Of all that sturdy Island band
Who stern refused to flee;
Knights and squires thirty and ten,
Twenty score of stout yeoman,
There is returned but me.
- Percy Goddard Stone, St Aubin, 1908
In May 1488 a large army under the command of Sir Edward Woodville (c 1454-1488), the last Lord and Captain of the Isle of Wight, left the Island to fight for chivalry, honour and Brittany's independence. Only one boy came back.
The Woodville Family
Sir Edward Woodville's parents were Jacquetta of Luxembourg (1415-1472) and Sir Richard Woodville (1405-1469). Jacquetta was a member of the House of Luxembourg, an aristocratic dynasty so noble that it claimed descent from the water-witch and mermaid Melusine1. Her first husband, John of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Bedford (1389-1435), was the third son of King Henry IV (1367-1413). They married when she was 17 in 1433, and he died in 1435. An extremely wealthy widow, she then secretly married the Duke's chamberlain, Sir Richard Woodville. Despite being a man of relatively minor nobility, she used her influence to ensure he became appointed Baron Rivers.
Jacquetta and Richard had 15 children, one of whom was stillborn, her eldest son, Lewis (1438-1450), died in childhood but the other 13 lived into adulthood. Edward was the 12th child and youngest son. The eldest child, Elizabeth Woodville (1437-1492), secretly married King Edward IV in 1464, and ensured that the family received prominent positions in court. Edward's sisters, Anne, Jacquetta, Eleanor, Margaret, Martha, Mary and Catherine were all married to important influential people at court, while Edward's brothers Anthony, John, Lionel and Richard were given noble titles, with their father Sir Richard appointed the first Earl Rivers. Anthony was given the Lordship of the Isle of Wight (the last king of the Isle of Wight, Henry, had died in 1446) and became Lord Scales through marriage. This political manoeuvring to secure their newly elevated position created a lot of resentment from established noble families at court, especially from the Neville family led by Warwick 'The Kingmaker' (1428-1471).
This took place against the background of the Wars of the Roses, and in 1469 Warwick rebelled against King Edward, wishing to restore Henry VI (1421-1471) to the throne. Warwick executed Edward's father Sir Richard Woodville and Edward's brother, John. In order to survive in this anarchic period, the king's brother-in-law quickly learnt how to fight and lead an army.
Edward's First Brittany Campaign
Edward Woodville grew up as squire to his brother Anthony, 2nd Earl Rivers at the very heart of the House of York. It is believed that he accompanied Anthony and Edward IV to their exile to Burgundy in 1470, and that he played an active part in their successful campaign that restored Edward IV to the throne in 1471.
In 1472, Edward went with Anthony to Brittany, leading an army of 1,000 archers. Brittany was France's last Celtic region, with its own language and identity, and was located in a peninsula on France's northwest coast. Brittany, having been settled by British migrants in the years after the Roman Empire had collapsed, traditionally had strong historic ties with Britain. France, a smaller country than now, retained some independent self-ruling duchies. During the Hundred Years War, the duchies of both Burgundy and Brittany had been keen English allies2, including 'Lioness of Brittany' Jeanne de Clisson yet since the war ended in 1453, France under Louis IX was now free to expand her territory and concentrate on conquest. Regions previously held by Spain in the south of France had already fallen. The duchies of Berry, Brittany, Burgundy, Normandy and Orléans were under threat. In 1465 Brittany became a key part of an alliance to prevent French expansion, known as the League of the Public Weal.
In 1472, in part of the Franco-Burgundian Wars (1464-5, 1467-77), Charles the Bold of Burgundy (1433-1477) invaded France, following which Louis responded by attacking the Netherlands and Brittany. Duke François II (also known as Francis II) of Brittany (1433-1488) appealed to England for aid against the French invading army. With the aid of the fearsome English longbowmen led by the two Woodvilles, the French army was defeated and forced to withdraw. Edward IV intended to follow this success with a full invasion of France, but as his allies Brittany and Burgundy both signed peace treaties with France, in October and November 1472 respectively, he postponed this plan. In 1487, France signed the Treaty of Châteaubriant, guaranteeing Brittany's independence.
