Post-classical history


Monday 1st

THE CELEBRATIONS OF Easter, like those of Christmas, remind us that although medieval life was ‘nasty, brutish and short’ it was many other things as well. The joys of feasting, drinking, dancing, music and storytelling were every bit as significant for medieval people as the constant presence of death. The annual rhythms of light and dark, food and music, love and faith, make that ‘nasty, brutish and short’ generalisation a somewhat blinkered, morbid view of medieval existence. Easter, just like Christmas, was a period of exuberance and fun as well as religious drama. Following Easter Day there was Hocktide: a two-day period of merrymaking. Its chief characteristic was the practice of ‘hocking’ or capturing members of the opposite sex and holding them to ransom for a fee. On Mondays women set out in groups on the streets of towns and in the lanes of villages to capture men. On Tuesdays the custom was reversed: men captured women. In some places it was only married women who were allowed to take a role in tying up the trapped men; in others it was just maidens. Perhaps it was because the men had more money than the women – or perhaps the frisson of being tied up by women appealed to something in the medieval male imagination – but much more money was raised for the church coffers by the women.1

Henry was not the sort of man to engage in such frivolities. Not only was the court almost totally devoid of women, his serious nature and religious conviction did not incline him to join in such japes. But whether he had any other sort of fun on this day is unrecorded. It seems to have been rather a case of business as usual. Among the grants made today we may notice one of £40 yearly to Nicholas Merbury, the master of the ordnance.2

Another gift made this day was the apparently unremarkable sum of 40 marks yearly granted to Sir Ralph Rochford, in return for surrendering Somerton Castle to the king.3 As later events show, Henry wanted Somerton Castle back so he could give it to his brother, Thomas, duke of Clarence. This in turn causes us to pause. Clarence was notable by his absence on several royal occasions in the first half of this year. At the meeting at the Guildhall on 14 March, when the king’s other brothers, together with the duke of York and the archbishop of Canterbury, had all met the Londoners, Clarence was the only duke not present. At several council meetings both his brothers were present but Thomas was not.4 As we have seen, relations between Henry and Thomas had never been warm, and had verged on hostility; but it looks as though Henry had reassessed their relationship, and realised that he needed to keep his brother and heir apparent close.

Also today Henry finalised the foundation of his new Carthusian priory at Sheen. He paid the prior of the great Charterhouse of Mount Grace £100 for copying books that would be required in the new priory.5 And he saw the priory’s foundation charter sealed, making the priory dependent on Mount Grace.6 Its endowment was to be drawn from the lands of recently confiscated alien priories, including those of Ware, Lewisham and Hayling, and the substantial grant of £400. Originally the estates of these alien priories had been given to friends and family; so Henry had to compensate those from whom he now clawed them back. These compensatory grants were also made today. Queen Joan, Henry’s stepmother, received 1,000 marks annually for her loss of income from the priory of Ware and other religious houses.7 Sir John Rothenhale was granted £100 annually in compensation for the alien priory of Hayling and its estates.8

The foundation charter gives further details about Sheen. On a site of about ninety-three acres, forty monks were to live like hermits in separate cells, these being arranged around a large quadrangle, two hundred paces (about 350ft) on each side. The scale of the church was similarly ambitious: at over 100ft in length, the nave was twice as long as that of any other Charterhouse yet built in England.9 The monks were to say prayers every day for the king’s health during his lifetime and to sing Masses for his soul after his death. They were also to sing Masses for the souls of Henry’s parents and ancestors, and ‘for the peace and quiet of the people and the realm’. As for the name of the priory, Henry liked his works to have grandiose names – as we have seen with respect to ‘the Monastery of St Saviour and St Bridget at Syon’. Sheen Priory was to be known formally as ‘The House of Jesus of Bethlehem at Sheen’.10

It appears that today Henry also resolved the future of the third of his new monasteries, the Celestine house on the other side of the river. Surprisingly, although the building was already well underway, he scrapped the project entirely. He granted the land to his trustees, Thomas Beaufort, Sir Henry Fitzhugh, Sir John Rothenhale and Robert Morton, together with the Celestines’ endowment from various alien priories.11

The land intended for the Celestines amounted to a triangular shape of about thirty-one acres on the north side of the Thames, adjacent to the land granted to Syon Abbey. From this we can see that Henry’s original plan had been for a trinity of three monasteries and a manor house – two monasteries on the north side of the river and Sheen Manor and Sheen Priory on the south. Sitting on either side of the river like this they formed part of a larger architectural scheme. Anyone being rowed up the Thames would have passed several series of imposing royal and ecclesiastical buildings on the way. First, the visitor would have seen the Tower of London opposite Southwark Abbey (now Southwark Cathedral). Next, three miles upstream, the Palace of Westminster and the royal mausoleum at Westminster Abbey would have come into view, opposite Lambeth Palace. Twelve miles further on, the visitor would have arrived at this splendid arrangement of three monasteries and Sheen Manor. The effect of such a three-stage royal progress along the river would have been stunning. Foreign ambassadors passing by these buildings would have been impressed, especially if they were travelling on to Windsor Castle further up the Thames.

Henry’s contribution to this stately progress was not to be quite so grand. The three Celestine monks whom Richard Courtenay had brought back from France refused to swear homage to a king who was determined to make war on their own kingdom. Nor could they accept the means whereby Henry intended to fund them – from the estates confiscated from French abbeys. So the negotiations fell apart.12 The three monks stayed in England for a few more months but their land was taken away from them.13 Henry’s notorious pride had been pricked by the peace-loving vegetarian French monks, and he tore up his plans for a Celestine foundation to spite them.


A clergyman was making his way furtively through the streets of Constance. Jerome was a short, stout man, with a broad thick black beard.14 He knew the dangers of being caught. He knew that his fellow radical theologian, Jan Hus, was already in prison. Beneath his cloak Jerome carried a placard. It stated that Jan Hus taught and preached the truth, and that all the charges against him had been made out of enmity. At an opportune moment, he placed the placard in a prominent place and hurried away. He left Constance that same day, seeking refuge in a priest’s house in the forest outside the city. Unfortunately he left his sword behind at the house in St Paul’s Street where he had stayed the previous night. It was handed over to the authorities.

Jerome continued to preach his interpretation of the relationship between Man and Christ. He told those whom he met at the priest’s house that the council of Constance was a school of Satan and a synagogue of all iniquity. He insisted that no one there could refute Jan Hus’s prodigious learning, nor his own. In this way he announced himself. So the Church authorities pondered, and sent out people to find the man who had come amongst them, stirring up further trouble.15

Thursday 4th

Henry’s anticipated debts to the mayor and aldermen of London required him to respect their generosity. He could hardly ask for massive loans from them and almost immediately follow up that request by prohibiting them from employing the carts and boats necessary for their own building projects. He issued a licence for the mayor to maintain four boats and four named boatmen, and four carts and four named carters, to carry stone into the city for the rebuilding of the Guildhall. The men, carts and boats would be free from impressment during the forthcoming campaign.16

The official commission to Richard Clitherowe and Reginald Curteis to hire ships from Holland and Zeeland was finally issued today. The diplomatic agreement necessary for their mission had been conducted the previous year, the money had been handed over to them at the end of February, but not until 18 March had the first commission been drawn up. And when it was, it named Richard Clitherowe and Simon Flete (not Reginald Curteis) as Henry’s shipping agents.17 Such bureaucratic errors – and there were doubtless many similar minor slips of which we are unaware – did not make the task of preparing for war any easier.


Pope John XXIII today wrote this letter to the prelates at Constance:

John, bishop, servant of the servants of God, to all the faithful of Christ who shall see this present letter greetings and apostolic benediction. Let it be known to you all that we were driven by the fear that can beset even the constant man to leave the city of Constance and go to the town of Schaffhausen believing that there we could accomplish everything that would promote the peace and union of the Holy Church of God … But through the agency of the enemy of the human race such difficulties obstructed us there that on Friday of Holy Week, after celebrating Mass, we were compelled to leave in the height of a violent storm because of these fears, in order that we might find a place and a time both plainly suitable and secure for the general council, where and when it might be safe to come.

