The siege of Rouen, July 1418–January 1419 Part II

By October 1418 the English army was securely established around Rouen. The whole of the lower reach of the Seine was under their control. The harvest had been brought in. Armed foraging expeditions were returning daily with supplies. Large markets had been set up at the edge of their encampments which were constantly restocked. Only the quiescence of the French enabled the English King to conduct a siege on this scale and supply his army across 120 miles of sea and eighty miles of enemy territory, something which no previous English commander in France had achieved. As the haberdasher Henry Gloming remarked on returning to England, a determined French attack on Henry V’s lines ‘wolde breke his sege and make hem of Roon dokke hys tayle’. The council, to whom the conversation was reported, disliked people who spread despondency and objected to the idea that the King owed anything to luck. They committed Gloming to the Flete prison. But the truth must have been as obvious to the English as it was to everyone else. Inside the beleaguered city food was rapidly running out. The shops and markets were bare. Stocks changed hands only in private and at exorbitant prices. The Rouennais began to fear that they had been abandoned. From the end of August onwards they addressed increasingly desperate appeals for help to the Duke of Burgundy, to his councillors, to the city of Paris, the University, even to the Dauphin.

Reporting on sentiment in the capital at the beginning of September, the University told the Rouennais that everyone realised that if their city held out there was some prospect of recovering Lower Normandy from the English, whereas if it fell the whole province would be permanently lost and the rest of France in grave peril. The Duke of Burgundy was under no illusions about this. He was now the real head of government. His officers were conducting the defence of the city. His son had given the Rouennais solemn undertakings that they would be rescued if they were attacked. But his government had inherited many of the problems of the Armagnacs along with their capital. John received the appeals of Rouen with ‘good and gracious words’ but his resources of money and men were fully committed to fighting off the Armagnacs around Paris. It was clear that if Rouen was to be relieved there would have to be close cooperation between the Dauphin and the Duke of Burgundy. But the Dauphin’s councillors had no interest in helping the Duke to bear his burden. The Rouennais were no friends of theirs, they said. Charles moved his headquarters at the end of July 1418 to the immense fortress of Chinon in Touraine and began to recruit substantial numbers of troops. But his objective was the recovery of Tours and other strongholds in Touraine from their Burgundian garrisons. It was not the relief of Rouen.

Shortly after his flight from Paris the Dauphin had summoned a great council of his party to advise him how to put an end to the civil war. It met at the beginning of August 1418 at Chinon. Most of those present were anxious to find some compromise which would enable the Dauphin to cooperate with the Duke of Burgundy. They included the mediator of La Tombe John of Brittany, his ward the eleven-year-old John Duke of Alençon and Yolande of Aragon, the regent for her young son Louis of Anjou. Their lands were all on the marches of the English conquests in Normandy. They had the strongest personal interest in uniting the factions against Henry V. Against his better judgment as he later thought, the Dauphin allowed them to push him into agreeing to participate in a peace conference with the Queen and the Duke of Burgundy. The assembly agreed upon a set of proposals to be made to the Duke. They were recorded in a memorandum prepared by the Dauphin’s councillors. But his councillors were hostile to the whole idea of the conference and their hostility is reflected in its terms. What the document proposed was an informal partition of France between the Dauphin and the Duke of Burgundy. Each of them was to withdraw his garrisons from places outside his own domains and concentrate his resources on the defeat of the invader. But they were to operate separately against the English. The Duke of Burgundy would conduct military operations north of the Seine with the revenues and manpower of the north, while the Dauphin conducted his own distinct operations in Lower Normandy and the march of Aquitaine, drawing on the resources of the centre and south. Each of them was to act through his own council. The only element of coordination was that each man’s council would include a number of men nominated by the other. These were extraordinary proposals in both military and political terms. They had been carefully framed so as to keep the Dauphin and the Duke of Burgundy apart, by people whose main concern was to avoid exposing the young prince to the influence of his mother and her Burgundian allies. The proposed division of effort would have required John the Fearless to confront the army of Henry V outside Rouen with only half the resources of France.

