THE LANDSCAPE WAS bleak in winter. Every tree stood with its branches stark against the sky. No evergreens lifted the colour except here and there a sparse Scots pine, and the occasional holly or yew tree, and the ivy found growing around leafless oaks. There were few trees at all near Westminster; there was little impression of natural renewal. The long roads approaching the abbey and palace were muddy and rutted with the wheels of carts and wagons, and the hooves of pack-horses. The wide fields were frozen hard, or flooded after the heavy rains. Piles of logs stacked outside houses were crested with snow. So too were barrels, their wooden sides icy to the touch. Long icicles hung from the eaves of houses, especially where the roofs were thatched.
Even before dawn there had been activity. In the choir of the church of the abbey, just a hundred yards from the palace, the monks had been singing in the early hours. The clock in the palace yard chimed the hours with a deep, resonant dong on the great bell called ‘the Edward’. In the privy palace – the king’s private quarters within the palace of Westminster – the marshal of the hall had made sure the servants were up and about their duties. Fires were lit, servants removed their mattresses from the hall floors; fresh rushes were strewn.
The silent flame of a cresset lamp illuminated the gold and red tapestries of Arras work which lined the royal bedchamber.1 Figures of royal and biblical history looked down on the sleeping king: mottoes spoke to the silence. ‘I am Nature,’ declared one of the tapestries in the privy palace – a piece of Arras work 66ft long and 16ft high showing the seven ages of Man.2 ‘Here begins a tournament’, declared another, showing knights jousting. Another, 45ft long, depicted the lives of the Roman emperors. Others showed scenes from hunting and tournaments. Below his chamber windows, the water of the Thames lapped at the stonework, sighing with the tide.
The king himself lay in a large feather bed surrounded with curtains, his head resting on feather-filled pillows. Perhaps it was the ‘bed of the cherries’, enclosed by a canopy embroidered with shepherds.3 Or maybe it was his black satin bed, enclosed within three curtains of black tartarin which were stamped with gold and silver lions. Some of his pillows were scented with lavender. Elsewhere in the room, apart from the tapestries and a flickering lamp, were a silver ewer and a basin full of rosewater on a wooden stand, and chests of the king’s possessions. These held the clothes which his chamber ushers had put away carefully the night before. They also held items of treasure, faith and superstition, such as his astrolabes, relics, jewels, books of devotion and his rock-crystal and jasper bowls and cups. Perhaps his clock – in the shape of a ship – ticked slowly and quietly in the corner of the chamber.4
The king would have been woken by the ushers before dawn, when they came into his chamber to light the fire. According to John Russell, who was an usher to Henry’s youngest brother, the king would have expected them to hold the basin and water while he washed his face and hands. They should have had a clean and warm linen shirt ready for him, and clean underwear, and well-brushed hose. Seated on a cushioned chair, he would have had his hair combed and, when all his dressing was finished, his shoes put on.5
Putting on the king’s shoes was an important moment today, 1 January. It was the signal for the trumpets to sound outside the king’s chamber. With that loud, brass sound, a line of servants entered bearing New Year’s gifts from the king’s closest companions and family members.6 All of the important men who had been at the Christmas feast would have sent a present – an item of costly jewellery or similar goldsmith’s work.
Having received his presents, and thanked their bearers, the king left his chamber. He might have had a small breakfast of bread and cheese or cold meat before going into the royal chapel to hear Mass. This would have been either in the royal chapel adjacent to his chamber in the privy palace, which had been altered and extended by his father, or in the great chapel of St Stephen, next to Westminster Hall. After that, his time was his own until dinner; perhaps to look over his falcons and hunting dogs at Charing, or to receive guests and important dignitaries, or to watch a mumming or a play. As 1 January was part of the feast of Christmas – the eighth day – the mood about the palace would still have been relatively relaxed. Henry probably feasted in the White Hall, or Lesser Hall, which was directly south of Westminster Hall itself. The amount spent on food for the household was around £90 – a little more than the other days of the twelve-day feast, except Christmas Day itself, which could easily see expenditure of more than £220.7
Henry liked Westminster. The privy palace, the Queen’s Palace nearby (where his stepmother spent some of her time), the Prince’s Palace (where he had lived before his accession), Westminster Hall, the White Hall, the Painted Chamber, the great bell tower, the king’s chapel, St Stephen’s Chapel – these all added up to a suitable base for a king. To the west there was the immense structure of the abbey church, with scaffolding around its still-incomplete west end. From the palace he could directly oversee the offices of government: the chancery and the exchequer. He could call an audience of the most important Londoners at the Guildhall, and be there within half an hour by taking the royal barge down the river. Similarly, he could be rowed to any one of a number of manors up or down the Thames: Windsor Castle, the Tower of London, Queenborough Castle, and the houses of the archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth and Merton. Earlier in his reign he employed William Godeman and his bargemen to row him from Westminster to Sutton, Lambeth, and the royal hunting lodge at Rotherhithe.8 His hunting dogs and birds were not far away, nor were the London markets, where there were goldsmiths, armourers and spicerers. Swans swam up and down the Thames. His tapestries and treasures were around him. He would spend most of the next six months here.
In Paris it was raining. It had been raining since November. According to the official chronicler at the abbey of St Denis, just to the north of Paris, the four winds did not cease to blow one way or the other from autumn 1414 to spring 1415. It rained consistently and heavily, so that the rivers were flooded. River transportation of merchandise became impossible – the harbour quays and cranes were under water. The rivers were too swollen and fast-flowing, and many roads were impassable. The necessities of life started to disappear from the markets. And the fields were inundated. Wheat stored in granaries became wet and started to rot, or became infested with insects. Even the vines which normally produced good wines started to produce an undrinkable vintage.9
In such disheartening weather, the duke of Bourbon founded a new military order: the Order of the Prisoner’s Shackle. This consisted of the duke himself and sixteen other men – thirteen knights and three esquires – each of whom undertook to wear the symbol of a prisoner’s chain on his left leg every Sunday for two years. Among the knights were Clignet de Brabant (the admiral of France) and Raoul de Gaucourt. The knights’ shackles were to be made of gold, the esquires’ made of silver. The purpose was to bind them into a fraternity which would meet an equivalent number of knights and esquires who would fight them all on foot with lances, axes, swords and daggers. Although it was not specified that the opposing knights should be English, that was clearly the assumption. A number of multiple fights of the sort envisaged had taken place between the knights of England and France over the years.