Although death is considered the crowning terror of all, we dread neither it nor any of the serious dangers that threaten us so much as the chance that Pedro de Luna and Angelo Corario, previously styled Benedict XIII and Gregory XII by their obediences, may seize this occasion to allege the force put upon us and may retract their intention of resigning the right that they claim to the papal office, and that thus the achievement of peace and union in the Church may suffer delay. Our supreme desire is to press towards that true and salutary achievement, and so far as in us lies, we shall omit nothing nor slacken our efforts to bring about that peace and union. Dated at Laufenburg in the diocese of Basel, 4 April, in the fifth year of our pontificate.18

The hypocritical meaning was clear. Far from working towards the unity of the Church, John XXIII was actively trying to prolong its divisions. Although he had promised to resign, he was still insisting that the prior resignation of the other two popes was a prerequisite. He counted the mere possibility that Benedict XIII and Gregory XII might not fulfil their resignation promises as enough of a fear to drive him from Constance. In reality he feared nothing but losing his own authority, status and power.

Saturday 6th

Henry today granted custody of the ‘temporalities’ (secular income) of the see of St David’s to the newly appointed bishop, Stephen Patrington.19 This means that he had received news from Constance that Patrington had been confirmed as the next bishop by John XXIII. If the messenger bearing this news had set out from Constance within a couple of days of the formal appointment there (on 1 Febraury), then we can be sure that Henry would now have been aware of events there up to and including Candlemas.20 He would have heard that the English were sitting as a nation in their own right, and that the bishop of Salisbury had preached sermons in Latin before the whole council. He would have heard that Jan Hus had been arrested and was to be charged with heresy, and so would the arch-reformer, the late John Wycliffe. He would have heard about Cardinal Fillastre’s memorandum – that the council of Constance had a greater authority than any pope – and that the envoys from Sweden had secured the second canonisation of St Bridget. No doubt that last news gave him cause for satisfaction, in view of his recent foundation of ‘The Monastery of St Saviour and St Bridget at Syon’. Less welcome would have been the news that the emperor wanted Henry to continue to negotiate with the French, and was even prepared to come in person to England to mediate between the two kingdoms.


At Constance itself Emperor Sigismund was enthroned in his imperial robes, a witness to the fifth plenary session of the council. The archbishop of Rheims had said Mass. Now Cardinal Orsini, who was presiding, invited the bishop of Posen to read the final version of Sacrosancta. Cardinal Zabarella simply looked on.

In the name of the Holy and Indivisible Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen. This holy synod of Constance, constituting a general council … does hereby ordain, ratify, enact, decree and declare the following:

First it declares that … it has power directly from Christ, and that all persons of whatever rank or dignity, even a pope, are bound to obey it in matters relating to faith and the end of the schism and the general reformation of the Church of God in head and members.

Further it declares that any person of whatever position, rank or dignity, even a pope, who contumaciously refuses to obey the mandates, statutes, ordinances or regulations enacted or to be enacted by this holy synod … shall, unless he repents, be subject to condign penalty and duly punished, with recourse if necessary to other aids of the law …21

And with that, the council’s obedience to the pope was set aside. A page had turned in the divine script. No one quite knew what the consequences would be.

Sunday 7th

Henry grew impatient as the day of his great council approached. Just as he had been short-tempered with the Celestines, to the detriment of his own religious building programme, so now he showed a similar short temper with the French. The duke of Berry had suggested to the English ambassadors at their last meeting that a French embassy should come to England to discuss the peace. The English had had no choice but to agree with this. But where were the French ambassadors now? ‘We still have not heard news of the arrival of this embassy, nor do we know the names of those who will be part of it, even though the terms of the truce between us are about to expire,’ wrote Henry to the French king.22 Although only nine days had passed since hearing of the proposed embassy, Henry demanded that the ambassadors come ‘without delay’.23

Henry’s letter repeatedly protested that he was a seeker of peace. ‘May there be peace during our reign’ he said in his preamble. He went on:

We bring glory upon ourselves through knowing that, ever since the day we took possession of our throne … we have been quickened by a living love of peace, out of respect for Him that is the author of all peace, and we have worked hard with all our forces to establish a union between us and our people, and to put an end to these deplorable divisions that have occasioned such disasters and caused the shipwreck of so many souls in the sea of war. This is why we have repeatedly and most recently again sent our ambassadors to your serenity for, and touching, this important concern of peace.24

The repetition throughout the letter of the word peace amounted to a rhetoric that actually said nothing but assailed the reader with the implications of the very opposite. Henry’s very insistence on peace was bellicose.

On the same day as he sent the letter to the French king, Henry sent a writ to all the sheriffs of all the counties in England in which he repeated his instructions to the sheriffs of London of 22 March. All those knights, esquires and yeomen who held their estates by grant from Henry or his predecessors were to hasten towards London ‘for urgent causes now moving the king’. They were to assemble there on 24 April – a date chosen to allow them to march to Southampton in time for the planned muster on 8 May.

With only one month to go, Henry’s impatience was understandable.

Monday 8th

Any English king planning to lead an expedition overseas had to recognise that the security of the borders was essential. Edward III had taken many precautions to protect the northern counties against the Scots when preparing to cross the seas. As Henry was clearly studying his great-grandfather’s preparations in 1346, and almost regarding them as a set of guidelines, so now he followed Edward’s example. He sent writs to the sheriffs of Cumberland, the North Riding of Yorkshire, and Westmorland and Northumberland, and to the bishop of Durham. These writs ordered them to proclaim in the king’s name that no knight, esquire or yeoman should leave his county, under pain of forfeiting his lands, but should remain in the north ready to resist the king’s enemies, the Scots, ‘as the king has information that his said enemies are minded shortly to invade the realm with no small power’.25

Tuesday 9th

It was the anniversary of Henry’s coronation in Westminster Abbey. He can hardly have failed to remember that day. He had been dressed in cloth-of-gold and red samite, and crowned. No expenses had been spared – as that day’s household expenditure of £971 testifies.26 Just as importantly for Henry, it was the occasion on which he had been anointed with holy oil, as God’s chosen ruler, and had become a semi-divine person.

Writing a letter to the duke of Brittany he informed the duke that he was in good health and expressed wishes that the duke was well too. And he thanked him for the gift of a gold cup. This may have been brought back by Henry’s negotiator, John Chamberlain; but given that two months had passed since Chamberlain had been paid for his services, it is more likely that the cup had been presented more recently, perhaps by agents of the duke of Brittany in England.27 Having secured the duke’s agreement that he would not hinder him in his argument with the king of France, such diplomatic niceties mattered.

Wednesday 10th

In the early fifteenth century there were two forms of medical practitioner. There were physicians, who diagnosed medical conditions and prescribed medicines and treatments to cure the inner workings of the body; and there were surgeons, who dealt with matters relating to the skin and cutting into the body. The skill of the latter was somewhat more practical than the former because surgeons quickly gained considerable experience of ailments that had an obvious cause: a broken limb, for example, or an arrow sticking in the body. Physicians’ skills were by contrast largely recitations of rehearsed diagnostic rituals from ancient medical treatises and astrological calculations. Despite this, there were a number of unscrupulous surgeons in the city of London. Today a report reached Thomas Falconer, the mayor of London, and the aldermen that

some barbers of the city, who are inexperienced in the art of surgery, do often take under their care many sick and maimed persons, fraudulently obtaining possession of very many of their goods thereby; by reason whereof they are often worse off at their departure than they were at their coming. Because of the inexperience of the same barbers such people are often maimed, to the scandal of such skilful and discreet men as practise the art of surgery, and the manifest destruction of the people of our lord the king.28

In order to remedy this situation Thomas Falconer ordered that, as members of the Guild of Barbers supervised their own members, a list of all of them who were skilled in surgery should be drawn up, and two of their number should be elected to enquire into cases of malpractice. It is a timely reminder that there was no regulation of the medical trades in fifteenth-century England. There was no college of physicians, nor of surgeons. Six years after this there was a determined attempt to found a college of physicians, and although it met with Henry’s approval, it was doomed to failure due to the inability to train sufficient graduate practitioners to administer physic throughout the realm.29

While Thomas Falconer listened to the problems of barbers practising surgery, a privy council meeting took place at which the dukes of Bedford and Gloucester, the archbishop of Canterbury, Chancellor Beaufort and the guardian of the privy seal were present. Their purpose was to discuss the case of a Flemish widow, Katherine Kaylewates, who had had various goods seized by men of Sandwich. This was contrary to the terms of Henry’s Statute of Truces, as there was a truce in force between Henry and John the Fearless, duke of Burgundy; and, in line with the statute, local officials had impounded the goods and arrested the malefactors. However, the culprits had been released by the keeper of the gaol at Sandwich without the king’s permission. Katherine now petitioned the council to take action, as she claimed she had lost goods to the value of £80. The councillors agreed, and issued instructions for the constable of Dover to recover the goods or, if they could not be recovered, to levy a fine of £80 on the men of Sandwich. They also ordered that the keeper of the gaol be arrested.

