PIERRE DE BRÉZÉ, SENESCHAL OF NORMANDY (C. 1408–1465)

June 29, 2009 0 Comments

A friend of Queen MARGARET OF ANJOU, Pierre de Brézé, seneschal of Normandy, fought for the Lancastrians in the northern campaigns of the early 1460s.

A vassal of Margaret's father, de Brézé became one of the chief ministers and military commanders of CHARLES VII, and took part in the negotiations that led to Margaret's marriage to HENRYVI in 1445. The queen's connections with de Brézé led to rumors that Margaret had instigated the seneschal's raid on Sandwich in August 1457 to help her win her power struggle with Richard PLANTAGENET, duke of York. This charge has been dismissed by modern historians, but Margaret did appeal to de Brézé for French naval assistance in 1460 to prevent York's ally, Richard NEVILLE, earl of Warwick, from returning to England from his base at CALAIS. After the Lancastrian defeat at the Battle of TOWTON in March 1461, Charles VII allowed de Brézé, who had been advocating French support for the house of LANCASTER since 1459, to assemble a fleet and attack the English Channel Islands.

De Brézé seized Jersey in May, but the death of Charles VII in July ended the Seneschal's efforts on Margaret's behalf, for LOUIS XI, the new French king, stripped de Brézé of his offices and imprisoned him in Loches Castle. Never on good terms with his father, Louis distrusted de Brézé for his past loyalty to Charles. In April 1462, Margaret secured de Brézé's release as part of the Franco-Lancastrian CHINON AGREEMENT, whereby Louis lent money to the queen in return for her surrender of Calais. Although Louis's enthusiasm for the alliance faded when the Burgundians denied him access to Calais, he allowed de Brézé to accompany Margaret and her son Prince EDWARD OF LANCASTER to SCOTLAND in October. Commanding 800 French troops in his own pay, the seneschal and the Lancastrian royal family landed near BAMBURGH CASTLE in Northumberland on 25 October. Although Bamburgh and the neighboring castles of ALNWICK and DUNSTANBURGH quickly submitted to Henry VI, Margaret and de Brézé, believing themselves too weak to face the army EDWARD IV was bringing against them, retreated to Scotland in November. The royal family and de Brézé arrived safely in BERWICK only after a local fisherman rescued them from their foundering vessel. De Brézé's troops were less fortunate, being forced ashore on Lindisfarne, where most were killed or captured by the local inhabitants.

In January 1463, de Brézé and the Scottish earl of Angus led a mainly Scots force that surprised Warwick as he besieged the Lancastrian garrison in Alnwick Castle. Perhaps unwilling to give battle because of the low morale of his troops, Warwick allowed the garrison to withdraw into Scotland with de Brézé's army. In June, de Brézé returned to England as part of a Scottish invasion force that included not only Henry VI and Queen Margaret, but also JAMES III of Scotland and his mother MARY OF GUELDRES. The invaders besieged Norham Castle until surprised by a Yorkist force under Warwick and his brother John NEVILLE, Lord Montagu. The Scots army disintegrated in panic, and de Brézé, Margaret, and Prince Edward escaped to Berwick, while Henry VI fled into Scotland. In early August, de Brézé accompanied Margaret and the prince to FRANCE. Restored to his offices in 1464, de Brézé was killed while leading Louis XI's forces against the Burgundians at the Battle of Montlhéry in July 1465.

Further Reading: Haigh, Philip A., The Military Campaigns of the Wars of the Roses (Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Sutton Publishing, 1995); Kendall, Paul Murray, Louis XI (New York:W.W. Norton, 1971);Vale,M.G.A., Charles VII (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974).

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