Post-classical history


Friday 1st: Feast of All Saints

THE FORMAL BEGINNING of winter: the season of the dead. Now the light was fading earlier in the afternoon, and the working day was shorter. At this feast of All Saints, men’s and women’s thoughts turned to the departed. People wore their mourning clothes. Traditionally men around the king wore black funeral robes, and the king himself put on a purple velvet gown. Churches burnt candles late into the night, and in some places torches were carried in procession. Many churches began ringing their bells after the evening service – and carried on ringing them until midnight – in an attempt to comfort the souls of the dead in Purgatory. Had you been walking through the streets of London on this moonless night, you would have heard the bells of many parish churches ringing out in the darkness, across the cold ground. Had you been living in a rural village, from the quiet of your bedchamber you may well have heard the distant ringing coming across the fields. Those in the churches, their faces solemn in the golden glow of candlelight, would have remembered and prayed for their lost family members – fathers, mothers, children, many of whom would have died before their time due to war, childbirth and disease.1

In Northern France the candles, prayers and commemorative ringing would have had an extra poignancy. Many of the Frenchmen slain at Agincourt came from the vicinity of the battle, from Artois, Picardy and Flanders. Whole families had been wiped out. In many cases three or four members of one family had proudly ridden out to join the army defending France one week earlier. Now their wives and mothers were bereft, lighting the candles and hearing the bells, not knowing whether their husbands died unshriven of their sins, and without hope of entering Heaven. Many others did not know whether their husbands and sons were alive or dead, hoping against hope that they had been taken as prisoners by the English to Calais. Many women would have understood their fate in terms of a sudden legal danger, realising that their lands would now fall to another member of their husband’s family – a brother or cousin, perhaps – with the result that they stood to lose wealth, status and protection. Some women would just have looked at the late-night candles, simply trying to come to terms with the knowledge that the men to whom they had been closest in life were now among the dead, and that the sound of the bells ringing out from the church was their last communication to them.2

Saturday 2nd

At Perpignan, in Aragon, the Holy Roman Emperor was furious. He was seeing his entire mission to reunite the Church threatened by another self-interested pope.

Sigismund had left Constance on 17 July and headed towards Nice and then Narbonne. There, at the end of August, he had declared that his purpose in travelling was to secure the resignation of Benedict XIII, and he would wait there for the pope.3 Benedict had travelled as far as Perpignan, where he had learnt that his protector, King Ferdinand of Aragon, was very sick. Although Ferdinand was still not yet thirty-five, he was dying – and his physicians advised him not to travel to Narbonne. Nevertheless Ferdinand disregarded their dire warnings and had himself carried on board a ship, by which he travelled to Perpignan, there to confront the recalcitrant pope. He invited Sigismund to join them; Sigismund obliged, arriving on 19 September. There had followed six weeks of bitter wrangling.

The problem was that Benedict had no intention of simply abdicating, as Gregory XII had done. Rather, like John XXIII, he wanted to use the negotiations to secure certain advantages. At one point he went so far as to suggest that he himself should personally choose the next pope for the whole Church. He also was keen that the council should be removed to a place more in keeping with his tastes – somewhere by the sea, perhaps. Eventually Sigismund demanded a simple abdication. It was refused.

King Ferdinand watched all this with the impatience of a dying man. He knew that Benedict would be lost without his support – only the Spanish nation was standing by him. But after the weeks of wrangling, Ferdinand could see that if he died of his present sickness, which was likely, it might be said of him that he had abetted Benedict in his determination to cling on to power. The time had come for a drastic measure. Yesterday Ferdinand had sent his son and heir, Alfonso, to Benedict with a summons and a demand that he resign the papal title immediately. Benedict had responded by publicly creating several cardinals and declaring he was going to move his papal court to Peñiscola, a castle on the south coast, south of Valencia. Clearly the purpose was to avoid further negotiations with Sigismund, Ferdinand or any part of the Church outside Spain. Today Ferdinand sent his son back to Benedict, to demand once more that he abdicate. The pope evasively answered that he would send his answer from Peñiscola.

This was the point at which Sigismund lost his temper. Hearing that Benedict had taken ship, he declared he was returning to Narbonne. He did not even bother sending a farewell salutation to Ferdinand but set out immediately for Serrano. Ferdinand hurriedly sent a solemn embassy after him, imploring him to return to Perpignan and promising that he would act in such a way as to satisfy him. But Sigismund had had enough. If Ferdinand wanted to communicate with him further, he would find him at Narbonne.

There could be no more hesitation for Ferdinand. Benedict was no longer worth supporting; he stood alone. All the other nations were insistent on the reunification of the Church. On top of this, if Ferdinand continued to hesitate, then he would jeopardise his agreement with Henry V, who had no regard for the French pope. Accordingly Ferdinand did as Sigismund requested. He sent further ambassadors to Narbonne to negotiate Benedict’s abdication. At the same time he sent another summons to Peñiscola. The days of Benedict’s pontificate were numbered.4

Sunday 3rd

The interim government in England was dealing with the routine business arising from the year’s events. Following the death of Bishop Courtenay, the duke of Bedford and the council gave permission for the monks of Norwich Cathedral to elect a new bishop. And Edmund Mortimer, earl of March, was peremptorily reminded that he still owed a fine for his marriage. The first instalment of the 10,000 marks was set at £2,000 by the council; payment was required immediately.5

William Zouche, Lord Zouche of Haringworth, died today. He had been at Southampton at the time of Henry’s departure, and had sat as one of the judges at the trial of the earl of Cambridge and his co-conspirators. Although it is not certain that he was on the campaign itself, the king had recently nominated him as a Knight of the Garter, to succeed the recently deceased John Daubridgecourt, who had contracted dysentery at Harfleur. He may therefore have been nominated in respect of his good service on the campaign. Either way, he was never installed in his seat of honour at one of the two round tables at Windsor. His place was eventually offered by Henry to the Holy Roman Emperor, Sigismund, who came to England to be installed the following year.6

Monday 4th

Relatively few noblemen gathered at Westminster for the parliament that opened today. Most secular lords were still with the king in France. Only nineteen were present in the Painted Chamber alongside the forty-nine prelates and approximately two hundred representatives of the shires and the boroughs to hear Chancellor Beaufort make the opening speech.

