King Henry Fifth's Conquest of France [Child 164] --- Part 04

DESCRIPTION: Continuation of the notes to "King Henry Fifth's Conquest of France" [Child 164]. Entry concludes in "King Henry Fifth's Conquest of France [Child 164]" --- Part 05 (File Number C164D)
Last updated in version 3.8
NOTES: THE REIGN OF HENRY V
Then Henry IV died in 1413, and Henry of Monmouth, now Henry V, decided to play for bigger stakes. The rebellions that had plagued Henry IV were mostly quiet (Earle, pp. 101-104, notes that there were 17 higher nobles in England at the time Henry V succeeded, and 14 of them were adult and physically fit, and all 14 fought for Henry in France at some time or another. Incidentally, we should remind people that Shakespeare is not to be trusted *at all* on this count. Plays such as Henry V are not nearly as false as, say, the Henry VI trilogy or Richard III, but Jarman, p. 64, looks at the list of leaders Shakespeare claimed were at Agincourt and finds that half of them were not. Shakespeare here at least had contact with reality -- but not much). The British economy had largely recovered from the Black Death and the exactions of Edward III and the inefficiency of Richard II. The exchequer was empty (Barker, p. 24) -- but how better to fill it than with foreign loot?
Henry V is often portrayed as a humorless crusader, and there is no question but that he was single-minded in his pursuit what he considered his "rights" in France. Ashley-Great, p. 155, describes him as "much more like Oliver Cromwell than the chivalrous Tudor hero of Shakespeare's plays"; he quotes other historians who called Henry a fanatic and a bigot. Tuck, p. 245, calls him self-righteous. Earle, p. 99, while admitting his rigid orthodoxy, thinks he wanted to reform the papacy -- but offers no specifics.
What we can say specifically is that Henry watched heretics being burned (the burning of alleged Lollards, many of whom were probably not heretics but political enemies -- Rubin, pp. 188-190 -- had been introduced under Henry IV; Rubin, p. 187), and that Henry V once sent a friend (Sir John Oldcastle, Lord Cobham), whose opinions were slightly theologically shaky, to the stake (Earle, p. 99, though Oldcastle escaped custody just long enough to be taken and burned by a churchman without Henry himself being present; Earle, p. 101. Royle, p. 74, says that Oldcastle's opinions on the Pope and on transubstantiation were heretical, but there were multiple Popes at this time, and while transubstantiation had become official doctrine two hundred years earlier at the Fourth Lateran Council -- Christie-Murray, p. 99 -- it wasn't strongly established. A less bigoted king would surely have understood the difference between a questioner and a true heretic).
Once, when burning a heretic, John Badby, he had the fellow pulled out of the fire, asked him to repent -- and, when Badby refused, had the fires re-lit (Royle, pp. 65-66). Seward, p. 164, mentions "Ruthless authority and cold cruelty," says he was "puritanical," and speaks of "brutal single-mindedness."
Perroy, who of course writes from a French perspective, refers to his "hypocritical devoutness, the duplicity of his conduct, his pretence of defending right and redressing wrongs when he sought solely to satisfy his ambitions, [and] the cruelty of his revenge" (p. 235). This strikes me as a little exaggerated -- I don't think Henry was a hypocrite; I think he was badly messed up emotionally. But the effect is the same. It was eventually costly, too -- as Allmand notes on p. 438, since Henry said his victories were God's will, his successors could hardly negotiate with the French, since that was against Henry's version of God's desires.
Henry was well-educated, speaking and writing English, French, and Latin. There is some dispute over whether he had a lighter side. He certainly owned a harp (Earle, p. 28), and is believed to have been able to play it; he supposedly took one with him to France (Barker, p. 26); he also took an 18 minstrels along (Barker, p. 134). Jarman, p. 38, claims he also played cithera and gittern, without listing a source.
But the claim that he read Chaucer is somewhat dubious. It is true that one of the sixteen surviving substantial manuscripts of Chaucer's Troylus and Criseyde (Pierpont Morgan Library MS. M 817) is imprinted with his arms as Prince of Wales. But this does not prove that he read it; his grandfather John of Gaunt was one of Chaucer's patrons, so the family may have handed him a copy whether he wanted it or not. (There was a strong literary tradition in the family. Henry IV also seems to have supported Chaucer, and he definitely supported John Gower, who dedicated an edition of the Confessio Amantis to him; Goodman, p. 156. Henry IV passed his love of books on to his fourth son Humphrey, one of the greatest collectors of the era -- he named his illegitimate daughter Antigone, which I find fascinating -- but we do not find much evidence of Henry V as patron of literature.)
What's more, Mauldwyn Mills, in the introduction to the Everyman edition of Troylus and Criseyde, which is based on the Morgan manuscript, notes that it contains a significant number of uncorrected errors (Troylus and Criseyde, Everyman; original edition 1953; revised edition, 2000; p. xxxv). Despite its very early date (one of the two earliest manuscripts, written within a dozen years of Chaucer's death), most critical editions do not use it as a copy text. The strong sense I get, in reading the notes, is that it was too poorly corrected to be a copy that was actually regularly read. Also, it is thought by many to have been taken from a not-final draft of the book, and would Henry V have accepted that if he really cared about the volume?
It should be remembered that this period was relatively impoverished in the arts. The reigns of Edward III and Richard II had been graced by Chaucer, Langland, the Gawain-poet, and John Gower. The era of the Lancastrian kings had nothing -- the only author from this period you're likely to have encountered is Sir Thomas Malory. I checked three literary anthologies, and in poetry, all skipped directly from Chaucer (died 1400) to Skelton (born c. 1460). Several books on literary history comment sourly on how barren the fifteenth century was. If Henry V patronized any writers, they certainly weren't worth what he spent on them.
Allmand, p. 42, notes that Thomas Chaucer (the son of Geoffrey) was three times speaker of parliament (1407, 1410, 1411), and thinks that this is a sign that Henry of Monmouth had great power and support in parliament, because Allmand thinks Chaucer was Henry's ally. But these three parliaments were during Henry IV's reign; I see no reason to think either Chaucer was a close ally of Henry V as opposed to Henry IV.
Henry was clearly physically tough; Barker, pp. 31-32, describes how he had taken an arrow in the face in one of his Welsh campaigns as Prince of Wales, it was said that it penetrated six inches into his head, and required extraordinary surgery to extract. (I can't recall anyone ever saying so, but I wonder if perhaps he may not have suffered minor brain damage resulting in his emotional rigidity.)
It was during the Welsh campaigns that he apparently got to know many of his later associates, such as the Earl of Warwick and the John Talbot, later to be known as "Old Talbot." Of course, he also got to know John Oldcastle, whom he would burn as a heretic (Allmand, p. 32).
The reports of a misspent youth are largely false, according to Barker, p. 43; she declares that they "acquired a veneer of historicity because they were taken up by Shakespeare" -- but of course the amount of actual history in Shakespeare is only slightly greater than the amount of quantum chromodynamics. (My guess is that the stories arose from the conflicts between Henry IV and Henry V before the latter's death; Barker, p. 21, reports that the younger Henry may have feared being disinherited by his father, and Earle, p. 69, observes that parties started forming about King and Prince as early as 1406. To be fair, Earle, p. 86, thinks it is "quite clear that there was some truth in [Henry's] reputation [for wildness]."
Jarman, p. 31, declares that "Although such Shakespearean stories as that of young Hal strking Judge Gascoigne... or Stowe's chronicle depicting him 'mugging' London citizens by night in company with his friends can largely be discounted, he evidently led something of a playboy life before his accession." But what was the usual evidence of wild escapades? Illegitimate children. And Earle, p. 87, admits that Henry "left no bastards from a riotous youth," though were are told that he "followed the services of Venus as well as Mars." Yet it is unlikely that Henry was infertile; once he married, he quickly got his wife pregnant. Even Earle confesses, "For details readers will have to join Shakespeare in using their imagination."
It is interesting to note that a French observer, who saw Henry and his brother Thomas of Clarence just before the start of the Agincourt campaign, Clarence looked like a soldier -- but Henry gave the impression of being a priest (Allmand, p. 438).
Henry V seems to have been unusually good at handling money; Barker, p. 102, reports an instance of him actually auditing some of his own books (Allmand, p. 2, implies that he was the first king before Henry VII to do so), and also notes on p. 114 that he actually kept detailed records of the men serving under him, which was largely unheard of at the time; Earle, p. 127, notes his careful attention to collecting his share of ransoms for prisoners taken by his subordinates. These were skills he perhaps learned by having to survive in penury during the poverty-stricken administration of his father (Barker, p. 34).
Henry V succeeded his father in 1413. He instantly turned things around in England. His father had never been secure on the throne. Henry V was in complete control within months. He also managed to get more money out of parliament than any other king of the time -- perhaps in history (Barker, pp. 104-105; Seward, p. 156; Earle, p. 105, quotes Stubbs as saying Henry's ability to raise money from parliament was "little less than miraculous."). Like many kings before him, he had to resort to forced loans -- but he was careful to borrow against money he new he would receive in the next tax year, and the loans were promptly repaid (Barker, pp. 108-110). He also offered many of the crown jewels as security to some of the nobility (Earle, p. 111; Jarman, p. 51, says that the need to pay retainers was so extreme that at least one crown was broken up by a subordinate).
