Post-classical history


Friday 1st

AT DIJON, MARTIN PORÉE, bishop of Arras, was about to set out on his journey to Constance. His mission was to represent John the Fearless at the council. As was becoming clear to all, the council had teeth; it was prepared to tackle difficult questions. In particular, it was prepared to discuss the boundaries of heresy. This had important implications for rulers who claimed to reign by divine right, for it touched upon the nature of treason. Dr Jean Gerson had just arrived (yesterday) at Constance, and his forthcoming speeches were bound to favour the Armagnacs. What might he say about the late Jean Petit’s Justification of the duke of Burgundy? Did that document amount to heresy, as Dr Gerson had stated in Paris? If so, was John the Fearless guilty of supporting heresy? What was to stop the king of France ordering a crusade against him?

Martin Porée was not John the Fearless’s only representative. Pierre Cauchon had already set out for Constance. A Burgundian nobleman called Gautier de Ruppes was also about to set out. All three of these men were eloquent speakers and highly respected for their judgment. Porée was especially noted for his deep, loud voice; when he spoke, people listened. John carefully briefed each of them. They were not permitted to accept gifts from anyone at the council. Nor were they to dine or sup with any member of the council outside their own lodgings. They were sworn to the secrecy of their mission. And they were empowered to bribe cardinals, archbishops and bishops in order to protect the good name of the late Jean Petit and the legal standing of his Justification.1

John the Fearless could withstand being accused of treason. Being condemned as a heretic was quite another matter.


This same day, Pope John XXIII came before the council with a third form of his resignation. This had been drawn up by representatives of the English, French and German nations, and was now deemed suitable for publication. John read it aloud himself in person, as he had been instructed.

I, Pope John XXIII, for the repose of the whole people of Christ do offer, promise and pledge myself, swear and vow to God and the Church and this holy council willingly and freely to give peace to the Church by way of my own simple abdication and to do this and to put it into effect according to the decision of this present council, if and when Pedro de Luna and Angelo Corrario, known in their obedience as Benedict XIII and Gregory XII, likewise renounce in person or by their legal proctors their pretension to the papal office; the same promise to hold in case of either one’s resignation or death or other event, whenever unity might be bestowed on the Church of God and the present schism terminated by my abdication.2

This version omitted the antagonistic statements about John XXIII’s rival popes being schismatics and heretics and cut all reference to the Holy Roman Emperor taking force against them unless they abdicated. Dr Gerson and the other newly-arrived delegates from the University of Paris had spent their first night at Constance deliberating it. Gerson’s advice was given special weight – at the council of Pisa he had foreseen the problems that would arise from electing a replacement pope before the other two had been forced to resign. Now he declared the form of words to be acceptable.

So it was that the pope who had summoned the council of Constance together was forced to agree to his own abdication. There could have been no stronger message to the rest of Christendom that this council meant business. Combined with the knowledge that Pope Gregory too would resign shortly, and that Sigismund would himself travel to France to seek the resignation of Benedict XIII, it seemed that the Almighty had intervened in men’s hearts to bring about the re-unification of the Church under one pope.

All eyes now looked to Constance. Some looked to it for the reformation of the Church, others for the future course of the papacy, and still more for the eradication of heresy and the divine signal to exterminate the Lollards. A few lords looked in that direction to fight their own political battles on a holy platform. Others, including the Lollards, just looked on in fear.

Sunday 3rd

At Westminster, the great charter for the endowment of Henry’s Bridgettine foundation at Syon was sealed today. It began with an exemplification of the spiritual virtues of founding monasteries, in order to please God, following the example of Henry’s distinguished ancestors. These sentiments were predictable, wholly in line with Henry’s extreme religiosity. One line in the preamble, however, does stand out. It states that Henry was inspired to found this abbey having been ‘moved by the grace of the Almighty, in whose hands are the hearts of kings, and according to the scripture “he will turn where He wills”’.3 These words (ubi voluerit inclinabit) were a biblical quotation (from Proverbs 21: 1) but they were also to be found in the first law of the first book of the Codex Justinianus, a key text in civil law, and so would have been well known to Henry’s advisers. This particular law was entitled ‘About the Trinity of the Holy Catholic faith, so that no one may dispute it publicly’. It was effectively a justification for stamping out heresy. As the same law said, ‘kings rule by their tongues’ (Proverbs 16: 102), so the justification for no one disobeying kings lay in the fact that what kings said was moved by God. This was absolute kingship writ in divine logic: Henry was not just king by divine right, his very rule was divinely inspired because his heart was in God’s hands.

If any one aspect of Henry as a historical individual has not been fully appreciated down the centuries, it is his position as an absolutist monarch: a king sanctioned by God to wield complete power over all his subjects. We can see elements of this in his mottoune sanz pluis and the philosophy that the king should be the master of all his peers. In the phrase ‘he will turn where He wills’ we can see it more fully formed: Henry saw himself as a ruler who was above the law, answerable only to God. This is not to say he could do no wrong – he could still lose a battle or fall ill, which would demonstrate that he had offended God in some way – but Henry was less answerable to his people than even his predecessors as kings. Most significantly, his absolutism was largely of his own making. His father had preferred to debate the merits of his legitimacy and rule with rebellious friars, Members of Parliament and his confessor. It was perhaps the most profound debate of the later middle ages. Society was changing – religiously and socially – and people were asking whether the agents of change were acting in accordance with the will of God or against it. Henry was not alone in seeking to equate all questioning of ecclesiastical and secular authority as contrary to the will of God.


Across London, in St Martin’s Lane, John Claydon was sitting in the chamber above his shop. His servant, John Fuller, had been copying out the text of a book called The Lantern of Light, in accordance with Claydon’s instructions. As he finished each section he would read it back to Claydon. Today they had been working since eight in the morning on the last section, and had just about finished their work by dusk. Claydon was so pleased with the results that he declared he would happily have paid three times as much for copying the book than not have had possession of such a valuable treasure.

