After Agincourt II

Philip the Good as Champion of Ladies
Philip the Good as Champion of Ladies.

Horrified by the English advance, Duke John of Burgundy tried to negotiate with the Armagnacs who had the Dauphin under their thumb. Although the Burgundians had captured Paris in 1418 after an uprising in which their supporters had killed thousands of Armagnacs, a preliminary meeting at Corbeille in the summer of 1419 between Duke John and the Dauphin and his Armagnac advisers seemed to establish a measure of agreement.

In fact the Armagnacs were plotting revenge. At a second meeting on 10 September, on the bridge over the Yonne at Montereau, they hacked the Duke of Burgundy to death as he knelt in homage; it seems that the Dauphin may have given the signal for the first blow. A century later a Carthusian monk, who was showing François I the mausoleum of the Dukes at Dijon, picked up John’s broken skull and commented, ‘This is the hole through which the English entered France.’ At the news of his father’s murder, John’s son and heir is said to have thrown himself on his bed, rolling his eyes and grinding his teeth with rage and grief. The breach between Burgundians and Armagnacs had now become irreparable.

The Armagnacs, who had already lost the capital, were weakened still further by widespread revulsion at the murder. Many people blamed them for all France’s misfortunes. The Bourgeois of Paris wrote, ‘Normandy would still be French, the noble blood of France would not have been spilt nor the lords of the Kingdom taken away into exile, nor the battle lost, nor would so many good men have been killed on that frightful day at Agincourt where the King lost so many of his true and loyal friends, had it not been for the pride of this wretched name Armagnac.’ The Dauphin, who was regarded as the puppet of the Armagnacs, shared in their opprobrium. As the monk said at Dijon, this fatal division among the French was the thing which made it possible for Henry V to conquer and to hold so much of France.

Yet the accident of a simultaneous civil war between Burgundians and Armagnacs has obscured the fact that by now the Hundred Years War had become for all Englishmen and for many Frenchmen an essentially national struggle. Significantly the English ruling class had ceased to speak French as a matter of course—even the King’s first language was now English. Undoubtedly the antagonism between fifteenth-century Englishmen and Frenchmen reflected a genuinely national xenophobia. By Joan of Arc’s day at least, the French were already using the term Godon—‘God-damn’—to describe an Englishman. In about 1419 an anonymous moralist writing a dialogue between ‘France’ and ‘Truth’ gives a vivid picture of how some Frenchmen felt about the. English invaders. ‘The war they have waged and still wage is false, treacherous and damnable, but then they are an accursed race, opposed to all good and all reason, ravening wolves, proud, arrogant hypocrites, tricksters without any conscience, tyrants and persecutors of Christians, men who drink and gorge on human blood, with natures like birds of prey, people who live only by plunder.’ Unfortunately for France, the Burgundians and Armagnacs hated each other more than they hated the English.

The new Duke of Burgundy, Philip the Good, was twenty-five—fully mature by medieval standards. Although a man of Flanders from upbringing and sympathies, luxurious and preferring display and the joust to statecraft or campaigning, he was no less determined to rule France than his father had been. His solution was to partition northern France between Burgundy and England. At first he may have believed that the English would leave him to rule it all—if so he was mistaken—but even with an English occupation he would benefit substantially; he could continue to rule large areas of France at little expense, and he might well acquire more power by being necessary to a Lancastrian than by dominating a Valois. In December 1419 he allied formally with Henry and promised to help him conquer France.

The English and Burgundians now began to negotiate with King Charles—or rather with Queen Isabeau—whose shabby court was at Troyes in Champagne, where in 1417 with Burgundian support the Queen had set up a rival government to that of the Dauphin. Henry, his brother Clarence, and only 1,500 men marched to Troyes from Pontoise by a circular route, praying at Saint-Denis and parading past the walls of Paris. In Champagne he issued a characteristic order to his troops—the local wine must be diluted with water. He reached Troyes on 20 May 1420 and a treaty which had already been drafted was concluded next day. Poor Charles VI, ‘in his malady’, did not seem to know who Henry was when he met him but performed obediently. By the terms of the treaty the English King became Haeres et Regens Franciae—Heir to the French Throne and Regent of France—Isabeau cheerfully claiming that the Dauphin was a bastard by one of her lovers.

