Post-classical history


Friday 1st

IT WAS THE eve of Candlemas, the formal end of winter – or as contemporaries thought of it, the retreat of the dark. Good Christians were expected to fast on this day, in order to heighten the sense of anticipation for the feast itself.1 As a deeply religious man, Henry may well have followed this exhortation. But it is unlikely that he forced the rest of his household to do likewise – accounts from the previous reign show that the royal household was accustomed to eat normally on 1 February.2

The king’s fast is perhaps the reason why we find few orders dated today. John Melksop, the master of a London ship called Cob John, was commissioned to make his vessel ready and to have it manned for action.3 Similarly Nicholas Dalton, master of theTrinity of London, and Perin de Fargh, master of a balinger called the Petre de Bayonne, were both ordered to prepare their vessels and to take on mariners and servants.4


The great bells of Constance Cathedral were rung early today, first at dawn, and then twice more, summoning all the prelates to assemble.5 There was excitement in the air. The cardinal of St Mark, Guillaume Fillastre, had written a memorandum which had sparked great interest. In his words, ‘it is a mark of a good shepherd that he lays down his life for his sheep. If he does not lay it down, he is not a good shepherd. And if he is bound to lay down his life, how much more [readily] should he lay down the accidents of life – honour, power, dominion!’

Cardinal Fillastre went further. If John XXIII or either of the other popes failed to resign, the council could compel any or all of them to do so. In a staggeringly direct assault on his own superior, he declared

In view of the condition of the Church … the supreme pontiff and shepherd of the Church may be compelled for the peace and the unity of the church to offer to abdicate, on condition that the others agree to cease their usurpation of office and carry out their abdications honestly and freely … For since he is bound to abdicate, he may be compelled to do so … For when a man is commanded to make restitution and fails to obey the command, his property may be taken from him by armed force, or other means may be used to oblige him to perform his duty. If the pope does not obey, he may be deposed as bringing scandal on the Church of God, which he is bound to protect and cherish …6

That was not the end of it. It was not just this pope who was subject to such judgment by such a council, it was all popes.

Many other reasons might be adduced from the laws of God, of nature and of Man, to prove that a general council is superior to a pope in matters which concern the universal state of the Church, such as the present case and numerous others. Nevertheless, although these conclusions are correct, we recognise the propriety of proceeding mildly at the outset.

No one in authority had had the courage to say these things before, but once they were written down and circulated, they were widely applauded. Pope John XXIII was horrified, and felt betrayed, but there was nothing he could do but play for time. He asked for fourteen days to consider the memorandum.7

A delegation of prelates and scholars from the kingdom of Sweden, Denmark and Norway, who had just arrived, were present at this session. They agreed that the pope ought to be deposed if he should refuse to resign. However, the future of the papacy was not the main purpose of their visit. Their mission was to request that St Bridget of Sweden be recognised as a saint by all those at Constance.

St Bridget had been the founder of a religious order, the Order of St Saviour, in the 1340s. After giving birth to eight children (one of whom, Catherine, became a saint herself) and going on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, she went on many more pilgrimages, spreading the word about the way to live a moral life, and distributing the rule of her Bridgettine nuns. She urged the pope to leave Avignon and return the holy see to Rome. Through this and other such spiritual interventions, and her own moral lifestyle, her advocation of peace, and her long-distance pilgrimages, she became an internationally renowned figure. She had finally obtained papal confirmation of the Rule of her Order in 1370, three years before she died. According to her representatives at Constance, many miracles were due to her sanctity. She had, in fact, been beatified once already, in 1391, but that act had been carried out by the Roman pope alone. The French pope did not recognise the beatifications of his rival. So now her followers and countrymen wanted the Church universally to recognise her as a saint.8

The council deliberated. They decided that nine doctors of theology among the scholars should swear to St Bridget’s sanctity and miracles, and then she should be recognised as a saint. This was done: the nine doctors swore on the Holy Gospels. Then a figure representing St Bridget was set up on the altar, an archbishop from Denmark began to sing Te Deum Laudamus, and bells rang throughout the city, both after dinner and at night.

At some point in the day – whether before or after these events is unclear – Pope John XXIII provided the pious and hard-working John Catterick to the see of Lichfield, in line with Henry’s wishes. No doubt Catterick took the lead in requesting that Henry’s confessor, Stephen Patrington, be provided to the see of St David’s (which Catterick had previously held). The pope agreed to this also.9 Perhaps there was some genuine friendship between him and Catterick? Or maybe the pope felt he needed all the friends at Constance he could get, and gave in to Catterick in order to win his support? Either way, he was in for a shock.

Saturday 2nd: Candlemas

The feast of Candlemas had come, one of the principal feasts of the Christian calendar. It was more formally known as the feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. For Christians it was the day of Mary’s purification or ‘churching’ – the fortieth day after the birth, when new mothers of male babies were welcomed back into the community, and thanks given for their safe delivery. It was also a celebration of Simeon’s recognition of the Messiah. As the story appears in St Luke’s gospel, Simeon was an old man in Jerusalem who had been promised by the Holy Ghost that he would not die before he had seen Christ. The Holy Ghost led him into the Temple at the same time as Joseph and Mary brought in the baby Jesus. Simeon understood the significance, and took up the child in his arms, and said:

Lord now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word,

for my eyes have seen your salvation,

which you have prepared before the face of all people:

a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.10

This phrase, ‘a light to lighten the Gentiles’, accorded perfectly with the medieval view of the retreat of winter. The chapel royal at Westminster was thronged with candles – as many as possible for the celebration of this morning’s Mass. Henry processed into the chapel with his acting chamberlain carrying his candles before him. There he was surrounded by the incense of the church, members of his household in prayer, and the paintings of scenes from the Bible. At the east end were the portraits of Edward III and all his family, including his sons Edward the Black Prince and Henry’s own grandfather, John of Gaunt.

Fittingly Henry’s business today included giving permission for Geoffrey Colville and several of his fellows to endow a religious fraternity or gild in a chapel of Holy Trinity church, Walsoken, near Wisbech. The usual fee of £5 was paid into the royal coffers.11


In Constance there were celebrations, too. Pope John celebrated Mass in the cathedral. The candles were blessed in his presence, and he himself sprinkled holy water over them, and read five collects. After Mass he went into the bishop’s palace and stood on the balcony with four cardinals, overlooking the crowds in the square. He gave the people his blessing, and passed down huge candles, each weighing 60lbs, according to Ulrich Richental. As wax candles were expensive – far dearer than ordinary tallow ones – this was a mark of great generosity. Then his chaplains threw down smaller candles, and ‘among the people there was a great scramble, one falling over another, and loud laughter’.12 After dinner the pope sent out candles to all the great lords present, both spiritual and temporal, so they might share the light with their households.


In Paris, the king’s council had come to a decision regarding John the Fearless and his untrustworthiness in relation to the Peace of Arras. They presented the king with an ordonnance drawn up for his approval. Anticipating the arrival of proctors from John the Fearless who would agree to the terms of the ordonnance – namely John’s brother, the duke of Brabant, and his sister the duchess of Holland – they proposed that a general pardon would be proclaimed for all the followers of John the Fearless except five hundred named persons. Lands taken in war would be restored. The peace agreed at Chartres in 1409 would be renewed, and all treaties between French princes and the English would be torn up.

