... regent I am of France: Give me my steeled coat, I’ll fight for France.
King Henry VI
motto of the Duke of Bedford
For the English the seven years after Henry V’s death were some of the most successful of the entire War. They continued their advance southward, down into the Loire Valley, and appeared to have a real chance of bringing the rest of the country under the rule of the infant Henry VI who was also ‘Henri II’ of France, King Charles having died only six weeks after his son-in-law. The dual monarchy (anticipating Sir Winston Churchill’s wartime fantasy of a Franco-English state) worked surprisingly well ; on occasion even Parisians fought loyally for it. All this was due to two men—the Regent Bedford and his great general the Earl of Salisbury.
John of Monmouth, Duke of Bedford, was thirty-three years old in 1422. He had been the Admiral who won the sea fight off Harfleur, and had twice been Guardian of England during his brother’s campaigning abroad, besides seeing some hard fighting in France. A big, florid, fleshy man, beneath his cropped brown hair he had an eagle’s beak of a nose with an oddly receding forehead and chin (to judge from the miniature in The Bedford Book of Hours). If hot-tempered, he was nevertheless more human and amiable than Henry V ; and though no genius he was an excellent soldier, administrator and diplomatist, and possessed a rugged determination. His most agreeable quality was the loyalty proclaimed by his motto, a loyalty which he gave devotedly to his nephew Henry VI. Although he believed uncompromisingly in the Plantagenet right to the throne of France, he also genuinely loved the French and their country, where he was eventually Duke of Alençon and Anjou, Count of Maine, Mortain and Dreux, Viscount of Beaumont and Lord of many other seigneuries besides, and where he possessed delightful hôtels and chateaux. Dutifully, he offered his Regency to the Duke of Burgundy and was no doubt much relieved when Philip declined it.
Thomas Montagu, Earl of Salisbury and Count of Perche, was—after Henry V—the most distinguished commander produced by England during the entire Hundred Years War. Henry’s favourite general, he had been made a Knight of the Garter and in 1419 Lieutenant-Governor of Normandy. A strategist as well as a tactician, he was always original and imaginative yet practical and patient at the same time. The Bourgeois of Paris calls him ‘the knightly, skilful and subtle Comte de Salisbury’. Furthermore, he was an all-round soldier, as good at staff work as he was at fighting, while he was probably the first English commander (after King Henry) to be a gunnery expert. His men liked and trusted him, though fearful of his strict discipline. Above all, he worked well with Bedford. The French dreaded the Earl, who was known to drag his captives back to Paris at the end of a rope. In King Henry VI Shakespeare makes the Duke of Anjou say :
Salisbury is a desperate homicide;
He fighteth as one weary of his life.
This may well have been how the Dauphinists saw him, and at this period they themselves were short of even moderately good commanders.
There was a third Englishman of the same calibre as Bedford and Salisbury, Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick and Count of Aumale. However although undoubtedly as capable, despite long and conscientious service in France he achieved less. Warwick’s fascination is that he is almost the only English commander in the Hundred Years War (other than a monarch) of whom a probable natural likeness has survived. His effigy at Warwick shows a fine-boned face, fastidious yet powerful and unmistakably patrician, with an expression which is both graceful and arrogant. Even his hands have the same haughty elegance. Moreover we know a good deal about his life from the account written a generation later by the antiquarian John Rous. Born in 1382, Warwick fought and routed Owain Glyndwr when he was only twenty. In 1408 he went on a remarkable pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and en route was the guest of Charles VI at Paris and of the Doge at Venice, besides fighting a triumphant tournament with Pandolfo Malatesta at Verona. On the way home he visited Poland and the Teutonic Knights in Prussia and Germany. After taking part at the siege of Harfleur in 1415 he received Emperor Sigismund at Calais, when he declined to accept the gift of a sword for King Henry, suggesting that the Emperor should present it in person. Warwick played an important part in the conquest of Normandy and in the negotiations which led to the Treaty of Troyes. At various times Captain of Calais, Rouen, Meaux and Beauvais, ‘Captain and Lieutenant General of the King and the Regent in the Field’ in 1426—1427, and a member of the Council of Regency in England, he was a pillar of the Anglo-French state. Immensely wealthy, with an income of nearly £5,000, and of ancient lineage—the Beauchamps had been Earls since 1268—he had the honour of being appointed tutor to the young Henry VI. Due to lack of space there is not much about chivalry in these pages, but its ideals were real enough, and there was no better fifteenth-century English exponent of it than Warwick. It is therefore all the more interesting that this was the man who would burn Joan of Arc.
Salisbury and Warwick could rely on an unusually gifted team, most of whom worked together for twenty years or more. They were not knights-errant like the Earl of Warwick, but professional soldiers. They included Lord Willoughby d’Eresby, Lord Talbot, Lord Scales, Sir John Fastolf, Sir Matthew Gough, Sir Thomas Rempston, Sir Thomas Kyriell and Sir William Glasdale. Brave, brutal men, they throve on a life of battles, raids and skirmishes, an existence which even when not campaigning was a routine of camp, saddle and fortress. One or two lived to be killed in the Wars of the Roses, and nearly all made fortunes.