The Lantern of Light was a recent work, written by John Grime, a Lollard. It contained the text of a sermon preached at Horsleydown on the other side of London, which Claydon had witnessed being delivered.4 The whole book was full of passionate, heartfelt rhetoric against the authority of the pope. For example, it said: ‘that wicked antichrist the pope hath sowed among the laws of Christ his popish and corrupt decrees, which are of no authority, strength, nor value’. And on indulgences, ‘the pope’s and the bishop’s indulgences be unprofitable, neither can they profit them to whom they be given by any means’. With regard to transubstantiation it denied that the bread and wine turned to the body and blood of Christ. Herein we also find the signal line: ‘in the court of Rome is the head of Antichrist, and in archbishops and bishops is the body of Antichrist, but in these patched and clouted sects as monks and canons and friars is the venomous tail of Antichrist’.5

These were the very words used by Sir John Oldcastle in his defiance of the king’s promulgation of orthodoxy. Claydon can have had no illusions that copying this book was anything other than heresy in the eyes of the Church. For him, however, it was the one way to salvation. It was the truth, no matter what the king or the prelates said. As the Lantern declared, followers of its light ‘must needs suffer travail, if we will come to rest – and pain, if we come to bliss. He is a false coward knight that fleeth and hideth his head when his master is in the field beaten among his enemies …’ Claydon was no ‘coward knight’. He had already been imprisoned for two years in Conway Castle for heresy, and for another year in the Fleet Prison – in appalling conditions. When a heretical priest, William Sawtre, had been burnt alive in London in 1401, Claydon had recanted; but still he could not alter or set aside what he truly believed – not now, after twenty years of seeking his own spiritual path.

No doubt Claydon thought he was safe with his cherished heretical books behind locked doors. But it so happened that one of his apprentices, a fifteen-year-old boy called Alexander Philip, whom he had looked after for nearly three years, heard John Fuller reading parts of the Lantern to his master. And when Alexander Philip was dismissed from his apprenticeship with Claydon, he found another employer. This was none other than Thomas Falconer, the mayor of London.6 Claydon was suddenly on very dangerous ground.

Tuesday 5th

If Jan Hus had seen a copy of The Lantern of Light, he would have been shocked at the outrageous and inflammatory language but he would have agreed with many of Grime’s theological statements. Hus also followed Wycliffe in questioning both transubstantiation and the authority of the pope. His rhetoric was more restrained but his purpose was the same: to release Christians from the tyranny of the Church. He was far more dangerous than Grime, however, for two reasons. The first was that he preached a questioning of religious authority from within – not so much a movement against the Church as the need for the Church itself to change. The second was that he was not an obscure English Lollard in hiding but a well-known theologian who was bold enough to argue his case at Constance itself. Hence his incarceration in the Dominican monastery.

Today, from his prison cell near the monastic refectory, Hus wrote to his loyal friend Lord John of Chlum. He thanked him for his steadfast support, and expressed his wish that ‘by the mercy of God, you await the conclusion of my trial like a soldier of Jesus Christ’. In his letter he stated that he had been without news of his friends for a considerable time – to the extent that he had been led to believe Lord John of Chlum had packed up and gone home. Only some Polish knights had been to see him, apart from one or two of his countrymen. He had been suffering terribly from kidney stones, as well as vomiting and fevers. When an old friend came to see him, Master Christian of Prachatice, Hus could not help himself and burst into uncontrolled sobs and tears.

Hus knew that his physical weaknesses and social estrangement were nothing compared to the sinister powers now being lined up against him. Jean Gerson himself had issued a series of articles condemning him, and other enemies were falsifying evidence against him. Hus was too frightened to put his answers to religious questions on paper, for fear his letters would be intercepted by the guards. The letters that came to him he destroyed immediately after reading them, so they could not be used against him. He seems to have placed all his hope in the emperor: as he wrote,

I would be glad if the emperor were to command that a copy of my responses to Wycliffe be given to him. Oh, that God would inspire his lips so that he would declare himself one of the princes for the truth!7

Wednesday 6th

There are very few indicators of Henry’s activity at Westminster in late February and early March. Even the sealing of the charter of Syon on the 3rd ‘by the king himself’ does not necessarily indicate that he was at Westminster. After all, the same document states that it was witnessed by the earl of Warwick and Lord Fitzhugh, both of whom were still at Constance. Similarly a letter to the bishop of Salisbury, dated today at Westminster, recording Henry’s assent to the election of John Brunyng as abbot of Sherborne, could have been drawn up by the keeper of the privy seal in the king’s absence.8 It is possible that the king left the palace at this time, perhaps to spend time with his closest companions away from the household, or maybe going on pilgrimage. One chronicle records that he went to several towns in person, demanding money – and the next we know of him for certain, he was doing just that, in London.

The reason for this line of speculation is not simply because of the absence of evidence locating the king at Westminster at this time. It is also because it is likely that Henry paid a visit to Southampton. Two months after this date a royal sergeant-at-arms was reimbursed for arresting one Christopher Rys and bringing him by royal command ‘to the king’s presence at Southampton’.9 This is of course a retrospective payment, like most reimbursements of expenses on the Issue Rolls. But it seems Henry may have made a short visit to his port of embarkation between the last week of February and early March, to make preparations for the embarkation in the summer and perhaps to survey the area where the troops were to be billeted.

Sunday 10th

Henry was certainly back in the city before today. He went to the Tower of London, and commanded several of the most important men of the city to join him there. Among them were the mayor, Thomas Falconer, and all the aldermen. When they were all gathered in the hall, Henry entered and addressed them:

Well-beloved. We do desire that it shall not be concealed from the knowledge of your faithfulness, how that, God our rewarder, we do intend with no small army to visit the parts beyond the sea, that so we may duly re-conquer the lands pertaining to the inheritance and crown of our realm, which have for long, in the time of our predecessors, by enormous wrong been withheld. But, seeing that we cannot speedily attain to everything that is necessary in this behalf for the perfecting of our wishes, in order that we may make provision for borrowing a competent sum of money from all the prelates, nobles, lords, cities, boroughs and substantial men of our realm, knowing that you will be the more ready to incline to our wishes the sooner that the purpose of our intention, as aforesaid, redounds to the manifest advantage of the whole realm, have therefore not long since come to the determination to send certain lords of our council to the city aforesaid, to treat with you as to promoting the business above mentioned.10

Although this record of his speech falls someway short of Shakespearian oratory, the message was clear. Henry wanted money. He intended to obtain it from the leading London citizens. And he was not going to lower himself so far as to ask them for it in person; he would send others to tell them how much he required.

