Post-classical history


‘The Witch of Orleans’ 1429-1435


Foul fiend of France and hag of all despite.

King Henry VI

‘ffalse witche’.

a London chronicler

In 1428 an illiterate shepherdess of seventeen decided she had been called by God to save France and expel the English. In fact, far from driving out the English, Joan of Arc merely checked the English advance by reviving Dauphinist morale, and the Regent managed to halt the counter-offensive. It was not the Maid who ended English rule in France.

Playwrights tend to concentrate on Joan’s trial and martyrdom, and seldom give Bedford and his troops any credit for sincerity. Yet the English army can be forgiven from mistaking her for a witch sent by the Devil to be their ruin. For a decade God had apparently blessed the cause of the Lancastrians and looking back, in a report of 1434 to the English Council, the Regent spoke of ‘a greet strook upon your peuple’ ; he attributed it to sudden misgivings among the English about the justice of their cause, induced by ‘a disciple and lyme [limb] of the Feende, called the Pucelle, that used false enchauntments and sorcerie’. Shakespeare in King Henry VI, Part I echoes this attitude, referring to the Maid in such terms as ‘fell, banning hag, enchantress’, and shows her bargaining with fiends.

In 1428 the Dauphin’s cause seemed lost. The English appeared invincible, their continuing victories proof that God was with them, while it was unthinkable that Burgundians could ever be reconciled with Armagnacs. The Dauphinists’ worst handicap was the character of their leader, Charles VII as he styled himself without conviction, who even at thirty showed no signs of being a late developer. As usual Perroy has a particularly convincing portrait. ‘Physically and mentally, Charles was a weakling, a graceless degenerate. He was stunted and puny, with a blank face in which scared, shifty, sleepy eyes, peering out on either side of a big, long nose, failed to animate his harsh, unpleasant features.’ Charles was afflicted by strange fears ; he disliked entering houses, frightened they might fall on him (after one did so at La Rochelle) and he would never cross a wooden bridge. So shaken was he by his mother’s smear that he was a bastard, that he seriously considered abdication. He left government to a series of greedy favourites who were too busy quarrelling with each other to have any time for fighting the English.

Moreover, there was something sinister about his fugitive court. The first of Charles’s favourites, a poisoner and wife-murderer (and also a former lover of Queen Isabeau), was dragged naked from a new spouse’s bed and drowned in a river; before dying he frantically begged his assassins to cut off his right hand which he had pledged to the Devil. A second favourite, Le Camus, was clubbed to death and his hand was similarly chopped off to stop it raising the Fiend. (As had been done with Duke John of Burgundy on the bridge at Montereau.) This would have been no surprise to a court which included Marshal Gilles de Rais, the Satanist and child-murderer. The King himself was obsessed with forbidden astrology and prophesy, a taste which seriously worried his confessors and attracted charges of heresy. (Such a man as Charles could only too easily have suspected that Joan of Arc, with her gift of foretelling the future, was a sorceress.) Perhaps the most sinister figure of all was the chief favourite, the gross and murderous La Trémoille, who ruled Charles and whose sole concern was to acquire as much money as possible.

Yet there were healthier elements in Charles’s entourage. His mother-in-law Yolanda of Sicily was a sensible and steadying influence, as later was his mistress Agnes Sorel. There were some useful soldiers, such as Poton de Xaintrailles, Etienne de Vignolles (better known as La Hire) and the Bastard of Orleans. The foremost was the Constable de Richemont (the future Duke Arthur III of Brittany) so hideously disfigured by facial wounds received at Agincourt that he looked like a frog. He entered the King’s service in 1425 and eventually overthrew La Trémoille. Richemont developed into a formidable commander and was supported by a small band of faithful Bretons which included the Marshal André de Laval and the Admiral Prégent de Coëtivy.

It was also true that Dauphinist France was much richer than Lancastrian France. Where the Regent’s revenue averaged from 100,000 to 200,000 livres a year, Charles’s potential revenue was three and sometimes five times as much, partly because the area under his control was larger and less devastated. However, in the early years of the King of Bourges his taxes were not properly collected or else went into other pockets, and he was so poor that his clothes had to be patched. Charles VII had both the men and the money to fight the English, but it would take a miracle to make him do so.

