The English Kingdom of France

‘All manner of perfection is contained in the number six,’ the archbishop of Canterbury declared in his speech opening the first English parliament of the new reign, ‘and also, inasmuch as God finished all his work in six days, it is thus understood that the completion of all the good deeds begun by the father will be finished by this son who is, by God’s grace, King Henry the sixth since the conquest.’ Chichele was, necessarily, taking an optimistic view of the future, but for most subjects of the new king the biblical text ‘Woe to you, O land, when your king is a child’ seemed a more apt assessment of the situation.1

The prospects were certainly not good: assuming he lived to come of age, Henry VI’s minority would be the longest in England’s history. To compound the problem, there were two kingdoms to rule, each with its own institutions, laws, customs and personnel. Quite how this was to be done became a matter of fevered debate in both countries. In England, Gloucester tried to assert his right to be regent on the grounds that his brother had appointed him to the ‘chief guardianship and wardship’ of Henry VI. Parliament would have none of it: the codicil referred only to the young king’s person, not to the realm, and in any case the late king had no power to alter precedent and law without the assent of parliament. Constitutionally the right to govern England should fall to Gloucester’s elder brother, who was next in line to the succession, but Bedford was still in France and likely to remain there. A compromise was therefore reached. On 5 December 1422 Bedford was appointed protector, defender and chief councillor of England, but he would only exercise these powers when he was in the country: in his absence they would be held by Gloucester. This arrangement ensured the separation of crowns envisaged by the Treaty of Troyes and prevented Bedford from ruling England from France. It also limited the powers of the office by avoiding the term ‘regent’, a technically more powerful and contentious role, and by appointing a sixteen-strong council of bishops, peers and knights ‘to assist with the governance’ of the realm.

Though Bedford was happy to accept this settlement, believing it best fulfilled the late king’s wishes and the country’s needs, Gloucester’s simmering discontent at being denied what he believed was his inalienable right to exercise full regal authority in England on behalf of his nephew would place considerable strain on the relations between the brothers. More seriously, it would lead to a bitter personal feud with the most senior member of the council, their uncle, Henry Beaufort, bishop of Winchester, which would bring the country to the brink of civil war. Beaufort’s own overreaching ambition had been firmly held in check by the late king. Now, however, despite having been assigned no formal role in Henry’s will, he was determined to emerge from the political wilderness as the elder statesman of the new reign. He had orchestrated the opposition to Gloucester’s assumption of the regency, for which his nephew never forgave him, and his views on how best to preserve Henry V’s legacy were diametrically opposed to those of the belligerent Gloucester. Beaufort, like Bedford, was a passionate believer in the importance of the Anglo-Burgundian alliance. Gloucester was suspicious of Burgundy’s loyalty and motives, abhorred any idea of concession and put his faith in military might alone. His selfishpursuit of his own territorial ambitions, his rash, quarrelsome temperament, his vendetta against Beaufort and his jealous conviction that he could do a better job in France than Bedford would encourage faction on the English council, undermine Bedford’s authority both at home and abroad and even foster conflicts of interest between the two kingdoms. For these reasons, though denied the regency of England, he would be a pivotal figure in the fortunes of both that country and the English realm overseas for years to come.2

In France the situation was different and more straightforward: the office of regent already existed because of the king’s mental incapacity. Though a regent was expected to be advised by a council (as indeed was the king himself) ultimately the right to exercise supreme power and authority rested with him alone. The dauphin had unilaterally claimed the regency in December 1418, setting up an alternative court, parlement and financial administration in the three cities of Toulouse, Poitiers and Bourges, otherwise disparagingly known as the kingdom of Bourges. Neither of his parents had acknowledged the legitimacy of his title, bestowing it instead upon Henry V by the Treaty of Troyes.3

For the short period between the deaths of Henry and Charles, Philippe of Burgundy had probably exercised the role of regent. Burgundian chroniclers, anxious to explain why their duke did not continue in office, would later claim that Henry had intended that Philippe should be given first refusal of the regency after Charles’s death; only if he declined should it pass to Bedford.4 Burgundy might have had good reason to decline such an offer. It was one thing to be regent of France on behalf of a mad but unquestionably legitimate king and quite another on behalf of an infant Englishman imposed on the realm by treaty with a foreign conqueror. To have accepted the office would have laid the duke open to charges of treason in a way that his alliance with the English did not.