We strictly enjoin upon all those of our blood and lineage that they do not, on any pretence whatsoever, form any alliances with the English, or with others, to our prejudice, or to the prejudice of this peace; and should any such alliances have been formed, we positively command that all treaties be returned and annulled.13

Having drawn up this ordonnance, permission was sent to the proctors of John the Fearless to enter Paris, so they could also seal it and swear the necessary oaths to maintain it. A letter was sent to the ambassadors from the king of England, that they might enter the capital in their official capacity.14


At about this time a council meeting was held at the London house of the Dominican friars, or the Blackfriars as they were also known. This was the council’s usual meeting place in the king’s absence. Unfortunately the minutes are simply dated ‘February’ – but the presence of at least one councillor, Thomas Beaufort, in Paris by 21 February (at the latest) points to a meeting early in the month.15 Thomas Langley, bishop of Durham, who travelled to France with Thomas Beaufort, was also present. The other councillors there were Henry Beaufort (the chancellor), the archbishop of Canterbury, the duke of York, Lord Scrope, Sir Thomas Erpingham (the steward of the royal household), and John Prophet (keeper of the privy seal). The purpose of their meeting was to decide what measures were necessary to safeguard the realm during the king’s expedition abroad, presuming the ambassadors failed to arrange peace.16

The first striking thing about this council meeting is that there was no doubt in these men’s minds that war was inevitable. There was no discussion of what would happen if the ambassadors to France were successful, even though two of them were present. Already it was a foregone conclusion that they would fail to secure a suitable peace.

The measures the council recommended for the safety of the seas ‘during the voyage of the king’ required a small force of two great ships (defined as capable of carrying a load of 120 tuns in peacetime), five barges (100 tuns) and five balingers. Each great ship and each barge was to be manned by forty-eight mariners, twenty-six men-at-arms, and twenty-six archers. Each balinger was to be manned by forty mariners, ten men-at-arms and ten archers. The council directed that the coast from Plymouth to the Isle of Wight should be guarded by the two ships, two of the barges and one balinger. Two barges and two balingers should patrol the sea from the Isle of Wight to Orfordness, in Norfolk. The remaining two balingers and one barge should guard the coast from Orfordness all the way north to Berwick. It sounds a paltry force to cover nearly a thousand miles of coastline, but even that thin coverage required a thousand men. The men-at-arms would expect to be paid 1s per day each, the archers 6d per day, the master mariners 6d per day, and the mariners 3d per day.17 This amounted to £732 per month in wages alone for the twelve ships.

Guarding against a substantial Welsh or Scottish raid during the king’s absence was council’s next task. For the whole of Wales they allotted only one hundred men-at-arms and two hundred archers. Forty of the men-at-arms and eighty of the archers were to be stationed at Strata Florida, and the rest in the north. As for the Scottish Marches, the provision was even smaller. Just one hundred men-at-arms were allocated to guard the East March, stationed at Berwick – the council added that it was necessary to speak to the king about repairing Berwick Castle. The West March received no extra troops at all. Calais was relatively well provisioned by comparison, with an extra one hundred men-at-arms and two hundred archers.

This is the second striking thing about the council meeting. It recommended that very few men be stationed at the most dangerous places in the realm. The reason for this sparse allocation was hinted at in the next paragraph of the minutes. Councillors agreed that no final decision about payment should be made until the treasurer of England had made a full report of the finances of the kingdom. They urged the king to make a full enquiry into the state of the finances of his household, the income from the royal estates, and all the debts he had incurred since his coronation, including the annuities paid out. Only after these things had been seen to could the king make his expedition like a good Christian prince, they said, with God’s approval, to accomplish the object of his voyage.

Sunday 3rd

With Candlemas over, Henry’s representatives at Constance set about the serious business of their mission. The first objective was to secure the recognition of England as a ‘nation’.

In the fourteenth century, the idea of a ‘nation state’ as we know it did not exist. Europe was made up of kingdoms (such as England and France), independent princedoms, duchies and counties (such as the palatine county of the Rhine, the duchy of Milan, and the duchy of Holland) and, in Italy especially, a number of independent city states, such as Venice and Florence. Some duchies, counties and city states – especially in Austria, Germany, Eastern Europe and the Low Countries – were part of the Holy Roman Empire, governed by the emperor, an elected overlord. The idea of a political ‘nation’, in which the people participated in one single financial, legal and defensive sovereign government, which supposedly ruled in the interests of the entire nation, was only just beginning to develop. The furthest along this line of development was England, which had seen a nationalist programme of reform under Edward III. This extended to parliamentary representation, the promotion of a national language, the adoption of a common law, and nationwide taxation for national defence. Even so, England would not yet have been described as a political ‘nation’ in the language of the time.

The word ‘nation’ did, however, have meaning in ecclesiastical circles. The Italian peninsula might have been made up of many city states, papal states, and the kingdom of Naples and the duchy of Milan, with no single over-arching government, but it was a ‘nation’ in the sense that all its prelates were regarded in the eyes of the Church as being part of the Italian nation. Likewise Spain was regarded as a nation, for the separate kingdoms of Portugal, Castile, Aragon and Navarre all fell geographically within Spain in the eyes of the Church. France – with all its semi-autonomous duchies and counties – constituted a third ecclesiastical nation. And the united kingdom of Sweden, Norway and Denmark, and all the states under the titular authority of the Holy Roman Emperor, were regarded as forming the German nation.

The anomaly was the British Isles. Traditionally the kingdoms of England and Scotland were regarded as part of the German nation, and their bishops and abbots sat with their German counterparts. But at the council of Pisa, England had been recognised as a nation in its own right.18 The question was this: did the decision at Pisa constitute an aberration? Or should England be considered a fifth nation?

This was not just a matter of national pride. If England was an ecclesiastical nation, and if voting was to be done by nations, then there were four national votes to be cast at Constance – those of Germany, Italy, France and England. (No delegation from any part of the Spanish nation had yet arrived.) In such circumstances England’s prelates would constitute one whole quarter of the electorate. Henry’s ambassadors would find it much easier to carry out their king’s wishes than those from all the German, Italian and French realms and states, who would first have to persuade the representatives of rival governments before securing the vote of their nation. On the other hand, if England was simply part of the German nation, then Henry’s handful of ambassadors would simply be swallowed up. Henry’s programme of ecclesiastical reform would be very unlikely even to be heard, let alone agreed.

Jacob Cerretano, the Italian papal notary, was clearly bored by the English insistence that England should be recognised as a nation in its own right. He described the discussions on this day as ‘some difficulties raised by the English nation’.19 However, in using that very term, ‘nation’, Cerretano reflected an important point. The English had already taken the matter into their own hands by sitting independently. While the Germans sat in the chapter house of the Franciscan monastery in Constance, the English had established themselves in the refectory. They had thus resolved the issue de facto. Furthermore, as they were soliciting Sigismund for a treaty, and likely to be amenable to his own programme of reform, the emperor saw possible advantages in recognising the English nation as an independent body. No doubt he thought that the English would act as a sidekick to his German prelates, and a counterbalance to the French and Italians present.

Monday 4th

The Issue Rolls record various payments under today’s date.20 There were the usual administrative payments, such as money paid by Sir Roger Leche, treasurer of the royal household, for ‘mercery wares’. Two men were paid for auditing the chamberlain’s accounts from South Wales. And there was a payment of 100 marks to the duke of York which had been owing since the reign of Edward III. This was originally part of a sum granted by the crown to the duke’s father; it therefore marks a form of dynastic settling-up. It also included a sum of £94 8s 9½d paid to the late duke’s widow, now the wife of Lord Scrope, in respect of her dower.