Joan of Arc was born about 1412 in a village called Domrémy on the Meuse in eastern Champagne. As a girl she worked as a cowherd and differed from her companions only in her piety, spending long hours in the parish church. She saw visions, and from the age of thirteen heard voices which eventually told her to go and rescue Orleans. In May 1428 her uncle took her to a Dauphinist stronghold, where the captain was unimpressed. However, she returned the following January ; the captain then sent her to the Dauphin and in February she met Charles at Chinon. Although he hid among his courtiers she at once recognized him and told him that God had ordered her to fight the English and to see that he was crowned at Rheims. The Dauphin was doubtful about the peasant girl dressed like a man—in the fifteenth century this was probably even more shocking than male transvestism in the early twentieth—but the theologians who then examined her detected no signs of heresy or insanity, and advised Charles to let her try at Orleans.

Joan had already dictated an extraordinary letter to the Regent and his officers. ‘Jhesus Maria’, it began, ‘King of England and you Duke of Bedford [Bethforth] calling yourself Regent of France ; William de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk, John, Lord Talbot and you Thomas, Lord Scales, calling yourselves Lieutenants of the said Bedford ... deliver up to the Maid sent by God, the King of Heaven, the keys of all the good towns which you have taken and violated in France.’ She explained : ‘I have been sent by the King of Heaven to throw you out of all France,’ and ended : ‘Take yourself off to your own land, for God’s sake, or else await tidings from the Maid whom you will soon see to your hurt.’ No chronicler has recorded Bedford’s reaction to the letter.

The Maid set out for Orleans at once, wearing armour, with an army of 4,000 men under the young Duke of Alençon who believed fervently in her mission. As has been seen, she entered Orleans at the end of April. On 3 May the main body of her relief force reached the city. Joan rode in at their head, accompanied by priests chanting psalms ; she was claiming the divine support which the English regarded as their special prerogative. Within a few days her troops had overrun the main English earthworks and recaptured the Tourelles, killing the garrison including Glasdale. On 8 May 1429, after an investment which had lasted ninety days, the Earl of Suffolk raised the siege. The outnumbered English made a last defiant gesture to show that God was on their side ; they paraded in battle formation on open ground opposite the walls, challenging the defenders to come out and fight, but even now the enemy dared not face them. Suffolk then marched off in excellent order, taking a detachment to Jargeau and sending the remainder to Meung and Beaugency under Lord Talbot and Lord Scales.

Dauphinist morale rose wonderfully and Alençon’s army immediately set about the English strongholds on the Loire. On 12 June Jargeau was stormed, Suffolk being caught as he tried to flee, while—apart from those worth good ransoms—his garrison were put to the sword. The bridge over the river at Meung was captured three days later; at Beaugency the English had to take refuge in the citadel.

Lord Talbot was determined to relieve the Beaugency garrison. He joined Sir John Fastolf at Janville, their combined forces amounting to little more than 3,000 men ; the Dauphinists had 8,000 but on past form these were far from impossible odds. Fastolf, however, was uneasy and did not trust his Parisiwan militia ( or ‘Faux Français’ as the Dauphinists termed them) ; he wanted to fall back and wait for fresh troops who were expected daily. But the aggressive Talbot insisted on advancing. Then on Saturday 18 June news came that the citadel at Beaugency had surrendered and the English began to retreat through the woods towards the village of Patay. Joan told the Dauphinist commanders to attack—‘You have spurs, so use them !’—and promised that they would win a victory greater than Charles had ever known. Nevertheless, their scouts could not find the English until they heard them cheering when a stag broke cover. Talbot, realizing that the enemy was near, began to form up his archers south of Patay in a dip while Fastolf tried to position his militia on rising ground behind him. Without warning Dauphinist men-at-arms suddenly appeared at the top of the dip and charged down the slope into the flank of Talbot’s archers as they were still fixing their stakes, and overwhelmed them. Fastolf’s levies thereupon bolted. Talbot and Lord Scales were captured though Fastolf and a band of archers managed to escape, beating off their pursuers. After a gruelling march Sir John reached Corbeil on the following day, where he had to report the defeat to the Regent in person. Monstrelet says Bedford was so angry that he took away Fastolf’s Garter, and a legend grew up which branded the unfortunate knight as a coward—later Shakespeare transformed him into Sir John Falstaff. Yet Fastolf had advised against confronting the Dauphinists, had done his best to rally the troops and had at least saved some of them. In the event, Bedford soon restored his Garter and made him Lieutenant of Caen.