The peace conference convened to discuss these proposals opened on 5 September 1418 at Corbeil, south-east of Paris. John of Brittany acted as mediator as he had done at La Tombe. After a fortnight moving from place to place to avoid the smallpox spreading through the Île de France, John V eventually established himself in the venerable Benedictine monastery of Saint-Maur-les-Fossés near Vincennes. The Dauphin was represented by the Archbishop of Tours Jacques Gélu and by Robert de Braquemont, who had now joined the Dauphin’s council after the debacle of his Norman lieutenancy. After ten days of negotiation an agreement in principle was reached on 16 September 1418 at a crowded plenary session in the castle of Vincennes attended by the Dauphin’s ambassadors and all the principals on the government side. The essential points were that the Dauphin and the Duke of Burgundy would both withdraw their garrisons from all walled places outside their own domains. The Dauphin would then rejoin the royal council and make common cause with the Duke of Burgundy against the English. The agreement was vague about the future shape of the government, but it was agreed that the Dauphin and the Duke would each have the right to nominate one of the three généraux des finances and that all other appointments would be made by the King on the advice of a council on which the Dauphin, the Queen and all the princes would be represented. Later that day the agreement was formally ratified on behalf of the King at the abbey of Saint-Maur in the presence of an impressive crowd which included the Duke of Burgundy and the Queen, the two papal legates and the representatives of the princely houses of France, Yolande of Aragon Duchess of Anjou and her young son, the Duke of Orléans’ brother Philip Count of Vertus, the Duke of Bourbon’s son Charles and the young Count of Alençon. All of them swore to observe it. As soon as the King’s seal was on the document the government set about recruiting an army to relieve Rouen with the combined strength of the Dauphin and the Duke of Burgundy. The arrière-ban was proclaimed across France and the muster of the King’s army fixed for 15 October. Troops from eastern France were summoned to join the Duke of Burgundy in Paris while recruits from the rest of France were ordered to gather at Beauvais. The rabble-rousing Carmelite Eustache de Pavilly, who had made the cause of Rouen his own, toured the northern towns preaching the cause and drumming up recruits.

All of these plans were thrown into disarray when the Dauphin unexpectedly refused to ratify the peace or to take any part in military operations against the English. At the time the responsibility for these decisions was laid at the door of his councillors. The Burgundians blamed three men in particular: Robert le Maçon, Jean Louvet and Raymond Raguier. The concerns of these men are easy to understand. The treaty departed from the essential point of the memorandum drawn up at Chinon. By providing for the Dauphin to return to the feverishly partisan atmosphere of the royal court it would remove the impressionable youth from the influence of the strong-willed men who had surrounded him for the past year and place him in the orbit of the Queen and the Duke of Burgundy. The Dauphin was the Armagnacs’ ticket to power and they were not ready to give him up. It is easy to accuse these men of sinking any hope of civil peace in order to protect their jobs and their power. Plenty of people said this at the time. But the Dauphin’s councillors were not alone. Behind them stood many thousands of more modest men who regarded John the Fearless as a usurper, a tyrant, a demagogue and a murderer, and could not bring themselves to deal with him. Some of these men were moved by tribal loyalties that had become ingrained over the past decade. They included the many retainers of the houses of Orléans, Anjou and Alençon.