Exactly what Katherine’s standing was, beyond her status as a Flemish widow, is not clear but, as a subject of the duke of Burgundy, her case was clearly an infringement of the Statute of Truces. With so much depending on the continued goodwill of John the Fearless, and every diplomatic issue being a potential threat to Henry’s plans, the council stamped hard on the people of Sandwich.

In the meantime, further preparations were made for the defence of Calais. Adam Chancellor was commissioned to take ships and mariners, carts and labourers, as well as timber, stones, lime and other building materials for the defence of the town.30

Thursday 11th

Nicholas Maudit, a royal esquire and sergeant-at-arms who had served in the royal household for a number of years, received two grants today: one of 20 marks a year and another of £10 – on top of his wages of a shilling a day.31 Thus encouraged, he was ordered to set out with Robert Spellowe to arrest all the ships with a capacity of twenty tuns and upwards from ports between Bristol and Newcastle, and to bring them to Winchelsea, London or Sandwich by 8 May.32 In this way Henry hoped to gather all those vessels that had evaded the command of 19 March issued to Thomas Beaufort, admiral of England. Maudit and Spellowe were to act independently; nevertheless the area they were expected to cover was vast. Maudit set out with 100 marks immediately. John Wenslowe, clerk, was given another £300 to pay the owners of ships that Maudit seized and William Tresham, clerk, was given £300 to pay for all the ships requisitioned by Spellowe.33

Ships with a carrying capacity of just twenty tuns were relatively small – capable of carrying twenty large barrels on deck. In requisitioning every one of these vessels in the south coast ports, in the port of Bristol, and in all the ports on the east coast as far north as Newcastle, Henry was taking over almost the whole merchant fleet of the kingdom. Given that Thomas Beaufort had not managed to fulfil his obligation to bring all these ships to Southampton, it was very unlikely that Maudit and Spellowe could achieve the task within four weeks.

Friday 12th

It was almost time for the great council, at which Henry would announce his expedition to the lords of the realm. Even now they were assembling in the city of London. The bishops’ and earls’ houses along the Strand and in the city were filled with the returning lords, ladies, knights, esquires, priests and servants. Amid this bustle, Henry took a barge along to the Tower and called the privy council to meet him there to discuss the last political arrangements before Monday’s meeting. Those present were the archbishop of Canterbury, Henry’s brothers John and Humphrey, his uncles Henry and Thomas Beaufort, the bishop of Durham and the keeper of the privy seal.

According to the agenda, the first matter dealt with was Henry’s correspondence. Two letters needed to be written and sent: one to the duke of Berry and the other to Master Jean Andreu, the king of France’s secretary. Safe conducts had to be drawn up and sent to the ambassadors of the king of France. Philip Morgan, the lawyer, had to be given instructions and empowered to prolong the truce. Instructions were also needed for the English delegates remaining at Constance, as Henry required them henceforth to act as his ambassadors to the emperor. It was agreed that it was necessary to speak to the earl of Salisbury ‘about Gascony’ (although exactly what was to be said is not known), and to give him instructions prior to the meeting of the great council on the following Monday. The last item on the morning’s agenda was to speak to the mayor of London about the price of armour. Henry wanted military hardware sold at the lowest rate possible in advance of his coming campaign, and he wanted the mayor to make a proclamation to this effect. Henry told his council what he expected and then despatched them to continue the meeting and draw up the exact documents in accordance with his instructions in the afternoon, at the usual council meeting place of the Dominican friary.34

Henry had to face the fact that a sailing date in May was unrealistic. Although as recently as yesterday he had ordered his sergeants-at-arms to bring all the substantial ships in the realm to the three ports by 8 May, in line with his earlier instructions, there was no way he would be ready to sail within a month of that date. No doubt he was loath to alter his plans. He had ordered all those who held their land by a royal grant to assemble in London on 24 April; if he put back the date of sailing their presence near the capital would no doubt cause problems, especially if he did not pay them. However, the sheer logistics of the invasion demanded that he do something. Philip Morgan was empowered to prorogue the truce until 8 June. The new embarkation date was the feast of St John the Baptist, 24 June.

Saturday 13th

With Henry growing impatient, and Chancellor Beaufort breathing down his bureaucrats’ necks, it is hardly surprising that the safe conducts for the French ambassadors were drawn up immediately.35 It was a huge embassy – comparable in size to the English one that had been left waiting in Paris in March. It was led by Guillaume Boisratier, archbishop of Bourges, who was permitted to bring sixty persons in his household. It also included the bishop of Lisieux travelling with fifty persons; the count of Vendôme travelling with a hundred; Guillaume, count of Tancarville, with a hundred; Charles, seigneur d’Ivry, royal chamberlain, with fifty; Guy de Negella, lord of Offemont, with fifty; Braquetus, lord of Bracquemont, with fifty; John de Roucy with fifty; Master Jean Andreu, the king’s secretary, with ten; Master Gontier Col, another of the king’s secretaries, with ten; Jean de Villebresme with six; and finally Stephen de Malrespect with six. That was a total of 554 people. Henry was dismayed. Large numbers of people always took time to assemble, transport and supply. He clearly hoped that they would come quickly, fail quickly, and go home quickly. To speed their mission, he ordered that the safe conducts should expire on 8 June.36

Monday 15th

The day of the great council, which Henry had been planning since at least 4 February, had finally arrived. The spiritual and temporal peers arrived at the Palace of Westminster and gathered in the council chamber: a hall overlooking the Thames called the Star Chamber, on account of it being decorated with stars.37 Forty-three men were there, besides the king and his officers.38 All four dukes were present: the king’s three brothers and his cousin Edward, duke of York. Both archbishops were present. Eight of the nineteen other bishops were there, namely the bishops of London, Winchester, Lincoln, Ely, Norwich, Worcester, Llandaff, and Durham. Five mitred abbots and the English head of the Order of the Knights Hospitaller were present. Nine of the thirteen earls were there, namely the earls of March, Norfolk, Arundel, Dorset, Salisbury, Oxford, Suffolk, Huntingdon and Westmorland. Fourteen other lords responded to Henry’s summons. It was an impressive array.

Of those who were not there – who had presumably not been summoned – the majority were absent for a good reason. Of the eleven absent bishops, three were at Constance (the bishops of Salisbury, Lichfield, and Wells). A fourth, Stephen Patrington, had only just had his election as bishop of St David’s confirmed by the pope and had yet to be enthroned. The bishops of Bangor and St Asaph were probably busy maintaining watch over their dioceses, which had been disturbed in recent years by Glendower’s revolt. The bishop of Chichester was near death. The bishops of Exeter, Hereford, Rochester and Carlisle were old and frail. Among the secular lords, the earl of Warwick was at Constance, and the earl of Northumberland was in prison in Scotland. The earl of Devon was nearly sixty years of age and blind. The only earl whose absence cannot easily be explained was Richard of Conisborough, earl of Cambridge.

Richard of Conisborough has not so far been mentioned in this book. But that does not mean he was an unimportant figure. He was Henry’s first cousin twice-removed: the younger brother of both Edward, duke of York, and Constance of York, Lady Despenser. He was thus in a delicate position. While his brother Edward was one of Henry’s closest companions, Richard’s sister was the widow of a man who had tried to kill Henry. She herself had plotted to release Edmund Mortimer and his brother from Windsor Castle in 1405. But that does not go even halfway to illustrating how compromised the twenty-nine-year-old Richard was. As the second son of the previous duke of York, he had probably been named by Richard II as third in line for the throne in April 1399.39 He was Richard II’s godson, and possibly his nephew too, being probably the natural son of Richard II’s half brother, John Holland, duke of Exeter, who had had an adulterous affair with Isabella, duchess of York.40 That meant that his natural father was a man who had been butchered in the course of rebelling against the Lancastrians, during the Epiphany Rising. On top of all this, his first wife had been Anne Mortimer, the sister of the earl of March – the man widely regarded as having a better claim to the throne than Henry. In the event of the earl of March dying without a child, Richard’s three-year-old son stood to inherit all the titles and claims of the house of Mortimer – and that included the family’s claims to the thrones of England and France. Richard of Conisborough cannot have been unaware that all the enmity of Richard II, John Holland and the disinherited and wrongfully imprisoned Mortimers was concentrated in his son. Only his elder brother’s closeness to the king could be considered a factor influencing him to remain loyal.