Sir Edward in the Reign of King Edward IV
Edward Woodville returned to England. Without these key allies, Edward IV negotiated a peace with France, the Treaty of Picquigny, in 1475. Sir Edward was rewarded for his service by being appointed Knight of the Bath. He undertook important diplomatic missions for the king, both to Scotland in 1478 and Burgundy in 1480, and was rewarded for his military skill with the lordship of Portchester Castle and the key naval town of Portsmouth and the royal ships based there.
In 1482 he was appointed knight-banneret and led 500 men on the English invasion of Scotland under Richard, Duke of Gloucester (1452-1485). The following year he was appointed to lead an army into France, but King Edward IV died unexpectedly on 9 April, 1483. His son, the young King Edward V (1470-1483?), was proclaimed the new king. Sir Edward attended his royal brother-in-law's funeral on 17 April.
Following King Edward IV's death, Edward was uncle to the young king, and described himself as uncle unto our said sovereign lord and great captain of his navy. While Edward was leading his royal ships against French pirates, capturing a sum of over £10,000 in the process, on 30 April Richard, Duke of Gloucester, seized the uncrowned King Edward V and his younger brother Richard, the 'Princes in the Tower' and claimed the throne himself. As relatives of Edward V, Richard considered the Woodville brothers a threat. Edward's brother Anthony was imprisoned and executed at Pontefract Castle on 25 June 1483. On his death, Anthony bequeathed the title Lord Scales and the Lordship of the Isle of Wight to Edward, although Richard refused this, outlawing Edward as a traitor. Richard was crowned King Richard III on 6 July.
While Richard was seizing power, only two of Edward's ships stayed loyal to Edward. He, along with 300 men, sailed to Brittany, where they joined with Duke François who granted him asylum. Richard then sent an ambassador named Dr Hutton to Brittany to open diplomatic relations and to
fele and understand the mynde and disposicion of the duc anempst Sir Edward Wodevile and his reteignue, practising by all meanes to him possible to enserche and knowe if ther be entended eny enterprise out of land upon any part of this realme.
While in Brittany Woodville became close to the exiled Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond (1457-1509), who spent time in both Brittany and France in order to raise an army to claim the throne from Richard. Sir Edward took part in the unsuccessful Buckingham's Rebellion against Richard III in October 1483. As uncle of the intended bride, Edward was a witness to the pledge that Henry Tudor took promising to marry Elizabeth of York (1466-1503) if he became king. Sir Edward took a key role in Henry Tudor's invasion of England and the Battle of Bosworth on 22 August 1485, at which Richard III was defeated.
On 16 September was rewarded with the Captaincy of the Isle of Wight and Carisbrooke Castle there, and had Portchester Castle restored to him. Carisbrooke was Woodville's Island residence for which he finished building the famous gatehouse begun by his brother. Edward began using the title Lord Scales at this time, although this was never officially granted to him.
Moor and More Wars
Sir Edward stayed in England long enough to attend Henry VII's coronation on 30 October 1485 and his wedding to Elizabeth of York on 18 January 1486, but then set sail to Granada in southern Spain. It is believed that he did this to redeem a vow he had taken, to go on a crusade, though this may also have been made with the intent to secure an alliance with Spain against France.
Accompanied by 300 men he fought in the Granada War against the Moors, playing a leading role at the capture of Loja on 14 May 1486. The two eye-witness accounts of this battle, Andrez Bernaldez, Chaplain of the Archbishop of Seville, and Italian historian Peter Martyr d'Angleria, reports that the Moors attacked in force from Loja to drive the Christian army from the walls, while Woodville dismounted and his men charged the approaching horde, armed with swords and battle-axes. This turned the battle in their favour, the Moors retreated back inside. Edward shortly received a head injury when he was hit in the face by a rock while scaling the city walls, losing six teeth. As a reward for his service in capturing Loja, he was granted twelve Andalusian horses, two per lost tooth, and two beds, by Ferdinand II of Aragon (1452-1516) and Isabella I of Castile (1451-1504). Edward returned to England in July, attending the baptism of Prince Arthur (1486-1502) in September.