Joan was now at the height of her fame. Monstrelet tells us how after Patay all Dauphinists believed that the English and Burgundians were powerless against her. Instead of marching on Paris she persuaded the Dauphin to accompany her to Rheims to be crowned. Somehow an army of 12,000 men was assembled and then marched through English territory to Rheims where Charles was consecrated King of France ; Joan stood near him throughout the ceremony, holding her white banner, and afterwards she addressed him as King for the first time. (Yet it is arguable that both Charles and the Archbishop who anointed him believed she was a witch.) The coronation of Charles VII, as we must now call him, did wonders for Dauphinist morale ; according to Monstrelet, a Burgundian : ‘The French believed that God was against the English.’

It is impossible to know whether Joan’s inspiration was restricted to a small circle of court soldiers or if—as today’s social romantics would like to think—she spoke to the rank and file as one peasant to another. What is undeniable is that for a few months many Frenchmen thought they were fighting a holy war, and the English went in terror of the Maid and her sorceries.

The Dauphinist expedition to Rheims gave Bedford a breathing-space. When Charles’s army marched on Paris the Regent was ready, and after some slight skirmishes made it fall back in August; he did his best to provoke Charles into fighting, sending a letter addressed to ‘You who call yourself King’ which accused him of consorting with ‘a disorderly and disgraced woman wearing the dress of a man’. But the Dauphinists refused battle. The Parisians stayed loyal to the Regent ; no doubt they still feared reprisals if the Armagnacs entered their city. On the afternoon of 8 September Joan led an assault on the walls between the Porte Saint-Honoré and the Porte Saint-Denis ; it was not properly supported by Charles’s commanders and, though the outer ditch was crossed, the attackers failed to get over the inner moat and retreated in disorder. The Maid, wounded in the thigh by a crossbow quarrel, was left lying in the open until nightfall ; the commanders made no attempt to rescue her, perhaps hoping she would perish. The legend of her invincibility had been broken. Charles retired to Gien, dismissing his army. Nevertheless Bedford was so alarmed by Joan’s offensive that he temporarily gave up the Regency of France (save Normandy) to Philip of Burgundy, together with the governorship of Paris.

The Maid began to campaign again in October. She took Saint-Pierre-le-Moutier on the upper Loire, but failed to capture the nearby town of La Charité. She was not always merciful; on at least one occasion she ordered the beheading of an enemy commander who had been taken prisoner. In May 1430 she moved to Compiègne. During a skirmish outside the town on 24 May she was plucked from her charger by a Burgundian soldier. Monstrelet noted that the English and the Burgundians ‘were much more excited than if they had captured 500 fighting men, for they had never been so afraid of any captain or commander in war as they had been of the Maid’. In November Joan was handed over to the English. At Rouen she received rough treatment from Warwick’s soldiers—they tried to rape her, and Lord Stafford actually drew a dagger on the girl.

Joan’s trial began on 21 February the following year after a lengthy and unscrupulous investigation by canon lawyers. The prosecution’s case (no doubt with rumours about Charles VII in mind) was that this ‘false soothsayer’ had rejected the authority of the Church in claiming a personal revelation from God, in prophesying, in signing her letters with the names of Christ and the Virgin, and in asserting that she was assured of salvation. These not unreasonable accusations were accompanied by lesser charges, such as her sexual perversity in wearing male dress—‘a thing displeasing and abominable to God’—and her insistence that the saints spoke French and not English. The entire justification of the Lancastrian right to the French throne was at stake : she had to be found guilty. After much bullying, trickery and misrepresentation the lawyers trapped her, and on 30 May 1431 she was burnt by Warwick’s soldiers in the market-place at Rouen as a relapsed heretic. She died quickly and the executioner pulled the charred corpse out of the fire so that people could see that it was that of a woman. She was only nineteen.

