And the flesh’d soldier—rough and hard of heart-In liberty of bloody hand, shall range With conscience wide as hell; mowing like grass Your fresh-fair virgins, and your flowering infants. What is it then to me, if impious war—Array’d in flames, like to the prince of fiends—Do, with his smirch’d complexion, all fell feats Enlink’d to waste and desolation ?
King Henry Y
Owre Kynge went forth to Normandy, With grace and myght of chivalry; The God for hym wrought marvelously, Wherefore Englonde may calle, and cry
Deo gratias Angliaredde pro victoria.
The Agincourt Carol
In the national legend Henry V remains the most heroic of English Kings. He is the glorious conqueror who broke the French chivalry at Agincourt and won the throne of France for his son’s inheritance. In reality he displayed a number of markedly unheroic qualities and, in a gentlemanly, medieval sort of way, he had more than a little in common with Napoleon and even Hitler.
Henry of Monmouth, son of Henry IV and grandson of John of Gaunt, was twenty-five years old when he ascended the throne in March 1413. Even if some of what Shakespeare says about a riotous youth seems to be justified, the young King was already experienced in statecraft ; he had put down the Welsh rising with considerable bloodshed, and had acted as President of the Council during his father’s illness. He was tall and muscular, wearing his armour as though it were a light cloak. Under a brown pudding-basin crop—the military haircut of the day—he had brown eyes and a long nose in a long, high-coloured face. In manner he was aloof but courteous. He had no mistresses, at least not when he was King. Indeed a Frenchman who saw Henry at Winchester in the spring of 1415 thought he looked more like a churchman than a soldier, and undoubtedly he had a churchman’s tastes ; he liked books and often wrote his own letters, he was a patron of sacred music, and he took a keen interest in theology and ecclesiastical affairs. Furthermore before his accession he played an active role in suppressing heresy ; on one occasion he personally superintended the burning of a Lollard blacksmith in a barrel. When the man began to scream Henry had him pulled out and offered him a pension if he would recant—the man (who had denied transubstantiation) refused and was promptly put back in the flaming barrel.
Ruthless authority and cold cruelty were marked characteristics of this frugal, puritanical Plantagenet, yet he also possessed what is nowadays called charisma and could inspire genuine devotion. Shakespeare discerned grandeur and perhaps megalomania. A Victorian historian summed up Henry as ‘hard, domineering, over-ambitious, bigoted, sanctimonious, priggish’, but added ‘take him for all in all, he was indisputably the greatest Englishman of his day’. Yet there was something else which was not English. A modern historian (E. F. Jacob) sees an Italianate quality about Henry V, something of an Este or a Gonzaga, while Perroy considers that he ‘belongs to the age of the Italian tyrants’.
Henry’s brutal single-mindedness hints at inner tensions. Perhaps these derived from an unwilling or unconscious recognition of how very questionable was his right to the throne; he was only descended from a third son of Edward III, while the Earls of March were descended from a second son through the female line. One Lord March had actually been proclaimed heir presumptive by Richard II, and descent from the March heiress would one day be the basis of the claims of the House of York. Everyone in England knew that the Plantagenet title to France came through a female line. Although Henry was confident enough to release the current Earl of March from prison and to rebury King Richard in his magnificent tomb at Westminster, this element of doubt and insecurity may well have induced what was at times an almost hysterical insistence on his rights-even, most illogically of all, in France-together with a fanatical conviction that God was on his side.
In any case it was inevitable that Henry V would cross the Channel and attack the Valois. Only domestic troubles followed by ill-health had stopped his father doing so. But now the Welsh were broken and the new King was confident he could quell any trouble in England ; he had little difficulty in smashing Sir John Oldcastle’s pitiful Lollard conspiracy before it got under way. He discounted invasion by the Scots whose young ruler, James I, was an unwilling guest in the Tower of London. Probably Henry hoped that a renewal of the War would unite England. Above all, France continued to be in disarray, torn between the rival factions of Armagnac and Burgundy. It was an opportunity which no ambitious English King could afford to miss.
By 1413 the Armagnacs, led by the Count of Armagnac and the Constable Charles d’Albret, had won control of most of France including the capital. Duke John of Burgundy sulked in his own domains, while elsewhere his French supporters were being persecuted and murdered. A Burgundian army failed to retake Paris early in 1414, whereupon the Armagnacs announced their intention of invading Burgundy and deposing the Duke. Both sides negotiated with King Henry.
Duke John’s agents arrived in England in the spring of 1414. He wanted only 2,000 English troops, promising that when he had defeated the Armagnacs Henry would be given the Gascon lands of their leaders together with the Angoumois. But in the autumn the English horrified the Duke by asking for all the territories they had received at Brétigny, with Berry in addition, and for the recognition of Henry as King of France.
All this time Henry had also been negotiating with the Armagnacs, asking for Charles VI’s daughter as his bride with a dowry of ten million crowns ; his envoys argued fluently in favour of succession to the French crown through the female line. From the beginning the English King demanded more than the Brétigny settlement, stepping up his terms at each meeting. Far from offering tennis balls as Shakespeare suggests, the Armagnacs were only too willing to supply a French Princess and were even prepared to restore Aquitaine as it had been in 1369—though not its sovereignty—besides paying the remainder of King John’s ransom. But Henry insisted on sovereignty and on having Normandy. The Armagnac envoys made a last try, until at Winchester in midsummer 1414 the Chancellor, Bishop Beaufort, told them that unless his master received not merely Aquitaine and Normandy but Anjou, Touraine, Poitou, Maine and Ponthieu as well he would come and take them himself at the point of the sword. The envoys went home reluctantly, no doubt infuriated by Henry’s insistence that they were responsible for the ensuing war : they knew very well that he had been arming since the year before.
As with Edward III, finance was Henry V’s biggest problem. It has already been seen that normal royal revenues in the preceding reign were far less than in Edward’s time. Nothing testifies more to the enthusiasm of the English for the War than the readiness with which Henry’s subjects lent him money. In November 1414, in response to an appeal by Bishop Beaufort, Parliament voted the King a most generous subsidy. It was still not enough, so commissioners were dispatched throughout England to borrow money, a practice which continued for the rest of the reign. Loans without interest were raised from prelates and abbeys, from nobility and gentry, from city corporations and individual burgesses ; Dick Whittington, the rich London merchant, eventually contributed no less than £2,000, while some small tradesmen advanced sums as small as iod. Unlike Edward III’s loans, most of Henry V’s were repaid.
Henry’s army was recruited by the indenture system, captains being commissioned to hire men-at-arms and archers in specified numbers and at a stipulated rate. The first pay-packets were usually advanced by the captain, after which he was refunded by the exchequer who then supplied money for future payments ; generally the rate was the same as in Edward’s day. The bowmen’s equipment remained what it had been for a century, but the armour of the men-at-arms was very different from that worn at Crécy and Poitiers. For the last fifty years plate had been replacing mail to protect the wearer against arrows. It was still sur- . prisingly flexible as a man-at-arms fought more on foot than on horseback. But it was undeniably very heavy, weighing up to 661bs. English noblemen often imported these elaborate armours from Milan or Nuremburg. The wearers fought with weapons which smashed rather than cut or thrust—maces, battle-hammers and pole-axes. They no longer carried shields as they needed both hands for such tools.
