King Henry Fifth's Conquest of France [Child 164] --- Part 05

DESCRIPTION: Conclusion of the notes to "King Henry Fifth's Conquest of France" [Child 164].
Last updated in version 3.8
NOTES: THE DEATH OF BEDFORD AND THE LOSS OF FRANCE
Bedford had blown any chance of keeping a position in France, and he seemed to know it, for he seemed to fall into despair. He would not live to see Lancastrian France destroyed. Shortly before the Treaty of Arras was formally announced, Bedford died on September 14 at Rouen (and was buried there, one of the few great English nobles buried in France); Seward, p. 231. According to Butler, p. 187, so deep was his despair that he literally turned his face to the wall and died. He was only about 46. His only offspring was a bastard son; he left most of his property to the monarchy (Butler, p. 188).
The English, minus Bedford, quickly discovered how important the Regent had been at controlling their hotheads. The Burgundians were willing to stay at peace with the English, but the English insisted on treating them as enemies from this time forward (Butler, p. 190). This may well have been the young King Henry's idea -- his first serious foray into government (Wolffe, pp. 80-83). Naturally this made their problems worse. A few of the wiser English leaders, such as Cardinal Beaufort, gave in and started thinking about a real peace (Butler, p. 191). They had very little time.
Paris was already in a panic by late 1435 (Butler, p. 191). They sent to the government in England, which scraped up a few troops but did not get them moving in time; they seem to have promptly disbanded (Butler, p. 192).
In 1436, the French captured some small ports in Normandy (Butler, p. 195). Lord Talbot, realizing that Paris could not be held, seems to have withdrawn most of his inadequate force before the French surrounded the town (Butler, p. 196). That left the city commander, Lord Willoughby, with only a token defensive force when the French began their blockade. Even this was whittled down as the garrison was pushed into raids on areas outside the walls, and some of the raiders were captured . Although several bishops wanted to fight on, the townsfolk proved unwilling to defend the walls of Paris (Butler, pp. 200-201), and the English garrison was overwhelmed on April 13. Happily, there was no sack of the city (Butler, p. 203, though he notes on p. 204 that Charles VII would not be so gentle in future), and the besiegers even brought in food.
Lord Willoughby and his troops took refuge in the citadel, but soon had to retreat to Rouen (Seward, p. 235). This hardly brought peace to France -- the war had loosed many brigands who continued to destroy the countryside (Perroy, p. 303) -- but it meant that English revenues fell even more. Seward, p. 234, suggests that some in England were wise enough to realize that they could not win, and would have been willing to settle for Normandy and Guyenne in full sovereignty. But, as usual, there was a war party which made such a settlement impossible. They deluded themselves mostly by looking at the success of Lord Talbot, who actually managed a raid on Paris in 1437 (Butler, pp. 207-208.)
By this time, Henry VI was old enough that he might have been able to influence things. But he was about as unlike his fearsome father as it was possible to be. Although Wolffe, p. 83, describes him as formulating a belligerent policy, he is forced to admit that Henry was "no practical soldier." Wilkinson, p. 257, declares, "[N]o earlier monarch after Ethelred the Unready had been so lacking in the attributes necessary in a medieval king.... Henry VI had only scholarly learning, piety, and good intentions to commend him at a moment in history that demanded heroic virtues, the capacity for great decisions, and inflexibility of purpose." He could not run a war; he couldn't even run his own court! As Ross says on p. 21, "Unfortunately, comments on Henry's character by people writing before the Yorkist usurpation of 1461 are few and meagre, but they lend some support to the notion that he was indeed a man of limited mental capacity who was too much influenced by those around him."
We do know that, by the time he was in his mid-twenties, arrangements were being made to control his impulses -- a set of measures were taken to reduce the amount of crown property he gave away and to ensure that, if he must give it away, he at least did not give it away to more than one person! (Wolffe, p. 114).