As with all orders of knighthood, there were strict rules. Members of the Order agreed that they would have a painted image of the Virgin Mary in their chapel in Paris. A shackle similar to the one they each wore was to serve as a candle holder; and a candle was to burn in it before the painting of the Virgin all day and night for two years. A sung Mass and a low Mass were to be performed every day. The arms of all the knights were to be displayed in the chapel; if they were successful in meeting an equivalent number of knights in battle, and defeating them, then each man was to have his portrait painted in armour, to hang in the chapel. And, as with all chivalric vows, the knights undertook to maintain the honour of all ladies and women of good birth, and to offer aid to women wherever they found them in need of it.10
In the moated and high-walled city of Constance, six hundred miles to the south, men were arguing about the price of fish, meat, bread and beds – and almost everything else. Bishops, priests, lords and their servants were gathering in large numbers for the church council that was beginning to get underway there. King Sigismund of Hungary, the Holy Roman Emperor, and his entourage had arrived. So too had Pope John XXIII attended by six hundred men. John had also brought thirty-three cardinals, each of whom had brought dozens of priests, lawyers and servants – a total of 3,056 men.11 The pope’s vice-chancellor, the cardinal bishop of Ostia, had entered the city with eighty-five horses in his train alone, and these all needed stabling, and the riders all needed accommodation.12Eventually there would be forty-seven archbishops, 145 bishops (with a total of six thousand servants), ninety-three suffragan bishops, and many other secular lords. One burgher of Constance, Ulrich Richental, exuberantly estimated that 72,460 people came to the city.13
The council had been summoned by Pope John XXIII at the emperor’s request. It had two main objectives: the re-unification of the church and ecclesiastical reformation. The first objective arose from the split between the French papacy, based at Avignon, and the Roman papacy, based at Rome. This had divided the Church since 1378. A previous attempt to heal the schism – the council of Pisa in 1409 – had resulted only in the election of a third pope, Alexander V, who had swiftly died and been replaced by John XXIII, one of the worst possible candidates for the post. So now there were three popes – the Pisan pope, John XXIII; the Roman pope, Gregory XII; and the Avignon pope, Benedict XIII. None of them would acknowledge the others. None wanted to give up his own papal title. It had been a diplomatic triumph for the Holy Roman Emperor, Sigismund, to persuade John XXIII to summon the council in the first place.
On 1 January men were arriving in their hundreds. Sigismund had arrived a week earlier, on Christmas Day, and the townspeople had flocked to see him enter the cathedral in the company of his empress and Duke Rudolph of Saxony. Two days later Duke Ludwig of Bavaria-Heidelberg had arrived. The citizens of Constance marvelled at what was happening; their city was being transformed into the greatest retail centre of the Christian world. Merchants from other towns set up their stalls in courtyards and slept under makeshift shelters or huts. Ulrich Richental estimated that 1,400 traders had come, including shopkeepers, furriers, farriers, shoemakers and spicerers. 1,700 musicians were either present already or on their way. So were seventy-two goldsmiths, sixteen master apothecaries, and seven hundred prostitutes, ‘who hired their own houses or who lay in stables’.14
Pope John’s advisers were worried about the freedom to speak and to come and go to and from the council. Just yesterday they had heard how Sigismund himself had threatened an agent of the duke of Milan, with whom he was at war. Sigismund had had the agent deported from the city and then yelled at him as he crossed the bridge, ‘You are a spy, here in the service of that rebel against me. If it were not for my reverence for the pope, I would have you hanged! See to it that I do not find you here again!’ On account of this the papal advisers decided that they should ask Sigismund to guarantee their safety, and the safety of all those who attended the council, in case they too incurred his anger for making statements which were not to his satisfaction. They also decided that action should be taken to limit the rapid increases in prices, as more and more men arrived in the city. They wanted to bring charges as quickly as possible against the supposed heretic, Jan Hus, who had been arrested on 28 November ‘for the pernicious doctrine that he professed’. However, they were worried in case some of those who might testify against him would be put off if they feared the actions of the emperor.15
Fifteen prelates were elected to be a delegation to take these demands to the emperor. They met him today, 1 January, in the town hall of Constance, and expressed their concerns. Sigismund was humbled. He answered that, ever since he had decided on the city of Constance as the venue for the council, it had been his ardent wish to do all he could to facilitate the unification and reform of the Church. He assented that all people could come and go freely, without exception, even those in rebellion against the Holy Roman Empire. With regard to the problem of prices, he decreed that four clergymen and four burghers would be appointed to regulate accommodation in the city. Prices would be set, controlling how much the innkeepers and other burghers of Constance could charge; and ordinances would be drawn up, stipulating (amongst other things) that innkeepers should make sure all bedding was washed once a month.16 As to the third issue, Jan Hus, the emperor ordered that placards in support of him should be torn down. He added that formal accusations of heresy against individuals like Hus could be made at the council, as long as they were made in public.
The huge gathering at Constance may seem to have had little to do with Henry V, who was at Westminster, six hundred miles away. But it mattered a very great deal to him, for five reasons. Sigismund had written to Henry at the start of his reign, asking that he do all he could to work towards the re-unification of the Church. As a religious man, Henry was keen to be involved.17 He was also no doubt aware that the emperor had written to Henry IV, asking the same thing, and so this represented another opportunity to outdo his father as king.18 Also, the outcome would be of crucial importance for England, as his learned advisers would have told him. In 1046 a similar confusion of three popes (Gregory VI, Benedict IX and Sylvester III) had been sorted out by the then Holy Roman Emperor at the council of Sutri. The council deposed all three popes and elected a new man in their place. If the council of Constance managed to emulate the council of Sutri, then one man would eventually exercise spiritual authority over the whole of Christendom – and with an exceptionally strong mandate. It would be essential for every Christian king to establish a good relationship with such a man as soon after his election as possible.
The third reason why the council of Constance was of concern to Henry was the question of what ‘reform’ of the church would actually involve. Henry had his own programme of religious reform: a list of forty-six points drawn up at his request by the University of Oxford.19 Among other things, he was concerned with the appointment of bishops, the revocation of illegal appropriations of rectories, the control of lax clergymen who evaded punishment after they had been granted exemption by the pope, and control of the sale of local indulgences. The fourth reason for his interest lay in the question of international prestige. Would England be regarded as a nation on its own, alongside France, Italy, Spain and Germany, as it had been at Pisa in 1409? Or would it be subsumed within the mass of ‘German’ states?