In all Henry raised an army of about 8,000 archers and 2,000 men-at-arms, besides some unarmoured lancers and knifemen. They were supported by a large artillery train with sixty-five gunners, which had been in preparation for the last two years. Provisions, munitions, horses and ships were assembled on the same massive scale as the previous century. The King had a flair for logistics and personally supervised the operation ; to ensure fresh meat he had cattle and sheep driven to the ports on the hoof. Ships were supplied by the Cinque Ports or else hired or impounded, and eventually a fleet of 1,500 vessels assembled in the Solent. The flagship, the Trinité Royale, was no less than 540 tons and was manned by a crew of 300. Henry spent many weeks on the coast at Porchester Castle, organizing the entire embarkation with meticulous attention to detail and seemingly inexhaustible energy.
During this time the Earl of March suddenly revealed a conspiracy to murder the King and replace him by the Earl himself, who was the son of Richard II’s heir presumptive. The ‘three corrupted men’ in this ‘Southampton Plot’ were Henry’s first cousin, the Earl of Cambridge, with Sir Thomas Grey, and the royal Treasurer Lord Scrope of Masham ; the Percys and the Lollard Sir John Oldcastle were also involved. In less than a week the three ringleaders had been beheaded. There was no further trouble.
On Sunday 11 August 1415, a bright sunny day, Henry V and his armada set sail. There was only a slight breeze so the voyage across the Channel took three days. Instead of landing at Calais as expected, the English landed in Normandy at the Chef-de-Caux on the Seine estuary, just outside the rich port of Harfleur. The King had told very few even of his closest advisers of the carefully chosen destination ; Harfleur was to be the base from which he would conquer Normandy and strike down the river at Paris. It would be another Calais but with shorter supply lines more suited to campaigning in the French heartland. However, Harfleur was not easy to capture. It had dauntingly strong walls with twenty-six towers and three mighty barbicans-fortified gateways, strengthened by drawbridges and portcullises-together with a deep moat. Its garrison, commanded by the tough and able Sieur d‘Estouteville, numbered several hundred men-at-arms. When Henry called on them to surrender to the rightful Duke of Normandy, he received a sarcastic answer-‘You gave us nothing to look after, so we’ve nothing to give you back.’
Sir Simon Felbrygg, KG, Richard II’s banner-bearer, who served with John of Gaunt at the relief of Brest; and his wife Margaret, daughter of Przimislaus, Duke of Teschen, and sometime maid-of-honour to King Richard’s queen, Anne of Bohemia. Brass of 1416 at Felbrigg, Norfolk.
The English built a ditch and a stockade all round the town, their ships guarding the estuary effectively cutting Harfleur off from any hope of reinforcements or revictualling. They began to mine the walls, but grew discouraged by the French skill at detecting their tunnels and counter-mining. Henry had to rely on his artillery. This included cast-iron cannon twelve feet long and over two feet in calibre, firing stone balls which weighed nearly half a ton and were capable of demolishing the strongest masonry—though sometimes they splintered, producing a primitive but viciously effective shrapnel. The trouble was to get them into position as the Harfleur garrison had guns too, mounted on the walls. The English built earthworks and dug trenches and slowly edged their cannon forward on clumsy wheeled platforms protected by thick wooden screens. They suffered considerably, but eventually positioned their guns which began to batter away at the walls ; often the King was up all night directing them. Sections of the walls began to collapse, crashing to the ground with a terrifying roar. Yet after a month the English had still failed to take what was only a small town, and partly because of the sweltering heat of high summer, partly because many of them had to sleep on marshy ground and partly through drinking bad wine and cider and contaminated water, dysentery and probably malaria broke out. Many died, including the Earls of Arundel, March and Suffolk and the Bishop of Norwich. ‘In this siege many men died of cold in nights and fruit eating; else of stink of carrions,’ says the chronicler Capgrave. But on 17 September a barbican fell to the English.
Inside the town the bombardment had demolished buildings and caused severe casualties, while food was exhausted ; no reply to desperate appeals for help had been received from the Dauphin and his advisers. On 18 September the garrison asked for a truce until 6 October, when they would surrender if they had not been relieved. Henry would only allow them until 22 September. No help came and on that day, a Sunday, Harfleur surrendered. After walking barefoot to the principal church to give thanks, the King expelled the inhabitants : ‘they put out alle the French people both man woman and chylde and stuffed the town with English men.’ The rich bourgeois were sent back to England to be ransomed, while 2,000 of the ‘poorer sort’ had to find their way to Rouen. Only a few of the very poorest were allowed to stay and these had to take an oath of allegiance.
King Henry V (1387-1422)
‘Unto the French the dreadful judgement day
So dreadful will not be as was his sight.’
John, Duke of Bedford,
Regent of France (1389-1435)
‘Give me my steeled coat,
I’ll fight for France.’
King Henry VI (1421-1471)
Pale ashes of the House of Lancaster !
Thou bloodless remnant of that royal blood !’
Although Henry had gained a useful new base in France, he had suffered disastrous losses ; about a third of his army were dead, either killed during the siege or from disease, while many of those still on their feet were ill. Besides sending his sick home, he had to leave a garrison. On 3 September he had written in a letter to Bordeaux that he intended to go down the Seine, past Rouen and Paris and then march to Guyenne, a journey of several hundred miles. His advisers convinced him that such a raid was now out of the question but failed to persuade him to return to England. The King insisted on a chevauchée—he would march the 160 miles to Calais. It was an odd decision ; perhaps he meant to demonstrate the inability of the French to harm their rightful sovereign chosen by God. On 6 October his troops began to leave Harfleur, the King and the Duke of Gloucester commanding the main army, Sir John Cornwall the advance guard and the Duke of York and the Earl of Oxford the rearguard. They abandoned their artillery and baggage-train, carrying provisions for only eight days, and they took these only because they expected to march through a devastated countryside. They did not foresee any opposition. Henry’s plan was simply to march north-east until the Somme was reached and then south-east down the river to the first undefended ford and, after crossing it, to make straight for Calais.
The Dauphin’s forces had decided to intercept the English. An army many times larger assembled, gradually joined by such magnates as the Dukes of Orleans, Bourbon, Alençon, and Brittany, and even by John of Burgundy’s younger brothers, the Duke of Brabant and the Count of Nevers. The Dauphin himself was not allowed to take part. All brought splendidly equipped men-at-arms. It seems likely that Marshal Boucicault and his advance guard had linked up with the Constable d‘Albret and the main body at Rouen even before Henry had left Harfleur. It was all too easy for them to follow the English whose path was marked by blazing farmhouses—King Henry once observed that war without fire was like ‘sausages without mustard’.