The strength of the English economy probably helped. Henry came at a very fortunate time: The country had largely recovered from the Black Death, but the population had still not reached pre-plague levels, so the productivity of the land was not eroded by the relative overpopulation of the early fourteenth century (Earle, p. 96). And Henry had not engaged in the mass giveaway of crown properties which would bankrupt his son Henry VI.
Plus Henry knew where the power lay. Henry IV had tried to ally with the "men of lesser rank," according to Allmand, p. 62. This was not a very successful strategy in the fifteenth century; Richard III also tried to build a faction of common people plus a few nobles, and it failed spectacularly. Henry V would rely on the great lords such as the Earl of Warwick and the Earl of Salisbury.
Having put his country, and his army, on a firm financial footing, he sent envoys to Paris demanding "his" property in France. The best guess (Ashley-Great, p. 156) is that he wanted to regain Normandy and all of Acquitaine. (The English still controlled perhaps a third of the latter, none of the former). He also wanted to marry a French princess so there would be no more nibbling (Barker, p. 71). He asked for even more than that: The hand of Catherine, plus a close approximation of full empire of his great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather Henry II, two and a half centuries earlier: Aquitaine, Normandy, Anjou, Touraine, Poitou, Maine, and Ponthieu (Barker, p. 121). The French, naturally, were not interested -- and probably didn't think that England, which had been weak for half a century, could pose any threat. Jarman, p. 47, reports that the French ambassadors went so far as to declare him not the rightful king of England -- though I doubt that any sane negotiator would try such a ploy.
And Henry's military reputation was not established; despite much campaigning in Wales, he could be called an inexperienced general, since most of his time had been spent on sieges and controlling hostile territory (Earle, pp. 64-65). At the time he took the throne, he had been involved in only one pitched battle (Earle, pp. 58-60), and he was not in command. The battle was at Shrewsbury, in 1403; it was part of the civil war that year between Henry IV and rebels led by the Earl of Northumberland, his son Hotspur, Owen Glendower, and members of the Mortimer faction. Henry IV attacked Hotspur, and won a very close battle, and since that put him between the Welsh and Northumbrian factions, that particular rebellion was over. Henry V was to fight only one more pitched battle in his career -- at Agincourt. Everything else was sieges.
Henry very quickly proved those who doubted him wrong. He reached an agreement with Brittany (Barker, p. 63), resulting in a reduction of the piracy which had distracted the two countries for years (Allmand, p. 69), and also giving him a clear supply line from England to France. He also leashed the Scots -- he had in his custody both the new young king James I and the son of the regent Albany (Barker, p. 73). This meant that, if Albany tried anything, Henry could punish his son, but if the Scots tried to overthrow Albany to bring back James, he had control of James and could sic the younger Albany, who was third in line for the throne behind James and his father, on them. Scotland was unable to do anything except the usual border raids (and Albany the elder frankly seems to have liked it that way). By 1415, Henry had largely managed to negotiate an end even to those; he left the border entirely in the hands of the northerners (Barker, pp. 76-78).
Soon after, he crushed a revolt on behalf of the Mortimers, the proper heirs of Richard II (Barker, pp. 78-81). There was now no threat to him from within the British Isles. In the long term, the main effect of all this was to eliminate Richard of Cambridge, the younger brother of the Duke of York, whose son was Richard, the father of the future Edward IV and Richard III. The significance of the execution was that it made the infant Richard the heir to the York dukedom should his uncle die. And young Richard would in time become the Mortimer heir -- a pedigree which could spell trouble if Henry V's line ever failed.
Allmand, pp. 76-77, thinks Cambridge may have been the ringleader, perhaps because he had been given an earldom but not enough endowed land to sustain it. He also suggests that the trials proceeded illegally -- an interesting perspective on Henry's management of the country.
For a time, Henry V continued to negotiate with France, but prepared for war -- indeed, he told London officials to prepare to invade well before the French had made their final offer (Barker, p. 70). He even induced the church to muster their clergy to see who could fight (Barker, p. 128). Henry probably meant them to suppress heresy -- he was offensively orthodox (he was quite happy burning Lollard "heretics," according to Earle, p. 29 -- ironic for the grandson of John of Gaunt, who had had Lollard tendencies, and actually arrested his own stepmother on a charge of witchcraft, according to Rubin, p. 212). But they could also serve as a sort of national guard in the event of a French invasion.
Henry also seems to have tried to hire the most professional specialists he could -- e.g. he imported gunners from Germany (Barker, p. 132). Although he did ban one other sort of specialist -- he banned prostitutes (Jarmin, pp. 79-80, and Neillands, p. 207, say that he ordered whores who approached the camp to have their left arms broken). He also tried to ban swearing. In an army!
In 1415 Henry appointed his brother John to have charge of England (it is interesting to note that John was the third brother; the second brother, Thomas of Clarence, was given no power and left out of Henry's will -- Barker, pp. 140-141 -- even though he was then heir to the throne and was brought along on the Agincourt expedition. Barker strongly suspects there was no love lost between the brothers!). Henry told his soldiers to wear the Cross of Saint George as a sort of token of recognition atop their ordinary livery (Barker, p. 131), then set sail for Normandy.
Supposedly he needed 1500 ships to transport his army (Barker, p. 147), though of course they were mostly quite small -- and he probably had two to three horses for every man (Jarman, p. 72, estimates 25,000 horses), calling for much greater carrying capacity. It took them three days to make their landing, but they got ashore unopposed (Barker, p. 157). After a brief period of looting, Henry got the army back under control -- and, from then on, discipline was strict (Barker, p. 163; on p. 240, she reports an incident of a man being hanged for stealing a cheap but theoretically holy object from a church). The soldiers doubtless grumbled, but they probably fought better.
This may have been an indication that Henry V really did want to take control of France. He didn't want to damage a country he regarded as "his." We'll never know.
1415: HARFLEUR AND AGINCOURT
The first English objective was the port of Harfleur at the mouth of the Seine -- at that time, before its harbor silted up, a very strategic point. (It had been used as a staging point for raids on England; Barker, p. 168, and was used for attacks on English shipping; Allmand, p. 67. It was at the time the most important port in Normandy, according to Allmand, p. 79, and of course could control traffic to Rouen and Paris.) Undermanned until the French managed to sneak in reinforcements (Barker, pp. 172-173), it nonetheless possessed extremely strong defences on both land and sea sides.
Those strong defences nearly led to disaster for the English. The siege was one of the first to really depend on artillery -- but it was still a long, difficult operation, taking most of a month. That was at least ten days longer than Henry expected (Barker, p. 180). During that time, much of the army came down with bloody dysentery (Barker, p. 181). Casualties were extremely heavy -- probably about a third of their numbers (Ashley-Great, p. 156). Among them was one of the king's best friends, the Bishop of Norwich (Barker, pp. 183-184). It is rather frightening to wonder what might have happened had the English been held before the town much longer. It might perhaps have happened -- the town eventually surrendered, but details are rather lacking; Barker, pp. 191-193, thinks that perhaps the town's residents quit fighting, undercutting the still-determined garrison. It appears the garrison reached a deal with Henry, agreeing to give in if the French government had not sent an army by a certain date. And, of course, the government did nothing (Barker, pp. 193-195).
Henry was severe with the garrison, humiliating them and berating them for fighting against their lawful King (Jarman, p. 109). It was not the last time he would take such a high-handed approach. He also reportedly expelled the aged and the crippled, allowing only the healthy and prosperous to stay (Jarman, p. 111), assuming of cource they accepted him as King.
Losses from disease were so severe (Allmand, p. 80, cites a chronicler who claimed 5000 Englishmen were afflicted, though the source blames the disease on eating unripe fruit. Jarman, p. 106, believes over 2000 men were lost, which seems the minimum possible) that Henry decided not to undertake an additional major offensive that year (Barker, p. 197. Allmand, p. 84, argues that Henry had never had a plan beyond taking Harfleur but intended to respond to conditions when the town fell, though Jarman, p. 114, believes he had considered an attack on Rouen or Paris or a drive toward Guyenne).
Most of Henry's advisors apparently thought he should go directly home (Seward, p. 161). Henry wasn't willing to give up quite that easily -- he still wanted to at least wage a chevauchee. But he decided on a short one, choosing the shortest route to Calais and safety. Even that was a difficult maneuver to undertake in October (the exact date they left Harfleur is somewhat uncertain, due to inconsistent information in the chronicles. Barker, pp. 214-218, says that every date from October 6 to 9 is possible, but thinks the most likely is October 8. This is also the date given by Keegan, p. 82). And the French had been roused from their torpor by the fall of Harfleur (Barker, p. 231).
The French of course had a decision to make: They could try to retake Harfleur, or attack Henry, or split their forces and do both. The experienced military officials apparently favored the former, but most of the nobility, their pride stung, felt that Henry had to be punished. The decision was to pursue him (Jarman, p. 123).