How different the mood would have been had the original news received at Westminster – about an English defeat – been true! As it was, Beaufort knew he had a willing and a thankful audience. With the duke of Bedford presiding, Beaufort declared emphatically that those present should ‘honour the king, because he himself honours God Almighty above all others’ and because the king had protected the rights of the Holy Church. Many of those hearing those words ‘honour the king’ would have understood the biblical connotation – from the first letter of Peter:

17. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.

18. Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle but also to the froward.

When Duke John acknowledged the rightness of these sentiments, and officially declared that parliament was in session, Beaufort continued in the same manner of lauding the king. This parliament, he declared, had been summoned for two reasons. He explained that both might be best understood through the biblical line from Judges 15: 11: ‘as they did unto me, so I have done unto them’. Except in Beaufort’s phrasing it became ‘As he did unto us, so let us do unto him’.

The first reason why parliament should ‘do unto Henry as he had done unto them’ was that he had striven for good government. Ever since his coronation, the king had worked ‘for the preservation and reform of the law, and for the peace of the land, and for the benefit, safety and tranquillity of all his subjects’. So they were obliged to offer Henry something in acknowledgement of his labours.

The second reason concerned France. Beaufort explained that although Henry had done all he could to secure a lasting peace and avoid the shedding of Christian blood, he had been unable to secure a restitution of his rights through diplomacy. Thus, ‘forsaking all kinds of personal pleasure, comfort and safety, he undertook the same expedition and venture for that reason, believing wholeheartedly in his lawful quarrel and in Almighty God, in accordance with the words of the wise man who says, “strive thou for justice, and the Lord shall fight with you”’ (Ecclesiasticus, 4: 33). And with that Beaufort went on to tell the story of the whole expedition – from the siege of Harfleur, ‘the strongest town in this part of the world’, which had been ‘surrendered without the loss of life’, to the march across Northern France.

Already the propaganda elements were in place – not the least of which was the obfuscation of the fact that forty or so men had lost their lives in pursuit of the king’s ambitions at Harfleur. Beaufort went on to stress that Henry took only ‘a small number of men in comparison with the might of his enemies’ and that he

encountered and fought with a large number of dukes, earls, barons and lords of France and other lands and countries overseas, and with all the chivalry and might of France and the same lands and countries; and how finally, with the Almighty’s help and grace, all the French were defeated, taken or killed, without great loss to the English; and how he, after such a glorious and marvellous victory, has now arrived safely at his said town of Calais with his men and prisoners, praise be to God, with the greatest honour and gain that the realm of England has ever had in so short a time.7

Having reminded all those present of the drama of the expedition, and the courage of the king, and above all else the judgment of the Almighty, Beaufort then delivered the rhetorical flourish, repeating ‘as he did unto us, so let us do unto him’. He declared that this glorious victory was just the beginning, and that without their continued help, the honourable and profitable expedition would be unable to continue. It was the duty of each and every man present at that parliament to consider how he might make provision for the continuation of the king’s military success.

It was a recipe for an ongoing war of aggression. But in the euphoria of the moment, that was exactly what the English parliament wanted. Nothing illustrates better how Henry was a man of his time than the ecstatic reception of the news that the English were going to sustain the war effort in France, on a permanent basis. The English parliament seems to have forgotten that the war aims did not extend beyond the king’s dynastic security and personal pride.

Wednesday 6th

Beaufort had concluded his opening address on the 4th with an exhortation to the commons to elect their Speaker immediately, and to present him the following day. There was a delay. But today the commons presented Sir Richard Redman, the duke of Bedford’s own councillor. It was a tacit acquiescence of Henry’s triumph over parliament as well as over the French nobility. Whatever the king’s uncle and brother asked for would be granted.

In the meanwhile the government continued to support the king at Calais. An order was issued from Westminster that no corn should be exported to any port on the continent except Calais or Harfleur.8

Friday 8th

The crimes of the earl of Cambridge, Sir Thomas Gray and Lord Scrope assumed a different complexion in the light of Henry’s victory. Any public belief in Scrope’s innocence was eradicated by the judgment of God in Henry’s favour. In that sense Agincourt acted as a sort of baptism in which all Henry’s past sins and errors were wiped clean away, and all his decisions justified – however doubtful they may have seemed at the time. Henry’s malicious propaganda, concerning the attempt on his life and Scrope accepting bribes from the French, was accordingly accepted throughout the kingdom. Members of Parliament were left in no doubt that Scrope’s execution was entirely justified.

The confirmation of the judgments was the business of today’s parliament. The confessions of each executed man were read out, and the lords declared that the judgments were all good, just and lawful. The prelates also supported the judgments, in case any trace of guilt remained attached to Henry’s name for acting in such a ruthless manner. Every effort was made to present Henry as a scrupulously pious and God-fearing man.

Aside from the business of parliament, the royal council ordered that the prior of the House of Jesus of Bethlehem – Henry’s new Charterhouse at Sheen – be paid £20 for the new works he had undertaken there. Presumably finances for this project were limited by the war effort; work was still underway two years later.9

Monday 11th: Feast of St Martin (Martinmas)

The feast of St Martin was an especially carefully observed feast. It fell at a date coinciding with several key moments in the agricultural calendar. The first snows could be expected to fall from this date. Those animals that were not going to be fed and kept through the dark months were singled out and slaughtered. Pigs were held down and bled to death slowly, then butchered and salted down for the dark months ahead. Bullocks were likewise felled; and sheep, goats and geese too. It was thus a day of plenty in many larger households: there was more than enough meat to go around and gallons of wine, for St Martin of Tours was the patron saint of vintners, and the day marked the occasion for tasting the new vintage. In addition, Martinmas was still considered the last great feast before the long period of abstinence which was Advent. There was a folklore element to the day too: the weather conditions were a sign of the weather for the rest of the winter – snow on Martinmas was thought to indicate a mild Christmas. Finally, St Martin was famous for cutting his cloak in half to share it with a beggar; hence it was a day when even the poorest people could expect their wealthier neighbours to be generous.


