Post-classical history


Thursday 1st: the Feast of St Peter ad Vincula

THE FEAST OF St Peter ad Vincula – St Peter in Chains – was also known as Lammas Day, or the day on which the ‘loaf mass’ was celebrated. It was the formal beginning of autumn, and with it the start of the season of harvesting and agricultural celebrations. Whole families – old and young alike – took themselves into the fields to reap the corn. Peasants working for manorial lords could look forward to three months of better food: white bread rather than rye, roast meat and fresh ale. Girls working in the fields were singled out for their prettiness and crowned as harvest queens by their fellow workers. Across the country, merchants and traders began packing up their wagons and carts to attend the many fairs that took place over the subsequent three months. People had a chance to buy rarer and more exotic things, such as dyes, silks, spices and perfumes. The fairs also gave market traders the opportunity to sell goods such as wool and hides in bulk to exporting wholesalers.1

At Southampton, the celebrations of the season were of little importance to Henry. Whereas the invasion had previously dominated his waking hours, now he had to cope with the reality of betrayal. According to the earl of March and Lord Scrope, the conspirators had discussed proclaiming the earl of March king today – the very day on which Henry hoped to set sail. It was the anniversary of the death of the late duke of York, the supposed father of the earl of Cambridge, and the man whom Richard II had designated as the heir to the throne.2 Was that the reason for the conspirators’ timing? Was this a Yorkist plot? Did Lord Scrope really want to stop the invasion? So many doubts and questions must have pained Henry as he went about his business. And all he could do was wait for the findings of the inquiry.

Lord Scrope was probably the first person to be interrogated by the commissioners. A lengthy letter of confession was drawn up and presented on his behalf. After a humble preamble in which he acknowledged that his life lay in Henry’s hands, he implored the king to show mercy, on the grounds that he had never offended him in any way before, nor ever would again, and because, he said, Henry had shown mercy ‘so abundantly’ to every man in the realm. Following this he reiterated in great detail the whole process by which he had come to hear of the plot, putting into writing what he had verbally communicated to Henry at Portchester Castle the previous night. He mentioned his first conversation with Walter Lucy about the earl of March, and gave a day-by-day account of his communications with the plotters from the time of his meeting Sir Thomas Gray on the morning of 21 July. He was quite candid about how he had advised them – of how they should be lost whatever course of action they took against the king. Repeatedly he had told the earl of March and Walter Lucy what folly it would be to follow the earl of Cambridge. According to his account, after the 25th the plotters had had nothing more to do with him; he did not even know about the meeting at Cranbury. He ended his testimony stating that if he had heard ‘a grounded purpose’ or plan connected with the plot, he would have come straight to Henry and declared all he knew to him; but the earl of March had beaten him to it. He ended by repeating that not telling Henry sooner was ‘the first trespass that ever I fell [into]’ and he prayed ‘to all my lords’ that they should be merciful on him, clearly indicating that he expected to be judged by his peers.3

The earl of Cambridge was probably also interviewed by the commissioners today. In the first and most badly damaged of his three surviving letters, he confessed to his plan of taking the earl of March into Wales. He also confessed to his plan to exchange the earl of Fife for the fake Richard II and Henry Percy – and mentioned Sir Robert Umphraville, Sir John Widdrington and Sir Thomas Gray as being complicit – although he was keen to point out that Lord Scrope knew nothing of this part of the plot. He added that Davy Howell had offered to hand over castles in Wales to the plotters if there was a rising in the north. Unfortunately much of this letter is lost, and so it is difficult to tell the full extent of information that it originally contained; but a revised version was drawn up, perhaps by the earl himself, which included further incriminating details.4 For example, he claimed that Scrope had approved of the plan to take the earl of March into Wales, and that he (the earl of Cambridge) had had the form of proclamation drawn up in which Henry V was referred to as ‘Harry of Lancaster, usurper of England’. Interestingly, Cambridge actively tried to remove any blame being attached to certain other people. He did not try to implicate the earl of March, nor Walter Lucy. Twice he asserted that Scrope was ignorant of certain aspects of the plot. He did name other people who might have helped them, such as Sir John Heron, but he stated that he only heard this from Sir Thomas Gray.5

In view of the circumstances it is unlikely that Henry had much to do with the routine business of government conducted by the officers at Southampton today. A charter confirming Queen Joan’s estates was drawn up for her security during the king’s absence. Thomas More, a long-standing Lancastrian officer, was granted a licence to alienate land so he could endow a perpetual chantry for Masses to be sung for his soul. And John Grawe, a royal bailiff of Kirkton in Lindsey, was pardoned for non-production of 78s of the king’s rent, which had been taken from him by highwaymen.6

Friday 2nd

Sir Thomas Gray was led before the commissioners to be interviewed. His was by far the fullest and most damning of all the confessions drawn up. The surviving portion is badly fragmented but even what survives shows that he was ready to reveal all – even down to the wavering between the various strategies. He stated that he had heard from the earl of Cambridge that Sir Robert Umphraville, Sir John Widdrington and Lord Clifford were involved, and he confessed that he had personally spoken with Walter Lucy about the possibility of putting the earl of March on the throne. He repeatedly stressed that the earl of March was assenting to the plot, right up to the end; and stated this as a matter of personal knowledge, not just hearsay. He even suggested that the earl of Arundel was assenting to the idea, as well as Lord Scrope; but otherwise his only line of accusation against Scrope was to suggest that he (Scrope) had said that it was ‘best to break the voyage’. As for the meetings that took place, these all correlate with Scrope’s own testimony.

Following the extraction of these confessions, the trials could take place. Twelve Hampshire men, selected from an empanelled total of thirty-six, were appointed to the jury. In the castle of Southampton, in the king’s presence, they listened to the cases against each man. The constable of the castle, Sir John Popham, led the accused from the dungeon and into the hall where the jury was sitting. The charge was read out – that all three accused men had

falsely and treacherously conspired … having gathered to themselves many others, both of the retinue of the lord king and of his liege subjects, to take Edmund earl of March to the parts of Wales … to elevate him to the sovereignty of the realm of England in the event that the lord Richard II after the Conquest, lately king of England, was found to be dead, and to make a certain proclamation in the said parts of Wales in the name of the aforesaid earl of March, as heir to the crown of England against the said present lord king, by the name of Henry of Lancaster, usurper of England to the end that many of the lieges of the same present lord should join themselves to the said earl of March and quickly adhere to him.7

There followed three more specific charges, levelled against just Cambridge and Gray. These were that they were planning to redeem Thomas Warde of Trumpington and Henry Percy from Scotland and to bring them and the men of Northumberland to do battle with the king; and that they would hold castles in Wales against the king. The last was a shock: they were charged with plotting to kill the king and his brothers.

As we now know, this charge was false, trumped up by the government in order to bring the trial to a speedy conclusion.8 It was an inference based on the character of the plot to make the earl of March king. If Edmund were to be crowned, then Henry and all three of his brothers would have to be removed from the order of succession. Therefore the plotters were assumed to have compassed this crime, and therefore they were charged with plotting to kill all four of Henry IV’s sons. Moreover, it was not just Cambridge and Gray who were charged with conspiring to murder the king: Scrope was too. The charge specifically laid against him was that he

was consenting to destroy and kill the present lord king and his brothers, and lords, magnates and liegemen aforesaid, and to commit and perpetrate other aforesaid evils, as already stated; and so these things should be done he communicated with the same earl of Cambridge and Thomas Gray, and with divers other lieges of the said present lord king, and falsely and treasonably concealed these things from the same present lord king.9

The accused men must have been profoundly shocked. When asked how they wished to plead, Cambridge and Gray both stated that they were guilty of each and every one of the charges in the form stated, even though the murder charge was simply an inference drawn by the judges. Frantic with fear, they submitted themselves to the grace of the king, imploring his forgiveness. Scrope was the only one who kept his head. He admitted discussing these matters but had never done anything to aid them. As for killing the king – he had never even considered that. He claimed that he had communicated with the others

with the intention of ascertaining the malice of the aforesaid Richard earl of Cambridge and Thomas Gray in the premises. And so, having obtained knowledge aforesaid in that matter, his intention was to impede that malicious purpose of theirs. And as to the concealment of the aforesaid treasons from the lord king … he put himself in the grace and mercy of the lord king. And concerning the imagining of the death of the lord king and his brothers, or of any other persons whatsoever, as was previously put to him, he said that he was in no way guilty of it. And moreover he said that he was a lord and one of the peers of the realm of England, and asked that he should be tried and judged by his peers …10

There could be no refusal to this request without a severe infringement of lordly rights, and so Scrope and Cambridge were both returned to the custody of Sir John Popham to await trial. Gray was not a peer, however. Having pleaded guilty, he stood to be judged and punished forthwith. The justices presiding decided that, as he was by his own admission a traitor to the king and the realm, he should be drawn, hanged and beheaded. At this the king spoke that he remitted the two first penalties, namely the drawing and the hanging. He needed only to be beheaded, and his head sent to Newcastle upon Tyne to be fixed above the gate for all to see.

Later that day Gray was led on foot through the middle of Southampton as far as the North Gate. There he was beheaded in public. His goods and chattels, lands and tenements were all declared forfeit to the crown. As for the other two accused men, Cambridge and Scrope, the duke of Clarence was commissioned to empanel twenty lords to hear their cases. The trial would take place on the 5th.