Many took French titles, for the expropriation and hand-out of these continued, each one being accompanied by large estates (although in most cases there was a rightful holder alive in Dauphinist France). They included some of the best-known dignities in French history ; Lord Willoughby became Count of Vendôme, Lord Talbot Count of Clermont and Lord Scales Vidame of Chartres. Nor was such ennoblement confined to peers. Sir John Fastolf was made Baron of Sillé-le-Guillaume and of La Suze-sur-Sarthe, and Sir Matthew Gough Baron of Coulonces and Tillières. Such counties and baronies were eagerly sought after.
King ‘Henri’ was eventually recognized by all France north of the Loire, save for isolated Dauphinist enclaves. A good deal of this was controlled by the Duke of Burgundy —he occupied most of Champagne—while Brittany was independent under Duke John V. At its widest extent the territory directly under English rule consisted of Normandy (with the Pays de Conquête—the rest of the Seine valley—and Maine and Anjou), Paris and the Ile de France, some of Champagne and Picardy, and of course the Pas de Calais and Guyenne. The Dauphin reigned over the rest, after a fashion. His Council was at Poitiers but as his court was sometimes at Bourges he was contemptuously called ‘The King of Bourges’. In practice he was seldom there, moving from château to château.
Caister Castle, Norfolk—in its day furnished with splendour and luxury. Built by the soldier Sir John Fastolf, originally an esquire of £46 a year, who out of the profits of war in France and their careful investment had increased his income to £1,450 a year when he died in 1459.
The man who burnt Joan of Area Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick and Count of Aumale, Captain of Rouen and many other French cities (1382—1439). He was finally Lieutenant-General of France from 1437—1439
The Anglo-French realm was kept entirely separate from England and governed through long-standing institutions by Frenchmen supervised by a few senior English officials. Despite the promises made at Troyes, Normandy (with the Pays de Conquête, and Maine and Anjou) was administered as a state apart—the Regent being determined to turn the duchy into a Lancastrian bastion—by a council at Rouen. Though the baillis were always Englishmen, almost all other civil officials were natives. Bedford did his best to make English rule popular with the Normans, encouraging trade, founding a university at Caen and issuing an excellent gold coinage in his nephew’s name—the salut.
The government of Paris was quite distinct. It possessed what has been described as the beginnings of ‘an Anglo-French secretariat’, for even before an English garrison had been installed, its bureaucracy had been purged of Dauphinist symphathizers and had no qualms at co-operating with the English. Some of these Burgundian officials worked in Rouen and in London as well as in Paris. When at the capital Bedford lived at the Hôtel des Tournelles, where he gave splendid parties for the Parisians like that in June 1428 for 8,000 guests; the Bourgeois says that the nobles and clergy were invited ‘then the doctors of every science and the lawyers from the Parlement, the Provost of Paris and the officials from the Châtelet, then the Provost of the Merchants, the Aldermen, the Bourgeois and even the commons’. The Regent was particularly careful to keep on amiable terms with the University, the Parlement and all the civic dignitaries.
Yet however anxious he may have been to make Plantagenet rule popular, Bedford none the less tried to force his subjects to contribute to the war effort. Paris had to endure ferocious taxation, but the Normans suffered most—‘Normandy was indeed, in the full sense of the term, the milch cow of Lancastrian rule,’ is Perroy’s comment. Besides the subsidies granted by the Estates there was a gabelle, a quatrième on wine and cider, and a sales tax on all goods. In addition the guet was levied, a hearth tax to pay the troops. During crises such as the great campaign in 1428, even more was demanded. The peasants also had to suffer from the English garrisons—foraging, looting and kidnapping for ransom, and the pâtis or protection racket. The same sort of demands, official and unofficial, were made in Anjou and Maine and in the Ile de France. As time passed and the English became increasingly desperate for money, both the taxation and the plundering grew still more oppressive.
Life was made almost intolerable for the peasants by English freebooters and by écorcheurs. One of the most notorious of the former was Richard Venables, who came to Normandy in 1428 with only three men-at-arms and a dozen archers but who soon collected an army of deserters and set himself up in the fortified Cistercian monastery of Savigny, from where he rode out to rob and murder. His bloodiest exploit was at Vicques near Falaise where he massacred an entire village. Venables’s band was only one among many. The écorcheurs, or flayers, were gangs of highwaymen who were the heirs of the routiers : they took their name from their custom of stripping victims to the skin and even flaying them alive. Bedford did his best to defend the unfortunate country people. In Normandy he gave them arms and tried to make them practise archery on Sundays. In Maine he issued certificates of protection under his own seal (for a household or for a parish as a whole) together with travel permits and safe conducts, though all these had to be paid for in hard cash.
But despite Bedford’s heroic endeavours, Lancastrian France eventually became a wilderness laid waste by its garrisons, by deserters, by écorcheurs and by Dauphinist raiders. At the end of the 1420s the revenues from Normandy began to fall drastically. It was painfully obvious that the conquered territories were not going to pay for the War.