Neillands, p. 214, notes that Henry at this time was marching across the land where, half a millenium later, an even bigger and more useless battle would be fought -- the Battle of the Somme. The French almost managed to cut off the English by blocking the passage of the Somme. The famous ford of Blanchetaque which Edward III had used was blocked off (Barker, p. 220; Jarman, p. 129). Other crossings were either guarded or were unusable because the bridges had been destroyed (Jarman, p. 131). Some of the junior officers argued for going back to Harfleur rather than hunt for a crossing they might not find (Jarman, p. 129), but the King ignored the suggestion. Henry had to go far upstream before he found a crossing point (Allmand, p. 86), while the army grew increasingly tired and sick and short of supplies. Henry was so rushed that he made no attempts at taking seriously defended towns along the way. Even so, it looked for a time as if the French might trap him.
In fact, they *did* trap him (Seward, p. 163). There is some question about whether Henry's forces were mounted (Seward, p. 163, thinks the archers were on foot, but given how fast they moved, it seems likely that Henry's entire army was mounted), but heavy rain slowed them down. Henry had made it across the Somme -- the biggest single obstacle in his way -- but it took him far out of his way, and on October 24, when the English army was only two or three marches from Calais and safety (the field of Agincourt is in what we would now call Belgium, not France -- in fact, it's near the great World War I battlefields of the Somme; Jarman p. 178), the French army arrived (Keegan, p. 82). They stood between Henry and Calais, and even if Henry had had the provisions to make it back to Harfleur (which he didn't), they could have hit him in rear. All the French had to do was win the battle, and Henry V and his pretensions would be one with every other pretender in history.
And the French had a substantial superiority in numbers -- so much so that Barker, p. 268, reports that they sent some soldiers home! Keegan, p. 88, believes that Henry had perhaps 5000 archers and a thousand men-at-arms (knights, squires, and others who wore armor and carried short-range weapons); this is also the figure in Featherstone, p. 145, and Allmand, p. 88. Barker, p. 218, suggests 5000 archers, 900 men-at-arms, and unknown but numerous others such as surgeons, heralds, and chaplains -- though many of them were so sick with dysentery that they had had to cut the seats out of their clothing to reduce the fouling (Barker, p. 276). Rubin, p. 218, implicitly supports the figure of 5000 archers and 900 men at arms.
Numbers for the French are far less certain, with English chroniclers coming up with numbers on the order of 60,000; one managed to suggest 150,000 (Barker, p. 263). French estimates were smaller, but no one offered a figure of fewer than 8000, with most guesses far larger; they went as high as 50,000. Keegan suggests 25,000, most of them men-at-arms, some with horses, some not. Barker, after listing the evidence, seems to prefer the figure of 36,000, based on the contemporary estimate of Jehan Waurin (which is the most detailed account). Rubin, p. 218, suggests the French army was "almost three times larger" -- i.e. probably 15,000-17,000 soldiers. Certainly there were plenty of nobles -- four royal dukes (with a fifth on his way), a dozen counts, and "innumerable lords" (Barker, p. 264). Allmand, p. 88, believes the English were outnumbered three or four to one, giving the French probably on the order of 20,000 soldiers. It also probably had the edge in artillery (Allmand, p. 89, thinks the English had no artillery at all, and this seems logical -- Henry had had artillery at Harfleur, but he was using siege guns, too big to carry in the field).
What they didn't have was a real commander (Barker, p. 251; Seward, p. 165). Charles VI and the dauphin were not present, and there was no real boss appointed in their place. Both the Marshall and Constable of France were present, but they couldn't really control their juniors, especially since many of those men stood higher in the feudal hierarchy (Barker, p. 261; Allmand, p. 90, notes that the Dukes of Orleans, Bourbon, and Alencon -- all of whom had been allied with Henry IV in 1412! -- were young men in favor of fighting as soon as possible).
To top it all off, every high lord wanted to be in on the fight, so most of them ended up in the front line, leaving their troops leaderless (Barker, p. 266).
In accordance with the standards of the time, there was one last parley before the battle. What happened is uncertain. French chroniclers have claimed Henry found the French host daunting, and offered to give back all his gains if allowed to avoid battle (Barker, pp. 273-274; Jarman, p. 150; Seward, p. 163, though this sounds suspiciously like the story of the Black Prince at Poitiers). If Henry made the offer, it is certain that the French, believing in their numbers, refused, or demanded impossible terms (Jarman's version is that they demanded Henry renounce the crown of France), and the battle became certain (Earle, pp. 137-128). The French may even have tried to insult the English at the final parley; one of the commissioners was a man who had been an English prisoner and had broken parole (Barker, p. 273).
Having lost the chance for peace, Henry refused to show any sign of fear, declaring that he would not allow himself to be captured and ransomed (Jarman, p. 156); he would win or he would die in the field (Barker, p. 257). With a leader like that, there was no question of command structure on the English side! (Allmand, p. 90).
Henry is also supposed to have addressed his troops before the battle (Jarman, p. 156). Of course, with a line at least half a mile long, already in formation, the majority could not hear a word he said. Presumably this is just another instance of chroniclers putting their words in his mouth. Similarly, there are a few reports of Saint George (England's patron saint) being seen over the field. This probably says more about the chroniclers than conditions during the battle.
It is interesting to note that Henry defied convention to a significant extent in organizing his forces -- no doubt thereby avoiding the command problems the French experienced. He had enough high nobility that he could have placed an earl in charge of each division, but he chose to entrust the left wing to Lord Camoys (Barker, p. 261). Henry himself commanded the center (though he also fought in line himself; Seward, p. 168, reports that a French knight actually damaged the crown he wore upon his helmet). The right was entrusted to the Duke of York, the senior noble to die in the battle (supposedly of suffocation when he fell over, since he was very heavy; Earle, p. 143; Featherstone, p. 151; Jarman, p. 175, calls him "fat and scheming", though Barker, p. 303, declares this a "Tudor invention," and I suspect this is correct -- the Tudors wanted to discredit anyone associated with the House of York).
Seward, p. 169, reports that the other high casualties were the Earl of Suffolk and half a dozen knights. There were, of course, many wounded, including the King's younger brother the Duke of Gloucester. The wound was said to be "in the hammes," which makes me wonder if this might not have had something to do with his childlessness. Of course, his three older brothers combined to have one child between them, so maybe not.
Although Earle, p. 137, says that the field of Agincourt was "almost perfect for the formality of a medieval battle," Henry had chosen what was, for him just about an ideal position (Jarman, p. 140). (There is a map on p 83 of Keegan , one on p. 147 of Featherstone, and another in Seward, p. 165, a fourth on Jarman, p. 159. These differ substantially -- Seward's map shows a much larger field than Keegan's and has the axis of the field, and hence the French attack, coming from northwest to southeast; Featherstone agrees with this construction. Seward's narrative, interestingly, says that the French were directly north of the English. Keegan, whom I would normally consider more reliable, shows the field pointing from northeast to southwest. Jarman's map is almost straight north to south, but angles slightly northeast-southwest. But all agree on the basic formations, and in all of them, the French are the to the north, the English to the south).
It is said that Henry ordered the army to be very quiet on the night before the battle. It is not clear what his reason was; perhaps he wanted to confuse the French or make them think the English weaker or more demoralized than they were. He seems to have succeeded (Jarman, p. 146).
Henry picked a field that was narrow enough that he could extend his line all the way across it (though wide enough that he was left with only a single line; Barker, p. 260). There was no reserve except a few dozen men guarding the baggage (Barker, p. 271; Earle, p. 139; Featherstone, p. 146), but the field had forest on either side and the towns of Azincourt/Agincourt and Tramecourt beyond the woods. This meant the French could not attack his flanks -- men-at-arms, whether mounted or not, simply weren't mobile enough to go through the woods. The only way the French could attack him was by charging down the field in the face of his arrow fire. And, with the ground so muddy from the recent rain, any attack, whether on foot or on horseback, would proceed very slowly (Barker, p. 259).
The French did not cooperate. Unlike the wars of the previous century, they did not immediately charge the English. Impetuous charges had cost them at Crecy, so they decided not to risk it. After all, to this point the longbow had served mostly at a defensive weapon. If they didn't attack, what could Henry do except try to retreat -- which would give the French the opportunity to attack with the English at a disadvantage. As a result, both sides spent several hours adjusting their lines and preparing (Barker, p. 254).
Henry outsmarted the French. After waiting long enough to be sure they would not advance (Keegan, p. 89), he ordered his army to move forward (Allmand, p. 91, estimates they moved forward 700 yards) so that they were just barely within longbow range of the French, and had his archers start firing (Earle, p. 141). They probably did not injure many knights at that range, but they irritated them and hurt their horses (Keegan, p. 94). The French should perhaps have tried a cavalry charge during Henry's advance (Barker, p. 279), but they didn't, and so blew perhaps their last chance to win the battle. No doubt the disorganization of their large force, and the fact that all the commanders had come to the front, contributed to the tactical ineptitude (Barker, p. 279).
(There was a little luck for the English, we should note: Although Agincourt was fought on a rather cold day, it was not raining, as it had been earlier in the campaign; the archers could string their bows. What would have happened had the French caught the English in a rainstorm would have been altogether another matter -- though they might have been unable to *reach* the English in the mud.)
