Military history

2

A Great Man’s Legacy – Minority

On 28 September 1422, Thomas Langley, Bishop of Durham and Lord Chancellor of England, came into the presence of his new king. Witnessed by the assembled lords temporal and spiritual, the great nobles and clergy of the realm, he delivered the Great Seal of England into the hands of the new monarch. It was then taken from the royal palms and passed to its temporary keeper. This ceremony was ages-old; the same ritual was followed whenever a king died and his successor was recognized. What was unusual, in fact unique, about this occasion, was the age of the monarch undertaking this ceremonial duty. The new King of England – and heir to the Kingdom of France – was a baby of just nine months old, and his country’s youngest ever sovereign.

The infant, King Henry VI, was the third king in succession to bear that Christian name. His grandfather Henry of Bolingbroke, who seized the throne in 1399, had been crowned as Henry IV. Though he fought off successive challenges in order to retain the title, that initial act of usurpation had come at a terrible cost. In just a few years Henry IV had shrunk from a redoubtable military leader to a husk of a man, suffering either from leprosy or from an acute nervous psoriasis aggravated by his fear of eternal damnation. After all, he had first usurped an anointed king in Richard II, and then had him slowly and very secretly starved to death.

When Henry IV died in 1413, he was succeeded by an heir in his mid-twenties who was well qualified to wear the crown through previous experience both of war and of the exercise of power. One who, even as a teenage prince, had fought in battle and then won a campaign against the Welsh. Henry V came to the throne impatient to rule and wasted no time in stilling the unquiet spirits of 1399 by having Richard II’s body reburied in great style in the magnificent tomb in Westminster Abbey that Richard himself had commissioned. (Henry IV, meanwhile, had chosen to be buried in Canterbury Cathedral close to Thomas Becket, England’s premier medieval saint and worker of miracles.)

Any doubts about his right to rule were settled when Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March – the very man who, by descent through the female line (see family tree pp. 200–1) had the best hereditary claim to the throne – alerted Henry to a conspiracy to kill him and make March king. The plotters, including Richard, Earl of Cambridge (also close in the line of succession), were all found guilty and executed at Southampton in early August 1415. Within the week, Henry sailed to France with his invading army.

In order to secure the future of the new Lancastrian dynasty, Henry V sought to unite the quarrelling English nobility through preparation for battle and the promise of conquest and glory abroad. The Hundred Years War, begun by his great-grandfather Edward III in 1337, had settled into a truce under both Richard II and Henry’s own father. Henry V soon set about rekindling the conflict with a vengeance.

At Agincourt on 25 October 1415, through his deployment of archers using the devastating longbow, he won a victory as great as that of Edward III at Crécy, and of the Black Prince at Poitiers over half a century before. But Henry was more than the tactical creator of victory; fighting bravely on the battlefield and saving the life of his youngest brother Humphrey of Gloucester, he was the epitome of the warrior king.1

In August 1417 Henry reinvaded France with a far larger military expedition, financed by a substantial parliamentary grant and loans, all organized with exemplary flair and efficiency by his father’s half-brother Henry Beaufort, Bishop of the rich see of Winchester.2

Over the next eighteen months, Henry successively and successfully besieged the great fortified towns of Normandy. Caen fell in September. By the following spring, Alençon, Falaise and Domfront had all been taken by forces under Henry’s own command or that of his able lieutenant Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick.3 In September 1418, Cherbourg was captured by Humphrey of Gloucester after a five-month siege. Rouen, Normandy’s capital and greatest prize, fell in January 1419, after holding out for five and a half months; this became Henry’s administrative capital. In July, the strategic town of Pontoise was taken in a daring dawn raid and, from here, he was able to threaten Paris.4

Having succeeded militarily, Henry was to triumph diplomatically. Taking advantage of the weakness of the French King and a vendetta within the royal family, he advanced his own claim to the French throne. The long reign of Charles VI of France had been plagued by the King’s prolonged bouts of insanity and a struggle for power amongst his kinsmen. On 10 September 1419 events took a fateful turn when Charles’s cousin, John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy, was assassinated in revenge for the murder of Charles’s brother twelve years before. A hundred years later, a prior showing Duke John’s traumatized skull to King Francis I had good reason to remark: ‘It was through this hole that the English entered France.’5 As a result of the murder, Burgundy formed an alliance with Henry that was to prove crucial for England’s domination. Even more importantly, it led to the disinheriting of the assassination’s prime instigator, the Dauphin: Charles’s son and heir, another Charles, was obligingly declared a bastard by his own mother, Isabeau of Bavaria, Charles VI’s long estranged and libidinous Queen.