But the most committed opponents of an accommodation with John the Fearless came from the civil service and the judiciary. The Burgundian proscriptions of 1413, followed by the Armagnac proscriptions of the next five years, had polarised the powerful public service. The Queen and John the Fearless had filled their administration at Chartres and Troyes with men who had been dispossessed and expelled from Paris by the Armagnacs. Now the boot was on the other foot. John the Fearless had replaced forty-two judges of the Parlement and twenty-five officers of the Chambre des Comptes within days of his return to Paris, not to speak of many hundreds of humbler functionaries. The renewed cycle of dismissals propelled a large and embittered class of ruined professional administrators into the Dauphin’s camp. The breach was completed by the mass confiscations of property which followed. In Paris those who fled the city were presumed to be traitors to the King and all their land and movable property were seized by special commissions. The Burgundians proceeded to make new enemies among men who had had only tenuous connections with the Armagnac party. Many of them had only fled for fear of mob violence, or because they had been thrown out of their jobs to make room for the newcomers, or simply because they had been prominent men owning handsome mansions which other people coveted. Jean Jouvenel des Ursins, who had been president of the commission charged with the administration of the aides, had got on well enough with John the Fearless in happier times. He had left Paris in the early hours of 29 May to escape the mob and arrived in the Loire valley with his wife, eleven children and three grandchildren and only the clothes they stood up in. He had lost a good salary, a fine mansion in Paris, a country retreat in the Île de France and valuable estates in Champagne and Brie. During the brief truce which followed the proclamation of the treaty of Saint-Maur men like him were joined by a steady stream of other well-to-do officials, judges, accountants, clergy and scholars who came out of hiding in the cellars and attics of Paris and fled the city while they could, leaving almost all they owned behind. They became lifelong enemies of the Duke of Burgundy.

On 21 September 1418, five days after the agreement at Saint-Maur, the Dauphin issued a series of ordinances from the town of Niort in northern Poitou which marked a point of no return. Using his powers as royal lieutenant, he set up his own rival administration, just as John the Fearless had done at Chartres and Troyes. The King, he declared, was no longer his own master. The Duke of Burgundy had usurped his authority. He had taken over Paris by force, ratified the massacres of June and August and filled the Parlement and the administration with stooges, incompetents and traitors. The Dauphin created a new royal chancery based at Poitiers under the direction of Robert le Maçon. Declaring that ‘there was no real Parlement in Paris’, he transferred the institution to Poitiers, placing Jean de Vailly at its head and filling it with refugees from Paris. Thereafter there were two chanceries and two parlements, each claiming to act in the name of the King. Officials across France received orders from each side not to comply with the orders of the other. The consequences were disastrous. The ordinances of Niort ensured that as long as Charles VI lived France would be geographically divided into two hostile zones, each with its own government, neither of them strong enough to overcome the other or defeat the English. It also meant, as Jean Jouvenel had predicted years before, that each government would bid against the other for the support of the English, who would emerge as the decisive force in French politics. This process began as soon as the ordinances of Niort had been sealed. Before the end of September the Dauphin’s councillors approached Henry V and asked for talks with a view to a military alliance against John the Fearless. In return they were willing to cede a large part of western France to the invader.

The news of the ordinances had not yet reached Paris on 22 September when the Duke of Brittany left to obtain the Dauphin’s ratification of the treaty of Saint-Maur. John V brought with him delegations representing the King, the Duke of Burgundy, the other princely houses of France and the city of Paris. As a gesture of reconciliation he also brought the Dauphin’s fourteen-year-old fiancée Marie of Anjou, who had been stranded in the Hôtel de Bourbon in Paris since his flight. The great cortège of dignitaries made their way slowly along the Loire valley and early in October arrived at Saumur. There they waited in vain for the Dauphin to appear. He was away in southern Poitou and showed no sign of returning. Access to him was reported to be strictly controlled. His councillors were not going to be caught out again as they had been at Chinon in August. John V tried to arrange a meeting but they would not hear of it. Eventually the Archbishop of Tours, Jacques Gélu, who had played the leading role in negotiating the treaty, arrived with the news that it would not be ratified. It seems unlikely that he gave John of Brittany the implausible explanation that his master was giving to everyone else. According to Charles the treaty was a charade, a trick. His ambassadors never agreed it. They had been ‘neither invited not heard’ at the principal session of the conference and had been absent from the gathering at Vincennes when it had been concluded. The first that they had heard about it was when the Dukes of Burgundy and Brittany had proclaimed it publicly as a done deal. By the time that John V and his fellow delegates returned to Paris to report the failure of their mission the Burgundian council had learned of the Dauphin’s approach to Henry V. They issued an ordinance in the King’s name stripping him of his lieutenancy and revoking all his powers.

