The Treaty of Troyes

From the blog of the National Archives (UK) (which will always be the Public Record Office to me!) (hat tip: Deb Salata):

21 May 2020 marks the 600th anniversary of the Treaty of Troyes, a peace treaty which sought to unite the crowns of England and France under one king – Henry V – and his heirs, and end the Hundred Years War….

That stalemate was shattered by outbreak of war after King Henry V (1413-22) came to the English throne. Henry V’s seismic victory at Agincourt in 1415 opened the way for a new occupation of Normandy, the establishment of garrisons and the more affirmative exercise of a claim to the French throne. It put the English king firmly in the ascendant.

In France, the assassination of the Duke of Burgundy in 1418 had left the way open for a truce and an end to the war. The new duke, Phillip the Good, and the French queen, Isabeau, were willing to form an alliance with England in order to end the ongoing war, and to secure a strong presence on the French throne.

It was agreed that Phillip, Isabeau (acting on behalf of the king, Charles VI, who was often incapacitated with bouts of mental illness) would meet with Henry V at Troyes in May 1420 – with limited numbers of men on either side – to seal a peace treaty intended to unite the crowns of England and France in perpetuity.

The records for this agreement, as well as the muster rolls for the English expedition to Troyes, are held in our collections, and give details of the army who travelled to the proceedings.

By the terms of the treaty Henry would marry Charles’s daughter Catherine of Valois, and would inherit the French throne as heir after the French king’s death.

This was not to be a full integration of the two kingdoms – the institutions of each kingdom, and issues such as taxation remained separate – rather a dual monarchy: one king with two crowns. In the meantime, Henry was to act as regent, but not to name himself as King of France, while Charles VI’s son (also Charles), the Dauphin, was also disinherited for his ‘great and shocking crimes and misdeeds’.

Many years ago I used this document as the starting point of my master’s thesis. It is important to remember that, as impressive as Henry V’s generalship was, the treaty would not have been possible without the support of the duke of Burgundy – whose repudiation of it at the Congress of Arras in 1436 (the closing point of my thesis) heralded the end of English ambitions in France. 

It also calls to mind Act 5, Scene 2 of Shakespeare’s Henry V, in which Henry attempts to woo Katherine across a language barrier:

KING HENRY V: O fair Katharine, if you will love me soundly with your French heart, I will be glad to hear you confess it brokenly with your English tongue. Do you like me, Kate

KATHARINE: Pardonnez-moi, I cannot tell vat is ‘like me.’

KING HENRY V: An angel is like you, Kate, and you are like an angel.

KATHARINE: Que dit-il? que je suis semblable a les anges?

ALICE: Oui, vraiment, sauf votre grace, ainsi dit-il.

KING HENRY V: I said so, dear Katharine; and I must not blush to affirm it.

And so on.

I admit to being of two minds about the history plays. I’m glad that the fifteenth century got some attention from the greatest playwright in the English language, but his great influence means that it takes continuous effort to realize that the plays are more about (fictionalized) characters than actual people or historical events. 

Still, I have enjoyed reading Henry VI, Part 1 and Richard III live on Zoom with fellow Shakespeare enthusiasts during this time of lockdown. This was the idea of Sasha Volokh of Emory Law School and I thank him for organizing it. 

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