We know a good deal about Henry’s chevauchée from the narrative of a chaplain who rode with his army. As they marched through the pelting rain the English did not at first realize that they were being pursued, but at ford after ford along the Somme they found their way barred by troops. Blanche Taque, Edward III’s ford, was defended by Boucicault in person. Furthermore the river was in flood. On 19 October Henry at last managed to cross, almost at the source of the Somme, by the two fords of Béthencourt and Voyennes near Peronne ; archers went over first at Béthencourt through water waist-deep, the men rebuilding the causeway which had been destroyed by the French ; while a similar operation was carried out at Voyennes. Enemy horsemen attacked but were beaten off, the crossings being completed shortly after dark. On 20 October French heralds arrived at Henry’s camp, bearing a challenge. ‘Our lords’, they told him, ‘have heard how you intend with your army to conquer the towns, castles and cities of the realm of France and to depopulate French cities. And because of this, and for the sake of their country and their oaths, many of our lords are assembled to defend their rights ; and they inform you by us that before you come to Calais they will meet you to fight with you and be revenged of your conduct.’ Henry replied simply : ‘Be all things according to the will of God.’ Adding that whatever happened he would march to Calais, he sent them away with a hundred gold crowns each. Accepting that he had been outmanoeuvred, the King at once ordered his men to take up positions—obviously he expected to be attacked at any moment. But there was still no sign of the French army.
Next morning the English trudged on through a torrential downpour which was blown into their eyes by a driving wind. For several days they continued their march without serious incident, covering as much as eighteen miles a day, all of it beneath the unrelenting rain. On 24 October the Duke of York’s scouts saw through the drizzle the French army advancing on their right like ‘an innumerable host of locusts’, in a direction which meant that they would soon intercept the English line of advance. Henry took up battle positions along a ridge, and the French, who had now sighted their quarry, also took up positions. The enemy appeared to have learnt a good deal since Crécy and would not attack such a strong position so late in the day. Nonetheless, they continued to advance so that by nightfall they had effectively blocked the English road to Calais.
All hope of retreat had gone. The English plodded on up the muddy road to the little village of Maisoncelles. The King himself slept near the village of Blangy, no doubt under cover. His men had to sleep in the open beneath the drenching rain, the luckier finding some wretched shelter beneath trees or bushes. There were now less than 6,000 of them—about 5,000 archers and perhaps 800 men-at-arms. Many were still suffering from dysentery while even the strongest had been weakened not only by their miserable march through the wet but by lack of nourishment, being reduced to a little cold food supplemented by nuts and raw vegetables taken from the fields. They seem to have had few fires that night. The archers must have been especially tired as unlike the men-at-arms many of them had no horses and had to carry their weapons, which included quivers holding fifty arrows and wooden stakes for defence. All were terrified by the enormous size of the force facing them. Even Henry was shaken and released his prisoners, sending a message to the enemy commanders in which he offered to return Harfleur and pay for any damage he had done if he were allowed safe passage to Calais ; but the French terms were too steep —renunciation of his claims in France to everything save Guyenne.
The King ordered his troops to be silent during the night, threatening knights with the confiscation of horse and armour, lower ranks with the amputation of an ear. Understandably an eerie quiet prevailed throughout the English camp, interrupted only by armourers hammering and sharpening, and by the whispers of men being shriven by their chaplains. The French took it for a good sign, believing that the English thought themselves already beaten. Many of the latter must surely have felt like this, hearing all the confident noise and bustle from the enemy camp where there were between 40,000 and 50,000 men-at-arms. Meanwhile Henry sent out scouts to examine the ground.
By dawn both armies were preparing for battle. The rain had at last stopped, but the ploughed land underfoot was nothing but slippery mud—in some places knee-deep. The King drew up his bedraggled troops in a field of newly sown wheat (in a formation similar to that used by Edward III at Crécy). He himself commanded the centre, the Duke of York the right, and Lord Camoys KG the left ; there were three ‘battles’ of dismounted men-at-arms, the gaps between the battles being filled by projecting wedges of archers ; while the main body of bowmen formed horns on the wings, standing slightly forward so they could shoot inwards if the French attacked the centre. There was no reserve, but at least the English flanks were protected by woods.
The French position, directly north of the English, also lay between these two small woods, one of which was close to the little village of Tramecourt, the other to that of Agincourt. It was a badly chosen position ; not only was it too narrow but the ploughed fields in front had been churned up by horses’ hooves. The actual formation consisted of two long lines of dismounted men-at-arms carrying sawn-off lances, while behind them and on the wings were the remaining men-at-arms who were still on horseback. The artillery was on the wings too, but was hampered by the confusion among the men-at-arms who found their heavy armour a terrible hindrance on the sodden ground. Marshal Boucicault and the Constable d’Albret were nominally in command, though in practice there was no proper command-structure or leadership of any sort. However, for the moment the French had the sense to wait for the English to attack.
Sir Hugh Halsham, who fought at Agincourt in Lord Arundel’s retinue; and his wife, Joyce Culpeper. Brass of 1441 at West Grinstead, Sussex.
King Henry heard three Masses and took communion before addressing his men. He told them ‘he was come into France to recover his lawful inheritance’, and that the French had promised to cut three fingers off every English archer’s right hand so ‘they might never presume again to shoot at man or horse’. Although he rode only a little grey pony he must have been an impressive figure, in his gold-plated helmet with its golden crown of pearls, rubies and sapphires. His army shouted to him, ‘Sir, we pray God give you a good life and the victory over your enemies.’ Undoubtedly they admired him and believed in his genius, and were confident that he would rescue them from this terrifying situation.
The King must have prayed for the French to attack so that he could use his bowmen. But for several hours the French stayed calmly in their positions. At about nine o‘clock Henry therefore told Sir Thomas Erpingham, ‘a grey-headed old knight‘, to take the archers on the wings forward within range of the enemy. When this had been done the King gave the order for the rest of his little army to move forward—‘Banners advance ! In the name of Jesus, Mary and St George !’ After making the sign of the Cross and kissing the earth, the English marched forward solidly over the dirty ground in good order. Most of the bowmen ‘had no armour but were only wearing doublets, their hose rolled up to their knees, with hatchets and axes or in some cases large swords hanging from their belts ; some of them went barefoot and had nothing on their heads, while others wore caps of boiled leather’. They halted at a little less than 300 yards from the enemy and, after sticking their pointed stakes in the ground in front of them, began to shoot. The French put their heads down, the English arrows falling so thick and fast that no one dared look up. In desperation the mounted French men-at-arms on the wings charged the archers. As always the horses suffered most from the arrows, becoming unmanageable or bolting, while those that did reach the English lines were impaled on the six-foot stakes which were set a horse’s breast high.
The first line of the enemy’s dismounted men-at-arms then formed themselves into a column, hoping fewer would be hit by arrows, and toiled slowly forward towards the English through the thick mud which had been churned up still further by the horses. The English on the wings shot steadily into the sides of the column, inflicting many casualties, their arrows making a terrifying hiss and clatter. When the French at last reached the English lines they were in no coherent formation and too tightly packed, while the deep mud had slowed them almost to a halt. This combination of disorder and immobility would cost them the battle.
Nevertheless at the first impact the French threw back the front line of English men-at-arms at Henry’s centre, almost knocking them off their feet. The King quickly ordered his archers to drop their bows and go to the men-at-arms’ assistance, whereupon seizing ‘swords, hatchets, mallets, axes, falcon-beaks and other weapons’ they hurled themselves on the enemy. The liquid mud of the battlefield gave the advantage to the bowmen who were able to dance round the ponderous Frenchmen, whom they stabbed through the joints of their armour or bowled over. Some of the latter lay writhing on their backs like capsized crabs until their visors were knocked open and daggers thrust into their faces ; most drowned in the mud or died of suffocation, pressed down by the bodies of their comrades on top of them.