At Calais it was the day for the prisoners from Harfleur to present themselves. De Gaucourt, d’Estouteville and the other knights and gentlemen whom Henry had temporarily released thus gathered in the town.

When they had sworn their oaths at the end of September, Henry’s representatives had told them that if a battle had been fought before Martinmas, then they were simply to pay their ransoms. They were only required to submit to imprisonment again if no battle had been fought. On account of this assurance, many turned up expecting to pay a sum of money and then leave as free men, after swearing never to fight against the king of England again. However, Henry declared that if they had previously heard that they would be able to leave freely, they had been misinformed. They were now his prisoners once more.

For Raoul de Gaucourt, who was still very ill, this was a bitter blow. They had done the honourable thing and fulfilled their vow to submit; but Henry saw no reason to observe his side of the bargain. He was particularly harsh with de Gaucourt himself. Henry declared that 140 or 160 Englishmen had been captured by the French in the course of the campaign, and if de Gaucourt wanted to be a free man again, he should set about ransoming all the Englishmen who were left languishing in French gaols. The men who had pillaged the English baggage train at Maisoncelle during the battle of Agincourt had looted a number of precious items, all of which Henry wanted back: de Gaucourt was to arrange for their return. Henry also told de Gaucourt that he must provide two hundred casks of Beaune wine, to be sent to him in London. And all this despite de Gaucourt technically being the prisoner of Sir John Cornwaille.

De Gaucourt went to the French noblemen imprisoned at Calais and asked for advice. They told him to do what Henry asked, otherwise he risked spending many years in an English prison. De Gaucourt accordingly asked the king for permission to leave Calais and arrange all the things Henry had requested. He paid the ransoms of all the English prisoners he could find – 120 or 140 of them. He redeemed all the jewels he could trace, and sent them to Henry in London. He also sent the Beaune wine. But although the total cost of all this was in excess of 13,000 crowns (about £2,167), Henry did not remit de Gaucourt’s ransom, or allow him his freedom. When de Gaucourt came to England he found that he still owed Sir John Cornwaille his full ransom of 10,000 crowns, and would remain his prisoner until it was paid in full. Despite fulfilling his vows, and despite Henry’s own claim to be the protecting sovereign of France and its subjects, de Gaucourt – one of the founders of the Order of the Prisoner’s Shackle – remained a prisoner for many years to come.10

Most great medieval kings respected the courage and resilience of their adversaries. If they vanquished them, treating them well simply enhanced their chivalric standing. But as far as we can judge, Henry did not see the French knights in a chivalric way. He saw them in a religious context – as the losers in a religious war, to be dealt with according to the law of Deuteronomy in the most extreme situations. With regard to de Gaucourt personally, Henry probably thought he was being merciful by letting the man live. From a more objective point of view, he cheated him. After defending Harfleur so long and so bravely, de Gaucourt deserved better.


The death of Sir John Chidiock at the siege of Harfleur had meant the family estates stood to be inherited by his fourteen-year-old heir, John. Custody of these manors was granted to Edmund, earl of March, presumably as compensation for his expenditure on the campaign. Clearly his involvement in the earl of Cambridge’s plot had not lost him all favour, even if he did still have to pay the 10,000 marks fine for arranging a marriage without Henry’s approval.11

Tuesday 12th

In line with the chancellor’s announcement to parliament that the government would seek a large quantity of money to pay for the ongoing war, the duke of Bedford ordered the archbishop of York to hold a convocation of the clergy of his province before the next 20 January. The convocation of Canterbury was due to meet on the 18th of this month. The clergy of the two provinces were expected to grant an extra subsidy to pay for the next phase of military operations. No doubt many of the spiritual and secular lords hoped that this taxation meant that the loans they had made to the crown would be repaid sooner rather than later. In reality it would be years before any of them were fully recompensed, and many were never repaid.12

Only one statute seems to have been enrolled in this parliament – unsurprisingly, given the king’s absence. It too concerned money. Foreign coins that had previously been forbidden or ruled illegal tender were not to be imported into the realm. Presumably the thinking was that the silver content of English coins had to be maintained at a high level, in order to preserve the value of the currency. There was a danger that the value of the foreign coins would outweigh that of the English ones, which had been reduced in weight in 1412 in order to raise money for the treasury.

Another opportunity to gain a large sum of money easily was recognised in reversing a piece of legislation that threatened Welsh landowners. After the revolt of Owen Glendower in 1400 the English parliament had forced Henry IV to pass more and more extreme anti-Welsh legislation. Now, with Glendower’s revolution a spent force and the man himself dead, there was less danger. The government therefore issued a proclamation that, in return for a payment of £1,000, the lands of Welsh tenants of the king would not escheat to the crown but would pass directly to the heirs, according to Welsh law.13

Wednesday 13th

This, the tenth day of the parliament, was the last. It thus became the shortest parliament in medieval English history. It had served its two major functions: to ratify the king’s action at Southampton against the conspirators and to secure an advancement of more money to pay for the expenses of fighting in France. By the end of the day the members had agreed to bring forward the collection of the second instalment of the large tax granted in November 1414 by two months. They had also granted a further tax of a tenth and a fifteenth and declared that the king might receive the wool subsidy and various other customs dues for the rest of his life without having to ask parliament. In reality, the grant of the wool subsidy was a matter of routine, so this is less generous than it at first appears; however, it was very unusual to see members of parliament voluntarily giving up some of their hard-earned rights. This, combined with the grants concerning the increased taxation, is a reflection of the euphoria that the news of Agincourt generated among the English landowning classes.