From then on, the war in France was all rearguard action: A few chevauchees, a few raids and sieges, the latter led mostly by Lord Talbot, who was turning into "Old Talbot" -- a legendary figure in England but one who lost the only major battles he led (Seward, p. 236-237). The Earl of Warwick, the last of Henry V's great officers, died in 1439 (Seward, p. 239). Various officials were put in charge in France in the next dozen years, including the Duke of York and the Earl of Somerset. York, assisted by Talbot, managed to mostly hold his ground; the English held off attacks on Normandy and Guyenne in 1441 and 1442 (Seward, pp. 240-241). But York was spending his own money to do it (Rubin, p. 271; Lander, p. 29, prints evidence that by 1446 York was owed over 38,000 pounds); it was not something that could last long. And Somerset was a disaster who took a large force to France and accomplished nothing except to bring the government closer to bankruptcy (Seward, p. 242).
It was not yet a civil war in England, but with Bedford dead and Henry VI unable to control the factions, things were moving that way. On one side was Henry V's last brother, Humphrey Duke of Gloucester, who favored escalating the French war though he had no real plan for how to do so. On the other was Henry's half-uncle, Cardinal Beaufort. Beaufort was more realistic (although he had a crazy idea of a crusade against the Hussites while the French war was still going on; Tuck, p. 269); Gloucester had more popularity with the commons. Beaufort had control of the court (he had given the crown so much money that he very nearly owned the place; Tuck, p. 262), but could do little with it.
So bitter was the hatred that Humphrey in the 1420s had accused Beaufort of treason (Butler, p. 63). Bedford had soothed that over -- but with him gone, things got much, much worse. In the early 1440s, Humphrey's latest wife Eleanor Cobham (who had replaced Jacqueline of Hainault) was convicted of witchcraft by the Beaufort party (Wilkinson, p. 265). In 1447, they arrested Humphrey himself, and he died in custody (Gillingham, p. 60). Gillingham thinks he died of a stroke (which was the report of one contemporary chronicler), but most contemporaries apparently regarded it as murder, and in this they are followed by Wilkinson, p. 266. Rubin, p. 231, says the death took place in "mysterious circumstances."
Gloucester's death produced a real political crisis, since he was heir to the throne. With him dead, and Henry VI still childless, who was heir? Henry VI was the only true "Lancastrian" Plantagenet alive. For the first time, the question of a Beaufort succession had to be faced (Perroy, p. 336, thinks their leader, Somerset, "might aim at the succession to the King"). The Beauforts were partially legitimized descendents of John of Gaunt, Henry VI's great-grandfather; if they were fully legitimized, they were the heirs to the throne in male line. But if they were not considered legitimate, then the Duke of York was heir in male line (Lander, p. 34), and actually senior to the Lancastrians in female line. In 1450, a motion was made in parliament to have York declared Henry VI's heir. The court responded by having the petitioner arrested (Rubin, p. 272; Wilkinson, p. 278). There is much dispute over the extent of York's ambitions, and his abilities (Ross-Wars, p. 28, thinks he had "little capacity or inclination to seek and win support from his fellow-noblemen or from the wider public," while admitting that he tried to provide honest government while regent) -- but it is certain that he was a better leader than Henry VI or his wife Margaret (anyone would be), and that he had been utterly mistreated by the government.
The court party, being so weak, had repeatedly tried to buy support with grants of titles and annuities; by the 1450s, due in no small part to massive grants of land to new peers (Gillingham, p. 56), Henry VI's government had revenues of less than 30,000 pounds per year, household expenses of 24,000, and a debt of 400,000 (Myers, p. 126; based on Gillingham, pp. 66-67, more than 10% of this was owed to the Duke York alone!). With no money available to pay soldiers, naturally garrisons dwindled to almost nothing. Lancastrian France was a hollow shell.