The enemy’s second line of men-at-arms, also in column, came on in equal disorder to meet with the same reception from the English, who were now standing on piles of French corpses. Their leader, the Duke of Alençon, fought like a lion, striking down the Duke of Gloucester and beating the King to his knees—he actually hacked a fleuret from his crown—but was eventually overwhelmed. He surrendered to Henry, taking off his helmet, but was at once cut down with an axe by a berserk English knight. The Duke of Brabant, who had arrived late without his surcoat and donned a herald’s tabard instead, was disarmed ; not being recognized, he had his throat cut. After only half an hour both the first and the second French columns had been annihilated; in some places the heaped bodies were higher than a man’s head. The English turned them over, searching for loot and any valuable prisoners still alive, who were sent to the rear. Henry and his commanders soon made the men return to their positions. There was still a threat from the remaining French troops.
While the King was waiting for a third enemy assault, a cry went up that the French had received reinforcements. At the same moment he learnt that hundreds of peasants were attacking his baggage. Henry immediately ordered the execution of all prisoners save the most distinguished. The men guarding them were most reluctant to lose so many valuable ransoms, so the King detailed 200 archers to do the job, the Frenchmen being (in the words of a Tudor historian) ‘sticked with daggers, brained with poleaxes, slain with mauls’—to make quite sure, they were also ‘paunched in fell and cruel wise’. One group was burnt to death by setting fire to the hut where they were confined. English writers attempt to whitewash this piece of Schrechlichkeitby Henry, usually with reference to ‘the standards of the day’, but in fact by medieval criteria it was a particularly nasty atrocity to murder unarmed noblemen who had surrendered in the confident expectation of being ransomed.
In fact the third enemy assault never materialized. Although they still outnumbered the English, the remaining French men-at-arms were so horrified by the butchery in front of them that they refused to attack and rode off the battlefield. In less than four hours the English, against all expectation, had defeated an army many times larger. The French had lost about 10,000 men, among them such great lords as the Dukes of Alençon, Bar and Brabant, the Constable d‘Albret (though his fellow commander Marshal Boucicault survived as a prisoner), the Count of Nevers with six other counts, 120 barons and 1,500 knights. The English had lost perhaps 300 men, the only persons of note among them being Henry’s cousin, the fat Duke of York—he had fallen over and been suffocated by bodies falling on top of him—and the Earl of Suffolk together with half a dozen knights. Many were badly wounded however, notably Henry’s brother the Duke of Gloucester—‘In the hammes’.
The chivalry of the Black Prince was not for King Henry. That night his high-ranking prisoners had to wait on him at table. The troops took another hopeful look at the French casualties still lying all over the field ; anyone who was rich and could walk was rounded up, but the poor and the badly wounded had their throats slit. Next day, laden with plunder from the corpses, the English recommenced their march to Calais, dragging 1,500 prisoners along with them. The rain began again. Wetter and hungrier than ever, the little army reached Calais on 29 October. Here, although the King was fêted rapturously, his men were hardly treated as conquering heroes. Some were even refused entry, while the Calais people charged them such exorbitant prices for food and drink that they were soon cheated out of their loot and rich captives. (Henry kept the great prisoners for himself—he wanted every penny of their ransoms.)
The troops were too exhausted for any further campaigning, so in mid-November the King sailed for England. On 23 November he entered London to receive an ecstatic welcome. There were pageants and tableaux, orations, dancing in the streets and carols—including the famous Agincourt Carol—while the drinking fountains ran with wine. The euphoria was such that Henry was to have little trouble in raising fresh loans for more campaigns during the next few years. Meanwhile he gave thanks at St Paul’s.
In reality, as Perroy emphasizes, the Agincourt campaign decided nothing—It was just another chevauchée. Nevertheless it is hardly surprising that Henry was determined to follow it up. He made the most of Harfleur, the sole tangible gain, every inducement including free housing being offered to merchants and artisans in the hope that they would settle there and make it a Norman Calais.
In 1416 the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund arrived in England to stay at Westminster, his object being to make peace between England and France in the interests of church unity. His real business was to heal the Papal schism, which ended with the election of Pope Martin V in 1417. However, he concluded a treaty of mutual help and alliance with Henry. This so impressed Duke John of Burgundy that he decided to ally with the English himself, and in October of that year he travelled to Calais to meet Henry. The Duke promised to become the Englishman’s vassal, acknowledging him as King of France and promising to help him depose Charles VI.
Henry V did not restrict himself to diplomacy. He began to build up a formidable navy and by the end of 1417 there were thirty-four King’s Ships, compared with six in 1413. Some were surprisingly big, such as the Holy Ghost of 740 tons. In 1430 a Florentine sea-captain saw Henry’s great cog, the Grace Dieu, at Southampton. He reported : ‘... truly I have never seen so large and splendid a construction. I had the mast measured on the first deck and it was about 2 1 feet in circumference and 195feet high. From the galley of the prow to the water was about 50 feet and they say that when she is at sea another corridor is raised above this. She was about 176feet long and about 96 feet in the beam.’ The fleet included seven captured Genoese carracks and about fifteen ballingers—oared sailing-barges—as well as the cogs. Henry also ordered another large ship to be built at Bayonne. He engaged a rich merchant, William Soper, to help him construct a naval base at Southampton, like the French Clos des Galées at Rouen, with a dock and a storehouse. At Hamble nearby there were other storehouses and wooden fortifications behind which the ships could shelter. The Keeper of the King’s Ships was responsible for building and refitting, and also for supplying equipment and paying crews, and even for providing vessels for patrols and transport.
The benefits of Henry’s maritime policy were quickly apparent. When the French blockaded Harfleur in the summer of 1416, the Duke of Bedford inflicted a crushing defeat on the Franco-Genoese fleet, capturing several enemy vessels and relieving the beleaguered port. The following year, off the Chef-de-Caux, the Earl of Huntingdon destroyed what remained of the French navy, taking four carracks and the enemy commander, the Bastard of Bourbon. Henceforward English patrols sailed the Channel un-challenged, giving Henry the command of the sea-routes necessary for his campaigns.
By 1417 the King had obtained fresh subsidies from Parliament besides borrowing money, and was ready to renew the struggle. Among many preparations for war was a quaint but eminently practical instruction to the sheriffs in February 1417, which ordered them to have six wing-feathers plucked from every goose and sent to London for the fletchers to flight arrows. The expedition, which sailed in July, was about the same size as that of 1415, 10,000 soldiers carried in something like 1,500 ships. However, this time Henry had a different objective—he intended to conquer and subdue France, region by region, with a war of slow, thorough sieges, and he would begin with Normandy. As before he concealed both his aims and his destination. Instead of disembarking at Calais or Harfleur, on 1 August the English landed at the mouth of the river Touques, between the modern resorts of Deauville and Trouville.
