Siege of Meaux and Relief of Cosne, March–August 1422

While the English were preoccupied with the siege of Meaux and the defence of Lower Normandy, the Dauphinist garrisons of the Oise and the Somme had continued to expand their reach. In spite of the reverses which they had suffered at Mons-en-Vimeu and Saint-Riquier the previous year, Jacques d’Harcourt’s network of garrisoned fortresses now extended east beyond Amiens and south through Vimeu to the River Bresle that marked the limits of English-occupied Normandy. Henry V could not spare the troops to deal with the threat and the Duke of Burgundy had no garrisons in the region. As a result, the Dauphinists encountered no resistance except from the raw levies raised by the towns of Amiens and Abbeville from among their own citizens. At the beginning of March 1422, John of Luxembourg, to whom Philip was increasingly inclined to delegate the conduct of military operations, presided over an assembly of soldiers and officials of Picardy in the castle of Bapaume. They agreed on a concerted effort to push back Harcourt’s forces.

John of Luxembourg invaded the region at the end of March 1422. But his forces were modest. Initially no more than a few hundred strong, at its highest point his army numbered about 2,800 men, including a contingent of men-at-arms and archers from the English garrison of Eu under the command of their captain, Ralph Butler. The campaign opened with the kind of savage demonstration by which commanders now routinely tried to deter resistance. The castle of Quenoy stood over the Roman road from Roye to Amiens. Its Dauphinist garrison held out too long. By the time that they surrendered, their walls were too badly damaged by John of Luxembourg’s artillery to withstand an assault, and there was nothing for them to bargain with. The captain negotiated a safe-conduct for himself and abandoned his forty companions to their fate. They were all hanged, some at the castle gate, the rest from the public gibbet at Amiens. After this incident, the Burgundians rapidly cleared all the garrisons which Jacques d’Harcourt had planted on the banks of the Somme, except for his headquarters at Le Crotoy and the towns of Saint-Valéry and Noyelles on the other side of the bay. Thereafter, resistance stiffened, as John tried to advance into Vimeu.

Vimeu was the region lying south of the lower reaches of the Somme. It was dominated by two large Dauphinist garrisons at Airaines and Gamaches, and a string of satellite positions which their captains had planted along the valley of the Bresle. They put up a strong fight. The network of mutual support which linked the Dauphinist garrisons of the north proved highly resilient. Jacques d’Harcourt brought in reinforcements by sea to Le Crotoy, presumably from Brittany, and harassed the invaders from the west. The garrisons of Compiègne and Guise assembled some 800–1,000 mounted men and entered the region from the east. John of Luxembourg’s position shortly became untenable. He was forced to abandon the siege of Gamaches in order to meet the new threat. But when he confronted them in battle array, they melted away and passed around his back to plant a new garrison at Mortemer near Montdidier. Airaines eventually surrendered on terms on 11 May. But its garrison simply migrated to Gamaches and other Dauphinist strongholds nearby. Dealing with dispersed and nimble enemies like these was like rolling the stone of Sisyphus. In the middle of May, after less than two months in the field, John of Luxembourg’s war treasurers appear to have run out of money. He broke up his army and withdrew.

The surrender of Meaux transformed the situation. It had been the largest and most dangerous Dauphinist garrison in northern France for the past four years. Its conquest, following on the clearance of the valleys of the Seine and the Yonne, freed the approaches to Paris from the east and greatly eased the city’s long-running food crisis. The harsh terms of the capitulation removed hundreds of the Dauphin’s most experienced soldiers from the war. But the indirect effects proved to be even more significant, for the capture of the fortress rapidly unravelled the Dauphin’s once powerful positions north of Paris. With the English now holding all the major river crossings of the Seine and the Marne, the Dauphin’s garrisons in the north were cut off from the main centres of his power in the Loire basin. Help could reach them from outside only by sea through Le Crotoy and Saint-Valéry. The Dauphin’s advisers now discovered the disastrous consequences of their decision not to attempt the relief of Meaux. The other Dauphinist garrisons realised that they were on their own. They had no desire to share the fate of the defenders of the Marché. Without the active support of the prince for whose cause they were fighting, they were inclined to get out while they could.

Compiègne was the first to submit. Its captain, Guillaume de Gamaches, quickly concluded that his garrison was no longer viable. Once the largest garrison of the north, its numbers had declined. Its stores were low. Henry V brutally brought his dilemma to a head. He sent messengers into Compiègne to declare that Guillaume’s brother the Abbot of St Faron of Meaux, then a prisoner in Paris, would be drowned in the Seine unless the place was surrendered promptly. On 16 May 1422, less than a week after the fall of the Marché, Guillaume de Gamaches entered into a conditional surrender agreement without even undergoing a siege. A date, 18 June, was fixed for the submission of the town. The English were to appear with an army before the gates, and unless the Dauphin in person appeared to challenge them the garrison would deliver the town up with all of their prisoners. Three satellite garrisons in the Oise valley were to be surrendered at the same time, in addition to the newly conquered castle of Mortemer in Picardy.