Finally, there was the problem of imposing religious authority, especially with regard to heresy. Jan Hus had been in correspondence with Sir John Oldcastle, Richard Wyche and other English Lollards.20 Religious thinkers in England continued to circulate the teachings of England’s own pre-eminent religious reformer, the late John Wycliffe. Radical ideas such as the pre-eminence of Christ, the unchanged nature of bread and wine in the communion, and the limitations of papal authority were circulated in the form of Wycliffe’s writings across the whole of Christendom. And these ideas continued to be hugely divisive, causing fear in those who saw lords, knights and clerics taking them up in Bohemia and Hungary as well as in England. Henry’s own confessor, Stephen Patrington – who must have had a spiritual outlook in accord with Henry’s own – had bitterly argued against Wycliffe at Oxford. The decisions made at Constance concerning Wycliffe, Hus and other anti-papal reformers would determine whether Henry was justified in burning such men as heretics, or whether he should tolerate them, and perhaps even listen to them.
As a result of these issues, Henry had appointed a prestigious embassy to the council. They had not yet all arrived at Constance. Thomas Polton had already addressed the council on Henry’s behalf in December, but the majority were still strung out across Northern Europe in their various small travelling groups.21 As it took a month for news to travel from Constance to England, it would be a long time before he knew how his ambassadors were advancing his religious and nationalistic ambitions.
Picture the great lords of France on this day riding through the rain, or being carried in their sedan chairs, in the narrow muddy streets of old Paris. They were due to attend a meeting of the royal council. The king would not be there, but the duke of Orléans would, with his younger brother the count of Vertus. Their great uncle, the seventy-four-year-old duke of Berry, would also be present. So would the dukes of Bourbon and Alençon, and the counts of Eu, La Marche and Vendôme. Other members of the French council included the duke of Berry’s chancellor, Guillaume Boisratier, archbishop of Bourges, and Pierre Fresnel, bishop of Noyon.22
As can be seen from both the membership of the council and its agenda, it was the Armagnacs who were in control of the government, not Henry’s ally, John the Fearless. Despite John’s best efforts to regain the initiative – including bringing an army to the gates of Paris in February 1414 – he had failed to reassert himself. In the meantime the Armagnacs had enlisted the support of the University of Paris in the formal burning of Jean Petit’s Justification of the duke of Burgundy outside the gates of Notre Dame. They had attacked John’s city of Arras, and had come to an uneasy peace agreement with him there. John had not yet ratified the Peace of Arras, and it was beginning to look as if he had no intention of doing so. So the Armagnacs had declared six days ago that he was an enemy of the king and a traitor to France. All those who supported him were to leave Paris, together with their wives and families – on pain of being pilloried, losing a hand, or having a hole bored in their tongue.23
In these circumstances, the council’s decision today to agree in principle to an extension of the truce with England was a minor issue. Perhaps the only councillor agitating for war was the belligerent duke of Bourbon. Not only had he founded the Order of the Prisoner’s Shackle the previous day, he was about to lead an expedition against the English in Gascony.
At Westminster, just as in Paris, those in government had to work. It might have been one of the twelve days of Christmas but a king could not ignore all his business for that long. Yesterday Henry had ordered the mayor and sheriffs of London to release all the ships of the county of Holland which had been arrested by royal command in December in reprisal for the arrest in Holland of John de Waghen of Beverley.24 Today he sent orders to his lieutenant in Ireland, John Talbot, to sort out an argument over the inheritance of an estate which had been going on for the last thirty years. The petitioner, John Cruys, had been in wardship and deprived of his inheritance by his guardians. Henry also gave judgment today concerning the denization of a man who had been born in Calais to a Flemish woman and an English father. The man wished to be recognised as an Englishman from now on. Unsurprisingly, Henry agreed.25
In the cathedral of Notre Dame, in Paris, King Charles sat quietly in an oratory beside the altar, listening to the sermon preached by the chancellor of the cathedral, Jean Gerson. The service was in memory of the late duke of Orléans, and all the council was present. So too were many members of the University of Paris, where Dr Gerson was held in high esteem. Two cardinals were in attendance, and many bishops, priests and knights, as well as a crowd of Parisians. What Gerson said, according to the Burgundian chronicler Enguerrand de Monstrelet, was ‘so strong and bold that many doctors [of theology] and others were astonished thereat’.26 Gerson praised the manners of the deceased duke (despite his many seductions) and his government of the realm (despite his high taxes), and declared that it had been ‘by far better administered than it had ever been since his death’. Monstrelet commented that
he seemed in this discourse, more desirous of exciting a war against the duke of Burgundy than of appeasing it; for he said he did not recommend the death of the duke of Burgundy, or his destruction, but that he ought to be humiliated, to make him sensible of the wickedness he had committed, and that by a sufficient atonement he might save his soul.
Gerson went on to say that the burning of Jean Petit’s Justification before the gates of Notre Dame had been a good first step, but more needed to be done. Knowing how controversial this was, he declared he would defend what he had just said about the duke of Burgundy before the whole world. Later that year, he would do just that, at Constance, where he would have to preach to the English and Burgundians, not just the converted Armagnacs.
Sunday 6th: the Feast of the Epiphany
The feast of the Epiphany was the commemoration of the moment when the three Magi came to worship the infant Christ. This was one of the most important days in the Christian calendar. Richard II – who had been born on Epiphany – had always been especially keen to see it celebrated. As Henry had spent some time in Richard’s household, he may well have recalled his unfortunate cousin on this day. If so, he could reflect that he had now reburied Richard in his rightful place, in his tomb in Westminster Abbey. And he had done so with great respect; he had even reused some of the funeral trappings from his own father’s funeral at Richard’s reburial.
For Henry, as for his subjects, Epiphany started with a special Mass. In many places a gold star of Bethlehem was suspended in the body of the chapel. After the service the king feasted in state again, wearing his royal robes and crown, just as he had on Christmas Day (although the level of expenditure on food and drink was more moderate). Later he would watch ‘disguising games’ or mummings. Epiphany was the most popular occasion for watching such masked plays in the whole year.27
The parliament of April 1414 had seen various petitions put forward by the commons. One had concerned the state of the kingdom’s hospitals. These were not medical establishments so much as almshouses: places of refuge for the poor, sick and needy. As the petition stated, the noble kings of England and other lords and ladies
have founded and built various hospitals in cities, boroughs and various other places in your said kingdom, to which they have given generously of their moveable goods for building them, and generously of their lands and tenements for maintaining there old men and women, leprous men and women, those who have lost their senses and memory, poor pregnant women, and men who have lost their goods and have fallen on hard times, in order to nourish, relieve and refresh them there. Now, however, most gracious lord, a great number of the hospitals within your said kingdom have collapsed, and the goods and profits of the same have been taken away and put to other uses by spiritual men as well as temporal, because of which many men and women have died in great misery through lack of help, livelihood and succour, to the displeasure of God.28
The petition went on to request that every hospital – whether of royal foundation or not – might be ‘visited, inspected and administered in the manner and form which seems most appropriate and beneficial to you, in accordance with the intention and purpose of the donors and founders of the same’.