The English archers each carried a stake, which they set in front of them to slow attacking horses. Featherstone, p. 148, says that this was a new technique invented for the Agincourt war (though this seems a bit odd, since even the French were mostly fighting dismounted by this time). It has usually been assumed that they set up a line of stakes all across the front, but Keegan, pp. 91-92, notes that this fence would have been so thick (he estimates the stakes would have been five inches apart) that the English themselves could not maneuver around the line. He suggests that they were in a checkerboard, one stake in front of each archer whether in the front rank or farther back. This would have interfered with the movement of horsemen but not the dismounted archers. This makes sense but cannot be proved.
It should be remembered that the English knights by this time always fought dismounted. Sure, they had horses, and they still practiced with the lance, at least sometimes (even half a century later, tournaments and jousting were popular), but they fought their actual battles on foot. Thus, Agincourt was essentially a contest of mounted French knights against archers and armored footmen. It is true that most of the French also fought dismounted -- but the mounted men often pushed the others forward. The French forces were so jammed together that it actually slowed their advance and reduced their effectiveness -- problems the mud made even worse (Allmand, pp. 92-93).
At least one French charge, probably the first, did reach the English line (Earle, p. 141). But it was uncoordinated and under-strength (Barker, p. 280), and the mud again cost the French: Their men-at-arms were almost immobile in their armor, but the English bowmen could move about and come to the aid of their armored comrades (Seward, p. 167). It is likely that relatively few of the dismounted Frenchmen died from arrows (which rarely penetrated at long range); they died of exhaustion or drowning in mud or falling and being unable to rise and being killed while helpless. The only way they could have avoided this was by charging on horseback -- but the longbows had no trouble killing the horses.
The bottom line was a complete disaster for the French: Nearly their only success was that some robbers had managed to lift much of Henry's personal possessions from the baggage (Barker, p. 295), but that was no help. The English had about 300 losses (Seward, p. 169); Seward guesses French casualties at 10,000. This may be high, but we have little to go on; we can't even count graves (the bodies mostly went in mass graves, and these have not been firmly identified; Barker, p. 317). Rubin, p. 218, says the English lost 500, the French 7000, with more losses from suffocation as the soldiers were buried in mud than from arrow fire.
All this from a battle that lasted only about three hours (Jarman, p. 175).
Our information on the French nobility is more definite: Casualties were three dukes, seven counts, and 120 barons. (In an irony that would become sharper over the next decade, the list included the Duke of Brabant and the Count of Nevers, brothers of the Duke of Burgundy, even though there was no Burgundian contingent in the army; Barker, p. 308.) The French would never again dare fight Henry V in an open battle (Earle, p. 148).
Many of the French dead were never identified, leaving a large number of widows who never knew their husbands' fates (Barker, pp. 312-313).
The local gentry, according to Barker, p. 306, was particularly hard-hit; Agincourt village itself lost Renaud, sire d'Azincourt, and the other nearby village, Tramecourt, lost Jean and Renaud de Tramecourt. This loss of so many locals made further resistance to Henry just about impossible at this time, and (according to Barker, p. 364) made the 1417-1419 conquest of Normandy much easier.
So deeply did the battle embed itself into English consciousness that to be "with King Harry on St. Crispin's day" was still a metaphor for being in the thick of battle half a millennium later. (Of course, the fact that this similar to a Shakespeare quote probably helped.)
The English committed one unquestioned atrocity, though Barker, p. 289, considers it "the only [action] possible" and Jarman, p. 174, justifies it as "a case of medieval expediency." Even after the battle, the French outnumbered the English, and when Henry thought they were about to attack him again, he ordered his prisoners killed; he felt he needed their guards in the line (Seward, p. 168; Earle, p. 142; Keegan, pp. 108-111, discusses the matter but argues at the end that it was not carried out on a large scale and suggests that Henry was simply trying to scare the prisoners to keep them out of mischief; Allmand, p. 95, also thinks the massacre exaggerated). This was definitely against the rules at the time, and many troops refused to do it (though probably out of desire for ransoms rather than higher motives). Only the most noble captives were spared -- supposedly the Duke of Brabant was one of those murdered because he had worn a servant's armor rather than his own fancier equipment (Neillands, p. 220).
One report, unconfirmed, is that Henry forced the most noble of his captives to wait on him at his meal that night (Barker, p. 321; Jarman, p. 178; according to Neillands, p. 221, he even required this of wounded men). It's hard to know what to make of this. It obviously would make the captives resent him, perhaps making them less likely to acknowledge him -- but it would also emphasize their vassal status. And it certainly fits Henry's extreme view of his own importance. Barker, p. 322, nonetheless thinks the story untrue.
Agincourt is almost always held up as the high point of Henry's campaigns; the Agincourt Carol, for instance, was composed about it. But, as Seward, p. 170, points out, it was really just an incident in another chevauchee. Perroy (admittedly prejudiced on this point) dismisses it in a couple of sentences on page 239, and declares that "the campaign of Agincourt meant nothing decisive." This is exaggerated -- if nothing else, it meant that Parliament voted Henry a huge subsidy to finance future campaigns (Barker, p. 341), which was a big deal indeed. Also, since the Constable of France had been killed, a new Constable was needed -- and the man appointed was Bernard d'Armagnac (Allmand, p. 102), making the conflict between Burgundians and Armagnacs more bitter.
Still, it is true that, despite Agincourt, Henry so far had made no real progress on conquering France (apart from Harfleur). The next two years were relatively quiet, though the French would try and fail to retake Harfleur (Allmand, pp. 102-103), with the English winning a minor battle in the field outside the city in early 1416 (Neillands, pp. 223-224). In 1416-1417, Henry's ships gained naval superiority in the channel (Seward, p. 171); control of Harfleur definitely helped with this (Allmand, p. 99. Allmand, pp. 106-107, calls this battle "the most telling" naval conflict of the Hundred Years' War, but most sources brush it off in a few words). The papal schism healed. Henry managed to gain theoretical recognition as King of France (though no military help) from the Emperor (Perroy, p. 240; Allmand, pp. 104-105 notes that Sigismund made a long and very expensive visit) But Henry made no major moves until 1417.
THE SECOND INVASION AND TROYES: HENRY THE HEIR OF FRANCE
The political situation in this period was very fluid. Originally, Henry seems to have had no deal with Burgundy. He invaded and fought at Agincourt on his own -- though there were few Burgundians in the defeated French army. But the Burgundians,having seen their enemies slaughtered, occupied Paris and killed every Armagnac they could find (Guerard, p. 106). Eventually they made peace gestures to the Armagnacs -- and then, in 1419, the Armagnacs assassinated John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy (Allmand, p. 135; Earle, p. 172; Seward, p. 180). For one act of petty revenge, they opened France to a joint English/Burgundian conquest. It came to be said that the English entered France through the hole in John's skull (Butler, p. xiii; Earle, p. 177).
Henry by then was invading Normandy. His second campaign began in 1417 (Seward, p. 171). Allmand, p. 113, thinks the forces involved were slightly smaller than in the Agincourt campaign, but in practice it was probably a stronger force because it didn't suffer as badly from disease. Their first stop was Caen, Normandy's second city. (Allmand, p. 116, hints that Henry might have been trying to set up a separate Norman administration, since Rouen was too strong to capture at this time, and Caen was easier to support from the sea.) Caen had been heavily fortified since Edward III had attacked it (Earle, p. 157), but apparently the walls were not designed to resist artillery (Earle, p. 158). Henry took the town by assault on September 4, and stayed in Normandy over the winter, capturing Bayeux, Argentan, Alencon, Falais, Cherbourg, and other towns (Allmand, p. 120; Seward, p. 173).
By 1418, Henry was besieging Rouen, which was the hardest operation he had attempted so far; the citizens had gathered much food and also destroyed anything the Englisn could use outside the walls (Allmand, p. 123). It was a brutal siege -- Henry, being the sort of man he was, when the garrison expelled useless mouths, would not let them pass through his lines, but left them outside the walls of the city to starve (Allmand, pp. 124-125, who declared that he had not put them there; this by contrast to Edward III, who had allowed the refugees expelled from Calais during the siege of that town go free; Sedgwick, p. 63). He also staged a mock battle to raise the hopes of the besieged, and perhaps lure them out of the walls (Allmand, p. 124). The city surrendered in early 1419 (Seward, pp. 175-177). That gave him control of effectively all of Normandy.
Unfortunately for him, he could not really colonize it, as he had hoped to; while England was prosperous due to the Black Death, it no longer had surplus population eager to leave home (Seward, p. 178). Henry supplied such colonists as he could, but the Normans remained mostly French -- even the government, although organized as a separate province entirely independently of the old French system (Perroy, p. 249), consisted mostly of Normans, with only a few thousand English troops and a few dozen English officials. The only effects of Henry's colonization was to cause a number of English lords to become French landowners -- a fact which would make it much harder to make peace when the time came; the English lords didn't want to lose their lands! (Tuck, p. 244).