Henry capitalized on this opportunity through months of patient negotiation backed by military force. On 21 May 1420, with the signing of the treaty of Troyes, he was formally recognized as heir to the Kingdom of France, while his rival the Dauphin was forced to set up a rival court at Poitiers, well south of the Loire.6 The following month Henry married Charles’s daughter Catherine. The newly-weds spent Christmas in Paris, the new centre of Henry’s domain. In June 1421, after a brief return to England, he was back in France leaving behind a queen who was by this time pregnant.

Then, while besieging the great Loire fortress of Meaux over the winter and spring of 1421–22, Henry contracted dysentery – always a great threat to an encamped medieval force. The fortress fell in May, giving Henry control over the approaches to Paris, but at a terrible cost. Over the succeeding weeks and months, Henry became progressively weaker. Fearing the worst, he sought to put in place measures to consolidate all that he had gained for England and himself. On 31 August 1422, at the Château de Vincennes outside Paris, he died.

Had illness and death not intervened, he would have been King of France within just two months. One can speculate on what Henry might have achieved, had he enjoyed the fifty-three-year average life expectancy of his thirteen predecessors as King of England and his kingship had thus lasted three times as long.7 He was already accepted as an effective ruler north of the Loire and if he had been crowned and anointed with the oil of Clovis at Reims, the traditional place of enthronement of French kings, he could have established Lancastrian rule over the whole of France, just as he had made permanent the Lancastrian rule over England.

In a reign of only nine years, this greatest of rulers had demonstrated what an active king of England could accomplish. As well as being successful in war abroad, Henry had shown himself able to orchestrate the institutions of government for the proper administration of his kingdom and the taxation of his subjects. Scholarly, just and deeply religious – remembered after his death as Henry the Pious – he was perceived as his country’s ultimate temporal authority and, in firm opposition to the challenges mounted by the Pope, its spiritual guide as well.8

Not all, of course, was brilliant sunlight; there were some shadows cast over Henry’s achievement. The costs of his wars had been onerous. The ruthless execution of French prisoners on his orders at Agincourt, thought so necessary at the time to secure victory though against any concept of chivalry, was to reverberate bloodily on English soil forty years on, and even perhaps to blight Anglo-French relations to this day. And a final, perhaps ill-considered codicil to his will was to bring his chief counsellors – those expected to give good advice or ‘counsel’, rather than the more formal councillors of state – into immediate conflict upon his death. That said, it was a monumental inheritance to bequeath to his small, uncomprehending successor.

*

Henry V’s reign had shown what might be achieved by a vigorous, ambitious, adult English monarch. But what if the king was a child? Or, uniquely, what if that child was a baby and there was to be a long period of interim government?

Certainly there were known, if not necessarily happy, precedents for the reign of a minor. This, however, was an entirely novel situation. On 21 October, Charles VI, the baby’s maternal grandfather, died. Henry VI, still some way short of his first birthday, was now King of France as well as England. And the wishes of his father as to how the two countries were to be maintained for his infant heir were considered, by some at least, to be unclear.