Henry had assented at the time to this petition, promising that ordinaries would inspect those hospitals which were of royal foundation, and ensure their correct administration, and that they would bear royal commissions to assist them in this work. Eight months had now gone by. So today he commissioned Richard Clifford, bishop of London, ‘to enquire about the foundation, governance and estate of the hospitals within his diocese, and to certify in Chancery those being of royal foundation and patronage, and to make reform of others’.29
The convocations of Canterbury and York were gatherings of all the higher clergy of the two provinces. Like parliaments, they had the ability to grant or deny the king extra taxation. Also like parliaments, they were loath to be bullied into granting money. Repeated refusals by the convocation of York to grant subsidies to Henry IV in the early years of his reign had led to a crisis in 1405.30 Today, the convocation of York was meeting to discuss granting the king’s request for a further two subsidies.
It was much the same request as had been put to the convocation of Canterbury the previous October and to parliament in November. However, when the clergy of Canterbury had been asked to grant a subsidy of two tenths and two fifteenths (the equivalent of a 20% tax on the goods and chattels of townsmen and a 13.3% tax on those of country dwellers), the purpose was to facilitate sending an embassy to the council of Constance, to aid the reunification of the Church. Since then, parliament had been asked for a similar subsidy, and had been told that the reason for the taxation was to enable the king to lead an army into France.
Many of the prelates at York had been at that parliament, so they knew that they were being asked to fund a war of aggression. It was inevitable that there would be some dissent, just as there had been in parliament. They argued for some while in the presence of the archbishop of York, Henry Bowet (who was now in his seventies and confined to a litter). But Bowet was a loyal Lancastrian. He was aware of the reformers outside the Church who in 1404 had called for the confiscation of Church property.31 He was also a firm supporter of Henry’s anti-Lollard legislation, taking a positive stance with regard to the burning of heretics. These were probably crucial factors: Bowet and the other bishops could take the view that they needed to help the king in his military ambitions if they were to continue to look to him to preserve the income and authority of the church.
Eventually, after ‘much altercation’, the northern prelates agreed.32 They opted to pay the tax, and thereby effectively voted to support Henry’s war.
Jan Hus of Bohemia was about forty-three years old: a philosopher and a theological lecturer at the University of Prague. A man of deep religious conviction, he had come to lament the idle days of his youth, when he wasted too much time enjoying himself. As he himself admitted, he had played far too much chess and spent too much money on expensive clothes. The catalyst in his life had been the teachings of the great English church reformer John Wycliffe, the inspiration of the Lollards. Like Wycliffe, Hus was appalled at the sale of indulgences – grants of absolution for one’s sins – by the Church. Following Wycliffe, he argued that forgiveness should be sought through repentance and atonement, not through the payment of money. He was also appalled by the idea that the pope could command what men should believe, and what they should say they believed, regardless of how God moved their hearts. Like Luther in the next century, the driving force behind his calls for religious reform was his own personal reformation: his conviction that the orthodox religion of the Church had strayed from the true path, and that he had a duty to set it right again.
Hus attracted a considerable following in his native Bohemia and in Hungary. He also attracted a number of opponents within the Church. By 1410 the divisions between him and the orthodox theologians at the University of Prague had become deep and verged on hostility. King Wenceslas of Bohemia – Sigismund’s brother – had tried to reconcile Hus and the orthodox lecturers at Prague, but the religious authority of the pope remained a fundamental problem. Orthodox Catholics could not tolerate any challenge to the pope’s position as head of the Church (even though there were three popes at the time). Hus refused to acknowledge that any man, including the pope, was in a greater position of authority than Christ himself, and asserted that a Christian soul might make an appeal directly to Jesus over the pope’s head.
Hus knew how controversial his recitation and development of Wycliffe’s writings were. In the margin of one of Wycliffe’s works he had written ‘Wycliffe, Wycliffe, you will unsettle many a man’s mind!’33 Pope Alexander V had excommunicated him in 1410, and in 1412 a council summoned by John XXIII placed him under the major excommunication.34 This meant that the whole of Prague would suffer an interdict unless the city officials arrested him. So he had gone into voluntary exile, and taken shelter in the various castles of lords who were moved by his words. He looked on his sufferings as like those of Jonah in the whale, or Daniel in the lion’s den – and repeatedly mentioned such necessary trials in his letters. He continued to celebrate Mass as before, and to preach and write letters outlining his views on religion and Wycliffe’s teachings. His sermons were carried across the Holy Roman Empire, and also into England.
Hus could not bring about a reformation of the whole Church simply by writing and preaching. But he genuinely wanted the Church to discuss its future path with respect to the individual’s direct relationship with Jesus Christ. So when Sigismund promised him a safe conduct if he would come to Constance to discuss his ideas with the council, he decided to accept. In October 1414 he bravely set out in the company of the Bohemian lords, Lord Wenceslas of Dubá and Lord Henry Lacembok, and the latter’s nephew, Lord John of Chlum. With them travelled many of his friends and fervent supporters from Prague. At each city they came to Hus sent out letters declaring that all who opposed his views should come to Constance to discuss them with him.35
Hus arrived at Constance on 3 November 1414 and lodged with a widow in St Paul’s Street. The next day Henry Lacembok and John of Chlum went to John XXIII to announce that Hus had come willingly to Constance under the emperor’s safe conduct, and to ask that the pope be intolerant of any attempt to molest or interfere with Jan Hus during his stay. The pope gave this assurance, stating that Hus would be safe ‘even if he killed the pope’s own brother’.36 However, Hus’s enemies from Bohemia, especially Stephen Páleč and Michael de Causis, had also arrived. They set about drawing up indictments against him. While they showed their indictments to the cardinals and bishops attending the council, fomenting ill-will towards the Bohemian reformer, Hus was said to have preached to the people and attracted many followers. After three and a half weeks, two bishops were sent by the cardinals of the council to him, at the insistence of Páleč and de Causis. They demanded that he come before the cardinals. John of Chlum was angry at this interference, contrary to the pope’s promise; but Hus willingly agreed to be examined by the cardinals as to any error in his theology. So he attended the convocation at the bishop’s palace.