The duke of Bedford made one exception to this general subsidy of a tenth and a fifteenth. The inhabitants of the most northerly counties of Cumberland, Westmorland and Northumberland were to be exempt from liability as they had suffered ‘yearly’ attacks, their lands being repeatedly ‘burned, despoiled and destroyed by the sudden invasions of the king’s enemies of Scotland’. They could hardly be expected to pay for the king’s war in France when he was failing to defend their lands in England.14

Friday 15th

In Paris the council had spent the last two days in feverish discussion concerning the destruction of the people and dignity of France by marauding men-at-arms, and the chaotic finances of the realm. The intention had been to come to some sort of resolution yesterday concerning future action; but that had proved impossible. So the debate continued today. Five or six masters of the council were deputed to draw up instructions that would govern an embassy to go to the king at Rouen. The purpose of the mission was to draw the king’s attention to the problems his people were facing. They also were to outline a solution: a series of ordonnances, or regulations for the government of the kingdom, together with certain proposals for the reorganisation of the kingdom’s finances.15

There was good reason for the councillors to be concerned. John the Fearless was planning to advance on Paris. Distraught and angry at the loss of his two brothers and many of his vassals, and quick to blame the Armagnac leadership, he had set out on the 5th from Dijon and arrived at Châtillon-sur-Seine on the 8th. There he had waited a week, conferring with his council and agents in Paris, who no doubt helped foment the stories that he was about to march on the city and liberate the people from the oppression and incompetence of the Armagnacs. The Burgundians in Paris were furious that the Armagnac government had allowed the royal troops to pillage their fellow Frenchmen in Normandy, and commit many rapes in the process, while the English were said to have been relatively abstemious on both accounts.

Henry’s propaganda was working as effectively in France as in England. Despite the shared disaster of Agincourt, the rift between the two warring French sides was as deep as ever.

Saturday 16th

Henry sailed from Calais. In the course of crossing the Channel there were terrible gales. A snowstorm blew up, and the fleet was scattered. Two ships foundered with the loss of all hands; Henry himself did not reach Dover until nightfall. It would have been ironic in the extreme if Henry’s own ship had foundered, and people saw God’s judgment damning him immediately after he himself had seen his victory at Agincourt as a sign of God’s approval. But as things turned out, Henry and his ship survived, and so God was deemed to have acted to preserve the king of England against the elements, thus further underlining Henry’s divinely approved position.16

Partly due to the storm and partly due to the sheer number of troops awaiting passage across the Channel, many men had some days to wait before they saw the white cliffs. It took more than a week for all the men, horses and prisoners to be ferried back to Dover. Although Henry made provision for each man’s voyage – allocating a sum of 2s per man and 2s per horse – the campaign was deemed to have ended when he set foot back on English soil. Even those who had to make their way back to the north or far west of England saw their pay come to an end today. Later they would petition the king for their eight days’ wages: their request met with the terse ‘the king does not wish it’ in reply.17

Henry granted the keeping of Louis, count of Vendôme, to Sir John Cornwaille, the man who had originally captured him.18 Cornwaille was amassing the largest collection of prisoners of all the English lords, dealing with French knights as if they were so many business assets. On the day of the battle itself he had purchased Ghillebert de Lannoy from his captor; at Calais he had bought many more prisoners, including Raoul de Gaucourt and Jean d’Estouteville. Cornwaille had no intention of allowing such men to remain in France to find their ransoms; he had them shipped back to England with him. De Lannoy, for example, could be expected to provide 1,200 crowns (about £200); he was too valuable to risk losing. Cornwaille held de Gaucourt and d’Estouteville for ransoms of 10,000 crowns (£1,666 13s 4d) each, regardless of the 13,000 crowns de Gaucourt had laid out meeting Henry’s fraudulent requirements for his freedom.19

Sunday 17th

Henry made his way from Dover to Canterbury Cathedral, where he arrived this evening. He planned to stay two days in Canterbury, no doubt spending the following day attending Mass in the cathedral and paying his respects at the shrine of St Thomas of Canterbury and the tombs of his father and great-uncle, Edward of Woodstock (the Black Prince).20 With Harfleur and Agincourt under his belt he could feel he was fit to be in their company. He had equalled their achievements. One suspects that with regard to his father, with whom he had never had an easy relationship, there was a personal score that had been settled by his proving himself on the Agincourt campaign.

Tuesday 19th

Archbishop Chichele had been at Canterbury to welcome Henry on his arrival yesterday.21 Presumably he left Henry today to hurry back to London to attend the convocation at St Paul’s. The more Henry’s victory could be portrayed as a miracle, the easier it was to justify using the Church’s money to fund his ongoing war. And the more Henry was dependent on the financial support of the Church, the less likely he was to listen to the reformers in parliament who, since the early years of his father’s reign, had called for the Church to return to a state of poverty, with its property being confiscated and distributed by the government.

There was no problem persuading the clergy to give the king money. In addition to the tenth of their income that they had already agreed to give Henry at the next feast of the Purification (2 February 1416), they also granted two further tenths, to be paid at the next two feasts of St Martin (11 November 1416 and 1417). These grants were even to include benefices that normally were exempt from taxation. However, at the request of Adam Usk, Welsh benefices were excluded, as the war with Glendower had left them much the poorer.22

Wednesday 20th

Leaving Canterbury yesterday, Henry travelled on to Rochester. Along the way he made various gifts and grants. These were not great rewards for fighting on the campaign; rather they were tokens of the king’s appreciation of the services performed by relatively unimportant figures. Henry gave Thomas Rugge two tuns of wine per year, together with two bucks and two does from the forest of Kingswood by Bristol.23 And he granted to Sir Edward Courtenay the keepership of the New Forest, which the late duke of York had enjoyed.24

Back at Westminster, the victory of Agincourt had encouraged William, Lord Ferrers of Groby, to lend the king 500 marks. Provision was made for his repayment at a future date. The business of shuffling money around in order to pay for the next campaign was already underway.25

Thursday 21st

Henry personally authorised the granting of letters of protection for John Rippon, abbot of Fountains, returning to the council at Constance.26 Although the main focus of the council’s activities was now on the emperor at Narbonne, and the abdication of Benedict XIII, there were still many prelates at Constance discussing the reform of the Church. These discussions were taking place behind closed doors. As far as Ulrich Richental could see nothing new happened in all the time the emperor was away. All he noticed was that there was a procession and Mass at the cathedral every Sunday and the secular lords present held many jousts and tourneys ‘and danced afterwards with the ladies’.27 But on this very day a session of the council was being held to discuss a disagreement between the bishop of Trent and Frederick, duke of Austria. The latter had confiscated the church and city of Trent and its hinterland and, as there was no pope to whom to make recourse, the bishop appealed to the council.28 To all intents and purposes the council had become the pope. For this reason it was necessary for Henry to keep up the attendance of the few English prelates there who constituted the English nation.