In 1444, the Earl of Suffolk (who took charge of the court party when Cardinal Beaufort retired from his public role) tried to negotiate a peace. So bad was the English situation, and so incompetent was Suffolk, that in return for a royal marriage (Henry VI to the utterly disastrous Margaret of Anjou) and a two year truce, he had to agree to the surrender of the county of Maine (Seward, p. 244; Myers, p. 126, says that Margaret had to talk Henry into giving up Maine; Gillingham, p. 57, suggests that Henry VI made the concession on his own to assert his independence and in a sort of Munich-like attempt at peace through weakness; Wilkinson, p. 271, points out that Henry himself wrote a 1445 letter agreeing to the surrender). Other than the brief truce, Margaret brought no dowry at all (Gillingham, p. 59) -- indeed, she had to be given land in Lancashire to pay her expenses (Rubin, p. 231).
(The above, at least, is the English view. Perroy, pp. 310-311, says that it was only a ten month truce with an option for an extension, and thinks that it was a good deal for both sides, because the marriage of Henry and Margaret was a "promising prospect." Promising it was -- but only for the French.)
In one sense, the surrender was realistic: The English had to give up some lands. The mere fact that they were treating with Charles VII shows that they had abandoned hope of ruling France. But I have to agree with the anti-Margaret faction: they should at least have gotten value for what they gave up! Gillingham, p. 56, notes that they still had a strong position: Guyenne, Calais, Normandy, much of Anjou, and Maine -- the latter well fortified for the defence of Normandy. They were giving up the key to this position -- and all they got for it was a truce too short to do any good, and a Queen who would cause England to fight the Wars of the Roses starting just 11 years later.
To make matters worse, the French used the truce to improve their situation, even as the English sat and twiddled their thumbs. After most past truces, the French soldiers had been cut loose to become brigands, weakening the economy even as it ruined the army. Charles VII cleverly took the best of the soldiers into his peacetime army, strengthening his forces for the next showdown and avoiding the unpopularity the soldiers would have caused in the countryside (Perroy, p. 304). It meant taxes stayed high -- but the centralized French government no longer worried about that.
Margaret was now the real ruler of England, through her husband, but she was "a domineering and uncompromising woman. She had no understanding of English traditions and not much more of English politics, and was soon hated by the plebs as representing an unpopular policy in both foresight and domestic affairs" (Wilkinson, p. 270). Her primary ally was Somerset, the leading Beaufort -- in other words, with Humphrey of Gloucester dead, he probably though of himself as Henry VI's heir unless Margaret bore a child (Gillingham, p. 68). Little wonder there were court conflicts!
Even Perroy, pp. 335-336, admits "Margaret of Anjou was a foreigner, ambitious, active, and intense, and she knew nothing about English affairs. Brought up in the kingdom of France, where no one opposed the royal authority, she wanted to rule without the counsel of the barons and the advice of Parliament.... French at heart, she stood for peace [with France] and did nothing to wrestle from the Valois the provinces recently lost by England.... This was another source of her unpopularity, since public opinion unanimously demanded revenge for these defeats, though it was unready to bear the cost of a fresh war. The more isolated she felt, the more enthusiastically Margaret committed herself to the party that had put her on the throne. This was the clan of the Beauforts... led by Someset, vanquished at Caen but now Constable and all-powerful counselor."
The French meanwhile were building a true standing army (Seward, p. 247; Perroy, p. 300; Keen, pp. 257-258 credits this to the "great ordinance of 1439") -- not even Henry V had really had that, though he had controlled his forces well enough that he might as well have. But lesser English lords had only their household troops -- tough as any regulars, to be sure, but not as numerous. Charles VII also managed to gain control over revenues -- he now simply set the tax rates, and the people had to pay (Perroy, p. 302. I can't help but wonder if the people who fought against the English knew what they were getting themselves into).