However, it is inherently unlikely that Henry envisaged Burgundy retaining the regency. The Treaty of Troyes had laid down that Normandy would return to the French crown after Charles’s death and Henry would not have handed his hardwon conquests to his ally in preference to his own brother.5 It was Bedford therefore before whom the sword of state was carried after the burial of Charles VI in a symbolic demonstration, as the watching Parisians recognised, that he was regent of France. Some days later, on 19 November 1422, he formally assumed the title of regent in a full session of the parlement, swearing to maintain peace and justice and declaring his intention to reunite the duchy of Normandy with the crown; all present then renewed their oath to the Treaty of Troyes, placing their hands between those of the chancellor of France.6

Burgundy was a notable absentee from the funerals of both Henry and Charles but there is no indication that he was unhappy with Bedford’s assumption of the regency. He had already renewed his own oath to the treaty on 7 November and on 12 December his sister Anne was formally betrothed to Bedford. This was a significant step for both parties and potentially for the future of France: Bedford was heir apparent to his baby nephew and Anne was co-heiress to her brother, who did not father a legitimate child until 1430.7

The marriage of Bedford and Anne of Burgundy became a cornerstone of the Anglo-Burgundian alliance. Bedford was thirty-four, his bride nineteen, when they married at Troyes (as Henry V and Katherine of France had done three years earlier) on 14 June 1423. Such disparity in age was not unusual in medieval dynastic alliances, but there seems to have been a genuine bond of affection between them, as there was between brother and sister. Anne also enjoyed great personal popularity, particularly in Rouen and Paris, from which her husband and the English alliance benefited.

Bedford was in many ways ideally suited to the role of regent of France. He perhaps lacked his brother’s charisma, but he was intensely loyal to Henry’s aims, devoted to the interests of his nephew, an able soldier and administrator: it was his decisive action in going to Paris to claim the regency on behalf of his nephew that persuaded the waverers in parlement, who had been looking at the dauphin’s legal claim to the crown, to commit to Henry VI. Bedford was also a passionate Francophile who gave generously to churches and abbeys, patronised French artists, writers and craftsmen, owned extensive lands throughout northern France and palaces in both Paris and Rouen, and, rarest of all in an Englishman, would insist on burial in France. Like Henry, but unlike their brother Gloucester, he was regarded as being above faction and commanded universal respect.8

The kingdom over which Bedford would rule as regent was united in theory but in practice divided into areas of English conquest or Burgundian influence. (It did not, of course, include the Armagnac kingdom of Bourges, which, in 1422, extended through the central region of France from the southern coast to north of the Loire, including Anjou and part of Maine.)

Normandy had a strong tradition of independence from the French crown which was enshrined in a thirteenth-century summary of customary law and a fourteenth-century charter of liberties and franchises. Normans even had their own ‘nation’, or racial group, at the University of Paris and, like Bretons and Gascons, were generally distinguished from Frenchmen by their contemporaries.9 Henry V had deliberately played up to this separatist feeling: he had constantly reiterated throughout the conquest that Normandy was his by right of inheritance and, having summoned the Norman nobility to appear before him at Rouen in the spring of 1419, he received them wearing the robes of the duke of Normandy rather than those of the king of England.10

Henry had also made no attempt to impose English-style institutions on the duchy, preferring to take over the existing administration and make it independent of the French monarchy. As each new town or castle fell into his hands – and sometimes even before that, in order to give an incentive for its capture – he appointed an English captain and installed a garrison. At the same time he also appointed new officials to run the civil administration. The most important of these were the baill-is, whose role corresponded roughly to that of an English sheriff. There were seven baill-is in the duchy, each responsible within his own area for administering justice, executing royal decrees and raising and leading the local militia. Of necessity these also had to be appointed as and when each bailliage was conquered, but in every case the new bailli was an Englishman.11