Henry V had made some provisions before he died. A reassignment of responsibilities had been necessary anyway, following the death in a skirmish, the previous year, of his nearest brother and then heir, Thomas, Duke of Clarence. Henry declared verbally that John, Duke of Bedford, the eldest of his surviving brothers, should be Regent of France; and in a codicil to his will, made just five days before his death, that the younger brother, Humphrey of Gloucester, should be the infant Henry VI’s ‘custodian and protector’, based in England. As John had previously been more involved in England while Humphrey served as a warrior in France, this was a change of roles.9 Their previous incarnations gave them the interests and experience to challenge each other should they be unhappy with the new state of affairs. And neither brother was at all happy. Nor were their powerful, overtly ambitious uncles: the military commander Thomas Beaufort, Duke of Exeter, awarded governorship of the person of the young King by the codicil; and his brother Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester, a councillor and former chancellor. All four men had in common the fact that they were, by birth and by inclination, entrenched supporters of the Lancastrian dynasty; but all four were strong personalities with a great sense of self-worth and entitlement. Each man individually felt he should have been given more personal power. In France such division around a king who could not rule had led to the internal power vacuum that had enabled Henry V to step in and occupy so much of the country.

There was to be no such situation in England, or at least not at first. In Henry VI’s infancy the loyalty to the throne forged by the campaigns that Henry V had fought, both as prince and king, and the strengths of his great institutions of Church, Parliament and, above all, the King’s Council, prevailed. The Council was to provide, in the 1420s and beyond, a cockpit for the hostilities between Henry Beaufort and his nephew Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, but it also remained an arbiter recognized by all parties. Thus, some months after Henry V’s death, a temporary accommodation, if in no way an understanding, was reached between the competing powers.

And the war in France went from strength to strength. Bedford was a highly capable and successful lieutenant governor there; his remarkable victory at Verneuil in 1424 fully secured Normandy and the approaches to Paris. By 1429 the land controlled by England and its allies had been extended to include all territory to the north and east of the River Loire. England was in control of the Île de France (including Paris), of Normandy, Maine and part of Anjou, as well as of Gascony and the great trading port of Calais.10 The areas of France controlled were greater than those held by William the Conqueror. Henry II, through his marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine, may have held more territory, but England now had, in the name of his descendant Henry VI, its greatest ever domination and control of France.

Bedford was, however, periodically needed at home. The ill health of Exeter, who had been appointed to the governorship of the infant King, meant that, in England, the first years of Henry VI’s reign were dominated by the feud between Humphrey of Gloucester and Bishop Beaufort. Gloucester, like all his brothers, was a learned and cultivated man – the gift of his manuscript collection was to provide the basis for the foundation of Oxford University’s world-famous Bodleian library – while his uncle Bishop Beaufort was a supreme politician and administrator, and thus of vital and continuing importance when it came to arranging money and supplies for the French Wars. But the men had counter-balancing weaknesses. Gloucester was temperamental and vainglorious – his issuing of a challenge to Philip, Duke of Burgundy, to settle a territorial dispute by personal combat, which was accepted, had threatened to bring about the collapse of the Anglo-Burgundian alliance until Bedford stepped in. Bishop Beaufort was less hot-headed, but inclined to be ruthless, manipulative and grasping on behalf of himself and his Beaufort relations (see family tree, pp. 200–1). Gloucester believed that he should have been made sole regent and effective ruler in England; while Beaufort, as a former Lord Chancellor of both Henry IV and Henry V, felt he should dominate the Council – though it should be said that his overbearing ambition and relentless quest for a cardinal’s hat had at various times made him fall foul of both monarchs.

The mutual loathing between uncle and nephew was fuelled by increasing fears for their personal safety. The Bishop, as principal councillor, had infuriated London’s citizenry both high and low. The former by his seeming to favour foreign merchants; the latter by his strictly enforcing the Statute of Labourers, which kept wages down and tied workers to a particular occupation and to a particular master. This animosity reached crisis point at the end of October 1425, when hundreds of armed followers of the Bishop on the one side, and the Duke and Mayor of London on the other, confronted each other on London Bridge. A pitched battle was only prevented by the persistence of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the King’s cousin, Prince Peter of Portugal, who went eight times between the two parties in their efforts at mediation.11