King Charles had made no attempt to save her. However, twenty years later he ordered an enquiry, and eventually the Papacy annulled the sentence. She was not canonized until 1920. For at least two centuries the English remained convinced that she was a witch; as Bedford wrote, in a letter to the Duke of Burgundy, she had ‘turned away the hearts of many men and women from the truth, and turned them towards fables and lies’.

Joan’s execution made little stir. However, since then the sorceress maid from Domrémy has aroused far greater interest than in her own short day. In the 1460s François Villon referred to Joan among other of the world’s famous women :

Et Jehanne la bonne Lorraine
Qu’Englois brulèrent à Rouen

and from Voltaire to Shaw to our own day, a surprising range of gifted writers have been fascinated by this Catholic saint. In France some traditionalist Frenchmen still consider veneration of their petite pucelle to be one of the hallmarks of a true patriot. In a different way she inspires no less devotion in England and America. Nevertheless she failed in her mission.

The Regent saved the dual monarchy through sheer determination. It was a very near thing, for although Charles was incapable of exploiting the situation, towns all over northern France had opened their gates to his supporters ; English Champagne was lost and Maine looked like going the same way. There were even risings in Normandy, where between 1429 and 1431 Bedford had his headquarters, in Rouen at a modest hôtel ironically named JoyeuxRepos. English troops deserted in large numbers, some making for the Channel ports, in the hope of finding a passage to England, while others became bandits. Luckily, Philip of Burgundy was impressed by the fact that the English had held Paris, and until he had complete control of Hainault and Holland—which he did not achieve until 1433 —he was nervous of losing the Regent’s friendship.

The English had to pay heavily for such support. Between 1429 and 1431 Philip obtained £150,000 from them for his services and was owed a further £100,000. After 1431 he was paid a monthly pension of 3,000 francs (about £330). In addition in March 1430 the English ceded Champagne to him—though this was already occupied by Dauphinists—together with 50,000 gold saluts (Anglo-French gold crowns minted at Rouen), in return for military assistance against the Dauphinists for two months.

Slowly the Regent restored the situation. Château Gaillard was recovered in June 1430, and the English continued to regain ground everywhere throughout 1431. In March Bedford himself retook Colummiers, Gourlay-sur-Marne and Montjoy ; at the same time the Earl of Warwick annihilated a raiding force which had tried to ambush the Regent, capturing its commander Poton de Xaintrailles, together with a shepherd boy who was supposed to be Joan’s successor (he deliberately bloodied his hands and feet in imitation of St Francis’s stigmata). In October Louviers fell to Bedford, after a siege of nine months. The Duke of Burgundy was not so successful, losing territory to the Dauphinists.

The impetus generated by Joan’s revivalism had ground to a halt. The apathy of the Dauphinists is understandable enough. It was not simply because of the supine nature of the man who was the leader and the symbol of Valois France, but because more fighting meant more devastation. Basin wrote how ‘from the Loire to the Seine the peasants had been slain or put to flight’. The bishop continued : ‘We ourselves have seen the vast plains of Champagne, of the Beauce, of the Brie, of the Gâtinais, Chartres, Dreux, Maine and Perche, of the Vexin (French as well as Norman), the Beauvaisis, the Pays de Caux, from the Seine as far as Amiens and Abbeville, the countryside round Senlis, Soissons and Valois right to Laon and beyond towards Hainault absolutely deserted, uncultivated, abandoned, empty of inhabitants, covered with scrub and brambles; indeed in most of the more thickly wooded districts dense forests were growing up.’

The capital itself was in a frightful state. As a result of interrupted communications and exposed supply routes, together with harassment by brigands and peasants, many Parisians were starving, while travellers were ambushed by raiding parties lurking outside the city. At night wolves continued to prowl the streets, looking for dead bodies or children. Thousands left in despair. Now that Burgundy had relinquished his governorship Bedford could act, and on the last day of January 1431 he returned to Paris ‘en très belle compagnie’, bringing up with him seventy barges laden with food. The Bourgeois records how Parisians said that ‘for 400 years people had never seen so much to eat’. But it was only a drop in an ocean, and the famine became even worse, the price of wheat doubling. The Parisians ‘often cursed the Duke, not only in private but in public as well, giving way to despair and ceasing to believe in his fine promises’.