Their subordinates, however, were almost uniformly Normans, who took advantage of the olive branch offered to change allegiance and continue in office. The most important were the financial officials: the vicomtes, who were responsible within a subdivision of each bailliage for collecting and paying out the regular revenues from royal lands and vassals; the receivers, to whom the parish officials paid the sums collected whenever an estates-general had granted a hearth-tax; and the grênetiers, who built salt warehouses and accounted for the revenue of the salttax, a valuable source of money at a time when salting was the most effective way of preserving meat and, more especially, fish, which all good Christians were required to eat on Fridays and during Lent. The collection of other taxes, such as those on sales, was generally farmed out to the highest bidder, who paid a discounted lump sum and was then able to keep all the money his diligence brought in.12

One of Henry’s first acts at the very beginning of his conquest was to set up a chambre-des-comptes in Caen, which had been the ducal financial centre before the French conquest of 1204. Like the English exchequer, the chambre-des-comptes would be responsible for authorising payments and auditing accounts, but all transactions were made in French currency (livres tournois) and documented in French. Again the most important officer, the treasurer-general of Normandy, would always be English but his clerks included Englishmen, Normans and later Frenchmen.13

These arrangements were part of a deliberate policy to reconcile the native population to a conquest which Henry intended to be permanent. It was never his intention to expel the indigenous people and replace them with English settlers: England did not have the population to support emigration on such a scale and in any case Henry wanted acceptance by the Normans as a visible demonstration of the legitimacy of his claims. From the very beginning, as we have seen, he offered his protection to those who were prepared to swear allegiance to him, confirming their right to keep the lands, homes and offices they had held on 1 August 1417, the date of the English invasion and the start of the new era.14

At first he had been willing to allow those who refused to take the oath to leave but the scale of the exodus soon became a matter for concern: 1000 from Caen, 1700 from Argentan, 1500 from Sées and Exmes, 2500 from Alençon. Such a loss of population was unsustainable, especially as many of those who fled were artisans or merchants, whose skills were important to the Norman economy.15 To draw them back again, Henry needed to address the reasons why they had left. For most of them it was not loyalty to the French crown but fear – fear of being oppressed or persecuted by a foreign military regime and fear of violence and instability if the war was prolonged.

The story of one refugee, the chronicler Thomas Basin, was not untypical. Basin’s father was a wealthy grocer and spice merchant in Caudebec, twenty-one miles north-west of Rouen. In 1415 or 1416, when Basin was three years old, his family moved to Rouen to escape ‘the insults, outrages and violence’ of the French troops installed at Caudebec to protect the town from the English garrison at Harfleur. There were so many refugees in Rouen that food was in short supply and plague broke out, so the Basins moved to Vernon for several months, returning only when the plague ended. In 1417, fearing that Henry would land at Harfleur and head straight for Rouen, they packed up their valuables and fled for the safety of Falaise. When Henry landed at Touques instead, they made for the Breton border, taking up residence in St-James-de-Beuvron, until the English advance drove them into Brittany. For almost a year they lived at Rennes, but English troops were raiding and pillaging along the border, so they retreated to the greater security of Nantes. It was more than a year later, in 1419, when Rouen had fallen and all Normandy seemed to be ‘in some sort pacified’, that the Basins finally returned to Caudebec, preferring to take the oath of submission rather than spend the rest of their lives in exile.16

A critical factor in the Basins’ decision to go home was Henry’s offer of a general amnesty to all returning Norman refugees. These had been offered at irregular intervals since the fall of Falaise in February 1418 and were backed up with the threat that those who failed to return would be considered ‘rebels and brigands’ and their lands and movable property confiscated. After the surrender of Rouen the punitive element became more pronounced. On 12 March 1419 the baill-is were ordered to record the names of all those who had not taken the oath, together with the value and extent of their lands; three months later these were seized into the king’s hands ready for distribution to his loyal subjects. A final proclamation was issued on 29 September 1419 urging all absentees to return ‘to the king’s obedience’ by 1 November and offering a general safe-conduct protecting those who chose to do so.17

The majority of landowners were thus persuaded to accept the English conquest. In the Carentan bailliage, for instance, three-quarters of fiefs remained in the same hands, indicating that their proprietors took the oath. Significantly, however, these were all petty landholders and it was a matter of serious concern, as Henry informed his privy council in England, ‘that in substance there is no man of estate come in to the king’s obedience and . . . right few gentlemen, the which is a thing that causeth the people to be full unstable and is no wonder.’18

After the capture of Rouen, Henry determined to take a harder line with the recalcitrant nobility. If they could not be persuaded to submit, then they too should be dispossessed. Among those who therefore had their lands formally confiscated were the young duke of Alençon (with his marshal, the Agincourt veteran Ambroise de Loré), Jacques d’Harcourt, count of Tancarville, and his cousin Jean d’Harcourt, count of Aumâle, Louis d’Estouteville and Jean de la Haye, sire de Coulances. It will come as no surprise to learn that all of them would commit the rest of their lives to the war against the English.