In 1449 the French moved on Normandy, given an excuse by some sharp dealings involving the surrender of Maine (Gillingham, p. 61; Perroy, p. 317, notes the extreme folly of the situation, in which allies of Somerset attacked the pro-French Duchy of Brittany). At once, the English house of cards collapsed (Seward, p. 248). Within three months, Rouen was under siege -- and the townsfolk admitted the French, forcing the English back into the citadel. Somerset, who had distributed his forces into penny-packet garrisons that the French could easily swallow, promptly had to surrender -- and to leave Talbot, the last noteworthy English general, in French hands (Seward, p. 249).
The English finally managed to scrape up a few reinforcements in 1450, led by a mere knight, Sir Thomas Kyriell. These blundered into battle at a small town called Formigny (Guerard, p. 113). As usual, estimates of their number vary; Perroy, p. 318 suggests that there were 5000 from England and 2000 from the remaining Norman garrisons, but most sources seem to give estimates in the 4000-4500 range. Featherstone, pp. 168-169, suggests 4000 men but makes it even weaker in practice, since there were only 1500 archers, and a few hundred men-at-arms, meaning that half the army was billmen -- surely the weakest type of soldier for this sort of fight.
What is certain is that the English were decisively defeated; supposedly the French counted over 3700 dead. Perroy, p. 319, says that English casualties, killed, wounded, and captured, were "nearly 5000." Featherstone, p. 171, declares that 80% of the English army was killed. Kyriell himself was among those captured (Seward, pp. 250-251). Caen fell soon afterward. On August 12, 1450 -- supposedly one year to the day after the campaign started (Perroy, p. 319) -- Cherbourg surrendered (Seward, p. 252). English Normandy -- the territory Henry V had apparently wanted above all else -- was gone.
The government by then was completely bankrupt; the officers of state were going unpaid (Rubin, p. 65). There was no possibility of mounting a major counterattack.
Suffolk, who had the support of Queen Margaret, was made a Duke in 1448, but so great was the unrest that Parliament impeached him (Wilkinson, p. 275; Lander, p. 38, notes that most of the charges were false or exaggerated, but in any case the real crime was making such a bad agreement with France). Henry VI tried to save him by exiling him, but before he could escape the country, he was murdered in 1450 (Gillingham, p, 63; OxfordCompanion, p. 758; Seward, pp. 254-255). Two others who had large roles in Henry's government were killed at about the same time (Wilkinson, pp. 273-274; Lander, p. 35). The disaster also led to Jack Cade's rebellion, which didn't really accomplish much but which scared a lot of people. So pig-headed was the court party that the de facto role of Prime Minister now went to Somerset, who had been in charge of the loss of Normandy (Perroy, p. 319).
The popular resentment didn't change the situation. In 1451-1453, the French threw the English out of Guyenne, which they had ruled since 1154. The initial occupation took only a few months in 1451 (Seward, pp. 256-257). It needn't have been final; the Guyennese actually preferred remote English rule to direct French control, and the imported French officials proved harsh masters (Perroy, p. 320). When the English scraped together an army in 1452, Bordeaux rebelled and admitted them (Seward, p. 258); much of the rest of the province followed.
But the general the English sent, "Old Talbot," while a genius in leading raids, was not a great commander at set-piece battles, and was now very old (Perroy, p. 321, says over eighty, though most sources say he was in his seventies; OxfordCompanion, p. 173, says he was 65). And the French had finally found a new weapon to combat the longbow: Artillery. Guns let them destroy Talbot and his troops at Castillon on July 17, 1453 (Myers, p. 127; Perroy, p. 321; Ros, p. 122; Keen, p. 255, calls it the battle of "Chastillon") when Talbot impetuously tried to attack the French artillery park head-on (Seward, pp. 260-262) and without examining the position (OxfordCompanion, p. 173).
The castles and towns of Guyenne promptly gave in to the French. Bordeaux, the last, surrendered only three months after Castillon (Seward, p. 262). This time, they were treated as conquered territory, and suffered badly (Perroy, p. 321). But there was no going back. As Perroy says, the great fief of Acquitaine, and the Angevin Empire, was gone.