Bedford decided to play his trump card. At the end of November the nine-year-old ‘Henri II’ arrived at Saint-Denis and on 2 December made his joyeuse entrée into the capital of his Kingdom of France. Yellow-haired and in cloth of gold, he rode on a white charger through the icy streets to be greeted by the Provost and the Councillors of the Parlement in their red satin. Although starving, the Parisians gave the King a tumultuous welcome, crying ‘Nowell’; obviously they hoped for a rich bounty from the royal largesse. On Sunday 16 December he went on foot to Notre-Dame, accompanied by citizens who sang melodiously. A huge dais had been erected in front of the choir, its steps painted sky-blue and studded with golden fleur-delys, and here Henry was anointed King of France by Cardinal Beaufort. Alas, Beaufort, who was in charge of the proceedings, ruined everything by tactlessness, ill-management and parsimony. The Bishop of Paris, whose cathedral it was, had to take a back seat, while the service was conducted according to the English Sarum rite and not the Gallican usage of France, and a silver-gilt chalice was stolen by English officers. The coronation banquet was little better than a riot. The Paris mob forced its way into the Hôtel des Tournelles ‘some to see, others to devour and others still to steal‘, and in the end the representatives of the University and the Parlement and the aldermen gave up trying to throw them out; those who managed to find something to eat learnt with horror that the food had been cooked the preceding Thursday, ‘which appeared very strange to Frenchmen’. Later the sick at the Hôtel-Dieu complained they had never known such a poor and meagre bounty. In the Bourgeois’s view, Paris had seen merchants’ marriages which had been ‘of more profit to the jewellers, goldsmiths and other purveyors of luxury than this coronation of a King, with all its jousts and Englishmen’. Henry left Paris the day after Christmas, without having pardoned any prisoners or abolished any taxes as was customary. ‘One heard nobody, in private or in public, commend his stay and yet no King was ever more honoured than he had been at his joyeuse entrée or at his consecration, especially when one considers the depopulation of Paris, the evil times and that it was full winter and how dear was food.’ Instead of making the régime popular, the coronation had merely infuriated the Parisians.

Beaufort had now upset even Bedford. The Cardinal insisted that he must resign his Regency while the King was present. Not only was it an insult but it prevented Bedford from correcting Beaufort’s mistakes and from curbing his arrogance.

Undoubtedly Bedford was unusual among contemporary Englishmen in his genuine affection for the French. ‘For though the English ruled Paris for a very long time, I do honestly believe that there was not one of them who had any corn or oats sown or so much as a fireplace built in a house, save for the Regent, the Duke of Bedford,’ the Bourgeois informs us. ‘He was always building wherever he went; his nature was quite un-English, for he never wanted to make war on anyone, whereas in truth the English are always wanting to wage war on their neighbours without cause. Which is why they all die an evil death.’ The Bourgeois was not the only Frenchman to respect the Regent. Basin admits that Normandy was better cultivated and more highly populated than the rest of northern France because of Bedford, who was ‘courageous, humane and just’. He adds that the Regent ‘was very fond of those French lords who obeyed him and took care to reward them according to their deserts. As long as he lived the Normans and the Frenchmen in this part of the realm had a great liking for him.’

In 1432 the English position began to deteriorate noticeably. On the night of 3 February a force of 120 Dauphinists scaled the walls of the Grosse Tour of the citadel at Rouen with ladders let down by a traitor and seized the great fortress. Though the Rouennais stayed loyal and within a fortnight the enemy surrendered (to be beheaded), it was nonetheless a serious blow to English prestige. In March, on the eve of Palm Sunday, some Dauphinists entered Chartres hidden in provision wagons and took the city after a fierce battle in the streets ; the English lost an important source of supplies for Paris.