Beaufort implored Bedford to return and restrain Duke Humphrey, which he duly did. Bedford ignored the placatory gifts offered by the Mayor and city,12 and further showed his displeasure by personally escorting Beaufort back to London and summoning Council meetings and a February 1426 Parliament, to take place well away from the capital. The crisis atmosphere of the latter occasion at Leicester Castle is captured in the name contemporary chroniclers gave to it: ‘The Parliament of the Bats’ – each side armed with clubs, due to the banning of other weaponry.13 There, in a vicious denunciation, conducted in front of the four-year-old King, Gloucester sought to destroy Beaufort. These were not minor charges: Beaufort stood accused of seeking, in reverse order, to kidnap Henry VI, murder Henry V and usurp Henry IV!14 Their ferocity was met with outraged denials and bitter counter-claims by Beaufort that Gloucester had sought to assassinate him.15 Venomous as Gloucester’s charges were, he could not prove them. Nevertheless, Beaufort was for a time forced from office, though appeased the following year in Calais when he finally received the cardinal’s hat he had long craved.

Beaufort’s removal was not, by any means, a victory for Gloucester. It merely entrenched the power of the Council. This was made finally and humiliatingly clear to the Duke at a Council meeting of 1427, where every single member formally affirmed that, during the King’s minority, kingly power ‘stands in his lords assembled in Parliament … and especially in the lords of his Council and not in one singular person but in all these lords together’.16

In the longer term, this did nothing to resolve the fault line stemming from the absence of a single, universally recognized regent. The crisis of the 1420s would be repeated in 1432 and 1433, when Gloucester would again achieve temporary dominance in the absence of both Beaufort and Bedford, but lose control once more through seeking his enemy’s annihilation rather than his tactical demotion. The feud between Beaufort and Gloucester would also broaden, extend and poison future generations.

There was also to be one pre-eminent victim of the two men’s vicious power struggle. Their mutual outpouring of vitriol, sustained throughout the 1420s and into the 1430s and beyond, was bound to have a lasting effect upon a young and impressionable mind: that of the King. As a minor, Henry VI was not trusted with wielding power but was expected to play a part that was both symbolic and participatory. While he was very young, even as a toddler, he participated in all the great ceremonial occasions, bestowed seals of office on his officers of state and rode in parades through London. He presided over his first opening of Parliament at the age of three. Most importantly, he was present for the set-pieces of vicious personal hostility acted out by his warring relatives.

Towards the end of 1429, Bedford and the Council asked Henry, who was then seven, to assume the central role in the most important ceremonial act of any king’s reign: his coronation.

*

Display was at the heart of medieval kingship. Ceremonial went beyond mere celebration of regality, it was a key element of it. The greatest ceremony Henry VI would undertake, as for every English monarch from William the Conqueror on Christmas Day 1066 to the present, was his coronation. This was held in Westminster Abbey, scene of the most expensive ongoing building project of the Middle Ages.17 Impressive enough today, in young Henry VI’s time its interior was enriched throughout with colourful wall paintings, and its central focus, the tomb of St Edward the Confessor, glittered with gold plate and precious jewels. It was the burial place of Kings Edward I and III, Henry III, young Henry’s father Henry V and, of course, Richard II.

Perhaps the greatest testimony to the memory of Richard II, the monarch usurped and murdered by Henry VI’s grandfather, is the survival today of his Liber Regalis, one of the world’s most valuable books. Meaning both ‘The King’s Book’ and ‘The Kingly Book’, Richard commissioned it for the crowning of his consort, Anne of Bohemia, in 1382.18 It is a remarkable document, providing the order of service for the coronation of every subsequent king and queen from Henry IV to Elizabeth I, and has remained the basis for all coronation liturgies up to the present day. Moreover, it contains the key elements of the service dating back to the Saxon King Edgar’s coronation in 973. For a fifteenth-century king, the Liber Regalis contained a double compact stretching back hundreds of years. On the one hand it was a compact between the king and his people; on the other between the king and God.

The coronation ceremony for Henry VI, along with the days leading up to it, was conducted on the firm fabric of established precedent, but embroidered with added elements designed to extend and deepen this dual compact. One such novelty was unmistakable: the new King, born on 6 December 1421, was not quite eight when he was crowned on 6 November 1429. He was then, and remains to this day, both the youngest ever king of England and the youngest to be crowned.