The meeting was a trap. The cardinals soon departed, praising Hus’s honest intentions, but leaving him in the palace, which was surrounded by armed guards. John of Chlum left Hus and went to Pope John to accuse him of breaking his oath not to permit any interference with Hus in Constance. But in so doing he achieved nothing but to separate himself physically from Hus, who remained under guard in the palace. A supporter, Peter of Mladoňovice, was able to take Hus his fur coat and breviary that evening – 28 November 1414 – but that same night Hus was moved to a cardinal’s house, and after eight days he was sent to the Dominican monastery situated on an island in the Rhine, and chained up in a round tower there, ‘in a murky and dark dungeon in the immediate vicinity of a latrine’.37
Although John of Chlum petitioned the emperor for Hus’s release, in line with the imperial safe conduct he had been granted, Hus remained in his dungeon.38 But over the course of December 1414, the fumes from the latrine did their work, and he fell ill. He ended up vomiting repeatedly and violently, and suffering from a fever. So grave did his situation appear that his gaoler feared for his life. Worried about accusations of murder if he should die, the pope ordered that he be removed from the dungeon. Today, 10 January, he was moved elsewhere within the monastery – to a cell near the refectory.39
In trying to ascertain what actually happened in the distant past, account books can be hugely valuable. Chroniclers were often ill-informed, distant, biased, or writing years after the events, sometimes on the basis of misinformation. Similarly, letters from lords are often written in such a way as to conceal intentions rather than reveal them. Even royal letters can be unhelpful; important information was frequently conveyed by word of mouth. But account books were normally drawn up without bias. They were also subject to verification at the time, and often contain lengthy explanations of what the money was used for.
Sadly, 1415 is one of the most poorly represented years in all late medieval English royal accounting. No regular household accounts survive. Nor do any chamberlain’s accounts. Even the great wardrobe accounts are short on entries for 1415 (with the notable exception of expenses for the Agincourt campaign). We are left with a very few series of documents from which to determine what the king spent his money on in the early months of 1415. The Issue Rolls are one of our best extant sources.
The first series of payments recorded on the Issue Rolls for 1415 are those dated 17 January.40 Henry paid his almoner £100 for this term (a period of six months) to make donations on feast days and to distribute 4s per day among the poor. This was a traditional engagement of every monarch, and did not necessarily indicate remarkable piety or generosity.41 Other spiritual and charitable donations included the payment of 25 marks (£16 13s 4d) to the house of Dominican friars at Canterbury, 25 marks to the Franciscan house at Canterbury, £20 to the Dominicans at London, and 25 marks to the Dominicans at Oxford.
There was a payment of £312 10s made to Sir John Neville, custodian of Carlisle, so he could pay the wages of the men defending the West March against the incursions of the Scots. The duke of York was paid for keeping the town and castle of Berwick and paying the wages of the men guarding the East March (£423 0s 6d). Similar payments were made for the sustenance of Calais. Other payments were of an administrative nature – sending out messengers and letters, for example, to the earl of Arundel (the treasurer), and to the sheriffs of the various counties. The poet Thomas Hoccleve, who worked as an exchequer clerk by day, was reimbursed 26s 8d for red wax obtained by him for the use of the privy seal. A payment was made to Henry’s chamber of 2,000 marks (£1,333 6s 8d), and another of £100; these sums were effectively his personal spending money.
The most interesting items concern Henry’s military preparations. A payment of £460 was made for a barge from Brittany called the Katherine of Guérande. There was a part payment of £28 owing to a Master William the Gunner for a cannon, paid by agreement with the king himself. Henry also paid £5 13s 4d to William Woodward, the founder, for gunpowder. Although these sums are not large, they alert us to what Henry was doing in the days which are otherwise not recorded above. He was building up his military supplies, as he had been doing since his accession.
This same day, in the city of Constance, a papal notary in the service of John XXIII drew up two documents in favour of Edmund Mortimer, earl of March. One of them was relatively innocuous: written permission for Mortimer to separate the alien priory of Stoke Clare from its Norman mother church and to turn it into a secular college under his direct patronage, thereby saving its estates from being confiscated by the king. The second document was anything but innocuous. It gave him official permission to marry one of his second cousins. Although it did not name her, the woman in question was Anne Stafford, daughter of the earl of Stafford.42
As mentioned above, Edmund Mortimer was the great-great-grandson of Edward III through Lionel, Edward III’s second son (whereas Henry V was descended from Edward III’s fourth son). Edmund therefore had a claim to the throne of England which was arguably stronger than Henry’s own. He was also the rightful English claimant to the title of ‘King of France’. Far from benefiting from his illustrious birth, however, Edmund had spent over half his lifetime in prison, confined and guarded by order of Henry’s father. Edmund thus had both the reason and the dynastic right to be a thorn in Henry’s side.
It goes without saying that Edmund was likely to be unhappy at the way his family had been treated by the Lancastrians. But the reality was even worse, for Edmund’s maternal uncle had been the duke of Surrey, who had lost his life during the Epiphany Rising. Edmund and his younger brother, Roger, had subsequently been kept in close custody at Windsor Castle. After an unsuccessful attempt by Lady Despenser to free them in 1405, the Mortimer boys were guarded even more closely by Sir John Pelham at Pevensey Castle. Things improved for them in 1409 – after ten years of custody – when Henry IV transferred them to Prince Henry’s own protection. This was an inspired move, for it made the eighteen-year-old Edmund dependent on his future king. When Henry succeeded to the throne he released the Mortimer boys, and knighted them.43 But was this enough to secure Edmund’s loyalty? Henry was not sure. In November 1413 he had forced Edmund to seal a recognisance that he would remain loyal, or forfeit the huge sum of 10,000 marks (£6,666 13s 4d).
As the Mortimer claimant to the throne of England, and the rightful heir to the English claim on the throne of France, Edmund’s marriage had always been of great interest to Henry. At the time of his release, when he had still been underage, it was clearly stipulated that Edmund should not marry without the king’s permission. Even though he had now reached adulthood, he must have known that his marriage to Anne Stafford, another descendant of Edward III, would make the king angry. But for the moment no one knew about it. It was just a piece of routine business being conducted by a stranger on the far side of Europe.