A writ was sent today to Robert Waterton, constable of Pontefract Castle, to confiscate all the goods of Henry Scrope that could be found in that castle.29 More evidence concerning Lord Scrope’s income had recently been found in York, in the form of documents concerning the value of his manors; these were now brought to London by John Grenewode, valet to Scrope’s receiver.30 Gradually the servants of the late Lord Scrope were being forced to give up the secrets of their lord’s wealth.

Friday 22nd

There was more bureaucratic tidying for the council to see to before the king’s return. At Westminster a commission was issued to Sir Humphrey Stafford, Sir John Moigne, the constable of Corfe Castle, the sheriff of Dorset and two other men to make enquiries as to which townships and tithings in the Isle of Purbeck were bound to keep nightly and daily watches of the coast, and to certify to the king the names of those who had refused, as a result of which various subjects of the king had been kidnapped.31 Who had done the kidnapping is not clear, but it seems there may have been French reprisal attacks, in the manner of the old ‘piracy war’ of the previous decade. A failure to guard the coasts after Henry’s emphatic orders on this matter, issued on 2 August, could not go uninvestigated.

Saturday 23rd

The traditional place for greeting the most important visitors to London was on Blackheath. The done thing was to go out to meet them – the further you travelled out from the city, the greater the honour to the visitor. It was on Blackheath, four miles from the city, that Henry IV had met the emperor of Byzantium in 1400. Similarly, the mayor and aldermen of London had gone out to Blackheath to welcome back Henry IV and his new wife in 1403, on their return to the capital after their marriage at Winchester. Now it was time again for the Londoners to go out to meet their king – ‘whom God had marvellously and miraculously in his clemency led back in triumph from a rebellious and uncontrollable people’.32

Citizens were up as soon as it was light, all eager to see the king. The mayor and twenty-four aldermen dressed in scarlet; lesser individuals wore red gowns with parti-coloured hoods of red and white (according to the Gesta) or black and white (according to Adam Usk). Thousands of men and women gathered – twenty thousand according to one author, ten thousand according to another – and many of them were on horseback. Men of various trades wore distinct badges, and waited at the traditional place on the common for the king, who was coming from Eltham Palace. At about ten o’clock in the morning they saw him approaching, dressed in purple robes. They readied themselves, lining his way. Behind him rode the most important of the French prisoners – drawn behind him in a sort of Roman triumph. The mayor greeted the king, and thanked him for his labours on behalf of the public, and congratulated him on his success, giving thanks and honour to God for the victory. After this the citizens hastened back joyfully to the city to join in the various processions and celebrations for the king’s arrival.

The Londoners saw the return of the king as a chance to make an impact of their own, and to reaffirm the bond between their city and the crown. They had put up a considerable sum of money towards the expedition and they wanted to be able to celebrate its success as much as the king. So when Henry came to the tower guarding the approach to London Bridge he found it guarded by the figures of a giant man and a giant woman, each taller than the walls of the city. The male giant held the keys of the city in his left hand and a great axe in his right; the female giant wore a scarlet mantle and jewellery; and the pair of them appeared to be looking out for the king’s return. All around them, in and on the tower itself, were minstrels playing trumpets, horns and clarions. The royal arms were hung out from poles projecting from the walls. One wall had the words Civitatis Regis Iusticie (City of the King of Justice) painted on it.

As the royal cavalcade neared the centre of London Bridge, where there was a drawbridge, Henry saw a pair of tall pillars. Each one was built of wood, covered with linen, and painted to resemble building blocks of white marble and green jasper. At the top of the one on the right was a large antelope, standing erect, with a shield bearing the royal arms suspended from its neck, and with its right hoof extended, holding a royal sceptre. On the left-hand pillar was a rampant lion, holding a staff and the royal standard. Proceeding onwards, at the exit from the bridge, was another wooden and painted linen tower; this one had a statue of St George in armour set into a niche above its arch, with the arms of St George displayed on all sides. The statue held a sword in one hand; and from his left hand a scroll hung down with the motto: Soli deo honor et gloria (To God alone, honour and glory). Above the niche containing the statue of St George was inscribed the motto Fluminis impetus letificat civitatem dei (The force of the river makes glad the city of God), and above that, on top of the linen-covered tower, stood a line of spears and flags displaying the royal arms. In the house directly adjacent was a choir of boys dressed as angels, in pure white gowns and with wings, their hair entwined with laurel, all singing together an anthem – ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’.

On went the procession, along the old Roman road through the city that is now Gracechurch Street, past cheering and waving crowds. Fathers and mothers held up their children to see the king. So many people leaned out of the windows of houses you might have thought that the citizens were staying indoors; yet many more people were in the streets, making it difficult for the riders in the procession to pass. Aqueducts had been set up to run with wine, and men and women drank freely. Yet in all this Henry progressed with a cold humourless face, as if none of it moved or delighted him.

When the king turned left into Cornhill, he saw that the tower of the water conduit there had been covered in crimson cloth, like a tent. From the centre it stretched out to the tops of staffs arranged around it; these staffs were also wrapped in crimson cloth. Here, encircling the tower, hung the coats of arms of St George, St Edward the Confessor, St Edmund and the arms of England. And above it all, between escutcheons of the royal arms, was written this quotation from Psalm 20, verse 8: ‘Seeing that the king hopes in the Lord and in the mercy of the Almighty, he shall not be moved’ – a fitting epithet, considering Henry’s determination to lead his army to battle, trusting that God would deliver him victory. Above these, staffs bore flags and coats of arms. Under an awning, at the foot of the tower, stood a number of old men with white hair, dressed as Old Testament prophets, their heads wrapped in gold and crimson turbans. They released a flock of small birds from their cages as the king approached; they flew around the king, and some landed on him, sitting on his shoulders even, before flying away. As they did so, the prophets sang Psalm 98: ‘Sing to the Lord a new song, Alleluia, for His deeds are marvellous, Alleluia’.33