In Henry’s infancy, administrative power might have rested with his Council, but, even at that tender age, his symbolic power was exceptional and it was that which the Council sought to amplify and exploit. Power was fortified and sustained through ceremony, through its symbolism and display, but it was also created by it. The coronation was part of the process of investing the person of a king with a vastly increased power and authority. And that power would be transferred to those who acted in his name, either directly, or, in the case of a minor, through a regent or a Council of Regency. A crowned king had greater worldly authority and, even more importantly, the anointing gave him divine authority; both were granted for life.

The Council was in urgent need of that authority now. The situation in France was deteriorating; the Council required extra resources in terms of service and funding and to galvanize those who would provide them. It needed a propaganda coup to match that of the Dauphin, now Charles VII. For in July 1429, he had been crowned in Reims Cathedral, the traditional place of coronation for the kings of France.

The dual purpose of Henry’s coronation was made clear through the incorporation of French rites and symbolism in an arduous series of ceremonies of new scope and magnificence that would stretch over three days. God and the institutions designed to serve Him were, as outlined in the Liber Regalis, central; but those of ‘man’ were also given an expanded role, with a look back to the Saxon kings, an emphasis on the collective support of the nobility, and an increased and calculated recognition of the importance of the wealth and power of the merchants of London.

Thus the established formal entry of the monarch into London was not considered to be enough for Henry VI. The seven-year-old boy’s grand entrance commenced on 4 November at the Royal Borough of Kingston-upon-Thames,19 where seven tenth-century Saxon kings had been crowned. The Lord Mayor and aldermen of the City of London, attired in judicial scarlet,20 then joined the procession, escorting the new monarch to the Tower. Before spending the night there, as was customary, Henry first created no fewer than thirty-two new knights of the chivalric order of the Bath.

On the morning of 5 November21 he showed himself to the cheering crowds of London; while the city’s most important citizens staged elaborate pageants in celebration, he rode the three or so miles to the abbey under a canopy supported by four young noblemen. The route the procession followed is still recognizable today: from the Tower of London he proceeded through Cornhill, Cheapside, St Paul’s, Ludgate Hill, Fleet Street, the Strand, and then down Whitehall. Then it was over a small bridge and into the water-surrounded Palace and Abbey of Westminster. There was then, finally, some concession to his age, as he was excused the all-night vigil that was mandatory for adult kings.

The following day, 6 November, was the Feast of St Leonard, now venerated as the patron saint of prisoners.22 Henry walked to the abbey beneath a canopy of dark blue silk: the royal colour of France. In addition he wore the same device on his scarlet cloak as that used by his French grandfather, Charles VI: the broomscod or pod of broom seeds that also linked him to his Plantagenet forebears.

Once inside the abbey he was led up a richly carpeted stairway to a specially constructed, silk-covered platform between the high altar and the choir. As Gregory tells us, here seated, ‘he beheld the people all around seriously and wisely’, and Archbishop Chichele of Canterbury proclaimed to all sides: ‘Here cometh Henry, King Henry V’s son, humbly to God and Holy Church, seeking the crown of this realm by right and by descent. If you are well pleased with him, say “Yea” and hold up your arms.’ And then ‘all the people cried with one voice: Yea! Yea!’23 The young boy had his rich robes removed and, in silken undergarments, had to prostrate himself before the high altar for a long time before being re-clothed and swearing his coronation oath. An oath that would bind him for ever, by his assenting to a series of questions and affirming that he would keep the laws of England and especially the laws of Saint Edward.

Yet more prostration with prayers and anthems followed and then the most important part of the entire service: Henry, seated in Edward I’s coronation chair – still in use today – was anointed with the sacred oil of St Thomas Becket from a golden ampula. Oil that, it was said, had been given miraculously to the saint by the Virgin Mary during a vigil of prayer. Lost for centuries, the ampula was rediscovered by Richard II, but triumphantly first used by Henry IV. It was to the kings of England what the Oil of Clovis had long been to the kings of France.