From the very beginning only Burgundian support made it possible for the dual monarchy to function at all. ‘Burgundian’ in this context did not of course mean someone from Burgundy but was the name of a political allegiance —those Frenchmen who preferred to be governed by the Duke of Burgundy or his allies rather than by Dauphinists. Many now genuinely believed that a strong English régime would bring peace and put an end to the bloody civil war of the last dozen years ; moreover they also thought that—on past form—the English were bound to win a war with the Dauphinists (in much the same way that Pétainists estimated German chances in 1940). Remembering the Armagnac terror, every Parisian dreaded the massacres which would surely follow the return of the Dauphin, a fear echoed in every town in Anglo-Burgundian France. Even before the Lancastrian occupation, the Bourgeois of Paris thought it better to be a prisoner of the English than of the Dauphin ‘and those people who call themselves Armagnacs’. Later, describing Armagnac campaigns, the Bourgeois said they perpetrated crimes worse ‘than any man or demon could commit’; this rational and decent observer, probably a Canon of Notre-Dame, uses such terms as ‘worse than Saracens’ or ‘unchained devils’. Unfortunately the English position depended on more than fear of Armagnacs.
The most dangerous threat was the difficult nature of Duke Philip. Splendid in appearance, he was arrogant and violent-tempered-in his rages his face took on a bluish hue —and extremely touchy. Still more disconcerting, this pillar of chivalry was a notorious liar ; little reliance could be placed on his word, for he was whimsical and changeable. Although intent on strengthening his power in his own domains and on acquiring more territory in the Low Countries, and though bored by French politics, the Duke was proud of his Valois blood and could never really accept a Plantagenet France. As the memory of his father’s murder faded he was increasingly ready to flirt with the Dauphinists. He showed his hand by declining to become a Knight of the Garter and thus refusing to swear an oath of loyalty to English brethren. Bedford strove desperately to keep on good terms with him.
In April 1423 the Dukes of Bedford, Burgundy and Brittany met at Amiens to sign a treaty in which each swore ‘brotherhood and union as long as we live’ and tacitly pledged himself to work for the Dauphin’s final overthrow, though entering into no military commitment. Burgundy and Brittany signed with reservations, later making a secret treaty in which they promised to remain friends should either of them ally with the Dauphin. In May the Regent married Philip’s sister, Anne of Burgundy, a purely political match which became a noticeably happy marriage—although she was ‘as plain as an owl’. A contemporary commented: ‘My Lord the Regent loves Madame Regent so well that always he brings her with him to Paris and everywhere else.’ Intelligent, gay and devout, Anne tried hard to preserve the alliance between her husband and her brother.
If there was no proper strategic co-operation between the English and the Burgundians, a good working military relationship often existed in the field. This was very much in evidence throughout 1423. An allied army took Le Crotoy, while a similar force under the Duke of Norfolk and Jean de Luxembourg routed the Dauphinist Poton de Xaintrailles. Everywhere English and Burgundians joined in raids and skirmishes. In the south-west however, the English and Guyennois had to fight by themselves, raiding and counter-raiding on the borders of Guyenne, over into the Saintonge and Poitou and into the Limousin and Périgord ; they had to repel Dauphinist attacks on La Réole and in the Entre-deux-mers.
The one important action of 1423 was at Cravant. The Dauphinists had gathered a new army which included a large Scots contingent under Sir John Stewart of Darnley, the Constable of Scotland, and Italian and Spanish mercenaries. They marched on Cravant, a little town on the right bank of the river Yonne which was a key stronghold on the frontier of ducal Burgundy ; if it fell, Dijon, Philip’s capital, would be exposed to attack—though the enemy’s primary objective was to relieve isolated Dauphinist garrisons cut off in Champagne and Picardy. The defenders, mainly local gentry, put up a determined resistance but by July had already eaten their horses—‘there was neither cat nor dog, rat nor mouse that was not eaten up’, relates the chronicler Jean de Wavrin.
The Earl of Salisbury marched as quickly as he could to relieve them. At Auxerre he was joined by a Burgundian contingent and a council of war was held in the cathedral, where they drew up a joint order of the day which has survived. There was to be an English and a Burgundian Marshal, the advance guard was to be half English, half Burgundian, discipline was enforceable on pain of death, and no prisoners were to be taken until victory was certain. Archers had to bring the usual pointed stakes, and everyone had to furnish himself with two days’ rations. At night everyone must pray as devoutly as possible. Salisbury pressed on, although the weather was so hot that when they halted men-at-arms lay face downward on the ground in their armour to cool off. In all he had about 4,000 troops.
When Salisbury reached Cravant on Friday 29 July the Dauphinists were waiting on the other side of the river, on the crest of a hill about a mile and a half from the town. However they then came down to the bank, and to attack them the English would have to cross the river, an operation which could easily end in disaster. Salisbury gambled on the garrison coming to his assistance and, covered by archers, waded across the river in front of the town. At the same time Lord Willoughby led an assault on the main bridge. Salisbury’s detachment crossed safely and was soon engaged in savage fighting, while at the bridge Willoughby’s men had an even hotter reception from the Scots. At last the Dauphinists began to falter, whereupon the garrison, although weak from lack of food, charged them from the rear as Salisbury had hoped. The enemy army disintegrated and to escape had to run the gauntlet between the town and the river bank ; 1,200 were slaughtered, including many Scots. Sir John Stewart, who had lost an eye, was taken prisoner.
