After Agincourt I


A portrait of King Henry V by an unknown artist.


Weapons like the lance, the sword, the mace, and the axe were part of the standard equipment of the Medieval Knights, while others, like the spear, were considered weapons of the inferior troops.

The chivalry of the Black Prince was not for King Henry. That night his high-ranking prisoners had to wait on him at table. The troops took another hopeful look at the French casualties still lying all over the field; anyone who was rich and could walk was rounded up, but the poor and the badly wounded had their throats slit. Next day, laden with plunder from the corpses, the English recommenced their march to Calais, dragging 1,500 prisoners along with them. The rain began again. Wetter and hungrier than ever, the little army reached Calais on 29 October. Here, although the King was fêted rapturously, his men were hardly treated as conquering heroes. Some were even refused entry, while the Calais people charged them such exorbitant prices for food and drink that they were soon cheated out of their loot and rich captives. (Henry kept the great prisoners for himself—he wanted every penny of their ransoms.)

The troops were too exhausted for any further campaigning, so in mid-November the King sailed for England. On 23 November he entered London to receive an ecstatic welcome. There were pageants and tableaux, orations, dancing in the streets and carols—including the famous Agincourt Carol—while the drinking fountains ran with wine. The euphoria was such that Henry was to have little trouble in raising fresh loans for more campaigns during the next few years. Meanwhile he gave thanks at St Paul’s.

In reality, as Perroy emphasizes, the Agincourt campaign decided nothing—It was just another chevauchée. Nevertheless it is hardly surprising that Henry was determined to follow it up. He made the most of Harfleur, the sole tangible gain, every inducement including free housing being offered to merchants and artisans in the hope that they would settle there and make it a Norman Calais.

In 1416 the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund arrived in England to stay at Westminster, his object being to make peace between England and France in the interests of church unity. His real business was to heal the Papal schism, which ended with the election of Pope Martin V in 1417. However, he concluded a treaty of mutual help and alliance with Henry. This so impressed Duke John of Burgundy that he decided to ally with the English himself, and in October of that year he travelled to Calais to meet Henry. The Duke promised to become the Englishman’s vassal, acknowledging him as King of France and promising to help him depose Charles VI.

Henry V did not restrict himself to diplomacy. He began to build up a formidable navy and by the end of 1417 there were thirty-four King’s Ships, compared with six in 1413. Some were surprisingly big, such as the Holy Ghost of 740 tons. In 1430 a Florentine sea-captain saw Henry’s great cog, the Grace Dieu, at Southampton. He reported: ‘… truly I have never seen so large and splendid a construction. I had the mast measured on the first deck and it was about 21 feet in circumference and 195 ½ feet high. From the galley of the prow to the water was about 50 feet and they say that when she is at sea another corridor is raised above this. She was about 176 ½ feet long and about 96 feet in the beam.’ The fleet included seven captured Genoese carracks and about fifteen ballingers—oared sailing-barges—as well as the cogs. Henry also ordered another large ship to be built at Bayonne. He engaged a rich merchant, William Soper, to help him construct a naval base at Southampton, like the French Clos des Galées at Rouen, with a dock and a storehouse. At Hamble nearby there were other storehouses and wooden fortifications behind which the ships could shelter. The Keeper of the King’s Ships was responsible for building and refitting, and also for supplying equipment and paying crews, and even for providing vessels for patrols and transport.

The benefits of Henry’s maritime policy were quickly apparent. When the French blockaded Harfleur in the summer of 1416, the Duke of Bedford inflicted a crushing defeat on the Franco-Genoese fleet, capturing several enemy vessels and relieving the beleaguered port. The following year, off the Chef-de-Caux, the Earl of Huntingdon destroyed what remained of the French navy, taking four carracks and the enemy commander, the Bastard of Bourbon. Henceforward English patrols sailed the Channel un-challenged, giving Henry the command of the sea-routes necessary for his campaigns.

By 1417 the King had obtained fresh subsidies from Parliament besides borrowing money, and was ready to renew the struggle. Among many preparations for war was a quaint but eminently practical instruction to the sheriffs in February 1417, which ordered them to have six wing-feathers plucked from every goose and sent to London for the fletchers to flight arrows. The expedition, which sailed in July, was about the same size as that of 1415, 10,000 soldiers carried in something like 1,500 ships. However, this time Henry had a different objective—he intended to conquer and subdue France, region by region, with a war of slow, thorough sieges, and he would begin with Normandy. As before he concealed both his aims and his destination. Instead of disembarking at Calais or Harfleur, on 1 August the English landed at the mouth of the river Touques, between the modern resorts of Deauville and Trouville.

