‘Evils without numbers’
This phrase was used on 7th February 1415 by Martin Gourges, Bishop of Chartres and newly appointed Chancellor acting for the Dauphin of France. Gourges used the term in relation to the Burgundians. In January delegations from Burgundy and France had met to discuss peace. It had been a tense period, following hard on the heels of the assassination of the Duke of Orleans by men from the household of John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy.
Neither side particularly trusted the other. The Marshall of Burgundy had led an intimidatory force to the town of Lagnes, near Paris. In return, the Armagnac faction at the French court moved the meeting of the two delegations to Saint-Denis, a much safer location from a French perspective.
At the meeting, the delegation from Burgundy presented a list of demands. Most notably an amnesty for those who had been banished following the assassination of the Duke of Orleans.
The French deliberated in private for ten days, leaving the Burgundy contingent guessing at their response. It came not through the negotiating process, but from an ordinance issued by the French Royal Council.
The Armagnac dominated councils ordinance fell short of what Burgundy had asked for. It was based on an earlier truce, that had been agreed at Arras, but did not extend an amnesty to those who had been banished. Furthermore, those people were banned from passing within 20 miles of Paris for two years and could not hold a royal office unless directly appointed by the King of France.
The terms of the ordinance were revealed to the delegation from Burgundy on 7th February 1415. The justification for a firm stance by the French crown was the ‘evil without numbers’ caused by the followers of John the Fearless and agents of the Duchy of Burgundy.
The response from Burgundy was one of anger. Over the next few weeks, negotiations continued. This was undertaken by ambassadors from Burgundy who eventually, on 22nd February, reached terms that went way beyond concessions they had been granted permission to accept.
The timing of these talks was significant for other reasons. An English embassy was in France to negotiate an extension of the Anglo-French truce. This delegation arrived after Parliament had granted Henry V taxes for the purpose of undertaking a campaign in Normandy. England’s demands were clear: relinquish Normandy. With the threat of an English invasion, resumption of war with Burgundy and of facing an Anglo-Burgundian alliance, the French needed to be very successful in their diplomatic efforts.
In the short term, France succeeded in her talks with both Burgundy and England. Burgundy had accepted the French ordinance, the English had accepted the proposal of a later meeting, in England, to negotiate later.
Image shows the Duke of Orleans assassination by men loyal to John the Fearless of Burgundy. Sourced from Wikipedia, description: Meurtre du duc Louis d’Orléans, par le Maître de la Chronique d’Angleterre (enlumineur), (BnF) Date circa 1470 -1480. Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) -Banque d’images du département de la reproduction
The events are covered in detail in Jonathan Sumption’s ‘Cursed Kings’. This series is highly detailed and incredibly useful. The link below is to a hardback version of the book. There is a softcover version – much cheaper – and usually reasonable prices on second-hand copies.