This was the most spectacular example of Henry V’s use of his prisoners as instruments of blackmail. But it was not the only one. Peron de Luppé saved his life by arranging the surrender of his castle at Montaigu, north of Reims, one of the last remaining Dauphinist garrisons of any importance in Champagne, along with two satellite garrisons. His nephew, who had been left in command there, complied without question. Guy de Nesle lord of Offémont went further. Demoralised by his capture and his injuries, he abandoned the Dauphin’s cause altogether and submitted to Henry V. He was released without ransom, confirmed in possession of all his domains and pardoned for his years as the Dauphin’s principal representative in the north. In return, he swore the oath to uphold the treaty of Troyes. As the Duke of Orléans’ lieutenant in the county of Valois he arranged the surrender of all the Duke’s castles under his control. These included Louis of Orléans’ mighty fortress at Pierrefonds, the great thirteenth-century castle at Crépy-en-Valois, Guy de Nesle’s own castle of Offémont, and several other garrisoned places in the upper valley of the Oise. In all of these places, the garrisons were promised their lives and their liberty. But they were not left free to join other Dauphinist garrisons or occupy new places. They were taken under guard across Normandy to rejoin the Dauphin beyond the Seine. Shortly, the only major Dauphinist fortress left in the valley of the Oise was Poton de Saintrailles’ headquarters at Guise. Without the elaborate network of mutual support on which they had previously depended, the smaller garrisons of the Beauvaisis and Champagne withered on the vine. They abandoned their castles, leaving them in flames, and fled with their weapons and their booty to Guise or vanished into the ubiquitous underworld of displaced soldiery. Further west Jacques d’Harcourt, sustained by his lifeline to the sea, still held out at the mouth of the Somme. But he was no longer the force that he had been when he could call on the support of hundreds of mounted men from garrisons across northern France.

The English paused to regroup. The Duke of Bedford had landed with his troops at Harfleur at the beginning of May 1422, accompanied by the Queen. Henry V and his wife entered Paris together in state on 30 May and installed themselves in the Louvre. On 3 June, after the Whitsun celebrations were over, there was a joint session of Henry’s English, French and Norman councils in the Hôtel de Nesle, the Parisian mansion which had belonged to the Duke of Berry. The Dukes of Bedford and Exeter, the Earl of March and Arthur de Richemont were present, as well as a large caucus of officials including the Chancellor of France Jean Le Clerc, the First President of the Parlement Philippe de Morvilliers and Bishop Kemp, who had recently replaced Philip Morgan as Chancellor of Normandy. They resolved to complete the destruction of Jacques d’Harcourt’s garrisons in Picardy before the Dauphinists had time to recover their balance. John of Luxembourg, who would have been the natural leader of this offensive, had been laid low by illness in his Paris mansion, and his army had dispersed beyond recall. So, while Bedford marched up the Oise to accept the surrender of Compiègne, the Earl of Warwick invaded Picardy with the remnants of the army of Meaux and drafts from the garrisons of Upper Normandy, probably between 2,000 and 3,000 men in all.

Free of the threat from Compiègne in his rear, Warwick made rapid progress through Vimeu. Gamaches, which had successfully fought off the Burgundians in April, was abandoned without a fight. Louis de Chambronne, one of Harcourt’s chief allies in the region, negotiated a treaty under which the place was given up in return for a free passage beyond the Seine. A delegation was sent forward to Le Crotoy in the name of the two Kings of England and France to call on Jacques d’Harcourt to surrender his fortresses. It comprised an English herald, the Master of the Royal Archers Hughes de Lannoy, and two French bishops, one of whom was the fiercely anglophile Bishop of Beauvais Pierre Cauchon and the other Harcourt’s own brother Jean Bishop of Amiens. Warwick’s demand was eventually rejected, but it is clear that Jacques d’Harcourt was tempted.