Henry himself then turned his attention to the north, and the implications of a Scottish invasion in the wake of Cambridge’s plot. He ordered a writ to be sent to all the sheriffs that all the ‘fencible lieges’ or militia should be arrayed ready to defend the kingdom against the Scots and the king’s enemies ‘as the king has particular information that those enemies and their adherents are purposing shortly with no small power to invade the realm by divers coasts’.11


In Calais, anticipating that Henry would have set sail already, the extra men-at-arms stationed there began to make raiding parties into the area around Boulogne. Perhaps Henry had ordered this, to create a diversion. But his ships were still at Southampton, going nowhere. The dauphin sent David, seigneur de Rambures, and Jacques de Longroy with five hundred men-at-arms to defend the country.12

Sunday 4th

In all the preliminary arrangements over the years, nothing had prepared Henry for this becalmed frustration. Many men were now urging him to cancel the campaign. The contemporary author of the Gesta, who was there with the army at Southampton, put it well in describing affairs in the camp at this time:

Many of those most devoted to the king wanted him to abandon his resolve to make such a crossing, both in case there should be any similar acts of treason still undiscovered and also, and especially, on account of the madness of Sir John Oldcastle and those of his persuasion – rumours spreading of an insurrection by him after the king had sailed.13

The Lollards were indeed again on the move. Not so much in London, where Henry had perhaps expected them to make a stand when he sent his letter on the 31st. The reply from the mayor, Thomas Falconer, promising he would keep the city safe, arrived back in Southampton today; in it he gave no indication that there was a Lollard threat.14 Rather the Lollards were stirring in the Welsh Marches, where Oldcastle had taken shelter. According to Thomas Walsingham, ‘as if by agreement, and as if they knew about the plot [of the earl of Cambridge], there was a rising of the Lollards’.15 Cambridge had repeatedly discussed arranging a Lollard rising to support his own plot. Interestingly, Walsingham described them ‘vomiting blasphemies against the king’, drawing attention to how deeply ran the idea that rebellion and blasphemy, like treason and heresy, were intertwined. He added that the Lollards wrote tracts that they fixed to the doors of churches, aiming for ‘the overthrow of the king, the subversion of the orthodox faith, and the destruction of the Holy Church’.

The Cambridge plot had one serendipitous result for Henry. Because the fleet had not set sail as intended on 1 August, he was still in England when Oldcastle came out of hiding. The Lollard lord had been sheltering near Malvern. He assumed that Henry must already have set sail and so chose this moment to send threatening letters to Sir Richard Beauchamp, lord of Abergavenny. Sir Richard responded by sending out messengers in the king’s name to Worcester, Pershore and Tewkesbury that same night, summoning his loyal men to come to him armed at daybreak at Hanley Castle. The prelates of these towns also supported action against Oldcastle and urged their flocks to obey. Enough men gathered to drive Oldcastle back into hiding. Several Lollards were captured by Sir Richard and forced to reveal where their leader had hidden his weapons and money. Breaking down a false wall in the identified house, Sir Richard discovered not just weapons and money but other symbols of the heretical revolt, such as:

a standard on which had been painted a chalice and the host in the shape of a loaf of bread, just as if that was the element in the sacrament that was to be worshipped … And there was also seen there a sort of crucifix with scourges, and a spear with nails, which he had had painted on his banners to deceive the simple-minded, if ever he had had a chance to raise the banners in support of a public show of madness.16

Had Oldcastle waited until the king had actually set sail, perhaps many more Lollards would have taken up the cause. As things were, the king was still in England at the head of an army. It was just too risky.

Nevertheless, these stirrings were ominous. After all the months of preparations, all the diplomacy, financial arrangements, musters, gathering of weapons and supplies – there were religious factions who wanted to stop him. There were still secular lords who wanted to see him dethroned. And although their little rebellions were easily quashed, and the tracts of Lollards were easily denounced, there was no knowing when one of these objectors might get lucky. Historians, intoxicated with the great-man view of Henry V, have often remarked how these rebellions were of little consequence – that he easily overcame them. But they were important at the time on account of what they represented. Each one was another sign of dissent and delayed him more. But his resolution held firm. Those telling him he should cancel the expedition were ignored. In this respect he was very like his father. No matter what obstacles were placed in his way, he was determined to overcome them all.

Monday 5th

For the trial of Cambridge and Scrope, the duke of Clarence enlisted all the most senior lords then present at Southampton: himself, his youngest brother, Humphrey; his cousin the duke of York; the Earl Marshal; the earls of March, Huntingdon, Arundel, Salisbury, Oxford and Suffolk; and lords Clifford, Talbot, Zouche, Harrington, Willoughby, Clinton, Maltravers, Bourchier and Botreaux. The duke of York asked to absent himself from the trial; so the earl of Dorset took his place. The reason publicly given for York’s withdrawal was that Cambridge was his brother. Perhaps we should also bear in mind the fact that the model for Lord Scrope’s actions was precisely what York himself had done in 1399–1400. On that occasion York had withheld information about the attempt on the king’s life for a full two weeks; there could easily have been a dramatic scene if Lord Scrope objected that among his peers was a man who had committed the same crime as him.

Sir John Popham led the two accused men into the hall of Southampton Castle. Their confessions were read out to the nineteen seated lords. Both had drawn up a final letter imploring mercy; these were also read out. Scrope’s letter is now very damaged, and beyond a few words clarifying his intention that key parts of his will be carried out, especially his desire to be buried in York Minster, it is difficult to determine what he wrote. Cambridge’s last letter is complete:

Mine most dreadful and sovereign liege lord, I, Richard of York, your humble subject and very liege man, beseech you of grace and of all manner of offences that I have done or assented to in any kind, by stirring of other folk egging me thereto, wherein I know well I have highly offended to your highness; beseeching you at the reverence of God that you like to take me into the hands of your merciful and piteous grace, thinking you will, of your great goodness. My liege lord, my full trust is that you will have consideration, though that my person be of no value, your high goodness where God has set you in so high estate to every liege man that to you [it] belongs plenteously to give grace, that you [will] accept this my simple request, for the love of Our Lady and of the blissful Holy Ghost, to whom I pray that they may induce your heart to all pity and grace for their high goodness.17

There was never any doubt that both men would be found guilty. The duke of Clarence had been commissioned not only to hear the case but to proceed to execution immediately thereafter.18 The king had clearly washed his hands of Scrope and wanted him executed. The proceedings of the previous trial on the 2nd were read out once more and the actions of these men were ‘unanimously adjudged and judicially affirmed as high treason damnably and wickedly imagined, conspired and confederated against the lord king and realm of England’, in line with the false accusation of attempting to kill the king. They were condemned to be drawn, hanged and beheaded, and their families were to forfeit all their goods and chattels.

The earl of Cambridge’s confidence that the king would forgive him was misplaced. As a member of the royal family, Henry did spare him the drawing and hanging but insisted that he be beheaded. Lord Scrope was spared the hanging but not the drawing. He was downgraded from his membership of the Order of the Garter, dragged through the town from the Watergate to the North Gate, and there beheaded. Henry ordered that Scrope’s head be taken and stuck up on one of the gates of the city of York.19

So ended the plot of the earl of Cambridge. It was an incompetent series of protests from two angry and frustrated men. And the manner of its ending was equally angry and frustrated. Cambridge and Gray had actually done nothing; they had no ‘grounded purpose’, to quote Scrope’s words. The charge that they had planned the death of the king was completely false: it was concocted by either the commission of enquiry or (more probably) by the king himself, through his lawyers, to hasten the process of dealing with the plot.20 It was later circulated in order to justify the killing. Scrope was not a leading protagonist, and he was less culpable than the earl of March or Walter Lucy. Neither March nor Lucy was charged with any crime – even though the whole plot was largely down to Lucy’s loose tongue, encouraging Scrope to believe the earl of Cambridge was more dangerous than he really was, and leading Gray to believe that the plot had the backing of Scrope and Arundel. March was certainly guilty of treasonable intentions, even if he did eventually betray the plotters. Scrope by comparison had no more to hide than Lord Clifford, Sir Robert Umphraville and Sir John Widdrington, whom Gray and Cambridge also implicated. But although Henry sent for Umphraville this same day, and suspended him as constable of Roxburgh Castle, he took no further action against any other men.21 Those he initially arrested were condemned, all the others were forgiven.

None of Lord Scrope’s religious bequests was honoured by Henry. All his money and possessions were taken by the king. In this we can see a money-hungry side to Henry V, also reflected in his extortion of 10,000 marks from the earl of March and his later confiscation of his stepmother’s income on a charge of witchcraft. But it was not just about money: Scrope was not allowed his cherished place in York Minster. Whatever doubts Henry may have had about his loyalty, Scrope was the victim of a vindictive and cruel act, for Henry showed himself disinclined to give him the slightest benefit of the doubt. In this case – as in that of the claim on the throne of France – Henry was more interested in exercising authority than justice.

Scrope’s sentence was a significant lapse of Henry’s judgment. Were there any mitigating circumstances? Of course: Henry was under huge pressure, he had been delayed and he must have seen the chances of a successful campaign vanishing with the approach of autumn. Money was flowing rapidly out of the treasury, the debts were piling up, and he had nothing to show for them. If he was hasty in proceeding to try the lords as if they were commoners, then he had good reason. But many aspects of this process seem fundamentally unjust. The concoction of the charge of regicide in particular was unjust. The inclusion of both March and Clifford on the panel to condemn Cambridge and Scrope can hardly be seen as fair; they were certainly not disinterested. And we cannot simply dismiss the trial as a miscarriage of justice. It led to a terrible precedent, for the trials of traitors in the court of the steward of England, at the king’s personal command, dates from this event. Many men in later centuries were executed in consequence of Star Chamber trials under the authority of the steward of England, as a result of this angry exercise of power.22

Edward duke of York absented himself from all these proceedings. His brother had specifically stated that he had urged the others not to let him know anything. Cambridge had wanted to protect his brother, and this may be considered a sign of genuine fraternal affection, as well as a failure to think through his plan. Edward was no doubt deeply shocked and saddened by the events. His day was spent otherwise engaged: he was granted a licence allowing him to settle some of his estates on trustees for the completion of the collegiate church at Fotheringay that he had started to build and where he intended to be buried.23 It is fitting that this took place on the day of Cambridge’s execution – Cambridge’s son would one day come to lie in the same church.