In May, anxious to regain the initiative, the Regent laid siege to Lagny, a fortress which commanded the Marne and whose garrison was continually ambushing convoys on their way to Paris. The town was strongly fortified, guarded on two sides by the Marne, so Bedford blockaded it. A relief army under the Bastard of Orleans and the Castilian mercenary Rodrigo de Villandrando arrived on 9 August; no doubt the Bastard hoped to use the tactics he had employed at Montargis five years earlier.


The Beauchamp chapel at Warwick, built by Earl Richard from a fortune which owed much to the French wars.


Royal plunder. The Cup of the Kings of France and England, made for Charles V c. 1380, was in Bedford’s hands by the 1430s and was later taken to England.

On 10August, a day of blazing heat, the Dauphinists tried to fight their way into Lagny and the besiegers tried to stop them. The struggle centred round a redoubt which defended the west gate; the English left wing captured it, but when their right wing was routed the Bastard attacked them and the townsmen joined in, the redoubt being retaken by the enemy. The Regent led another ferocious assault on the redoubt to stop Dauphinist wagons entering the city, and the fight surged backwards and forwards. At 4 o’clock Bedford reluctantly gave the order to disengage; the confused, untidy battle had lasted eight hours, several of his troops had died from heat-stroke and every man-at-arms, including himself, was exhausted—dehydrated, choked by dust, blinded by sweat, stunned and deafened by blows. (It is probable that Bedford’s exertions damaged his health permanently.) He had lost only 300 men but had suffered a moral defeat. He was further discouraged by a sudden change in the weather which brought heavy rain and caused the Marne to flood. When the Bastard made a feint as if to march on Paris, Bedford decided he had had enough and on 13 August raised the siege, abandoning his artillery.

At the end of 1432 the Regent’s wife, Anne of Burgundy, fell ill. She died in Paris on 14 November. According to the Bourgeois she had been the most agreeable of all ladies in France—‘bonne, belle et jeune’—and Monstrelet says that Bedford ‘had at heart very great sorrow’. Moreover, in the current situation it was political disaster. Wavrin explains that the English and all those Frenchmen who supported the dual monarchy ‘feared that because of this unhappy event the love and alliance which had existed for a long time between her husband and Duke Philip of Burgundy, who had loved her very dearly, would grow somewhat cold’. No doubt wishing to ally himself with another powerful Burgundian family, Bedford remarried in April the following year, despite his sorrow. His new wife was Jacquetta of Luxembourg. Duke Philip was angered by this marriage to the daughter of one of his richest nobles and best generals, which had taken place without his consent.

The only thing that saved Bedford now was the poverty of the Dauphin, who was unable to exploit his superior revenues and mount a really formidable offensive. But Burgundy, in complete control of Hainault and Holland, feared a possible alliance between Charles and the Emperor and was also nervous of a compromise agreement between Charles and the English. He himself began to make tentative diplomatic approaches to the Dauphinists. In June 1433 he sent envoys to England to explore the possibilities of a general settlement ; they received a very cold reception. Philip was not deterred, and he was helped by the activities of the Papal Legate, Cardinal Niccolò Albergati, who had been working for peace since 1430.

In June 1433 the Regent returned to England, to deny before Parliament rumours that he was incompetent and neglectful. He did so to such effect that in November the Commons complimented him on his management of affairs in France where, they claimed, he enjoyed obedience ‘right tender, young and green’, and they noted how he had ‘exposed his person to the labour and adventure of war, as the poorest knight or gentleman there in the King’s service, and achieved many great and fair things, worthy to be had in perpetual remembrance ; and especially the battle of Verneuil, which was the greatest deed done by Englishmen in our days, save the battle of Agincourt’. Both Houses begged Bedford to stay in England as the King’s chief counsellor. He accepted. Yet, despite his popularity, he was unable to extract fresh money for the War which had now come to be regarded as a burden.

Bedford ordered a careful investigation into the royal finances. This revealed that the deficit for 1433 was nearly £22,000, and that £57,000 had been spent on war; total debts amounted to £64,000—almost three times the annual revenue. He at once cut down the pay of officials, including his own, and begged Parliament—unsuccessfully —to vote a yearly sum which would remove the threat of state bankruptcy. The agricultural depression and a decline in overseas trade had lessened the yield from taxation, and diminished revenues were a far greater threat to the Lancastrian dual monarchy than any Joan of Arc.

