On 21 May 1420, with the French royal family having taken refuge in Troyes, the city’s cathedral played host to a momentous event that could have changed the course of history and the world.
For it was here, on that very day, that the French and English – traditional long-standing enemies – united their kingdoms and tried to put an end to the Hundred Years’ War. The King of England –Henry V – would go on to rule over both kingdoms.
On 2 June that year, the pact was further cemented in Troyes’ Church of Saint-Jean-au-Marché, where Henry V married Catherine of Valois, daughter of Charles VI of France and Isabeau of Bavaria. As a result, the King of England took the French crown instead of Charles VII, who had been disowned by his parents.
But the story soon took another twist: Henry V and Charles VI died on 31 August and 21 October 1422 respectively, just two years after signing their alliance. Charles VII came to the throne. Despite his treatment, he did not hold a grudge. In July 1429, he stayed in Troyes with a certain Joan of Arc, who had sworn to «kick the English out of France».
Some historians call the 1420 Treaty of Troyes the «shameful treaty», because it «handed» control of France to the English. This unwanted label became commonplace some three centuries later with the birth of the concepts of the nation and nationalism.
Yet a close inspection of the treaty would suggest that, in the context of the time, the treaty was actually extremely «modern». As well as establishing peace between two warring factions, it also respected the identity of both parties and introduced the concept of ongoing dialogue between peoples, particularly through the development of trade. Article 24 of the Treaty of Troyes reads as follows: «The two crowns of France and English shall for evermore be united as a single entity».
Later, the treaty talks of «accord, mutual affection, firm and stable friendships», etc.
It is interesting to consider what the future would have held for our countries, our continent and even the world as a whole if this «shameful» Treaty of Troyes had been applied. On the subject of history, there was a second Treaty of Troyes, between the same protagonists as the first, on 11 April 1564.
On this occasion, the English crown officially renounced any claim to French territory and handed back control of the cities of Calais and Le Havre to the French crown.
It can nevertheless be argued that the city of Troyes has played a pivotal role in Anglo-French relations.