Monday 11th

A great session of all the prelates was held in the cathedral of Constance in order to decide how they might elect a new pope for the whole of Christendom. Various prelates spoke. Eventually Johan von Nassau, archbishop of Mainz, stood up. He was of the opinion that they were all beholden to Pope John XXIII and should re-elect him as supreme pontiff of the reunited Church. If they did not, the archbishop declared, he himself would not sit there with them any longer, for he would never pay obedience to another man.

After all the difficulties they had faced in getting John XXIII to agree to resign, the reaction was predictable – complete uproar. Pope John was as corrupt and selfish as the worst of his predecessors; he was certainly not the man to fill the reunited Church with a sense of spiritual purpose and dignity. The patriarch of Constantinople expressed the feelings of the majority when he stood up and shouted out in Latin, ‘Who is that man? He deserves to be burned!’

The archbishop of Mainz was driven to fury. He strode out of the cathedral, demanding that all those of his obedience should follow him. He took a boat that same day and went home. The prelates, needing time to confer with their nations and legal advisers, dispersed to their houses.11

Tuesday 12th

Bishop Courtenay stood at the black marble table in the great hall of the royal palace in Paris.12 The huge four-aisled space was filled with the dignitaries and knighthood of the kingdom of France. This sermon was not going to be an easy one. On the one hand he had to ensure that he was seen to do everything within his power to bring about a peace settlement between England and France. On the other, he had to fail.

Actual terms would be laid out formally the following day. Now was the time for a sermon on the prospect of peace. Courtenay took as his theme a line from Isaiah 39: 8: ‘Then said Hezekiah to Isaiah, Good is the word of the Lord which you have spoken, for there shall be peace and truth in my days’.13

The French prelates would have known the context of that verse. It was Hezekiah’s response to a warning that Isaiah had given him. Hezekiah had showed ‘all that is in my house’ – all his gold, silver, spices, ointments and armour – to some messengers who had come to him from the king of Babylon. Hearing this, Isaiah had said to Hezekiah, ‘Hear the word of the Lord of hosts: Behold, the days come, that all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have laid up in store until this day, shall be carried to Babylon, nothing shall be left, says the Lord. And your sons … shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.’ This warning was what had prompted Hezekiah to say, ‘There shall be peace and truth in my days’ – a declaration of peace despite the threat of war.

We do not know exactly what Courtenay said in elaborating on this theme, but we can see that it would have cast the prospect of peace into the shadow of war. According to the French chroniclers, Courtenay talked at length about justice. He emphatically declared that no peace was possible without it. As we have seen, justice was indeed something that principally motivated Henry. But Courtenay was referring to a particular form of justice. It amounted to the injustice of the French refusal to accept Edward III’s claim to the throne of France, and to flout the terms of the Treaty of Brétigny of 1360. Courtenay seems to have claimed that no permanent peace was possible unless the terms of a treaty that had been set aside as unworkable and irrelevant for the last fifty-five years were now implemented.

Wednesday 13th

The day after Courtenay’s speech, the French royal family staged a show of strength. The ambassadors of John the Fearless – including the duke of Brabant, Margaret of Holland, the bishop of Tournai, the seigneur de Ront and William Bouvier – and the representatives of the county of Flanders, of which John was the overlord, swore on pieces of the True Cross that they and he would preserve the peace of Arras, which they had confirmed the previous month. The duke of Brabant and his sister also ‘certified that their brother [John the Fearless] had made no alliance with England’ and nor would he make any in future that were to the detriment of France. Following this, the old duke of Berry swore the same oath on the relics, and so did Charles, duke of Orléans, the duke of Alençon and the duke of Bourbon. The count of Eu and the count of Vendôme followed them, as well as the chancellor of France, other officials of the royal household, and a large number of archbishops and bishops.14

The oath-taking had a double purpose. The first was to strengthen confidence in the actual reconciliation with Burgundy. The second was to show the English representatives that the French royal family was once more united. If there had been any implicit threat in Courtenay’s sermon the previous day, then it was received with a demonstration of unity.

Courtenay himself would have been quietly amused, for he knew of Henry’s secret dealings with John the Fearless. Philip Morgan, who had met the dukes of Burgundy and Holland the previous year, was there in Paris with him. But this was certainly not the time and place to use such knowledge; rather this was the time to present Henry’s demands plainly, and in such a way that they would be refused.

Courtenay probably did all the talking. He began by reiterating the decisions of the previous embassy. He reminded the French that, on that occasion, he and the other English ambassadors had claimed the throne of France on Henry’s behalf. This being acknowledged as unacceptable to the French in principle, the English ambassadors had reserved Henry’s right to repeat the claim at a future time, and had proceeded to examine other opportunities for a permanent peace. They had demanded the lordship of the duchy of Normandy in full sovereignty, the lordships of Touraine, Anjou and Maine in full sovereignty, sovereignty over the duchies of Aquitaine, Brittany and Flanders, and lordship of all the lands between the Somme and Gravelines, together with the restitution of all the other lands ceded to Edward III in the Treaty of Brétigny in 1360 and half the county of Provence. On top of this, they had asked for 1.6 million crowns in full repayment of King John II’s ransom, and two million crowns (£333,333 6s 8d) for the dowry of Princess Katherine, who would be handed over to be married to Henry.15

Having outlined the full scale of the English demands the previous year, Courtenay repeated the official and very generous response of the duke of Berry – how the French were prepared to cede the parts of Aquitaine conquered from the English in lordship, but not in sovereignty. He went into detail about each of the lands that the duke had offered, naming each one specifically in a long list. As for the princess’s hand in marriage, he reminded the French how the duke had said they were prepared to stretch to 600,000 crowns (£100,000).