On 27 October 1418 four emissaries of Rouen appeared before the council in Paris. They brought Eustache de Pavilly with them to plead their cause. In a long and theatrical speech, interrupted by frequent heaving and sobbing, the elderly friar described the conditions in the city. The defenders, he said, had exhausted their supplies of food by the beginning of October. Since then they had been reduced to eating horses, cats, dogs and rats. The city would fall unless relief came quickly. The collapse of the rest of Normandy was bound to follow. The province had been loyal to the Crown for two centuries. Its taxes represented a large part of the royal treasury’s receipts. Was the council really willing to risk such a disaster? The orator concluded with a peroration directed personally at the Duke of Burgundy (‘you who have taken over the government of the King and the kingdom’). If the Rouennais were forced to submit to the King of England, he said, John ‘would have no bitterer enemies in the world and they would not rest until they had destroyed him and all his issue’. On the streets of Paris the fate of Rouen aroused high emotion. People were already beginning to murmur about the Duke’s apparent inaction. Under heavy pressure to do something, the government did the only thing it could do. It decided to press on with the attempt to relieve Rouen, even without the Dauphin’s cooperation. The plan was to leave 500 professional troops in the capital to keep order in the city and on the roads around. All the other available troops would be concentrated against the English in Normandy. In Rouen the news was received with a great outburst of joy. From their encampments around the walls the English could hear all the church bells of the city ringing.

Unfortunately for the Rouennais the celebrations were premature. The response to the government’s summonses was very disappointing. In the centre and south, where most of the baillis were loyal to the Dauphin, the royal summons was ignored. A large number of the Duke of Burgundy’s own retainers were tied down in garrison duties or in the debilitating struggle with the Dauphin’s partisans on the southern marches of Burgundy. On 15 October 1418, the day appointed for the muster, hardly anyone appeared. The contingents of the two Burgundies and Champagne did not arrive in Paris until November and then in less than half the numbers of the previous year. The other muster at Beauvais seems to have been a complete failure. The arrière-ban was proclaimed for a second time in November with no better results. On 10 November 1418 the King was taken with much ceremony to Saint-Denis to receive the Oriflamme, but as yet the promised army of relief hardly existed.

The hot and cold attitude of the Duke may have been one reason. Another was that men were afraid to leave their homes undefended for fear of the Dauphinist garrisons of the Marne and the Oise. But the major factor is likely to have been the royal government’s financial difficulties. Since he had begun his march on Paris in August 1417 John the Fearless had funded his wars in France from the revenues of his own domains, from borrowing on his own credit and from voluntary grants by towns which had declared for him. But once he had taken control of the machinery of government in Paris virtually the whole cost of warfare was transferred to the bankrupt royal treasury. Not only were payments from the receivers of Flanders and the two Burgundies for war purposes reduced to a trickle but a large part of the King’s revenues was transferred into John’s personal coffers by way of reimbursement of past war expenditure. In normal times the answer would have been to resort to taxation. But the Duke had won the support of Paris and the northern towns with improvident promises to bring an end to war taxation. These promises severely limited his room for manoeuvre. A special tax was imposed on wine throughout France, an aide in all but name. It was extremely unpopular and proved to be impossible to collect except in Paris. Some revenue was still coming in from the Île de France, Picardy and Beauvaisis. But collection had virtually ceased everywhere else. The main resource of the government was now coinage manipulation, a highly unpopular form of stealth taxation inherited from the regime of the Count of Armagnac. The value of its minting profits, however, was much reduced by the civil war and the struggle with Henry V. Of the twenty-four royal mints, the government in Paris directly controlled only three: Paris, Saint-Quentin and Tournai. Most of the profits of the Paris mint were assigned to the defence of the city against the surrounding Dauphinist garrisons. The other two had been farmed out for ready cash to a syndicate of financiers earlier in the year. The Duke of Burgundy had appropriated the four royal mints in Burgundy and Champagne and about half of the considerable profits of these mints went on war expenditure. But the lion’s share of that was consumed by operations against the Dauphinists leaving little or nothing to fund the war against the English. The other mints were in the process of being taken over by the officers of the Dauphin or the King of England. ‘Our ills are beyond remedy’, the University of Paris wailed to anyone who would listen, ‘and the kingdom is heading for disaster.’