In June 1487, Lambert Simnel's army invaded. Simnel claimed initially to be Richard, the younger of the Princes in the Tower, before claiming to be Edward Plantagenet, the son of George Duke of Clarence (1449-1478) who was brother of Edward IV and Richard III. Sir Edward led the light cavalry that was the first to engage the Yorkist pretender, charged with buying enough time for the main Tudor army to rally. By using tactics he had learnt and mastered in his Spanish expedition, he successfully slowed the enemy advance, allowing the royal force time in which to assemble before victory at the Battle of Stoke on 16 June. In recognition of this, on 27 April 1488 Sir Edward Woodville was elected to the Order of the Garter.
The Mad War
King Louis XI (1423-1483) had died and his thirteen-year-old son, Charles VIII (1470-1498), became king of France. As Charles was a child, his cousin Louis Duc d'Orléans (1462-1515), a member of the League of the Public Weal, and Charles' sister Anne of France (1461-1522), who favoured a French expansionist policy, clashed, both wishing to become Regent and rule in Charles' stead. Anne gained control and Louis fled to Brittany, where he was welcomed by his ally, François II. François had no male heir and was looking for a suitable match for his daughter, Anne of Brittany, that would keep Brittany independent. Anne of Brittany was the richest woman in Europe and had been betrothed to Edward V at the time of his disappearance.
Louis Duc d'Orléans had been forced by Louis XI to marry Louis XI's disabled and sterile daughter, and the Duc d'Orléans' cousin Joan3 (1464-1505), as an attempt to prevent his branch of the royal family from being a threat. At this time, the Duc d'Orléans applied to the Pope for an annulment of his marriage which, if granted, would enable him to marry Anne of Brittany.
In the conflict known as La Guerre folle, 'The Mad War', Anne of France prepared to invade Brittany and annexe the Breton kingdom. Since the last clash between the two, Brittany's key ally, Charles the Bold, had died in 1477 and much of Burgundy had fallen to French control in 1482. Brittany desperately needed allies, and anxiously sent ambassadors to the court of Henry VII asking for assistance. Brittany's situation was serious; Ploërmel and Vannes had fallen and Nantes was being besieged by French forces.
England Expects Every Man to Stay Neutral?
In England, Henry VII found himself in a predicament. It was true that England had long been an ally of Brittany, and public opinion was in favour of war on Brittany's behalf. Henry himself had been sheltered in Brittany when in exile, yet Henry had also stayed in exile in France and Charles VIII had allowed Henry to gather the army used to defeat Richard in Normandy. Henry therefore attempted to stay neutral, find a diplomatic solution and offered to act as an independent arbiter.
Sir Francis Bacon, in his History of Henry VII (1622) described this with the words,
Lord Woodville, uncle of the Queen, being a valiant gentleman desirous for honour, sought to obtain permission from the King to rally a small troop of volunteers, secretly however and without needing his explicit or verbal permission (so that the King need not seem implicated in the matter in any way) in order to go to the rescue of the Duke of Brittany. Henry VII denied his request, or at least least seemed so to do, and laid strit commandment upon him, that he should not stir, for that the King thought that his honour as King would suffer a severe blow if one could say of him that while being ostensibly at peace with France, he had notwithstanding secretly given his blessing to an expedition directed against her.
Edward Hall wrote this contemporary account, describing how Woodville
inflamed with ardent love and affeccion toward the duke of Britayne, desyred very earnestly of kynge Henry, yt if it were hys will and pleasure, that he with a convenient number of good men of warre woulde transport hymselfe into Briteine, for ye aide and defence of duke Fraunces, the kynges assured and proved frende. And lest it should sowe or kyndle any dissencio or ingratitude betwene the Frenche kyng and him, he sayde that he woulde steale prively over... But the kyng, which had a firme confidence, that peace should be made by the polletique provision and wyse invencion of hys elected ambassadours, woulde in nowise geve the brydle to hys hote, hasty and wilde desire, but streyghtly prohibited hym to attempte anye suche strategeme or enterprice, thinkynge that it stode not with hys honor to offende the Frenche kyng.
In the Wight Place at the Wight Time?