At the end of June 1422, the Earl of Warwick laid siege to Saint-Valéry on the south side of the Somme estuary. A fleet of merchantmen requisitioned in the ports of Normandy arrived to seal off the town from the sea. After several days of heavy bombardment, Saint-Valéry’s garrison entered into a conditional surrender agreement. By 7 July, Warwick had crossed the ford at Blanchetaque and begun to besiege Le Crotoy. Apart from Guise in the upper valley of the Oise and the small river port of Noyelles at the head of the Somme estuary, this was all that now remained of the great chain of Dauphinist fortresses that had extended across France from the Channel to Champagne only six months before. At the Dauphin’s court, morale sank to its lowest point. Alain Chartier completed the Quadriloge Invectif in these weeks. ‘Now, in this year 1422,’ he wrote, ‘I have witnessed the King of England, that ancient enemy of this realm, glorying in our shame and humiliation, gorging himself on our spoils, holding all our courage and our great deeds up to ridicule, and drawing the stoutest men of our party to his cause.’

The clearest sign that Henry had effaced the stigma of Baugé was the attitude of the practised trimmers among the princes of France whose main concern was to be on the winning side. The Count of Foix had never confirmed his ambassadors’ agreement with Henry V at Rouen the previous year and had never mounted the promised offensive against the Dauphin’s government in Languedoc. But with the return of the English King to the Île de France in the autumn of 1421, he had reopened negotiations. His ambassadors appeared at Henry’s headquarters at Meaux in the final stages of the siege. On 3 March 1422 they finally swore the oath to uphold the treaty of Troyes on their master’s behalf, and Henry conferred the government of Languedoc on him in the name of Charles VI. In return for a subsidy, a large cash advance and the promise of generous territorial concessions at the expense of the French Crown, the Count’s ambassadors undertook that he would finally launch his offensive in Languedoc on 1 June. The ambassadors travelled personally to Southampton to collect the advance. Three weeks later, at Dijon, the Duke of Lorraine finally swore, in the presence of Philip of Burgundy, to recognise Henry V as the heir to the French crown, after two years of temporising.

The most agonising reappraisal, and the most significant, was that of John Duke of Brittany. In the short time since he had made his agreement with the Dauphin at Sablé, the Bretons had had a considerable impact on the course of the fighting. If the English garrisons on the march of Brittany and Maine were on the back foot, it was largely due to the Breton cohorts of Richard de Montfort. At the height of the Dauphin’s campaign in the Loire valley in the summer of 1421, the duchy had provided more than a third of his army, about the same as the Scots. But as the siege of Meaux wore on with no attempt at relief, John V decided that he had backed the wrong side. He was very candid about his reasons when the Dauphin’s representatives taxed him with it. In the first place, he was still obsessed with the threat from the house of Blois. Olivier de Penthièvre had fled from France with a price on his head after the collapse of his rebellion and was currently sheltering in his family’s domains in Hainaut, where John V’s agents were trying to track him down and capture him. The Duke was furious that the Dauphin had never honoured his promise at Sablé to dismiss the men around him who had supported Olivier’s coup. He drew the understandable conclusion that the Dauphin might yet turn against him. England, with his brother Arthur de Richemont sitting on Henry V’s French council, seemed a more dependable ally. Secondly, John V regarded England as the stronger power. He did not have the money, manpower or munitions to sustain a war against them on the scale of 1421. Indeed, with a large part of Henry V’s forces in Normandy stationed near his borders, he doubted whether he could even defend his duchy if they were ever to invade it.

John initially encountered some opposition on his council and in the Estates of the duchy. Most of his advisers thought that it was too dangerous to repudiate the solemn engagements which he had made only a year before at Sablé. But once the city of Meaux had fallen and the English had begun to close in on the Marché, John resolved to submit to the English King and recognise the treaty of Troyes. He convened the Estates again and obtained their support. There was a pause for reflection and doubt. But the collapse of the Dauphin’s garrisons in the north finally determined him. A large and dignified embassy, comprising no fewer than seventy-six principals and led by his chancellor, was nominated at the end of June and arrived a month later in Paris. They brought with them powers to swear the usual oaths, and promised that the Duke would appear before the King in person as soon as his other preoccupations allowed.

With the tide turning strongly in his favour, Henry V might have been expected to lose interest in a negotiated settlement with the Dauphin. In fact, the summer of 1422 was a time of intense diplomatic activity. Bishop Albergati arrived in France in the middle of May and joined forces with the peacemakers of the Duke of Savoy. In the course of June and July, he covered several hundred miles and met all three principals. Albergati was a discreet man and his reports to the Pope have not survived. We therefore know very little about these exchanges. The Duke of Savoy later complained that Henry been uncooperative. But in fact the King seems to have got on well with the legate. He liked the company of scholars and holy men and was a great patron of the Carthusians. According to the Florentine scholar Poggio Bracciolini, then living in London in the household of Bishop Beaufort, the two men struck up an immediate rapport. For his part the nuncio reported that Henry was genuinely anxious for peace. How realistic these hopes were is hard to say. It is unlikely that any terms acceptable to Henry V would ever have been agreed by the Dauphin, and there was the Duke of Burgundy to satisfy as well. Albergati seems to have been taken aback by the ferocity of the hatreds dividing the two French camps. His mission was probably doomed before it began, even had Henry V lived.