The subtle impression Courtenay gave was that the French had already done much to compromise. So now it was the English turn. He declared that, in the interests of peace, and to avoid the shedding of Christian blood, the king of England was prepared to shift considerably with regard to the marriage. Although the girl was of such high rank that she could hardly be offered to Henry for less than the full two million crowns, Henry would take her off King Charles’s hands for just 1.5 million crowns (£250,000). He might even be prepared to accept a million, hinted Courtenay, if the French were to equip her suitably with enough clothes and jewels. As to the other matter – the matter of justice, as Courtenay now overtly described it – the king would be prepared to accept just the implementation of the Treaty of Brétigny in full and the restitution of the Lancastrian inheritances of Nogent and Beaufort. And there was one further requirement: that if Henry and Katherine were to have two sons, the lordship of Ponthieu and Montreuil – the dower lands of Queen Isabella, wife of Edward II – should be inherited by the second-born.16

We have already seen how manipulative and subtle Courtenay could be. He had strung Jean Fusoris along, ‘buying’ astrolabes and texts from him and repeatedly failing to pay for them. He had told the Frenchman all sorts of lies, feeding him disinformation about the poor state of Henry’s health, and pretending to be worried that the king would die. He had even gone so far as to seek Fusoris’s advice on whether this mission to secure a permanent peace would be successful. In all these matters he was being duplicitous, pretending to be hopeful of peace when he knew Henry was already set on war, and projecting a false sense of vulnerability. Now he was doing the same with the French court. He had reminded them how much they had already compromised, and how reasonable the old duke of Berry had been in August 1414. In this way he encouraged the French into a feeling of complacency, building upon the sense of satisfaction with the morning’s show of unity and loyalty. And on top of this he projected a sense of English vulnerability by dramatically lessening Henry’s demands for a large dowry, and stressing that Henry sincerely wanted a permanent peace. In this way he encouraged the French to believe that they held all the cards, and could press him for further compromises.

The French took the English demands, which were written in Latin, and translated them for the king’s benefit. The English would receive an answer the following day.


Sir William Bourchier arrived back at Westminster.17 Sir John Phelip and William Porter had arrived back a few days earlier.18 Their part in the peace negotiations had been negligible. In fact, probably their whole purpose in travelling to Paris was to investigate the route they had taken – via Harfleur, the fortified port where the French kept their northern fleet. Like the messengers from the king of Babylon to Hezekiah, they had examined the treasures and armour in the enemy’s house. Armed with this information, Henry was in a better position to consider carrying away ‘all that which [King Charles’s] fathers have laid up in store’. For the French royal family had, like Hezekiah, said in their over-confidence: ‘there shall be peace and truth in my days’. As with Hezekiah, it amounted to a declaration of peace despite the threat of war.

Thursday 14th

The French replied to Courtenay concerning the terms on which the English offered a permanent peace. With regard to the marriage of Katherine of France – which was, as far as the French were concerned, the substantive issue – they were prepared to offer 800,000 crowns (£133,333 6s 8d). They would also equip her honourably. But in the matter of ‘justice’ as Courtenay described it, they were prepared only to repeat their earlier offer, namely to restore the lands of Aquitaine in lordship, not in sovereignty. They claimed that these would be more than adequate compensation for the 1.6 million crowns of King John’s ransom. Nothing was said about Ponthieu or the rights of a second son born to Henry and Katherine. Or Nogent and Beaufort.19

At this point Courtenay must have felt satisfied. He had been seen to lessen demands for the royal marriage by a full million crowns; the French had shifted their position by only 200,000. Although further negotiations could have settled the matter at somewhere in the region of 900,000, this was not the point. His mission was to demonstrate that the French position as a whole was unreasonable. This was also the case in the matter of justice: Henry had reduced his territorial demands by a very large margin, including sovereignty of several northern duchies. The French had responded by not shifting their position at all. Courtenay and his fellow ambassadors could now withdraw from the negotiations on the grounds that they could not agree to a peace in which they obtained nothing more for their king, as they had no authority to settle for so little.

On hearing this, the ever-optimistic duke of Berry suggested that the French would send an embassy to England to seek another path to secure the royal marriage. The English could hardly refuse; one can just imagine their thin-lipped smiles. Thus they had to recommend this as a course of action. The great seal of France was then applied to the French version of the terms offered, and the document was handed to the English ambassadors. Courtenay and his companions left court that same day, and returned hastily to England.

As soon as they had gone, an order was issued in the name of King Charles to levy a tax on the whole kingdom. The English were gathering money, ships and men, and intended to invade, it was declared. They would not find the French unprepared.20


At Constance a petition was presented to John XXIII on behalf of the nations of France, Germany and England. It contained five requests. It was first asked that, as the pope had publicly promised to abdicate, he should now appoint proctors for that purpose, ready to perform the act when the council required him to do so. Second, that the council not be dissolved until the reform and reunification of the Church had been achieved. Third, no one should leave the council without giving his reason and obtaining permission. Fourth, that under no circumstance should the pope leave the council. Fifth that he should issue letters circulating his promise of abdication.21

John replied immediately to three of these points. He endorsed the proposal that the council should continue to sit until its work was finished. He forbade anyone to leave without permission under pain of excommunication and he agreed to issue the bull containing his promise of abdication. As to the other matters – the appointment of proctors and his detention in Constance – he declared he would consider this further and respond at a later date.


In line with his promise four days earlier, Henry sent ‘certain lords of his council’ to request that money be made available by the citizens of London. The lords in question were five of the six highest-ranking men in the country: namely his brothers, John and Humphrey, his cousin Edward, duke of York, his uncle, Henry Beaufort, chancellor of England, and the archbishop of Canterbury. Only his least-favourite brother, Thomas, duke of Clarence, was absent.

With such eminent men gathered in the Guildhall, there arose the question of who should take precedence. Normally in a medieval hall, a lord yielded up his own seat if a more important lord was present. But should the mayor give up his seat to the duke of Bedford, the king’s brother, or the archbishop of Canterbury? Given their mission, the two men settled on allowing the mayor to retain his seat. The archbishop and Bishop Beaufort sat on the mayor’s right hand, and the three royal dukes sat on his left. No doubt Thomas Falconer felt hugely honoured to be occupying a position that otherwise only the king had enjoyed.

Having seen to the formalities, the royal lords set about their business. They asked the mayor and aldermen to loan Henry 10,000 marks.22 They told him that the king hoped that certain merchants and important citizens would offer him loans from their personal fortunes. Being surrounded by so many great men, Falconer was not in a position to refuse.

