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The Congress of Arras

A. Compton Reeves describes the events of 1435, the year when the rule of the house of Lancaster began to decline in England as well as France.

The failure of a monarchy raises many questions: the historian must ask not only why, but also when, and failure is a process that is accomplished through time. In seeking the ‘when’ of the collapse of Lancastrian rule, the beginning of the decline as well as the end of the process is needed. That the reign of Henry VI saw the collapse of the house of Lancaster in England is without dispute, but to equate the end of his reign with the date of the failure means little.

Henry did not come to an impregnable throne, but a generous standard might credit any King with a successful reign who passed his crown with powers unimpaired to his son, and Henry, unlike his grandfather and father, lost his crown before he lost his son. Consequently, one looks to the years from 1422 until 1461 that mark the negligent governance of Henry VI for the episode when Lancastrian rule began to founder.

Many currents flow through those four decades, and it is interesting to try to discover the point at which affairs seemed to turn toward the end, rather than the survival of Lancaster. It happens that within the year 1435 several events took place that deeply affected the standing of Lancastrian rule.

The year 1435 falls late in the minority of Henry VI, with sovereign power exercised by the Council together with the King’s two uncles: John, Duke of Bedford, and Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. The French war remained active and involved a financial drain as well as a need for the careful maintenance of the Anglo-Burgundian alliance against France. The matter of Burgundy loomed large throughout 1435, and the Anglo-Burgundian alliance was under strain before the opening of the year.

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