The war was affecting England significantly by this time; it appears no troops were sent to Henry in 1419 (Allmand, p. 130). Still, with the French unwilling to fight, Henry had no trouble conquering more and more territory: Every time he started a siege, he had a local superiority in numbers, and the garrison never had help from outside. (Henry may not have realized that they were afraid of him, but he certainly knew that Armagnacs and Burgundians were so bitter against each other than they would never be able to turn against him; Earle, p. 150.)
It was in 1419 that negotiations started again. Henry apparently saw his future wife Katherine for the first time in that year. At this stage, it appears that Henry was demanding, at minimum, a marriage to Katherine, money, and Normany and a large Acquitaine in full sovreignty (Allmand, pp. 131-132). These conditions remained unacceptable to the French. So Henry went back to trying to take the whole country. By the end of the year, his raiders were appearing outside Paris and the French court had retreated to Troyes (Allmand, p. 134). The French were trying to heal their divisions, but it was very hard; there was too much bad blood.
Then came the murder John the Fearless of Burgundy mentioned above. It's hard to believe the dauphin was really responsible for this, since he was only sixteen (Neillands, p. 229). But, suddenly, the dauphin was discredited, the talks between the two French factions ended, and there was no chance of peace between the Burgundian and Armagnac factions. Allmand, pp. 136-137, thinks that this is the point at which Henry decided unequivocally that he would try to become King of France.
Guerard, p. 108, points out that there was no really inherent reason why the crowns of England and France could not be united. The monarchs had intermarried many times. It was only in the last few decades that the English kings had ceased to speak French as their native language (though, as Perroy comments with a rather French disdain on p. 60, it was "a peculiarly bastard dialect of that language, Anglo-Norman, full of English words and queer twists"); they might easily have gone back to speaking French. Dual monarchies had managed in the past to combine into single nations, though it would be more common in the future (think Great Britain, made up of England and Scotland, or Spain, made up of Castile and Aragon). England itself had incorporated Wales as recently as the time of Henry V's great-great-great-grandfather Edward I, and England itself been built up from smaller nations in the century and a half before the Norman Conquest.
To be sure, Perroy, p. 248, declares that "the 'dual monarchy' was doomed to failure." But Perroy -- who, after all, wrote during the German occupation of France -- has as his one fault an extreme aversion to the idea of enemies on French soil. The fact was, the French didn't have much resistance left, and would find it hard to develop any as long as the Armagnacs and Burgundians remains more hostile to each other than they were to the English.
Certainly the Armagnac court was powerless. The mad king Charles VI had lost several sons, but there was still one left, the future Charles VII. It might, however, be possible to have him declared illegitimate. (Given the behavior of his mother Isabeau of Bavaria, who went along with the story, it might even be true; certainly it was believable, because she had probably had the Duke of Orleans at least into her bed, and maybe others.) That meant that one of the daughters of Charles VI was arguably the heir (so much for the Salic Law). The eldest daughter had already been married to Richard II, but she was now dead. Some of her younger sisters were also married, but the youngest, Katherine, was still available (Perroy, p. 243; Allmand, p. 68, notes that Henry had been negotiating for her hand as early as the beginning of his reign, though balancing that off by discussing a Burgundian wife as well.).
By 1420, the French government was forced to negotiate. And, in the negotiations, Henry gained more than he had probably ever dreamed possible: He became heir to the Kingdom of France (Seward, p. 182). He would marry Katherine, the youngest daughter of Charles VI; the Dauphin was disowned and declared a bastard by his own mother (according to Earle, pp. 191-193, she needed some persuading -- apparently she never actually declared her son illegitimate, and certainly never said who was the father -- but eventually agreed to his abandonment when it was clear she had no other choice, and as a result the Dauphin almost decided to give up his throne).
It was agreed that Henry would follow Charles VI on the throne (Earle, p. 191, thinks that this clause was inserted so that the Duke of Burgundy, who of course was deeply involved in the negotiations, would not be guilty of deposing his own king). Henry would have to conquer the rest of France, but at the rate things were going, it seemed perfectly possible; after all, most of the north was in his hands, and the fighting there was almost over. Burgundy was on his side. Paris would take *anything* in preference to a return of the Armagnacs (Earle, p. 190). And Henry was already acting as regent (Perroy, p. 243). The English king looked unstoppable.
Formally, it was not a union of the two nations of France and England; it was simply a Union of the Crowns (Allmand, p. 149), such as happened when James VI of Scotland became James I of England. The French would keep their national identity. (I would love to know what the fallback plan was should Henry have died without heirs. Allmand, p. 150, says that Henry's English heirs were supposed to be heirs of France also, but they weren't married to French princesses!)
The whole agreement, which took eight months to negotiate (Butler, p. xiii), was known as the Treaty of Troyes. Henry ratified the treaty at Troyes on May 20-21, 1420 (Earle, pp. 193-194; Butler, p. xiv), though it was not until September 1 that he formally entered Paris, along with Charles VI (who by now was barely able to ride a horse) and Duke Philip of Burgundy (Seward, p. 183; Earle, p. 196; Butler, p. xv).
The Troyes agreement is usually called a "Treaty," which is the same term as is used for Bretigny. But as Allmand notes on p. 145, it was really quite different. Troyes was a victor's preace, negotiated less by the French government than by the Burgundians, and the meeting at Troyes was not a negotiation but simply a ratification. (Some Frenchmen would in fact claim that it was improperly agreed to; Allmand, p. 149. But all the forms were followed; technically, it was the French, not the English, who violated the treaty.)
It is interesting to note that Troyes gave France a written constitution for the first time (Butler, p. 2). Naturally it was thrown out when the Lancastrian dynasty was expelled. Perroy, p. 247, declares that it contained flaws of "both form and substance," which is doubtless true (the French at this time were much better lawyers than the English, as the Treaty of Bretigny had shown) -- but it was a deal between conquered and conqueror; in practical terms, it was an agreement by which Henry would govern France; it might well have worked had he survived.
Troyes was a substantial accomplishment, because potentially Henry would actually merge the two countries. Edward III had probably not contemplated that (Perroy, p. 209, thinks Edward would have given France to one of his younger sons after his death, re-separating the crowns, though this strikes me as highly unlikely. Earle, p. 190, declares that Henry was specifically after a "personal union of the two crowns").
On the other hand, Allmand, p. 441, concludes that Troyes was a mistake on Henry's part. He bit off more than England could chew -- and as a result, England eventually lost not just the throne of France but even the English territories in Guyenne. Allmand admits that any settlement would have eventually been challenged, but thinks that Henry would have been more realistic to take only Normandy and an enlarged Guyenne -- in other words, the territories he initially demanded. In other words, success corrupted him.
It will tell you what sort of person Henry was that, only two days after his marriage, he rode back to war (Earle, p. 194; Butler, p. xiv). (I have to insert a side note here, which is rather curious. Henry, as we see, quickly left his wife. Later, he would take no part in her English coronation; Allmand, p. 157. Nor would she be present when he died; Allmand, p. 175. Yet she quickly became pregnant. After Henry's death, she would take Owen Tudor as a secret lover -- possibly a secret husband as well, but this was never proved. Given the seeming sterility of Henry's three brothers, is it possible that she cuckolded her husband? I have never seen this discussed elsewhere; here is yet another instance where DNA testing would be interesting.)
Ironically, the English suffered the first real bad news of Henry's career soon after, when his brother Thomas of Clarence, the heir to the throne, was killed in an impetuous and useless skirmish at Bauge in 1421 (Seward, pp. 185-186; Butler, p. xv. It's easy to understand why he was doing it, though -- Earle, p. 165, notes how Henry during the Normandy campaign "subcontracted" conquest to his lords, granting them French land if they could conquer it. Allmand, p. 159, also notes that Clarence was upset because "he had not yet won honor in battle"; he had missed Agincourt due to illness). Bauge, apart from costing some hard-to-replace troops, did little to change the strategic situation -- but it boosted the morale of the French, meaning that Henry's grip on the country was much weakened; the local lords who had submitted to him started to change their minds. Henry had to hurry back to France to redress the situation (Earle, p. 200-204; Perroy, p. 268).
Later in that year, at Windsor, Queen Katherine bore the child who was to be sole heir to the thrones of France and England, the future Henry VI (Seward, p. 187). It was a significant boost to English morale (Allmand, p. 167), but father and son would never know each other. French towns continued to hold out for the Dauphin, and Henry V was growing increasingly cruel in his methods -- e.g. he hanged the entire garrison of Rougemont (Seward, p. 186). Toward the end of the year, he began the siege of the well-fortified town of Meaux.
It took almost half a year, and once again much of the English army was afflicted by disease. Among them King Henry himself. By the summer of 1422, he could no longer ride a horse and had to be carried on a litter (Earle, p. 212). Still, it looked as if the Dauphinists were on the brink of defeat and France and England on the verge of union. Unfortunately for the world, which was doomed to see another three and a half centuries of conflict between Britain and France, several things went wrong.
For starters, Henry V died.