There was no one to oppose him. The civil war was raging as fiercely as ever and the new Constable, the Count of Armagnac, dared not leave Paris because of a Burgundian army waiting outside. If the English could conquer lower Normandy they would not only acquire a useful supply-base, rich in provisions and forage, but they would cut the Normans off from any hope of relief from Anjou or Brittany, and be able to besiege Rouen, the ducal capital, at their leisure. By 18 August Henry had invested Caen (which had probably not forgotten the sack by his great-grandfather over seventy years before). The city was protected on three sides by the river Orne and two tributaries, and it had strong new walls and a great citadel. The English stormed two abbeys in the suburbs and mounted artillery on their tall towers. The English guns pounded the fortifications with stone shot and with hollow iron balls filled with flaming tow—an early species of shell. Henry’s cannon were surprisingly effective, if erratic ; their chief weakness seems to have been unreliable powder.
Soon the walls were breached in several places and the King called on the French to give up or to expect no quarter. They refused to surrender, so on 4 September Henry led an assault on the east side. At the same time his brother Clarence attacked from the west over the river. One of the King’s knights, young Sir Edmund Springhouse, fell off the wall into the ditch whereupon the French threw flaming straw on top of him and burnt him alive, an atrocity which enraged the English. Clarence and the Earl of Warwick won the day, storming in over the river wall and cutting their way through to Henry’s side. The victors herded the inhabitants—men, women and children—into the market-place where they proceeded to butcher them, killing at least 2,000. The city was then sacked, those who had escaped the massacre in the market-place suffering all the horrors of plunder and rape. A fortnight later the garrison in the citadel surrendered. Henry had by then done much to restore order and had given instructions for the ruined buildings to be rebuilt. He established himself in the citadel which became a favourite residence and where, characteristically, he installed a well furnished chapel. He also gave a number of the city’s best houses to his troops.
The chronicler Basin tells us of the terror inspired by Henry and the English among the Normans, which explains something of the King’s success ; the entire population of Lisieux fled, leaving only two old cripples behind. Bayeux quickly surrendered to the Duke of Gloucester, with almost no resistance. In October Henry captured Argentan and Alençon. The reputedly impregnable fortress of Falaise took a little longer, but finally surrendered to its besiegers in February 1418. By the spring all lower Normandy and the Cotentin, from Evreux up to Cherbourg, had been overrun. The conquered territory was given four new baillis—Sir Roland Lenthall at Alençon, Sir John Popham at Caen, Sir John Radcliffe at Evreux and Sir John Assheton in the Cotentin. These English gauleiterswere assisted by mainly Norman vicomtes and at once began to force the local population to accept Henry’s rule ; on payment of iod any Norman who took the oath of loyalty was given a certificate of allegiance. Caen became the centre of this new administration, which was provided with an English chancellor and an English president of the chambre des comptes, and where a mint issued coins in Henry’s name. Many Norman seigneurs abandoned their castles and manors, fleeing rather than recognize Henry as their Duke and King. The clergy were less squeamish and provided a useful supply of bureaucrats.
Meanwhile Henry, after spending a pious Lent at Bayeux, made ready to conquer the rest of Normandy. In June he took Louviers ; its cannon had scored a direct hit on the royal tent during the siege so he hanged eight enemy gunners—one source says that he crucified some of them. He then besieged Pont de l’Arche, which fell on 20 July after the English had crossed the river on portable boats of skin and wickerwork. Its famous bridge straddled the Seine between Paris and Rouen which was seven miles downstream, and its capture meant that the Norman capital was cut off from receiving reinforcements or supplies from Paris. As the English already controlled the mouth of the Seine, Rouen had been effectively isolated, and on 29 July, at night, Henry pitched camp outside it.
Rouen was one of the wealthiest and most beautiful cities in France, rich from weaving and from sending its luxury goods and goldsmiths’ work up-river to the capital. It contained a noble cathedral, three famous abbeys, over thirty convents and nearly forty parish churches. The King was not exaggerating when he wrote to his subjects in London that Rouen was ‘the most notable place in France save Paris’. Its walls extended for five miles, strengthened by six mighty barbicans and sixty towers ; one side was defended by the Seine, the three others by an unusually deep and wide ditch filled with wolf-traps. In addition, an enormous bank of earth had been built on the inside of the walls to help them resist bombardment; the ditch had been deepened and the suburbs demolished, while large stocks of food had been brought in from the countryside. There was a garrison of 4,000 men-at-arms under the redoubtable Guy le Bouteiller, while the belligerent citizens—who seem to have been armed chiefly with crossbows—were led by a bravebailli, Guillaume Houdetot. There was an abundance of artillery—three cannon in every tower, each stretch of wall between them mounting another cannon supported by eight small guns. The city felt so confident that it had given refuge to many refugees from lower Normandy, admitting thousands of useless mouths. Indeed there were many more besieged than there were besiegers.
However, Henry V was equally confident. He built four fortified camps, one on each side of the city and linked by trenches, and blocked the river upstream with a great chain. Downstream he made a bridge of boats which had been hauled overland. His army was soon reinforced by 3,000 troops under Gloucester and by 1,500 Irish kern—knife and javelin men led by Fra’ Thomas Butler, Prior of the Knights of St John in Ireland.1 The scorched-earth tactics of the French made supplies scarce, but Henry overcame the problem by bringing food across the Channel and up the Seine; one consignment from London included thirty barrels of sweet wine and a thousand pipes of ale.
Henry set up his headquarters in the local charterhouse, far enough outside the walls to have escaped demolition. Here he waited while he starved the enemy into submission. He had gibbets constructed in view of the walls on which he hanged prisoners ; the French retaliated by building a gibbet of their own on the battlements and stringing up an English captive. From the walls the Vicar-General of Rouen, Robert de Linet excommunicated King Henry. (Henry was so infuriated that when he took Rouen he put Linet in chains where he stayed for the rest of his life.) The beleaguered city counted on help from Burgundians or Armagnacs, and in November a rumour reached Rouen that an army was on its way. The rumour proved false : the Burgundians had now reoccupied Paris, after a popular revolt had driven out the Armagnacs and lynched the Constable, and they were too intent on holding it to worry about what was happening in Normandy.
By mid-October Rouen was eating horseflesh. Towards Christmas it was reduced to cats, dogs, rats and even mice. ‘And then they took to eating rotten food and any vegetable peelings they could find—they even ate dock roots,’ says John Page, an English soldier who was present. ‘And now the people in the city began to die. Every day many died and could find no burial.’ The defenders took ruthless action—All the poor folk of that city were expelled from every gate, many hundreds at a time.’ No less than 12,000 were driven forth, including old men and nursing mothers. Henry refused to let them pass, so they had to stay in the ditch in the depths of winter and starve. It rained unceasingly. Even the English troops felt sorry for them. ‘Our soldiers gave them some of their own bread although they had fought us so bitterly.’ On Christmas Day the King made one of his few magnanimous gestures and sent food and drink into the ditch by two priests, who were the only men that the defenders would admit. But the day’s truce was soon over and those in the ditch began to die miserably. ‘There’ relates John Page, ‘one might see wandering here and there children of two or three years old begging for bread as their parents were dead. These wretched people had only sodden soil under them and they lay there crying for food—some starving to death, some unable to open their eyes and no longer breathing, others cowering on their knees as thin as twigs. A woman was there clutching her dead child to her breast to warm it, and a child was sucking the breast of its dead mother. There one could easily count ten or twelve dead to one alive, who had died so quietly without call or cry as though they had died in their sleep.’ It was scarcely better inside the city.