There are just three payments relating to the defence of the realm. Like the January entries, they reveal a concentration on the two ports: Calais and Southampton. Roger Salvayn, treasurer of Calais – whom Henry had commissioned to requisition ships the previous month – was paid 16 marks (£10 13s 4d) for his wages and for employing six men at Calais to shape stones for the guns to defend the town. The victualler of Calais, Richard Threll, was paid simply for ‘stuff’.

At Southampton Henry was building up his navy. The ships he had inherited from his father were being refitted under the clerk of the king’s ships, William Catton. Two of the largest, the Trinity Royal and the Holy Ghost – each requiring a crew of two hundred men – were being made ready for the forthcoming expedition. With only twenty or twenty-five vessels in his possession, all the ships had to be ready, seaworthy and defensible.21 The reconditioning of the Holy Ghost was nearing completion. On this day William Soper was paid £4 13s 4d ‘for timber and making a swan and an antelope for the king’s new great ship, called the Holy Ghost, built at Southampton’, these animals being the royal heraldic insignia with which it would set sail.22

By far the most important entries on this roll are two payments concerning the king’s diplomatic activities. John Chamberlain, a clerk of the admiralty, was paid for a mission to the duke of Brittany for ‘certain causes considered necessary by the king’.23 Brittany – one of the most independent of the semi-autonomous duchies owing allegiance to the king of France – was home to many of the pirates who harassed English shipping in the Channel. Although the duke was the son of the dowager queen of England (Henry’s stepmother, Queen Joan), piratical raids repeatedly took place. Henry’s own ship, the Gabriel of the Tower, was a captured and reconditioned Breton vessel. Because of this, Henry had sought an agreement with the duke even before his accession. A ten-year truce had been agreed on 3 January 1414 and confirmed on 18 April that year. It specifically bound the duke not to assist Henry’s enemies.24 That was why Henry had been so keen in the subsequent parliament to pass the Statute of Truces. Any damage to the truce by continued piracy could threaten his invasion plans. In the light of the king of France’s newly drafted ordonnance, which required all treaties between his subjects and Henry to be annulled, the duke of Brittany had to make a choice. Would he observe his ten-year truce with Henry? Or his oath of loyalty to the king of France?

Even more significant is another entry on this roll. It begins:

To various messengers sent with letters under the privy seal of the king to various archbishops, bishops, dukes, earls and other lords directing them to be at Westminster for a council of the said lord king there being held the 15th [day] after Easter next [15 April], for certain causes and necessary matters of the said lord our king.25

This was to be the great council at which Henry declared openly his plans for invading France. His peace negotiators had only just set out – and already Henry was preparing to announce that England was going to war. As the council minutes of early February made clear, and as this payment shows, peace was not an option.

It is typical, however, to note that on the same day as the above message was first circulated, relating to a bellicose act, Henry made a grant of a charitable nature. He ordered that the warden and scholars of King’s Hall in the University of Cambridge be paid the sum of 50 marks yearly, in lieu of a grant originally made to them by Richard II.26

Tuesday 5th

John Conyn, the king’s tent-maker, was today commissioned to employ workmen to make the tents necessary for the king’s household and retinue on the forthcoming expedition, and to arrange the carriage of the said tents.27

Other minor issues dealt with today include the king’s personal order to Henry Kays, the keeper of the hanaper in chancery, to deliver to the master of the king’s minstrels, John Clyffe, and one Thomas Trompenell, letters patent granting them both royal pardons against any crime they might have committed, including treason, rape and murder.28 Pardons of a different sort were granted to Sir Thomas Pomeroy and William Cheney for failing to deliver the requisite amounts due at the exchequer when they had each been sheriff of Devon.29 Losses by Pomeroy in his time in office led to the king letting him off £30; and Cheney was forgiven £60 of his debt. Sir Lewis Robesart, one of the king’s most trusted household knights, received a grant of £40, payable by the sheriffs of London, for his good service to the king.30

Wednesday 6th

At Constance, English interests were under attack. The French were proposing that all decisions should be decided by a ballot – one prelate, one vote. In this they were supported by the Italians, who heavily outnumbered the other nations at Constance.

If matters were to be decided by one prelate one vote, and if only cardinals, bishops and abbots were to be able to vote, as some prelates argued, then the three English bishops and five abbots would be lost amidst the hundreds of prelates in attendance. Not for the last time did a matter of religious protocol descend into a war of words between the English and the French. The English and Germans went so far as to state categorically that, if voting was to be conducted by heads, then they would not take any further part in the council. They demanded that an equal number of representatives from each nation should be deputed to discuss resolutions. That was not good enough for the French. The meeting broke up in disagreement.

The following morning, however, the French gave in. Voting would be conducted by nations. Perhaps they realised that they would never be able to force John XXIII to resign if every Italian prelate present had a vote on whether to depose him or not. No further objections were raised as to the English being a nation in their own right. The first of Henry’s objectives had been achieved.31

Friday 8th

Henry issued a commission to Master John Eymere, doctor in law, to hear an appeal by Sir Edward Hastings against Reginald, Lord Grey, in the court of chivalry concerning a case of the right to bear a coat of arms.32 It is perhaps worth noting that this is the last piece of business for several days which places the king at Westminster. All other recorded entries for the next week were either routine chancery business or orders under the authority of the office of the privy seal, which did not require the king to be present.

Saturday 9th

The chronicler Enguerrand de Monstrelet noted that ‘around this time’ the English ambassadors arrived in Paris, and that their arrival was followed on the morrow with feasting and tourneying, which they attended.33 The date seems to be supported by the chronicler of St Denis, who notes their arrival on a Saturday after Thursday 7 February.34 However, although this evidence seems unambiguous, it is difficult to accept it for the arrival of all the English ambassadors. Two of them had been at the council meeting at Blackfriars, which took place on or after 1 February; so they and their entourages would have still been several days’ away from Paris.35 They could hardly have hurried along at forty miles a day – twice the usual travelling speed – for one of the ambassadors was in his fifties, they had a huge entourage, daylight was limited, there was little moon (it had last been full on 25 January), and the roads were still very muddy.36 Thus the reference to the arrival of the English ambassadors probably relates to the arrival of some English ambassadors – probably those who travelled via Harfleur, or Richard Courtenay, Richard Holme and Philip Morgan, who were already in France. As we have seen, the ambassadors all set off on different days and several of them took different routes.37

Courtenay probably arrived in Paris earlier than the others, and took up residence initially in the hôtel de Navarre.38 There he met Master Jean Fusoris, an elderly gentleman, knowledgeable in astrology and mathematics. He had made clocks, spheres and astrolabes for the kings of France and Aragon, amongst others. Courtenay, who had been chancellor of the University of Oxford three times (although still only thirty-three), had been drawn to him on account of his astrological knowledge. The two men had talked at length, and Courtenay had bought seven astronomical instruments from the savant on his previous trip to Paris. However, he had not paid for them in full, and had left France owing 200 crowns. Having argued at the end of their first meeting about the rights and wrongs of Jean Petit’s Justification of the duke of Burgundy, there may have been a personal reason in Courtenay’s failure to pay what he owed.