The Hundred Years' War was over. It was "the final, though as yet unbelievable, severance of England from the last remnants of the continental empire of Henry II" (Harvey, p. 190). Except for Calais, which the English held for another century, the invaders had been driven from France. Henry V's "conquest" was lost at a time when he would still have been alive had he lived out a normal life (he would have been 66).
No peace treaty was ever signed, and England's Edward IV actually invaded France at one point, to be bought off with a subsidy (Perroy, p. 347). Henry VIII would would fight in France as well, from 1512-1524. Perroy, p. 348, sums it up: "As late as 1487 there was talk of a possible English landing in Guienne.... But to pursue our story further would be playing on words. Though no peace ratified its results, the Hundred Years' War was long since over. It was true that Calais did not become French again until 1553 and that for centuries longer the English sovereigns continued to bear the empty title of King of France. But these were belated survivals of no importance. When the Burgundian State was dismembered, a fresh factor in the history of Europe relegated the old Anglo-French dispute to the background" (because England no longer had an ally within France).
ENGLAND AFTER THE WARS: THE OVERTHROW OF LANCASTER
Even Calais would have been lost much sooner had Henry V's dynasty endured longer; when Margaret of Anjou fled to France in 1462, she promised to turn the town over to Louis XI in return for help (Perroy, p. 344).
But Margaret could not fulfill her promise, because she never regained power; the loss of France was to deal the Lancastrians a fatal blow. The response in France to the end of the war was an attempt to rehabilitate Jean Darc (Perroy, p. 323). The response in England was to seek a scapegoat. Suffolk had not been enough of a sacrifice. It might have been better if Henry VI had put Somerset out of the government. Lander thinks that Somerset, unlike Suffolk, was honest (p. 44). That doesn't mean the populace trusted him, however. But even had Henry wanted to change ministers, he could not -- because he went catatonic (Gillingham, pp. 74-75).
The cause is unknown; Wolffe, pp. 271-272 n. 13, observes that we have almost no actual data about the King's illness. What we do have could fit depressive stupor, schizophrenic stupor, or an organic brain disease -- but, since Henry apparently recovered eventually, the latter two are difficult. It would have to be a severe case of depression to knock him out for more than a year, though.
Margaret and Somerset tried to cover up Henry's madness (they didn't formally make arrangements until the Chancellor died, leaving the government incapable of functioning; Wolffe, p. 279), but eventually their enemy the Duke of York was appointed Protector. Somerset went into the Tower, but he was not executed, and York has "made an effort to rule the country with the help of a fairly broad-based council and administration" (Gillingham, p. 84). There might have been peace -- if nothing had changed.
But "If Henry's insanity had been a tragedy, his recovery was a national disaster" (Gillingham, p. 84, quoting an unnamed source). The Protectorate seems to have been set up on the understanding that it might last for a very long time -- one of the provisions allowed that the new-born Prince Edward would have the option to assume the Protectorate once he was old enough! (Wolffe, p. 280). But he came out of his trance a few months later -- to an extent. Henry, though again capable of speech, was no longer fit to rule -- Ross, p. 52, calls him a "useful political vegetable"; on p. 118, Ross notes that Henry was taken prisoner *three times* during the Wars of the Roses; no other pretender to the throne was captured with such ease. Lyon, p. 137, says that "Had Henry's mental incapacity been permanent, the consequences might have been less disastrous, since the spells of torpor alternating with periods of lucidity provided the perfect context for the consolidation of factional politics.
Wolffe, pp. 338-339, suggests that, during his half decade of Yorkist imprisonment in the 1460s, he did nothing at all -- it was almost as if he did not exist).