Henry’s other deeds after the grim business of the morning included dictating the letter conferring on Richard, Lord Grey, Sir Robert Ogle and the lawyer Richard Holme the necessary authority to treat with the representatives of the duke of Albany for a new truce between England and Scotland.24 He also pardoned one John Prest of Warwickshire for sheltering Sir John Oldcastle. The latter at least shows he retained at least some measure of mercy.

Tuesday 6th

Lord Scrope had hardly been dead twenty-four hours before Henry started distributing his lands as gifts to his supporters. Henry, Lord Fitzhugh, was among the first to benefit, acquiring all of Lord Scrope’s manors, rights, income and possessions within the franchise of Richmond.25 Two of Scrope’s Suffolk manors were parcelled out as grants to the king’s friend Sir John Phelip and his wife Alice.26 He also instructed Robert Clitherowe and David Cawardyn to go to London and seize all the goods in Scrope’s London house and hand them over to the mayor of London for safe keeping.27

It was obviously a day for grant-making and gift-giving. Sir Thomas Chaucer, the king’s butler, who was also heading to France, was pardoned all his debts to the crown; and Robert Orell was granted the forestership of the forest of Snowdon.28


Richard de Vere, earl of Oxford, who was waiting to set sail with his twenty-nine men-at-arms and seventy-nine archers, drew up his will. He wished to be buried with his ancestors in the priory church of Colne, in Essex. He left all his goods and chattels to his wife, Alice, and gave her power to dispose of all the rest of his possessions. It was a very modest will by comparison with some. But he was not alone in not wanting a great fuss or a huge ceremony. Sir Thomas West, who was also about to set out, had written a will a few days earlier in which he requested only that no more than £40 was to be laid out in meat, drink and candles on the day of his funeral, and that £24 be paid to two priests to celebrate divine service each day on behalf of his soul and his ancestors’ souls for two years after his death.29

Wednesday 7th

The day had at last come. But before Henry went down to his flagship and embarked, there were some last minute necessities. One was a pardon for the earl of March ‘for all treasons, murders, rapes of women, rebellions, insurrections, felonies, conspiracies, trespasses, offences, negligences, extortions, misprisions, ignorances, concealments and deceptions committed by him’.30 No one can have had much doubt that ‘the hog’ (as Gray had called March) or the ‘daw or simpleton’ (as Sir John Mortimer later referred to him) was anything but complicit in the plot to make him king.31But he had been the one who had informed Henry and that necessitated a reward of some kind. Not to lose his life and lands was an appropriate one.

Another essential item of business was a royal order to all the sheriffs ‘on pain of grievous forfeiture, for particular causes moving the king and council’ to proclaim that men shall keep watch, night by night, until Allhallows (1 November) to protect the towns as well as the shores, and that ‘no man who holds a public inn shall receive or suffer a stranger to stay more than a night and a day without knowledge of the cause of his abode there’. This was in case of rebels as well as French and Scottish spies. Henry added that any man who did not confess his reason was to be arrested; clearly he had been shaken by the earl of Cambridge’s plot and knew that he was taking a huge risk by leaving the country at this juncture with two of his three brothers.32 The duke of Bedford was the sole potential Lancastrian heir left in England. Henry’s third and final precaution before leaving Portchester Castle was a repeat of his earlier order to array the clergy of the diocese of Lincoln against the Lollards during the king’s absence abroad.33

Finally Henry went down to the barge that was to take him out to his flagship, the 540–tun capacity Trinity Royal, which was moored between Southampton and Portsmouth. With a crew of three hundred sailors, it was one of the two largest ships in his navy. It had a huge purple sail and the great banner of the Trinity on the main mast, together with streamers a dozen yards long and other smaller flags bearing the arms of St Edward and St George. The top-castle of the mast was decorated with a large gilt-copper crown, a golden leopard was on the prow and on the capstan was a sceptre with fleur-de-lys. As soon as he stepped on board Henry ordered the yard supporting the great sail to be half-raised to indicate his readiness to set out straightaway, and to signal to all the other ships scattered along the coast to start to make their way to the king.

Henry did not set out immediately. He still had to wait for the ships to gather – and this would take some time. It was reported by eyewitnesses that he had 1,500 vessels in his fleet. In addition, more than 12,000 horses needed to be transported, and in each case the poor animal had to be put into a sling and hoisted on to deck with a crane: this was not a quick or easy task.34 For the next few days the Trinity Royal did not move. In that time she became known as the King’s Chamber. Another vessel – perhaps the Holy Ghost– was functionally named the King’s Hall.35 On these two ships the 101 men of the royal household attended on the king and the members of his council, coming and going from other smaller ships moored nearby – the King’s Larder, the King’s Kitchen and the King’s Wardrobe.

Thursday 8th

The first day waiting for the ships to assemble was spent seeing to some final pieces of administration. Diplomatic loose ends needed sorting out. An order was sent to Henry Kays, the keeper of the hanaper in chancery, to pay some money in advance to Dr John Hovingham and John Flete, the ambassadors to Brittany (who had been given their instructions on 28 July).36 A similar order was sent for Philip Morgan to be given 100 marks enabling him to return to the Burgundian court of John the Fearless to conduct ‘secret discussions’. Morgan had been part of the committee on 27 May to discuss this mission; his departure had been delayed by his journey to Calais to prorogue the truce. His instructions, which were formally drawn up by the chancellor two days later, empowered him to treat anew with John the Fearless, seeking to establish exactly what help the duke might offer Henry.37

As the earl of Arundel, the treasurer of England, was about to sail with Henry, a new treasurer was needed. Henry appointed his friend Sir John Rothenhale, controller of the royal household, to the post.38 New orders were issued allowing the export of tin. And the paperwork allowing the heads of Lord Scrope and Sir Thomas Gray to be transported to their various places of exhibition needed to be drawn up. We might consider medieval society unsophisticated for beheading men and exposing their rotting heads in public but it was sufficiently sophisticated to require eight separate letters to be written to the sheriffs of eight counties ordering them to permit the passage of the said heads to York and Newcastle, where they were to be impaled on spears.39

Before he set sail Henry made some final grants. To his friend Sir John Gray, younger brother of the executed Sir Thomas Gray of Heton, Henry granted custody of all the family lands during the youth of Sir Thomas’s heir.40 To William Porter, king’s esquire, Henry gave one of Scrope’s Leicestershire manors. To Lord Fitzhugh he gave Scrope’s inn at Paulswharf, London, in addition to his earlier grant of Scrope’s Richmond franchise. Scrope’s estate had by now become something like a displayed carcass, complete with pecking vultures. But it was a hasty and reckless dismembering of an estate – and another thing that Henry would later come to regret. It emerged in later years that Scrope’s family estates were all legally entailed on his father’s male heirs, so they could not be confiscated by the king at will. Henry had no right to re-distribute them among his friends.41

Sunday 11th

Nearly all the ships that Henry was expecting had assembled in a vast flotilla around him. He ordered the formal custody of England to be given to his brother John, duke of Bedford, the keeper of the realm. With this formal transfer went the right to summon parliaments and councils, to grant licences for the election of bishops and abbots, to restore and take temporalities and to accept fealty.42 John was instructed to summon a parliament immediately, to meet on 21 October to agree further financial support for the campaign. Then, about 3 p.m., with the handing over of the final documents, the last messengers left the Trinity Royal and the great purple sail was raised to its full height.

Henry’s voyage was underway. As the ships started to move, a large number of swans settled in the sea and started swimming among the boats. This was seen as a good sign. Less propitious was the smoke that started rising in the sun. Three ships had caught fire. They burnt to the waterline before the fleet left English waters.43

Monday 12th

The figure of 1,500 ships has long been accepted by historians. It was estimated by an eyewitness, and it tallies – more or less – with the 1,600 ships mentioned in some French sources. In addition it is a reasonable figure if one considers how many men, horses and supplies were on these ships. Recent historical research in this area – particularly that undertaken by Anne Curry – is most significant. For example, the chronicler who stated that there were 1,500 ships also implied that there were more than 12,000 fighting men in the fleet. Professor Curry has demonstrated this was true by checking the financial records for the wages of the army and correlating these with the numbers of men required by indenture. Her findings are as follows:

·                  twenty-six peers undertook to provide a total of 5,222 men (including themselves);

·                  fifty-seven knights undertook to provide 2,573 men;

·                  lesser captains undertook to provide 1,306 men;

·                  a further thousand archers were drawn from Lancashire and South Wales;

·                  650 archers and 50 men-at-arms were summoned from Cheshire (but only 247 of them were paid, suggesting that only this smaller number turned up);

·                  the royal household provided in the region of 900 men.