To what extent did Henry understand that Richard of Conisborough felt he had been cheated by the Lancastrians? Perhaps a little. He did make some effort to win Richard’s approval. He created him earl of Cambridge in 1414, made him ‘almoner of England’, and confirmed an annuity on him of 350 marks.41 But that was all – and even this was less than it seems, for the title earl of Cambridge had originally been held by Richard’s father (the duke of York), and the 350 marks had originally been granted him by Richard II in response to a dying request by his mother to give him an income of 500 marks.42 It was hardly enough, given that Richard had been discussed in terms of being third in line to the throne in 1399. Nor could he look forward to inheriting another title or further lands. Unlike his elder brother, who had inherited the dukedom of York, Richard had seen his star eclipsed. This was especially vexing as he now had two children of his own: Richard and Isabella. His meagre allowance was insufficient for himself let alone two children of the royal blood.

Given this situation, the fact that Richard was the sole absent earl is significant. We have already seen how long Henry had been preparing for this great council, and how important it was. So his absence is evidence of some collapse of trust on one side or the other. Richard must have been disappointed that Henry’s annuity (granted the previous year) had not been paid in full. Whereas an earl was expected normally to have an income of £1,000 per annum, to maintain the dignity of the rank, he seems to have received just £285 in the two years since the start of the reign. Henry had promised to find a better means of supporting him but had not actually done so. It was all very well Henry giving him an earldom but that only added to the embarrassment of not being able to keep a large household; he not only wanted a larger income, he needed it. This is why Henry and Richard of Conisborough had a difficult relationship. The king regarded Richard as greedy and ungrateful, and Richard regarded the king as disrespectful to him as a leading member of the royal family.

Another significant absence from this council meeting was that of Henry, Lord Scrope of Masham. As we have seen, Lord Scrope was one of Henry’s most trusted advisers, and had been for many years. He had fought in Wales with the king, and had conducted Henry’s secret negotiations with the duke of Burgundy in 1414. He was close to the king spiritually too, owning copies of The Revelations of St Bridget and making gifts to Bridlington Priory, where one of the king’s patron saints, St John of Bridlington, was buried. Scrope was not the only baron not to attend this great council but he was certainly the most surprising absentee.

The king himself opened proceedings, thanking all those present for coming, and then passed over to the chancellor. Beaufort reminded those present that, at the parliament held in November 1414, all the estates of the realm had declared their support for Henry making a voyage to France to reclaim his heritage. However, out of honour and reverence for God, it was deemed necessary first to send ambassadors to the French in order to seek a peaceful solution to the king’s demands for justice. The king had ‘very graciously’ agreed to send another embassy to his ‘adversary of France’ and that embassy had now returned with nothing new to report – despite the fact that

in order to come to a good peace and accord, and to put an end to all debates, questions and wars between the two kingdoms of England and France, our said lord the king had offered to his adversary of France to lessen the great part of that which was due to him by right. In view of such a default of justice on the part of his adversary, our said lord the king proposes to undertake his voyage, praying that the said lords temporal named below, many of whom were among those at the said parliament [of November 1414] who offered to serve our lord the king in the same voyage with such retinues as it may please our said lord the king to number and assign, praying payment for the first quarter at the beginning of the said quarter, and for the second and third quarters at the end of the second quarter.

Thus was war declared. However, it had become apparent that the schedule of payments claimed by the lords could not be met, as the subsidies granted in the said November 1414 parliament would not all be gathered in time for the second payment. Thus the chancellor enquired on the king’s behalf whether the following arrangement would be satisfactory. Payment for the first three months would be made in advance, as agreed, and payments for the second and subsequent quarters would be made in arrears.43

The temporal lords there withdrew and discussed this among themselves. Their reply, delivered to the king by Thomas Beaufort, was general approval. But as the troops were to be raised by indenture, the lords knew they would be responsible for paying the men and then reclaiming the expenses from the crown. So they asked for sureties that the payments would be made. The king thanked them for being so understanding and asked that they gather again ‘in the same place on the next Wednesday coming’ to declare what sureties they would require.44

Having dealt with this matter, the king then turned to the prelates present. He thanked them for what they had granted him in their convocations but asked them further to discuss amongst themselves what aid they could offer him with regard to his forthcoming expedition, by way of loans or gifts. After this, Henry dismissed the lords and prelates until Wednesday.

Following this first session of the great council, Henry sent another letter to the king of France. He confirmed that he had now received the names of the French ambassadors.45 He added that he did not wish to comment on their number but thought that the length of time requested for their safe conducts was too long. If they brought good news on their arrival, said Henry, then their safe conducts could be extended. ‘And if this peace that we are looking for and pursuing cannot be made, we will live to regret having lost valuable time without profit, instead of working to the public good, when we could have done.’46 Henry was worried that a new embassy seeking peace would force him to delay his invasion plans, so that the men he had summoned to London would simply disperse, and the ships he had ordered to be brought to the ports of London, Sandwich and Southampton would lie idle until their masters reclaimed them.

The rest of Henry’s letter is fascinating with regard to his vision of a united England and France, or at least how he wished to express that vision in public:

Recall how the kingdoms of England and France, when they have been united, have been glorious and triumphant in past centuries, and how, in contrast, the divisions between these two kingdoms have resulted in the loss of Christian blood. If the prophet of prophets, the great Jeremiah, were alive today, he who lamented so bitterly on the misfortunes of one single town, would he not turn the arms of pity to stronger force, seeing the plains inundated with torrents of blood that have run from the deadly divisions of two sovereigns? Look how we knock in opportune times at the door of your conscience, but with no success. You invite peace, so we hope that by force of knocking we will ourselves make an entry. For this deplorable division cannot be contained within these limits; it goes far beyond them – it evidently maintains the schism in the Church and foments disorders that upset the whole world.47

Henry was almost claiming that the kingdoms should be reunited as one, under one king, in the same way that the Church should be reunited as one, under one pope. He was suggesting that Charles VI of France was acting like Pope John XXIII – claiming to be seeking unity and peace but privately doing all he could to maintain his own power. Such divisions in Church and state were to God’s displeasure, Henry claimed. The world’s problems would not be rectified until the kingdoms of England and France were unified. If this were just politicking, or an outrageous claim for the sake of improving a negotiating position, then it would perhaps have been understandable. But it was not. As we have already seen, Henry was already determined on war. He actually meant to invade France – not for the sake of England but for the sake of God’s will. Amazingly, he ended the letter by saying, ‘we should not look to encroach upon the rights of the one or the other by false points of honour or to wrestle against the truth by subterfuges or specious arguments …’

All leaders who go to war in the name of God are either zealots or hypocrites. Reading this letter, one cannot help but feel that Henry was both.

Tuesday 16th

As the payments on the Issue Rolls make clear, Henry had already decided that he was going to attack Harfleur. Today John Bower, turner, was paid for ‘helving [making handles for] axes and mattocks for the king’s works on his voyage to Harfleur in Normandy’. Thus the destination of the expedition had already been decided, and so had the point of embarkation (Southampton). Given the number of entries relating to the defence of Calais in early 1415, it is probable that the point of re-embarkation had also been decided. The whole plan might have been settled by today. Yet none of these details were announced at the great council. Two days later, when schedules of payment were being discussed, the region to which they would be sailing was left ambiguous: it might be France or it might be Gascony. Later in the month, when the indentures of service were drawn up, the same ambiguity was preserved. As the author of the Gesta Henrici Quinti stated, ‘having concealed from all save his closest councillors the destination of the ships, he prepared to cross to Normandy.’48

It is somewhat surprising that Henry did not let even these forty-three lords know his plans. Why not? If he did not trust someone, all he needed to do was not summon them, as with Richard of Conisborough. To this we may answer that the problem was not one of trust so much as control. Henry could not control the future conversations of these men – they might be overheard by a spy. As he knew from the chronicles of Edward III’s expeditions, the way to ensure a safe landing was to leave the enemy completely confused as to where he intended to land. In 1346 Edward III had concealed the destination of his Crécy campaign from almost everyone, not even telling the ships’ captains.49 They were instructed to follow the leading ships in the fleet and had sealed instructions regarding their destination that they were only to open in the event of a storm scattering them. This extreme secrecy regarding his destination seems to be another part of Edward III’s scheme for a French invasion that Henry followed.

But why Harfleur? Why not simply invade via Calais, which was already an English port, thereby saving on the costs and delays of a possibly lengthy siege? Or why not land in Gascony, which was already under attack? Or do both: attack in the south as well as via Calais? After all, the indentures drafted later this same month allowed for a campaign in Gascony, and a southern front had formed an essential part of the Crécy campaign, to which Henry seems to have paid such close attention.

