Heir of France

Henry’s main objective in his first campaign as regent of France was to clear away the Armagnac strongholds to the south of Paris. A mere nine days after his marriage Sens surrendered to him and Henry was able to say to its archbishop, ‘You have given me my bride; I now give you yours.’ His next gift was for Philippe of Burgundy. On 24 June 1420 their joint forces carried Montereau-sur-Yonne by assault and the body of John the Fearless, which had been buried in the parish church, was disinterred and taken to Burgundy for reburial in the Charterhouse of Dijon.1

On 13 July the Anglo-Burgundian forces laid siege to Melun, a strongly fortified town on the Seine twenty-seven miles upstream of Paris. There they were joined by Henry’s brother, the duke of Bedford, who had brought two thousand reinforcements from England, and their brother-in-law, Louis, the ‘Red Duke’ of Bavaria, at the head of seven hundred Germans whose wages Henry had agreed to pay. The English, unlike the French, did not usually employ foreign mercenaries but Henry was short of men for a campaign outside Normandy and needed to strike a decisive blow against the dauphin.

The captain of Melun, Arnaud Guillaume, sire de Barbazan, was ‘expert, ingenious and renowned in arms’. Unfazed by either the size of the besieging army or the heavy bombardment from the great guns of England and Burgundy, he succeeded in holding them at bay for eighteen weeks. He shored up the damaged defences and personally led regular sorties to inflict damage and casualties: the English responded in the customary fashion by fortifying their camps, surrounding them with ditches and wooden walls so that they formed a series of temporary castles encircling the town. They also threw another temporary bridge across the Seine to maintain communications between the besieging forces.2

When Henry ordered a huge mine to be dug under the walls, Barbazan began a counter-mine to intercept it. This was a difficult and dangerous feat of engineering. The miners had the advantage of knowing where they were heading and, since the mine had to be large enough to bring down a section of wall, they could employ packhorses to bring in pit props and carry away the earth and rubble. Once they were underground their location and direction could only be guessed by listening for the sound of their digging. Counter-miners would often sink several trial shafts before hitting on the correct place and even then the tunnels might have to twist aside or plunge downwards in the frantic attempt to locate the mine before it brought down the defences. Working against the clock and by the light of candles and torches in these cramped, airless conditions, the counterminers could only dig tunnels wide and high enough to admit one man. Once they had broken into the mine they had two options: to collapse it by burning the props or to attack the miners by sending in a file of men-at-arms.3

In the latter instance, the point where mine and counter-mine met would often become an impromptu set of lists, where men-at-arms from each side could test their valour and skill in feats of arms. Like other chivalric combats, such as jousts and tournaments, these were not intended to be fights to the death but simply an opportunity to excel in difficult and dangerous conditions. Because the participants risked their lives, however, fighting in mines acquired a special place in knightly lore. It was held to create a bond of brotherhood-in-arms between the opponents: they had mingled their blood in combat and therefore owed each other a personal duty of service, aid, counsel and protection, despite the fact that their nations were at war.

One of the most famous contests of this kind took place at the siege of Melun, where the miners had created a tunnel so large that it was possible to hold a joust on horseback underground. Among those who fought against each other in single combat were the two commanders, Henry and Barbazan, an unusual encounter of which no details survive, though it would later save the Frenchman’s life. After the fall of Melun, Barbazan was put on trial by Henry as one of the dauphin’s chief councillors, found guilty and condemned to death. Normally there was no appeal from the king’s judgement but in this case Barbazan claimed the privilege of judgement by heralds. The law of arms, he said, forbade a man to put to death a brother-in-arms who was at his mercy: he had fought hand to hand with Henry in the mine at Melun, ‘which battle was held by the heralds of arms in like strength as if he had fought with the king body to body within the lists.’ Henry was always punctilious in his administration of justice but he was also scrupulous in enforcing his sovereign rights. Faced with this clash between the two spheres of his authority, as a knight and as a king, it is extraordinary that, in this instance, he chose to abide by the rules of the international order of chivalry. He accepted Barbazan’s argument and commuted his death sentence to life imprisonment.4

Despite its importance in deciding Barbazan’s fate, the fighting within the mines was little more than a distraction from the serious business of effecting the reduction of Melun. As the siege dragged on Henry’s patience began to wear thin. He had already had his wife brought to him, installing her in a house which he had built for that purpose near his own tents. There – in the nearest he ever came to a romantic gesture – he had her serenaded by musicians for an hour every dawn and dusk. English musicians were renowned for their ‘sprightly concordance and angelic sweetness’ and Henry, a passionate lover of music, even bought harps for himself and Katherine about this time.5

More significantly, Henry had two other kings brought to join him at the siege: poor, mad Charles VI and James, the twenty-five-year-old king of Scotland, who had been a prisoner in England since 1406. What he wanted them to do was to issue a summons to surrender to the defenders of Melun. According to the laws of war, any subject of a king who refused to obey such an order issued in person by their sovereign was a rebel and a traitor who could therefore be executed. The Armagnacs might not recognise Henry’s right to demand their submission but they could not ignore that of Charles VI.