The War was much more expensive than it had been in Edward III’s time. Armour and weapons were increasingly elaborate, while large numbers of the new big guns had become indispensable for siege warfare both in attack and defence. Moreover the maintenance of garrisons was a constant drain : Calais alone cost nearly £17,000, half the government’s total revenue. It required a peace-time strength of 780 men, raised to 1,150 in war-time. Again and again Captains of Calais had to pay starving troops out of their own pockets; there was a mutiny in 1431 and another in 1441. There must have been similar mutinies in many garrisons. A significant number of men deserted and became brigands.

Yet there was no difficulty in finding soldiers if one had the money to pay them. Every English magnate possessed his own private army, recruited from what has been described as ‘a new and potentially dangerous type of semi-noble’ who had acquired a little wealth and status during the War and who was paid wages. Such armies were often surprisingly large; in 1453 the Earl of Devon, waging a personal war in the West country against Lord Bonville (a former Seneschal of Guyenne), is said to have mustered 800 horse and 4,000 foot. Troops like this were far from untried ; violence was part of everyday life under the weak régime of Henry VI, and readers of The Paston Letters will know how often great men had recourse to armed robbery and intimidation. Even so, the best pickings were still to be had in France.

A partnership document between two of the new semi-nobles, the esquires John Winter and Nicholas Molyneux, has survived from 1421. They swore in a church at Harfleur to be ‘brothers in arms’. Should one be taken prisoner the other must ransom him, providing the money needed did not exceed 6,000 gold saluts (£1,000). If it were more, the one who remained free was to surrender himself as a hostage for the other to go home and raise the additional money. More optimistically they promised to share ‘all the profits [from war] which by God’s grace they shall gain’, and to send them back to London for safe-keeping in a coffer at a church in Cheapside of which each had a key; ‘in which coffer shall be kept such gold, silver and plate as each or both of them may wish to keep to purchase lands in the realm of England’. When they retired everything was to be divided between them. If one were killed, the survivor was to inherit the whole, but must allow a sixth to his brother’s widow and pay for his children’s schooling, allowing them £20 a year for life. The partnership prospered. As late as 1436 they were still sending money home to buy manors and even bought a pub—the Boar’s Head in Southwark (something of a medieval Claridges), which Winter seems to have managed. Molyneux obtained a lucrative post at Rouen—Master of the Chambre des Comptes—and when Normandy fell was able to salvage something from the wreck.

The year 1434 began well for the English, the Earl of Arundel operating with considerable success in Anjou and Maine as far as the Loire. Lord Talbot—who had been exchanged for Poton de Xaintrailles—was even more successful, taking Gisors, Joigny, Beaumont, Creil, Clermont and Saint-Valery. But Lord Scales and Lord Willoughby failed to overcome the indomitable garrison of Mont-Saint-Michel.

Then Bedford received a letter from the Provost of Paris, saying that unless he came back soon the capital was lost. When he returned in July he was greeted with news of a general rising by the Norman peasants against English garrisons; even Caen and Bayeux were threatened. It had been provoked by Richard Venables (see p. 194), who had massacred the entire village of Vicques near Falaise. Raising a special subsidy from the Estates, the Regent organized a full-scale military operation against Venables who, with his second-in-command Waterhouse, was captured, brought to Rouen and hanged. Bedford hoped that this would reassure the peasants, but in August another English band perpetrated a similar massacre at the village of Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives. The peasants fought on, using against the English the weapons supplied to them by the Regent for their protection. Eventually he managed to crush them, but it must have been a sad blow to find such enmity in a province which was the heart of the dual monarchy.