In his cell near the refectory of the monastery, Jan Hus wrote letters to his supporters and friends in Bohemia:
I entreat you, lying in prison – of which I am not ashamed, for I suffer in hope for the Lord God’s sake – to beseech the Lord God for me that He may remain with me. He has mercifully visited me with a grave illness and again healed me. He has permitted my very determined enemies to attack me – men to whom I had done much good and whom I had loved sincerely. In Him alone I hope and in your prayer, that He will grant me to remain steadfast in His grace unto death. Should He be pleased to take me to Himself now, let His holy will be done; but should He be pleased to return me, likewise let His holy will be done. Surely I have need of great help; yet I know that He will not allow me to bear any suffering or temptation except for my and your benefit, so that being tested and remaining steadfast, we may obtain our great reward.44
In writing this, Hus revealed that, even though he had come voluntarily to Constance, he knew he might die there. At the same time he clung to the idea that he might yet return to Prague. But things were changing rapidly. Very shortly after writing this letter he sent another to John of Chlum saying that, if the above letter had not yet been sent, ‘hide it and do not send it, for it may cause harm’. He went on to say in the same letter
I also pray, noble and gracious Lord John, if a hearing is granted me, that the emperor be present and that I am assigned a place near him, so that he may hear and understand me well. I also particularly beg you that you, and Lord Henry Lacembok and Lord Wenceslas of Dubá, and others if possible, be present, so you may hear what the Lord Jesus Christ, my procurator, advocate and most gracious judge, will have me say – so that whether I live or die, you may be true and proper witnesses, and the liars will not be able to say that I denied the truth that I preached.45
At the end of the letter he added the forlorn plea that, if he was allowed a hearing, he hoped the emperor would prevent him being returned to prison afterwards, so he could take counsel with his friends. He clearly had no idea how much trouble he was in.
At Westminster, Henry was attending to his invasion plans. Today he commissioned Henry Beaufort, and the duke of York, Sir Thomas Skelton, Sir John Berkeley and William Brocas to make an enquiry into the loss of income and rights from the royal castle of Southampton. Not all of these men would head off to the south coast; the reason for including the names of the chancellor and the duke was to give greater authority to the others. It was an emphatic way of ensuring that local officials complied.
Southampton was the location where Henry was concentrating his shipbuilding activities. His great ship the Holy Ghost was being refitted there at that moment. Then there was the value of Southampton as a port. There were several places on the south coast from which an army might be transported to France, but none was as convenient as Southampton. Plymouth was the major port for sailing to Gascony, but it was far too remote for most people. London was the most convenient port for the transportation of the stores held at the Tower, but it was not at all suitable to muster a large army in and around the city. Southampton on the other hand was conveniently in the middle of southern England. It had served as the port of embarkation for Edward III’s great expedition of 1346, which Henry seems to have settled on as the blueprint for what he wanted to achieve this year in France. Even better, it was a well-defended, walled town, its defences having been rebuilt by the citizens over the last thirty years. Henry was even planning a gun tower to guard the entrance to the port.46 The adjacent manors were suitable for the encampment of large numbers of men. Royal agents had an established presence in the town. And its mariners were experienced in Channel navigation. It was thus the obvious point from which to launch an invasion. Henry could not allow it to be subject to corrupt officials.
Today also Henry commissioned an esquire in his service, Roger Salvayn, to take ‘two or three ships for the king’s service in the port of Kingston upon Hull, and to equip them with master seamen and mariners’.47 Salvayn was not just an esquire; he was also treasurer of Calais. Ever since the start of his reign Henry had been improving the defences of Calais, repairing the defences, renewing the thatch and shingle roofs of houses with slates and tiles.48 As with Southampton, a commission of enquiry had been set up to eradicate any possibility of fraud in the port. Henry had himself appointed Sir William Lisle to be the military governor of the town as deputy to the earl of Warwick while the latter was away at Constance, and to maintain a strong force of men-at-arms and archers there.49 Henry was already planning to use the town for his forthcoming expedition – as a bolt-hole, at least, if everything went wrong.
Jacob Cerretano, a papal notary, wrote in his journal for today that, ‘the solemn ambassadors of the king and realm of England … entered Constance with a large and handsome escort’. They were met by Bishop Challant of Lausanne, who was temporarily acting as the bishop of Terouanne; Nicholas of Robertis, master of Pope John’s household; and many other members of the pope’s and the cardinals’ households, who rode out to greet them. Cerretano added, ‘the next day the said ambassadors waited in fine array on our lord Pope John XXIII; and the lord bishop of Salisbury made an eloquent speech on church union, which was praised by all present’.50
Cerretano was not the only observer who was impressed with the English delegation. Ulrich Richental also noted their arrival, although somewhat less accurately than the papal notary.
Two archbishops [sic] and one bishop from England rode in, with seven wagons and twenty-two sumpter horses carrying apparel and other things; and forty-two learned clerics, twelve of whom were doctors of theology, and the rest licentiates and doctors of canon law. With them came a princely earl, Richard of Warwick, with three trumpeters and four fifers. The first archbishop [sic], Lord Robert of Salisbury, had sixty-four horses and many men, and he went to the Hof behind the steps, where a gate leads into the cloister, and remained there until his death. The other archbishop [sic] … came with sixty-seven horses and many men. He went to the house or inn near St Lawrence, called The House of the Golden Sword, by the city gate, and remained there until he took his departure … The earl of Warwick rode with thirty-eight horses and many men to the house in the upper market called The Painted House, where he remained until he rode out of Constance.51
Henry’s embassy had been travelling for about ten weeks – very slowly, perhaps on account of snow blocking the roads, or floods comparable to those in Northern France. The leader was Henry’s great friend Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick. Now thirty-three years of age, he had a wealth of experience, including fighting alongside Henry in Wales, travelling to Rome and the Holy Land, fighting in Prussia, and serving on Henry’s council. With him were Henry’s chamberlain, Lord Fitzhugh, and Sir Walter Hungerford and Sir Ralph Rochford. These three men had also been crusaders with the Teutonic Knights in Prussia; all three had been to Jerusalem. In addition, they were marked out by personal demonstrations of piety. Lord Fitzhugh had become acquainted with the ideas of St Bridget in Denmark, and was also familiar with the teachings of English mystics. Hungerford had been educated for the church, was a collector of books on theology, and had founded several chantry chapels.
