The Completely Worthless Treaty of Crépy

Of all the pointless, useless, ruinous wars ever fought in Europe (and they were legion), some of the most expensive and the most ineffectual were the Italian Wars, which leagued Francis I of France and Ottoman sultan Suleiman I against the combined team of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and Henry VIII of England. The wars stripped the coffers of every country that fought in it, and made no real difference. It would have been just as effective to simply have stayed home and murdered a few hundred soldiers and innocent civilians a day. 

Scannagallo_Vasari Italian Wars

Within that cluster of insane and inane wars, the Italian War of 1542-1546 stands out as particularly idiotic. It would have been comic if so much human life hadn’t been lost. It didn’t even end coherently. Half of each faction made peace with half of the other faction by the Treaty of Crépy on 14 September 1544 while the respective allies fought one another and each other.

The Treaty of Crépy was negotiated between by Francis I and Charles V without the agreement or input of Suleiman and Henry VIII. Francis promised to turn against Suleiman in exchange for a rich bride for his second son and Charles V promised to stop fighting France and just attack the Ottomans. Just a dozen years prior Henry VIII had been at loggerheads with Charles over the annulment of Henry’s marriage to Charles’s aunt Katherine of Aragon, but Henry’s hatred of the French had induced him to become a political bedfellow with Charles again. Now Charles casually kicked Henry out of the bed and the English king was livid to find himself on the cold floor while Charles and Francis cuddled.

Henry, who had crossed the Rubicon of rational a decade before, decided that he was by gum going to keep on fighting France with or without his turncoat ex-nephew-in-law Charles. Henry became fixated on the one prize he had managed to capture during this boggy war – the city of Boulogne:

The Siege of Boulogne by King Henry VIII (1491-1547) in 1544, engraved by James Basire, 1788

Henry himself returned to England … ordering Norfolk and Suffolk to defend Boulogne.The two dukes quickly disobeyed this order and withdrew the bulk of the English army to Calais, leaving some 4,000 men to defend the captured city. The English army, outnumbered, was now trapped in Calais; the Dauphin, left unopposed, concentrated his efforts on besieging Boulogne. Peace talks were attempted at Calais without result; Henry refused to consider returning Boulogne, and insisted that Francis abandon his support of the Scots. Charles, who had been appointed as a mediator between Francis and Henry, was meanwhile drawn into his own disputes with the English king. Francis now embarked on a more dramatic attempt to force Henry’s hand—an attack on England itself. For this venture, an army of more than 30,000 men was assembled in Normandy, and a fleet of some 400 vessels prepared at Le Havre, all under the command of Claude d’Annebault. On 31 May 1545, a French expeditionary force landed in Scotland. In early July, the English under John Dudley, Viscount Lisle, mounted an attack on the French fleet, but had little success due to poor weather; nevertheless, the French suffered from a string of accidents: d’Annebault’s first flagship burned, and his second ran aground. Finally leaving Le Havre on 16 July, the massive French fleet entered the Solent on 19 July and briefly engaged the English fleet, to no apparent effect; the major casualty of the skirmish, the Mary Rose, sank accidentally. The French landed on the Isle of Wight on 21 July, and again at Seaford on 25 July, but these operations were abortive, and the French fleet soon returned to blockading Boulogne.


The Treaty of Crépy had fallen flat and it went stone cold when Francis’s second son, the one who was supposed to be awarded the rich bride to seal the deal, died a few months later. England was in shambles because Henry VIII had devalued his own coinage to pay for for the war effort needed to hold onto one smallish city of only medium strategic importance. France was in only marginally better shape. Henry and Francis reluctantly made peace at Ardes in the summer of 1546 (Henry got to keep Boulogne), but the political conflict between France and England would continue even after both monarchs died in early 1548. After Henry’s death Boulogne went back to the French.

Seriously, the Italian War of 1542-1546 accomplished diddly squat and the Treaty of Crépy accomplished even less than that.


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