Henry went as far as to explicitly order that, on pain of death, no-one from England was to get involved in the war in Brittany. Woodville interpreted this proclamation as Henry giving him his blessing to go. After all, no-one from England was allowed to get involved, but Edward was Captain of the Isle of Wight. The Isle of Wight, not being physically connected to England, was therefore clearly exempt. Edward therefore began making preparations for war, and recruiting a large army.
In early May 1488, François sent two ambassadors, the Sire of Maupertuis and Guillaume Guillemot, to court to again meet with Henry and persuade him to come to Brittany's aid, but again he would not be persuaded. On their return journey they travelled via the Isle of Wight and arranged with Woodville to transport his army from the Island's then principal port, St Helens, on 20 May.
The exact size of Woodville's army is unknown for certain. Contemporary accounts disagree, with some accounts saying as small as 300, others as large as 800. Many historians feel that a figure of a minimum of 400 archers and yeoman with around thirty-sixty knights and squires is quite likely. At a time when the Island's population was roughly 5,000, for 500 or more men to leave their homes was a serious percentage. Some accounts suggest that the entire male population of the Island was summoned for the muster, with only the very strongest, toughest and most skilled chosen.
On 20 May, 1488, the troops sailed to St Malo in Brittany. A week later, on 27 May, King Henry learnt of the Isle of Wight's army's departure. Furious, he immediately wrote a letter to Charles VIII, hoping to minimise the political implications of Woodville's act. In this he attempted to downplay Woodville's actions, stating it was all because of the ambassadors and describing his army as being smaller and poorer equipped than was actually the case, consisting only of criminals. This letter states,
We have just at this hour been advised of the fact that the Brittany Ambassadors… made their way, therefore, to the Isle of Wight to meet Sir Edward Wydeville, Knight, known as Lord Scales, on which island he has made his residence, and where, for long years now, he has been Governor, by our royal appointment; and by the force of their wily manipulations, manoeuvres and exhortations, managed to persuade him, to the greatest of my displeasure, to go to Brittany with them; for this expedition Sir Edward mustered up to around three hundred men, mainly by granting them amnesties, as most had been guilty of offences and crimes over the years, with the result that most of these departed neither equipped nor dressed for war. Thus he gathered together those people on said isle, which is completely surrounded by the sea, so very secretly and hastily that we were not made aware of the fact until after their departure.
The extent to which Charles VIII believed that the king of England was unable to learn of the heavily armed departure of at least 10% of the very remote (being 'completely surrounded by the sea') Isle of Wight's population until a week later, is sadly unknown.
Meanwhile the army from the Isle of Wight arrived in Brittany's capital Rennes on 6 June, the only force in the area prepared to defend the town from French aggression. The rest of François' army had disbanded, returning to their homes, when a temporary month-long cease-fire had been agreed between Brittany and France on 1 June. The French army had withdrawn from Nantes, but spent the time during the cease-fire drilling, training and making preparations. It would not be until July that a large force would gather in Breton.
Henry's Change of Mind
In mid June, King Henry unexpectedly announced that he had changed his mind, and would indeed declare war on France and come to Brittany's aid after all. Hall describes this with the words,
The kyng of England well perceyved by the report of hys newly returned Oratoures, that the Frenche kynge wrought all hys feates by subtyll craft and cloked collusion, treatyng and mocionynge peace and concorde, when he desyred nothing so much as discorde and warre… Wherfore Kyng Henry… called his high courte of Parliament... for the aidying of the duke of Britayne. Then for the maintenaunce of the warres, divers summes of money were granted and geven... assone as the Parliament was ended, he caused mustres to be had in certayne places of hys realme, and souldioures mete for the warre to be put in a redynes.