With the anointing achieved and God’s enduring approval of the new monarch conferred, there followed the presentation of the royal ornaments: the sceptre with the cross was placed in Henry’s right hand and the gold rod in his left, while the heavy crown of St Edward was placed on his head. This was the only point during the service where the young boy had to be supported ‘with two bishops standing by him, helping him to bear the crown, for it was over-heavy for him, for he was of tender age’.24

After the Mass, Henry progressed with his nobles and his clergy to the shrine of St Edward. There was a final divestment of clothes and regalia, before the revestment in robes of state and the return of the regalia. He was then crowned with the crown created by Richard II and led in triumphal procession through the Abbey ‘with great glory’.

This summary cannot do justice to what was an extremely long ceremony – the most important occasion in the reign of any king of England. Just over fifty years before, it had been too much for ten-year-old Richard II. Though he was later to become such a lover of ceremony, the young Richard had been so exhausted that he had been excused the Great Banquet that followed in Westminster Hall. Not so Henry.

Vast course followed vast course, each one accompanied by ‘subtleties’ – large, incredibly elaborate pastry confections rich in symbolism. One, for example, showed the patron royal saints of England and France – Saint Edward and Saint Louis – together with the young King, all dressed in armour. Another showed the Virgin with the baby Christ on her lap, offering Henry, supported by St George of England and St Denis of France, not one crown but two. The symbolic meaning would have been perfectly obvious to the assembled guests, who were the nobility and privileged gentry, the higher clergy, the justices and chancery officials, the Mayor of London and ‘his aldermen and other worthy commoners of the City of London’.25

Even for one who had grown up with lavish ceremonial, the whole event must have been a tremendous test of stamina as well as an assault on the senses for the seven-year-old King. Moreover, an appearance of royal dignity throughout was crucial.

Yet he remained calm, still, impassive and regal. He behaved magnificently. Young Henry had played his part well. The event’s success was measured by the largest parliamentary grant of taxation since 1418 in order to fund an expedition to France involving seven dukes and earls and an army, with the young King as its titular head, of a greater size than that for the re-conquest of France between 1417 and 1421.26

His uncles and his Council were united in delight with the young King’s performance. So was his ‘master’ or tutor, Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick. One of the great servants of the house of Lancaster, a close and conscientious military and diplomatic aide of Henry V, whom he resembled in outlook and competence,27 Beauchamp had been entrusted by the Council in the summer of 1428 with the task of instilling kingly virtues in the six-year-old monarch within the confines of a new male-dominated environment.28Conscientious, with a great loyalty to Bedford and above all to the Council, he certainly seemed to be the ideal candidate for the role.

The great event in the Palace of Westminster was, however, a rehearsal for one even greater. For the extravagant ceremonial of Henry’s coronation in England was expected soon to be overshadowed by his subsequent coronation in his other kingdom, France.

The Dauphin’s own coronation, at Reims, had been an act of great daring as the cathedral city was only just outside the expanded area of English control. But almost any risk would have been worth taking, for through coronation and more importantly, anointment, the Dauphin could claim that both tradition and God were indelibly on his side. He also had support from another and exceptional source: a teenage shepherdess and prophetess who could at will see the Archangel Michael and Saints Catherine and Margaret ‘wearing golden crowns on their heads’29 and talk to them whenever she wished, ‘as a friend might talk to a friend’.30 Furthermore she claimed that she acted in obedience to God’s commands and with appropriate foresight.

In other circumstances she would have been accused of being possessed by the devil and tried for heresy, but she came through a great number of tests to convince a succession of listeners of increasing importance. Finally, this girl, Joan of Arc, appeared before the Dauphin himself. He was a man of great shrewdness but one with a profound interest in anyone that he felt could ‘predict’ the future; Joan first told him that Orleans would be saved and that he would be crowned at Reims, and then convinced him that it would happen.31

Her presence at the head of French troops proved inspirational. She was to the fore when the French relieved the large city of Orleans from its siege by the English in May 1429. She was there at the capture of Jargeau and of its English commander, the Earl of Suffolk. She was not involved at the Battle of Patay, where an English army under noted commanders Talbot and Fastolf was routed and the former captured. But she rode at the head of the French troops that followed up this devastating blow, gaining the easy submission of a chain of Burgundian garrisons that, in turn, opened the way for the Dauphin to enter Reims on 16 July. The next day he was anointed with the holy Oil of Clovis and crowned as Charles VII.