The fact that Henry thought it necessary to involve James I was an indication of the growing threat posed by Scottish mercenaries in France. The ‘auld alliance’ between Scotland and France began with the Treaty of Paris in 1295 (though both countries claimed it went back to the days of Charlemagne) and a contemporary French poet described it as ‘not traced on a charter of vellum but on the flesh and skin of men . . . not written in ink but in the flowing, intermingled blood of the allies.’6

The dauphin, who with good reason did not trust his compatriots, had retained a company of Scottish archers, under John Stewart of Darnley, to act as his personal bodyguard in 1418. The same year he had sent recruiting agents into Scotland to raise an army in his father’s name to resist the English conquest of Normandy. This could not be done with the official support of the government – the duke of Albany, regent of Scotland in James’s enforced absence, would have been in breach of the terms of his truces with England – but the recruits included his own son John, earl of Buchan, together with Archibald, earl of Wigtown, son and heir of another great magnate and prime mover in Scottish affairs, Archibald, earl of Douglas. Their involvement, and the fact that between six and seven thousand troops contracted to serve with them, were indications not only that the ‘auld alliance’ still held good but also that the prospect of enriching oneself by fighting in France was more alluring than being forced to remain unemployed in Scotland.7

A fleet of forty Castilian ships brought this army over to La Rochelle in October 1419. It then deployed along the southern frontiers of Normandy to hold back the English advance into Maine. On 3 March 1420 a combined Scottish and French force sent from Le Mans to relieve Fresnay was ambushed and wiped out by the earl of Huntingdon and Sir John Cornewaille; the booty included Sir William Douglas’s standard, which was sent for public display in Rouen, and, more importantly, the Scottish war chest. This defeat was counterbalanced by an Armagnac raid from Dreux which captured the castle of Croisy, freeing the famous captain, Ambroise de Loré, who had been an English prisoner for almost a year, and an attack by the garrison of Le Mans which killed sixty-three and captured fifty-eight.8

On 18 November 1420, after a siege lasting four months, Melun was eventually starved into surrendering. Twenty Scottish mercenaries found in the town’s garrison were among those excluded from the terms of the capitulation. In the hope of stemming the flow of Scotsmen coming to the dauphin’s aid, Henry had decided to make an example of them and he therefore hanged all twenty for disobeying their king’s order to submit. Melun’s Armagnac defenders were also treated more harshly than usual as punishment for their defiance of their king and regent. All those who had taken up arms, including civilians, were to be held captive until they paid a ransom and gave security that they would never serve the king’s enemies again. Several hundred prisoners were deported to Parisian jails, including the sire de Barbazan and others who were to stand trial on suspicion of involvement in the murder of John the Fearless.9

On 1 December 1420 Henry made his first formal entry into Paris, riding beside Charles VI with the dukes of Burgundy, Clarence and Bedford in attendance. He came as regent, rather than conqueror, so the crowds greeted him with cries of ‘Noël!’ and a living representation of Christ’s passion. ‘No princes were ever welcomed more joyfully than these’, a citizen noted in the journal he kept throughout these troubled times; ‘in every street they met processions of priests in copes and surplices carrying reliquaries and singing Te Deum laudamus and Benedictus qui venit.10

Henry had not come to Paris for acclamation but to do business. Two formal legal processes were required to strengthen his hand against the dauphin: the ratification of the Treaty of Troyes by the estates-general of the realm and the trial of those guilty of the murder of John the Fearless. Since none of the dauphin’s supporters was present, the treaty was duly ratified without protest. Twelve days later a special court was convened to hear Philippe of Burgundy’s demand for justice: both kings were present, together with the chancellor of France, Philippe de Morvilliers and other representatives of the parlement, and members of the estates-general. The dauphin was summoned to respond to the charges in person; when he failed to appear the royal council and parlementbanished him from the realm and declared him incapable of succeeding to the crown.11 The legal process of disinheriting him had been completed.