From Cornhill the procession progressed through the crowds: first into Poultry and then straight on, into Cheapside. Coming to the great conduit in the middle of the street, Henry found the tower turned into another pavilion, like that in Cornhill. This one was of green cloth, decorated with shields bearing the city’s arms. As with the Cornhill conduit tower, the ramparts were decorated with staffs bearing flags and coats of arms; and under the awning at the base were twelve old men dressed as the apostles, and twelve dressed as past kings of England, with the names of the apostles and kings written before them. As the king approached they burst into song, singing the words of Psalm 43, verse 8: ‘For you have saved us from those who afflict us, and have saved us from those who hate us’. They presented him with baskets of wafers intermingled with leaves of silver, and gave him wine that ran from the pipes of the conduit, in emulation of Melchizedeck, king of Salem, in the Old Testament.34

The king, his companions and his prisoners rode further along Cheapside. Normally they would have seen the great Eleanor cross in the middle of the wide street, erected by his ancestor Edward I in memory of his first wife Queen Eleanor. Today there was no cross to be seen. Instead a wide, three-storey wooden castle crossed the crowded street, reaching from St Peter’s Church to the other side. It had timber towers, vaulted arches and ramparts, and the linen-covered walls were painted to resemble porphyry, marble and ivory (according to Usk) or white marble and green and crimson jasper (according to the Gesta). Some of the vaulted arches were at ground level, so that men could ride through; others were at gallery level. Angels, singers and organs stood in the arches, and music filled the air. Above them were written the words Gloriosa dicta sunt de te, civitas dei(Glorious things are said of you, city of God), and above that, at the very top, where the ramparts were, hung the arms of St George, the royal arms, and the arms of the Holy Roman Emperor. In front of the whole edifice was a great gatehouse, joined by a bridge to the main castle: over this bridge a choir of beautiful maidens processed ‘very chastely adorned in pure white cloth and virgin attire’, singing in English, ‘Welcome Henry the Fifth, king of England and France’. Boys dressed as angels above them joined in the chorus, and, as they passed, six important citizens stepped towards the king carrying two basins of gold containing a thousand pounds in gold coins, which they offered to him.

Passing under this great castle Henry was welcomed by more crowds on the far side. Even here men and women were leaning out of windows, and standing in the streets. Some were hurrying along ahead of the king, wanting to see each part of the spectacle. As the author of the Gesta noted,

so great was the throng of people on Cheapside, from one end to the other, that the horsemen were only just able to ride through. And the upper rooms and windows on both sides were packed with some of the noblest ladies and womenfolk of the kingdom and men of honour and renown.35

Ahead of them, where Cheapside met the churchyard of St Paul’s, there was another conduit; this too had been turned into a fantastic building with arches and niches. Here more girls dressed in virginal white, and wearing symbols of chastity, blew gold dust from gold chalices over the king as he passed. Above them, at the top of the tower, was a sky-blue canopy on to which clouds had been painted; it was supported by four gold angels; above it stood the figure of a gold archangel – and the whole canopy covered a magnificent figure representing the sun in majesty. Drums beat around the base, the virgins sang, musical instruments accompanied them, and boys dressed as angels danced around. The motto on this tower read simply: Deo Gracias (Thanks be to God).

As the two most detailed descriptions of all these scenes and displays make clear, the euphoria of the Londoners was beyond anything that anyone could remember. ‘No one could recall there ever having been a more noble array or greater assembly in London,’ commented the author of theGesta. And yet Henry proceeded to ride through all this exultation not with a smile on his face but ‘with an impassive countenance and at a dignified pace’. His progress was slow and solemn, his mood that of silently pondering something. He clearly did not see it as an opportunity to show off, despite wearing imperial purple. He rode from Cheapside and was greeted by twelve bishops, all wearing their mitres; he dismounted, and entered St Paul’s Cathedral. At this point we may begin to see why he was so solemn. The last time he had been here, on 15 June, he had been accompanied by his brothers and uncles and his closest friends. His brothers were still alive, so too were his uncles; but of his four closest friends, only the earl of Warwick was still alive. Edward, duke of York, was dead. So too were Thomas Fitzalan, earl of Arundel, and Richard Courtenay, bishop of Norwich. York and Arundel had both been with him the last time he had entered this cathedral.

The bishops led Henry through the nave of St Paul’s up to the high altar. There he made an offering in memory of the departed. He made another at the shrine of St Erkenwald behind the high altar, and another at the Holy Cross. No doubt he paid his respects at the tomb of his grandparents, John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster, which was nearby. He seems to have asked that a solemn funeral Mass be held in the cathedral for the dead on both sides who had been killed at the battle of Agincourt. Then he went out into the churchyard, where he had tethered his warhorse. He mounted it, and rode with his knights back to his palace of Westminster.36

Much to his astonishment, when he reached Westminster he was greeted by a huge crowd of people there too. The abbot and monks met him and led him in procession into the abbey, to pay his respects at the shrine of St Edward the Confessor and the tombs of his ancestors, including that of his inspiration, Edward III. After that, he went back to the palace, to escape the celebrations and hubbub.


At Dover, the boats carrying the last archers and men-at-arms who had fought at Agincourt finally came into port. The horses were craned off the boats in the cold, and the men set foot again on English soil. Their pay had stopped a week ago, so now they needed to get back to their homes as quickly as they could. For many of the archers, perhaps the majority, travelling back to Cheshire, Lancashire and the other northern counties, much of their pay would be spent just getting home. They would have to ask for accommodation and food at monasteries. Hopefully the kingdom’s exultation at the news of the victory meant they were welcome, and could buy a bowl of pottage and some bread in return for their stories of the campaign.37


At Bordeaux, the seneschal and Jurade finally heard about the victory, four weeks after it took place.38 They probably had mixed feelings. The people were ordered to make processions to celebrate the great victory of their king; but the mayor and jurats cannot have been neglectful of the fact that they had failed to send the king the siege engines and support he had requested. The outcome of the king’s campaign was also bound to cause problems for those lords whose lands bordered on French dominions. The easiest way for the French to seek revenge for the injury to their pride was to set about attacking English possessions in France; and since Calais and Harfleur were well defended, the obvious easy targets were going to be in Gascony.