The clerical leader of Henry’s embassy was Robert Hallum, bishop of Salisbury. He had been chancellor of the University of Oxford, had spent time at the papal curia of Gregory XII, in Rome, and had represented the English church at the council of Pisa in 1409. He had degrees in both civil and canon law, and was famous for his oratorical skill. He was accompanied by Nicholas Bubwith, bishop of Bath and Wells, John Catterick, bishop of St David’s, and the abbots of Westminster and St Mary’s, York, the prior of Worcester, and a small army of lawyers and theologians, headed by the king’s protonotary, Dr John Hovingham.52 The abbots of Fountains, Jervaulx, Selby and Beaulieu were also in attendance, as Cerretano noted.53 Although these men were representing their monasteries, their presence must have made the English delegation seem all the more impressive.
Why did a delegation to a religious council include laymen like the earl of Warwick? The main reason was that Henry sought an alliance with Sigismund against the French, and looked at Constance as an opportunity to achieve it.54 Henry’s council in the autumn of 1414 had recommended that he send ambassadors to ‘every party’. All these leading delegates to Constance were given a second commission expressly empowering them to treat with Sigismund. One of them, Sir Walter Hungerford, had already been in negotiations with Sigismund’s ambassadors the previous year, when Henry had proposed a three-way agreement between the empire, France and England.55 It is possible that Henry now sought to revive the idea of the three-way treaty. Almost certainly he sought to justify the war he was about to launch, and hoped for the emperor’s acquiescence. All we can be certain of is Sigismund’s response – the emperor was not convinced that Henry had done all he could to avoid a conflict with France.56
Henry issued a commission to two royal judges to investigate cases of counterfeiting money in the county of Essex.57 This crime, although it does not sound of the greatest seriousness to us, was regarded as high treason, punishable by hanging, drawing and quartering. It was a particular concern of Henry’s in this year, as further commissions of enquiry reveal.
On days when Henry was not sitting in state, or otherwise engaged with important council business, he would have a large cushion set up on a sideboard in his great chamber – a large but private audience chamber – and there he would spend an hour after dinner listening to petitions brought to him by his subjects.58 It was a custom of engaging directly with the administration of justice which he had inherited from his father, who had also listened to petitions in this way. After the petitioner or his representative had been admitted by the king’s chamberlain – or, during Lord Fitzhugh’s absence at Constance, his underchamberlain – Henry would decide whether he would act or not in line with the petitioner’s wishes. If he agreed, the bill would be endorsed by the acting chamberlain, and the bureaucratic machinery of government would do the rest.
Gerard Sprong came to see Henry today. He asked humbly to be discharged of accountability for the two tons of metal in a great cannon called the Messenger, which had blown up at the siege of Aberystwyth in 1407. He also wished to be discharged of his liability for a great gun called the King’s Daughter, which had exploded at the siege of Harlech. Another gun which could not be salvaged was one which had shattered at Worcester, when being tested by Anthony the gunner. He also wished to be discharged of a number of other things he had delivered, including large quantities of gunpowder and smaller iron guns taken by Helman Leget to Bordeaux, or sent with Sir John Stanley to Ireland, as well as 1,500 quarrels used at the sieges of Aberystwyth and Harlech.59
Henry gave his assent. Sprong was simply guarding his back against the king’s auditors questioning how he could have lost so many tons of bronze and iron. Besides, if Henry wished to have sufficient guns to conduct a siege of a major town or city, he would need every gun he could get, and Sprong was a key agent in amassing and organising his artillery.
Although the French council had decided in principle to prolong the truce with England on 2 January, official confirmation had yet to be drawn up. Today, Guillaume Boisratier, archbishop of Bourges, and Pierre Fresnel, bishop of Noyon, together with Charles, count of Eu, and Guillaume Martel, lord of Bacqueville, the king’s chamberlain, authorised the extension of the truce in King Charles’s name.
Not all of Henry’s chief ambassadors were in France for the occasion. Bishop Langley and Thomas Beaufort were still in England, for they are recorded in the minutes of a privy council meeting in early February 1415.60 It seems rather that Henry’s ambassadors travelled separately or in small groups. Sir William Bourchier was the first to set out, on 10 December, travelling down to Southampton and from there to Harfleur.61 Richard Courtenay, bishop of Norwich, was next: he left London on 12 December 1414 and sailed from Dover to Calais.62 Sir John Phelip and William Porter set out two days later, following Bourchier down to Southampton and from there across to Harfleur. Richard Holme, Henry’s secretary, set out the same day, but went via Winchelsea and Calais. Philip Morgan, a lawyer commissioned to attend the embassy, might have been with him. The other members – Bishop Langley, Thomas Beaufort, and Lord Grey of Codnor – followed afterwards, sailing from Dover to Calais.63 Thus it seems that Courtenay, Holme and Morgan were the principal ambassadors in France in January, and it was these men who actually agreed the extension of the truce.
The chief of these three was Bishop Courtenay. Six feet tall, with golden brown hair, and strikingly handsome, he was about thirty-three years of age – four or five years older than Henry himself. He was a grandson of the earl of Devon, intelligent, studious and pious. In Wales he had served Henry as a royal clerk, and was responsible for administering the oath to the Welsh garrison of Aberystwyth which resulted in Henry’s greatest military mistake to date. He therefore shared his moment of shame: a bonding experience every bit as significant as sharing a moment of glory. When Henry had succeeded to the throne, Courtenay found himself elected bishop of Norwich and appointed to the sensitive position of keeper of the king’s jewels and treasurer of the chamber. The king was as close to him as he was to any man.
Courtenay had seen all the dealings with the French since Henry’s succession. He knew that his current mission was, on the face of it, a futile one. He was only in Paris so Henry could be seen to have done what his council had advised. He knew that the French were never going to negotiate on Henry’s terms. From their point of view, the forthcoming peace negotiations were not about war so much as the terms under which Henry V would marry Katherine of France. To them, the continuation of the war was just a negotiating tactic; no one really wanted to resume hostilities – or so they thought. Once the marriage was agreed, Henry would not threaten France for want of King John’s ransom, surely? Nor would he jeopardise the restored parts of Gascony for a few more towns of dubious loyalty.
In the official documents for the truce, sealed today, the English referred to the French king as ‘our adversary of France’ and the French referred to Henry as ‘our adversary of England’. The French wrote their documents in French, and Courtenay responded on Henry’s behalf in Latin. All the formal insults and marks of honour were preserved on each side.64 But Henry’s vision of future Anglo-French relations involved his domination of the French, not a negotiated settlement. It involved revenge for wounded pride. Just yesterday he had written to the Jurade of Bordeaux stating that he expected that the throne of France would soon be restored to him.65 And he was not referring to the likely success of the forthcoming embassy.