More money was needed desperately. The Regent summoned the Estates of Normandy, beseeching their help, and they voted 344,000 livres tournois, more than ever before, but even this was not enough. The garrisons alone were costing 250,000 livres a year, while there were expenses arising from the peasants’ revolt—Arundel and the troops putting them down had to be paid. Even before he had left England, Bedford had submitted a thoroughly gloomy report to the Council, pointing out that ‘the press of war’ had driven the peasants ‘to an extreme poverty such as they may not long endure’ because they dared not plough their lands, tend their vines or feed their livestock. But even so he was not without hope, stressing that the French of the dual monarchy were by and large loyal to King Henry. ‘Throughout the years of my service there I have found the multitude of your subjects there as well disposed and as desirous to keep their faith and truth to your Highness as any people ever was.’ He suggested three positive measures. First, that the Duchy of Lancaster’s revenues (separate from those of the Crown) should be diverted to the French war, and in particular to maintaining 200 men-at-arms and 600 archers. Second, that the garrisons of Calais and the Calais March, who were not in the front line, should be combined and employed as a mobile reserve. Third, that provided that these two proposals were adopted, he would maintain another 200 men-at-arms and another 600 archers from his personal resources.

In December Bedford returned to Paris where the misery was greater than ever and a further terrible winter had set in —‘day and night the snow never stopped falling ... never were frost and snow so bitter’. The vines and the fruit trees perished. Wine, flour and all food were impossibly dear. The city was now so depopulated that empty houses were being pulled down for firewood. In February 1435 the Regent left Paris for the last time.

The Duke of Burgundy was now preparing to withdraw his support from the English. He was anxious not to appear treacherous, so his lawyers found a legal quibble in the Treaty of Troyes : Henry V, they said, could have handed down the French Crown had he inherited it himself, but his son could not inherit it directly from Charles VI. In February 1435 Philip of Burgundy met the Duke of Bourbon and other Dauphinists at Nevers, where with noticeable friendliness it was agreed that a conference between Burgundians, Dauphinists and English should be held at Arras in the summer to arrange a general settlement.

Philippe Contamine makes the point that the Hundred Years War saw quite as many conferences as it did battles, sieges and chevauchées. These usually took place at a border town, such as Leulinghen or Gravelines, or at somewhere neutral like Avignon, though occasionally they were held in one of the protagonist’s territories and even in London or Paris. Often the delegations of both sides were led by a Prince of the Blood, who brought a large staff of officials and a vast retinue of servants, together with wagon-loads of furniture, plate and provisions. There were formal orations in Latin, public banquets and private interviews in addition to round-table negotiations.

When the congress at Arras began in August, Bedford who was seriously ill at Rouen, was ready to make territorial concessions but would not compromise on his nephew’s claim to the throne of France ; the English envoys were instructed to state that this was a matter too sacred for discussion—Henry derived his right from God. The Regent also insisted that Normandy belonged to King Henry and could not be held as a fief from Charles. On 5 September, after six weeks of debate during which Philip argued so energetically that the sweat ran down his face, Cardinal Beaufort led the entire English delegation out of Arras without having reached any agreement. They suspected, with justice, that ‘King Charles and the Duke of Burgundy were growing cordial towards each other’.

Just over a week later, on 14 September 1435, John, Duke of Bedford died at Rouen. ‘Noble in birth and worth ; wise, liberal, feared and loved’, was the epitaph bestowed on him by the Bourgeois of Paris. The Regent is generally pitied by historians as a gifted statesman and soldier who wasted his life in a futile endeavour. Yet he might well have succeeded. The Dauphin very nearly abdicated, and had he done so the next Valois claimant, Charles of Orleans, was a prisoner in England. Moreover if Duke Philip had been clear-sighted he would surely have realized that his best hope lay with the English, for a strong Valois monarchy must inevitably destroy Burgundy. The structure which Bedford built with such limited resources was strong enough to survive his death by fifteen years. Beyond question he was a very remarkable, indeed a very great, Anglo-Frenchman.

The Regent was buried under a fine tomb in the chancel of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in his beloved city of Rouen. Many years later someone suggested to Charles VII’s son that the monument should be demolished. Louis XI replied : ‘In his lifetime neither my father nor yours, for all their might, could make him budge one foot ... Let his body rest.’ The King added : ‘I account it an honour to have him remain in my domains.’ The tomb has long since vanished, but Bedford still lies in Rouen Cathedral.

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