Henry did not linger in Paris for he had more important business in Rouen, where for the first time he had summoned a meeting of the local estates-general of the duchy and pays-de-conquête. They too agreed to ratify the Treaty of Troyes but they also took a significant step in implementing its terms. In January 1421 the assembly at Rouen granted Henry a hearth tax on the laity worth 400,000l.t. (£23.33m), with the first payment due on 1 March. The clergy also offered a tax of two-tenths, which was of equivalent value, though their generosity did not prevent Henry collecting the arrears of another tenth which, ironically, they had previously granted to Charles VI for the purpose of resisting the English invasion.12

There was one final piece to put in place. Henry also needed the English parliament to ratify the Treaty of Troyes. He had not visited England since first embarking on his conquest three and a half years earlier and both parliament and country were becoming increasingly concerned by his absence. Legal processes had been suspended since August 1417 to protect those away on campaign; heavy taxation to pay for the war had led to a shortage of bullion and an epidemic of counterfeiting; and the most recent parliament, held in December 1420, had demonstrated a marked reluctance to endorse the ‘final peace’.13 It was time for the king to return.

On 1 February 1421 Henry and his new French queen landed at Dover to an enthusiastic welcome, the barons of the Cinque Ports rushing into the sea to carry them shoulder-high to shore. Seven days later Henry was back at work in London, leaving his wife to follow at a more leisurely pace. On Sunday 23 February Katherine was crowned by Henry Chichele, archbishop of Canterbury, in the church of Westminster Abbey, the ceremony being followed by a celebratory banquet in Westminster Hall.14

Three days later Henry issued the writs summoning parliament to meet on 2 May, then he and Katherine set out on a tour of the country, taking in the major towns of Bristol, Leicester and Nottingham, the cathedral cities of York, Lincoln and Norwich, the royal castles at Kenilworth and Pontefract and the popular shrines at Bridlington, Beverley and Walsingham. This was no belated honeymoon, though the declared object was to introduce the new queen to her subjects. It was partly a pilgrimage to the great shrines of England by a king renowned for his piety, partly a propaganda mission designed to stimulate flagging enthusiasm for his French ambitions and, as a consequence, partly a fund-raising tour to sustain those ambitions. He had already achieved great things, he told his people, but he needed money and men to defeat the dauphin, who still held the greater part of France.15

This message had little appeal to a country already tired of the constant strain of war and it undermined the hard selling of the Treaty of Troyes as a ‘final peace’. Henry’s difficulties were compounded when, having just paid his devotions at the shrine of Saint John of Beverley – whose tomb had miraculously exuded holy oil during the battle of Agincourt – he received disastrous news. On 22 March 1421 his brother and heir, Clarence, to whom he had given supreme military command in France during his absence, had unexpectedly intercepted a newly arrived contingent of four thousand Scots at Baugé in Anjou. Clarence was desperate to prove himself his brother’s equal but succeeded only in demonstrating that he was not. Against the advice of his captains, he had not waited for the slower columns of English and Welsh archers to arrive but had launched an immediate attack. Riding at the head of his men-at-arms he had caught the first troops he encountered by surprise and swept them away, only to see the main body of the army, rallied by the earl of Buchan, appear on the horizon. Under a hail of Scottish arrows and hampered by the marshy ground by the river, he had suffered the first major defeat of an English army in France for more than a generation.

The casualties were enormous. Clarence himself was killed; so were two veteran captains of Henry’s wars, Sir Gilbert Umfraville and Sir John Grey. Among others taken prisoner were the able John, earl of Huntingdon, and two of Clarence’s own cousins, the seventeen-year-old John, earl of Somerset, and his fifteen-year-old brother, Thomas Beaufort. Huntingdon was fortunate to secure his release in 1425, in exchange for Raoul de Gaucourt and Jean d’Estouteville, who had been prisoners since the Agincourt campaign of 1415, and a ruinous ransom. Thomas Beaufort was also ransomed, for 7000 marks (£2.45m) in 1430, but his elder brother, whose entire life would be shaped by the fortunes of the English in France, had to wait seventeen years to win his freedom.16

The only crumb of comfort in this disaster was that Thomas, earl of Salisbury, a seasoned and clear-headed warrior, had gathered the troops left behind by Clarence and, avoiding the victorious Scots who barred their way, led an orderly retreat back to the safety of Normandy. There he had taken charge, prohibiting anyone from leaving the duchy without a licence issued under the great seal and ordering all Englishmen and soldiers to report at once to the military authorities.17