On New Year’s Eve 1419 a French knight shouted from a gate that the defenders wished to parley. Their envoys visited Henry at his headquarters on 2 January ; after making them wait while he finished hearing Mass, he berated them for keeping him out of his own city, ‘which is my rightful heritage’. He also refused to let the poor people leave the ditch—his comment was, ‘Who put them there?’ (‘I put them not there and that wot ye.’) The envoys ‘treated day, they treated night, with candle and torches bright’, the negotiations dragging on for ten days, Henry insisting all the time that ‘Rouen is my heritage’. Eventually terms were agreed; if no relief had arrived by 19 January the city would surrender at noon on that day and pay an indemnity of 300,000 gold crowns. However, the garrison would be allowed to march off, though without their arms and on condition of not fighting against the English for a year, and so long as they took an oath of allegiance the citizens might keep their houses and goods. No relief came. The day after the surrender Henry rode in with dramatic modesty, dressed in black and accompanied by a single squire bearing a lance with a fox’s brush on its tip—a favourite badge of the King. Most of the citizens who watched him were skin and bone with sunken eyes and pinched noses, and could scarcely talk or even breathe—their skin was as dull as lead. ‘They looked like those effigies of dead kings that one sees on tombs.’ Henry gave thanks at the cathedral with his usual ostentatious piety.
After two months at Rouen, repairing its defences and organizing the new administration, Henry was ready for a further campaign. In the meantime his captains had captured other Norman towns—Mantes, Honfleur, Dieppe, Ivry, La Roche Guyon, Fécamp. Only the impregnable abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel held out on the coast. By the end of the year the English were undisputed masters of all Normandy, including the Vexin. Furthermore, in July Henry seized Pontoise and was now within striking distance of Paris.
The English occupation of Normandy had a certain resemblance to the Norman conquest of England. Although a few became faithful servants of the Plantagenets, the native nobility were largely dispossessed, their estates being given to Englishmen. In 1418-1419 alone, six Norman counties were re-allotted. Henry’s brother, heir and righthand man, the Duke of Clarence, received three viscounties (territorial units, not just titles). The Duke of Exeter, the King’s uncle, had the great county of Harcourt, with all that family’s princely possessions, and the important castle of Lillebonne. The Earl of Salisbury became Count of Perche. Grants were according to rank, and these new nobles of Normandy had to perform specified military duties in proportion to the value of the fief, such as garrisoning towns, providing troops or maintaining their châteaux as fortresses and depots. Many captains obtained castles and manors on similar conditions, though the King threatened these lesser men with death if ever they left Normandy. In addition there was a limited attempt at colonization ; 10,000 English were established at Harfleur and there were smaller settlements at Caen and Honfleur, while houses were confiscated and given to Englishmen in most Norman towns. Many of these settlers married Norman girls. However, full-scale colonization was beyond the resources of so thinly populated a country as fifteenth-century England.
The new English lords benefited from more than the mere revenues of their estates. There were the salaries and profits of office, the exploitation of taxes, indemnities and money for safe conducts, together with the usual protection racket of the pâtis. And there were ransoms and plunder from campaigning elsewhere in France. The latter benefited every English soldier not just the magnates ; the contemporary chronicler Adam of Usk tells us that after Henry’s victories loot from France was on sale all over England.
The Duchy of Normandy was governed through its traditional institutions. However, the eight baillis were all Englishmen, though their officials were mostly Normans. The great offices of Chancellor, Treasurer-General, Seneschal and Admiral were likewise held by Englishmen. Assisted by a surprisingly loyal native bureaucracy, they were to milk Normandy dry by cruel taxation and forced loans, and by manipulating the currency (undervaluing it, calling it in and then re-coining and re-issuing it), to make the duchy pay for as much of the English war effort as possible. There was a resistance, guerrilla bands in woods and caves led by dispossessed seigneurs and recruited from peasants who found the pâtis intolerable ; the English called them ‘brigands’ and hanged them when they caught them. Yet the duchy was held by astonishingly few troops. It is known that in 1421 Henry’s garrisons amounted to about 4,500 men, later reduced to as little as 1,500, while the new English seigneurs maintained perhaps 2,500 further troops at scattered strongholds. These soldiers were commanded by an all powerful Lord-Lieutenant and paid by the proceeds of the pâtis.Despite the harshness of its regime English Normandy was to endure for thirty years, and an entire generation of Normans knew no other rule.
King Henry had a special affection for this new Guyenne, possibly because he saw himself as the heir of William the Conqueror. He was constantly referring to ‘our Duchy of Normandy’ with obvious pride. He tried to make himself popular with his new subjects, being careful not to over-Anglicize the administration, and he encouraged trade and commerce by issuing licences and letters of protection. He also attempted to stop his troops looting.
The possession of Normandy gave strategic advantages. Not only was it a springboard from which to control the food route of the lower Seine and throttle Paris, but occupation of its coast secured communications with Bordeaux while the Channel became a second instead of a front line of defence so that the southern English counties were safe from any threat of invasion. At the same time the loss of both the French royal docks at Rouen and the Norman ports meant the end of any French navy. Squadrons from Henry’s own new fleet patrolled the Channel constantly, exploiting the situation and seizing French merchant ships.
But Henry V saw the acquisition of the duchy as only a step towards conquering his entire ‘heritage’. France was ill prepared to meet such a threat, with her nobility hopelessly split between Burgundians and Armagnacs. Poor King Charles was crazier than ever. Two Dauphins had died prematurely while a third, the future Charles VII who had been born in 1399, was an unpromising youth, mentally immature and physically unprepossessing.
Horrified by the English advance, Duke John of Burgundy tried to negotiate with the Armagnacs who had the Dauphin under their thumb. Although the Burgundians had captured Paris in 1418 after an uprising in which their supporters had killed thousands of Armagnacs, a preliminary meeting at Corbeille in the summer of 1419 between Duke John and the Dauphin and his Armagnac advisers seemed to establish a measure of agreement.
In fact the Armagnacs were plotting revenge. At a second meeting on 10 September, on the bridge over the Yonne at Montereau, they hacked the Duke of Burgundy to death as he knelt in homage; it seems that the Dauphin may have given the signal for the first blow. A century later a Carthusian monk, who was showing François I the mausoleum of the Dukes at Dijon, picked up John’s broken skull and commented, ‘This is the hole through which the English entered France.’ At the news of his father’s murder, John’s son and heir is said to have thrown himself on his bed, rolling his eyes and grinding his teeth with rage and grief. The breach between Burgundians and Armagnacs had now become irreparable.
The Armagnacs, who had already lost the capital, were weakened still further by widespread revulsion at the murder. Many people blamed them for all France’s misfortunes. The Bourgeois of Paris wrote, ‘Normandy would still be French, the noble blood of France would not have been spilt nor the lords of the Kingdom taken away into exile, nor the battle lost, nor would so many good men have been killed on that frightful day at Agincourt where the King lost so many of his true and loyal friends, had it not been for the pride of this wretched name Armagnac.’ The Dauphin, who was regarded as the puppet of the Armagnacs, shared in their opprobrium. As the monk said at Dijon, this fatal division among the French was the thing which made it possible for Henry V to conquer and to hold so much of France.
