete his fourteenth year, and to pay the stipulated dowry of 200,000 crowns for her. Thus war and matrimony were wont to go hand in hand, the one a pledge for the other.

Matrimony, however, had the advantage of war as regards France; for exactly a fortnight after this treaty was drawn up the Duchess Anne was married to Charles VIII., and the independence of Britanny was gone past recovery. Past all recovery -- that, at least, was plain; and however little men might relish the fact, one great cause for the war had already disappeared. True, the injury might be avenged; but what prince was prepared to do so? Not Ferdinand and Isabella, who made no haste to sign the new treaty, or even to fulfil the old; for they were still busy with the Moors in Granada. Not even Maximilian, the most deeply injured of all; for though he had by this time succeeded in the east of Europe and secured his right to the archduchy of Austria, he was still crippled in his resources. Austria was exhausted, and could yield him nothing; the Low Countries were not even yet obedient to him. Henry alone was prepared, and intended to fulfil his engagements. He, however, gave both Ferdinand and Maximilian every opportunity of doing so, and delayed his own expedition against France as long as he safely could to enable them to co-operate. At last, when the best part of the year 1492 had already passed, he issued proclamations on the 2d of August for every one able to serve in war to be ready at an hour's warning. Later in the month, to assist Maximilian as well as himself, he sent a fleet under Sir Edward Poynings to besiege Sluys in concert with troops by land brought by Albert, Duke of Saxony, and their operations were so effectual that in about a couple of months the town with its two castles surrendered, the former to the Duke of Saxony, the latter to Sir Edward Poynings.

Even the siege of this town, quite apart from its surrender, did much to assist the war against France; for Sluys was not only the heart of the rebellion against Maximilian's authority, but was also a nest of pirates checking the approaches to Antwerp, and indeed to the whole of Brabant and the Low Countries generally. The siege was still going on in September when the king, having collected a large army in London, marched towards the sea-side. It is said he received letters from France offering terms when on his way to Sandwich, but of this of course no one then knew. He crossed to aalais on the 6th of October -- no doubt to the great astonishment of many, that he would begin an invasion so very late in the year. Here ambassadors that he had sent to Maximilian returned from Flanders with the unpleasant information (we may be sure not unexpected by the king) that the King of the Romans was quite unprepared to join in an expedition against France. His will was good, but neither Austria nor Flanders provided him with the means of action, and he must leavc Henry to effect what he could by himself. Rumours too could not fail to arrive that Ferdinand and Isabella, instead of being faithful to England, were at that very moment once more negotiating a separate peace with France, and would have closed the bargain if Charles would have consented readily to grant them what they had so much desired. Still the army was not disheartened, and presently sat down before Boulogne.

The town was well fortified, and could hardly have been taken without much bloodshed. For some time the English battered the walls, and in the course of their operations they lost one brave captain, Sir John Savage. But before matters had gone very far, proposals for peace, which the Sieur d'Esquerdes had been authorised to make, were laid before the captains of the English army; who, considering the terms, the time of year, the difficulty of victualling the forces in winter, and the hope lessness of getting aid from any ally, advised the king to accept them. Charles, in fact, agreed to pay the whole debt, which was to have fallen on Maximilian, amounting to 620,000 crowns, due to the king from Anne of Britanny for his assistance in the defence of the duchy, and two years' arrears of the pension promised by Louis XI. to Edward IV. at the peace of Amiens, -- altogether 745,000 crowns, which he engaged to discharge at the rate of 50,000 francs a year.[1] The terms were accepted, and a treaty was accordingly signed at Etaples on the 3d of November which was confirmed by Charles three days later. The English army then withdrew to Calais, and soon after returned to England.

The peace was evidently made upon the model of the peace of Amiens. Charles VIII. only followed the policy of his father in buying off English aggression. For however hopeless, from an English statesman's point of view, might be the project of reconquering France, the landing of a foreign enemy would have stirred up internal commotions in a kingdom which it had been the chief aim, both of Louis and of Charles, to consolidate and strengthen. It would, moreover, have altogether frustrated a design on which aharles had already set his heart-the invasion of Italy. So he was glad, like his father, to buy a peace with England. He had not the same occasion to come immediately to terms with Ferdinand, who gained little by his separate negotiation with France until some time after the peace with England had been settled; but Charles at length agreed also to his demand for the restoration of Roussillon and Cerdagne.

Henry had strictly fulfilled his engagements to all foreign princes; but the peace was scarcely popular with his own subjects, who had been heavily taxed for what was not a war, nor even much of a campaign, merely to fill the king's coffers. Indeed some of the captains in the army had mortgaged their estates to supply him with money for the expedition, hoping that it would have been a great opportunity for themselves to "win their spurs." There could be no doubt, however, that it was for the best interests of England as well as of France that war between them should cease; and even against the will of his people Henry had secured their good.


[1] The franc of those days seems to have been an obsolete gold coin of the value of twenty silver sols, or about six shillings sterling. But in purchasing power it was probably equal to more than £3 of our present money, so that each yearly payment was equivalent to upwards of £150,000 nowadays. The crown, or ecu d'or, was worth generally between ten and eleven shillings sterling, and the whole indemnity must have been equivalent to three and a half or four millions of English money at the present day.