Sunday 17th

Today was Passion Sunday, when the clergy swapped their white robes for red ones, in expectation of the last two weeks of Lent.23

At Constance, Robert Hallum, bishop of Salisbury, preached in the cathedral. It was not an occasion for celebration. A clear decision about John XXIII’s abdication had been reached, and yet the pope was refusing to appoint proctors or to rule out leaving the city. He failed to understand that these were not matters for discussion; they were demands. How much more time would it take him to accept them? The Germans were as frustrated as the English. Both nations resolved not to leave Constance until they had forced John to appoint proctors and thereby secured his resignation. They communicated this resolution to the French. The French, wishing not to be pushed into anything by either the Germans or the English, decided to debate the issue on the 19th. The Italians decided they would wait and see what the French decided.24

Tuesday 19th

Yesterday the formal commission had been drawn up for Henry’s agents to obtain ships in Flanders.25 Today the earl of Arundel was ordered in his capacity as warden of the Cinque Ports to summon and array seamen for the king’s fleet. They were to be ready to sail with fifty-seven ships from the Cinque Ports for forty days. The usual fees would be payable: 6d per day for each master and 3d for every other mariner.26 John Gibbe, roper of Bristol, was commissioned to take on more workmen and make cords, cables and canvas until 1 July.27 An order was despatched to the deputies of the admiral of England, Thomas Beaufort: all ships in English waters were ordered to be arrested ‘for urgent causes now moving the king’. No vessel with a carrying capacity of twenty tuns was permitted to leave port for any reason. A similar order went to the earl of Arundel in respect of the Cinque Ports. All these requisitioned ships were to be taken to Southampton by 8 May.28

Henry’s ambassadors were still on their way back from Paris and he had yet to hear the outcome of the negotiations. Nonetheless he had already set the date for the invasion fleet to assemble.


The French prelates were gathering in the Dominican monastery of Constance. With them were five cardinals born in France, including Guillaume Fillastre, the cardinal priest of St Mark, who was keeping a private record of events. Suddenly, without any warning, the representatives from England entered. So did the Germans. Then the emperor arrived, surrounded by all the secular princes of Germany. The French were somewhat alarmed at this intrusion, but did not know what to say. Naturally the emperor demanded the place of honour, and was given it.

When everyone was assembled Sigismund declared that the Germans and English had come to a view on the necessity of the pope appointing proctors. Now they wished to see what the French had to say on the matter.

The French refused to continue their discussions, saying they wished to deliberate by themselves.

Sigismund was furious. He could not believe he had come so far, and had persuaded two popes to agree in principle to resign, only for the French prelates to stop all progress on the grounds of national pride. He compromised, agreeing that the English and German representatives did not have to attend, but insisting that he should have the right himself to remain for the debate. As he pointed out, there were prelates from Provence and Savoy present, and these parts of the French nation were part of the Holy Roman Empire. Despite this, the French prelates insisted that he leave too. Sigismund lost his self-control completely. As he got up, he bellowed to all the prelates there, ‘Now we shall see who is for the union of the Church and loyal to the Holy Roman Empire!’29

The French were left stunned. In the discussions that followed, they quickly agreed that John XXIII should indeed be forced to appoint proctors, as the English and Germans had demanded. They sent a message immediately to inform the emperor.

Wednesday 20th

It was the second anniversary of his father’s death. From tomorrow all official documents would be dated the third year of Henry’s reign. Perhaps his mind went back to his conversation that night, two years earlier, with the hermit in Westminster Abbey, William Alnwick. About this time he decided to ask Alnwick to be the first confessor general in his new monastery at Syon. Alnwick accepted. But within a year Alnwick had had enough of listening to women’s confessions. He preferred the life of a hermit.30


Sigismund was growing suspicious. Several times now he had seen Frederick, duke of Austria, holding quiet conversations with John XXIII. At an appropriate moment he took the duke aside and said what was on his mind. He asked the duke outright if he was going to help the pope escape from Constance. Duke Frederick assured Sigismund that he had no intention of aiding the pope in such a manner – in fact, he had never even considered it. Sigismund had no option but to let the matter rest.

That night, in the early hours of the morning, John XXIII dressed himself in a grey cape and covered his head with a grey cowl, disguising his identity. Mounting a small grey horse, he rode out of Constance with a crossbowman, an esquire and a priest. It was three days before full moon. At Ermatingen he rested at a clergyman’s house, and had something to drink. Then he went down to catch the boat that was to take him to the city of Schaffhausen.

Despite his assurances to Sigismund, Duke Frederick provided the boat. He also provided the soldiers aboard – who were to guard the pope from here until he reached the sanctuary of the duke’s city.31

Friday 22nd

In 1400, when Henry IV had been intent on leading a very large army into Scotland, he had ordered all those who had received a grant of land from him or from his royal predecessors to join him in his campaign or lose the lands in question.32 It had proved an effective way of marshalling extra forces and at the same testing the loyalty of his subjects. Today Henry V, acting on the advice of his council, followed his father’s example. He ordered the sheriffs of London to proclaim to all knights, esquires and yeomen holding their estates by grant from Edward III, the Black Prince, Richard II, John of Gaunt, Henry IV or Henry V, ‘and any one else of his livery’, to hasten towards London ‘for urgent causes now nearly moving the king’. They were to assemble there on 24 April at the latest.33 From there they would march to Southampton, ready to embark on 8 May. Further similar orders to sheriffs of other counties would follow in due course.

Saturday 23rd

At Constance, there was turmoil. If the pope had fled, how could this continue to be called a council? Was it not futile to continue? If they had failed to persuade John XXIII to resign, what hope did they have of persuading the other two popes to do so, now that they knew his promises were worthless?

Into this crisis stepped Dr Jean Gerson. He preached a powerful sermon in which he declared that the Church as a body was bound to Christ, its head, through the Holy Spirit. All Christians, including the popes, were therefore bound to accept the authority of Christ, and this took precedence over all canon law.