There was no one to oppose him. The civil war was raging as fiercely as ever and the new Constable, the Count of Armagnac, dared not leave Paris because of a Burgundian army waiting outside. If the English could conquer lower Normandy they would not only acquire a useful supply-base, rich in provisions and forage, but they would cut the Normans off from any hope of relief from Anjou or Brittany, and be able to besiege Rouen, the ducal capital, at their leisure. By 18 August Henry had invested Caen (which had probably not forgotten the sack by his great-grandfather over seventy years before). The city was protected on three sides by the river Orne and two tributaries, and it had strong new walls and a great citadel. The English stormed two abbeys in the suburbs and mounted artillery on their tall towers. The English guns pounded the fortifications with stone shot and with hollow iron balls filled with flaming tow—an early species of shell. Henry’s cannon were surprisingly effective, if erratic; their chief weakness seems to have been unreliable powder.

Soon the walls were breached in several places and the King called on the French to give up or to expect no quarter. They refused to surrender, so on 4 September Henry led an assault on the east side. At the same time his brother Clarence attacked from the west over the river. One of the King’s knights, young Sir Edmund Springhouse, fell off the wall into the ditch whereupon the French threw flaming straw on top of him and burnt him alive, an atrocity which enraged the English. Clarence and the Earl of Warwick won the day, storming in over the river wall and cutting their way through to Henry’s side. The victors herded the inhabitants—men, women and children—into the market-place where they proceeded to butcher them, killing at least 2,000. The city was then sacked, those who had escaped the massacre in the market-place suffering all the horrors of plunder and rape. A fortnight later the garrison in the citadel surrendered. Henry had by then done much to restore order and had given instructions for the ruined buildings to be rebuilt. He established himself in the citadel which became a favourite residence and where, characteristically, he installed a well-furnished chapel. He also gave a number of the city’s best houses to his troops.

The chronicler Basin tells us of the terror inspired by Henry and the English among the Normans, which explains something of the King’s success; the entire population of Lisieux fled, leaving only two old cripples behind. Bayeux quickly surrendered to the Duke of Gloucester, with almost no resistance. In October Henry captured Argentan and Alençon. The reputedly impregnable fortress of Falaise took a little longer, but finally surrendered to its besiegers in February 1418. By the spring all lower Normandy and the Cotentin, from Evreux up to Cherbourg, had been overrun. The conquered territory was given four new baillis—Sir Roland Lenthall at Alençon, Sir John Popham at Caen, Sir John Radcliffe at Evreux and Sir John Assheton in the Cotentin. These English gauleiters were assisted by mainly Norman vicomtes and at once began to force the local population to accept Henry’s rule; on payment of iod any Norman who took the oath of loyalty was given a certificate of allegiance. Caen became the centre of this new administration, which was provided with an English chancellor and an English president of the chambre des comptes, and where a mint issued coins in Henry’s name. Many Norman seigneurs abandoned their castles and manors, fleeing rather than recognize Henry as their Duke and King. The clergy were less squeamish and provided a useful supply of bureaucrats.

Meanwhile Henry, after spending a pious Lent at Bayeux, made ready to conquer the rest of Normandy. In June he took Louviers ; its cannon had scored a direct hit on the royal tent during the siege so he hanged eight enemy gunners—one source says that he crucified some of them. He then besieged Pont de l’Arche, which fell on 20 July after the English had crossed the river on portable boats of skin and wickerwork. Its famous bridge straddled the Seine between Paris and Rouen which was seven miles downstream, and its capture meant that the Norman capital was cut off from receiving reinforcements or supplies from Paris. As the English already controlled the mouth of the Seine, Rouen had been effectively isolated, and on 29 July, at night, Henry pitched camp outside it.

Rouen was one of the wealthiest and most beautiful cities in France, rich from weaving and from sending its luxury goods and goldsmiths’ work up-river to the capital. It contained a noble cathedral, three famous abbeys, over thirty convents and nearly forty parish churches. The King was not exaggerating when he wrote to his subjects in London that Rouen was ‘the most notable place in France save Paris’. Its walls extended for five miles, strengthened by six mighty barbicans and sixty towers; one side was defended by the Seine, the three others by an unusually deep and wide ditch filled with wolf-traps. In addition, an enormous bank of earth had been built on the inside of the walls to help them resist bombardment; the ditch had been deepened and the suburbs demolished, while large stocks of food had been brought in from the countryside. There was a garrison of 4,000 men-at-arms under the redoubtable Guy le Bouteiller, while the belligerent citizens—who seem to have been armed chiefly with crossbows—were led by a brave bailli, Guillaume Houdetot. There was an abundance of artillery—three cannon in every tower, each stretch of wall between them mounting another cannon supported by eight small guns. The city felt so confident that it had given refuge to many refugees from lower Normandy, admitting thousands of useless mouths. Indeed there were many more besieged than there were besiegers.