When Fusoris called on Bishop Courtenay at the hôtel de Navarre, any past animosity had apparently vanished. They discussed King Henry’s demands for peace, and Fusoris consulted his charts and determined that the English would probably be successful in obtaining what they desired. Courtenay told Fusoris that he wished he could introduce him to the king, for Henry was very interested in astrology. This was true; Henry owned several astrolabes of his own and had had his birth date and time subjected to astrological prognostication.39 In the early fifteenth century it was supposed that the planets affected everything – from the origin of plagues to the outcome of wars, and even such small matters as the most propitious time to draw blood. Courtenay therefore pressed Fusoris on whether the proposed marriage between the king and Katherine of France would be a good one. Fusoris again consulted his charts and declared that it would. Would it be accomplished in this embassy? Courtenay asked – and with that question we can see he was stringing the poor old Frenchman along. No, Fusoris declared. Courtenay, pushing disinformation out all the time, then declared to Fusoris that he knew that Henry was not in good health, and he was worried whether he would die. What did the king’s birth chart hold for the future? Fusoris refused to be drawn on this question, however. Instead he asked for his 200 crowns. Courtenay dismissed this and promised Fusoris that, if the Frenchman could arrange to come over to England with the next diplomatic embassy, he would arrange for him to be appointed physician to the dowager queen of England, as Fusoris held a master’s degree in physic. Poor Fusoris seems to have been completely outwitted by the sly Englishman, and left not quite knowing what he had to do to get his money back.


At Westminster, a commission was drawn up for four more ships to be made ready, with mariners and servants. These were all from the fleet harboured in ‘the pool of the Thames’, beside the Tower (now known as London Dock). Three of the four can be identified as barges on the surveys of 1417: the Thomas of the Tower, captained by William Hore; the Trinity of the Tower, captained by John Kingston; and the Mary of the Tower, captained by Richard Walsh.40 The fourth ship was the Philip of the Tower, commanded by Robert Schedde.

Sunday 10th

The seventh Sunday before Easter was the first day of a three-daylong period of communal over-eating, collectively known as Shrovetide. The following Wednesday would be the first day of Lent, and a six-week-long fast, so all the meat, soft cheeses and eggs had to be consumed before then. The eating and drinking was accompanied by dances, music, wrestling and games of football or camp-ball.

In Paris the courts were closed, flags were up in the streets, the taverns were open, and people were living it up. Most spectacular of all, a royal tournament was held in the rue St Antoine. Even the weak-minded king took part. Dressed in armour, he rode against the duke of Alençon, who carefully and sportingly allowed the king to split a lance against him, for the delight of the spectators. John the Fearless’s brother, the duke of Brabant, jousted cordially with the duke of Orléans in a show of dynastic reconciliation. The dauphin, who had just turned eighteen, indulged himself to excess in all his various pleasures, as he was increasingly wont to do. The queen of France and the dauphin’s wife dressed in their finest clothes, and waited on the noblemen, ambassadors and proctors.41

Enjoyable as this might have been for those Englishmen who had already arrived, their negotiations were not due to begin for some days. First, the terms of the ordonnance had to be discussed. Peace between France and England would have to wait until peace between France and Burgundy had been achieved.

Tuesday 12th: Shrove Tuesday

The third and final day of Shrovetide was the day of the greatest excess. Yesterday had been ‘Collop Monday’ when slices of meat were traditionally consumed. Today was ‘Fasting’s Eve’, or ‘Shrove Tuesday’ (the word ‘shrove’ coming from ‘shriving’, or absolution for the confession of one’s sins).42 Everything that was not eaten by the end of the day would be wasted, so gluttony – and generosity – prevailed. Cockfighting was conducted by boys, pestering the adults to bet on their birds. Towns and villages held games of football. Cockthreshing contests were held too. This was the game of trying to kill a tethered cock by throwing stones at it. The winner was rewarded with the carcass of the victim.

Wednesday 13th: Ash Wednesday

Today Henry would have washed his face and hands, dressed, and left his chamber to go into a private chapel. The crucifix would have been veiled before he entered. He would have made his confession to Stephen Patrington. A priest would have blessed ashes and sprinkled them with holy water, and then pressed some of the mixture on the king’s forehead, saying ‘Remember O Man that thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return’.43

From now until Easter there would be no feasting, no meat-eating, no eggs and no cheese. Popular dishes such as leche Lombard, stewed beef pottage, and bacon collops, were off the menu, as were flans and suet-based puddings.44 Henry’s diet would have been reduced to one of bread, fish, seafood, peas, onions, beans, raisins and nuts. Preserved fruit, such as quinces, and carefully kept apples and pears would have been available, as well as the occasional imported orange. His cooks and sauciers would have done their best to produce dishes fit for his high table, using almond milk instead of cows’ milk, and flavouring food and sauces with sugar, garlic, mustard and spices. Some exotica slipped through the legal definition of ‘fish’, such as porpoise, beaver and whale, but these were rarities. On the whole, all men of substance looked forward to the end of Lent, and the return of roast meats and dairy products.

Thursday 14th

The feast of St Valentine was not a major feast in the medieval calendar; its social significance was rather that this was the day when birds were supposed to begin their courtship flights (thus St Valentine was the patron saint of birds). The poet Geoffrey Chaucer remarked upon the belief that birds chose their mates upon St Valentine’s Day. However, he did not remark on any amorous connotations for men and women. In the later fifteenth century, Valentine’s Day gifts would be sent to friends, without any attempt at anonymity, and apparently without carnal or amorous connotations.45 Whether or not such presents indicated affection, it is highly unlikely that Henry regarded the day as having anything to do with love. Certainly he did not despatch any presents to Katherine – the third of the king of France’s daughters to be the focus of his plans for a diplomatic marriage.

If the day had any wider meaning for Henry, it was in relation to Richard II, the man who had knighted him. On this day, fifteen years earlier, Richard had died in prison, murdered on the orders of Henry’s father, probably by enforced starvation.46 The Brutchronicle, written in the 1430s, records how the pope had enjoined upon Henry IV the penance of burning four candles around the dead king’s tomb, and having Masses sung for his soul, and distributing alms on the anniversary of his death.47 Henry IV had done none of these things, and had even temporarily buried him elsewhere, at Langley; but Henry V made good the things which his father had refused to do. Thus it was Henry V who made sure that the pennies were doled out to the paupers at Westminster, in remembrance of the murdered king, on this day.48

Friday 15th

As remarked above, hardly any royal business was conducted over Shrovetide this year. Henry may have taken a small band of friends with him and gone on pilgrimage. An absence of a week may suggest a pilgrimage to Canterbury, where his father and the Black Prince were both buried in the Trinity Chapel. There too was the point of the sword which had killed St Thomas Becket, and English kings had for generations made pilgrimages to it, to atone for the crime of their murderous ancestor, also called Henry. Alternatively, Henry may have taken a barge up the river to the royal manor of Sheen, where he had started rebuilding the manor house on a grand scale, around a large central courtyard, and where he was to begin work on a series of three new monasteries on both sides of the Thames.

If he had gone anywhere over Shrovetide, it is likely he was back by today. Or at least had finished his pilgrimage. A letter bearing this date was sent to the treasurer and barons of the exchequer ordering them not to trouble Lord Scrope, Henry’s close friend, for his homage as the king had already taken homage from him for all his lands at the time of his coronation.49


At Constance, the English, German and French delegations met together. For once they had a common cause. They had decided that the best way to reunite the papacy was to secure the abdication of Pope John XXIII, and if not his abdication then his deposition, in line with Cardinal Fillastre’s memorandum. Knowing that many members of the numerous Italian nation were against the deposition of the Pisan pope in principle, this meeting was to establish who was best qualified to tackle the Italians. They decided that the bishop of Toulon should act as their collective spokesman.