Yet the accident of a simultaneous civil war between Burgundians and Armagnacs has obscured the fact that by now the Hundred Years War had become for all Englishmen and for many Frenchmen an essentially national struggle. Significantly the English ruling class had ceased to speak French as a matter of course—even the King’s first language was now English. Undoubtedly the antagonism between fifteenth-century Englishmen and Frenchmen reflected a genuinely national xenophobia. By Joan of Arc’s day at least, the French were already using the term Godon—‘God-damn’—to describe an Englishman. In about 1419 an anonymous moralist writing a dialogue between ‘France’ and ‘Truth’ gives a vivid picture of how some Frenchmen felt about the. English invaders. ‘The war they have waged and still wage is false, treacherous and damnable, but then they are an accursed race, opposed to all good and all reason, ravening wolves, proud, arrogant hypocrites, tricksters without any conscience, tyrants and persecutors of Christians, men who drink and gorge on human blood, with natures like birds of prey, people who live only by plunder.’ Unfortunately for France, the Burgundians and Armagnacs hated each other more than they hated the English.
The new Duke of Burgundy, Philip the Good, was twenty-five—fully mature by medieval standards. Although a man of Flanders from upbringing and sympathies, luxurious and preferring display and the joust to statecraft or campaigning, he was no less determined to rule France than his father had been. His solution was to partition northern France between Burgundy and England. At first he may have believed that the English would leave him to rule it all—if so he was mistaken—but even with an English occupation he would benefit substantially; he could continue to rule large areas of France at little expense, and he might well acquire more power by being necessary to a Lancastrian than by dominating a Valois. In December 1419 he allied formally with Henry and promised to help him conquer France.
The English and Burgundians now began to negotiate with King Charles—or rather with Queen Isabeau—whose shabby court was at Troyes in Champagne, where in 1417 with Burgundian support the Queen had set up a rival government to that of the Dauphin. Henry, his brother Clarence, and only 1,500 men marched to Troyes from Pontoise by a circular route, praying at Saint-Denis and parading past the walls of Paris. In Champagne he issued a characteristic order to his troops—the local wine must be diluted with water. He reached Troyes on 20 May 1420 and a treaty which had already been drafted was concluded next day. Poor Charles VI, ‘in his malady’, did not seem to know who Henry was when he met him but performed obediently. By the terms of the treaty the English King became Haeres et Regens Franciae—Heir to the French Throne and Regent of France—Isabeau cheerfully claiming that the Dauphin was a bastard by one of her lovers. Henry was to marry Charles’s daughter Catherine, the wedding taking place at Troyes within twelve days. (According to the chronicler Enguerrand de Monstrelet, the couple were enthusiastic : ‘It was plainly to be seen that King Henry was desperately in love with her’, while the black-haired Princess of France ‘had longed passionately to be espoused to King Henry’; even so the honeymoon was spent besieging Sens.) In return Henry was to conquer all territories currently occupied by the ‘pretended Dauphin’ and the Armagnacs. When he became the French King he was to incorporate his Duchy of Normandy into the Kingdom of France, though while Charles VI lived Henry was to keep Normandy and receive the ‘homage’ of Brittany. Overjoyed, he sent the news of his ‘good conclusion’ to England, where there was a procession at St Paul’s in thanksgiving. It was a grim irony that he would not live to wear the French crown. The Treaty of Troyes was one of the greatest humiliations in French history, comparable to that of 1940, yet as Perroy points out : ‘North of the Loire no voice was raised against the treaty.’
Henry and Philip of Burgundy at once continued with the conquest of northern France, to the delight of those dispossessed by the Armagnacs. The allies besieged Montereau where Philip’s father had been murdered, Henry hanging some prisoners before the walls to encourage the garrison to surrender. The town fell and Duke John’s body was exhumed and taken to Dijon. The campaign’s principal aim was to reduce any centres of enemy resistance between Normandy and Paris. An especially important obstacle was Melun to which Henry and an Anglo-Burgundian army of 20,000 men laid siege in July. Although the town was garrisoned by only 700 troops, the courageous Gascon commander, Arnaud Guillaume de Barbazan, was determined to make good use of its excellent defensive position ; it straddled the Seine, with its centre and citadel on an island, each of the town’s three sections forming a separate walled stronghold linked to its neighbour by a bridge. The English tried mining, often knee-deep in water, but the French counter-mined and there were murderous struggles by torchlight in the tunnels, in which Henry himself took part, actually crossing swords on one occasion with Barbazan.
The English heavy guns—Including one which was called London, a gift from loyal citizens—had no more decisive effect than the mines ; the defenders swiftly plugged the breaches with barrels of earth. Dysentery broke out among the besiegers, who suffered many casualties. Henry sent a message to Barbazan to obey Charles VI, whom he had brought to the camp, but the fiery Gascon retorted that while he might be loyal to his sovereign he would never recognize any English King. Provisions failed at last, and on 18 November Melun was forced to surrender after a siege of eighteen weeks. Henry wanted to hang Barbazan, but the Gascon escaped by appealing to the laws of chivalry; he could not be executed because, having fought the King hand-to-hand, he was a brother-in-arms. Henry contented himself with putting Barbazan in an iron cage. However, Henry did succeed in hanging a score of Scottish soldiers on the thin pretext that they were traitors to their King who was his captive and theoretical ally. The Bourgeois of Paris tells us that while the English army was at Melun it devastated the country round about for more than twenty leagues.
On 1 September 1420 Henry V, Philip of Burgundy and Charles VI made a ceremonial entry into Paris to begin an English occupation which would last for fifteen years. The Parisians cheered Charles’s ‘true son’ and priests chanted Te Deums in the streets, while the States-General ratified the Treaty of Troyes and the Parlement declared the Dauphin incapable of succeeding to the throne because of his ‘horrible and dreadful crimes’. Monstrelet relates how Henry lodged at the Louvre for Christmas with great splendour, in contrast to Charles’s dismal court at the Hôtel de Saint-Pol where the mad and now dirty and unkempt old King was ‘poorly and meanly served‘, deserted by all save a few broken-down servants and some hangers-on of low degree. His courtiers were all at the Louvre. It was a hard winter and since food was scarce and expensive-the price of bread had doubled-the ordinary Parisians suffered accordingly. The city rubbish-tips were filled with the bodies of children who had died looking for something to eat among the refuse. The Bourgeois of Paris says that people began to devour swill which pigs disdained, while wolves swam the Seine to disinter and gnaw newly-buried corpses. Amid this misery the arrogance of the English invaders was peculiarly repellent. A Burgundian chronicler, Georges Chastellain, lamented that they had turned Paris into a new London ‘as much by their language as by their rude and proud manner of conversation and behaviour. And they went with their heads high, like a stag ...’ In particular the Burgundian nobles disliked King Henry’s cold and haughty manner; he rebuked the Marshal of France, Jehan de L’Isle-Adam, for daring to look him in the face when answering a question.
Leaving behind the Duke of Exeter and an English garrison of 500 men, Henry and his Queen soon rode out of Paris, to spend Epiphany at Rouen and to demand more money from the Norman Estates. At the end of January they travelled to Calais and embarked for Dover.