Henry wanted to prove himself a second Edward III, victorious in France, and to do that he needed to perform military feats similar to those Edward III had accomplished at the battle of Crécy and the siege of Calais. In order to show that God favoured him in the same way, he needed a battlefield victory or a successful siege of an important town, or preferably both. Battles were difficult to bring about but sieges were easy: all one had to do was attack. Moreover, they could be simplified and shortened using heavy artillery. Thus there was the chance of an easy symbolic victory in attacking the town. While this could be said for towns in Gascony too, Harfleur was much nearer, and thus easier and cheaper to reach. It would have been very difficult to transport heavy cannon to Gascony, and to use them to his advantage; Thomas Beaufort’s experience in 1414 had shown that it was difficult to make progress of any sort in that region. Indeed, since the truce in Gascony had ended on 2 February, French forces had advanced through the Saintonge. On this very day the duke of Bourbon’s army was in Pons.50

There were good strategic reasons to attack Harfleur too. It was a port on the north bank of the Seine estuary: to control it was to control both the seas of Normandy and one side of the river giving access to Paris. It had also been a royal naval boatyard for the last century, and a fortified haven for many of the French ships that preyed on English merchant vessels in the Channel. If Henry could secure it, he would win twice over: firstly by removing the threat to English shipping and secondly by threatening the French navy.51

So Harfleur it was. Henry had received enough intelligence about the town and port from his close friends Bishop Courtenay and Lord Grey in 1414, supplemented by more recent information from Sir William Bourchier, Sir John Phelip and William Porter, and probably many others too. He had made up his mind.52

Wednesday 17th

The second session of the great council took place in the council chamber at Westminster. The lords assembled and the king entered. At his command Chancellor Beaufort announced how the king had decided to appoint his brother John, duke of Bedford, as keeper of England during his absence on the forthcoming overseas expedition. John’s salary was set at 5,000 marks per year (£3,333 6s 8d). Beaufort also announced that the king had appointed a privy council of nine men to advise Bedford. This consisted of the archbishop of Canterbury, the bishops of Winchester and Durham, the earl of Westmorland, the prior of the Knights Hospitallers, Lord Grey of Ruthin, Lord Berkeley, Lord Powys and Lord Morley.

Attention then switched to the defence of the realm in the king’s absence. Beaufort announced that the Scottish borders were to be under the command of the earl of Westmorland, Lord Morley and Lord Dacre. The East March of Scotland would receive an extra two hundred men-at-arms and four hundred archers. Wales would have one hundred more men-at-arms and two hundred archers. Calais would have 150 men-at-arms and three hundred archers; and the sea would be guarded by 150 men-at-arms and three hundred archers. The advice of the privy council, which had discussed this in February, was set aside. So too were the naval provisions for Sir Gilbert Talbot. Only the provision for Wales remained unchanged. Fewer men were to guard the seas and more were stationed at Calais and on the East March. Whether these changes were the result of discussions with those present at this great council, or whether they were simply announced, is not clear.53

It is probable that this business occupied just the morning session, after which the lords dispersed to discuss what securities they would accept in lieu of payment for the second and third quarters of the forthcoming campaign. Henry’s business later that day included giving instructions for Sutton House to be demolished and its timber, stone and lead to be used in his ‘great work’ at Sheen – the construction of his new manor house and monastery. The doomed Sutton House had been begun by Richard II in 1396 and completed by Henry IV in 1403, but Henry V did not like it. Having held one council meeting there at the start of his reign, he seems not to have visited Sutton again before ordering its destruction.54


The council of Constance had decided to ask the cardinal of Ostia, Jean Alarmet de Brogny, to preside over sessions in the pope’s absence. This was logical, as the cardinal was John XXIII’s vice-chancellor and usually acted on official instructions on his behalf. Thus a vestige of normality was reintroduced to the workings of the papacy, and business could continue. With the cardinal and the emperor presiding, several decrees were today promulgated by the increasingly ambitious and determined prelates.

The first eight of these decrees were to ensure that John XXIII was forced to abdicate. Two delegates were named on behalf of each of the four nations to go to John XXIII and ask him whether he wished to abdicate in Constance, Ulm, Ravensburg or Basel. He had two days to make this choice and to name his proctors. After that he was to have ten days to follow through with the business. If he failed, it was agreed that ‘proceedings will be started against him as law and reason dictate’.55

The ninth decree read as follows:

In the matter of faith against Jan Hus, by authority of this sacred council, the archbishop of Ragusa on behalf of the Italian nation, the bishop of Schleswig on behalf of the German nation, Master Ursin of Talamand for the French nation and Master William Corfe for the English nation, masters of theology, shall investigate the case of the said Hus and his adherents and proceed in it as far as, but excluding, the imposition of a definitive sentence.56

For Jan Hus, now being kept in isolation in the bishop of Constance’s castle at Gottlieben, the end was in sight. There was no hope of being found innocent. The very next decree, the tenth, dealt with his inspiration and guide: the late John Wycliffe. ‘The said commissioners shall also receive the report of the cardinals of Cambrai, of St Mark and of Florence on the action taken towards the condemnation … of the memory of John Wycliffe.’ As the council openly sought Wycliffe’s ‘condemnation’ it followed that his supporters must also be condemned.For this reason Jerome of Prague now also appeared in their reckoning. The eleventh decree accused him of heresy and of disseminating libellous pamphlets. Jerome too was about to feel the power of the fanatical reformers within the Church hierarchy at Constance.

Thursday 18th

The third session of the great council at Westminster was given over to the scales of wages to be paid to various men on the forthcoming campaign. Two scales had to be agreed: one for Gascony and one for the kingdom of France. By the end of the session the chancellor was able to declare that the wages for each duke would be 1 mark (13s 4d) per day of service, for each earl half a mark (6s 8d), for each baron 4s, and each knight 2s. If the expedition was directed into the kingdom of France then each esquire would receive 12d per day, each archer 6d per day, and a company of thirty men-at-arms would receive 100 marks per quarter. If the army were to fight in Gascony, a salary of 40 marks per year would be paid to each man-at-arms and 20 marks to each archer.57

Friday 19th

The payments on the Issue Rolls for today are a reminder that the costs of the forthcoming expedition and the defence of the realm were not the only financial burdens on the treasury. There were many annuities too, granted by Richard II and Henry IV, varying from 4½d per day pensions paid to long-serving messengers to 20 marks per annum to Henry IV’s barber. Ten years earlier, such payments had hugely encumbered the government, tying it down with a thousand financial strings, but as Henry had found to his cost when acting as prince regent, failing to honour these obligations was not an option. To fail one’s faithful supporters and retainers after years of hard work was a sure way to leave those currently serving the king disillusioned and demoralised.

On this section of the roll we find more payments relating to Henry’s secret letters, such as one sent ‘in all haste to Sir John Grendon for certain causes contained in the said letter, 18s 14d’ and a similar letter sent ‘in all haste’ to the mayor of Winchelsea. The king’s youngest brother, Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, was paid 500 marks (£333 6s 8d) that had been granted to him and his heirs as an annual sum. But the most interesting payment is that of £23 12s ‘for a jantaculum [breakfast] in our palace of Westminster for the duke of Clarence and others of the council advising the king about his voyage to Harfleur and Normandy’. The suggestion made above, in respect of the reclamation of Somerton Castle – that Henry was working closely with his brother Thomas – is hereby confirmed. Thomas’s rivalry with Henry was no longer the uppermost feature of their relationship. The fact that Henry had passed over him in choosing his younger brother John to be keeper of the realm does not appear to have been a problem. Thomas, as a thoroughbred war leader, knew where he belonged – fighting, in France, alongside his king.

Saturday 20th

With the great council out of the way, the organisation of the war shifted on to a new level. The first of all the many indentures for service on the forthcoming expedition was sealed, this one being for the earl of Huntingdon, who undertook to serve in the army with twenty men-at-arms and forty archers.58 Henry also ordered new bowstaves to be made, and commissioned Nicholas Frost, bowyer, to requisition all the bowyers and necessary labourers he needed, with power to ‘arrest’ men for the purpose.59 Henry’s new foundations were not forgotten either. John Pende, glasier, was commissioned to take glass for the king’s use, presumably for the windows in the manor house of Sheen.60 The confiscated alien priory of Otterton in Devon was allocated to Syon Abbey, in anticipation of the arrival of the nuns from Vadstena.61

Sunday 21st

So freely had Jerome preached about the iniquities of the council of Constance that the clergy in the area where he was staying were alarmed. They went to the local lord yesterday evening to urge him to take action. The lord in question sent men to watch for Jeromethis morning. When he knew the preacher had been surrounded, he came to him and said, ‘Master Jerome, yesterday you said something to me of the council. I must ascertain whether it is true or not, and you shall accompany me to Constance.’ Jerome then realised he was trapped. He was taken to Constance and handed over to the bishop’s men, who imprisoned him in ‘a special dungeon’ in Gottlieben Castle, where Hus himself was being held.62

When news of Jerome’s arrest was announced, ‘many were glad, and lauds were rung’, wrote Ulrich Richental in Constance. Something of the medieval sense of bloodletting as a remedy for illness seems to have taken hold of the people. The Church as a body was sick; its humours were out of balance. Thus to restore the Church to health, some blood needed to be let. Jerome and Hus would provide that blood.