…he sente divers notable Ambassadoures into Fraunce to certefye the Frenche kynge, that of late he hadde kepte a solempne Parliamente, in the whiche it was condiscended and agreed by the lordes temporall and spiritual, and knyghtes of counties, and magistrates of cities, and boroughes of his realme not onely consideryng the relief, comforte and aide that he had receyued at the dukes hande, bothe for the savegard of his lyfe, and for the recoveryng of hys enheritaunce and kyngdome, but also remembryng that Brytayne of auncient tyme was subject and vassal to the realme of Englande, which countrey also hath been frendly, and aiders to the English nacion when it was vexed, bothe with foreyne powers and domesticall sedicion, to aide, comforte and assist the Brytishe nacion with all their strength, might and abilite againste all their enemyes, frendly admonishyng hym that he should… desist from hys warre in Brytayne… assuryng hym in the woorde of a kynge, that hys armye should onely discende in the duchy of Brytayne, not to invade or make warre in the Frenche kynges realme or territoryes, but onely to defend the duchy of Britayne, and to profligate and expell all the intrudors and invasours of the French nacion, whiche injustly occupied and invaded…
Whiche message [Charles VIII] dissimuled as litle to regarde as the bytyng of a flee, as though the Englishmen in the battaile, whiche he knewe to be at hande, coulde do no enterprice (as it happened in dede) either necessaiy to be feared or worthy to be remembred. The cause of hys so saiyng was thys, he knowynge that hys army was puissaunt and stronge in Britayne, and that the Britaynes had but a few Englishmen with the lorde Woodvile, of whome he passed litle, and seyng that Englad had not yet sent any army thether for the duke's succour, judged surely that hys army woulde do some great exployte (as they did in dede) before either the duke shoulde be purveyed or any aide ministred.
Some historians have speculated that Henry's change of mind closely followed a key visit by Spanish ambassadors. The theory is that they may have brought a message that proposed to allow Prince Arthur to be betrothed to Catherine of Aragon on condition that Henry agreed to an alliance against France. While Henry began gathering his army, events over in Brittany were coming to a head. The fate of Brittany would be decided before his army was ready.
The Battle of Breton
By early July, Duke François had gathered an army of 7,000 Bretons, almost entirely feudal levies, as well as an alliance of 4,600 men from countries that would stand to lose if France conquered Brittany; forces from Austria4, Spain5, what is now modern-day Germany and the Isle of Wight. Command of this army was divided between eight generals.
- Marshal Jean IV Rieux, overall commander
- Louis Duc d'Orléans
- John IV of Chalon-Arlay, Prince of Orange
Nephew of Duke François
- Alan d'Albret
Also known as Alan 'The Great' of Albret he was the ruler of a large portion of France. His grandfather, Charles II of Albret had been a member of the League of the Public Weal.
- Viscount Léon
18-year-old son of Viscount Rohan and husband of Marie of Brittany, Duke François II' sister-in-law.
- Baron de Châteaubriant
- Pierre du Pont L'Abbé
- Sir Edward Woodville
As English longbowman continued to enjoy a fearsome reputation against the French, especially having defeated the French invasion of Brittany in 1472, Duke François dressed over a thousand of his own men in the Cross of St George to match the force from the Isle of Wight, to make it appear that his army included two thousand English longbowman.
to make the Frenchemen beleve that they had a great number of Englishmen (notwithstandynge there were but foure hundreth with the lorde Woodvile) they appareled a thousand and seven hundred Brytons in cotes with red crosses after the
The French force consisted of a professional army of over 15,000 men, including approximately 5,000 Swiss and Italian mercenaries, supported by state-of-the-art ordnance. This force was led by Louis de La Trémoïlle. Although the truce was not due to expire until 6 July 1488, La Trémoïlle was already prepared for action. On 17 June, La Trémoïlle marched his men first to Martigné-Ferchaud, arriving on 20 and his force had reached the key bridge of Etrelles by 26 June. On 6 July, when the truce expired, he was besieging Fougeres.
General Confusion: Too Many COs Spoil the Battle
When the army defending Brittany learnt that Fourgeres was being besieged, after a conference, the Commanding Officers decided to try to lift the siege. Heading north from Rennes to avoid the French stronghold at the castle of Saint-Aubin-du-Cormier, by the 24 July they learnt that Fougeres had fallen to the French forces. After a conference, the generals decided instead to attack the French at Saint-Aubin-du-Cormier.