Writing from Baugé just hours after the battle, to inform the dauphin of their victory and to send him Clarence’s captured standard, the earls of Buchan and Wigtown urged him to invade Normandy immediately ‘for, with God’s help, all is yours’. The pope too recognised the significance of the defeat, remarking that ‘truly the Scots are the antidote to the English’. All across Anglo-Burgundian France the fear and expectation were that the dauphin would follow this victory with an invasion of Normandy or an attack on Paris.18

In this crisis Henry revealed his mettle. ‘In adversity, just as in success, he possessed remarkable composure’, a contemporary French chronicler wrote admiringly. ‘If his troops suffered a reverse, he would repeatedly say to them “You know, the fortunes of war are changeable; but if you want good fortune, you should preserve your courage unchanged.”’19

Henry had already promised that he would return to France with reinforcements before midsummer but he now stepped up his efforts to raise men and money. His finances were in dire straits. A report submitted to him by the treasurer at this time revealed that the ordinary revenues of the kingdom brought in £56,743 10s. 101⁄4d. (£29.79m) but his annual defence expenditure, excluding the cost of the war in France, was £52,235 16s. 101⁄2d. (£27.42m), leaving a surplus of just £4507 13s. 113⁄4d. (£2.37m) to pay for all the king’s personal expenses, which, bizarrely, included responsibility for artillery, embassies and the lions kept in the Tower of London.20

In the circumstances a grant of taxation by the parliament which met at Westminster in May 1421 would have been extremely useful but it was more important to secure the ratification of the Treaty of Troyes. That very act, however, would mean that Henry’s English subjects were no longer responsible for financing a war he was now conducting in his role as regent and heir to France. With his usual mastery of the situation Henry obtained the ratification in return for deferring a request for taxation to the next parliament. The immediate shortfall he had to make up by obtaining loans worth £36,000 (£18.9m), almost half the sum coming from his uncle, Henry Beaufort, bishop of Winchester.21

Less than three weeks after parliament ended Henry was back in France at the head of a new army of between four and five thousand men on short-term contracts of six months. Salisbury had the situation in Normandy under control. On 21 June he wrote cheerfully to Henry from Argentan, informing him that the duchy ‘stood in good plight and never so well as now’. To counteract Clarence’s disastrous foray into Anjou, Salisbury had led another as far as Angers, returning with ‘the fairest and greatest prey of beasts, as all they said that saw them, that ever they saw . . . And truly, we were before several places, that what time it liketh you to besiege them, or to command any other man to besiege them, they be not able, with God’s grace, to hold against you any length of time.’22

Knowing that Normandy was in safe hands, Henry made a swift trip to Paris, which was in turmoil. Thomas Beaufort, duke of Exeter, whom he had appointed captain of the city in January 1421, had proved to be a disaster. Unfairly accused of having shut himself in the Bastille after Baugé until Henry’s arrival, he had in fact been forced to retreat there in June when he caused riots by arresting the popular Burgundian Jean, sire de l’Isle-Adam, on suspicion of plotting to betray Paris to the dauphin. L’Isle-Adam was not cleared of all charges and restored to office until November 1423 but Henry immediately removed Beaufort from office and, recognising that the Parisians were unlikely to warm to an Englishman in the sensitive post of captain, tactfully replaced him with a Burgundian.23

Henry could now turn his attention to the dauphin. Charles had appointed Buchan constable of France in acknowledgement of his role at Baugé but he ignored his Scottish captains’ advice to invade Normandy. Instead – and perhaps thereby giving credence to the rumours of l’Isle-Adam’s treason – he had launched a campaign from Le Mans towards Chartres, which lay less than sixty miles south-west of Paris. Important strongholds, including Nogent-le-Roi and Gallardon, had fallen and Chartres itself was under siege. Perhaps even more serious was the fact that he had with him two thousand Breton troops: Clarence’s defeat at Baugé had frightened the vacillating duke of Brittany into abandoning his English alliance and joining forces with the dauphin.24