It was the right sermon at the right time. It steadied the nerves of those present. But from our point of view it is particularly interesting, for it encompassed the key debate of the Christian world in the year 1415. In questioning whether the Church owed obedience to the pope or directly to Christ, Gerson was asking the same question as Jan Hus. And he was coming to the same answer: the Church’s relationship with Christ took precedence over all mortal authorities. Such a line of thinking was very dangerous for it amounted to a licence to rebel against the ecclesiastical authorities in the name of Christ. It was thus a mandate for spiritual independence and even political insurrection. What right did men like Henry V have to claim they were king by God’s will if their rebellious subjects could claim to be acting in Christ’s name? In Jean Gerson’s burning of Jean Petit’sJustification of the duke of Burgundy, treason had been equated with heresy. In the trials of John Oldcastle’s rebellion, heresy had been equated with treason. Who had the right to declare what was heretical? And if the nature of heresy was in doubt, and if all lesser figures than Christ could be disobeyed, even popes, might not Christ condone treason?

All across Europe, the authority of religious and secular leaders was under attack. It was far from clear whether it would withstand the pressure – or collapse into spiritual anarchy and civil wars.


Henry was doing his part to maintain both his divine right and his political power. Today he granted an annuity of £40 to Gerard Sprong, one of the men in charge of his guns at the Tower, for good service to both himself and his father.34 As he understood well, questions of spiritual authority and political power could not be resolved simply as matters of theory, at least not permanently. But one could demonstrate God’s will, and resolve the question of treason at the same time, through war.

Sunday 24th: Palm Sunday

Excitement about the end of Lent had been growing for a week now, since the beginning of Passiontide. Today, Palm Sunday, the feeling grew more intense. Holy Week had finally begun. In churches up and down the country, men and women listened to the story of Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem, as it appears in St John’s gospel. In the chapel royal Henry would have watched his clergy bless branches of willow or sallow – palm leaves being unavailable in England. He would have watched as the consecrated bread and wine was placed in a shrine and carried in procession out of the chapel. He and the lords with him would have joined a second procession, holding the branches behind a priest bearing a cross. Each procession would have halted to hear the St Matthew version of the entry of Christ into Jerusalem. After this, the processions merged at the south door of the chapel and listened to a choir of seven boys singing Gloria Laus et Honor. Entering the church again through the west door, the veil over the crucifix was drawn aside while Mass was sung.35

Not surprisingly, very little official business was enrolled during Holy Week. One of the few items we can associate with the king is his grant today of 40 marks yearly for life to an esquire, John Steward, who had served him since before his accession.36


In his prison cell, Jan Hus set pen to paper and composed the following letter that he sent to Lord John of Chlum:

All my guards are leaving already, and I shall have nothing to eat. I do not know what will become of me in prison. Go with the other lords to the emperor, I pray, so he might make some final disposition of me, and so he may not commit sin and shame on my account …

Noble Lord John go quickly with Lord Wenceslas [of Dubá] and the others to the emperor, for there is danger in delay. It is necessary that you do so at the earliest possible moment …

I fear that the master of the papal court will carry me away with him in the night, for he will remain today in the monastery. The bishop of Constance sent me the message that he wishes to have no dealings with me. The cardinals have done the same.

If you love the poor Anser [Lord John’s nickname for Hus] arrange that the emperor give me his own guards or free me from prison this evening.

Given in prison (O Lord, do not tarry!) on Sunday, towards the evening.

Monday 25th: Lady Day

Today was the feast of the Annunciation, or Lady Day: the commemoration of the announcement to the Virgin that she would give birth to Christ. It was also the day on which the year of grace changed. Although 1 January was the day for ‘New Year’ gifts, and 21 March was the day on which the ‘official’ year changed (anno regis, the year of the king’s reign), the year 1415 anno Domini began on 25 March.

Tuesday 26th

At Constance the council held a full session without a pope – an unprecedented event. Leadership naturally fell to the emperor, who wore his crown and his imperial state robes for the occasion. A number of the cardinals had left Constance to chase after John XXIII – some to persuade him to return (including Fillastre), some simply to follow him out of loyalty – but those who remained had been reassured by Jean Gerson. They attended the popeless session, giving weight to its declarations.

Cardinal Zabarella took the role of spokesman. He declared that the council had been rightfully convened at Constance, and the departure of John XXIII in no way nullified it. The council would not dissolve nor leave Constance, even to transfer to another place, until the schism had been brought to an end and the Church reunited. This last clause was emphasised because a notice from the pope had appeared on the door of the cathedral requiring all members of the papal curia to follow him to Schaffhausen.37

That evening after vespers Cardinal Fillastre and two other cardinals returned to Constance. They bore a promise from John XXIII that he would appoint proctors. He proposed to select eight of the four nations’ thirty-two deputies, and if three of them agreed that he should abdicate, then it would be so. This seemed to be an attempt to circumvent his earlier public agreement to abdicate.

The emperor was outraged. He declared that he was henceforth at war with the duke of Austria, who had by now also left Constance. The other prelates there urged him to remain calm, for such a war would undoubtedly break up the council, and many would see John XXIII as being justified in fleeing from the city. Sigismund’s anger was not to be soothed easily, however, and he sent word to the duke that a state of war now existed between them.

Quite what the English lords at the council thought of all this is not known. But about this time they packed up and set out on the return trip.38 Their role as ambassadors to the emperor had been performed; and the emperor himself was more concerned with his own affairs than those of a distant English king.

Wednesday 27th

As Henry knelt at Mass today he listened to the account of the rending of the veil in the Temple of Jerusalem. As the words rang out, so a priest dramatically tore the silk veil away from the crucifix above the rood screen, revealing the sculpture of the crucified Christ.39

After Mass, Henry made the first of several grants to the priory of the Virgin and St Thomas the Martyr at Newark, Surrey.40 He also temporarily appointed his servant Roger Assent to the office of forester of Cank Forest in Staffordshire.41

That evening the first of the Tenebrae – the services of shadows – took place in the chapel royal. Twenty-four candles were placed on a large triangular candleframe to the south of the altar, representing the apostles and prophets. As the service progressed that evening, one candle was extinguished as each response was sung until only one was left alight in the vast darkness of the church. The king and other attendants then departed in silence, leaving the one candle burning.42