Henry was to marry Charles’s daughter Catherine, the wedding taking place at Troyes within twelve days. (According to the chronicler Enguerrand de Monstrelet, the couple were enthusiastic: ‘It was plainly to be seen that King Henry was desperately in love with her’, while the black-haired Princess of France ‘had longed passionately to be espoused to King Henry’; even so the honeymoon was spent besieging Sens.) In return Henry was to conquer all territories currently occupied by the ‘pretended Dauphin’ and the Armagnacs. When he became the French King he was to incorporate his Duchy of Normandy into the Kingdom of France, though while Charles VI lived Henry was to keep Normandy and receive the ‘homage’ of Brittany. Overjoyed, he sent the news of his ‘good conclusion’ to England, where there was a procession at St Paul’s in thanksgiving. It was a grim irony that he would not live to wear the French crown. The Treaty of Troyes was one of the greatest humiliations in French history, comparable to that of 1940, yet as Perroy points out: ‘North of the Loire no voice was raised against the treaty.’

Henry and Philip of Burgundy at once continued with the conquest of northern France, to the delight of those dispossessed by the Armagnacs. The allies besieged Montereau where Philip’s father had been murdered, Henry hanging some prisoners before the walls to encourage the garrison to surrender. The town fell and Duke John’s body was exhumed and taken to Dijon. The campaign’s principal aim was to reduce any centres of enemy resistance between Normandy and Paris. An especially important obstacle was Melun to which Henry and an Anglo-Burgundian army of 20,000 men laid siege in July. Although the town was garrisoned by only 700 troops, the courageous Gascon commander, Arnaud Guillaume de Barbazan, was determined to make good use of its excellent defensive position; it straddled the Seine, with its centre and citadel on an island, each of the town’s three sections forming a separate walled stronghold linked to its neighbour by a bridge. The English tried mining, often knee-deep in water, but the French counter-mined and there were murderous struggles by torchlight in the tunnels, in which Henry himself took part, actually crossing swords on one occasion with Barbazan.

The English heavy guns—Including one which was called London, a gift from loyal citizens—had no more decisive effect than the mines ; the defenders swiftly plugged the breaches with barrels of earth. Dysentery broke out among the besiegers, who suffered many casualties. Henry sent a message to Barbazan to obey Charles VI, whom he had brought to the camp, but the fiery Gascon retorted that while he might be loyal to his sovereign he would never recognize any English King. Provisions failed at last, and on 18 November Melun was forced to surrender after a siege of eighteen weeks. Henry wanted to hang Barbazan, but the Gascon escaped by appealing to the laws of chivalry; he could not be executed because, having fought the King hand-to-hand, he was a brother-in-arms. Henry contented himself with putting Barbazan in an iron cage. However, Henry did succeed in hanging a score of Scottish soldiers on the thin pretext that they were traitors to their King who was his captive and theoretical ally. The Bourgeois of Paris tells us that while the English army was at Melun it devastated the country round about for more than twenty leagues.

On 1 September 1420 Henry V, Philip of Burgundy and Charles VI made a ceremonial entry into Paris to begin an English occupation which would last for fifteen years. The Parisians cheered Charles’s ‘true son’ and priests chanted Te Deums in the streets, while the States-General ratified the Treaty of Troyes and the Parlement declared the Dauphin incapable of succeeding to the throne because of his ‘horrible and dreadful crimes’. Monstrelet relates how Henry lodged at the Louvre for Christmas with great splendour, in contrast to Charles’s dismal court at the Hôtel de Saint-Pol where the mad and now dirty and unkempt old King was ‘poorly and meanly served‘, deserted by all save a few broken-down servants and some hangers-on of low degree. His courtiers were all at the Louvre.

