by Guilhem Pépin
The Leverhulme-funded stage of the Gascon Rolls takes its point of departure as the treaty of Brétigny of 8 May 1360. We are pleased to launch the new site to commemorate this anniversary. But what was this treaty all about, and what did it mean for the Gascon rolls?
Towards the treaty.
When the representatives of the regent of France (the future Charles V) and those of King Edward III of England signed a peace treaty at the tiny hamlet of Brétigny near Chartres, hopes of the populations were high that the war of twenty three years between France and England was finally over. The Valois French monarchy had suffered a major blow with the capture of King John II by the Black Prince’s army at the battle of Poitiers (19 September 1356) and had had to deal with great upheavals like the Jacquerie of 1358 and the attempt of control of the monarchy by the provost of the merchants of Paris Étienne Marcel (1357-8). That is without mentioning the intrigues of the sly Charles II, king of Navarre! Edward III seriously hoped to use the discredit suffered by the French nobility following their defeat at Poitiers (see “The Complaint on the battle of Poitiers”) in order to make himself king of France.(http://sourcesmedievales.unblog.fr/2008/04/08/complainte-sur-la-bataille-de-poitiers-ca-1356/)
The authority of John II was particularly weakened as his son Charles, regent in his absence, and the French Estates General had refused the peace treaty of Windsor (1357) and the two treaties of London (1358 and 1359) which the French king had signed he signed as a prisoner in England with Edward III. The second treaty of London had been outrageous for the French: half of France was to be given in full sovereignty to Edward III in exchange for his renunciation to the French throne and a ransom of four million gold crowns to free King John.
Obtaining nothing from these diplomatic overtures, Edward III decided to attempt to seize the throne of France (which he had first claimed in 1340). A large military expedition was set up and sent to France via Calais (1359). Its purpose was to seize Reims, the coronation city of the kings of France, in order to legitimate Edward’s claims. But the English army did not bring any siege engines and Reims fiercely resisted any English attacks. Lacking supplies, Edward III’s army was forced to leave Reims and went to Burgundy, then to the region of Chartres where his troops were struck by hailstorms and several men-at-arms and horses lost their lives (‘Black Monday’, 14 April 1360). Faced with the regent’s scorched earth strategy – a strategy Charles V would re-use from 1369 onwards –, exhausted by an inconclusive expedition and tired of this long period of war, Edward III accepted French proposals to reopen negotiations at Brétigny. Things went quickly as the treaty of Windsor and the first treaty of London could be used as the basis for a settlement.
The treaty of Brétigny
On 8 May 1360, a peace treaty was finally signed. Edward III gave up his claims to the French throne in exchange of the county of Ponthieu, Calais and an enlarged Aquitaine in full sovereignty. He also accepted a reduced ransom of three million gold crowns, one million having to be paid before the effective liberation of King John.
Despite the failure of his expedition and his inability to remove the Valois from the throne of France, this treaty was a success for Edward. Not one of his predecessors had succeeded to obtain so favourable terms since 1203-4. Edward obtained an Aquitaine which was as large as Eleanor of Aquitaine’s duchy had been. He also had full sovereignty over it, something which the lawyers of the kings of England had claimed for Gascony since 1298. The treaty was ratified at Calais (24 October 1360) where a separate clause was added specifying the conditions of the mutual renunciations – Edward of the French crown and John of French sovereignty over Aquitaine. These renunciations were determined by the delivery of the promised territories to Edward III and the removing of ‘English’ routier garrisons from northern France. This was not an easy task and mutual distrust prevented these renunciations. In 1361 and 1362 all the territories of the new greater Aquitaine were delivered to John Chandos, then lieutenant in France and Aquitaine. Thereafter, Edward III created this enlarged Aquitaine into a principality (19 July 1362) for his elder son, Edward of Woodstock, ‘the Black Prince’.
The impact of the treaty on the Gascon rolls 1362-72
The main change for the Gascon rolls concerns their length and content during the principality of Aquitaine (1362-1372). Very few things were recorded in the rolls during these years as Aquitaine was de facto independant from England. Autonomous institutions were created during the principality. The main content of the rolls in the 1360s were letters of protection for soldiers and others going out to the principality.
The failure of the treaty
At the time, nobody really bothered about the renunciations as Edward III and he and his son acted for several years in Aquitaine, Ponthieu and Calais without any real interference from Charles V, the new king of France. But Edward III committed a great mistake in not obtaining the renunciations. As king, Charles V used this pretext to recover the territories lost in the treaties of Brétigny-Calais after two Gascon magnates – the count of Armagnac and the lord of Albret – petitioned the French king about the high taxation which the Black Prince had levied to fund his Spanish campaign of 1367. Shocked by the French initiative, Edward III reasserted his French claims in 1369 and the war started again. The French recovered much of what they had lost although a residual Anglo-Gascon duchy of Aquitaine survived around Bordeaux and Bayonne, and Calais was retained by the English. In 1372 Edward III recalled the Black Prince to England: his principality had ended in failure.
The treaty of Brétigny-Calais (which was often called ‘the Great Peace’) remained the reference point for a future peace with France until Henry V’s accession to the English throne. The focus of English claims then shifted from Aquitaine to northern France and, as we know, the Lancastrian attempt to seize the French throne was almost successful since Henry V became heir to the Valois by the treaty of Troyes of May 1420.
We can conclude that the rupture of the treaty of Brétigny-Calais by Charles V in 1369 perpetuated the Anglo-French war for eighty four years, until the loss of Gascony in 1453.
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The Gascon rolls after 1372
Autonomous insitutions set up during the principality continued. As the duchy of Aquitaine was seriously reduced in size as a result of the losses of 1369-72, the level of business conducted in Westminster diminished further. On average, the rolls are much shorter than in the reign of Edward II or the reign of Edward III before 1362. But they remain of great interest for Anglo-Gascon affairs and for life in what was left of the duchy.