Henry was clearly a more feared opponent than his brother. As he assembled his troops on the Seine to relieve Chartres, the dauphin abandoned his siege and withdrew across the Loire to Vendôme, leaving Henry free to recover the places he had lost and tocapture the isolated but powerful and troublesome fortress of Dreux. Then, hoping to engage the dauphin in battle, he pressed on towards the Loire, even making a provocative raid on the suburbs of Orléans, but in vain. As both armies were discovering, an exceptionally long and harsh winter, followed by a poor summer, made it extremely difficult to find enough supplies to keep an army in the field. The citizen-diarist of Paris observed that even the wolves had grown so hungry that they swam across rivers and scavenged at night in the towns, eating the limbs of dismembered traitors hung over the gates and digging up newly buried corpses in the countryside. What might be dismissed as pardonable exaggeration finds confirmation in an Act of 14 December 1421 appointing wolf-hunters in Normandy because of the increase in their numbers and their attacks on animals and humans.25

Famine and dysentery, the scourge of medieval armies, put an early end to the campaign but Henry was determined to make the best use of his soldiers before their service contracts ran out. The Parisians had long pleaded with him to take the town of Meaux, thirty miles to their east, whose Armagnac garrison had regularly raided up to the gates of the city, attacking travellers, disrupting trade and destroying supplies. The town stood in a loop of the Marne and was also protected by walls and ditches; at its heart was the Market, a fortified island stronghold, with a garrison of a thousand men under the command of the notoriously brutal Bastard of Vaurus. It was said of him that he had executed a young man whose heavily pregnant wife could not pay the ransom demanded, then tied her to the tree where he usually hanged his victims; as she gave birth her cries attracted wolves which killed her and her baby.26

On 6 October 1421 Henry laid siege to Meaux, surrounding the town with his camps, deploying his artillery and throwing temporary bridges across the river. Despite the usual heavy bombardment, the town held out for five months, falling only when Guy de Nesle, lord of Offémont, attempted to bring a handpicked band of men-at-arms to its aid; they succeeded in stealing through the English camp but as they scaled the walls a plank gave way and Offémont fell into the ditch. He was wearing full armour, so the noise alerted the English sentries, and after a brief scuffle in which he was badly wounded in the face Offémont had the humiliation of being taken prisoner by a cook from Henry’s kitchen.

The Bastard was so dismayed by this failure that he decided to fire the town and retreat into the Market. Informed of this by one of the townsmen, Henry seized his opportunity: he ordered an immediate assault and took the town without any real opposition. Sparing the townsfolk, who had taken shelter in the churches, he began the reduction of the Market, but it was another two months before the garrison surrendered. They knew they could expect no mercy and none was shown. Four of their leaders, including the Bastard, were tried and executed for their crimes. A trumpeter who had publicly insulted Henry during the siege was also put to death, together, it was said, with the gunners because they were responsible for killing several important Englishmen.

Several hundred prisoners were sent for lengthy incarceration in castles throughout Normandy, England and Wales. Unusually these included clergymen: the bishop of Meaux, who was committed into the custody of the archbishop of Canterbury, and Philippe de Gamaches, abbot of Saint-Faro, which had been Henry’s headquarters during the siege. Gamaches was an extraordinary character: not merely an abbot but a warrior abbot who, with two other monks, had taken an active fighting role in the defence of Meaux. Taken to Paris for trial, he was threatened with being tied in a sack and thrown into the Seine to drown. This was not an unusual punishment inflicted by the vengeful English: it was the customary French method of executing churchmen found guilty of treason. Three Dominican friars accused of having plotted to deliver Montauban to the English were similarly drowned at Toulouse in 1433–4. Gamaches only escaped this fate because his brother Guillaume was the Armagnac captain of Compiègne, who agreed to surrender the town to the English if Philippe’s life was spared.27

The fall of Meaux on 10 May 1422 brought more security to Paris and yielded a rich haul of booty but it had been achieved at great cost. The English had lost many men to sickness, and Richard, earl of Worcester, John, lord Clifford, and the seventeen-year-old heir of Sir John Cornewaille were all killed by cannon-fire. Cornewaille himself, a Knight of the Garter and one of Henry’s most trusted and able captains, was wounded by the same shot that killed his boy and, overcome with grief at the death of his only son, was said to have sworn never to fight Christians again. It is certainly true that he left the siege early and, having served continuously in France for six years, he did not take up arms there again until the crisis of 1436.28

The full cost of taking Meaux was not immediately apparent. On 12 May Bedford sailed from England with a thousand new recruits for the next campaigning season. His sister-in-law, Katherine, accompanied him and made a triumphal progress from Harfleur to Rouen and then to Paris. Her status was now considerably enhanced, for she was not only the crowned queen of England but also mother of the heir to England and France. On 6 December 1421 she had given birth to a son, another Henry, at Windsor Castle.29Contemporaries believed that the blood of both Charlemagne and King Arthur were united in him, a propitious lineage that demanded his birthplace should also be that of the founder of the Round Table. It was unfortunate, perhaps, that no one at the time remembered the ultimate fate of Arthur: mortally wounded, fighting against his own kin, in a realm riven by civil war.