At Westminster, a decision was made by the king and council to act on information from Calais that the ale and food supply for the town was failing. In the past, supplies had been shipped from the town of Gosseford in Suffolk, which had had a royal monopoly on the business. Henry now ordered that the necessary victuals should be obtained from the Kent towns of Sandwich, Faversham, Dover, Deal and Mongeham, suspending Gosseford’s monopoly for one year.63 Unsurprisingly, given the timing, the rights of a small Suffolk town were unimportant by comparison with a sanctuary in France to which Henry was probably already planning to lead his army.

Monday 22nd

The clerks in Westminster recording the payments from the exchequer noted another 10 marks paid for keeping Mordach, earl of Fife, locked up in the Tower of London. They also noted that William Bolton, one of the king’s messengers, was sent to Winchelsea, Rye and Hastings with letters to the mayors of those towns ordering ships within the Cinque Ports to go to sea ‘to resist the malice of the king’s French enemies’.

Henry himself was probably at Windsor Castle by supper time. English kings since Edward III normally spent a couple of days travelling by barge up the River Thames to the castle, in preparation for St George’s Day.64 If the king was abroad, then the keeper of the realm had to take his place. There was no question of the royal family not celebrating the feast of St George at Windsor.

Tuesday 23rd: St George’s Day

The Order of the Garter had been formally established by Edward III on St George’s Day 1349.65 It consisted of the monarch and twenty-five knights, together with support staff and officers. According to its ordinances, each knight had to come to Windsor Castle to celebrate the saint’s feast day every year, without fail. If the knight could not attend, he was required to explain his absence and to celebrate the feast wherever he was, in the same way as he would have done if he had been at Windsor, wearing the appropriate robes.

Henry himself had been nominated to a Garter stall soon after his father’s accession in 1399, and his three brothers had been nominated the following year. No doubt they travelled up the river together for the feast. With them would have been a number of the lords who had attended Henry’s great council a week earlier. The full list of Knights of the Garter on this day in 1415 was as follows:66


Obviously not all of these men were in attendance. The kings of Portugal and Denmark and the duke of Holland were heads of state; they hardly ever attended the Garter feasts in person. The earl of Warwick and Lord Fitzhugh were still on their way back from Constance. But most of the others would have travelled to Windsor. The three knights raised to the Order during Henry’s reign – the earl of Salisbury, Lord Camoys and Sir John Daubridgecourt – would certainly have attended. They were among at least sixteen Garter knights who were preparing to set out on the expedition to Harfleur.67 There cannot have been many other occasions since 1415 when so many Knights of the Garter took part in an overseas military expedition together. Even the duke of Holland was playing his part, in providing the ships.

Henry was not the only one celebrating St George’s Day. All around the country people were carrying dragons in processions. Town guilds carried figures of St George and the dragon around their parishes and churches.68 But nowhere did the celebrations compare with the solemnity of the gathering at Windsor, where religious services, swearing of oaths, and a lavish royal feast took place. The main procession would have seen the Knights of the Garter walking slowly together in their long deep-blue mantles, lined with scarlet, and wearing their garters on their left legs. Beneath their mantles they wore miniver-lined surcoats. Long hoods hung down their backs.69 The king’s own mantle had a longer train than the others, and was lined in ermine, not scarlet – one appears in the inventory of Henry’s possessions at his death: ‘a mantle of blue velvet, embroidered with an escutcheon of St George and a garter and furred with ermine, value £20’.70 Ahead of the knights in the procession would have been the thirteen canons of the Order, all dressed in long mantles of purple marked with the shield of St George, and thirteen other priests, dressed in red mantles. There would probably have been dragons and St George figures in the Windsor procession too. Looking through Henry’s inventory we find references to ‘a gold dragon with a cross, the gold being worth 37s 11d’, ‘a little silver-gilt dragon, worth 8d’, ‘a little gold chain and a gold cross for a dragon, worth 23s 6d’, ‘a gold dragon set with a sapphire and 12 pearls, worth 40s’ and ‘three silver-gilt dragons, worth in all 12s 4d’.71 On top of these dragons, which Henry may have worn as badges, we find that he owned a silver-gilt image of St George containing a relic of St George himself, the gold in this saint-shaped reliquary being worth £13 3s 4d.72

Due to the rigid formality of the Order, we can say a few things about proceedings on this day, even though not a single Garter-related document survives from this particular feast. Those attending would have witnessed the formal installation of the sixty-year-old Lord Camoys, whom Henry had recently nominated to the Order following the death of Lord Ros the previous year. Thirteen ladies were given robes and attended the feast, in line with the precedent set by Edward III in the 1370s and continued since by Richard II and Henry IV.73 We even know the order in which the knights sat in the chapel and at the feast that followed: in the exact order in which they are named above. In the chapel they sat in designated stalls, each bearing their arms; during the feast they sat at two large round tables that used to be kept at Windsor Castle specially for the purpose. Each table accommodated thirteen knights, and so must have been about 9–10ft in diameter. Each place had the name of every knight who had sat there in the past inscribed on it in French.74

As to what the knights said to one another as they sat at these tables, we have no way of knowing. But for Henry, looking across at his brother John and Sir Thomas Erpingham on the opposite side of his table, there were only two subjects on his mind: religion and war. And in celebrating the feast of St George, the warrior-saint, he was celebrating both of them.


Cardinal Fillastre, Cardinal Zabarella, and several other prelates had set out from Constance on 19 April to tell John XXIII the news of the decree promulgated against him on the 17th. He had two days to decide where he wished to abdicate; those two days would be reckoned from the moment they informed him of the news. However, when they reached Freiburg, where they believed he was staying, under the protection of the duke of Austria, they found he had abandoned the place and made his way to Breisach, on the Rhine. He was staying at a public hospice.

The cardinals and the rest of the deputation arrived in Breisach and sought an audience with John. His servants declined to admit them. The cardinals refused to accept this response and sent their messenger back to ask again. And again. The pope’s servants claimed they did not know where he was, for they did not go into his chamber. Not until seven o’clock in the evening could the cardinals establish for certain that John was still in the hospice, when a nobleman who had served him in his chamber confirmed his presence there.

When the pope realised he could not conceal his whereabouts any longer, he asked to have a private audience with the two cardinals before meeting the delegation. The cardinals refused, saying they had to acquit themselves of their duty to the council first. Reluctantly the pope invited the entire delegation to come to him at the hospice the following day.75

Wednesday 24th

Full moon was about an hour before dawn. Most men would have been aware that the nights were bright enough to travel by, even if they were not up before dawn. John XXIII must have wondered whether he should not just flee, and get as far away from Breisach as possible before he had to confront the delegation. There was a bridge over the Rhine at Breisach, and he knew that he might find shelter on the far side. It must have been tempting. But for the moment he stayed where he was, and waited for the embassy.

When the deputation assembled, Cardinal Fillastre did the talking. He read out the council’s decree of the 17th and also the emperor’s letters of safe conduct. At the end, the pope declared that it was still his intention to bring peace and unity to the Church, and that he was prepared to abdicate – according to the council’s own formula. He denied that he planned to return to Italy but said that he would rather go into France, on the other side of the river. He had already written to the duke of Burgundy, John the Fearless, who was sending two thousand men-at-arms to be his armed guard. He added that he would respond to the council in due course, and would speak to the two cardinals after dinner.