Henry ordered Nicholas Calton, clerk, and Richard Clitherowe, esquire, to muster 150 men-at-arms, three hundred archers and three hundred mariners. They were ‘going on the king’s service to sea in the company of Sir Gilbert Talbot and Sir Hugh Standish, and John Burgh esquire, in ships in the port of London and ports and places adjacent.’66
This was a significant move to ensure the safety of the south coast. Sir Gilbert Talbot was one of Henry’s most capable enforcers – another one of those men who had served with him in the Welsh wars. He had been a captain in Henry’s victorious army at the battle of Grosmont in March 1405, and had been nominated a Knight of the Garter in about 1408. When the great fortress of Harlech finally fell to Henry’s army, it was Sir Gilbert Talbot who was in charge. He had subsequently continued to patrol Wales with three hundred men-at-arms and six hundred archers. If anyone was capable of protecting the south coast ports from a French naval attack, it was him.
Among the royal grants recorded at Westminster for today we find one made to Henry, Lord Scrope of Masham, and his wife Joan.67 Scrope was about forty, eleven years older than the king. He had fought on a crusade in his youth, and this chivalric status had served him well when Henry’s crusading father became king. He was made constable of Laugharne Castle in South Wales, and fought alongside Henry and his father at the battle of Shrewsbury. Like so many men of the court, his relationship with Henry blossomed in Wales. When Henry became regent at the end of 1409, Scrope was appointed treasurer of England and admitted to the Order of the Garter. After Henry’s accession he became a regular member of English embassies to France, dealing with the Burgundians as well as the French. He was a man whom Henry both respected and trusted greatly.
The previous December, Henry had forgiven Scrope and his wife, the dowager duchess of York, all their debts to him. Today’s new grant of £46 15s annually was just one of a number of payments he settled on the couple, and a sign of his continued affection for them both.
Also today Henry confirmed the alien priory of Appuldurcombe (on the Isle of Wight) on the abbess and convent of Franciscan nuns outside Aldgate (otherwise known as the Minoresses). Alien priories were monasteries dependent on a foreign religious house – Appuldurcombe being a daughter of Montébourg in France. They supplied revenue back to their foreign parent monasteries, and these in turn supplied taxation to the French government in wartime. Therefore there was a long tradition of English kings confiscating the incomes of alien priories during periods of conflict. At the Leicester parliament of 1414, Henry had been petitioned by the commons to declare that, even if there were to be peace, he would never return the alien priories but would dissolve them all. He had already taken about fifty-four into his own hands: a precursor to the complete dissolution of all the English monasteries by Henry VIII in the 1530s. In many cases he had granted the estates to friends, family and supporters, thereby relieving himself of some of the financial pressure which his father had suffered. But in this case, Appuldurcombe was handed over to supplement the income of the Minoresses. Henry Kays, keeper of the hanaper in chancery, was ordered to deliver letters patent to them at the same time, freeing them forever from having to pay any taxes levied on these lands.68
Finally, Henry was petitioned in his capacity as the highest justice in the land concerning John Elynden of Hawkhurst, who had been taken to court by a creditor and ordered to pay 28 marks and 10 marks compensation. He had been unable to pay, and subsequently surrendered himself to the Fleet Prison as a debtor. Unfortunately, while in prison he had failed to appear before a royal judge commissioned to hear legal cases in Kent, and had been outlawed. Technically, this meant he could be killed on sight – he had no protection in the eyes of the law. However, as he could show that he had in fact paid 10 marks of the 38 marks he owed, and as the creditor had now died, and as he obviously could not have attended the court due to being in prison, Henry wiped the slate clean, pardoned his outlawry and ordered the debt to be cancelled.69
There were three distinct themes to Henry’s vision of kingship: military leadership, piety and justice. All three featured throughout this month, for example: in the expedition to Constance, in his continued gathering of munitions and weapons for an expedition to France, and in the answering of petitions from his subjects. Today, all three featured on the same day.
With regard to his spiritual welfare, Henry made a grant of pavage to the burgesses of Beverley, ‘because of the devotion which the king bears to the glorious confessor St John of Beverley, whose body rests in the church of Beverley’.70 Pavage was the right to levy a tax on those coming to and going from a town so that the streets could be paved. As most towns in medieval England were unpaved, Beverley was hoping not only to elevate itself in cleanliness and appearance above its neighbours but also to attract more visitors. This meant more pilgrims coming to the church, and a greater wealth and dignity being attached to the saint’s shrine.
As for the defence of the realm, Henry gave orders for another three ships to be made ready with mariners and soldiers – the Katherine of the Tower, Gabriel of the Tower, and Paul of the Tower.71 These were all royal ships – the Katherine of the Tower being the recently paid-for Katherine de Guérande. They are also identifiable in two naval surveys made in 1417: the Katherine was a nef or ship, but not a great ship, so it probably had a carrying capacity of about 100 tuns (a tun being a large barrel containing 252 wine gallons). The Gabriel was a balinger, a smaller vessel; and thePaul was the largest of the three, a carrack. They were all harboured at the Tower of London, the military base where Henry also assembled and stored all his munitions. Henry’s determination to go to war required a large navy to be assembled. Edward III had commanded a navy in the region of forty or fifty royal ships; but all of those vessels had long since gone, and few had been replaced.72 As the few ships which did remain in the royal navy were relatively small – not many were longer than 100ft from stem to stern – he would need several hundred more to transport a large army. These initial commissions were probably issued now for one of two purposes: either to assemble the necessary stores, weapons, munitionsand provisions at the Tower, or to defend the coast against French attack.
The most memorable information we have about Henry on this day relates to his exercising of justice. Edmund Cornhill was a servant of Bishop Courtenay. On his way to Paris, Courtenay and his household had passed through Calais. The bishop had noticed a decaying corpse hanging from a gallows. On enquiry it turned out to be one William Cole, who had been found guilty of murdering a man from Calais. The judgment of the court had been that he should hang there until the rope around his neck broke. Moved by pity for the dead man, the bishop had asked the mayor and aldermen of Calais to allow the corpse to be cut down, and he gave Edmund Cornhill the task of removing the body and burying it. Cornhill did as he was ordered. But he was then arrested on the orders of the mayor and aldermen, who had decreed that anyone cutting down William Cole’s corpse would himself be hanged. Poor Cornhill was thus detained in Calais and sentenced to death for a work of charity ordered by his lord, the bishop. His only hope was a royal pardon.
A petition was drawn up on his behalf and rushed to the king at Westminster. Leaning on his cushion in his great chamber, Henry listened and nodded his assent. And, with that gesture, he saved Cornhill’s life.73