Taking the lower figure of 247 Cheshire archers (a safe minimum), this adds up to at least 11,248 men, of whom 2,266 were men-at-arms. In addition there was a number of other support staff, such as cooks, clerks, chaplains and servants for the lords and clerks for the men-at-arms. The account of the earl of Oxford suggests that it was usual for the men-at-arms each to bring their own page with them at their own expense.44 So, although these pages do not figure in the royal accounts (being paid by the men-at-arms), it is safer to presume there were as many pages as men-at-arms – in excess of two thousand. Furthermore, there were all the miners, smiths and carpenters whom Henry had ordered to come on campaign: a total of 560 of them. If each lord and knight had a chaplain and two non-combative servants, we can be certain that the minimum number of men with Henry today as he crossed the Channel was more than 14,000 men, not including the mariners. Additional financial records detailing several hundred more fighting men are known to have existed once, being quoted in older historical works. If these are included, then the total number of non-mariners was in the region of 15,000. And, as Professor Curry points out, the travel allowances of horses were regularly taken up, with some lords taking several dozen beasts. There were more horses in the army than there were fighting men.45

Those 1,500 ships must each have been carrying a minimum of ten men and ten horses, not including mariners. Given that the ships used to patrol the coasts carried between ten men-at-arms for a balinger and forty or fifty for a ship or barge, an army of this scale would have required 1,500 vessels, especially as each man was required to carry food sufficient for three months. Each ship also had to carry heavy artillery and weaponry – millions of arrows and thousands of bows, gunpowder and stone cannonballs – as well as more basic provisions for a siege: such as timber and animals for food in the first days. It was the largest army to leave England since the siege of Calais in 1347 (when Edward III had employed about 32,000 men over the course of a year).46 And at the time it was probably the largest fleet ever to have set out from England. In this context, one can understand Henry’s frustrations and occasional hastiness over the past months. He was taking a massive risk.

Tuesday 13th

It was the fishermen off the coast of Boulogne who first noticed the fleet approaching the French coast.47 The region around their town had been ransacked over recent days by the English of Calais, so they were alert to the danger. But one imagines that they looked at the huge fleet in the Channel with considerable alarm. Especially if they believed that it was heading to their own town.

The men of Boulogne were lucky: Henry was heading elsewhere. At about five o’clock in the afternoon Trinity Royal sailed into the mouth of the Seine and dropped anchor near a small hamlet called Chef de Caux, about three miles from the walls of Harfleur on the north bank of the Seine estuary. The banner of the council was unfurled on the Trinity Royal, calling all the councillors to a meeting. It was decided that a royal proclamation would be issued to all the ships forbidding anyone, on pain of death, from landing on French soil before the king himself, unless they had the king’s express permission. Everyone was to prepare to land early on the following morning; if the men dispersed in search of plunder, or women, the captains of the army were liable to lose control. There was also the heavy risk of men in small groups being picked off by the French defenders. Henry had no need to take such risks at this stage of the campaign.

A group of men was selected to go ashore that night and to reconnoitre the immediate vicinity. Henry chose the hugely experienced Sir John Cornwaille, and Cornwaille’s brother-in-arms, William Porter, king’s esquire; and Cornwaille’s stepson, the young and talented earl of Huntingdon. With them went Sir Gilbert Umphraville and John Steward, and a number of mounted men-at-arms.48 Prior information from the men who had travelled through Harfleur over the preceding year led Henry to believe there was a hill nearby, Mont Leconte, on which it would be suitable to make a first camp. The expedition was to explore the area and establish first whether there were Frenchmen guarding this hill. Second, they were to find a suitable place for quartering the royal household. They went ashore in the early hours.

Wednesday 14th

Henry’s attitude to the landing suggests a high state of anxiety. This is entirely understandable: he had 15,000 men and probably twice as many mariners in an extremely vulnerable position. Years of planning, preparation and reconnaissance were being put to the test. Cautious all the way through, he waited until Cornwaille, Porter and Huntingdon had returned before he began to plan his own landing.

Those in the ships around him looked at the beach where they were expected to land. They felt uneasy. As the author of the Gesta Henrici Quinti noted,

the shore was very stony, with large boulders against which the ships were liable to be dashed, and with other smaller stones, pebbles handy for throwing, with which the enemy (had they wished to oppose our landing) could have attacked us and defended themselves. And at the back of the shore, between us and the land, deep ditches had been dug that were full of water; and behind these … earth walls of great thickness, furnished with ramparts and angles in the manner of a tower or castle; and between every two ditches the ground was left intact for the breadth of a cubit, permitting only one man at a time to enter or leave.49

The site had been chosen because it was thought to be left unguarded. But there was a good reason why: it was very difficult to land a large force here. A few ships could unload here quickly, maybe – but 1,500? The whole process would take such a long time. About a mile away, to the south of Harfleur, there were fewer stones – but that was no easier a landing place as there was a marsh there that led far inland, with ditches and gullies. The narrow tracks through that marsh would have allowed a few men to hold up several thousand.

Henry and his men took to the barges ‘between the sixth and seventh hour’ – which in this case probably means 6–7 a.m. (reckoning from midnight).50 When Henry landed he fell to his knees and prayed that he might do justice on his enemies. This gesture may have been a spontaneous act – or it may have been a deliberate emulation of his predecessors. It is worth remembering that Edward III had fallen on landing in Normandy on the Crécy campaign, and declared it a welcome embrace from the kingdom of France. This in turn was probably a deliberate emulation of William the Conqueror, who had fallen on landing in England in 1066 and got up with his hands full of sand, declaring he held the kingdom of England in his hands. Also in emulation of past practice, Henry knighted a number of men there on the beach – among them William Porter, Thomas Geney, John Calthorp and John Radcliffe – just as Edward III had knighted his son and other men on landing in 1346.51 Following these ceremonies, he was quickly led to the Mont Leconte, where his priests were able to celebrate Mass, and where the army would camp.


For the French in the vicinity, there was no question of resisting such a large army. Although the English feared attack, and knew they were hugely vulnerable as they stepped ashore, to stop them would have required a large force of men to be ready to intercept them. The nearest such force (as the crow flies) was one of 1,500 men commanded by Charles d’Albret at Honfleur, on the south side of the Seine. Boucicaut was on the north side of the river – but at Caudebec, about 25 miles to the east.52 He also had about 1,500 men: too few to tackle the English after they had begun to come ashore in large numbers. As for Harfleur itself, there were at most only two small forces present: one hundred men-at-arms under Jean, seigneur d’Estouteville; and thirty-four men-at-arms in the town, under the command of Lyonnet de Braquemont, Olivier de Braquemont and Jean Bufreuil, together with a small number of crossbowmen under Roland de Gérault.53 These forces could hardly take on an army of more than 11,000 fighting men. Three hundred more men-at-arms were mustering on this very day, commanded by the redoubtable knight, Raoul de Gaucourt; but they were still more than three days’ march away from Harfleur. What defensive precautions had already been undertaken were due to the townsmen themselves. Apart from the possibility that de Gaucourt might yet reach the town before the blockade started, the people of Harfleur and the small garrison were on their own.

Thursday 15th: the Feast of the Assumption

The problems posed by the landing site meant that it would take several days for all the men, horses, equipment and provisions to be taken off the ships. As thousands of men moved in and around the beach, and up the hill to the tents, Henry probably relocated himself to the priory of Graville. Perhaps it was in the church here that he celebrated the feast of the Assumption.

Outside the burning and looting had already started. Pigs, geese and hens were taken, granaries and houses robbed and burnt. The Englishmen – all with the red cross of St George painted on their surcoats – scattered quickly, searching for plunder.54 After a week of being restricted within small ships, they revelled in being on dry land and able to take what they wanted from the country that they had come to destroy.

Friday 16th

Henry had been gathering information on Harfleur for months. Members of his first embassy in 1414 had travelled to France via Harfleur, including Bishop Courtenay, the earl of Salisbury and Lord Grey.55 As we have seen, certain members of the recent embassy had also travelled that way, namely Sir William Bourchier, Sir John Phelip and William Porter. And these were just the ambassadors who had passed through Harfleur; there must have been many other men besides. So Henry knew more or less what to expect when he looked down over the town and port from the hill to the west.

Harfleur was a medium-sized town, with a population of about five thousand people. A high 2½-mile stone wall, punctuated by two dozen watchtowers and surrounded by ditches, encircled the church of St Martin, the public buildings and houses of the citizens. The wall also enclosed le clos de galées: an inner fortified naval port whose walls were higher even than those of the town. The River Lézarde ran down from the north and divided into two: one part ran around the western wall of the town, like a deep moat; the other ran through sluices in the town walls, through the centre of the town itself and into le clos de galées. This guaranteed a water supply in a siege, and gave power to two mills just inside the walls. There were three gates: the Porte Leure on the west, the Porte Montivilliers on the north, and the Porte Rouen on the south east. Two large towers guarded the water gate leading to le clos de galées; these could raise a great chain between them, preventing the entry of any ships. To the south, on either side of the Lézarde, the town was protected by the marshes that ran down to the sea; these were the same marshes that the English attackers had noticed while waiting to disembark on the rocky shore further to the west.56

Not everything was familiar to Henry; some changes had recently taken place. Around each of the three gates substantial barbicans or bulwarks had been built. These were circular enclosures of tree-trunks lashed together and part-buried in the ground, strengthened with earth mounds and surrounded by water-filled moats. They had spaces in them for small cannon and crossbows to fire at approaching attackers. The road to Montivilliers had been in part taken up, and the stones taken into the town to use in the town’s catapults.57 The river approach to the town had been blocked with sharpened stakes below the water line. Most worrying of all, the sluice gates had been closed on the north, flooding the entire valley. To go around in order to attack the town on the east side now required a journey of nine or ten miles.58

But Henry had set himself upon a path. Since April he had described the expedition’s first aim as seizing Harfleur. It was a matter of pride that he would do what he had set out to do. He ordered the houses in the suburbs to be burnt and the whole area to be cleared, ready for his siege engines and cannon. The attack would begin the following day.

Saturday 17th

The final provisions, horses and equipment were unloaded from the ships, and the siege began. Henry divided his army into three ‘battles’ or battalions in order to facilitate organisation. His own battle was centrally positioned, facing the Porte Leure; the other two were established on his flanks, probably commanded by the dukes of Clarence and York.