In fact, he was already ill when he met the nuncio and, although neither of them knew it, he had little time left. The summer of 1422 was extremely hot. The court had fled from Paris, which was in the grip of another epidemic of smallpox. At the end of June Henry experienced the symptoms of dysentery. On 7 July he was moved to Vincennes. The news of his condition quickly got out. Processions were organised for his recovery in the streets of Paris. A specialist was summoned from England.

Henry’s last illness coincided with a severe military crisis. At the end of May 1422, Tanneguy du Châtel had mustered a large army at Beaugency on the Loire and invaded Philip of Burgundy’s county of Nevers, which served as the western bastion of the duchy of Burgundy. The Dauphinist forces comprised about 2,000 French troops and what remained of the army of Scotland, probably between 3,000 and 4,000 men altogether. The Scots had not been paid for some time, and in order to mobilise them Tanneguy was obliged to settle their arrears, 5,415 gold écus in undepreciated coin, out of his own pocket. The Dauphinists’ campaign plans had been in the making for several weeks, and some inkling of them had reached Paris and Dijon. The Burgundian Marshal of France, Antoine de Vergy, had visited the region in the spring to organise its defence. Nevertheless, the offensive caught the government off guard when it came. Tanneguy swept through the Nivernais occupying all the principal castles on his route and encountering no serious opposition. In the third week of June, he laid siege to La Charité, a walled town on the right bank of the Loire which was the site of a famous Benedictine abbey and an important stone bridge over the river. There, he joined forces with the Vicomte of Narbonne, who had come up from Languedoc with another army. Fresh companies were reported to be on their way from Italy and Castile to reinforce them. In spite of its importance, there appears to have been no garrison at La Charité. Negotiations were in hand with the inhabitants to station troops in the town, but nothing had come of them by the time the Dauphinist armies arrived.

The Duke of Burgundy was at Troyes when the news of Tanneguy du Châtel’s offensive reached him. He had planned to march north to join Henry V in a joint campaign against the last remaining Dauphinist garrisons of the north, and he was occupied with the muster of his retainers in Burgundy and Champagne. The threat to La Charité forced an abrupt change of plan. The Duke returned at once with his army to Dijon. There, he ordered the recruitment of more troops throughout his domains and sent urgent appeals for help to Henry V and the Dukes of Savoy and Lorraine. Some 250 men-at-arms were detached from his army at once and sent to defend La Charité. They were too late. On 25 June, the day after the Duke reached Dijon, the town opened its gates to the Dauphinists and the vital bridge over the Loire fell into their hands. Leaving a garrison to hold it, Tanneguy and the Vicomte of Narbonne marched down the Loire and besieged the other major bridge-town of the region fifteen miles away at Cosne. There was a garrison at Cosne. But it was in no position to withstand a long siege. The captain of the town sent a runner to Philip of Burgundy to warn him that he could not hold out for long. Philip replied that help was on its way. But within a few days the garrison was forced to enter into a conditional surrender agreement. A date, 12 August, was fixed for its surrender unless a relief force had reached the town by then, under the command of the Duke of Burgundy in person.

Henry V, sick as he was, seized upon the chance of a pitched battle with the Dauphin’s forces outside Cosne. It offered him the trial by battle that he had been looking for ever since the Dauphin had emerged as his principal opponent in 1419. He agreed with Philip of Burgundy that the challenge should be accepted. The Duke’s heralds were sent to agree with the Dauphin’s on a site for an arranged battle on the right bank of the Loire near Cosne. Meanwhile, the English and Burgundians bent all their efforts to assembling a large enough army in the short time available. The Earl of Warwick abandoned the siege of Le Crotoy which he had only just begun. A screen of troops under Ralph Butler was left to cover Saint-Valéry until the day appointed for its surrender. John of Luxembourg rose from his sickbed in Paris to find troops in Picardy. Hughes de Lannoy raised companies among the nobility of Flanders. All of these contingents reached Paris in the second half of July. The remaining companies, from the Duke’s eastern domains, mustered at the same time in the plain south of Châtillonsur-Seine. The most reliable contemporary estimate puts the strength of the combined force at 12,000 men, of whom about 9,000 were provided by the allies and subjects of the Duke of Burgundy and about 3,000 were English. It was agreed that the entire army would assemble at Auxerre and march together to Cosne. At Vincennes Henry V, racked by fever and gastroenteritis and unable to keep down the medicines that his doctors prescribed for him, refused to submit to his illness. When the army left Paris in the third week of July 1422, he dragged himself from his bed and had himself carried at its head in a litter. It took his cortège several days to reach Corbeil, and by the time it got there, it was obvious that the King could go no further. He summoned his brother the Duke of Bedford and his uncle the Duke of Exeter and ordered them to take over the command. They marched on without him. In Paris, there were daily processions for his recovery, while across all France prayers and masses were said for the fortunes of each side in the battle to come.