By 1424 the Regent, Bedford, felt sufficiently confident to strike south and complete the conquest of Maine and Anjou, although he knew that the enemy had gathered another army and was intending to launch a full-scale offensive He assembled 10,000 troops at Rouen and sent the Earl of Suffolk to retake Ivry which had fallen to the Dauphinists. Suffolk captured the town quickly enough but the garrison held out in the citadel, expecting to be relieved by the Dauphin’s new army. Before the army could reach Ivry, Bedford came up with the main body of his troops and the citadel surrendered. The enemy commanders—the Duke of Alençon, the Count of Aumale and the Viscount of Narbonne, had too many unfortunate memories of Agincourt to want a battle, but their Scots allies insisted on fighting. They compromised, deciding to capture some towns while avoiding a pitched battle in the field. On 14 August they appeared before the English town of Verneuil on the Norman border with prisoners tied to their horses’ tails ; the townsmen, thinking these were English captives and that Bedford must have been defeated, promptly opened their gates, only to discover that the ‘prisoners’ were Scots. Meanwhile Bedford had left Ivry for Evreux, where reconnaissance troops informed him that the enemy had taken Verneuil. Next day he set out for Verneuil, so sure of himself that he ordered 3,000 Burgundians to leave him and return to the siege of Nesle.
On 17 August the Regent drew up his army on the road from Damville to Verneuil where it emerged from a forest on to the plain in front of Verneuil. He had about 9,000 men. He used the same formation employed at Poitiers and Agincourt, with his men-at-arms at the centre and archers on the wings ; the men-at-arms were in two ‘battles’, the right commanded by himself, the left by Salisbury. He also posted a reserve of 2,000 mounted bowmen a quarter of a mile behind. As an added refinement, he fortified his baggage-train, laagering the wagons in a hollow square still further back; the horses were tethered head and tail, three or four deep, in a circle round the square to serve as an extra barrier. The Dauphinist army was further down the road towards Verneuil, about 17,000 troops formed into two divisions of dismounted men-at-arms linked by archers, their wings being protected by mounted men-at-arms who were meant to deal with any flanking attacks by English bowmen. One division was commanded by the Count of Aumale ; the other, consisting of 6,000 Scots, was under the Earls of Douglas and Buchan who sent a message to the English that they intended to give no quarter.
Neither side wanted to attack. From dawn until about 4 o’clock in the afternoon both armies sweltered in their armour beneath a blazing sun without moving. At last Bedford ordered his men to advance. After kneeling and kissing the ground and shouting ‘St George ! Bedford !’ they did so at a slow steady pace, giving deep, deliberate roars of defiance. Simultaneously some mounted Dauphinist men-at-arms charged the archers on Bedford’s right flank, riding through and past them until they were stopped by the bowmen in reserve; many English turned and ran. Bedford’s division continued to march grimly towards that of Aumale, which was also advancing, shouting ‘Montjoie ! Saint Denis !’ The two gleaming masses of faceless steel robots, war-cries booming hollowly from beneath their helmets, met with a loud crash to begin a hand-to-hand combat whose ferocity astounded even contemporaries. Wavrin, who fought in the battle himself, remembered how ‘the blood of the dead spread on the field and that of the wounded ran in great streams all over the earth’. For three-quarters of an hour English and Dauphinists hacked, battered and stabbed each other without either side gaining any advantage. The Regent, swinging a two-handed pole-axe, did fearsome execution and killed many men—‘He reached no one whom he did not fell.’ (Such weapons smashed open an expensive armour like a modern tin can, the body underneath being crushed and mangled before even the blade sank in.) Finally the enemy began to falter, to give ground; suddenly they turned to lumber away as quickly as their armour would permit towards Verneuil, where many were driven into the moat and drowned, including Aumale himself.
On the left the gallant Salisbury had been almost overcome by the Scots. Moreover 600 Italian cavalry had swept past him to plunder the baggage laager ; the archers in the reserve were still dealing with the Dauphinist men-at-arms who had broken through on the right, and the Italians, despite a brave resistance by the pages, started to rifle the wagons and drive off the horses. Luckily the reserve managed to repel the enemy men-at-arms and came up to beat off the Italians. They then ran forward to help Salisbury, taking the Scots in flank with a loud yell (‘un merveilleu cri’).Meanwhile Bedford had reassembled his weary but triumphant division. He returned to smash into the Scottish rear, overwhelming them. The English troops nursed a particular hatred for their northern neighbours, very few of whom escaped alive; among the slain were Archibald, Earl of Douglas with his son James, Earl of Mar, and John Stewart, Earl of Buchan. Bedford wrote later : ‘The moste vengeance fell upon the proud Scottes, for thei went to Dog-wash the same day, mo than 1700 of cote Armoures of these proude Scottes.’ In addition, over a thousand Dauphinist French were killed including the Viscount of Narbonne, which brought total enemy casualties to more than 7,000. The most important prisoners were the Duke of Alençon and Marshal Lafayette.