The allies arrived in a blasted heath, named lande de recncontre (Heath of Meeting) outside Saint-Aubin-du-Cormier on Monday, 28 July. This heath had, on the western border, the Forest of Haute Seve, on the east the Onee stream and the Sillon de Bretagne hills to the north, while the French army under the command of La Trémoïlle came to intercept them from the north. La Trémoïlle was initially unaware that the Bretons were so close, and his army was spread out and vulnerable, marching in a line and unready for battle. An ambush at this point would almost certainly have removed the French threat, and so Edward Woodville and Marshal Rieux urged the allies to attack. A conference was quickly called, in which they pointed out that, what with their being a war on and them being the army gathered to defend Brittany, it might be considered a reasonably good idea to actually attack the enemy while they were defenceless. By the time the generals had agreed this amongst themselves, the French army had become aware of the Bretons' presence, arranged themselves in battle formation, moved their fearsome artillery into tactical positions and dug defensive trenches with which to defend their cannon.
When bothe the armyes were approchyng to the other, the ordinaunce shot so terribly and with suche a violence, that it sore dammaged and encombred bothe the parties. When the shot was finished, bothe the vantgardes joyned together with suche a force that it was marvell to beholde. The Englishmen shot so fast, that the Frechmen in the forward were fayne to recule to the battaile where their horsemen were. The rereward of the Frenchmen, seyng thys fyrst discofiture began to flye, but the Capitaynes retired their men together agayn, and the horsemin set fiercely on the Brytaines, and slewe the moost parte of the fotemen. When the forward of the Brytones perceaved that their horsemen nor the Almaines came not forward they provided for the selfes and fled, some here, and some there, where they thought to have refuge or succour. So that in conclusio the Frenchmen obteyned the victory, and slew all such as ware red crosses, supposyng them all to be Englishmen.
The battle began with an exchange of cannon fire. The Briton armies were divided into vanguard, centre and rear divisions. Woodville, his Isle of Wight army and Breton soldiers dressed as English longbowmen were placed in the vanguard, the honour of being placed at the heart of the battle where the English uniform, feared by the French, would cause the most psychological damage.
Both forces marched towards each other, shouting their war cries. The Bretons shouted for Saint Samson, the Swiss for Saint Lau and the Islanders for Saint George. After a powerful clash, Woodville's forces pushed the French attack back, spreading panic in the French lines. Woodville continued in his style of believing that a strong offence was the best defence, yet this was not a view shared by his fellow commanders. The German auxiliary troops under the command of Captain Beler that were tasked with supporting him hid to avoid the cannon fire. This opened a hole in the Breton army's formation.
The Neapolitan captain commanding the French force's elite armoured cavalry, Jacobo Galiota, led a tactically superb charge into the break in the Breton's formation, piercing the defenders' line, splintering off the Isle of Wight forces from the rest of the allies, and destroying the allies' artillery.
The Breton cavalry crucially hesitated and failed to counteract this charge. Soon the French infantry followed the cavalry in through the shattered gap, completely surrounding Sir Edward Woodville's Isle of Wight men. Attacked on all sides, the French began to slaughter every man dressed in the hated red cross of England, despising English archers so much they refused to allow any to live. It is reported that Sir Edward Woodville, being the King of England's uncle, was urged to surrender; the custom being that lords would be captured and ransomed after the battle. Yet Sir Edward Woodville refused, fighting on undaunted as long as he drew breath against a sea of impenetrable odds, defiant until the inevitable end6. The French cavalry then destroyed the left of the Breton line, and soon approximately seven thousand of the Breton army were dead, including the young 18-year-old Viscount Léon. Louis Duc d'Orléans and John IV of Chalon-Arlay, Prince of Orange, were captured. This was to the loss of approximately 1,500 French, including Captain Jacobo Galiota who had made their victory possible.
All but one of the force from the Isle of Wight were dead, having found themselves entirely surrounded by the enemy. The red cross of St George that they wore, intended to strike fear into the French, instead ensured they were the targets for savage slaughter. Only one of the approximately 500 men who left the Isle of Wight, a boy named Diccon Cheke, returned to tell the tale.
"And would ye know, ye wives of Wight
Of son and sire bereft.
They lie all stark neath St Albin's wall,
By that fell darkwood where the nightbirds call
And – I alone am left."