The actual order of events thereafter is not easy to determine. In all likelihood Henry set a high priority on bringing up the cannon and the siege engines from the coast. At least one great gun, ‘Goodgrace’, and one siege engine were positioned directly opposite the Porte Leure and its barbican.59He held a council to determine the best way of attacking the town and of supplying the soldiers who were now encamped in the fields to the west. Groups of men were sent out to find food in the villages and farms nearby; they quickly covered a huge area. A twenty-eight-year-old priest from Harfleur, Raoul le Gay, was captured by an English foraging party on the road seven miles east of Harfleur. He was taken back to Santivic, three miles from the main army, and told by a French-speaking English knight that he would be ransomed for 100 crowns. Unfortunately for him, he could not pay. The English decided to take him to the main camp, at Graville.60

It appears likely that it was today that Henry issued his military ordinances – the set of codes of conduct for the campaign. These had been issued to armies since at least Edward III’s campaign in 1346, when an edict had stated that

no town or manor was to be burnt, no church or holy place sacked, and no old people, children or women in his kingdom of France were to be harmed or molested; nor were [the soldiers] to threaten people, or do any kind of wrong, on pain of life and limb.61

For Henry to attack in France and yet be seen as the leader of a moral war he needed to do his best to control the more violent and less humane tendencies of his soldiers. The military ordinances were proclaimed by the captains of the army, and copies were to be given to the captains to ensure that they were obeyed.

Various versions of the ordinances issued by Henry V over the years 1415–21 are extant. The set most likely to have been issued in August 1415 is known by historians as Upton’s ordinances.62 There were fourteen sections, the first being to protect churches and religious buildings and not steal from them, and to respect the Eucharist and the pyx; and the second not to capture or harm any clergymen or women, or to take prisoner any clergymen unless they were armed and hostile, and not to rape any women, on pain of death. The third section stipulated that everyone in the army – including merchants and other non-combatants riding with the army – should obey without question any order from the king, the constable and the marshal of the army. The fourth section specified how the night-time watch was to be maintained, with the constable and marshal again in charge. The fifth ordered captains to be ready to muster their men-at-arms and archers whenever the king or his officers required, on pain of arrest and forfeiture of arms and horse; and the sixth was designed to prevent insurrection and loss of control within the army. For instance, no one was to ‘cry havoc’ – ‘havoc’ being the order by which men on the battlefield could break ranks and steal whatever they wanted – and no one was to ‘cry montez’ (to horse) or other cries that might bring danger to the whole host. No one was to let old feuds and duels govern their conduct in the camp; and no matter what news came to the army, no one was to break ranks.

The remainder of the ordinances were similarly intended to strengthen the army through discipline. No one was to ride out from the host without permission, or to go forging ahead on their own. No one was to raise a banner or pennon of St George to lead a group of men away from the main army, nor to go ahead of the host under a banner unless he was a messenger. No one was to burn any buildings without special command of the king. If anyone found victuals or wine he should take only enough for himself and not destroy the remainder but leave it for the army. Men were not to rob each other of any victuals they found or otherwise received. No one except the king, constable or marshal was to give safe conduct to anyone from outside the army.

Particular ordinances treated the problem of prisoners. For most soldiers the main lure of war was the attraction of wealth – to be gained not by looting but by taking and ransoming important men. Hence disputes often arose over who had taken whom prisoner. It was now made clear that there were to be no disputes over captives – nor over weapons, coats of arms, or lodgings. Grooms and pages who got involved in such arguments were to have their left ear cut off. When a man took a prisoner, he was to take his helmet and gauntlets as a sign that his victim was already claimed. Two men who collectively defeated a knight could share the rights and subsequent ransom. It was clearly anticipated that, in the heat of battle, rivalries between men could lead to one trying to kill the other’s prisoner. This was forbidden. The killing of a man who was trying to submit was similarly not allowed. No man was to sell his prisoner or to ransom him without the king’s permission, and everyone who took prisoners was liable to pay his lord one third of the eventual ransom.

There was one last moral ordinance in this set, and it is very revealing of Henry’s attitude to women of easy virtue and his view of sex. Although earlier English kings had tolerated prostitutes in the royal household, Henry had a much stricter moral view. He prohibited any women from staying in the camp at all, or even being located nearer than three miles. His ordinance laid down that the first time a woman was found in the camp, she was to be warned. The second time she was to have her left arm broken.63


In his pavilion, the duke of York sealed his last will and testament. Like Henry IV and Henry V himself, he adopted the self-demeaning language of extreme abasement. The document, which was in French, began:

In the name of God the Almighty, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and the Holy Trinity, and the glorious Virgin, Our Lady St Mary, and St Thomas our glorious Martyr, and of St Edward the Holy Confessor, and all the Holy Saints in Paradise, I, Edward of York, of all sinners the most wicked and blameworthy …

He desired to be buried in the chapel at Fotheringay, ‘in the middle of the choir, near the steps, under a flat marble slab’. He stipulated that his debts should be paid and the expenses of his funeral should not exceed £100. His first bequest was to the king: ‘the best sword and the best dagger I have’. Next was

to my dear wife Philippa my bed of feathers and leopards, with the furniture that goes with it; also my white and red tapestry of garters, fetterlocks and falcons; my green bed, embroidered with a compass, my two large vessels of silver, the covered basins in her keeping, with the falcons and fetterlocks in the middle, with a blue background.

Those servants of his who had been in his service for a whole year before sailing to Harfleur were to be paid their wages in full for the six-month term after his death: £2 10s to each esquire, £1 to each ‘garçon’ and half a mark (6s 8d) to each page. All his houpelands (full-length, long-sleeved and high-collared gowns) were to be divided among the servants of his chamber and wardrobe; his saddles and harnesses were likewise to be divided among his servants. In all the Masses that might be said for him, he willed that Richard II, Henry IV, his father Edmund of York, and his mother Isabella should also be mentioned. He continued:

I will that all my vestments, crucifixes, images, tabernacles, basins, ewers, censers, sconces and other jewels in my chapel, excepting the goods and jewels that I pledged to enable me to go in that voyage to France in the company of my lord the king, be after my decease given to the master and his brethren of my said college [of Fotheringay], to be perpetually kept by them and their successors …

Other personal bequests included £20 to Thomas Pleistede ‘in memory of the kindness that he showed me when I was a prisoner at Pevensey’; a sword, a coat of mail and £10 in cash to Philip Beauchamp; a suit of jointed armour covered in red velvet and £10 in money to Thomas Beauchamp; and a new suit of jointed armour covered in velvet, his helmet and his best horse to Sir John Popham.64


In London, the talk was of Lollardy. In the wake of the letter from Henry at Southampton, the mayor, Thomas Falconer, had renewed his searches for dissidents. And on the information of his new servant, the fifteen-year-old Alexander Philip, he had been alerted to John Claydon. The mayor had ordered a search of Claydon’s house in St Martin’s Lane, where the copy of The Lantern of Light had been found.

Today Claydon was brought before Henry Chichele, archbishop of Canterbury, and a large gathering of theologians and lawyers, in St Paul’s Cathedral. Claydon admitted that he had been accused of Lollardy repeatedly, for more than twenty years. He further admitted that he had been locked in the prison at Conway for two years on account of his supposed heresy, and for three years in the Fleet Prison in London. He added that, having been released by order of the chancellor at the time, John Scarle, he had publicly abjured the heresies of Lollardy, and had promised to abstain from the company of other Lollards.

Archbishop Chichele began to interrogate Claydon. Had he any books in English? Yes, many, replied Claydon. Chichele beckoned the mayor forward to give evidence. A book in English, bound in red leather was produced. Handing it to Chichele, Thomas Falconer declared it had been found in Claydon’s house and was ‘the worst and the most perverse book that he had ever read’. The archbishop asked Claydon whether he recognised the book; Claydon admitted that he had had it written at his own cost. Chichele demanded that Claydon name the author. ‘John Grime,’ Claydon replied.

Now Chichele began to press his victim. What was John Grime, he demanded, presumably expecting the answer ‘a Lollard’. Claydon did not answer. Chichele was insistent. Had Claydon read this book? Claydon admitted he could not read but had heard parts of it read by John Fuller. And were any parts of this book Catholic, profitable, good and true? Claydon replied that he was very fond of the book, and found many things there that were profitable for his soul, especially the text of the sermon that had been preached at Horsleydown. And did the accused have any communication with Richard Gurmyn, a baker suspected of Lollardy, since his abjuration? Yes, admitted Claydon, Gurmyn often came to his house.65

Following this confession, Chichele passed the book over to a doctor of divinity and a doctor of law to be examined. He prorogued the case until the following Monday, when the judgment would be delivered.66

Sunday 18th

Harfleur was now all but cut off. The captain, Jean d’Estouteville, must have looked at the gathering horde of Englishmen to the west with foreboding. There were so many of them, drawing up their cannon and siege engines – and he himself had probably fewer than two hundred soldiers and the services of about a thousand able-bodied townsmen. No help could reasonably be expected now. But if he despaired of reinforcements the feeling was premature, for riding to join the people of Harfleur in their hopeless struggle was Raoul de Gaucourt.

Raoul de Gaucourt was a Picard knight – and one the of the most determined, courageous and resourceful military leaders in France. He had fought against the Turks on the Nicopolis crusade in 1396 and was one of the thirteen knights of the duke of Bourbon’s new Order of the Prisoner’s Shackle. Boucicaut, the most famous knight in Christendom, was one of his personal friends and comrades in arms. De Gaucourt also understood the dangers of the English archers, having faced them at the battle of St Cloud in 1411.67That Henry had already surrounded the town, and was pillaging the countryside far to the east of Harfleur did not dissuade this man from bravely riding with his three hundred men-at-arms straight for the gates on the eastern side of the town.

Henry was taken by surprise. With his groups of knights going far to the east beyond Harfleur, he did not imagine for a moment that reinforcements would arrive this late in the day, and risk a battle. But he had failed to take into consideration the water defences of Harfleur. Henry could not send troops arrayed for battle around the south of the town to intercept de Gaucourt, due to the salt marshes and the river Lézarde. Nor could he send a force of men around the north side due to the flooding of the valley. He could do nothing but watch as Raoul de Gaucourt led the last contingent of fighting men into the town, to the great joy of those within.