Thursday 28th: Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday, the commemoration of the Feast of the Last Supper, had always been important for the English royal family. As long ago as the reign of King John, the king had made presents of money and clothes to thirteen paupers on this day (relating to the number of people present at the Last Supper). Edward II had personally undertaken the pedelavium – the ritual of washing the feet of the paupers who were to receive the gifts – as a demonstration of his humility. Edward III and Richard II had regularly made quite large donations to the poor on this day. But it was Henry IV who had transformed the occasion, for he had a special connection with Maundy Thursday, probably being born on that day. From the age of fifteen he had given a shilling or clothes and shoes to as many poor men as there were years in his age on Maundy Thursday. By the end of the decade, his wife had started to follow his example, and made donations according to the number of years in her age. Henry himself continued these traditions, including the pedelaviumand the age-related donations.43

The practice of the monarch making monetary gifts to poor men and women continues to this day. However, it is not clear that Henry related his Maundy Thursday gift to his age in 1415. Two years earlier he had donated fourpence to each of 3,000 paupers – a total distribution of £50.44 But we can be sure that Henry would have marked the day in a fitting manner, mindful of his father’s example. And at the end of the day he would have again attended a service to hear the Tenebrae sung again in the chapel royal.

Friday 29th: Good Friday

In the early part of the previous century on Good Friday the English kings had laid hands on people suffering from scrofula, a form of tuberculosis called the King’s Evil. Imagine a line of several hundred sick men and women, whose necks had swollen like those of pigs, queuing up to see the king. The semi-divine position of kings meant they were supposed to be able to cure this ailment simply by touching. In reality the kings tended not to touch the sufferers themselves but rather to bless a penny that was given to each of them. The practice had fallen temporarily into abeyance in the 1340s, but in its place Edward III had introduced the blessing of cramp rings – medicinal rings that were worn to cure the wearer from epilepsy.45 This was the way in which Henry V displayed his thaumaturgical powers. Although the 1415 account for Good Friday does not survive, the 1413 one reads ‘In money paid to the dean of the chapel for the money paid for the making of medicinal rings 25s’.46 Henry would also have demonstrated his piety by joining the clergy in ‘creeping to the Cross’. Two priests held up a veiled crucifix behind the high altar during the singing of the responses; they then uncovered it and laid it on the third step before the altar. The king and priests then crawled towards it, shoeless – although it is likely that the king was given a comfortable carpet, so the crawling did not hurt his knees.47


At Schaffhausen the weather was cold and stormy. The trees were swept up in the wind; and the rain lashed down, mingled with sleet and snow. Pope John XXIII, who had been anxious to leave, now set out for Laufenburg, despite the weather. He had heard that the emperor had declared war on the duke of Austria. Such was his consternation that he attended no public religious services on either Maundy Thursday or Good Friday. When he set out in the snow and rain, not a single cardinal followed him. They simply watched him go – heading off into the storm with the duke of Austria and his guards.

As Cardinal Fillastre noted, the pope was now all but a prisoner of the duke. He had escaped one danger for another – potentially far worse.


Henry sat with his council today, listening to a series of eight petitions. An extant set of minutes records his responses to each one. In one instance, the keeper of the privy seal was ordered to draw up letters to Robert Louvel esquire, acting on information presented in the petition of John Wyse of Pembrokeshire. In another, the case of a Lancastrian servant from Bolingbroke was referred to the chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster. Two women who sent their separate grievances to Henry were both curtly told to pursue their cases in the law courts; Henry did not want to intervene.48

Bishop Courtenay, Bishop Langley, Thomas Beaufort and the rest of the English delegation arrived back in London. In all probability, they went straight to the king and duly reported all that had happened during their time in Paris, including the public show of unity in the French royal family and the oaths sworn over pieces of the True Cross. No doubt Henry was very pleased to hear they had succeeded in their mission to force the French to dig in their heels. Similarly he would not have been greatly troubled by the show of unity between the Burgundians and Armagnacs. Although this has led historians for years to believe that his diplomacy had failed, Henry had in place his own secret agreements with John the Fearless, of which the French royal family was not yet aware.

In addition, something may have been said concerning an insult to Henry delivered in Paris. Since this has become the stuff of legend, it needs to be mentioned. In Shakespeare’s Henry V, Henry ask the First Ambassador of France, ‘Tell us the Dauphin’s mind’. To which the First Ambassador replies:

… the prince our master

Says that you savour too much of your youth;

And bids you be advis’d there’s naught in France

That can be with a nimble galliard won; –

You cannot revel into dukedoms there.

He therefore sends you, meeter for your spirit,

This tun of treasure; and, in lieu of this,

Desires you let the dukedoms that you claim

Hear no more of you. This the dauphin speaks.

Henry replies: ‘What treasure, uncle?’

‘Tennis balls, my liege,’ says Thomas Beaufort.

Henry responds carefully:

We are glad the dauphin is so pleasant with us;

His present and your pains we thank you for:

When we have match’d our racquets to these balls,

We will, in France, by God’s grace play a set

Shall strike his father’s crown into the hazard.

Scholars down the years have enjoyed dismissing this story as highly improbable or even impossible. Of course, it goes without saying that it is exceptionally unlikely that the dauphin made remarks about Henry’s youth – as Henry was a grown man of twenty-eight and the dauphin himself only just eighteen. Likewise, it is very unlikely that a tun of tennis balls was actually despatched; the French were desirous of peace. But the ‘tennis balls’ story is evidenced in near-contemporary chronicles. Thomas Elmham, writing before 1418, mentioned it in his Liber Metricus; John Strecche, writing in 1422, also mentioned it, and located the event at Kenilworth. As Strecche had been a canon of St Mary’s Kenilworth and was, at the time of his writing, living in a cell in Rutland that was dependent on Kenilworth, it seems likely that a story about Henry did circulate. Strecche reports that the ambassadors whom Henry sent to France in his second year

had only a short discussion with the French on this matter [the royal marriage] without reaching any conclusion consistent with the honour or convenience of our king, and so they returned home. For these Frenchmen puffed up with pride and lacking in foresight, hurling mocking words at the ambassadors of the king of England, said foolishly to them that as Henry was but a young man, they would send to him little balls to play with and soft cushions to rest on until he should have grown to a man’s strength. When the king heard these words, he was much moved and troubled in spirit; yet he addressed these short, wise and honest words to those standing around him: ‘If God wills and if my life shall be prolonged with health, in a few months I shall play with such balls in the Frenchmen’s court-yards that they will lose the game eventually, and for their game win but grief. And if they shall sleep too long on their cushions in their chambers, I will awake them, before they wish it, from their slumbers at dawn by beating on their doors.’49

This can hardly relate to the first embassy Henry despatched in his second year, as that had been warmly welcomed and received such concessions that Henry was forced to send a second. But the second embassy only had a very short meeting with the French royal family, having been kept waiting for several weeks. Henry is very unlikely to have been at Kenilworth on their return – there is no evidence that he was there – but if the story came to Strecche by way of St Mary’s, Kenilworth, and as he was writing seven years later and knew that Henry liked to spend time at Kenilworth as often as he could, it is not impossible that he simply misplaced the event when he came to write it down. And significantly Strecche does not state that tennis balls were actually sent, merely that they were part of the mocking of Henry by the French nobility.