Katherine had left her baby in the care of a wet-nurse in England while she travelled to France. As breast-feeding was a form of contraception, most medieval aristocratic women did not suckle their own babies, in order to return to fertility as soon as possible. (For the opposite reason, peasant women tried to breast-feed their babies until the age of three.) Infant mortality rates were high: at least a third of the babies born to the kings of England between 1150 and 1500 died in their first year.30 It was therefore important that Katherine should become pregnant again as soon as possible. She had not seen her husband for eleven months and her return to France at this point was a pragmatic necessity to ensure the royal succession.

There was not to be a second pregnancy. Henry met Katherine at Bois-de-Vincennes and they went together to Paris, where the citizens obsequiously performed a mystery of the passion of Saint George to celebrate their arrival. June and July were unusually hot and dry, causing a welcome abundance of fruit and corn, but also a virulent outbreak of smallpox. It was probably to avoid the heat and contagion that Henry and Katherine, with her parents, transferred the royal court thirty miles north of Paris to Senlis. Unfortunately for Henry, it was already too late.

The king had always enjoyed robust health, despite his punishing regime and the rigours of campaigning. In February, during the siege of Meaux, he had become unwell and an English physician was dispatched to treat him. By July he was so ill that he summoned another from England. When he then attempted to lead a relief force to the aid of Cosne, he had to be carried in a horse litter because he was unable to ride. Sheer willpower forced him on as far as Corbeil, but there he accepted that he could go no further, and was conveyed back to Bois-de-Vincennes.31

Henry made his preparations for death with his usual efficiency and coolness. He had never seen his eight-month-old son, but his prime concern was to protect him and the inheritance that would come to him. On 26 August he added codicils to his will: his youngest brother, Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, was to have ‘chief guardianship and wardship of our dearest son’; the king’s uncle, Thomas Beaufort, duke of Exeter, was to have the boy’s ‘government and management’ and select his personal servants; and two of Henry’s closest friends, Henry Fitzhugh and Walter Hungerford, were specifically commanded that ‘one or other of them should always be with him’. The will had committed Katherine to the protection of John, duke of Bedford, and Henry Chichele, archbishop of Canterbury, but a new codicil ordained that she should also reside with her son.32

Exactly what arrangements Henry made for the future governance of France and England during the minority of his son were to be a matter of dispute, since they were made verbally. The problem was that the Treaty of Troyes had not foreseen that Henry would die before Charles VI or that an infant would inherit the two crowns. The likelihood is that he created three regents for the duration of Charles VI’s life: Bedford for Normandy, Philippe of Burgundy for the kingdom of France and Gloucester for England. Once Charles was dead, Normandy and the pays-de-conquête would return to the French crown and Henry probably envisaged that Bedford would become regent for all his nephew’s French possessions.33

Henry V died at Bois-de-Vincennes in the early hours of 31 August 1422. He was just sixteen days short of his thirty-sixth birthday and had been king of England for nine and a half years. The exact cause of his death is not known: contemporaries suggested smallpox, leprosy or dysentery, the last being the most probable, since it had afflicted so many of his troops at the siege of Meaux. He died as piously as he had lived, with prayers upon his lips and his confessor and priests of the royal chapel at his bedside.34

His will had specified that he should be buried in Westminster Abbey and, characteristically, that his funeral rites should be appropriate to his royal status but avoid excess. His entrails were removed, his body embalmed and enclosed within a lead coffin, upon which an image was placed of him bearing royal robes, crown, orb and sceptre. The bier then began a two-month progress back across northern France to England. Requiem masses were held at every stopping point, including Saint-Denis, Rouen, Calais and Canterbury, and crowds came to pay their respects. Even his enemies offered him their grudging admiration: ‘he was the prince of justice’, declared one, ‘he gave support to none out of favour, nor did he suffer wrong to go unpunished out of regard for kinship.’35

The great irony of Henry’s life was that he came so very close to achieving his ultimate goal. Charles VI died on 21 October 1422, just seven weeks after his son-in-law. It was not Henry V, but Henry VI, who would unite the two crowns of England and France.

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