It was a hard winter and since food was scarce and expensive-the price of bread had doubled-the ordinary Parisians suffered accordingly. The city rubbish-tips were filled with the bodies of children who had died looking for something to eat among the refuse. The Bourgeois of Paris says that people began to devour swill which pigs disdained, while wolves swam the Seine to disinter and gnaw newly-buried corpses. Amid this misery the arrogance of the English invaders was peculiarly repellent. A Burgundian chronicler, Georges Chastellain, lamented that they had turned Paris into a new London ‘as much by their language as by their rude and proud manner of conversation and behaviour. And they went with their heads high, like a stag …’ In particular the Burgundian nobles disliked King Henry’s cold and haughty manner; he rebuked the Marshal of France, Jehan de L’Isle-Adam, for daring to look him in the face when answering a question.

Leaving behind the Duke of Exeter and an English garrison of 500 men, Henry and his Queen soon rode out of Paris, to spend Epiphany at Rouen and to demand more money from the Norman Estates. At the end of January they travelled to Calais and embarked for Dover.

The King had been out of England for three and a half years, and he received a rapturous welcome wherever he went, with the customary pageants and conduits flowing with wine. On 23 February 1421 the Archbishop of Canterbury crowned Queen Catherine in Westminster Abbey. Afterwards the royal couple went on progress, travelling to St Albans, Bristol, through Herefordshire to Shrewsbury, Coventry and Leicester. In the North they visited York and Lincoln, in East Anglia Norwich and King’s Lynn. The real purpose of the progress was to raise more money for the War ; commissioners travelled after Henry raising loans from the clergy, the landowners, the burgesses and even villagers and artisans. By the beginning of May these monies amounted to some £38,000, of which £22,000 had been contributed by Bishop Beaufort, the King’s uncle. Parliament, meeting at Westminster that month, spoke of poverty and distress among Henry’s subjects but nonetheless granted further subsidies—a fifteenth, together with a tenth from the clergy. The King needed every penny. When he died a year later the government had to face a deficit of £30,000 together with debts of £25,000: this was largely due to the expense of the War which not even the revenue from conquered territories could defray, because of constant raiding and unrest.

In April 1421 the King received news of the defeat and death of his brother Clarence, the heir to the throne. The Duke, although an experienced soldier who had been campaigning in France since 1412, was impulsive and envious of his elder brother’s glory. On 22 March 1421, an Easter Saturday, while he was at dinner at Pont de l‘Arche in Normandy after returning from a raid across Maine and over the Loire, Clarence was informed that there was an Armagnac army at Baugé nearby. When Sir Gilbert Umfraville—Henry’s ‘Marshal of France‘—and the Earl of Huntingdon advised him to wait until his archers arrived, the Duke told them scornfully : ‘If you are afraid, go home and keep the churchyard.’ Clarence then set off with less than 1,500 men-at-arms, galloping the nine miles to Baugé.

As soon as he was there, crossing the bridge over the river Couesnon, he made contact with the enemy and at once charged them up-hill, although they outnumbered his troops two to one and he had to attack over boggy ground. The Armagnacs, who included a Scots force under the Earls of Buchan and Wigtown, counter-charged down the slope on to the English who, having been beaten back, were reforming on the bank of the river. Clarence, easily identified by the coronet on his helmet, was quickly cut down and most of his men fell with him or were taken prisoner; Umfraville and Lord de Roos died with the Duke, while the Earls of Huntingdon and Somerset were captured. The Earl of Salisbury, who came up shortly afterwards, managed to retrieve Clarence’s corpse—which had been put in a cart to take to the Dauphin—and extricated the survivors.

The defeat demonstrated that the English still had to rely on their traditional combination of archers and dismounted men-at-arms. As a contemporary Englishman wrote, his fellow-countrymen had been beaten ‘By cause they wolde nott take with hem archers, but thought to have doo with the ffrenshmen them selff wythoute hem. And yet whan he was slayne the archers come and rescued the body of the Duke.’ The victory was a marvellous encouragement to the Armagnacs; even if it gained them no lasting advantage, it showed that the invaders were not invincible. The Dauphin joked to his courtiers: ‘What think ye now of the Scottish mutton eaters and wine bibbers?’—there had been some unfavourable comment about these valiant allies. He made the Earl of Buchan Constable of France.