Once Henry was able to mke the motions of Kingship, Somerset and Margaret again took charge -- and immediately turned on York, his allies the Nevilles, and others who had opposed their narrow government. York and the Nevilles, who clearly needed to defend themselves, took to arms. The first major fight of the Wars of the Roses, the First Battle of Saint Albans, took place in 1455, only a year after Henry recovered from his madness.
It wasn't a big battle -- Lander, p. 53, thinks only sixty men died. But it set a pattern for the Wars of the Roses: That few soldiers were killed but many leaders disposed of. St. Albans finally got rid of Somerset, who was executed on the field (Gillingham, p. 89). The Yorkists, for the moment, were still willing to accept Henry VI as king (Lander, p. 55; Gillingham, p. 90, thinks Somerset was killed because "York and the Nevilles had therefore pushed themselves into a position where they could either depose the king or kill the king's [councilors]"; these were the only possible ways to reform the government. And they remained loyal to the King).
There followed four years of relative peace in which the Yorkists exercised greater control over the biddable King Henry (Ross, p. 32). But it was fragile -- Margaret of Anjou was still around, and she would not accept anything she viewed as an infringement on her rights. After a few months of relatively non-partison government (Wolffe, p. 302, thinks Henry realized his own incapacity and tried to form a unity council), Margaret asserted herself -- Wolffe, pp. 302-303 goes so far as to suggest she kidnapped her own husband!
Ross, pp. 37-40, discusses several reasons why the situation flew so far out of control, including economic difficulties and a large number of local feuds -- but ultimately it was that a weak king was ruled by a partisan wife. Wolffe, p. 312, considers the government completely ineffective starting in 1456 -- it had no ability to control the kingdom or breaches of the peace. Margaret in June 1459 called something that was almost a parliament -- but she excluded York, the Nevilles, and York's allies such as the Bourchiers (Gillingham, p. 102); the Yorkists expected to be indicted (Ross, p. 37). At this point, though York still hesitated to claim the throne, true peace became impossible. Later in 1459, Margaret scattered the Yorkist princes, and seemed to have won a complete victory (Gillingham, p. 105); the Yorkists fled to Ireland and Calais.
It is ironic to note that Charles VII of France thus found himself strongly backing Henry VI (Dockray, p. 54), the king with whom he had contested his own throne and territory for more than thirty years! But Margaret managed to blow her advantages by her abominable behavior. In 1459 the so-called "parliament of devils," which she dominated, passed 27 bills of attainder (Gillingham, p. 106), condemning among others the Duke of York, his sons the Earls of March and Rutland, and the Neville Earls of Warwick and Salisbury. For the Yorkists, it was now win or die.
And Margaret was unable to consolidate her position, because the government was once again bankrupt (Gillingham, p. 108). And her generals and admirals were completely inept; Warwick apparently sailed right past the superior fleet of the Duke of Exeter to invade (Gillingham, pp. 109-110). He captured King Henry (but not Margaret) at the Battle of Northampton (Gillingham, p. 114).
It appears the Yorkists hadn't really worked out what came next. Warwick probably still hoped to rule through King Henry. But the Duke of York himself came to Parliament and, somewhat hesitantly, claimed the throne (Gillingham, pp. 116-117; Ross, pp. 47-49). The uncommitted Lords, though they were tired of the Lancastrian regime, were not ready to go that far. Eventually a compromise was reached: Henry VI would retain his throne (presumably with a new ministry), but York was declared Henry's heir, and York's heirs after him (Gillingham, p. 117). It was a logical compromise; York might never take the throne (since he was about a decade older than Henry), but it did restore the rightful line.
It also meant that Margaret of Anjou's son Edward was cut out of the succession. That she would never allow. It was she, not the Yorkists, who really ramped up the Wars of the Roses.