The news about the pope seeking shelter with John the Fearless was astounding. The delegation agreed Cardinal Fillastre and Cardinal Zabarella should return to the pope’s hospice that afternoon and try to dissuade him from leaving. They did so – and they pleaded with him to abdicate straightaway. As they told him, by complying with the council’s wishes he might yet preserve some dignity and some material provision for himself. If he did not resign he risked losing everything, for legal proceedings would undoubtedly be brought against him. But like Jan Hus in his prison cell at Gottlieben, John XXIII refused to change his mind. The cardinals departed, empty-handed and despondent.76


Turning to the Issue Roll payments made today – handed out by royal clerks to messengers in the great hall of the Palace of Westminster – we find certain signs of personal intimacy. Historians are normally reliant on chronicles and private papers for descriptions of friendship; these are often suspect, chronicles being subject to bias and private papers from this period almost non-existent. Official records are far too formal to note personal closeness; the king’s feelings have to be inferred from grants, appointments and signs of continual proximity. However, with respect to today Henry made a special provision for his friend, the earl of Arundel. Arundel was being paid only 100 marks (£66 13s 4d) for his salary as treasurer. Despite the financial pressure he was under, Henry thought this too low and directed that a further £300 be paid to Arundel out of ‘special regard’ for him. This was similar to a special allowance he made to his uncle, Henry Beaufort, for attending council meetings. Such indicators of ‘special regard’ are doubly significant when they appear in account books. Men and women often lie or exaggerate their feelings in their letters to one another – especially heads of state – but they rarely lie in their account books.

The king seems to have had just such a ‘special regard’ for Sir John Phelip. He was a household knight and one of the men who had travelled via Harfleur on the embassy to Paris in January. Over the year he received several grants and gifts from Henry. Today he received three – one of £20, another of 40 marks and, with his wife Alice, an annual grant of £100. Alice was the daughter of Thomas Chaucer, the king’s butler, and the granddaughter of Geoffrey Chaucer. Phelip was thus not only a friend but a man whose past and present were interwoven with the Lancastrian tapestry, and an example of the sort of enforcer Henry relied upon heavily in preparing for his campaign.

Unremittingly, the payments in these accounts are for pensions and war. Another £60 was paid to Roger Salvayn for timber for the defence of Calais. Another £5 was paid to John Bower, turner, in return for ‘helving axes, mattocks and picks for the king’s voyage to Harfleur’. Thomas Strange received £282 for the wages of his troops keeping the peace in North Wales. Henry bought another ship from three Breton merchants, paying £500 for the St Nicholas of Guérande. Nicholas Merbury paid £10 to William Founder for more gunpowder for the expedition to Harfleur, and William Catton received 25 marks for repairs to the king’s ships.

Among all these payments for war and pensions to supporters is a payment to John Hull for the maintenance of Mordach, earl of Fife. In itself this is nothing special – payments for Mordach’s upkeep appear regularly in these accounts – but for the first time we see the payments given a terminal date: 27 May. By that date the heir of the regent of Scotland was expected to be back on his home soil. Henry’s representatives in the north must have agreed an exchange for the earl by this date. It is another small sign of the diplomatic game at which Henry excelled. Over and over again we find signs of diplomatic initiatives that collectively contributed to his grand strategy of isolating France and maintaining the stability of England’s borders.

Another terminal date appears in these same rolls today, and it was even more significant. At Calais on this day, Philip Morgan secured a prolongation of the truce with his French counterpart, Jean Andreu. Peace was guaranteed – until 8 June.77

Thursday 25th

Pope John XXIII arose early. At sunrise he slipped out of Breisach with only one servant, saying goodbye to no one and telling nobody where he had gone. His plan was to make for the bridge over the Rhine and seek shelter until he could make contact with the duke of Burgundy’s men. John the Fearless himself was still at Dijon, and showed no sign of coming to the aid of the pope in person.78 But John’s men – if the pope was right in thinking they were nearby – could easily spirit him away. Then the council of Constance would have to depose the pope in his absence, and both the other popes too. That would put the council’s authority to a very severe test.

When John XXIII came to the bridge there was a man there waiting. In what must have been a very awkward confrontation for both parties, he stopped the pope. The pope turned back. But he met another man along the road by the river. This man took the pope to a barn, and told him to wait there while he went to fetch horses and an escort. When he returned the men in the escort were, of course, not those of the duke of Burgundy but the duke of Austria. They took John to Neuenberg, where there was no bridge across the river.

When the emperor learned that the pope was intending to head into France and seeking the protection of John the Fearless, he was furious. Messengers rode through that afternoon and evening, ordering local lords to take action. Rumours spread: that the emperor was preparing an army to ride north and storm Neuenberg, or that the men of Basel were being ordered to march to Neuenberg to apprehend the pope. The emperor sent ambassadors to the duke of Burgundy – they met him on the 28th at Is. He also wrote to the duke of Ludwig of Bavaria-Ingolstadt, palatine count of the Rhine, the duke of Austria’s cousin, urging him to bring the duke of Austria to reason. Every possible form of influence was brought to bear on the duke of Austria.

By 8 p.m. Duke Ludwig had contacted the duke of Austria and told him emphatically that John XXIII was a lost cause. The pope himself was by now terrified and powerless. He had been reduced from his state and greatness to something less than a normal man – unfamiliar with his surroundings and uncertain how to behave. When the duke of Austria decided that enough was enough, and that he would take the pope back to the cardinals at Breisach, he simply instructed his men to dress the pope in common clothes and lead him to Cardinal Fillastre. The pope was in no position to object; he donned a white jerkin and a black mantle and mounted a small black horse. In this guise they led him back through the night to Breisach. The pope and his escort were forced to wait for more than an hour outside the gates before they were finally admitted by the night watch.79

Friday 26th

In France the optimism of the show of unity on 13 March had completed dissipated, and the mood was one of deep concern. A week earlier a message had been sent to the bailiff of Rouen ordering him to prepare against an English invasion. Today an official letter was sent out from the French court confirming that the king had heard that Henry V was collecting a large fleet and an army.80 The additional news that the English refused to prolong the truce for more than five weeks would have heightened the tension. It would have hammered home the point Henry had made in his letter of the 15th: that he saw the French refusal to comply with his demands as an act of disobedience to God.

For the princes of France, English bellicosity was only half the problem. The other reason for concern was their own divided government. The king was undergoing a severe bout of sickness and could not possibly grasp the seriousness of the situation. Nor could the septagenarian duke of Berry, for he had now left court. The duke of Orléans could not be given command without infuriating – and further alienating – John the Fearless; and likewise John could not be given command either. The ‘fearless’ duke was perhaps the one member of the French royal family who had the military experience, the political skills and the sheer energy to organise a successful defence of the realm – but of course the Armagnacs could not risk him exercising military authority. Nor would the dauphin tolerate his presence. Thus, in the absence of any member of the royal family who was sane, competent and politically acceptable, the fat, eighteen-year-old dauphin was himself appointed captain-general of France, with orders to resist the English invasion.

The dauphin’s appointment only worsened the situation. He was wont to sleep all morning and have his dinner at four in the afternoon, and his supper at midnight, spending the night hours playing music and dallying with his mistress, la Cassinelle – so called because she was a daughter of one Guillaume Cassinel.81 He had never resisted anything, let alone an invasion. The responsibility for actually organising the defence of the kingdom fell to the constable of France, Charles d’Albret – and herein lay yet another problem. Charles was an experienced commander, having been constable of France for eleven of the last thirteen years. Nevertheless he had no authority over the great dukes and princes. He could hardly command the duke of Burgundy, or the duke of Brittany, or the duke of Bourbon. All he could do was advise the dauphin. But the dauphin was quite a law unto himself. The chronicler Monstrelet relates a story about how the dauphin and his mother in this month commanded all the dukes of the royal blood to come to them at Melun. When the dukes had arrived, they were detained there and ordered not to return to Paris while the dauphin and his mother went back to the capital. The dauphin, having tricked his mother into placing herself in his power without the other members of the royal family, sought out the three men in Paris who had command of her treasure. He forcibly entered their houses with his supporters and removed his mother’s wealth to his own hôtel. After this act of theft, he summoned the principal men of the city and the university to the Louvre where he had the history of the realm since his father’s coronation read aloud, with particular attention to the waste of money by various men over the years, including the duke of Burgundy. As dauphin, he declared, he would not permit this to continue; but instead would henceforth take on the whole government of the realm himself. Charles d’Albret could do little in the face of such overbearing and threatening inexperience.

In reply to Henry’s letter of the 15th, the French government today wrote that the king of France would do all he could to arrive at the peace that was ‘so desirable for all mortals’, and that to this end he sought the prolongation of the truce and was sending his ambassadors.82 It was a predictable letter, drafted in line with the dauphin’s wishes, and aimed at forcing Henry to talk, not fight. But as Chancellor Beaufort had said to the English parliament in November 1414, there was a time for all things, and the time for talking had passed.