The boldness of de Gaucourt’s entry into Harfleur infuriated Henry. It was an obvious sign of his failure to seal off the town properly at the outset. But it is a noticeable feature of Henry’s character that, when his pride was hurt, he did not let the matter lie or accept the injury but took decisive action. Now he decided to employ one of his most efficient weapons of war: his brother, Thomas of Clarence. That very night he ordered Clarence to take his battle and find his way around the flooded valley, sealing off the town on the east side. Clarence was to take a cannon with him, and start bombarding the town. At the same time Henry ordered his ships to shift to the mouth of the Lézarde and prevent any reinforcements or supplies reaching the town by the water gate. He would not be made to look foolish again.

Monday 19th

At dawn, when the people of Harfleur roused themselves to face the day ahead, they looked up at Mont Cabert, the hill overlooking the town on the east, and saw the forces of Thomas, duke of Clarence, arrayed around a chapel on the slopes. They saw the cannon of the king of England to the west, facing the gate, and the banners of the lords of England all around their beautiful town. The huge weight of Henry’s determination to demonstrate that God was on his side had come to bear on them, and the pressure must have been terrifying. They knew that, unless the king of France sent a relieving army, they had no hope. Many would die, and those who survived could expect to lose all they had worked for all their lives.

Henry’s herald began the proceedings. The king sent him to the Porte Leure to offer,

in accordance with the twentieth chapter of Deuteronomic law, peace to the besieged if, freely and without coercion, they would open their gates to him and, as was their duty, restore that town, which was a noble and hereditary portion of his crown of England and of his duchy of Normandy.68

This repetition of Deuteronomic law – mentioned in Henry’s extraordinary letter of 28 July – must have been chilling to those who heard it, especially in respect of claiming Harfleur as a hereditary possession. For the law as laid out in Deuteronomy 20, verses 10–16, was very explicit as to what should happen to those who resisted a hereditary lord:

10. When you come to a city, in order to attack it, first proclaim peace to it;

11. And it shall be: if it gives an answer of peace, and opens its gates to you, then all the people that are found therein shall be your subjects and shall serve you;

12. And if it does not give an answer of peace, but makes war against you, then you should besiege it;

13. And when the Lord your God has delivered it into your hands you shall smite every male therein with the edge of the sword;

14. But the women, the children and cattle and everything that is in the city, including all the spoil, you shall take for your own; and you shall enjoy the spoil of your enemies that the Lord God has given you;

15. Thus shall you do to all the cities that are distant from your homeland, which are not of the cities of these nations;

16. But of the cities of those people that the Lord God gives you as an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes.

Despite this horrific threat, according to the author of the Gesta, the inhabitants of the town made light of the offer of peace and the threats of destruction. Henry responded by ‘informing them of the penal edicts contained in the aforesaid law [of Deuteronomy] which it would be necessary to execute upon them as a rebellious people should they persist thus in their obstinacy to the end’.69 As Henry regarded the town as part of his inheritance from God this meant that the women and children, and even the cattle of the town, could also expect to be slaughtered along with the men.

But still the people of Harfleur did not give in.


There were various methods employed in the middle ages for the destruction of a town. Water supplies could be cut off or poisoned; buildings set alight in the hope that the fire would spread throughout the town; the town could be blockaded to prevent food from entering; the walls could be over-run by large numbers of troops using scaling ladders and battering rams on the gates; and cannon and other siege engines could be used to smash down the walls. Harfleur was a difficult prospect whichever method Henry chose. The volume of water flowing through the town (despite the closure of sluices to flood the valley to the north) made it difficult to cut off the water supply. The barbicans prevented any direct attack on the gates, and an attempt to scale the walls would inevitably lead to a massive loss of life. Henry’s own ordinances prohibited burning – and even though he could have rescinded those instructions, the town would not have been worth possessing if he had burnt it to the ground. His model for a successful siege was Edward III’s seizure of Calais, which had been effected by a combined landward and seaward blockade, both of which Henry had already put in place. However, it had taken Edward III eleven months to starve Calais into submission, and Henry did not have eleven months to spare. He could not afford such a long campaign, nor could he risk a battle before the walls with an oncoming French army without a port from which he could retreat.

Henry chose to deploy his heavy guns from the outset. Having cleared the last buildings from the suburbs, the great iron-bound cannon blasted stones of 400–500lbs at the defences. Although there was a large number of cannon in the English arsenal in England, Henry had brought no more than a dozen with him, and perhaps fewer.70 These monsters weighed up to two tons and could only fire at a very slow rate; but when they did fire, and struck the target, the effect was devastating. One stone hitting a castle tower could easily bring the whole edifice crashing down. Henry’s father had been at the cutting edge of gunnery technology, designing cannon himself, and deploying them with great effectiveness in his sieges. At Warkworth in 1405 he had forced the defenders to surrender after one of his great guns had fired seven times; shortly afterwards at Berwick he had demolished the external walls of the castle with small cannon and then, with a single shot from one of his great guns, had blown apart one of the towers, after which the defenders surrendered.71 This was the technology that Henry himself now proposed to use to reduce the town of Harfleur, and show that a siege that took Edward III eleven months could be accomplished by his men in a few days.

Henry did not just bring up his guns. He built deep ditches and earth ramparts around them, to defend the gunners and other men shooting at the walls. In front of each cannon he positioned a screen made of heavy planks of wood; these were hinged at their midpoint on each side, so that when the top was tilted back, the lower part allowed the cannon to blast a stone towards the selected target. Similar defences were placed directly opposite the strongest barbican, to allow a round-the-clock watch to be stationed there, in case the enemy should attack from it. Those digging the protective ditch around this defence continued excavating day after day, thereby making a trench that almost reached the water in front of the Porte Leure.72 And then the gunners – twenty-five of them, including four master gunners, with fifty assistants – were instructed to destroy the town walls, to destroy the barbicans, and to fire indiscriminately into the centre of the town, to kill the inhabitants and to demoralise the enemy.73

Meanwhile Henry sent a messenger to the duke of Brittany to make sure that their truce still held good.74 As he knew, it was all very well having alliances with subjects of the king of France before the fighting started; whether they would actually support him with men and arms now they could see their services would be required was a totally different issue. Henry had obviously given similar instructions to his brother and the chancellor before leaving England, as the duke of Bedford was set to publish (on the 20th, tomorrow) the truce with the duke of Brittany at Dartmouth, Plymouth and Exeter. When that was done, the embassy led by John Hovingham and Simon Flete would leave London, with powers to renegotiate a new alliance with the duke of Brittany. They would remain there, reminding the duke of his diplomatic obligations, until Henry had left France.75


Raoul le Gay had been kept at Santivic for the last two days. This morning he was brought to the king’s camp at Graville where his guards told him to sit on the ground. There they left him, without food or drink, until midday. While Henry was with his council deciding on how to blast a hole in the side of Harfleur, a young Englishman came up to Raoul and spoke to him in Latin. Raoul told him he was hungry and thirsty, and the Englishman relayed the message to the guards. The guards helped him up and took him into the precincts of the priory. Here he met several English lords who, noticing his tonsure, asked him in French if he was a priest. When he said yes, he was, they asked him where were the English soldiers who had captured him, for in arresting him they had clearly contravened one of Henry’s most important ordinances. But Raoul did not know.

The young Englishman who had first spoken to him in Latin was then given instructions from the king to send Raoul to Thomas Beaufort, the constable of the army, who was lodged nearby. On arrival at Beaufort’s camp, the earl himself questioned Raoul in French. When he was done, he told him to sit down on a millstone and not to stir. There he was left until nightfall, still without food or drink. Only then, when the stars were appearing, did one of Beaufort’s men give him a piece of bread and some ale, and find him somewhere to sleep. Things could still be tough for a priest in English custody, despite Henry’s ordinances forbidding the arrest of unarmed priests.


In Paris, the dauphin and the government started sending out letters to the regions announcing that the English had landed, and summoning forces and appealing for money. The earliest extant such letter was despatched to Verdun.76


In London, in St Paul’s Cathedral, the trial of John Claydon resumed. Archbishop Chichele presided, supported by Bishop Clifford of London, Bishop Catterick of Lichfield and the king’s confessor, Stephen Patrington, bishop of St David’s. The general examiner of the province of Canterbury opened proceedings, and called on the doctors of law and divinity to give their evidence. They named the book by John Grime as the notorious The Lantern of Light and proceeded to read sections from it and to condemn them as heresy. Fifteen particular passages were singled out, and read aloud, and condemned. And then the book was solemnly burned in a fire prepared for the purpose. After John Claydon’s confession had once more been read out, he was told formally that the archbishop judged that he had lapsed into his former heresy, and, with the assent of the three bishops and all the doctors of law and divinity present, he decreed that Claydon be handed over to the secular authorities for capital punishment.

It fell to the mayor, Thomas Falconer, to write to the king informing him that he proposed to carry out the sentence of burning Claydon to death.

Tuesday 20th

It was full moon. Henry had ordered that the bombardment of the town should continue day and night. For the people of Harfleur the sound of a stone whistling through the air and striking a building with tremendous force, sending it crumbling into the street, was becoming a normality. The screams of those men, women and children injured in the constant bombardment were no doubt just as demoralising as the missiles themselves.

Henry was taking advantage of the extra moonlight to keep the bombardment going. He himself stayed up at night – ‘he did not allow his eyelids to close in sleep’, as one chronicler put it – going through the camp and seeing that his men were prepared and organised, visiting the sentries, checking the positions of his guns and siege engines.