At Troyes, in Champagne, John the Fearless was giving an audience to the ambassadors of the French king and dauphin: the bishop of St-Brieuc, Reynaud d’Angennes, Jean de Vailly and Jean de Roucy. What was being discussed is unclear – but it is likely that John was proposing to take charge of the government again, now that the duke of Orléans had so disgraced the kingdom of France. Armagnacs had led France into its current mess and fought the battle in which both his brothers had been killed. They had let their armies rampage across France, and had taxed the people to the point of despair. It was time to let him take charge. But whatever John actually said, his entreaties failed. The French king’s ambassadors left quickly, offering him nothing.

John stayed the next three days at Troyes assembling his men-at-arms. He would march towards Paris at the end of the month.39


In Paris, the gates were blocked up, as a precaution against the approach of the Burgundians. Troyes was ninety miles from Paris – but that was just one week’s march. The Armagnac captains of the city were preparing defences in the streets. All the alleys around the defensible places were taken over, and the inhabitants evicted. Everyone was uneasy; terror prevented people from even talking about the situation. A rumour began to go around among the Burgundian citizens that the Armagnac captains were going to murder them in the night.40

It was not just the Parisians who were scared. The French royal family were already on the move back to Paris, worried that they might lose control of the capital again. The king would arrive tomorrow. The queen, who was lying dangerously ill at Melun, was warned by the Parisians that she risked falling into the hands of the duke of Burgundy. She had herself carried in a litter back to the capital, where she took refuge in the hôtel d’Orléans, along with her daughter-in-law, the dauphin’s wife, John the Fearless’s daughter.41

It was eight years to the day since John the Fearless had slaughtered the duke of Orléans in the rue Vieille du Temple. The repercussions of that night were still being felt in the streets of Paris – as well as across the rest of France.

Sunday 24th

According to Adam Usk, a funeral Mass was held at St Paul’s Cathedral for the dead of both sides, at Henry’s command.42

Henry’s high-ranking prisoners were not going to be kept in dungeons but treated well, according to their status. For this reason they sought and were granted permission to bring a number of their servants over from France. Henry allowed several men to come to the duke of Bourbon. One of them was a valet, Alardin de la Noir, whose safe conduct enabled him to bring two or three coursers and a sumpter horse, as well as the duke’s robes and other clothes. Three falconers were licensed to bring the duke’s goshawks and hunting dogs. Henry had no reservations about the duke enjoying himself hunting while his ransom was settled. As for the ransom itself, this was to be negotiated by a knight, Gilbert, seigneur de la Fairte, and a clerk, Pierre de Toulon, who were also permitted to come to England.43 The count of Vendôme, whose keeping had been granted to Sir John Cornwaille, received similar letters of protection for some of his servants coming to England, including men bringing a horse, robes and other things to ease the count’s captivity.44

Henry was informed that his late father’s confessor, the Dominican friar John Tille, who was due forty marks a year for life, had not been paid for the last year. So he issued a new order to the receivers of the cloth subsidy for the city of Winchester to pay the money due.45 He also sent letters to Norwich confirming the election of John Wakeryng, keeper of the privy seal, as the next bishop of Norwich, in place of the late Richard Courtenay. No doubt Henry was grateful for their election of a man whom he had probably nominated himself. Letters were also despatched to the prelates at the council of Constance confirming the election. As these letters would take several weeks to arrive, a copy was sent addressed to ‘the pope’, on the basis that by the time the letters arrived, a new pope might have been chosen.46

Monday 25th: the Feast of St Katherine

A council meeting took place in the king’s absence. Present were Chancellor Beaufort, the bishop of Durham, ‘the treasurer’ (presumably the acting treasurer, Sir John Rothenhale), John Wakeryng (keeper of the privy seal) and Roger Leche (treasurer of the royal household).

Their business struck quite the opposite of the celebratory tone of the Londoners, just two days earlier. It was decided to send a thousand quarters of oats to Harfleur for the sustenance of the horses there, to be deducted from the £3,640 earmarked for the garrison’s wages. As the king’s treasury was empty, this sum had to be drawn against the subsidy due on the next St Lucy’s day (13 December). At the same time they decided that an influential and discreet person should be sent to Harfleur to examine the state of the town and to make sure that there was sufficient artillery to defend it against a French attack. The same person was to pay the captain and garrison and to report back to the king. A further enigmatic clause states that they should enquire more closely of the king what his plans were for the captain of the town, Thomas Beaufort. Nothing was written in the minutes about this, but one suspects that Henry Beaufort knew that his brother wanted to be relieved of his post. It was suggested that the man sent to Harfleur to examine the place should be able to govern it if the earl of Dorset were to leave. Names to be put to the king as possible candidates for this role included William Loveney and Gere Flour – men of much lower rank than the earl of Dorset.47

The men of Harfleur were suffering. Henry had made provision for the manpower to rebuild and defend the town, but his arrangements for feeding them had been less than satisfactory. Occasional orders not to export grain to anywhere but Calais and Harfleur, such as that of 6 November, were not enough to guarantee an adequate supply of food. The captains of the town were regularly having to lead expeditions out to forage from the neighbouring area. One such expedition in the last week of November, led by Sir John Fastolf, ended up within six miles of Rouen. Fastolf captured five hundred Frenchmen in the process but had to let them go, for he suffered a reprise attack on his return journey.48 The outlook was bleak; the defence of Harfleur over the next twelve months was to become ‘an epic of endurance’.49 Henry Beaufort’s subtle attempt to replace his brother with an administrator – if we are right in reading this council minute as such – was thwarted; Thomas Beaufort was only temporarily able to return to England. And rightly so: none of the four men at this council meeting had been on the expedition or knew what conditions were like in Harfleur.