The lands and properties confiscated from ‘rebels’, whatever their status, passed into Henry’s personal possession, providing him with the means of rewarding his supporters and establishing a permanent English presence in Normandy. Henry’s distribution of the confiscated lands was slow and carefully planned: this was no rush to enjoy the spoils of victory but a measured attempt to secure the long-term future of the duchy. Of 358 recorded grants made between September 1417 and June 1422, almost exactly two-thirds were made in 1419, the year of consolidation after the surrender of Rouen.19

The policy of distribution was carried out with Henry’s usual attention to detail. Every grant was recorded. The name of the original owner was checked against the register of those who had taken the oath to ensure that the property was legitimately forfeit and the value, expressed in terms of its annual income, was calculated. Efforts were made to ensure that the recipient had a connection with the area and that there was a correlation between the size of the gift and his status. In 1419, for example, Richard Wydeville, who was appointed bailli of Gisors, was given the lordship of neighbouring Dangu, while Nicholas Bradkyrk, a merchant-draper, acquired houses in the ports of Harfleur and Caen, and Roger Waltham, a clerk in the chambredes-comptes at Caen, also received a house in that town.20

This careful targeting of grants helped to create a class of Englishmen with entrenched interests in maintaining the conquest in their particular area but without overburdening them with duties they could not afford to fulfil. Property ownership went hand in hand with office in either the civilian or military administration, but it also carried obligations. Sir Gilbert Umfraville was restored to his family’s ancestral lands at Amfreville-sur-Iton, which had been confiscated from Jean d’Estouteville and Pierre Amfreville, but he had to provide garrisons for all their castles and a further twelve men-at-arms and twenty-four archers for the army. At the other end of the scale, Roger Waltham’s house in Caen came with the annual obligation to pay a rent of 40 sous (£117) and his share of the costs of the town watch for one night.21

To ensure that such conditions were fulfilled, Henry V made virtually every grant of land or property in fee tail, a legal device which meant that only heirs of the body could inherit, thereby preventing ownership passing out of the family. If there were no children, ownership reverted automatically to the crown. When the childless Umfraville was killed at Baugé, for instance, his French lands were taken into the king’s hands again and then regranted to Sir Robert Brewes, even though he had a living English heir, his uncle, Sir Robert Umfraville. Englishmen were permitted to buy or acquire other French lands, but they were forbidden to sell their fiefs from the king, except to other Englishmen and with the king’s approval. Disputes arising out of royal grants were to be decided by the council in Rouen rather than appealed to the parlement in Paris, ensuring that Henry’s hand remained firmly at the helm.22

At the heart of the land settlement was the concept that the conquered lands should provide the manpower for their own defence. Failure to perform the required military services could therefore result in confiscation, as James Linde and Walter Hasclat discovered when they failed to answer the summons to ‘several campaigns, sieges and armies against our enemies’: their lands were taken from them and given to the more reliable Richard Wydeville.23

Lands owned by the church did not owe military service, though they were expected to provide horses, wagons and victuals for armies operating in the duchy. Nevertheless, these too were taken into the king’s hands as the conquest progressed and not restored until the relevant bishop, abbot or other church authority made the profession of obedience. The royal accounts reveal that the property of every bishop and sixty-six abbeys and monasteries (two-thirds of the total number) of Normandy passed through Henry’s hands in this way.24

From the very beginning Henry was fortunate that his reputation as a defender of the church preceded him. The strict discipline he imposed on his troops, and his express commands safeguarding the persons and property of the clergy, were unusual for the period and won him many friends. Indeed it was said that some Normans adopted the tonsure so that they might be mistaken for clergymen and enjoy the king’s protection. It was noticeable too that within eight weeks of Henry’s landing at Touques 483 parishes had surrendered to him, suggesting that it was local parish priests who led the submission rather than the officials of the secular administration.25

