Duke of Bedford John of Lancaster
John of Lancaster the Duke of Bedford (June 20, 1389 - September 14, 1435) was Joan of Arc's primary antagonist and the person most responsible for her trial and death at the stake. A younger brother to Henry V, he became the defacto ruler of England when Henry, shortly before he died in 1422, appointed him guardian of his infant son Henry VI and all of England and its interests. Always loyal to his brother Henry V, Bedford spent the rest of his life trying to fulfill what his brother had striven for in a France and England united under one king; his young nephew Henry VI.
Bedford was an able administrator as well as a good military strategist and leader. He had many military victories in the field including the decisive one at Verneuil that almost equaled his brother Henry V's great victory at Agincourt. Bedford was also a skilled diplomat and had strengthened the alliance between England and the Burgundian French through his marriage to Anne of Burgundy the Duke of Burgundy's sister. In the fall of 1428 when the siege of Orleans began, Bedford was very close to eliminating the last of the French resistance to his plans to rule all of France.
In the spring of 1429 when Bedford heard that a young girl was commanding the French army at Orleans he must have thought that the French were desperate and on the brink of defeat. When Joan won at Orleans he was no doubt surprised but did not seem to fully understand the difference Joan made to the French forces. When Joan began to march through the Loire Valley liberating towns held by the English, Bedford sent reinforcements that he was sure would be able to easily deal with this new French leader. When Joan annihilated the army he sent at Patay, Bedford realized that Joan was a very serious threat to his plans to rule France and began working on a way to eliminate her.
When Joan marched to Reims with Charles VII for his coronation as King, Bedford must have been furious. Now leery of facing Joan in open battle he began false negotiations for peace with Charles VII through his ally the Duke of Burgundy while he made efforts to strengthen his military forces in Paris. Bedford himself led a strengthened army out of Paris in early August of 1429 and sent an angry letter to Charles VII challenging him to face him in open battle. In the letter Bedford openly insults Charles VII and shows his hatred of Joan: "Charles of Valois, who styled yourself Dauphin, and now without cause call yourself King …You seduce and abuse the ignorant and rely upon
the assistance of the superstitious and reprobate, and even of that deranged and infamous woman who goes about in men's clothes and is of dissolute conduct."
Read Entire Letter From Bedford to Charles VII HERE
Bedford had no real intention of facing the army of Charles VII commanded by Joan of Arc in open battle and his letter is an example of how Bedford operated. He was a wily and unscrupulous leader who used whatever means available to him to obtain his objective. The letter also gives an early hint of how Bedford planned to destroy Joan and reverse her successes by calling her a witch. When Joan was captured the following spring by Bedford's Burgundian allies it was the chance Bedford had prepared for to have Joan convicted of heresy by the Church so as to discredit Charles VII hoping people would believe he had obtained his crown by the aid of witchcraft. Joan's trial and
ultimate execution under the auspices of the Church was carefully orchestrated and paid for by Bedford who was in complete control of the entire proceedings.
So what can be said of John of Lancaster the Duke of Bedford in the end except that the only reason he is even remembered at all today is because of his infamous role in having Joan of Arc burned at the stake. It is somewhat sad that this is the case as he was an able leader with great loyalty to his family and cause but it is perhaps a warning to all such tyrants as to their ultimate place in history.