However, Henry V was equally confident. He built four fortified camps, one on each side of the city and linked by trenches, and blocked the river upstream with a great chain. Downstream he made a bridge of boats which had been hauled overland. His army was soon reinforced by 3,000 troops under Gloucester and by 1,500 Irish kern—knife and javelin men led by Fra’ Thomas Butler, Prior of the Knights of St John in Ireland.1 The scorched-earth tactics of the French made supplies scarce, but Henry overcame the problem by bringing food across the Channel and up the Seine; one consignment from London included thirty barrels of sweet wine and a thousand pipes of ale.

Henry set up his headquarters in the local charterhouse, far enough outside the walls to have escaped demolition. Here he waited while he starved the enemy into submission. He had gibbets constructed in view of the walls on which he hanged prisoners ; the French retaliated by building a gibbet of their own on the battlements and stringing up an English captive. From the walls the Vicar-General of Rouen, Robert de Linet excommunicated King Henry. (Henry was so infuriated that when he took Rouen he put Linet in chains where he stayed for the rest of his life.) The beleaguered city counted on help from Burgundians or Armagnacs, and in November a rumour reached Rouen that an army was on its way. The rumour proved false: the Burgundians had now reoccupied Paris, after a popular revolt had driven out the Armagnacs and lynched the Constable, and they were too intent on holding it to worry about what was happening in Normandy.

By mid-October Rouen was eating horseflesh. Towards Christmas it was reduced to cats, dogs, rats and even mice. ‘And then they took to eating rotten food and any vegetable peelings they could find—they even ate dock roots,’ says John Page, an English soldier who was present. ‘And now the people in the city began to die. Every day many died and could find no burial.’ The defenders took ruthless action—All the poor folk of that city were expelled from every gate, many hundreds at a time.’ No less than 12,000 were driven forth, including old men and nursing mothers. Henry refused to let them pass, so they had to stay in the ditch in the depths of winter and starve. It rained unceasingly. Even the English troops felt sorry for them. ‘Our soldiers gave them some of their own bread although they had fought us so bitterly.’ On Christmas Day the King made one of his few magnanimous gestures and sent food and drink into the ditch by two priests, who were the only men that the defenders would admit. But the day’s truce was soon over and those in the ditch began to die miserably. ‘There’ relates John Page, ‘one might see wandering here and there children of two or three years old begging for bread as their parents were dead. These wretched people had only sodden soil under them and they lay there crying for food—some starving to death, some unable to open their eyes and no longer breathing, others cowering on their knees as thin as twigs. A woman was there clutching her dead child to her breast to warm it, and a child was sucking the breast of its dead mother. There one could easily count ten or twelve dead to one alive, who had died so quietly without call or cry as though they had died in their sleep.’ It was scarcely better inside the city.

On New Year’s Eve 1419 a French knight shouted from a gate that the defenders wished to parley. Their envoys visited Henry at his headquarters on 2 January ; after making them wait while he finished hearing Mass, he berated them for keeping him out of his own city, ‘which is my rightful heritage’. He also refused to let the poor people leave the ditch—his comment was, ‘Who put them there?’ (‘I put them not there and that wot ye.’) The envoys ‘treated day, they treated night, with candle and torches bright’, the negotiations dragging on for ten days, Henry insisting all the time that ‘Rouen is my heritage’. Eventually terms were agreed; if no relief had arrived by 19 January the city would surrender at noon on that day and pay an indemnity of 300,000 gold crowns. However, the garrison would be allowed to march off, though without their arms and on condition of not fighting against the English for a year, and so long as they took an oath of allegiance the citizens might keep their houses and goods. No relief came. The day after the surrender Henry rode in with dramatic modesty, dressed in black and accompanied by a single squire bearing a lance with a fox’s brush on its tip—a favourite badge of the King. Most of the citizens who watched him were skin and bone with sunken eyes and pinched noses, and could scarcely talk or even breathe—their skin was as dull as lead. ‘They looked like those effigies of dead kings that one sees on tombs.’ Henry gave thanks at the cathedral with his usual ostentatious piety.