Yet although the English had lost only a thousand men, there had been a moment at the beginning when they were nearly beaten. Many had fled from the first Dauphinist charge, shouting that it was all over. A captain called Young was afterwards found guilty of running away and taking 500 men with him ; he was hanged till half dead, then drawn and quartered.
Verneuil was seen as a second Agincourt and the Regent’s prestige soared. The Dauphinists had been completely broken as a fighting force in the field ; the way lay open for an advance on Bourges and perhaps the final reckoning. However, Bedford, true to his brother’s example, preferred the less spectacular but more solid gain of completing the conquest of Anjou and Maine, and began a methodical reduction of enemy strongholds. An additional advantage was the end of the threat of Scots intervention ; the flower of their best fighting-men had fallen. (Ironically, the Dauphinists were not altogether sorry for this ; their chronicler, Basin, tells us that the disaster of Verneuil was offset by being rid of the Scots whose insolence was intolerable.)
At this moment of triumph the Regent’s position was suddenly undermined by events outside France which threatened to ruin his relations with Burgundy. Humphrey of Gloucester, a frivolous and irresponsible intriguer, fell in love with Jacqueline of Hainault, Countess in her own right of Hainault, Holland and Zeeland, who had deserted an unsatisfactory husband and taken refuge in England. After obtaining a dubious dispensation from the deposed anti-Pope Benedict XIII (who still lived at Avignon), Gloucester married her and styled himself Count of Hainault, Holland and Zeeland, which in 1424 he invaded with an army of 5,000 men. The expedition was a farce and ‘ambitious Humphrey’, having made a fool of himself, had to return to England within the year, where he tried to get up a further invasion. Nothing could have been better calculated to infuriate Philip of Burgundy who wanted Jacqueline’s territories for himself. When Philip visited Paris in the autumn of 1424 he shouted insults at Bedford and informed him that he had made a defensive treaty with the Dauphin. Only the influence of Philip’s sister, Bedford’s wife—together with a fear that a complete rupture might provoke his brother-in-law into going to Gloucester’s assistance—prevented the total collapse of the Anglo-Burgundian alliance.
Philip of Burgundy was never an easy ally. During his visit to Paris he mortally offended the Earl of Salisbury. Philip, a notorious lecher with thirty mistresses, made outrageous advances to the nineteen-year-old Countess of Salisbury (Chaucer’s granddaughter), who was a famous beauty. Salisbury was so angry that he swore he would never again serve in the field with Philip but would go to Hainault and fight for Gloucester.
By the end of 1425 Gloucester had stirred up more trouble, this time in England. Here although he was titular Protector the real government was the Council, which had refused to recognize him as Regent and which was dominated by the Chancellor, Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester. Beaufort, a half-brother of Henry IV (being a bastard but legitimized son of John of Gaunt by Catherine Swynford), was one of the most formidable ecclesiastics in English history and regarded himself as the man best fitted to rule England. Inevitably he quarrelled with Gloucester, who hated him for taking away the Regency. Duke Humphrey tried to raise the London mob against Beaufort and there was very nearly civil war. In October 1425 Beaufort wrote desperately to Bedford, imploring him to return to England as quickly as possible—‘If you tarry, we shall put this land in peril with a battle. Such a brother you have here.’ He also reminded him that ‘the prosperity of France stands on the welfare of England’. In consequence the Regent was out of France from December 1425 until March 1427, fifteen months when he was too busy reconciling his brother and his uncle to attend to matters across the Channel. Although the reconciliation was reasonably successful, Bedford must always have been worried that Gloucester and Beaufort would come to blows again.
During his stay in England Bedford had difficulty in obtaining money from Parliament for fresh troops. The endless expense of the War was now making it unpopular with the English, who in any case thought that the occupied territories should pay for it. As expeditionary forces grew smaller, fewer and fewer Englishmen took part.
On the other hand a greater proportion of the aristocracy was serving in France. Unlike the previous century when many commanders came from the lesser gentry and even humbler backgrounds, in the fifteenth century senior officers were predominantly noblemen—the Earls of Salisbury, Warwick, Suffolk, Lord Talbot and Lord Scales, to name only the most famous. There was an excellent economic reason why they should be greedy for the profits of war : because of the agricultural depression the income from many baronial estates was lower than it had been for decades.
