Joan of Arc
Or rather, God. Before her arrival on the scene, it had appeared to English and French alike that God was on England's side. Her contribution to the lifting of the siege of Orleans gave some hope to the Dauphinist cause, and for a while, a belief that God was on their side. The emphatic victory at Patay and the coronation of Charles VII further enhanced this view. Desmond Seward wrote that:
It is impossible to know whether Joan's inspiration was restricted to a
small circle of court soldiers or if - as today's social romantics
would like to think - she spoke to the rank and file as one peasant to
another. What is undeniable is that for a few months many Frenchmen
thought they were fighting a holy war, and the English went in terror
of the Maid and her sorceries.
The coronation of Charles VII, as we must now call him, did wonders for
Dauphinist morale; according to Monstrelet, a Burgundian: 'The French
believed that God was against the English.'
While she raised French spirits and that in turn slowed the English advance, she didn't immediately turn fortunes towards the French. After her capture and execution in 1431, many of the gains made in her time were reversed, allowing Henry VI to be crowned at Paris.
The power struggle between the Burgundians and Armagnacs had weakened France internally for much of the early 15th century. Their rivalry was what allowed Henry V to make sweeping gains on his second campaign. Burgundy was also important to England in terms of the military support that it could provide. A number of things tested the alliance over the years. Anne, sister of the Duke of Burgundy and wife of the English regent Duke of Bedford, played a major role in holding the alliance together through her relationships with its two leading men, so her death in 1432 was a blow to the alliance, further aggravated by Bedford's subsequent remarriage, which riled Burgundy both for its speed and because he had not been consulted given the new wife was his vassal. Also, as with any ally, Burgundy expected to be paid for his deeds and he wrote to complain after the failed siege of Compiègne when his payments had been two months in arrears and he had had to bear the cost of his artillery when English payments had not been forthcoming.
Over time, Burgundy edged away from England and towards a reconciliation with Charles VII. In 1431, he announced a 6 year truce. In 1435, around the time of Bedford's death, he made peace with Charles VII in the Treaty of Arras. Losing Burgundian manpower and freeing up French forces previously arrayed against Burgundy made the task of the English significantly more difficult. They had also owed much of their support in some of their occupied territory to Burgundian influence and once Burgundy switched allegiances, the people of these regions did too. In 1436, Paris, under Burgundian influence, opened its gates to the troops of Charles VII.
According to Seward, areas controlled by the Armagnacs could command three to five times the amount in taxation as English-occupied France, though it wasn't effectively marshalled due to lax collection and embezzlement. The essential difference was due to the different levels of devastation in these areas. The people of England were also beginning to tire of the war that they were continually being asked to fund and economic circumstances also led to a decrease in tax revenue. In 1433, Bedford's investigation of the finances showed an overall debt amounting to almost 3 years worth of revenue. In spite of his success and popularity, he was unable to procure extra taxes. Seward wrote that:
The agricultural depression and a decline in overseas trade had lessened
the yield from taxation, and diminished revenues were a far greater threat
to the Lancastrian dual monarchy than any Joan of Arc.
As a result, England struggle to pay its men and its allies. Some soldiers returned home early, leaving important strongholds understaffed. Others turned to brigandage, diminishing local support for the English cause. The shortage of money also meant that it was difficult to fund armies to recapture places lost to the French. Also, since Cardinal Beaufort was both a significant political player and a primary source of funding for campaigns, it meant that funding was sometimes given to causes that were more political than military in nature. This was why in 1443, Beaufort's nephew the Earl of Somerset was allowed to embark on an indulgent and futile expedition independent of the Lieutenant-General Duke of York's command and against his advice that the money could be better spent.
While there had been popular local support for the English while they were steamrolling the French, that gradually dissipated due to a combination of factors. One was the gradual withdrawal of Burgundian support. Weather problems led to a greatly reduced crop yield and food shortages, exacerbated by Armagnac raids that prevented supplies from being delivered, thus leaving many unhappy with their English rulers. Many in Paris were also upset with the parsimony of Henry VI's coronation. English deserters took to brigandage as they were left unpaid by their army. Some, such as Richard Venables, banded together with other deserters, setting themselves up in fortresses and terrorising neighbouring villages. The loss of popular support was significant in that it made towns and cities difficult to hold. A Norman revolt in 1436 threatened the security of Rouen and ultimately had to be put down by force. Paris itself was to fall when the citizens changed sides.
England held the ascendancy for a long time in France because it had two very capable leaders in Henry V and the Duke of Bedford at a time when France was wracked by internal strife. But a successful occupation required a lot of factors to continue in their favour. Whatever England's successes on the battlefield, the Burgundian alliance, French disunity and particularly the English financial situation could not have been expected to hold forever.
- The Hundred Years War, Desmond Seward
- Conquest, Juliet Barker