Thomas Elmham and John Strecche are not the only writers to record that Henry’s ambassadors were insulted. Another anonymous fifteenth-century chronicle in English relates the tennis balls story, saying that the dauphin actually sent the tun of tennis balls, as Shakespeare states; the same story appears in the Brut (which was probably Shakespeare’s source, either directly or indirectly).50 Adam Usk wrote in his chronicle how the ambassadors were ‘treated with derision’.51 And the ageing Thomas Walsingham wrote in hisChronica Meiora, that

On their return from France the second time, our envoys there, the bishops of Durham and Norwich declared that so far the French had been using trickery. The king was annoyed at this and decided to put a stop to their jokes and to punish those who mocked him in the courts of war, showing them by his deeds and actions how mad they had been to arouse a sleeping dog.52

As most of these writers were contemporary, it seems that a story about Henry being mocked by the French did circulate at the time. But did the actual mocking take place? No French writer records any insult; and we can be confident that no tun of tennis balls was delivered. Whoever informed Walsingham of the event would have mentioned the delivery if something so extraordinary had taken place. However, something of a mischievous nature probably happened. It may be that no overt insult was intended but some conversation took place that was interpreted as mockery. Perhaps during the royal joust in Paris the conversation turned to Henry’s reluctance to joust, and this led to a mocking question from the French about whether Henry preferred to play tennis. We do not know. But it seems that a throwaway remark of a tricking or mocking nature was amplified into an insult of suitably grand diplomatic proportions, and this exaggerated response found its way to John Strecche in Rutland, to Thomas Walsingham at St Albans, and to Thomas Elmham at Lenton (Nottinghamshire), as well as to the author of the Brut. Who was responsible? We might blame the ambassadors for the exaggeration – but that would mean they were inciting Henry towards a war that he was clearly determined to start anyway. It seems far more likely that the king himself picked up on something that his ambassadors reported about their brief audience in Paris – something that may have been of minor interest, of no consequence – but which nevertheless deeply injured his pride.

Saturday 30th

Holy Saturday saw a plenary session of the council of Constance in the cathedral. It turned out to be one of the most important days in the history of the Catholic Church.53 Those present were now prepared to act on the idea that the council as a whole had greater authority than the pope. They had no choice. A number of papal officials had left Constance to follow John XXIII. Those prelates who remained could either enforce their own superiority over the pope, as both Cardinal Fillastre and Dr Gerson had proposed, or pack up and go home.

Cardinal Zabarella was deputed to read the following momentous declaration, the first version of the decree known as Sacrosancta. The key passages read as follows:

First this synod, lawfully assembled in the Holy Spirit, constituting a general council and representing the Catholic Church Militant, has its power directly from Christ, and all persons of whatever rank or dignity, even a pope, are bound to obey it in matters that relate to faith and the ending of the present schism.

Further our holy lord Pope John XXIII shall not remove or transfer the Roman Curia and the public offices or his or their officials from this city of Constance to another place, nor shall he compel directly or indirectly the persons holding the said offices to follow him without the decision and consent of the holy synod …54

There was a problem, however. Cardinal Zabarella was the most junior cardinal. He could not bring himself to read these words. His nerve gave way. After he had read the less contentious parts of the decree, and the prelates realised he was not going to read the above lines, a huge argument broke out. In the end it was decided to reconvene to discuss the matter at greater length in a week’s time.

There are bureaucratic nightmares in all political arenas and ages – but few compare with those of the medieval church.

Sunday 31st: Easter Sunday

After forty-six days of Lenten fasting, the joy of Easter Day can barely be imagined. Late the previous night the Tenebrae – which had been sung each night since Wednesday – were sung for the final time. The candles in the chapel were extinguished one by one and then the final candle was put out. In the darkness the priest struck a new flame with a flint and dry moss, and used it to light the great paschal candle – the immense candle that marked the coming of Easter. Early in the morning on Easter Day the spiritual celebrations started, with the opening of the sepulchre: a miniature tomb in which the figure of Christ was laid. Anthems were sung, and the crucifix and host were carried around the chapel in procession. All the figures of saints in the chapel, which had been veiled throughout Lent, were now unveiled to look on the glory of the risen Christ.55

The feast that ensued was a true celebration. Eggs, which had been forbidden throughout Lent, were brought to the chapel and blessed – a custom that may be the origin of our modern Easter egg ceremony. Everyone who could afford it was now able to indulge in meat-eating again. The scale of the royal feast Henry would have presided over late that morning may be gauged from the fact that in 1403 his father spent £160 2s 10d on his household expenses on Easter Day, compared to about £50 on a normal day.56

In Cheshire – the home of the finest English longbowmen – the day was marked with archery competitions.57 It being both a Sunday and a feast day, men would have practised their archery up and down the country. This was in line with Edward III’s order of 1363, which had been reinforced by legislation passed by Richard II in 1388 and Henry IV in 1410. Longbows had been crucial in Edward III winning the battles of Halidon Hill (1333), Sluys (1340) and Crécy (1346), and practice was essential if England was to continue the tradition of dominance in archery. Years of experience were required for archers to draw the powerful 6ft longbows back to their ear – a draw weight of 120–170lbs – and control the arrow sufficiently well to hit a man-sized target 220 yards away. But how many Cheshire men shooting at the butts today anticipated that the long-maintained Sunday tradition was shortly to be put to the ultimate test?

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