Nevertheless, if there were no more Robert Salles or Nicholas Hawkwoods, men from the higher gentry continued to rise in rank and fortune through the War. It is reasonable to suppose that, like the magnates, they were driven by dwindling revenues. A good example is Sir John Stourton of Stourton in Wiltshire. Born in 1399, the son of a Speaker of the House of Commons and the head of an ancient West Country family, he was at the siege of Rouen in 1418 and took part in many other campaigns; by 1436 he was raising over a hundred bowmen to bring to France. In 1438 he was appointed a Privy Counsellor, henceforward attending Council meetings where he played a key role in planning military operations; he recommended campaigning in Normandy rather than Guyenne because it was nearer, though his real reason may have been that he had lands in Normandy (admittedly these have not been identified). A member of several important embassies to the French, for nearly two years he was also keeper of the unfortunate Duke of Orleans—the poet, who had been a prisoner since Agincourt—whom he kept at Stourton from 1438-1439 and whom complained of his strictness. Later he was one of the Guardians of Calais. In 1448 he was created Baron Stourton and he survived the troubled political world of the 1450s, dying in his bed in 1462. Plainly this strenuous career was not without financial reward. Much of it must have come from loot and ransoms. Leland says that French prize-money paid for the splendid castle at Stourton (demolished in the eighteenth century, but built on the site of what is now Stourhead) with its two courtyards—‘the front of the inner court is magnificent and high embattled, castle like’. It is more probable that Lord Stourton simply renovated and extended the house of his ancestors, but undoubtedly he could have afforded to build a new one. He bought an imposing mansion near the capital, Stourton House at Fulham—next door to the palace of the Bishops of London—and also built most of the priory church of the Augustinians at Stavordale in Somerset.
Many others rose through the War, and a successful career in France was frequently a prelude to high office in England. The Fiennes brothers, James and Roger, did so well that the first built Knole and the second built Hurstmonceux ; James, who had been Captain of Arques and Captain General of the Seine towns, and was Seigneur of Court-le-Comte, became Lord Saye and Sele in 1446 (only to be lynched by Jack Cade a few years later). Another new peer, who had also been Captain of Arques and who owned lands in France, was Lord Sudeley, the builder of the magnificent castle of that name in Gloucestershire. That very professional warrior the first (and last) Lord Wenlock, who was granted land at Gisors in 1421 and who went on to fight in the Wars of the Roses until he was killed at Barnet, erected the Sommaries outside Luton. The fortress of Raglan was the creation of Sir William ap Thomas, and Heron Hall that of Sir John Tyrrel, both of whom had fought in France. Sir John Montgomery (who took part in the capture of Joan of Arc) built Faulkbourne Hall, and his son Middleton Towers. Most of these great houses were of red brick, for which their creators must undoubtedly have acquired a taste in France. In addition these lordly soldiers built beautiful Perpendicular churches, if not so many as the bourgeois wool men ; McFarlane calls them ‘the war churches’ as opposed to the wool churches. Of these the best known is the chapel at Warwick, with its armoured effigy in gilded metal of a Beauchamp Earl who died in 1439.
Ransoms still formed a large part of such money. The Count of Vendôme was bought at a high price by Henry V from Sir John Cornwall, later Lord Fanhope and the builder of Ampthill. Sir John has been described by E. F. Jacob as ‘an example of a highly well-placed speculator in ransoms’; his purchases included the Lords of Gaucourt and Estouteville in 1423 (taken prisoner at Harfleur eight years before) and the Duke of Bourbon. Sir Rowland Lenthall built Hampton Court in Herefordshire with prize money from prisoners captured in Henry V’s campaigns.2 Sir Walter Hungerford, later Lord Hungerford, rebuilt the castle and also the church at Farleigh Hungerford in Somerset ; Leland was told that he paid for this out of loot from Agincourt, but it is known that Sir Walter brought no less than eight valuable prisoners back to England.
Besides ransom there was plunder. Apparently the French nobility had the obliging habit of campaigning with their jewels and family plate ; and everyone took a cut from the pâtis money. There was also paid office. Understandably the dual monarchy had a very large number of captaincies to fill. McFarlane claims: ‘There was hardly a knight, or indeed an esquire of Henry V’s army that was not given one or more of these offices of responsibility and profit under his son.’ He adds that some of them were entrusted with the administration of entire French provinces, not just of a town or castle. Such men bled white the territories under their rule.
Of course Englishmen were captured and had to pay ransom themselves, but because their armies won more battles—including all the larger ones—the ratio of Frenchmen to Englishmen taken prisoner was overwhelmingly in favour of the latter. It is also true that there were other and sometimes more important factors at home in England in the creation of patrician fortunes and of new noble houses—advantageous marriages, grants for services to the crown and the exploitation of English offices. Nevertheless at this time French money played a major and often a key role, and a very large proportion of the great success stories of fifteenth-century England began in France.
The Regent returned to France in March 1427, accompanied by a man from the Welsh Marches who was to become one of the most redoubtable soldiers of the War—Lord Talbot. They took with them a pitifully small new army, 300 men-at-arms and 900 archers, though they also brought a new artillery train. The English were lucky that during Bedford’s absence the Dauphinists had not taken advantage of the defection of the Duke of Brittany, a shifty intriguer. In 1426 Duke John of Brittany had signed a treaty with the Dauphin at Saumur while his brother with a mixed force of Bretons and Scots had seized the important English fortress of Pontorson and massacred its garrison. Furthermore, because of Gloucester’s meddling in Hainault, Anglo-Burgundian co-operation was almost non-existent. Bedford acted swiftly. In May Lord Warwick captured Pontorson, after which Duke John veered back to the English and in September 1427 formally reaffirmed his allegiance to the Treaty of Troyes. In June the Regent and his wife visited Duke Philip of Burgundy at Arras and began to restore good relations; Bedford stopped a new English expedition to Hainault and then arranged a truce between Gloucester and Burgundy. Humphrey abandoned Jacqueline of Hainault and her claims, obtaining a Papal Bull which declared their marriage invalid (his chief reason being that he now wanted to marry her lady-in-waiting Eleanor Cobham). By the end of 1427 Bedford had entirely restored the Triple Alliance.