The bishop must have felt some sense of trepidation as he entered the refectory of the Dominican monastery, where the Italian nation sat, and looked at all the solemn faces. But he did not fail. According to Cerretano, he spoke with such elegance and persuasiveness that he ‘charmed the ears of everyone in the congregation, moving many of them to tears of pleasure, and won them all to unanimous agreement with his proposal’.50

In reality, the decision had already been made. Pope Gregory XII had recently sent word to Sigismund that he was prepared to resign his papal title if his rivals would resign theirs. Only yesterday Cardinal Fillastre had urged John XXIII to travel to Nice so he could resign alongside Benedict XIII. Any Italians who still might have spoken up for Pope John XXIII were informed that a list of his crimes was quietly being circulated, to be used against him. If he was not made to resign, he would undoubtedly be deposed. And then he would not only lose his papal title but his good name too, dragging many Italians down with him. Although it is highly unlikely that there were any ‘tears of pleasure’ among the prelates who heard the bishop of Toulon’s speech, there is little doubt that most of them accepted the decision without protest.

Saturday 16th

No medieval king achieved renown for paying his bills on time, and Henry was no exception. His uncle, Thomas Beaufort, was still owed a large proportion of the £5,397 he had spent on his soldiers’ wages in Gascony the previous year. Medieval service required the captain in charge of an army to pay such bills himself and seek repayment from the king. Hence Henry’s brother John had been forced to break up his silverware to pay the troops on the Scottish March in 1414. Only now did the king and council decide to reimburse Beaufort for his expenditure, with a payment of £2,000 ‘in full satisfaction’ of the sum owed to him.51

The above grant, being made by the ‘king in council’, indicates that Henry was back at Westminster (if he had ever gone away). He spent part of the afternoon leaning on his cushion in the great chamber, listening to petitions presented by his chamberlain’s office. Sir Hugh Standish petitioned him today for a suit of armour from the Tower of London. Henry assented.52


At Constance, the two weeks which John XXIII had requested to think over his resignation were up. He called the whole council to meet after supper in the cathedral. In the candlelight he sadly declared that he had decided to resign. He then let the the cardinal of Florence, Francesco Zabarella, outline the resignation process, as he and his cardinals saw it taking place:

Our most holy lord pope here present, although bound by no vows, oaths or promises whatever to this pledge, yet for the repose of the people of Christ proposes and agrees willingly and freely to give peace to the Church, even by the method of abdication, on condition that, and in as far as Pedro de Luna [Pope Benedict XIII] and Angelo Corrario [Pope Gregory XII], condemned by the holy council of Pisa for schism and heresy, and deposed from the papacy, make a sufficient renunciation of the rights they claim to the papal office. The abdication is to take place by methods and under circumstances to be named forthwith, and confirmed in negotiations to be held immediately hereafter between our lord or his deputies and your deputies.53

For those present, including the emperor, this was a great relief. The decision had been made, and made publicly. But this was not an appropriate way forward. It was too vague. Referring to the other pontiffs as schismatics and heretics was hardly the best way to encourage them also to resign. And it made John XXIII’s own resignation conditional. Clearly it would not do. As they had learnt the hard way, after the council of Pisa: if you are going to get rid of a pope, you need to do it properly.

Sunday 17th

The most important act Henry performed today was undoubtedly the confirmation of the truce which had been arranged on 24 January.54 The documents containing the French ambassadors’ authority and the terms of the truce itself – to last until 1 May – had been received and checked by Henry’s chancery staff for the king’s approval. The king simply directed the chancellor to apply the great seal.

Henry’s confirmation of this short truce was a foregone conclusion. More interesting are the grants he issued, many of which were endorsed ‘by the king’. They included rewards for faithful service, such as the 100 marks yearly granted to Sir Richard Arundel, and the grant of the chancellorship of the collegiate church of St John of Beverley to the chaplain Robert Bryde.55 However, some were clearly political. For example, he granted to ‘Richard Beauchamp of Bergavenny, king’s kinsman, and Isabel his wife, sister of Richard, son and heir of Thomas, late Lord Despenser … the reversion of all the castles, towns, lordships, manors … late of the said Thomas, which the king’s kinsman Edward, duke of York, has for life.’56 Thomas Despenser had been one of the lords who had tried to kill Henry and his father and brothers during the Epiphany Rising in 1400. All his lands had been confiscated and the reversion of them had been granted to the informant who had betrayed the conspiracy, the present duke of York. This grant was therefore part of a scheme of reconciliation with the families of Henry’s attempted murderers. Further elements of this scheme were his grants to Constance of York, widow of Lord Despenser, and Eleanor Despenser, widow of Lord Despenser’s son, allowing them to receive the rest of the Despenser estates.57 This was reconciliation on a major scale, for not only had Constance been married to Despenser, but had herself committed treason when she had released Edmund Mortimer and his brother from prison in February 1405. Henry wanted there to be no residual animosity or any threat to his position while at war in France.

There were other grants, commissions and pardons made today, but only one other need be specified.58 At the request of William, duke of Holland, Henry granted a pardon to one ‘Nelle, Bartholomew’s daughter’ for all felonies, receipts of felons, concealments and trespasses. Henry also undertook to restore to her all her possessions in the town of Calais, and to allow her to live and trade there as before.59 It is not known what Nelle did to get into trouble, but that is not the point. Her pardon raises a question about the relations between Henry and the duke of Holland at this time, for the granting of a pardon at the duke’s request suggests a cordial relationship.

In exploring this relationship, it is worth noting that the English ambassadors sent in June 1414 to John the Fearless – the duke of Holland’s brother-in-law and ally – had included Thomas Chaucer, Lord Scrope, Hugh Mortimer, Philip Morgan and John Hovingham.60 Before they set out, Philip Morgan was given a safe conduct to treat with the duke of Holland, and he did indeed go to Holland after he had seen the duke of Burgundy.61 What he said in Holland we do not know, but in a rarely consulted set of documents, the Teller’s Rolls, we find that Thomas Chaucer also went to see the duke of Holland at about the same time. The entry reads ‘to Thomas Chaucer sent to the duke of Holland and other lords in foreign parts for the king’s secret negotiations’.62 It looks very much as if there was a secret agreement with Holland. And, as later events proved, what had been promised went far further than merely restoring the goods and good name of ‘Nelle, Bartholomew’s daughter’.

Monday 18th

From a historical point of view, one of the most frustrating things about a medieval king’s ‘secret business’ is that it tends to remain secret even today. When we declare that ‘there is no evidence’ for something, the line is a little disingenuous, as most of the king’s really important business was never written down. Evidence and reality do not always match up. What are we to make of an order, issued today, for Sir Bernard Montferrat to speed to the king’s presence ‘for particular causes moving the king’, stating that he should arrive by 1 May at the latest?63 Maybe this was more of the king’s secret business. Maybe he was planning to send this man – who has a Gascon-sounding name – to Gascony, to reveal to certain lords there what he was planning to declare at his great council on 15 April? Perhaps the man just owed the king some money?

Less uncertainty surrounds the formal appointment today of Sir Thomas Carew and Sir Gilbert Talbot as captains of the royal fleet, charged with resisting an invasion during the king’s voyage abroad.64 Henry placed 110 men-at-arms and no fewer than 520 archers at their command, thereby contradicting the advice of his council earlier in the month (which had recommended 232 men-at-arms and 232 archers).65 The saving in wages was relatively slight – a daily cost of £17 8s as opposed to £18 10s – but the demonstration of faith in the archers is striking.