The higher echelons of the church, just like the secular nobility, were significantly more resistant. Only the bishop of Sées,26 whose seat fell into English hands in October 1417, made an early submission: Henry pointedly made him take the oath of fealty in person at the Saint George’s Day celebrations held in Caen in 1418. The archbishop of Rouen, Louis d’Harcourt, and the five other bishops of the province all fled as the English approached. Jean de Saint-Avit, bishop of Avranches, would return and take the oath in 1420, though his loyalty remained suspect and he was later imprisoned on suspicion of plotting to deliver Rouen to the French.27

The rest would never return. Fortunately for Henry, in 1418 the bishops of Lisieux, Évreux and Coutances were killed in the Parisian massacres that followed the Burgundian coup, leaving him with three empty sees which he could legitimately administer until their successors were appointed. This both gave him a healthy income and allowed him to influence the appointment of clergy within the sees. Fortunately again, through the Burgundian alliance he had access to a steady stream of graduates from the University of Paris who were hungry for the benefices which years of Armagnac dominance had denied them.

The relationship was mutually beneficial. Clerics had always been the backbone of secular government – the term ‘clerk’ derives from the clerical status of those serving in the offices of state – and graduates were always clergymen, though not all had been fully ordained as priests. Self-interest made such men eager to accept and promote the English conquest, while Henry needed literate, numerate, intellectually capable men to serve in his administration.28

Henry was also able to exert his influence on the appointment of new bishops. The new pope, Martin V, was in a difficult position. His election on 11 November 1417 at the Council of Constance had ended thirty years of schism in the western church, but his position was by no means secure. He was reluctant to commit himself to either side in the Anglo-French conflict since he could not afford to offend either ally. Henry needed papal support to legitimise his conquest but was determined that no Frenchmen should be appointed to vacant bishoprics in Normandy. The extraordinary compromise they reached was that the three bishops killed in Paris were all replaced by Italians: Cardinal Branda da Castiglione was appointed to Lisieux, Paolo da Capranica to Évreux and Pandolfo di Malatesta to Coutances. This was not a situation Henry would have permitted in England but it flattered the pope, an Italian himself, while also allowing Henry to continue to exert authority over the sees because their bishops would inevitably be non-resident.29

Henry’s luck continued with the remaining recalcitrant bishops. The bishopric of Bayeux became vacant in July 1419 when Jean Langret, who was at the Council of Constance when Henry invaded and did not return home, died in self-imposed exile. His replacement, Nicholas Habart, was not an Italian, but he took the oath to Henry immediately and was rewarded with being allowed to enjoy the temporalities of his see even before his formal installation.30

The most senior Norman clergyman, archbishop Louis d’Harcourt, had absented himself even before the siege of Rouen. Despite Henry’s attempts to lure him back, he remained obdurate, defiantly taking up residence in the dauphin’s court at Poitiers. One of Henry’s first acts on taking possession of Rouen was to order, on 9 February 1419, the forfeiture into his hands of all lands belonging to any lay or ecclesiastical lord who refused to swear obedience to him. This gave him control over the absentee archbishop’s lands. Two years later he ordered that any remaining absentee clergymen would now face the church’s own sanction of deprivation of office if they did not return and take the oath. The archbishop declined to do so and on 14 July 1421 he was removed from his post; a week later the vicars-general acting in his place deprived twenty-six clergy of the diocese who had taken up residence ‘in enemy parts’, including the archdeacon, cantor, sub-cantor and ten canons of the cathedral.31

Henry was able to do this because he had established cordial relations with the cathedral chapters which exercised spiritual authority in the absence of the archbishop and bishops. The relationship between the canons of the chapter and their bishop was often a power struggle, so Henry won the chapters over by confirming their charters and respecting their rights and privileges. On 19 August 1419, for instance, some English soldiers violated the right of sanctuary when they arrested and returned to prison a priest who had escaped and taken refuge in the choir of Rouen cathedral. The canons immediately stopped singing the offices of the day and sent a delegation to the lieutenant of the duke of Exeter demanding his release, which was granted so promptly that they were able to resume singing where they had broken off. Such swift and decisive action in their favour helps to explain why, when Louis d’Harcourt died at Poitiers on 19 November 1422, the Rouen chapter obliged by electing the pro-English Jean de la Rochetaillée in his place.32