A further 1,900 troops had arrived from England in the spring but before launching a major new offensive it had been necessary to capture a number of enemy strongholds. Among them was the town of Montargis, sixty miles south-east of Paris, which dominated the Yonne valley. It occupied an extremely strong position on a headland completely surrounded by the rivers Loing and Vernisson, while the approach was criss-crossed by canals which hindered the besiegers. It had a resolute garrison under the Sieur de La Faille who was well liked by the townsmen. Lord Warwick pitched his camp on the road from Paris, on both sides of the river, and possessed a good supply line. He had brought only 5,000 men but he had an adequate artillery train and on 15 July began a methodical bombardment of the town. Nevertheless, after six weeks he had made little progress. He could hardly have expected that the Dauphinists could produce a commander capable of taking him by surprise.
John, Bastard of Orleans (popularly known later as the ‘bon et brave Dunois’ from his county of that name) was the left-handed son of the Duke of Orleans who had been murdered in 1407. A penniless adventurer, the Bastard became a professional soldier and fought at Baugé and Verneuil. He was now twenty-four years old. In September 1427 he and another good soldier, La Hire, were sent to reinforce Montargis with 1,600 troops. The Bastard had obviously studied the battle at Cravant, and a messenger from him reached the town with a plan of concerted action. Suddenly the Bastard and his men appeared in full view of the English on the road south of the town. Warwick’s troops rushed to attack them, whereupon the townsmen opened the sluice-gates and the ensuing flood carried away the wooden bridge over the river, cutting the English forces in two and drowning many. At the same time the defenders sallied out to attack them from the rear. Warwick lost a thousand men, the rest fleeing in panic and abandoning their artillery.
On the same day as the débâcle at Montargis, Sir John Fastolf and a small force were defeated at Ambrières in Maine, and all Maine rose in revolt. The Regent, coldly determined, at once recommenced the siege of Montargis and began to put down the rising in Maine. He showed himself no less merciless than his brother: the town of La Gravelle did not honour its promise to surrender by a given date, so he beheaded the hostages which it had given as a surety. Lord Talbot was also beginning to show his quality. When La Hire seized Le Mans, Talbot retook it and rescued the garrison with only 300 men, going on to capture Laval which was one of the keys to Maine. By the spring of 1428 the situation had been restored and the way was now open for the long-hoped-for offensive.
But the English were still bedevilled by lack of money. Although taxed to the hilt the conquered territories could not provide enough, while in England Parliament had shown itself unco-operative despite Bedford’s pleas. In July 1427 he had sent Salisbury home to beg the Council for help, and eventually the Earl obtained £24,000, though he had to lend part of it from his own resources. He sailed from Sandwich in June 1428 with 450 men-at-arms, 2,250 archers, ten miners, over seventy masons, carpenters and bowmakers and a new artillery train. Meanwhile the Regent had been assembling troops and supplies. Salisbury marched into Paris in July. He and the Regent differed over the objectives of the forthcoming campaign—the former wished to capture Orleans, the key to the Loire and from whence he could strike over the river into the Dauphinist heartland ; Bedford, on the other hand, wanted Angers which would give the English complete control of Anjou and enable them to link up their northern territories with Guyenne. Moreover the Regent had scruples about attacking Orleans ; to do so was to breach a treaty, and as its feudal lord the Duke of Orleans was a prisoner in England, the assault would be against all the rules of chivalry. Salisbury prevailed, but Bedford seems to have kept his misgivings ; some years afterwards he wrote to his nephew Henry VI how the Plantagenet cause had prospered everywhere in France until the siege of Orleans, ‘takyn in hand God knoweth by what avys’.
The Earl began his offensive in mid-August, capturing more than forty towns and fortresses, ‘somme wonne be assault and somme otherwyse’ as he put it. They included the towns on the Loire nearest to Orleans—Beaugency and Meung downstream and Jargeau upstream. On 12 October he invested Orleans. On the northern bank of the Loire, the city must have presented a daunting spectacle. Its thirty-foot-high walls were so long that the English were unable to surround them with siege works and had to rely on patrols. Inside there were more defenders than the besiegers outside—2,400 troops and 3,000 militia, commanded by the same Sieur de Gaucourt who had been at Harfleur ; they had 71 guns mounted on the walls, some firing stone shot weighing nearly 200 lbs and far outnumbering the English artillery. Nor were the English troops, who had dwindled to 4,000, of the best quality; they had been looting and deserting ever since they landed and had sacked an especially holy shrine at Cléry. As for Burgundians, Salisbury had a mere 150, hired from the Duke. The Earl had no hope of blockading the city with so few men, and the defenders could obtain supplies and reinforcements without difficulty. Not in the least deterred, ‘mad-brain’d Salisbury’ decided to batter his way over the main bridge across the river, a structure 350 metres wide which stretched from the south bank to the centre of the city. It was defended on the bank by an earthwork and then by two massive towers over the first arch, known as the Tourelles. A bombardment followed by an assault was unsuccessful, but when the towers’ garrison realized that miners had tunnelled beneath the foundations they fled in panic, demolishing two arches of the bridge behind them.