Also today Henry issued a warning to his estranged friend, Sir John Oldcastle. The offer of a free pardon to all the Lollards, offered on 9 December 1414, would be withdrawn if Oldcastle did not give himself up before the great council on 15 April.66 In line with his reconciliation with the Despenser family and Constance of York, Henry wanted no trouble from Lollards while he was in France.

Tuesday 19th

By this time all the English ambassadors had arrived in Paris and taken up their lodgings at the hôtel de Clisson. According to the French chroniclers, they rode into the city with a cavalcade of six hundred mounted men. This number sounds like an exaggeration but it might not be: later in the year a French embassy received safe conducts for almost as many men. Either way, it suggests that the English embassy was impressive. The Parisians thronged the streets to see the glamorous display. The English leaders wore cloth of gold and silk.67 The counts of Eu, Vertus and Vendôme went out to receive them with honour, and conducted them to the hôtel de St Pol where the king was residing. The dauphin entertained them in royal style at dinner; and there they saw the thirteen-year-old Princess Katherine, and accepted a portrait of her to take back to Henry. According to Monstrelet, the Englishmen ‘carried themselves so magnificently … that the French, and particularly the Parisians were very much astonished’.68

Why did Henry send such an impressive peace mission if he was so determined on war? Surely the money would have been better spent on more armour or wages? The answer is not difficult to establish. Henry needed his war to be considered a just one – the shedding of Christian blood could not be condoned unless it was seen in that light. So he had to be seen to give the French a genuine chance to meet his demands. We might say that this was extremely cynical, and that he was only looking for the appearance of a just war; for we know he had already issued the summons for his lords to come to hear the declaration of war on 15 April. But that is precisely why the embassy was so prestigious. Its purpose was symbolic – to give the impression of seeking peace. It had to be magnificent to be convincing.

Wednesday 20th

On the Issue Rolls for today we find payments for mercery stuff by Sir Roger Leche, treasurer of the royal household, and Richard Clitherowe, formerly victualler of Calais.69 Old debts were paid: John Horn, fishmonger of London, was reimbursed 100 marks for his losses when his ships had been requisitioned by the king for the siege of Harlech – in 1409, six years earlier. The sum of £300 was sent to pay the wages of the English men-at-arms and archers in Wales. Various messengers were paid for taking letters ‘to all and singular the counties of England’ summoning lords to the great council on 15 April, and now Henry added that they were to be informed that the meeting was to last three days, until the 17th. Frustratingly, we also find another of Henry’s secretive payments. ‘To William Bolton and Nicholas Auncell, messengers, sent with all speed with seven letters under the great seal directed to various sheriffs of various counties for making proclamations within their counties and for certain causes convenient to the king and especially touching his kingdom …’

With regard to preparations for his invasion, the clerk of the royal ships, William Catton, was paid for cables. Richard Porter was paid for iron spades and shovels for the royal stores, and Nicholas Frost of London, bowyer, was paid £57 3s 4d for making bows from the start of the reign up until 29 May 1414.

Far more intriguing are three payments on this roll to Henry Scrope. ‘To Henry Lord Scrope of Masham sent on the king’s embassy to the duke of Burgundy to discuss with the duke certain negotiations and secret matters moving our king … £111’. This included repayment of his passage across the sea each way. In itself there is nothing odd about this; we know that Scrope was absent on the king’s business from 26 June to 28 October 1414, during which time he saw John the Fearless in person and sealed an agreement with the duke on Henry’s behalf. In this agreement John the Fearless agreed to offer no opposition to Henry’s attempt to wrest the crown of France from Charles VI but rather to support him and even to supply him with troops.70 But that was just one voyage. Immediately after this entry, there is another, stating that Scrope had crossed the sea a second time on the same secret business with the duke of Burgundy, for which he was paid £180.71 There had been another secret communication. What is important about these pieces of evidence is not what they say, it is what they do not say – their secretive nature. We cannot be certain, but the likelihood is that this second communication built on that earlier one, and confirmed John the Fearless’s promise that he would not hinder Henry in his quarrel with the French king.

It is among the payments for the king’s ships that we find the most astonishing detail. William Soper was today paid for painting swans and antelopes and various coats of arms on the king’s great ship, the Holy Ghost at Southampton. He was also paid for painting a royal motto on this ship: une sanz pluis (one and no more). The fact that the motto was in French is significant – most royal mottoes had been in English since the 1340s, the one notable exception being the motto of the Order of the Garter. So this particular motto may have been directed at the French. However, the source is significant, for it almost certainly comes from a medieval French version of Homer’s Iliad (which Henry would only have heard in French). The arrogance of the message is quite breathtaking: ‘d’avoir plusieurs seigneurs aucun bien je n’y vois / qu’un sans plus soit le maistre et qu’un seul soit le roi (‘As for having several lords, I see no good therein / let one and no more be the master, and that one alone be the king’). It is difficult to read this as anything other than Henry’s determination to exercise complete authority – over France as well as England, and over his religious subjects as well as his secular ones.72

Thursday 21st

In Constance John XXIII met the emperor and presented a new form of words whereby he proposed to resign. He added a clause requiring Sigismund to take arms against his rival popes if they refused to resign. As Fillastre noted, ‘while the first declaration had been unsatisfactory, this second one was still more unsatisfactory’.73 John had misunderstood why his first offer had been unacceptable. In terms of the unity of Christendom, he had no special rights or privileges over the other two popes. Pressure began to build against him, as it was suspected that he was trying to squirm out of his promise.


In Paris, another tournament was due to take place. A band of Portuguese knights had arrived in the city and challenged any Frenchmen who dared fight them to a joust of war. This contest would be a fight with steel lances and sharpened swords, axes and knives.

Jousts of war were relatively rare events, and so this one was bound to draw a huge crowd. As Portugal was an ally of England – Queen Philippa of Portugal being Henry V’s aunt – it was decided that Thomas Beaufort, her half-brother, should lead three Portuguese knights out into the lists. With much pageantry and fanfares of trumpets, the seigneur d’Alenton, Sir Jean Cousaille and his brother Sir Peter Cousaille followed Thomas Beaufort and the other English lords into the rue St Antoine. Beaufort was the admiral of England, so it was deemed fitting that his opposite number, Clignet de Brabant, admiral of France, should lead out the three French knights. Then followed the various proclamations and oaths, determining the identity of the knights, and ensuring that they did not use concealed weapons or necromancy in their struggle. Thomas Beaufort and the English lords withdrew to the stands to watch the fight.74

The ensuing battle was hard. Eventually the Portuguese yielded, and begged for mercy – much to the indignation and embarrassment of Thomas Beaufort and the other English lords, which they made no effort to hide. The French were delighted, and their champions were given an honourable escort through the streets of Paris.

Friday 22nd

How do you keep a king prisoner? How do you ensure he remains a prisoner when you leave the country, taking most of the fighting men with you? Henry’s solution to this was to follow his father’s example and use the safest prison in the kingdom, Pevensey Castle, in Sussex. It was far more secure than the Tower of London, from which people did escape from time to time. King James of Scotland had now been in prison for nearly nine years, and Henry had every intention of keeping him in custody – at least until he could negotiate his return to Scotland on favourable terms. It was also vitally important that he keep James alive, for only a living king of Scotland could act as a check on the authority of the Scottish regent, the duke of Albany.