It is not known for certain who was now in control within Harfleur. It is possible that Raoul de Gaucourt had taken over as captain of the town. Alternatively he may have simply taken charge of the defences, so d’Estouteville was still the man giving the orders.77Either way, probably both men also stayed up, inspecting the defences by moonlight and ordering the masons to repair the walls – while outside the walls Henry encouraged his men to fire their cannon again.

Thursday 22nd

The mayor of London, Thomas Falconer, wrote to the king about John Claydon:

Forasmuch as the Almighty King and the Lord of Heaven, who lately taught your hands to fight, and has guided your feet to the battle, has now during your absence, placed in our hands certain persons who not only were enemies of Him and of your dignity but also, in so far as they might be, were subverters of the whole of your realm: men commonly known as Lollards, who have laboured for a long time for the subversion of the whole Catholic faith and of Holy Church, the lessening of public worship and the destruction of your realm, as also the perpetration of very many other enormities horrible to hear; the same persons, in accordance with the requirements of the law, we have caused to be delivered by indenture unto the Reverend Commissaries of the Reverend Father in Christ, Lord Richard, by Divine permission, the Lord Bishop of London. Whereupon one John Claydon by name, the arch-parent of this heretical depravity, was by the most Reverend Father in Christ and Lord Henry, by Divine permission, the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, Primate of all your realm, and other bishops, his brethren, as well as very many professors of Holy Scripture and doctors of law, in accordance with the canonical sanctions, by sentence in this behalf lawfully pronounced, as being a person relapsed into heresy, which before had been by him abjured, left in the hands of the secular court; for the execution of whose body and the entire destruction of all such enemies, with all diligence, to the utmost of our power we shall be assisting …78

The sentence was pushed before Henry with no expectation that he would intervene to try to stop the killing, as he had done with John Badby in 1410. Those days of clemency had long since given way to a rigid application of the ultimate penalty. In order to create a horror of religious deviation Falconer’s letter linked the Lollard cause to treason. Claydon was portrayed as ‘an enemy of Him and of your dignity’ and ‘a subverter of the whole of your realm’ seeking ‘the destruction of your realm’. This was all blatantly untrue. Claydon was just a conscientious man who felt bound to follow his conscience in religious matters over and above the institution of the Church. Once again we can see how heresy and treason were being linked, amplifying the heretical nature of treason and the treasonable nature of heresy.

This is why Mayor Falconer did not expect a messenger to come galloping back from the coast with orders to stop the burning.

Friday 23rd

By this stage Harfleur was completely cut off. Yet the commanders within had managed to get a message out to Charles d’Albret, then at Rouen, saying their land routes were in enemy hands and that the only hope of reaching the town was by boat; they asked for more supplies. D’Albret commissioned a galley and sent it out today.79 If the oarsmen managed to find their way between the English ships in the Seine and into Harfleur, then it would have been the last contact the people of Harfleur had with the outside world.

Saturday 24th

The formal reply to the letter that Henry had written ‘on the coast’ at Southampton was drawn up and sealed in Paris.

The blessing of peace, beloved of God and nature, to which after the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, which He left to his disciples and gave to us as a legacy, we have always sought and desired by every means in our power, and which for the honour of God, we desire most earnestly to procure, for the advantages that attend it, and to avoid the effusion of human blood, and the innumerable evils produced by war. As this we believe is manifest and clear to you, your council and others, you have occasioned us great surprise, and not without cause, after such great overtures and other points discussed between your people and ours, with a firm intention of establishing peace, to the great sin of your party. And as we never did refuse justice, nor shall we, if it please God, to all who may demand it of us; as it is lawful for every prince in his just quarrel to defend himself, and to oppose force by force; and as none of your predecessors ever had any right, and you still less, to make the demands contained in certain of your letters, presented to us by Chester your herald, nor to give us any trouble, it is our intention with the assistance of the Lord, in whom we have singular trust, and especially from the justice of our cause, and also with the aid of our good relations, friends, allies and subjects, to resist you in a way that shall be to the honour and glory of us and of our kingdom, and to the confusion, loss and dishonour of you and your party.

With respect to the marriage of which you write at the end of your letter, it does not appear that the means that you have adopted to make a request or demand, and especially of affinity or marriage, is proper, honourable, or usual in such a case; and therefore we will not write to you upon any other matter at present but send you this letter in answer to that which you wrote us by the said Chester.80

It was entirely understandable – and the ‘great surprise’ of the attack was probably genuine in the sense that, when negotiations for peace had been in progress in 1414, an invasion on this scale could not have been anticipated. The French government, like the French people, could not see what they had done to warrant such an attack.


Troops were now gathering to defend the north of France, and to guard against the anticipated march on Paris. Jean de Werchin, seneschal of Hainault, marched into Amiens today with 120 men-at-arms and sixty archers. The count of Vendôme either had or was raising a company of three hundred men-at-arms and 150 archers. The duke of Berry was raising a thousand men-at-arms and five hundred archers. As can be seen from these figures, whereas most English companies had thirty longbowmen to every ten men-at-arms, the pattern for the French was to have five archers (mostly crossbowmen) for every ten men-at-arms. Thus the resisting force was very different in its composition from the attacking one. Each French man-at-arms would have had a page, like his English equivalent, and there would have been a number of grooms and servants too, and these men also needed to be fed and watered.

Although these forces by themselves could do nothing to stop the English from attacking Harfleur, they could impede the progress of the foraging parties by restricting their movements. According to Monstrelet, Boucicaut, Clignant de Brabant and the seneschal of Hainault were all in the field, harassing the English along with Charles d’Albret. They prevented them from taking any other towns in the region, despite the widespread incursions of the English foragers.81

Sunday 25th

The siege had now been underway for a week, and the siege engines and cannon had continued bombarding the town, day and night. The author of the Gesta remarked that

within a few days, when by the violence and fury of the stones the barbican was in the process of being largely demolished, the walls and towers from which the enemy had discharged their offensives were rendered defenceless with their ramparts destroyed; and truly fine buildings, almost as far as the middle of the town, were either totally demolished or threatened with inevitable collapse or, at least, their framework falling apart.82

For Henry, this was now becoming a problem. He wanted to take Harfleur and hold it; but if the inhabitants and soldiers under Raoul de Gaucourt held out until the town was destroyed, he would not be able to defend it against the French counter-attack, whenever that might come. Then he would find himself defending nothing but a pile of rubble, and trapped against the coast. The truth was that his strategy of taking the town quickly was likely to leave the town in ruins long before the inhabitants’ food supplies ran out. The effect on his nerve and the nerves of his fellow councillors cannot be known; but it would be foolish to suppose that the situation was anything but deeply worrying.

The destruction of the town was not Henry’s only concern. Raoul de Gaucourt was rallying the defenders to fight with crossbows, guns, catapults, and siege engines of their own. From the barbican outside the Porte Leure they shot and fired at the attackers, and also from behind screens erected in the openings of shattered walls and broken towers. In addition, by night, when it was difficult for the archers to pick off the defenders, they started to rebuild the damaged walls and the barbican, re-laying the stones and placing large tubs filled with earth, dung, sand and stones. Walls teetering or collapsing they shored up in a similar way, using bundles of faggots set solid with clay, earth and dung. They also lay clay, dung and earth over the streets and lanes to soak up the impact of crashing stones and masonry, so that projectiles would not bounce off the hard ground into buildings but would get swallowed up in the mud.

For Henry the obvious next step was a full-scale assault on the walls with scaling ladders, or through the breaches he had made. Overcoming the defenders in this way would preserve what remained of the defences. But his first attempts to overwhelm the walls proved futile. The defenders had filled jars with a compound made from sulphur and quicklime to throw in the eyes of the men who attacked. They had also gathered barrels of inflammable powders, oils and fat; if any siege equipment came close – such as a wooden tower to launch an onslaught on the walls – then they set light to the barrels and poured them over the wooden apparatus. The author of the Gesta remarked that ‘people under siege could not have resisted our attacks more sagaciously, or with greater security to themselves, than they did’.83


Raoul le Gay had languished in Thomas Beaufort’s camp for a whole week now. In that time he had been practically famished; no one wanted to waste good food on a Frenchman. His predicament was that he had been taken illegally and yet no one wanted to let him go, given how much he had seen of the English quarters. He continually asked to be released but this request was denied. In the end he was taken before the king. Henry demanded to know whether he had been taken in arms – in which case his imprisonment did not contravene Henry’s military ordinances. Raoul protested that he had not. Henry seems to have paid little attention otherwise to the man but ordered that he be taken to Bishop Courtenay’s tent, which was close to the king’s pavilion, and quartered there.84

Wednesday 28th

The French council sent out letters summoning forces to assemble at Rouen. The actual form of the summons was a semonce des nobles, to be proclaimed in Normandy and the surrounding areas. This stated that, although the king of France had sent envoys to England in the hope of avoiding the bloodshed and inconvenience of war, the English had invaded and laid siege to Harfleur. So the king had directed the dauphin as lieutenant to gather an army at Rouen. All the nobles and men-at-arms of the region, and all the archers and crossbowmen, were to gather there as soon as possible. As they journeyed, men were to wear a white cross – in contrast to the English red one – and were under strict instructions not to pillage any places through which they passed, nor to stay anywhere longer than one night. All those attending would receive protection for six months from any legal cases in the courts against them, and they would be paid. King Charles himself would join the army soon, in order to raise the siege and lead his subjects in the fight against the English, in the eyes of God.85

One lord was exempted from this semonce des nobles: John the Fearless, duke of Burgundy. Perhaps his agreement with Henry V was suspected. Perhaps it was just too dangerous to the Armagnacs to allow the duke to ride at the head of an army across Normandy. Either way, it was a diplomatic gamble, for it gave a clear message that the duke was out of favour.


