29 June – 5 July 1415 – Diplomacy with France


By Dan Spencer

This week witnessed a meeting between Henry V and a French embassy at Wolsevey palace in Winchester.

Central to Henry V’s pretext for war in 1415 was his claim of pursuing a just war against the French in support of his rights in France. In the parliament of November 1414, Henry had been advised to send an embassy to France. This was duly sent and arrived in Paris in February 1415, but although the French were prepared to make territorial concessions, the English delegates felt that they lacked the authority to accept the terms offered. Following the failure of the talks in March, the French prepared to send an embassy to England themselves. Henry, although his military preparations by then were well underway, was keen to be seen to be in favour of talks, so as to maintain the moral high ground. However Charles VI of France deliberately held off sending the embassy for as long as possible, so as to delay the invasion.

The French embassy finally met with Henry at Wolvesey palace in Winchester on 30 June.  These talks lasted for a week but both sides were unable to reach an acceptable compromise. They finally broke down with the Chancellor of England, Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester, demanding that the French concede the lands given to Edward III by the Treaty of Brétigny in 1360 (mostly in the south-west of France), as well as the lands formerly held by the Angevin kings of England (principally Normandy, Anjou, Maine and Touraine) or Henry would invade to claim his lands and the French crown. These demands were clearly unacceptable to the French delegates and they withdrew to France.

Wolvesey was an episcopal palace constructed in the twelfth century by Bishop William Giffard around 1100, with a second hall constructed by Henry de Blois in the 1130s. Wolvesey served as an important residence for the bishops of Winchester until the sixteenth century. After which it gradually fell into ruin, with much of the materials from the structure used to build a new palace in the 1680s (the latter of which serves as the residence of the current bishops of Winchester). In 1415, Henry and the French ambassadors stayed at Wolvesey palace rather than Winchester Castle, because the latter had been badly damaged by fire in the reign of Edward I and was not in a suitable enough state of repair for a royal visit.

This information came from Anne Curry, Agincourt: A New History (Stroud: Tempus, 2005) and Graham D. Keevill, Medieval Palaces:  An Archaeology (Stroud:  Tempus Publishing Ltd, 2000)

Photograph of Wolvesey Castle taken from Wikipedia, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license, photography by Mike Peel, www.mikepeel.net