Orleans to Reims is just under 140 miles. Reims to Paris is around 80 miles. Burgundian fortresses continued to fall with alarming speed, and within a month the way to the capital itself seemed open until, in mid-August, Bedford blocked the advance at Senlis, just 25 miles to the north-east of Paris. He was assisted by three thousand troops from England recruited by Cardinal Beaufort. These men had been intended for a crusade against the heretic Hussites of Bohemia as part of Beaufort’s plans for retirement from English affairs of state; by diverting them for the use of his country, he destroyed any hopes of a papal career, but he resurrected his English one.32

This success did not end the campaign, however. In early September Joan and the Duc d’Alençon took an expedition to the very gates of Paris itself. It was easily repelled, as Charles VII had known it would be. The Anglo-Burgundian alliance was maintained, the cautious Charles withdrew to his own heartland at Bourges and, with that first defeat, Joan’s aura of invincibility began to be tarnished. She may have been raised to the nobility by Charles, but now had no voice in affairs. On her own initiative, she led a mercenary force out of the town of Compiègne on 23 May 1430 but, through mischance rather than treachery, was captured by the Burgundians. Her military career was over. She was ransomed to the English, but it was overwhelmingly Burgundians and Frenchmen from the areas of English rule who were to try her and find her guilty of heresy. She was burnt at the stake in Rouen, on 30 May 1431, just over a year after her capture. By that time the young Henry VI and his court had also been at Rouen for nearly a year.33

Henry, with an army of around seven thousand,34 had landed at Calais on 23 April 1430, St George’s Day. In spite of the size of this force, a coronation at Reims was out of the question. Notre Dame was to be the cathedral of coronation, but even the route to Paris was blocked. It was fully three months before even the first leg of the journey, from Calais to Rouen, was considered completely trouble-free for the young King. There, under the tutelage of Richard Beauchamp, he stayed for sixteen months.35 With the King was the King’s Council, commanded once more by Beaufort, who as well as gaining a vast grant from the Westminster Parliament, acted as banker to the expedition. Bedford’s powers were subordinated to those of the Council and he ceased to be styled as regent. Though he greatly resented this,36 there was no Gloucester-style reaction. Instead he concentrated on securing the route to Paris, but it was not until November 1431 that this was finally achieved.

On 2 December, young Henry finally entered the city of Paris; on 16 December he was anointed and crowned by Cardinal Beaufort at Notre Dame in a ceremony that was more lavish than that at Westminster, but rather too ‘English’ in other ways; for the Bishop of Paris was supplanted by Beaufort and the majority of the peers of France were absent. Whereas at the 1429 coronation feast in Westminster every care had been taken to include the guests correctly, here the officials from the City of Paris, from the University and Parlement took offence at their treatment. Perhaps worst of all for the Parisians was the food, which had been cooked four days earlier and was described as ‘shocking’.37

By early January, the King and his entourage were gone, leaving the Parisians with a truly gargantuan bill. Barely stopping at Rouen, the English expedition was back in England in early February. The short-term objective of matching Charles VII’s anointment and coronation had been achieved. However, Henry VI was never again to cross the Channel to set foot in his French kingdom.

Through military, administrative and diplomatic brilliance and sheer hard work, Bedford had managed to maintain the English position. But the strain had taken its toll. In 1435, worn out, not least by his efforts to keep the Duke of Burgundy neutral, Bedford died. The alliance of Burgundy was lost and so within a year was Paris and the Île de France. Yet Calais, under the command of Edmund Beaufort, the Cardinal’s nephew, held off an attack from the newly aggressive Burgundy. Similarly, Normandy and strategic territories around it were preserved by the twenty-four-year-old Richard, Duke of York, who arrived in June 1436 and took administrative command, sensibly leaving the military tasks to his brother-in-law Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury, and to the recently ransomed Talbot. A long period of stalemate was about to begin.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!