After two months at Rouen, repairing its defences and organizing the new administration, Henry was ready for a further campaign. In the meantime his captains had captured other Norman towns—Mantes, Honfleur, Dieppe, Ivry, La Roche Guyon, Fécamp. Only the impregnable abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel held out on the coast. By the end of the year the English were undisputed masters of all Normandy, including the Vexin. Furthermore, in July Henry seized Pontoise and was now within striking distance of Paris.

The English occupation of Normandy had a certain resemblance to the Norman conquest of England. Although a few became faithful servants of the Plantagenets, the native nobility were largely dispossessed, their estates being given to Englishmen. In 1418-1419 alone, six Norman counties were re-allotted. Henry’s brother, heir and righthand man, the Duke of Clarence, received three viscounties (territorial units, not just titles). The Duke of Exeter, the King’s uncle, had the great county of Harcourt, with all that family’s princely possessions, and the important castle of Lillebonne. The Earl of Salisbury became Count of Perche. Grants were according to rank, and these new nobles of Normandy had to perform specified military duties in proportion to the value of the fief, such as garrisoning towns, providing troops or maintaining their châteaux as fortresses and depots. Many captains obtained castles and manors on similar conditions, though the King threatened these lesser men with death if ever they left Normandy. In addition there was a limited attempt at colonization; 10,000 English were established at Harfleur and there were smaller settlements at Caen and Honfleur, while houses were confiscated and given to Englishmen in most Norman towns. Many of these settlers married Norman girls. However, full-scale colonization was beyond the resources of so thinly populated a country as fifteenth-century England.

The new English lords benefited from more than the mere revenues of their estates. There were the salaries and profits of office, the exploitation of taxes, indemnities and money for safe conducts, together with the usual protection racket of the pâtis. And there were ransoms and plunder from campaigning elsewhere in France. The latter benefited every English soldier not just the magnates ; the contemporary chronicler Adam of Usk tells us that after Henry’s victories loot from France was on sale all over England.

The Duchy of Normandy was governed through its traditional institutions. However, the eight baillis were all Englishmen, though their officials were mostly Normans. The great offices of Chancellor, Treasurer-General, Seneschal and Admiral were likewise held by Englishmen. Assisted by a surprisingly loyal native bureaucracy, they were to milk Normandy dry by cruel taxation and forced loans, and by manipulating the currency (undervaluing it, calling it in and then re-coining and re-issuing it), to make the duchy pay for as much of the English war effort as possible. There was a resistance, guerrilla bands in woods and caves led by dispossessed seigneurs and recruited from peasants who found the pâtis intolerable ; the English called them ‘brigands’ and hanged them when they caught them. Yet the duchy was held by astonishingly few troops. It is known that in 1421 Henry’s garrisons amounted to about 4,500 men, later reduced to as little as 1,500, while the new English seigneurs maintained perhaps 2,500 further troops at scattered strongholds. These soldiers were commanded by an all-powerful Lord-Lieutenant and paid by the proceeds of the pâtis. Despite the harshness of its regime English Normandy was to endure for thirty years, and an entire generation of Normans knew no other rule.

King Henry had a special affection for this new Guyenne, possibly because he saw himself as the heir of William the Conqueror. He was constantly referring to ‘our Duchy of Normandy’ with obvious pride. He tried to make himself popular with his new subjects, being careful not to over-Anglicize the administration, and he encouraged trade and commerce by issuing licences and letters of protection. He also attempted to stop his troops looting.

The possession of Normandy gave strategic advantages. Not only was it a springboard from which to control the food route of the lower Seine and throttle Paris, but occupation of its coast secured communications with Bordeaux while the Channel became a second instead of a front line of defence so that the southern English counties were safe from any threat of invasion. At the same time the loss of both the French royal docks at Rouen and the Norman ports meant the end of any French navy. Squadrons from Henry’s own new fleet patrolled the Channel constantly, exploiting the situation and seizing French merchant ships.

But Henry V saw the acquisition of the duchy as only a step towards conquering his entire ‘heritage’. France was ill prepared to meet such a threat, with her nobility hopelessly split between Burgundians and Armagnacs. Poor King Charles was crazier than ever. Two Dauphins had died prematurely while a third, the future Charles VII who had been born in 1399, was an unpromising youth, mentally immature and physically unprepossessing.

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