The Wars, though they resulted in the overthrow at one time or another of four different kings, were ultimately struggles between noble factions over who would rule England (Perroy, pp. 338-339). The first monarch to go was Henry VI, who was overthrown in 1461. The single biggest reason for his downfall was surely the loss of the territories in France -- and the behavior of the Frenchwoman, Margaret. Henry was not captured until 1464 (to spend the next half dozen years in the Tower), but he hardly mattered anyway; it was Margaret who was fighting -- less on behalf of her husband than on behalf of her disinherited son.
In 1470-1471, an attempt was made to bring Henry VI back, but it was made by a coalition of allies who distrusted each other utterly (Dockray, p. 66). The Earl of Warwick, who organized the "re-adaption," had to try to keep everyone happy, and seemingly failed (Dockray, p. 68). When the displaced King Edward IV invaded, the Lancastrian government lost the two battles of Barnet (where Warwick was killed) and Tewkesbury (where Edward the son of Henry VI was killed) and the regime collapsed (Wilkinson, p. 293). In the aftermath, Henry VI was executed. The Lancastrian line was extinct; all of Henry V's other close relatives were dead by then. Henry V's brothers had all died without issue -- Clarence in 1421, Bedford in 1435, Gloucester in 1447. The closest surviving relations of the Lancastrian kings were the Beaufort family, the descendents of the illegitimate half-brothers of Henry IV. The future King Henry VII was descended from that line, but it took a lot of luck....
It is true that, when King Edward IV invaded France in the 1470s, he implicity invoked the memory of Henry V -- but one of his parliaments declared Henry V "late in ded and not in right Kyng of Englond" (Allmand, p. 432). But Henry was already becoming a legend in the sixteenth century, as shown by books such as Fabyan's Chronicle (whose author died in 1513) and Edward Hall's 1547 "history" (Allmand, p. 434) -- a work containing far more propaganda than genuine history. And Shakespeare, of course, strengthened this unhistorical legend (so much so that authors such as Jarman seem to have bought into it almost completely).
Even Allmand, p. 443, concludes, "A careful consideration of his whole achievement reveals much regarding Henry's stature both as man and king. From it he emerges as a ruler whose already high reputation is not only maintained but enhanced." But, on the previous page, he had admitted a more troubling truth: "He therefore passed on to his son an inheritance which may justly be termed 'damnosa hereditas.'''
Henry VII would later try to have Henry VI declared a saint. Many English citizens certainly revered him as such. A long list of miracles was compiled (Wolffe, pp. 351-354). These were the typical sorts of coincidences ascribed to saints at the time -- e.g. a ship escaped pirates because they called on Henry's name (oh, plus the wind came up). It is actually possible that Henry would have been canonized had it not been for Henry VIII's break with Rome (Wolffe, p. 355). But, as Wolffe points out on p. 356, Henry may have been saintly, but he was lousy at his work. And Francis Bacon pointed out that "the pope had to make a distinctin between saints and fools if the honor was not to be cheapened" (Wolffe, p. 355). Henry VI was a failure, and his failure more than offset his father's success.
For the aftermath of the Agincourt War, see especially the notes to "The Children in the Wood" (The Babes in the Woods)" [Laws Q34].
THE HISTORICAL CONTENT OF THE BALLAD
As far as historical accuracy is concerned, this ballad ranks pretty near the bottom. Child's single short text (collated, to be sure, from multiple broadsides) appears to be late, and has few details. And most of those are wrong:
"A tribute that was due from France Had not been paid for so long a time." The French did not owe tribute to the English under any reckoning. They had agreed to a ransom for John II -- but had been unable to pay (Henry V at the start of his reign apparently claimed arrears of 1.6 million ecus; Allmand, p. 68), so John II had gone back into English custody. He died there, so there were no arrears on the ransom. Of course Henry could claim to be overlord of France, and due its revenues -- but the fact that the song recognizes a king of France (since Henry sends to him) means that, in the song, that claim is not being made.