THE DEATH OF HENRY V AND THE REGENCY OF BEDFORD
It is likely the cause of death was the dysentary Henry contracted at the siege of Meaux (Butler, p. xvi, and Jarman, p. 187, specifically mentions amoebic dysentary, although Allmand, p. 173, says that the precise cause of death cannot be determined), though he managed to take the town (Seward, p. 188). By the time he made it back to Paris, it was clear that he would not survive. He became the first English king since Richard I in 1199 to die outside England, meaning that he could not give final directions to his English council (Allmand, p. 173). And he had not lived long enough to succeed to the throne of France; Charles VI was still alive (though he would not live much longer, dying two months later after a reign of 42 years; Barker, p. xvii).
Henry from his deathbed made arrangements for the government of England and France, appointing his irresponsible youngest brother Humphrey of Gloucester to head a conciliar English government (Perroy, p. 268) and the more reliable John of Bedford to be regent of France (though Bedford was supposed to offer to the job of the Duke of Burgundy. Burgundy turned it down; Butler, p. xvi; Perroy, pp. 269-270). Henry then died, at the age of 35, on August 31, 1422 (Earle, p. 213). His heir, who was now Henry VI of England, was nine months old.
Lyon, p. 134 n. 1, makes the interesting note that, even though Henry VI was utterly unlike his father, and even though his mother later took up with another man, no one ever questioned Henry the younger's legitimacy. An interesting point....
I frankly suspect that the death of Henry V was good. He was getting power-mad, and vengeful. At the siege of Meaux, e.g., he demanded -- and got -- the execution of a French trumpeter who had razzed him (Allmand, p. 168). This was not the action of a chivalrous king of France; it was the act of a petty tyrant. It is frightening to think what he might have been like in another twenty years. But it left the question of whether his achievements could stand in other hands.
Had Henry conquered France? No. He had taken over the government, but only the regions north of the Loire acknowledged him, and not all of those. And only the Burgundian alliance made it all possible. Perroy, p. 249, considers that France was actually divided into three parts at this time: Lancastrian France, Anglo-Burgundian France, and Dauphinist France -- and Lancastrian France, the only area from which the English could really gather revenue, was very small (Perroy, p. 253); it really consisted of little more than Normandy.
As Wolffe says on p. 26, "Henry V, in claiming the French crown and then dying, undefeated and unspotted by failure, with the necessary conquest of France half achieved, left behind him a glorious legend, but a task impossible to fulfill."
Perroy, p. 267, suggests that, at this time, the English should have gone all-out to try to catch the Dauphin, even though it would have meant raiding deep into unconquered territory and risking being trapped. Clearly it would have ended the war one way or another. Henry V might have managed it. Bedford, with half a country to hold together without the prestige of kingship, didn't risk it; he tried to slowly bring more and more territory under his control.
Still, the English had control of Paris through the Burgundians (and even, to a large extent, the support of the Parisians, who wanted an end to civil war above all else; Perroy, p. 247. The English garrison was only about a hundred men, according to Butler, p. 27 -- far too few even to stop a riot if on had started). The English had direct control of Normandy, and portions of Guyenne; and Henry VI could at least claim to be a descendant of the beloved French monarch Saint Louis on both his father's and mother's side (something English propaganda made much of; Rubin, p. 225); given enough additional troops and money, Bedford might be able to complete the conquest of France. The death of Henry did not immediately end the war; indeed, for a short time, the English continued to win. It was almost all due to Bedford, the Regent of France. "It was soon clear to all that there was no better person to carry on the task left by the late King Henry. Lacking his brother's harshness (and his religious fanaticism), John of Bedford possessed to the full King Henry's flair for diplomacy and his strong sense of justice. To these he added a sincere desire to establish enlightened government in France" (Butler, p. 5).
In 1423, Bedford managed to forge an agreement between England, Burgundy, and Brittany (Seward, p. 196). To cement this, he married Anne, the favorite sister of the Duke of Burgundy (Butler, pp. 19-20), though she is said to have been rather ugly. (They apparently became very fond of each other even so, though the marriage was childless; Burgundy did not desert the alliance until she died.) If the agreement had been maintained, it would almost certainly have been the end of France. Also in 1423, the brilliant Earl of Salisbury won a medium-sized battle at Cravant (Butler, pp. 24-25; Seward, pp. 196-198), which prevented a French counter-offensive and showed that English tactics could be used by someone other than the dead King.
The French made one last attempt at an offensive in 1424. A large number of Scots had come to join the French armies (Butler, p. 33), and they wanted to fight, and were apparently causing trouble while they waited to do so (Perroy, p. 263). Bedford assembled what was surely the largest army he had ever led. In the confrontation which followed, the Scots wanted to fight, the French did not (Butler, p. 35). The Scots would have been well advised to listen.
Bedford and Salisbury met the French at Verneuil. As usual, the English were outnumbered (two to one, according to Butler, p. 39; on p. 40 he estimates English numbers at eight or nine thousand, French numbers at fifteen to seventeen thousand). It was a much closer thing that Agincourt -- the French managed to get into Bedford's baggage train, and also managed to attack part of his army before the archers had managed to fully dig in their defensive stakes (Butler, p. 38). Much of the long battle consisted of direct battle between the men-at-arms on each side. Yet, somehow, the English drove off the French wing, and then turned to encircle the Scots, who had earlier rejected quarter and were given none (Butler, p. 39). Although a very near-run thing, it ended with a complete victory for the English. This eliminated the last real army of the Dauphin (Seward, pp. 198-201; Perroy, p. 272) and left him too poor to field another (Butler, p. 40). It also caused tension between the French and the Scots; they would not actually fight together for many years after that (Seward, p. 202).
It finally made Normandy safe from French raids (Tuck, p. 266), and freed them to start working their way down through Maine. And it proved that Henry V wasn't absolutely necessary for the English to win. Except -- it was the last great English victory of the war.
Interestingly, the newest book I've seen on the subject, Butler's, argues on pp. 41-42 that the English might have won the war if, in 1424 after Verneuil, they had gone straight after the French court-in-exile at Bourges. This is similar to Perroy's suggestion that they should have gone after Charles VII in 1420. It was their last real chance for victory -- the Dauphin might well have been ready to give in.
The English didn't try. Probably they didn't realize how close the Dauphin was to defeat, and they recalled what had happened after Clarence had been killed. A defeat when pursuing the Dauphin would probably have meant the end of Lancastrian France. Better to continue the slow round of sieges and incremental gains. The problem was, of course, that it gave the French time to rebuild. The failure to follow up Verneuil did not automatically mean that the English would be defeated, but it did mean that the long, costly occupation had to continue -- and the money had to come from somewhere.
Which in turn meant that Verneuil was a hollow victory. France had been devastated (Seward, p. 194, comments that "Lancastrian France eventually became a wilderness laid waste by its garrisons, by deserters, by [robbers], and by Dauphinist raiders"), and England was broke (Perroy, p. 255). There was so little silver in Lancastrian France that it was almost impossible even to strike coins (Butler, pp. 40-41). Bedford would never get another chance for a knockout blow -- he couldn't afford to raise a big enough army. Normandy, which had to provide most of the money for England's war, was not up to the task -- Perroy, p. 257, notes that Bedford summoned the Norman Estates more than twenty times in thirteen years, but there was only so much that could be collected. Perroy, p. 262, estimates the revenue available in Dauphinist France to have been five times that which could be raised in Normandy.
Paris in particular was troublesome. The citizens were not rebellious, exactly, since they didn't want the Armagnacs back, but their enthusiasm was limited. Bedford used circus stunts to try to keep the citizens of Paris happy (Butler, p. 51, tells of a contest in which four blind men were engaged to try to kill a pig using hammers), but it couldn't hide the high taxes. Worse, the Parisians were often starving; bad harvests and brigands made it very hard to acquire food (cf. e.g. Butler, pp. 65-68,142-143. Almost every year of his history brings similar reports).
And it was proving difficult to keep the Duke of Burgundy, on whom everything depended, happy. In 1424, Humphrey of Gloucester married the Countess of Hainault, who had first been dubiously married to the Duke of Brabant (Wolffe, pp, 38-39; Tuck, p. 262) and then even more dubiously divorced (knowing she couldn't get a divorce from the regular pope, she had gone to an anti-Pope; Perroy, pp. 270-271). Gloucester, who now claimed her lands, led a private expedition into the low countries (Barker, p. 19; Butler, p. 45; Seward, p. 202), which were in the Burgundian sphere of influence. By doing so, he angered a lot of people and distracted the English war effort; Bedford had to spend the period from 1425 to 1427 in England trying to calm things down and raise money and troops (Butler, p. 55). Bedford managed to pick up a little money, but few troops, and meanwhile, the war languished.
(To top it all off, the expedition was a failure and the Countess of Hainault walked out on Gloucester; Perroy, p. 271; Butler, p. 47, points out that Gloucester's disaster was good news for Bedford, since it meant he didn't have to directly intervene militarily. Gloucester, to add to the absurdity of it all, ended up marrying Eleanor Cohbam, who had been one of Jacqueline's ladies-in-waiting; Tuck, p. 263.)
The French, meanwhile, had finally found a decent general in Dunois, the Bastard of Orleans, who made his name beginning in 1427. More would be heard from him later.
ORLEANS
Simple economics meant that the war would soon slow down. The question was whether the English could win before the collapse. They would find out at Orleans.