Salisbury climbed up on to the third floor of the Tourelles to have a closer view of Orleans and decide where to attack next, ‘looking very attentively on all sides to see and devise in what way he might surround and subdue it’. An apocryphal story says that an English captain, Sir William Glasdale, said to the Earl: ‘My Lord, you see your city.’ Suddenly a schoolboy set off a small bombard on the walls whose gunners had left it during dinner. Salisbury heard the report and ducked. The gunstone came through the window, killing a gentleman next to him, and an iron bar flew off, hitting Salisbury’s visor and slicing away half his face. To the genuine sorrow of his men ‘who both feared and loved him’, after a week’s agony he died at Meung on 27 October, his last words being to beg his officers to continue the siege. Wavrin believed that had Salisbury lived another three months he would have taken Orleans. His death was a calamity for the English.
The Earl of Suffolk took over the command. This great-grandson of Edward III’s moneylender was a very different man from Salisbury. Although a veteran of Harfleur who had seen many campaigns, he was an unimaginative and unenterprising soldier, averse to taking risks, and above all unlucky. He continued the siege, after a fashion ; a garrison was left in the Tourelles under Glasdale while Suffolk and the rest of the troops went into winter quarters in nearby towns. However, Lord Talbot and Lord Scales brought them back on 1 December, surrounding the city with a line of sixty stockaded earthworks, known as bastilles, linked by communication trenches. As a blockade it was hardly adequate, for there was a wide gap to the north-east. In any case the defenders inside the city had plenty of food, and were reinforced by the Bastard of Orleans, La Hire, Poton de Xaintrailles and 500 fresh troops. But the English hung on grimly during the winter. The courtesies of chivalry were scrupulously observed. On Christmas Day Suffolk sent some figs to the Bastard and received a fur coat in exchange while the city lent the besiegers an orchestra.
We know the names of Sir William Glasdale’s garrison in the Tourelles, and they sound astonishingly modern and ordinary—they would not have been out of place at Torres Vedras or Tobruk. Among them were Thomas Jolly, Bill Martin, Davy Johnson, Walter Parker, Matthew Thornton, George Ludlow, Patrick Hall, William Vaughan, Thomas Sand, Dick Hawke, John Langham, William Arnold, George Blackwell, and John Reid from Redesdale.
On 12 February 1429 Sir John Fastolf, who was taking a convoy of Lenten food—herrings and lentils—from Paris to the English at Orleans, learnt at Rouvray near Janville that he was about to be attacked by a Dauphinist force of 4,000 men under the Count of Clermont. Fastolf, who only had 500 English archers and 1,000 Parisian militia (probably crossbowmen) immediately halted and laagered his wagons, leaving two narrow entrances fortified by the pointed stakes of his archers. Clermont had some small cannon and began to use them on the laager with considerable effect. But then a Scots detachment under Sir John Stewart of Darnley insisted on attacking on foot, and the French men-at-arms joined them, though remaining on horseback. They were bloodily repulsed by arrow-fire, whereupon Fastolf mounted his archers (who almost certainly carried lances) and charged out to complete the enemy’s rout, killing about 500—mainly Scots. Fastolf lost only four men, apart from some wagoners who had tried to run away. It was heartening that the Parisians should have shown themselves so loyal. The Regent had a service of thanksgiving held in Paris and paid special honour to the militia men.
By the spring of 1429, the English were still no nearer capturing Orleans. In April Bedford begged the Council for more men and was sent only 100 men-at-arms. The Dauphinists then made a shrewd diplomatic move by ceding Orleans to the Duke of Burgundy, on the pretext that its lord the Duke of Orleans was a prisoner in England. Philip was eager to accept but Bedford, although concerned at putting the alliance with him at risk, refused to agree. Angrily Philip ordered Burgundian troops to leave the siege. By 15 April the Regent was again writing to the Council, deploring the low morale of his army, pleading for reinforcements and warning that without military or financial assistance he would be force to raise the siege.
The walls were still unbreached. Suffolk held on, without much hope. He had forgotten to put chain-booms across the Loire, so the enemy were able to use the river for moving troops and supplies. On 29 April barges laden with food sailed from Chézy only five miles upstream and, while the English were distracted by a mock assault on one of their earthworks, got through to the city. Next day, accompanied by a small escort, the leader of an army of relief rode into Orleans on a black charger, carrying a small battle-axe. She was Joan of Arc.