Bishop Courtenay attended Mass in his tent at about nine o’clock this morning. Afterwards he took Raoul le Gay and went to hear a religious service in the king’s chapel. Raoul was astonished to hear such beautiful music. One of the more incongruous images of the siege is Henry V listening to his choristers singing pious anthems while his cannon boomed out in the valley below, blasting at the walls of Harfleur day and night.

After the service, Courtenay spoke to Raoul about Jean Fusoris. He explained that Fusoris was a canon of Notre Dame in Paris, and a famous astronomer. If Raoul would carry a message to Fusoris, the bishop would set him free. Raoul had never been to Paris himself, and so he refused. But when Courtenay threatened to ship him back to England to be imprisoned, he accepted the mission. Courtenay would give him the letter to Fusoris tomorrow.


Down in the valley, the men of Harfleur were taking the fight to the English. As Henry tried new tactics to break their defences, so they devised new methods of defeating him. When Henry planned to fill in the ditches on both sides of the town with bundles of faggots ten feet long, the defenders simply got ready to pour burning oil into the same ditches and set light to the faggots and the men laying them. So Henry abandoned that plan. Instead he decided to try to fight his way into the town by having two mines built, to tunnel beneath the walls’ foundations and then bring them crashing down by setting light to the pit props. A ‘sow’ or protective shelter was built for each mine and digging started. Raoul de Gaucourt knew exactly how to tackle that threat. He ordered counter-mines to be dug, in which the besieged men dug towards the miners and fought for control of the mine, and then filled it in. Such measures were hard work and terrifying; it was a race in great heat, darkness and barely any air – conducted with the sole intention of breaking through and meeting a desperate, murderous enemy. On both occasions the defenders proved the better miners and managed to thwart the attackers, breaking through and bringing down their shaft before the walls could be pulled down. The sole English achievement as a result of the mines was that the watchmen guarding one of the mines saw an opportunity to attack the outer ditch on the king’s side, and managed to capture it. From there they could bring the siege engines a little closer to the walls, and use the ditch as protection while they attacked the defences.86

On the east side of the town, Thomas, duke of Clarence, was having his men-at-arms and archers dig ditches. Thomas had impressed everyone with the ferocity of his onslaughts on the walls; but he was in a very dangerous position. He was on the exposed side of the town – open to attack from companies of Frenchmen. His messengers had to run the gauntlet of crossing the flooded area north of the town in small boats in order to get to the king, and then get back. And having fewer men than Henry at his command, he was also prone to attacks from the town itself, from guns as well as crossbows and sallies of men-at-arms. Nevertheless he kept up the pressure, following Henry’s initiatives and keeping up the bombardment. Now his men were constructing a long defensive ditch in front of his own lines, copying the Harfleur townsmen’s own method of driving tree trunks into the ground, and heaping up earth from the ditch against them, to protect his men while they continued the assault.

Thursday 29th

In his tent near the king’s pavilion, Courtenay wrote his letter to Jean Fusoris. He wrote with his own hand, in Latin, and said how he recalled their previous conversations, and how a clerk who knew Fusoris had recently passed on news of him. He asked that Fusoris write back with news within the next eight or ten days but not to mention either of their names in the correspondence, as no one knew of it except the king, ‘who is very close, as you know’. He then sealed the letter and handed it to Raoul le Gay, together with a purse containing twenty half-nobles, which Raoul hid beneath his shirt. Another man in Courtenay’s service handed Raoul a letter to take to Paris, to a friend of his. Courtenay himself gave Raoul a small parchment list of fruit, pumpkins and other things he wanted from the prior of the Celestines in Paris, and promised to pay for them on delivery. He also told Raoul to tell Fusoris that Henry had landed with fifty thousand men, four thousand barrels of wheat, four thousand casks of wine, sufficient supplies for a six-month siege of Harfleur, and twelve large cannon. Probably all of this was exaggerated; he had fewer than a third as many men, and had only ordered food for three months. Besides, according to Monstrelet, many of his supplies had been damaged at sea.87 But the instruction fits with what we know about Courtenay’s relationship with Fusoris on previous occasions – he fed him misinformation in the hope that it would be passed on to the French court, while seeking intelligence of his own.88

There was one particular question that Courtenay did not put in writing but asked Raoul to put to Fusoris: whether the duke of Burgundy was responding to the call to arms. This seems to have been a genuine area of concern for the bishop. Despite the agreement between Henry and John the Fearless, the latter had proved duplicitous throughout his career, and still was not wholly trusted. Henry and Courtenay suspected he might break the terms of his agreement and fight on the French side simply because the enormity of fighting against his fellow French subjects on behalf of an English claimant to the throne was too great. As it happened John the Fearless was still at Argilly, where he had been since he himself had entertained the ambassadors of the duke of Brittany, who had arrived there on the 15th.89 John the Fearless’s ambassadors were no doubt discussing the implications of the English invasion with their Breton counterparts, and reviewing possible strategies. Courtenay would not have known this, of course, but the English council was very eager to know which way the two dukes with English treaties would choose to act.

Saturday 31st

Raoul le Gay had left Bishop Courtenay’s camp on the 29th with letters of safe conduct, so he could pass through the English lines. He had set out as intended in the direction of Paris. But later that night he turned back and made his way in the moonlight to Montivilliers. At sunrise, when the gates to the town opened, he passed into the town. The French guards demanded to know who he was and where he had come from. He said he had come from the English army, and showed them his English safe conduct. The guards tore it up, but they allowed him into the town. He wandered around until he found some friends of his, and went to a tavern and had a drink with them; but later, as he walked in front of the town hall, he was pointed out to the town officials as having come from the English camp with English letters of safe conduct. He was arrested and locked up in a chamber in the abbey.

Today Raoul was brought out of his prison and taken to the town hall. A French Benedictine monk, who had also been arrested by the English, detained and then released, recognised Raoul and said he was carrying a secret letter. Raoul admitted it, and, realising the gravity of his situation, declared that he had no intention of delivering it. But of course he had to produce the said letter. When the recipient was identified as Jean Fusoris, it seemed to the authorities that they had discovered one of Henry’s spies: a trusted astrologer, right in the heart of the city with access to the court. A message was despatched to Paris straightaway.90


In Paris the French king’s councillors were facing a crisis. The taxation they had levied on 14 March was not going to be sufficient to pay for an army strong enough to counter the English. They therefore decided they needed 24,000 livres tournois (about £4,000) as soon as possible. Of course this was unpopular; one writer in Paris described it as ‘the heaviest tax that had ever been seen in the whole age of man’. Many Parisians began to recall the duke of Orléans and his high taxes and lax morals, and saw the return of them both in the new taxation and the dauphin’s immoral lifestyle.91 As Pope Benedict had not yet been forced to resign, the French government set about obtaining permission from him to levy a tax for the war on all the clergy throughout France. And all this was to pay the expenses of an army of just six thousand men-at-arms and three thousand archers. The French government was having difficulty even raising a mediocre force to resist the English. There was a failure to recognise the gravity of the situation.92

One development in France’s favour did take place today. The five hundred Cabochien supporters of John the Fearless were granted an amnesty, in accordance with the conditions of John swearing to uphold the Peace of Arras. With this measure in place, the oath should have held firm. There should have been no doubt in French minds that John the Fearless would oppose the English, and the dauphin indeed issued a letter today declaring him a good and loyal subject.93 As for what John actually intended to do, no one knew. On the one hand, he was promising to support the dauphin. But on the other, the dauphin’s failure to include him among those who received the summons of the 28th, and another on 1 September, was an insult that he could use diplomatically to his advantage – to the point of refusing to fight.


At Harfleur the bombardment continued. The siege was now two weeks old, and still there were few signs that the inhabitants were prepared to give up. Some chronicles suggest that Raoul de Gaucourt had held negotiations with the English, offering to surrender the town; but these are equally likely to have been malicious rumours circulated in the wake of the defeat, when the various noble families in France all sought to blame each other for the failure to resist the English invasion. Just as likely to be true are the references to sorties from Harfleur, as the inhabitants sought to carry the fight to the English. What is certain is that a third mine was commenced about this time, in the hope of bringing the siege to a speedy end with no further destruction to the fabric of the town. It too was bound to fail, like the others. The approach to the centre of the town from the Porte Leurewas now a broken mass of stone and timber; and yet still the inhabitants were determined to hold on. No matter what Henry threw at them, Raoul de Gaucourt and his fellow defenders held out. And they were in turn inflicting serious injuries on Henry’s men. Thomas Hostell, a man-at-arms in Sir John Lumley’s company, later recalled how at Harfleur he had been hit by a crossbow bolt, which had entered his head, destroying one eye and his cheek.94 Incredibly, he went on to fight at Agincourt.

One cannot fault Henry’s personal resolution in all this, nor that of his brother Thomas in commanding the second army on the eastern side of the town. The king continued to make nightly inspections of his lines, encouraging his men and making sure that watches were in place and the shift pattern for firing the guns was maintained.95 But several strategic miscalculations were now obvious. One has already been mentioned – that in order to bring about a swift end to the siege using guns, Henry was having to destroy the defences he hoped to gain. So he had miscalculated the determination of the townsmen. But another, worse problem was becoming apparent. His army was too big for its purpose. An army suitable for fighting a battle was far larger than the size of force one needed for a successful siege. He could not risk a full-scale attack as he would lose too many men whom he would need later to fight a French army. But all the men with him needed food. They needed wine and ale. They needed money, and they needed clean accommodation. And although that last aspect might seem a minor one, it was actually very important. For now another obstacle in Henry’s path emerged – not from the defenders but recognisable from the foetid hot air of the drying flooded valley north of the town, and the ever-present effluent of fifteen thousand men camped in a small area with no sanitary provision.


If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!