The King had been out of England for three and a half years, and he received a rapturous welcome wherever he went, with the customary pageants and conduits flowing with wine. On 23 February 1421 the Archbishop of Canterbury crowned Queen Catherine in Westminster Abbey. Afterwards the royal couple went on progress, travelling to St Albans, Bristol, through Herefordshire to Shrewsbury, Coventry and Leicester. In the North they visited York and Lincoln, in East Anglia Norwich and King’s Lynn. The real purpose of the progress was to raise more money for the War ; commissioners travelled after Henry raising loans from the clergy, the landowners, the burgesses and even villagers and artisans. By the beginning of May these monies amounted to some £38,000, of which £22,000 had been contributed by Bishop Beaufort, the King’s uncle. Parliament, meeting at Westminster that month, spoke of poverty and distress among Henry’s subjects but nonetheless granted further subsidies—a fifteenth, together with a tenth from the clergy. The King needed every penny. When he died a year later the government had to face a deficit of £30,000 together with debts of £25,000 : this was largely due to the expense of the War which not even the revenue from conquered territories could defray, because of constant raiding and unrest.
In April 1421 the King received news of the defeat and death of his brother Clarence, the heir to the throne. The Duke, although an experienced soldier who had been campaigning in France since 1412, was impulsive and envious of his elder brother’s glory. On 22 March 1421, an Easter Saturday, while he was at dinner at Pont de l‘Arche in Normandy after returning from a raid across Maine and over the Loire, Clarence was informed that there was an Armagnac army at Baugé nearby. When Sir Gilbert Umfraville—Henry’s ‘Marshal of France‘—and the Earl of Huntingdon advised him to wait until his archers arrived, the Duke told them scornfully : ‘If you are afraid, go home and keep the churchyard.’ Clarence then set off with less than 1,500 men-at-arms, galloping the nine miles to Baugé. As soon as he was there, crossing the bridge over the river Couesnon, he made contact with the enemy and at once charged them up-hill, although they outnumbered his troops two to one and he had to attack over boggy ground. The Armagnacs, who included a Scots force under the Earls of Buchan and Wigtown, counter-charged down the slope on to the English who, having been beaten back, were reforming on the bank of the river. Clarence, easily identified by the coronet on his helmet, was quickly cut down and most of his men fell with him or were taken prisoner; Umfraville and Lord de Roos died with the Duke, while the Earls of Huntingdon and Somerset were captured. The Earl of Salisbury, who came up shortly afterwards, managed to retrieve Clarence’s corpse—which had been put in a cart to take to the Dauphin—and extricated the survivors.
The defeat demonstrated that the English still had to rely on their traditional combination of archers and dismounted men-at-arms. As a contemporary Englishman wrote, his fellow-countrymen had been beaten ‘By cause they wolde nott take with hem archers, but thought to have doo with the ffrenshmen them selff wythoute hem. And yet whan he was slayne the archers come and rescued the body of the Duke.’ The victory was a marvellous encouragement to the Armagnacs ; even if it gained them no lasting advantage, it showed that the invaders were not invincible. The Dauphin joked to his courtiers : ‘What think ye now of the Scottish mutton eaters and wine bibbers ?’—there had been some unfavourable comment about these valiant allies. He made the Earl of Buchan Constable of France.
Henry returned in June 1421, landing at Calais with 4,000 troops and marched to Paris to relieve Exeter. Paris was threatened by a chain of Armagnac forces on three sides, based on Dreux in the north, Meaux in the east and Joigny in the south. Dreux, the King quickly besieged and captured. He then marched south into the Beauce, capturing Vendôme and Beaugency and going on to camp in front of Orleans. He was too short of supplies to invest so well-fortified a town, and after three days he swung north and captured Villeneuve-le-Roy. He was in an ugly mood ; when he took the Armagnac castle of Rougemont he hanged the entire garrison, demolishing the building and then drowning other of the defenders who had escaped and whom he caught later on. He marched on Meaux.
This town, on a bend of the Marne and forty miles east of Paris, was defended on three sides by the river and on the fourth by a canal, all in flood because of heavy rains. The King began the siege in October, building a camp and bringing up cannon and provisions. Mining and bombardment soon began to break down the walls, yet the defenders under the Bastard of Vaurus, who was a cruel and evil man but a brave commander, held out despite famine. Outside the walls the ground was waterlogged by rain and floods, and then a sharp frost set in, while there was more than the usual amount of disease ; it has been estimated that a sixteenth of the English army died from dysentery and small-pox. Henry himself fell ill and a physician was sent from England. Yet despite sickness and the misery of another harsh winter, Henry insisted on staying with his men even during Christmas. His sole encouragement was that Queen Catherine had given birth to a son and heir at Windsor on 6 December. (The gloomy legend that he commented : ‘Henry born at Monmouth shall small time reign and get much, and Henry born at Windsor shall long reign and all lose, but as God wills so be it,’ was invented at least a century later.) In early March a few Armagnac troops succeeded in getting into the city at night, but most of them were captured after their leader fell into the ditch with a splashing which woke the English. Disheartened by the failure of this attempt at relief, the garrison withdrew to the Market which was a fortified suburb, taking the remainder of the food with them. The rest of the town surrendered on 9 March 1422, but the garrison still held out. Henry’s artillery, mounted under wooden shelters on an island in the river, battered them relentlessly and eventually they too surrendered on 10 May, after a siege of eight months. The Bastard was beheaded, his body being hanged from the tree where he had gibbeted his own victims. Henry also beheaded a trumpeter called Orace who had jeered at him ; while some of the defenders who had mocked him by beating a donkey on the wall until he brayed and saying that it was the King speaking, were incarcerated in particularly nasty prisons. The rich captives were sent back to England to await ransom, and all plate, jewellery and valuables were collected for Henry’s use.
Such sieges caused misery which was not confined to the defenders and the townspeople. When the English were before Meaux they pillaged far and wide throughout the local countryside, the Brie. According to the Bourgeois of Paris, many peasants there abandoned their farms and families in despair, saying: ‘What can we do ? Let us put everything into the hands of the Devil for it cannot matter what becomes of us ... They cannot do more to us than kill us or take us prisoner, for by the false government of traitors we have had to leave our wives and children and flee into the woods like wandering beasts.’
Henry returned to Paris. By now he was an ill man, and prayers were being offered for his recovery. His illness was probably a form of dysentery, no doubt contracted during the siege of Meaux. En route for Cosne-sur-Loire, a key point on the road to Dijon which was besieged by the Armagnacs, he suddenly found himself unable to ride and had to be taken back by litter to the castle of Vincennes which he reached on 10 August. Plainly he was dying. He made arrangements for the government of the two kingdoms with his customary thoroughness. He appointed his brother Bedford provisional Regent of France and guardian of the baby Henry VI, while Gloucester was to be Regent of England. He told Bedford that he must preserve the alliance with Burgundy at all costs, and that he should only keep the Regency if Duke Philip declined it. He also ordered that if things went badly the English should concentrate on saving Normandy. In addition he claimed he had invaded France not from any desire for glory but simply because his cause was just and would bring lasting peace. That he genuinely believed that he might have succeeded in conquering France is borne out by his claim that if God had spared him he would have gone on to Jerusalem to expel the infidels. However at one point he seems to have feared for his salvation ; suddenly he shouted : ‘Thou liest, thou liest, my portion is with the Lord Jesus Christ !’ as though replying to an evil spirit. Henry V died peacefully at Vincennes on 31 August 1422. He was only thirty-five.