- Percy Goddard Stone, St Aubin, 1908
A visitor to the Isle of Wight in 1489 described the effect of the battle, which had decimated the Island's population, by saying the Island was now desolate and not inhabited but occupied with sheep and cattle.
Though the Mad War would last another three years, the outcome had been decided on the battlefield of Saint-Aubin-du-Cormier. Other key Brittany towns fell and when the French captured the port of Saint Malo, through which Sir Edward had arrived in Brittany, La Trémoïlle demanded that he be given the goods, ships, arms, horses and other things of the late Lord Scales. Later in August 1488 Duke François was forced to agree to the Treaty of Sablé. Under this treaty, François acknowledged himself a vassal of France, key towns were granted to French control, all foreign troops were to leave Brittany and Charles VIII of France would determine who Anne of Brittany and her younger sister would marry.
Two weeks after signing the treaty, Duke François was dead, having fallen off a horse. His daughter, Anne, rebelled against the Treaty of Sablé and married Maximillian of Austria by proxy, gaining the support of King Henry VII, whose forces finally arrived. Henry had sent a force of 6,000 longbowmen on the condition that Brittany pay their expenses. Yet after the French army marched in force to Rennes, Anne signed the Treaty of Laval in which she agreed that her unconsummated marriage to Maximillian was void and would marry Charles VIII of France in exchange for a promise of Breton autonomy. Although symbolically Brittany would be separate from France until 1532, in reality it had lost its independence. Henry VII's army, in the meantime, arrived and besieged Boulogne for a bit in 1491. When Henry VII discovered that Spain had entered an alliance with France, he agreed to be paid 745,000 crowns, receiving a pension of 50,000 crowns per year at the Treaty of Étaples in order to leave.
Charles VIII died at the age of 28 in 1498 after accidentally hitting his head on a door. Having no surviving sons, his cousin Louis Duc d'Orléans inherited. His first act as king was to request that the Pope annul his marriage and, that achieved, finally married Anne of Brittany and became both Duke of Brittany and King of France.
Sir Edward's Motives
What were Sir Edward's motives for fighting for Brittany? His sister Elizabeth had married a king. Some have speculated that perhaps the unmarried Edward believed he could emulate her success by marrying the wealthiest woman in Europe and thus gaining his own fiefdom. Yet instead of gaining a marriage bed he instead found a death bed.
Perhaps instead he sought adventure and glory, having grown bored with his peaceful life on the Isle of Wight. Those who feel that lasting honour and glory can be gained by war should consider this largely forgotten battle's moral. In 2000, the French government planned to turn the battle site into a tip. Although following opposition this plan was abandoned, it does demonstrate how much lasting glory is found in war.
Perhaps he simply felt honour-bound to come to the aid of Brittany, which had provided him with sanctuary in his hour of need, and do all he could for a friend. We will never know.
Sir Edward Woodville was the last Lord of the Isle of Wight. Following his death, the Isle of Wight, like the Channel Islands, had appointed Governors until 1974. The last Governor, Lord Louis Mountbatten, then became the Island's first Lord-Lieutenant.
Biographies about Sir Edward Woodville include the American Antiquarian Society's report Edward Woodville - Knight-Errant (1903) by Roger B Merriman, The Last Knight Errant: Sir Edward Woodville and the Age of Chivalry (2009) by Christopher Wilkins. A fictional account, Captain of the Wight (2012) has been written by Dorothy Davies.
The name of the battle site still exists as a road name, Lande de la Rencontre, to the west of Saint-Aubin-du-Cormier.
In 1988 a monument commemorating the 500th anniversary of the battle was emplaced on the battlefield where Sir Edward Woodville and his archers fell, although Sir Edward Woodville is incorrectly listed as 'Earl Talbot Scales'. A remembrance service is held there each year on the last Sunday in July.
In 2009 a memorial to Sir Edward Woodville was positioned in Carisbrooke Castle:
SIR EDWARD WOODVILLE
and the 440 gallant men of the Island
Who died at the Battle of St Aubin, July 28th 1488.
And to Diccon Cheke, sole survivor of the massacre,
who returned with the story.
Requiescat in Pace