"Your master's young and of tender years." Henry V in 1413 was about 26 years old. Charles VI of France was about 45, but he had been intermittently insane for two decades, and his children were all younger than Henry (Barker, p. 69); the future Charles VII was only ten years old. There was no one in France in position to insult Henry's intelligence or experience.
"Three tennis-balls." The story about the tennis balls is widely told (including in some old chronicles; Shakespeare has it from Holinshed, according to Jarman, p. 47, and Allmand, p. 427, says it was mentioned by Audeley early in the reign of Henry VI), but there is no real reason to believe it true. As mentioned above, the then-Dauphin (not Charles VII but an older brother) was a decade younger than Henry and could hardly taunt the English king about his youth (and, to repeat, King Charles was insane and couldn't order such a thing). Some have suspected that this incident derives from a story of Darius III of Persia and Alexander the Great: Darius sent Alexander children's toys. Barker and Jarman in fact note that Henry continued to negotiate for some time after the alleged incident, which would be quite unlikely had the incident actually happened. There is one report that Henry's ambassadors were given tennis balls in their own persons (Neillands, p. 205), but it is unconfirmed and isn't the same thing anyway.
Allmand, noting that the story is very widespread, thinks it unlikely that the tale is pure fiction, but suggests (p. 71) that someone in France *discussed* such a move and was overheard by an English envoy, who then blew the idea out of proportion. He says, "The most telling and most contemporary account, that of John Strecche, canon of Kenilworth, written probably soon after Henry's death, records the Frenchmen's pride and arrogance, and, as an illustration of this, that they would send Henry balls with which to play and cushions upon which to lie, the implication clearly being that the king was too much inclined to love his creature comforts and too inexperienced in war to do any harm."
In any case, it wasn't modern lawn tennis back in the fifteenth century; lawn tennis is a nineteenth century invention, based only very loosely on the older game of Court Tennis (or Royal Tennis, or Real Tennis). As a matter of fact, it was not until the late 1420s, according to Butler, p. 73, that the French first saw it played with a racquet -- until then, players used their hands. Though the sport seems to have been reasonably well-established on both sides of the Atlantic; Dockray, pp. 55, tells of a top tennis player being executed for political reasons in the 1460s.
"Recruit me Cheshire and Lancashire, and Derby Hills... No marryd man nor no widow's son...." There is no evidence for a special callup of the counties cited, and the claim of exemptions is impossible; we know that married lords, and sons of widows, fought at Agincourt. If there is a basis for it at all, it may have been suggested by the fact that Henry was Duke of Lancaster and Earl of Chester. Or, perhaps, it may have derived from an earlier event in Henry's career; Allmand, p. 18, refers to a time when Henry, as Prince of Wales, led troops from Cheshire to fight against Scotland. The bit about married men and orphans may just be based on the Bible's restrictions on having such men fight.
I will offer one wild speculation: The Stanley family, who eventually became Kings of Man and Earls of Derby, began its rise under Sir John Stanley, who had recruited a Cheshire guard for Richard II in the late 1390s, then gained in power in the area under the early Lancastrians (Bennett, p. 75). The Stanleys spent the next century gradually increasing in power -- and becoming a by-word for trimming. We also know that they had a fairly efficient propaganda machine which churned out a number of songs ("The Ballad of Bosworth Field" certainly comes from one of their supporters, and "The Song of the Lady Bessy" likely does as well; see the notes to "The Children in the Wood" (The Babes in the Woods)" [Laws Q34]). Since the Stanleys would have been responsible for recruiting Cheshire and Derby in this era, might this be from another of their propaganda songs?
"The first shot that the Frenchmen gave, they killd our Englishmen so free; We killed ten thousand of the French." The ten thousand figure may actually be accurate, but note that the English, not the French, fired the first arrows at Agincourt.
"And the finest flower that is in all France, To the Rose of England I will give free." The French did eventually agree to marry the princess Katherine to Henry V -- but not until well after Agincourt. The English did not even march on Paris at that time. - RBW
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