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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: September 2019

The Politics of Surrender: Treason, Trials and Recrimination in the 1370s


When was surrendering a castle an acceptable and honourable course of action? Was surrendering a castle ever an acceptable and honourable undertaking? These were questions which generated considerable debate in the course of the Hundred Years War, but never more intensely than in the 1370s, when the combination of a decline in English military fortunes and the absence of a fully functioning king dramatically intensified public concern over the loss of strategically important and prestigious fortresses. Our intention is to explore the political ramifications of surrendering, focussing initially on the trial in October 1377 of Jean de Jauche, lord of Gommegnies, and William Weston for the loss, respectively, of the castles of Ardres and Audruicq in the Calais Pale, before broadening our discussion to consider wider conceptual and normative contexts. We want to consider what drove the captains of castles to seek terms with their besiegers, how much licence these men were given by the crown unilaterally to negotiate in this way, why decisions taken ‘in the field’ became so highly charged politically, and how far the actions of these men accorded with contemporary views on the proper conduct of garrison commanders. The topic provides a suitable platform for the conjoining of our own respective research areas, but it also neatly dovetails with two of the central strands of Chris Given-Wilson's pioneering and hugely influential work on prisoners of war and the parliament rolls of late medieval England. It is an age-old truism that politics and warfare are two sides of the same coin and that each responds to, and influences, the course of the other: what happened in the 1370s brings into especially sharp focus the full extent of this symbiosis.

The surrender of Ardres and Audruicq

Perhaps because the parliament of October 1377 was notable in so many other ways – it was the first of Richard II's reign and marked a decisive shift in political climate following the turbulent last years of Edward III's rule – the detailed account of the trial of Jean de Jauche, lord of Gommegnies, and William Weston has never received detailed scrutiny. Ardres and Audruicq had been lost only a matter of weeks before parliament met.