King James was quietly transferred from the Tower of London to Pevensey Castle, which had been guarded for many years by the redoubtable Sir John Pelham. If James strayed from his tower chamber, he was still confined within the enormously strong walls of the castle and the moat. Even if he were to escape from the castle he would find himself within the outer ward – the vast encircling walls which had been built by the Romans and which were still kept in a good state of repair. And if he managed to climb over those outer walls, he faced miles of marshland. The castle even had an oubliette – an underground dungeon which could not be accessed except by a trapdoor. There was no point in James even thinking of trying to escape. More importantly, there was no easy way for his fellow Scotsmen to spring him from this castle, one of the furthest from Scotland.

To be doubly sure, Henry allocated £700 today to be paid to Sir John Pelham, to guard his captive safely.75


Having given orders for the payment in respect of the king of Scotland, Henry took a barge up the River Thames. Here he had decided to found three new monasteries, two on the north side of the river, in the royal manor of Isleworth, and one on the opposite bank, at Sheen. Why, we might ask? Especially at this juncture, within a month of his council declaring that he did not have enough money to safeguard the realm? And even more so when Henry was closing down many monasteries – the alien priories – and sequestering their lands. Why did he not simply keep three of those priories open and save on the building costs?

There are two possible explanations, and perhaps both are correct. One is that Henry was seeking to do something which his father had failed to do. It is said that, because Henry IV had judicially murdered an archbishop, Richard Scrope, in 1405, Pope Gregory XII had enjoined upon him in 1408 the task of building three new monasteries.76 Henry IV had not built one, let alone three; and even if he had been willing to make such foundations he could not have afforded to endow them. Henry V was keen to remedy all his father’s failings. If this was indeed the reason why Henry now founded these monasteries, it was the fourth instance of him making good what his father had left undone. He had reburied Richard II in his proper grave in Westminster Abbey; he had commissioned a bronze effigy of his mother to be placed on her tomb; and he had renewed the building of the Lancastrian church in Leicester. If Pope Gregory really had instructed Henry IV to found three monasteries, then this work may certainly be seen in this light.

The other explanation for these foundations lies in their specific character. Each of the three was to follow the rule of one of the most respected and austere monastic orders. Today, for example, he had come to lay the foundation stone of one of the new monasteries on the north side of the river, which was to be a house of Bridgettine nuns – followers of the rule of St Bridget, ‘a lover of peace and tranquillity’.77 What Henry was about to do in France amounted to the very opposite of peace and tranquillity, so these foundations may well have represented a form of atonement for his forthcoming invasion – a reconciliation with God – in much the same way he was reconciling himself with rebel families through the restitution of their estates. In these monasteries, as with everything else, Henry was putting his own standing with God first.

Presumably Henry chose a day when the weather was not too inclement for his trip up the river. When he reached what is now known as the Old Deer Park, near Richmond, he would have seen the building site of Sheen Manor, which was one year into its five-year rebuilding programme. The hall, chapel and chambers were being constructed around a great square courtyard. Men were busying themselves about the scaffolding and carts, following the directions of the royal master mason, Stephen Lote. Stone for the building was being brought in from all parts of the kingdom – from Yorkshire, Devon, Kent, Surrey and Oxfordshire – and timber was arriving on wagons from Surrey. Bricks had been imported from Calais. Salvaged stone and timber from a royal house, Byfleet, which Henry had recently had demolished, were piled up and ready to be used in the new buildings.78 Carved swans and antelopes were being prepared, to adorn the buildings when finished.

The monastery which Henry planned to build here was to be a Charterhouse, for Carthusian monks.79 The Order had been founded in France in the tenth century and had spread to England in the late twelfth; but its strictness had deterred many Englishmen from joining it until the late fourteenth century. After the Black Death, very few monasteries were founded in England at all, apart from those whose rules were very strict and devout. Carthusians, who lived independently in cells arranged around the cloister of their monasteries, and who were not allowed to speak except for meetings in the chapter house, were one of the strictest orders of all. They had seen a spate of foundations – at London in 1371, Kingston upon Hull in 1377, Coventry in 1381, Axholme in 1397 and Mount Grace in 1398. Henry’s Charterhouse at Sheen was thus one of the most fashionably severe examples of religious patronage which he could set – a mark of respectable austerity.

On the other side of the river, the north side, where his barge docked today, he planned the two other monasteries. One was for Celestine monks, an order of vegetarian hermits founded by Pope Celestine V who followed the Rule of St Benedict very closely. No Celestine houses had yet been founded in England. The idea had come from Bishop Courtenay, who had visited several Celestine monasteries in France the previous year and had returned to England with three French Celestine monks to make a start on the foundation.80

The third monastery Henry planned was the one already mentioned for which he had come to lay the foundation stone. Henry had no way of knowing that St Bridget had just been canonised at Constance for a second time. His association with the saint rather came from his sister, Philippa, queen of Sweden, Norway and Denmark. In 1406 several of Henry’s friends had accompanied her on her journey to meet her husband, King Eric, and thus had come into contact with the Bridgettines at Vadstena, St Bridget’s original foundation. Among the wedding party were Lord Fitzhugh and Sir Walter Hungerford (both currently at Constance) and Henry Lord Scrope. The devout Lord Fitzhugh in particular recommended the contemplative and peaceful Bridgettines. Henry’s sister, Queen Philippa (who was a regular visitor to Vadstena), also sent word about St Bridget’s foundation. That Henry was genuinely fervent about St Bridget’s order is clear in that he managed to acquire a relic of St Bridget herself in a gold cross. He decided he would copy Vadstena on the north bank of the Thames. There would be thirteen monks (corresponding to the number of apostles, including St Peter), sixty nuns under the charge of an abbess, as well as four deacons, four lay brothers and four lay sisters. There would be separate chapels beneath the same roof where the monks and nuns could pray together, the nuns’ chapel built on the floor above the monks’ one. The name of the abbey – a point on which Henry was most particular – was to be ‘the Monastery of St Saviour and St Bridget of Syon’.81

The foundation stone was laid on ground within the king’s rabbit warren in the manor of Isleworth, in the parish of Twickenham. The space he measured out was marked with boundary stones. From the northern stone to a more southerly one it measured 646 yards, along the edge of Twickenham field; from this second stone to a stone by the river Thames 320 yards; from this stone to another back along the river bank 340 yards and from this stone back to the northern marker 327 yards – in all just over thirty acres. The riverside location made it somewhat damp, however. So Henry ordered a ditch to be dug, to drain the ground more effectively. Somewhat surprisingly, the buildings were built mostly of brick: Henry brought brickmakers over from Holland especially.82 English readers automatically associate monasteries with stone ruins; but on the banks of the Thames there once stood a brick monastery, where prayers were said and Masses sung for the benefit of the souls of Henry V and Lord Fitzhugh.


