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Anne Curry: Brexit and the Treaty of Troyes

  • 21 December 2016
  • From the section World
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King Henry and Catherine Image copyright Hulton Archive
Image caption King Henry V proposes marriage to Catherine of Valois to cement the Treaty of Troyes

2016 has been a momentous year. The UK's vote to leave the European Union and the election of Donald Trump confounded expectations, while the wars in Syria and Yemen caused more bloodshed. BBC Radio 4's Today programme asked top historians which year in history 2016 most resembled. Anne Curry reflects on similarities between the Brexit referendum and 1420, when England sought reassurance it would never be ruled by France.

Image copyright Hulton Archive
Image caption King Henry V was King of England from 1413 to 1422

"I love France so well that I will not part with a village of it. I will have it all mine."

Henry V's words may be Shakespeare's invention but they sum up neatly the events of my chosen year.

Image copyright Hulton Archive
Image caption King Henry V weds Catherine of Valois in 1420, a union that was short-lived

On 21 May, in a treaty sealed in the city of Troyes, the kings of England were recognised by the French king, Charles VI, as the rightful inheritors of the throne of France.

Once Charles died, England and France would have the same king in perpetuity.

The treaty laid down that all divisions, hatreds and wars between the two realms and their peoples should cease, and be replaced by peace, affection, mutual agreement and stable friendship forever more.

Image copyright Hulton Archive
Image caption King Charles VI was also known as Charles the Mad

The history of Europe thenceforward would have surely been quite different had this treaty proved longer-lasting.

At first everything seemed to be in its favour.

The closeness of the kingdoms was reinforced by Henry's marriage to Charles's daughter, Katherine, a fortnight later.

Within 18 months she had done her queenly duty by giving birth at Windsor to a son.

Image copyright Hulton Archive
Image caption Henry VI was King of England from 1422 to 1461 and again from 1470 to 1471

In the meantime, and in accordance with the treaty, Henry V ruled France as regent for his father-in-law, gaining respect for his good government even from the French, but he died a few weeks before Charles in 1422, leaving the nine-month-old Henry VI as king of the double monarchy of England and France.

Even in 1420, however, there were doubts. By accepting Henry V as his heir, Charles had disinherited his own son.

Many French doubted that any ruler had the right to disrupt the natural succession.

Image copyright Hulton Archive
Image caption Henry VI holding Parliament

In England, MPs were not certain that the Treaty of Troyes was a good thing.

In December they asked for reassurance that England would never be subject to France. Not quite Brexit but close?

Prof Anne Curry is the dean of the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Southampton. She is a medieval historian with special interests in the Hundred Years War and, more specifically, Agincourt.

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