At Westminster too the time for talking had passed. Now it was the time for action. Richard Clitherowe and Reginald Curteis, who had been commissioned to raise ships for the king’s voyage from the duke of Holland, were advanced a further 3,250 marks (£2,166 13s 4d) by Giovanni Vittore, a Florentine merchant, for the wages of the masters and mariners of those ships.83 Thomas Chalton, mercer of London, was sent abroad with £400 to buy ‘cannon, saltpetre and other necessary things of war’ for the forthcoming voyage, and £225 to buy other mercery ware’. Lord Grey of Codnor, keeper of the town of Berwick, was paid £1,092 for the wages of 120 men-at-arms and 240 archers defending the East March. Robert Rodyngton was paid £40 for the safe conduct to Southampton of certain wine-laden ships, captured by Sir Thomas Carew, John Clifford and himself.84 And the colossal sum of £4,316 10s was paid to Sir Roger Leche, treasurer of the royal household, by the cofferer William Kynwolmersh, ‘for the victuals and stuff required for the household for the forthcoming voyage to Harfleur’.

One last payment here ought to be mentioned: another gift to Thomas, duke of Clarence, this one being an annuity of 100 marks to him and his wife Margaret. It was to be followed (tomorrow) with the re-grant of the manor of Hawardyn, the stewardship of Chester, and the castle and town of Mold. These had already been given to Thomas by Henry IV but the documents had proved invalid, so Henry re-granted them to his brother.85 Clearly Henry was determined that Thomas would have no cause for complaint. As the French royal family began to disintegrate, the English one was more united than ever.

Saturday 27th

Every day was valuable for the raising of men and ships for the expedition. Messengers were heading out from Westminster in all directions. They were riding out with letters under the great seal to the sheriffs of the counties, and the mayors, bailiffs and burghers of towns, to assign men-at-arms and other defensible men and archers to be arrayed ‘in thousands, hundreds and twenties to patrol the coast of the sea and other places … to the extent necessary to expel the enemies of the king by war and to defend from time to time’. John Wenslowe, Nicholas Maudit and William Tresham received money to pay the masters and mariners of the ships they were requisitioning, in line with their commissions of 11 April. More money was paid to the bowyers working for Henry. John Sewale, messenger, was ‘sent with all speed with the king’s letters to the customers and controllers of the port of Kingston upon Hull to be at Westminster on the last day of the month of Easter’. Two more messengers took similar urgent messages to the customers and controllers of the ports of Lynn, Melcombe and Exeter on the same day. And a gift of £100 was made to John Wilcotes, receiver general of the duchy of Cornwall, on account of Henry’s ‘special regard’ for him.86 Henry had in mind a job for Wilcotes, which he would put to him the following month.


Cardinal Fillastre and the other delegates had left Breisach by the time the pope had returned on his small horse, on the night of the 25th. But having heard of the duke of Austria’s capitulation, and the return of the pope to Breisach, they turned around and rode back in that direction. They met the pope and the dukes of Austria and Bavaria-Ingoldstadt on the road, heading towards Freiburg. As they rode with them they laboured hard to persuade John to resign his papal title. He only had two options, they told him: either he could abdicate honourably, with provision being made for him, or he could allow himself to be deposed ignominiously. They argued with him for the rest of that day, and even into the night. Nothing was decided.

Sunday 28th

This morning, John XXIII repeated his willingness to abdicate to Cardinal Fillastre and the rest of the delegation from Constance. But once more he attached conditions to his decision. He wanted financial provision for himself, and for the emperor to forgive the duke of Austria. He wanted to be made a cardinal and to be head of the whole college of cardinals, as well as a papal legate and a perpetual vicar of Italy, with papal power over the whole of the Italian nation. He declared that he would abdicate on these grounds – as long as the abdication could take place on neutral territory, such as Burgundy, Savoy or Venice. A statement to this effect was signed by the pope himself and taken off to Constance.87


Henry was at Lambeth Palace, the London house of the archbishop of Canterbury. A petition of the earl of Salisbury for the payment of his expenses while serving on the embassy of 1414 had been drawn up in early March; for some unknown reason only now did Henry grant it.88 Perhaps it had not previously been presented? For our purposes it is interesting to note that it shows that the earl of Salisbury had also had a good look at Harfleur on this expedition in 1414.

Later in the day the king took a barge back across the river to Westminster. His business there included granting permission for the prioress of the Dominican nuns at Dartford, who had become a recluse, to appoint proctors for her official roles.89 Henry also commissioned George Benet, cordwainer of London, to take sufficient hides for ‘the king’s works’ – but whether these were for the buildings at Sheen or the forthcoming expedition is not clear.90

Monday 29th

Today was a key date in the move towards war. All the leading lords and knights came to the palace of Westminster to seal indentures detailing the numbers of troops they were expected to provide for the forthcoming campaign. Top of the list was the king’s brother, Thomas, duke of Clarence, who was required to raise 240 men-at-arms and 720 archers. The duke of York was expected to raise 100 men-at-arms and 300 archers. The earl of Salisbury was to provide forty men-at-arms and eighty archers; Lord Scrope thirty men-at-arms and ninety archers, and so on.

The indentures that the lords sealed were agreements written out twice on a single piece of vellum in duplicate that, when both texts had been sealed, were divided by cutting the vellum in two with a wavy line. Any disagreement over the terms could then be resolved – if necessary by checking the king’s half of the indenture against the lord’s half, and making sure the two married up. Each lord agreed to serve Henry for a whole year in person, either in Gascony or in France itself, and the indentures stipulated the wages each lord was to receive as well as his retinue (at the rates stipulated on 18 April). In most cases it was specified that wages for the first quarter would be paid in advance in two halves: half at the time of the agreement and half on the mustering of the requisite number of men. These indentures stipulated that jewels would be given to the lords in order to guarantee that they would receive payment for the second and third quarters. The agreements also stipulated that the cost of shipping the lords, their men, their equipment, harness and horses would be borne by the king. For the duke of Clarence and other great lords there were specified limits: the king would pay for the transport of fifty of the duke of Clarence’s own horses, twenty-four horses for each earl, sixteen horses for each banneret, six horses for each knight, four horses for each esquire and one horse for each archer.91

It was not just fighting men who sealed these indentures. Henry had to make provision for other necessary officers, such as a number of surgeons and physicians. Master Nicholas Colnet, the royal physician, agreed to serve on the campaign on the same terms as the fighting men – for a full year – in Gascony or France, with his transport paid for, and bringing three of his own archers and horses. His wages were to be a shilling a day in France and 40 marks for the year in Gascony. The same wages and terms were to apply to Henry’s surgeon, Thomas Morstede, except that Morstede was also required to bring along a staff of fifteen men: three archers and twelve more surgeons. The assistant surgeons were, like the archers, to be paid a wage of 6d per day.92 Even minstrels were contracted to serve in this manner, under the command of the sixty-year-old John Greyndour.93Presuming that all these indentures were checked, agreed, sealed and cut up in the hall at Westminster, it must have been a busy gathering.

As the agreements make clear, this was to be a longbow-dominated army. Although some indentures required lords to provide two archers for every man-at-arms, the majority required three. This 3:1 ratio had become established as the norm in Wales over the course of the first decade of his father’s reign, and Henry himself employed just such a ratio in Wales. His army would thus be three-quarters archers, excluding support staff. It was no wonder that Henry had continuously employed Nicholas Frost, John Bower and Henry Bower to produce bowstaves since the start of his reign. The armies of longbowmen, pikemen and men-at-arms that had won Edward III his great victories at Sluys and Crécy had now been refined to produce a cheap, manoeuvrable, and devastatingly effective destructive force. Because it specialised in projectile warfare, it could expect to suffer fewer casualties and could thus tackle far larger armies than a force composed only of men-at-arms. And there was also a surprise factor. Apart from the thousand archers that the earl of Arundel had taken to help John the Fearless at St-Cloud in 1411, the French had not seen a mass of English longbowmen for several decades.94 Even those archers could not be considered representative. The benefits of projectile weapons increased exponentially with numbers; one archer would be lucky to be able to bring down one knight or man-at-arms, but, as Edward III had showed, five thousand archers were more than a match for twenty thousand knights and mounted men-at-arms. It was the massed arrow-power that was so effective. And the French had never in their history come face to face with the full force of seven thousand English archers.

Almost everything was now in place. The plan to sail from Southampton to Harfleur was set, the reconnaissance of Harfleur had been undertaken, the security of the realm had been organised, the interim government had been arranged, the agreements to serve had been settled, the safety of Calais had been seen to, the defence of the seas and the coastline was in order, and gunpowder and bowstaves had been manufactured and laid in store. Yet much more still remained to be done. Henry might have been growing impatient by this stage but once again he had to set back the date of the invasion. The new date for sailing was 1 July.95

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