Tuesday 26th

As Henry’s solemnity during the procession on the 23rd indicates, his personal reaction to the successful campaign was not one of euphoria. Nor did it result in a wave of thankful rewards. But gradually Henry did make grants to his knights in return for their service. One to Sir Edward Courtenay has already been mentioned. Yesterday Henry granted Sir Walter Beauchamp the manor of Somerford Keynes. Today he confirmed the keeping of a Northamptonshire manor, Whyscheton, on Sir William Bourchier.50

The people of Newcastle had failed to make the case for their town to be exempted from the taxes granted in the last parliament, but they managed to appeal to the king. Henry today granted them their freedom from liability, ‘because they are much impoverished by the capture of their ships and merchandise by the king’s enemies of Scotland and others, the walling and fortification of the town, many watches kept there, and great mortality’.51

Wednesday 27th

The position of Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, left vacant by the death of the earl of Arundel, was awarded by Henry to his brother Humphrey. In view of the important responsibility of ordering the ports to supply a large number of ships for the king’s use, this was not a position that could be left unfilled for long. The king also personally authorised safe conducts for servants of the duke of Orléans, namely Master Robert Tuilliers, a member of the duke’s council; Master Hugh Perriez, the duke’s secretary; and two other servants, coming to their lord in England with goods, riding equipment and horses.52

Thursday 28th

Henry had decided that the expenses of members of the royal household were to be met by the income from estates in the king’s hands due to the heirs being under age, and the sale of the marriages of heirs and heiresses. He proclaimed that those who had accounts and needed satisfaction should apply to the chancellor or John Rothenhale for repayment from the exchequer.53 He also fulfilled his promise to William Hargrove, made in France on 16 October, to make him Black Rod.54

Henry issued a proclamation to the sheriffs of London and the mayors of Great Yarmouth, Lynn, Kingston upon Hull, Newcastle upon Tyne and the bailiffs of eleven other ports that for the next twelve months they were not to carry on any more fishing in the waters of Denmark and Norway, nor in the seas around Iceland.55 The reason for this is to be discovered in a petition against the proclamation delivered at the parliament in 1416: the usual areas where fishermen had found cod suitable for salting had been over-fished, and now were barren. So English fishermen had sailed to the coast of Iceland, where they had found cod in abundance. Unfortunately King Eric of Denmark, Sweden and Norway had been petitioned by his subjects there to prevent this; being Henry’s brother-in-law, he had sent to him asking him to prohibit the English fleets fishing in Icelandic waters.56 Hence Henry’s proclamation today – and hence the discontent of the English fishermen in the following parliament.

Incidentally, had these English fishermen sailed even further than Iceland, and started fishing off the shores of Greenland, they would have found a community there struggling but surviving in the extreme Arctic conditions. And its bishop was an Englishman, Robert Hingman.57


At Marigny-le-Châtel, John the Fearless arrived and feasted, ‘accompanied by many knights and esquires in arms’. This was still eighty miles from Paris but some of his men had marched on ahead and were now approaching the capital. Nor was he stopping at Marigny; the following day he was planning to press on to Nogent-sur-Seine.58

By now, both factions within Paris were living in fear. It was said that the provost of the merchants had prepared four thousand black padded jackets and four thousand axes with blackened blades – so they would not be seen in the darkness – to kill all the Burgundians in the city, if John the Fearless should try to enter. Troops were billeted about the city for this purpose, and the blackened jackets and arms had been secreted at various locations.59

Friday 29th

Henry seems to have practically hidden himself in the Palace of Westminster after his triumphal procession through London. Few acts are recorded, and he seems to have done little bureaucratic work. Today he confirmed a charter that had been granted to the town of Berwick on Tweed by Edward III. Towns regularly sought confirmation of their charters by successive monarchs, in case the new king failed to observe the freedoms and privileges granted by his predecessors.60

It is difficult to imagine what life was like for all those thrown together within the palace. For Henry’s companions there was the satisfaction of victory and confidence in their king. For Henry himself, things seem to have taken a darker turn. Having proved himself in the eyes of God on the field of battle, he now had set himself a high standard of kingship, which he would have to live up to. At any time God’s favour might be withdrawn, and he might suffer a mishap, a defeat, or an illness. He had lost friends and companions, and would probably lose more in the future. The demonstration of God’s favour had asked the unexpected question of Henry: what next? Victory resolved the question of whether he should claim to be king of England and France, but it also meant that he had to continue God’s work. What might be the extent of that work? Would he have to go on fighting and praying for ever?

For the prisoners this situation must have been very confusing. Although the most important lords were allowed their creature comforts, their hawks, hounds and servants, they had never before been prepared for this change in their fortunes. Nothing in their education had prepared them for being so powerless and so shamed. Moreover the extent of their shame would continue to be discussed for years, as their ransoms were negotiated and paid. Charles, duke of Orléans, was not ransomed – by Henry V’s express order. As the obvious leader of the Armagnac claim to the throne, and as the leader of the opposition to Henry’s ally, John the Fearless, Henry ordered him never to be released. After Henry’s death, his successors continued to maintain this policy of perpetual imprisonment. When he was allowed to return to France in 1440, after twenty-five years of captivity, his wife was dead and people said he spoke better English than French.

One of the saddest stories arising from the imprisonment of noblemen after Agincourt is that of Arthur, count of Richemont, the twenty-two-year-old younger brother of John, duke of Brittany. Arthur had been pulled out from under the piles of dead and dying, soaked in blood. He was taken to London and followed Henry through the streets on the 23rd – a prisoner in the triumphal procession. A few days later, his mother – who was Queen Joan, the dowager queen of England – asked Henry for official permission to see her son. Henry granted this, and so Arthur was told he might visit his mother in the Queen’s Palace within the Palace of Westminster. Joan had not seen him since he was ten, when she had first come to England. She was apprehensive. Before her son arrived, she ordered one of her most well-educated court ladies to take her place and greet the young man as if she were the queen. Joan herself hid behind two of her ladies-in-waiting. When Arthur entered, he greeted the pretend queen, and paid his respects to her. To everyone’s shock, he clearly believed that she really was his mother. At that moment Joan saw just what she had lost when she had left France. Her son did not know his own mother.

An awkward moment ensued, but the pretend queen gently suggested to Arthur that he should go among the ladies-in-waiting and greet them all. He did so. When he came to his mother she looked at him with tears in her eyes. ‘My poor son, you do not recognise me,’ she said. It was the young count’s turn to be shocked. He embraced his mother, and both of them wept openly. Joan then gave him a large sum of money and provided him with clean shirts and clothes. But he was so ashamed by not recognising her that, even though he remained a prisoner in England for the next five years, he could not bring himself to visit her again.61

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