Significantly, the only chapter which gave Henry trouble was the one whose bishop had so promptly accepted the English conquest. The twelfth-century cathedral of Sées, fifteen miles north of Alençon, also served as the town’s fortress. At the very end of 1420 the canons came up with an ingenious plan to betray the town to the dauphin. They made a secret approach to the local Armagnac captain, Louis de Tromagon, and suggested that it would be possible to gain access to the fortress through the adjoining cathedral treasury. Tromagon summoned several of his tenants from La-Chapelle-près-Sées, the canons let them into the treasury and they set to work covertly digging a hole through the party wall. The workmen were sworn to secrecy but the plot was almost discovered on the very night that the French made their entry into the fortress. A barber-surgeon employed by the canons was on night-watch when he ran into a man armed with an axe. He challenged the intruder but, hearing the commotion, one of the canons leaned out of an upper-floor window, ordered him upstairs immediately and then held him there against his will (or so the barber claimed) throughout the night. The coup was successful, though Sées remained in French hands for only eight weeks before being retaken.33

What is striking about Henry’s policy towards the church in Normandy is its restraint. It would have been easy to fill every post with English clergymen but relatively few were appointed and only in areas where there was an English enclave: Rouen cathedral chapter admitted several English canons and a royal clerk of Gascon origins, Jean de Bordiu, was appointed to the parish church of Harfleur. For the most part, however, Henry was prepared to give churchmen every opportunity to return. Some would take many years of persuading. Thomas de Saint-Lô, abbot of Blanchelande in the Cotentin, fled to Brittany with all his abbey’s treasures, including reliquaries, chalices and charters, as soon as the English army landed at Touques. Thirteen years later, in 1430, he received letters of amnesty, took the oath of loyalty and was restored to his abbey.34

A more spectacular conversion was that of Robert Jolivet, abbot of Mont-Saint-Michel since 1411. The abbey church, perched 240 feet above sea-level on top of a solid granite outcrop just over half a mile wide, had been a stronghold and place of refuge for centuries. Accessible only twice a day when the tides went out to reveal the narrow strip of causeway over treacherous quicksands, the island possessed natural defences that had been reinforced by the sheer granite walls of the abbey soaring parallel to the cliff face and by a fourteenth-century barbican. When the English invaded, Jolivet had begun a major programme of repairs to the defences, building ramparts round the town at the foot of the mount, laying in supplies for a siege and commissioning the building of a water cistern chiselled out of the solid rock. In 1418 and again as late as November 1419 the dauphin had responded to his petitions for financial assistance, authorising him to collect taxes locally to pay for these works and the wages of the garrison installed to prevent Mont-Saint-Michel falling into enemy hands.35

In the spring of 1420 Jolivet finally succumbed to Henry’s attempts to persuade him to change allegiance. The catalyst seems to have been the arrival of Jean d’Harcourt, count of Aumâle, whom the dauphin had appointed as captain of Mont-Saint-Michel One of Aumâle’s first actions was to raid the abbey treasury, where many local churches and wealthy individuals had placed their goods for safe-keeping. His intention was to take the treasure to the dauphin but, as John Assheton, captain of Coutances, reported to the king on 15 June 1420, when he left the island ‘in dividing the goods amongst them, there fell great debate, and was great fight’, since many of the garrison wanted to keep the treasure to melt down into money which could pay for the island’s defence. ‘Their cistern in which their water is wont to be kept is broken’, Assheton added, ‘so that for lack of water and of wood they cannot stay’. All this information had undoubtedly come from Jolivet himself, since Assheton referred the abbot’s request for a safe-conduct to the king in the same letter.36

These events, combined with the signing of the Treaty of Troyes, had evidently persuaded Jolivet that he was on the losing side. As one of the most senior Norman clergymen his defection was a major coup for the English, so he was quickly admitted into the inner circles of power, becoming a member of the councils of both Normandy and France, which advised the king on policy and supervised the administration of the duchy and kingdom respectively. There could be no more powerful illustration of the divisions that had torn France apart than the fact that the abbot of Mont-Saint-Michel became one of the pillars of the English administration but his abbey, defiant to the last, remained the only territory in Normandy to elude capture and occupation.

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