Butler, p. 4, calls Orleans the "real center" of Dauphinist France, though the actual government was carried on elsewhere. If Orleans it fell, it might well cripple the Dauphinists. The Earl of Salisbury, the best English general, therefore pressed hard to attack the city. Bedford finally gave in, even though he had wanted to campaign in Anjou (Butler, p. 78).
It wasn't going to be easy for the English, who had only a small army. Orleans was too large for the besiegers to encircle, and too strong to take by assault (Seward, pp. 209-210). Myers, p. 124, calls it "a travesty of a siege." Still, Salisbury was a genius, who if he could not invest the town was at least cutting off the roads and river passages which led to it (Butler, pp. 78-81). Many think he might have taken the city had he lived. But some sort of artillery, fired "at a venture" (as 1 Kings would put it), injured him fatally (Myers, p. 275; Butler, p. 81, says it was fired by the child!); Salisbury died October 27, 1428, and was replaced by the Earl of Suffolk (so Butler, p. 82, and Seward; Wilkinson, p. 261, says it was Lord Talbot; but Talbot was merely the most famous of the junior officers there and, if we are to believe Butler, p. 82, the one who caused the most fear among the defenders). Suffolk simply sat down to grind out the fight.
(If you want a picture of what Suffolk was like, consider this: When the French attacked Suffolk's army at Jargeau, and Suffolk was captured, he thought it so unbecoming to be captured by a mere squire that he insisted upon knighting him on the spot, even though he was an enemy; Butler, p. 98.)
One attempt to break the siege was defeated by Sir John Fastolfe at the so-called "Battle of the Herrings" (so-called because French artillery damaged the casks containing English Lenten provisions; Featherstone, p, 162 calls it the "Battle of Rouvray," but no one else uses that title), but that just meant the siege dragged on (Butler, pp. 86-87).
Guerard calls Orleans the Verdun, or the Stalingrad, of the Hundred Years War (p. 109). And it was at Orleans that Jean Darc appeared.
The lack of troops meant that the English perimeter around the city was insufficiently manned (Perroy, p. 283); it might be better to call it a blockade. But even that was loose; food could still get in at times -- especially by river, since Suffolk had not done anything to block off the Loire (Butler, p. 94). Plus Suffolk had for a time pulled back his outposts in the fall, allowing the defenders to lay in supplies and improve their defences (Butler, p. 82). And Bedford and Burgundy had a disagreement at this time, resulting in Burgundy pulling his troops out of the siege and from the supply routes leading to it (Butler, pp. 88-89). As a result, those inside the walls were not only more numerous but often in better health than those outside. Perroy, p. 275, thinks the city still would have fallen eventually, but the English historians mostly disagree. The porous encirclement also lead Jean enter the city on April 30, 1429 (Seward, p. 212). And Bedford had no hope of bringing in reinforcements, due to lack of money -- he was already being forced to cut his officials' pay (Butler, p. 91), a problem made worse by significant English casualties during an Armagnac raid toward Paris.
Jean Darc, or Joan of Ark, will always be controversial -- in part because we know so little about her. A peasant girl from Domremy, we don't even know the year she was born; Wilkinson, p. 261, says "probably in 1412." Butler, p. 96, mentions the sort-of-traditional date of January 4, 1412, but admits uncertainty. Perroy, p. 282, says her career began when she was between 16 and 20, which would allow birth dates between 1409 and 1413. Seward, p. 213, says her visions began when she was about 17, before her public career, implying a birth date of perhaps 1411. Keen, p. 257, seems to place her first visions much earlier, "just after the treaty of Troyes," which would hint that the hormonal changed caused by menarche might have caused them.
Her first communication to the English was a letter to Bedford, dated March 22, 1429, calling on the English to withdraw from France or suffer divine punishment (Butler, p. 93).
A modern presented with a list of her behaviors would almost certainly describe her as a schizophrenic; even Perroy, whose attitude on this is not very rational, admits on p. 282 that "In our skeptical days people would be inclined to regard Joan as mad, mentally deficient, visionary, or even bogus. Her contemporaries simply wondered whether she was sent by God or the devil." Butler, while seeming to have a lot of respect for her, on p. 93 calls her letter "highly illiterate." In due time, the English would burn her as a heretic; the French would revere her as a saint. The English were surely wrong; she was an orthodox Catholic. I'm not convinced the French are right, either; she was a nut case. But she had the right message for France. As Guerard comments on p. 109, "For posterity she imparted a mystic prestige to the cause of that sorry personage Charles VII."
And, after she arrived, the English siege of Orleans -- managed by relatively weak officers and conducted by insufficient forces -- failed. It wasn't exactly that Jean Darc had worked magic -- even Guerard, with a Frenchman's inflated opinion of her, admits that "the material and moral aid brought by Joan was sufficient to turn the tide" (p. 111). Wilkinson, p. 260, says that moderns have "magnified... [her] contemporary significance." Perroy, p. 283, concedes, "She knew nothing of the art of war, and thought that abstaining from oaths and brothels was enough to ensure victory for the soldiers." (The claim that she died a virgin seems to have been true; Butler, p. 138.) At least one of her suggestions, if carried out, might have led to the fall of Orleans, since it would have given the English an easy chance to capture a major supply convoy (Butler, p. 94). It was captains, such as Dunois, who led the actual fighting, often refusing to accept her suggestions.
Despite Jean's manifest failings, somehow, her presence was sufficient. A raid on the English fortifications captured a key strong point, and the English were no longer in position to guard all the entrances to the city (Butler, pp. 95-96). They tried to get the French to come out and fight. The French refused, and the English were out of ideas.
On May 8, 1429, the English gave up the siege of Orleans (Seward, pp. 216-219). Jean went on to have Charles VII formally crowned at Rheims, at last giving France a legitimist King. The English responded by finally crowning the seven-year-old Henry VI in England (Butler, p. 119), though it was not until 1431 that they sent him across the channel to be crowned King of France (Butler, p. 148, who notes on p. 149 that this was the first time he ever met his maternal grandmother).
Unfortunately, Rheims -- the place where French Kings were crowned -- was in Dauphinist hands. Henry VI was crowned King of France in Paris -- which was not considered an official coronation; Perroy, p. 287. (Perroy, p. 285, gives the crowning of Charles VII a mystic significance which it clearly did not have, but it definitely improved the anti-English position.)
o make matters worse, Henry's coronation was done in English style, apparently by Cardinal Beaufort rather than a French prelate (Butler, p. 150). The French naturally considered this a significant insult. Plus the whole banquet and celebration was completely mishandled, losing a chance to make the Parisians like their new monarch; he came off as ungenerous and inept (Butler, pp. 150-153). Admittedly the Lancastrian government was broke -- but, at this stage, they really needed to invest in keeping Paris happy, and they didn't.
The French found much encouragement in the fact that the Dauphin was now, finally, King, and when they caught up with Lord Talbot and Sir John Fastolfe at Patay, Jean pushed her soldiers into a quick attack, which proved a significant success; Talbot and several others were captured, though Fastolfe managed to keep a portion of the English army intact (Butler, pp. 103-104). It didn't change the fact that the French had finally won a victory in the field.
In one sense, Orleans, and Patay, and even the crowning of Charles VII was not decisive. The English expansion had been stopped, but they still controlled almost everything they had before, including Paris.
Jean wanted to change that; her next goal was Paris (Butler, p. 113). She failed in an assault (Seward, p. 221; Perroy, p. 285), and a crossbowman put a bolt in her thigh (Butler, p. 114). She lived, but her reputation for invincibility was broken -- she had apparently declared that the attackers would enter Paris that day, and of course they didn't (Butler, p. 115). She had actually weakened Lancastrian hold on the metropolis (the English turned it over to the Burgundians, and the suburbs became even more subject to raiders; Butler, pp. 119-120), but that wasn't even close to capturing the city.
The Burgundians by now were negotiating with the Dauphinists. But Charles VII was not yet willing to make sufficient concessions, and the negotiations broke down (Butler, p. 121).
Somewhat later, Jean was captured by the Burgundians (Perroy, p. 286; Seward, p. 219; Butler, p. 130, says she was wearing a "gorgeous gold and scarlet surcoat" when she was hauled from her horse, implying that she wasn't exactly dressing in poverty as was generally expected of prophets). She was turned over to the English (Perroy, p. 287, says she was sold by John of Luxembourg for 10,000 livres; Butler, p. 133, notes that the need to have her in custody was so urgent that the government actually had to get English gold for it).
Once in English hands, she was accused of heresy. The English did not invent these charges; apparently the University of Paris -- which was entirely French -- was the first to bring charges against her. Butler, pp. 131-132, thinks it was because they were "deeply suspicious of the female sex" and thought her behavior unnatural -- plus it was an era of visionaries, and far too many of those visionaries were women (Saunders, pp. 140-141, lists several examples, though a lot of these, like Catherine of Siena, sound to me more like manifestations of obsessive-compulsive disorder than anything else. Some probably did see visions, though; on the other side of the English Channel, and without the crazy rituals, think of Julian of Norwich). In the end, though, it appears Jean was called a witch less because she heard voices than because she cut her hair in a man's style and dressed like a man (cf. Perroy, p. 282; Rubin, p. 228) and rode astride a horse (cf. Butler, p. 138). Had she not engaged in those allegedly-masculine behaviors, she might simply have been called a nut.