In Paris, John the Fearless’s proctors had finally agreed to the king’s terms. Although John was at that moment some way from Paris – at Rouvres – he and all his supporters were pardoned by the king ‘out of reverence for God, wishing to prefer mercy to rigorous justice’. Still the five hundred exceptions remained, mostly Parisians who had been caught up in the Cabochien revolt in 1413. These men were not to be allowed closer than ‘four or five leagues’ from the city; otherwise there would be a free pardon for all, and no prosecutions for loyalty to John. All castles were to be restored, and all parties were to swear to uphold the Peace of Arras, whether Burgundian or Armagnac.83

In the eyes of the English, it was a second public humiliation in as many days. A third awaited them. That same day the diplomatic representatives of Owen Glendower received a gift of £100 from the French king. They had been there since late the previous year, negotiating with the French how best to proceed together against the English.84 Not long afterwards one of the English ambassadors, Sir William Bourchier, set out to return to England, to inform Henry of how his intentionally doomed embassy was being received. No doubt Henry’s fierce pride was dented. But in reality, this public disrespect was exactly what he wanted.

Sunday 24th

A proclamation went out today to the sheriffs of London and all the sheriffs of coastal counties and county towns – from Newcastle upon Tyne and Yorkshire on the east coast, all the way round the south-eastern coast to Devon, Cornwall and Bristol – reiterating that an inviolable truce was in force between England and the Spanish kingdom of Castile and Léon. That the proclamation went out only to maritime counties suggests it was a pre-emptive announcement to any piratically minded master of an English ship who may have been waiting for the old year-long truce, agreed in February 1414, to run out. Henry’s ambassador, Dr Jean Bordiu, archdeacon of Médoc, had now returned from the court of Castile with news that the truce had been prolonged for another year, to last until February 1416, at a formal meeting at Fuenterrabia on 27 November 1414.

Although this truce only applied to one of the Spanish kingdoms, Castile and Léon, the regent of that kingdom was Ferdinand, king of Aragon. Hence Aragon and Castile were bound as one political unit. On top of this, the dowager queen of Castile was Henry’s aunt, Catalina, and the young king of Castile was his cousin. King Ferdinand of Aragon had himself sought a league with Henry from the start of the reign. So the interweaving of Spanish and English dynasties and diplomatic agreements meant that, as long as he could prevent English pirates from ransacking the Spanish ships, Henry had nothing to fear from the kingdoms of the Iberian peninsula. Not only would they not attack England, they would not fight for France.85

Tuesday 26th

By now readers will have become familiar with the sorts of payments one finds on the Issue Rolls. Payments fall more or less into the categories of administration, reimbursement of messengers’ and ambassadors’ expenses, rewards for good service, measures for the defence of Wales, the north and Calais, money handed over to the king’s chamber, and, to a limited extent, gathering supplies for the forthcoming expedition. Today’s payments touch on most of these areas. Robert Thresk and three other exchequer clerks were given 35 marks in recognition of their recent work and expenses in the exchequer. The sum handed over to the officers of the king’s chamber for the king’s personal use amounted to £1,331 18s 9d. Robert Umphraville, custodian of the castle of Roxburgh, was paid 100 marks for the wages of his men-at-arms and archers remaining there. Various messengers were sent to the sheriffs to collect the first instalment of the tax granted at the last parliament, which was due at Candlemas (2 February). Messengers were similarly sent out with letters under the great seal to the archbishop of York, the bishop of Durham and the bishop of Carlisle to ask, on behalf of the exchequer, who would be collecting the two tenths granted by the convocation of York in January.

While the king of Scotland was a prisoner in England, the kingdom of Scotland was ruled by a regent, the duke of Albany. It so happened that the duke’s son, Mordach, earl of Fife, was also in an English prison. While the elderly duke did not particularly want to see King James return to Scotland, he was very anxious that his son should be returned to him. Henry was wisely biding his time on the prospect of returning the earl. Today’s payments include one of 10 marks towards his upkeep in the Tower of London.

Finally, and at long last, we come to a payment which is a rare sign of human warmth in Henry. It states that Roger Castle esquire was paid for carriage of 250 wainscotes and regale to make doors, windows and other works to ‘a chamber in the water under Kenilworth Castle’.86 This was the ‘Pleasance in the Marsh’, a timber house about half a mile from Kenilworth Castle, on the other side of the lake there. Most kings had some form of retreat from the world at one or other of their palaces: a place where they could be alone with their friends. Edward II had used a cottage and garden in the grounds of the abbey of Westminster which he called Burgoyne (Burgundy).87 Richard II had a summer house built on an island in the Thames near Sheen Manor which he called La Neyte.88Like Richard II’s house, Henry’s Pleasance was surrounded by water and intended for small parties on hot days in summer.89 Apart from the extravagant goldsmith’s work under tomorrow’s date, it is one of the very few personal indulgences of a relaxed or luxurious nature to be found in connection with Henry V throughout the whole of the year.

Wednesday 27th

The penultimate day of the month saw further payments recorded on the Issue Rolls.90 Thomas Chaucer, the king’s butler, paid £31 to Sir Roger Leche for wines imported from Bordeaux which had been intended for the king’s household. Somewhat extravagantly, Henry’s officers paid the huge sum of £976 to William Randolph of London, goldsmith, ‘for making 12 dishes of pure gold, four dozen chargers of silver and eight dozen silver dishes for the king’s use’.91 Sadly the gold dishes did not long survive; they had been pawned or sold off by the time of the king’s inventory in 1422, probably to pay the wages of soldiers.

There were, of course, more payments towards the war. Richard Porter was paid for more iron spades. Henry Bower and his staff were paid another £5 for making bows ‘for the king’s work’. And a messenger was sent with a letter under the privy seal to the mayor of Bristol for ‘certain necessary reasons contained in the letter’.

Far more important – and much more helpful in determining what was going on in terms of Henry’s secret diplomacy – is this entry:

To Richard Clitherowe and Reginald Curteis esquires ordered by the lord the King to go to Zeeland and Holland to treat as well with the duke of Holland and other persons of those parts to provide ships for the king’s present voyage in person, to accompany him abroad … £2,000.92

This, it must be remembered, is not an instruction to negotiate but a payment. And it is a huge one. Although the actual commissions for these men to obtain the ships were not issued until April, the handing over of so much cash at this stage implies that Henry already knew where he could obtain sufficient ships for his voyage. It also implies that he knew the duke of Holland would accede to his request. And that in turn implies that the duke of Holland knew that his brother-in-law and ally, John the Fearless, would not try to stop Henry.

Now we can see what Thomas Chaucer had been doing on the king’s secret business to the duke of Holland the previous year; and Philip Morgan on his mission, too. And Lord Scrope on his various missions to Burgundy. Henry had been working on the lords of Burgundy and Holland so that they would help him transport his army to France, and not impede his progress against the French king when he got there.

Viewed in the wider perspective of Henry’s diplomacy and dynastic links, these secret negotiations were even more significant. Henry now had a long-standing alliance with Portugal. He had in place a truce with Castile – and by implication Aragon. He had both the king of Scotland and the regent’s son in his prisons. The kingdom of Sweden, Denmark and Norway was ruled by the husband of his deeply religious sister, Philippa, whom he had just flattered by asking to send some Bridgettine nuns for his new monastery at Syon. His embassy at Constance was at that moment negotiating with Sigismund for a treaty. As for his French and Low Countries alliances: the dukes of Brittany and Burgundy had both agreed they would not intervene in a struggle between Henry and the king of France. And the duke of Holland was planning actually to assist Henry in his expedition.

The French king and his Armagnac advisers had no way of knowing it, but even as they rejoiced in the proclamation of the Peace of Arras, two of the French dukes had secret alliances with the king of England. The French king’s insistence that any such alliances should be torn up was futile. It remained to be seen what the other members of the Burgundian alliance would do. But in every other diplomatic respect, Henry had outmanoeuvred the French.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at Thank you!