The two allied armies met at Vézelay, south of Auxerre, on 4 August 1422, and reached Cosne six days later on the 10th. There, they found that the besiegers had vanished. The siege lines were empty. There was no sign of the Dauphin or his army. On 12 August, the day appointed for the battle, Philip of Burgundy, the Duke of Bedford and John of Luxembourg drew up their army in battle array at the agreed site. They stood in line all day before returning to their encampments in the evening light. No one appeared to fight them. Eight miles away, on the opposite side of the river, the Earl of Buchan was encamped outside the town of Sancerre with part of the Dauphin’s army. Buchan made no attempt to challenge the Anglo-Burgundian force. His sole object was to stop the Anglo-Burgundians crossing into Berry. Small forces had been stationed along the left bank to watch the movements of the English and Burgundians and block the passage of the bridges and fords. On 13 August, John of Luxembourg took part of the Anglo-Burgundian army and raided towards La Charité hoping to find an undefended crossing, but the Dauphinists followed him from the opposite bank until he gave up and returned to Cosne. That evening the Duke of Burgundy and the Duke of Bedford marched away with their men.

The Dauphin’s commanders had given up all thought of fighting a pitched battle at least two weeks before, when they became aware of the scale of the other side’s preparations. The exact strength of their own army is not known, but it was certainly much smaller than their enemy’s. The Anglo-Burgundians claimed the moral high ground, and perhaps they were entitled to it. But the strategic gains were all on the Dauphin’s side. His captains had not gained Cosne. The town received a Burgundian garrison and the hostages which it had given for its surrender were returned. But he had achieved his objectives. La Charité, a major bridgehead into Burgundian territory, remained in his hands, and the plans of Henry and Philip of Burgundy for a summer campaign in the north had been spiked. The Earl of Warwick had been forced to lift the siege of Le Crotoy, and a vital respite had been given to the Dauphin’s last surviving garrison on the Oise, at Guise.

Towards the end of July 1422, after Buchan and Tanneguy du Châtel had decided not to fight at Cosne, they sent the Vicomte of Narbonne with part of the army west to join the Count of Aumale on the march of Maine. They expected to find Lower Normandy denuded of troops to fill the ranks of the Anglo-Burgundian army. They were not disappointed. Not only were all the principal English captains and many of the garrison troops with Bedford in the Nivernais, but a large number of men had just been withdrawn from the garrisons of Lower Normandy and ordered north to be present at the surrender of Saint-Valéry, which was due to open its gates on 4 September. As a result, Aumale and Narbonne were able to do considerable damage with very little opposition. They marched deep into Normandy, penetrating within forty miles of Rouen. Bernay, an unwalled town with no garrison, was sacked. The English commander in the sector, Thomas Lord Scales, came up with a field force of a few hundred men, but they were outnumbered and driven off with heavy losses. As the Dauphinists turned for home, another local captain, Sir Philip Branch, collected a field force from the residues of nearby garrisons, and valiantly tried to block the invaders’ retreat at Mortagne in Perche. On 14 August his men, dismounted in carefully prepared positions and protected by a line of stakes, determined to take on a far stronger enemy. But the odds were too great. They were scattered by a single cavalry charge. Many of them were killed or captured in the pursuit.

The strategic impact of this raid was small, but magnified by report. The Dauphinists claimed an impossibly high tally of casualties. The Italian news network even reported that the Vicomte of Narbonne’s army had entered Paris. For the English it illustrated once more the abiding problems of military occupation. They were everywhere overstretched. Unable to come to grips with their enemy on their own terms, they were compelled to fight an expensive war of static defence in Normandy and debilitating sieges everywhere else. In order to take possession of Saint-Valéry and contribute some 3,000 men to the army of Cosne they had had to reduce their strength in Normandy below the minimum level consistent with effective defence. Even companies that were never involved in a fight were losing men all the time to sickness and desertion. In the four months since the Duke of Bedford had last landed in France, his company had lost nearly a quarter of its strength. For the moment, losses like these were being made good with fresh drafts from England. But for how much longer?