The English subjected her to the sort of abuse inflicted on all suspected heretics (Seward, p. 219; Perroy, p. 288, notes that "[t]he cruelty of the procedure shocks our conscience as modern men. But it was simply that of the Inquisition, which was daily applied, without offending anyone, to any number of poor wretches..."). And she was only one uneducated girl trying to defend herself against legions of canon lawyers. The trial is popularly treated as a farce, but even Perroy, p. 288, admits that the judges had not "sold their consciences"; they were simply prelates who accepted the English cause. Naturally the court convicted her.
The English may not have been too happy, though -- the court did not condemn her to death out of hand. She confessed, and was sentenced to life imprisonment (Perroy, p. 289). But Jean, certainly foolish and very probably mentally disturbed, could not hold to the terms she had agreed to. Only a week after her confession, she was declared to have relapsed. Two days later, on May 30, 1431, she was shown to the crowd in Rouen, still dressed in men's clothing (Butler, p. 143, though it is not clear whether that was her idea or her captors'). After the display and some preaching, she was burned at the stake in Rouen, perhaps not yet twenty years old.
(A French-dominated re-trial in 1456 would overturn her conviction. Again Perroy, p. 280, is forced to admit that this tribunal "tried to prove too much"; already legend was displacing fact. It will tell you something about contemporary politics that her visions were considered by the English as evidence of heresy, by the French as evidence of inspiration, rather either regarding them as being evidence of mental disturbance. And don't even get me started on the fact that she was canonized centuries later -- what was canonized was not Jean Darc, peasant girl who crowned Charles VII, but Joan of Arc, pious fiction hardly even "based on a true story.")
(Incidentally, this was not the only time a woman was burned during the English occupation. Butler, p. 7, observes that Bedford had a woman in Paris burned after she took part in a conspiracy to remove English control of Paris. Butler regards Bedford's tendency toward excessive punishment as one of his few faults. More significant for our opinion of Jean is the burning of a woman named Pieronne, who claimed to have conversed directly with God; Butler, p. 136. Even though she claimed to do much the same thing that Jean Darc did, but in slightly more explicit form, no one has canonized her....)
Guerard, p. 112: "[Jean] was burned in the Old Market Place, at Rouen, on May 30, 1431, with the name of Jesus on her lips. Charles VII had not stirred a finger to save her; the Holy Chrism had made a king of him, but not a man."
Little wonder that Charles was nicknamed "the Well-Served." In himself, he was almost helpless -- "Stunted, knock-kneed, blank-faced, epileptic and suspicious," according to Earle, p. 180. Seward, pp. 214-215, tells that his court included a Satanist who was also a child-murderer, and the king himself suffered from phobias and dabbled in astrology and similar foolishness. At this time, he was almost as useless as his younger contemporary Henry VI of England. But, somehow, France eventually rallied around him.
The tide might have turned even without Jean. Bedford managed by 1431 to recapture all ground lost in 1429-1430 (Seward, p. 221; Butler, p. 105, observes that "During the seven weeks following this calamity for the English and their allies, the Duke of Bedford acted with extraordinary judgment and energy" and adds on p. 134 that 12 fortresses were taken just in the first half of 1430). They even took the brigand captain La Hire soon after Jean was burned -- something taken as a sign that she had not been divinely inspired (Butler, p. 144). Somewhat later the Earl of Warwick captured another major leader, Poton de Xantrailles (Butler, p. 146).
Had the economy been stronger, or the fields more fertile, the war might have been won. But it was the Little Ice Age; the English had nothing to spare, and Paris was starving and ready to give up on Lancaster (Seward, p. 222), and the Burgundians -- the only ones who were actually profiting from all this -- were wavering. And Jean has "forced the French military and political class out of a sense of inevitable defeat" (Rubin, p. 228). Charles VII still refused to fight the English in the field (Butler, p. 108), but as Charles V's reconquest of Acquitaine had shown, there were more ways to win a war than with set-piece battles.
Ironically, the French tried to develop a new Jean in the form of "William the Shepherd," whom Butler, p. 145, calls a "poor idiot." He didn't amount to much (the English captured him, displayed him to the Parisians, and caused him to disappear; Butler, p. 148) -- but he didn't need to. The tide was turning. Even Charles VII was starting to devote some energy to ruling (though Keen, p. 257, considers this due to the influence of a mistress).
1432 was a very bad year for the English. As usual, Paris was starving. The French actually made a raid on Lancastrian Rouen, though it failed spectacularly (Butler, pp. 1156-157). A difficult fight at Lagny was regarded as a moral defeat for the invaders, and Seward, p. 225, thinks that Bedford may have damaged his health. Later in the year, his wife, Anne of Burgundy, died in an epidemic of some kind, though she was only 28 (Butler, pp. 161-162) -- weakening the tie between the English and Burgundians, since the Duke of Burgundy was very fond of his sister. It probably also worsened relations with the Parisians, since the Duchess was popular there (Butler, pp. 43, 162).
In practical terms, her death may well have spelled the end of Lancastrian France, because Burgundy had been talking covertly with Charles VII for some time. With Anne gone, Burgundy lost his chief link to the Lancastrians.
The English government was going bankrupt; a detailed audit in 1433 (the first one known to us) showed that revenues were not sufficient to handle even ordinary expenses, let alone the cost of war. King Henry was actually placed in a monastery for a time to reduce expenses (Wolffe, pp. 73-74). We don't know how much this really influenced his later behavior (more than one person has suggested it would have been better had he stayed there), but it was certain that his expenses would go up as he married and built his own household. Under existing financial arrangements, there was simply no way for England to pay for the ongoing war.
In 1433, Bedford rather hastily remarried, to Jacquetta of Luxembourg, daughter of the Count of St. Pol (Butler, p. 166). She was 17 and very pretty (her children by her second husband, the Woodville clan, were among the most beautiful people in England, and her daughter Elizabeth Woodville would snag the future King Edward IV with her looks). Bedford and his wife had no children in their brief time together, and it may have caused further problems for the Anglo-Burgundian alliance, since Philip of Burgundy didn't want the English to increase their influence in the Low Countries (Butler, pp. 166-167). To add to his problems, the English parliament was starting to question the conduct of the war (Butler, p. 168). Admittedly it was going badly -- but they were the ones who failed to supply either adequate troops to win or adequate money for Bedford to finish it off with soldiers from the continet. In the end, Parliament in effect asked Bedford to act as regent for both France and England (Butler, p. 170), which inevitably meant that he would devote less attention to France.
By 1434, Bedford's younger brother Humphrey of Gloucester was offering to take over the war. His proposals, when examined, amounted to very little (Butler, pp. 174-175), But no one else had a better idea. As usual, nothing much was done.
Not surprisingly, the English position continued to decay. There was a rising in Normandy in 1434 (Butler, p. 176), and the garrisons in Paris were going unpaid. Yet when Philip of Burgundy suggested negotiations, Bedford unwisely turned the idea down. In 1435, as Burgundy applied more pressure, the parties actually held peace negotiations -- but they went nowhere (Butler, p. 181). Bedford apparently participated only because he was pressured by Burgundy (Butler, p. 182). He seems to have hoped the French government would fall apart due to lack of money. According to Perroy, p. 294, the best offer Bedford was willing to make to Charles VII was in effect to let him keep what he still held if he would acknowledge English overlordship. This offer was understandably rejected. It is true that,when the English gave up on the talks, the French tried to get them back -- but they really didn't need to. They were winning.
In February 1435, Bedford left Paris (Butler, p. 182) -- for the last time, as it turned out (Seward, p. 230). Soon after, a force under the Earl of Arundel was destroyed while fighting raiders in Normandy, and Arundel suffered a fatal injury from a cannonball -- a foretaste of events in 1453 (Butler, p. 183). The French meanwhile were building works they would use to besiege Paris.
The English still might have salvaged something had they been willing to compromise; Burgundy worked hard to bring this about (Butler, pp. 185-186). But Burgundy was going to have peace no matter what. The moment the peace talks failed, the Burgundians turned about and agreed to the Treaty of Arras, reconciling them to the French monarchy (Myers, pp. 124-125; Perroy, pp. 292-294, Butler, p. 187). In the long run, it was a disastrous move for Burgundy (Seward, p. 234) -- Louis XI would swallow the French portions of it in the 1480s when the male line of dukes failed. But the Burgundian dukes had a record of not thinking very clearly; Perroy, p. 291, suggests that Duke Philip thought he could dominate Charles VII and the French monarchy. He was wrong, but before he realized it, he had rendered the English position impossible. He also blew the chance to create an independent Burgundy, though he gained a great deal of (temporary) power in France itself (Perroy, p. 295). To top it all off, Charles VII never implemented many of his promises to Burgundy (Perroy, p. 332).
Last updated in version 3.8
File: C164C

Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List

Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography

The Ballad Index Copyright 2016 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.