Henry returned in June 1421, landing at Calais with 4,000 troops and marched to Paris to relieve Exeter. Paris was threatened by a chain of Armagnac forces on three sides, based on Dreux in the north, Meaux in the east and Joigny in the south. Dreux, the King quickly besieged and captured. He then marched south into the Beauce, capturing Vendôme and Beaugency and going on to camp in front of Orleans. He was too short of supplies to invest so well-fortified a town, and after three days he swung north and captured Villeneuve-le-Roy. He was in an ugly mood; when he took the Armagnac castle of Rougemont he hanged the entire garrison, demolishing the building and then drowning other of the defenders who had escaped and whom he caught later on. He marched on Meaux.

This town, on a bend of the Marne and forty miles east of Paris, was defended on three sides by the river and on the fourth by a canal, all in flood because of heavy rains. The King began the siege in October, building a camp and bringing up cannon and provisions. Mining and bombardment soon began to break down the walls, yet the defenders under the Bastard of Vaurus, who was a cruel and evil man but a brave commander, held out despite famine. Outside the walls the ground was waterlogged by rain and floods, and then a sharp frost set in, while there was more than the usual amount of disease; it has been estimated that a sixteenth of the English army died from dysentery and small-pox. Henry himself fell ill and a physician was sent from England. Yet despite sickness and the misery of another harsh winter, Henry insisted on staying with his men even during Christmas. His sole encouragement was that Queen Catherine had given birth to a son and heir at Windsor on 6 December. (The gloomy legend that he commented : ‘Henry born at Monmouth shall small time reign and get much, and Henry born at Windsor shall long reign and all lose, but as God wills so be it,’ was invented at least a century later.)

In early March a few Armagnac troops succeeded in getting into the city at night, but most of them were captured after their leader fell into the ditch with a splashing which woke the English. Disheartened by the failure of this attempt at relief, the garrison withdrew to the Market which was a fortified suburb, taking the remainder of the food with them. The rest of the town surrendered on 9 March 1422, but the garrison still held out. Henry’s artillery, mounted under wooden shelters on an island in the river, battered them relentlessly and eventually they too surrendered on 10 May, after a siege of eight months. The Bastard was beheaded, his body being hanged from the tree where he had gibbeted his own victims. Henry also beheaded a trumpeter called Orace who had jeered at him; while some of the defenders who had mocked him by beating a donkey on the wall until he brayed and saying that it was the King speaking, were incarcerated in particularly nasty prisons. The rich captives were sent back to England to await ransom, and all plate, jewellery and valuables were collected for Henry’s use.

Such sieges caused misery which was not confined to the defenders and the townspeople. When the English were before Meaux they pillaged far and wide throughout the local countryside, the Brie. According to the Bourgeois of Paris, many peasants there abandoned their farms and families in despair, saying: ‘What can we do? Let us put everything into the hands of the Devil for it cannot matter what becomes of us … They cannot do more to us than kill us or take us prisoner, for by the false government of traitors we have had to leave our wives and children and flee into the woods like wandering beasts.’

Henry returned to Paris. By now he was an ill man, and prayers were being offered for his recovery. His illness was probably a form of dysentery, no doubt contracted during the siege of Meaux. En route for Cosne-sur-Loire, a key point on the road to Dijon which was besieged by the Armagnacs, he suddenly found himself unable to ride and had to be taken back by litter to the castle of Vincennes which he reached on 10 August. Plainly he was dying. He made arrangements for the government of the two kingdoms with his customary thoroughness. He appointed his brother Bedford provisional Regent of France and guardian of the baby Henry VI, while Gloucester was to be Regent of England.

He told Bedford that he must preserve the alliance with Burgundy at all costs, and that he should only keep the Regency if Duke Philip declined it. He also ordered that if things went badly the English should concentrate on saving Normandy. In addition he claimed he had invaded France not from any desire for glory but simply because his cause was just and would bring lasting peace. That he genuinely believed that he might have succeeded in conquering France is borne out by his claim that if God had spared him he would have gone on to Jerusalem to expel the infidels. However at one point he seems to have feared for his salvation; suddenly he shouted: ‘Thou liest, thou liest, my portion is with the Lord Jesus Christ!’ as though replying to an evil spirit. Henry V died peacefully at Vincennes on 31 August 1422. He was only thirty-five.