On the morning of 10 November 1418, the day that the French King went to Saint-Denis, the Earl of Salisbury received the ambassadors of the Dauphin in the castle of Alençon. The English King was well-informed about the divisions of his enemies and had given much thought to the best way of exploiting them. In preparation for the conference with the Dauphin’s representatives he had a long and candid memorandum prepared for his council at Westminster, which gives a unique insight into his mind at a critical point of his enterprise. The author was probably Philip Morgan, Henry’s newly appointed Chancellor of Normandy and the ablest of the Chancery clerks who were with him in France. It is clear from this document that Henry thought that his position in France was much more precarious than it seemed to others. The fundamental problem was financial. Henry had been voted another double subsidy by Parliament in December 1417. The second part of the subsidy, which had been largely anticipated by borrowing and assignment, was due to be paid in February 1419. This would bring the number of standard subsidies which Henry had received to seven in five years. He was well aware that this level of taxation could not be maintained for much longer. The resources of England were not equal to the task of conquering the whole of France or even defending his conquests in Normandy. But it was far from clear what the alternatives were. One possibility was to tax Normandy for the cost of keeping it. Another was to allow the English army to live off the land. But both of these options carried a heavy political cost. Henry needed the support of the indigenous population and could not afford to provoke ‘general grouching’. No one of real stature in the conquered regions had submitted to him and very few gentlemen, as the author of the memorandum admitted. Even those who had submitted were ‘full unstable, and is no wonder’. For these reasons, ‘with more that were long to write as well,’ the King had to have a settlement soon.

The great question was with whom. Henry V had traditionally supported an alliance with the house of Burgundy. But by 1418 he and his advisers had concluded that a treaty with the Dauphin was the better option. In the first place it seemed to be attainable. The Dauphin and his supporters badly needed English help. They had been willing to trade territory for armed support at another crisis in their affairs in 1412, whereas when it came to the point John the Fearless had never gone that far. An Anglo-Dauphinist alliance would probably be strong enough to defeat the Burgundians, whereas it was unlikely that an Anglo-Burgundian alliance could conquer the extensive territories which the Dauphin controlled south of the Loire. At least as important was the fact that the Dauphin was in a better position than his rival to give Henry what he wanted, for only he could deliver Aquitaine. He would no doubt be willing to cede Normandy in order to get Paris. He might even be prepared to share the spoils of the fall of the house of Burgundy with Henry, ceding Flanders to England. It is the business of diplomats to count their chickens before they are hatched. But these proposals raised some tricky questions. One of them was Henry V’s claim to the French throne, a perennially awkward problem in English diplomacy. It had never been a primary war aim. But it would be discreditable to abandon it formally after all the emphasis that it had received in English propaganda. This might perhaps be avoided if the treaty took the form of a long truce instead of a permanent peace. Even more problematical was the question of authority on the French side. A treaty with the Dauphin would probably not be binding on the French crown. Henry’s advisers regarded the Dauphin’s claim to the regency of France as distinctly shaky. Legally they thought that Isabelle of Bavaria had a better title. They would therefore have to ensure that the lost provinces of Aquitaine, or at least some critical places such as La Rochelle, were formally handed over before the Dauphin recovered control of the French King. It would be difficult enough to persuade him to agree to this in advance, but probably impossible to do so later. Then there was the question of the Dukes of Orléans and Bourbon and the other notable prisoners of war in England. If they were allowed to ransom themselves they would return to become powerful figures in post-war France. Their hostility would be dangerous. Their consent to any treaty was therefore indispensable. But would it be forthcoming?

When the Alençon conference opened the Earl of Salisbury was flanked by the King’s Steward Sir Walter Hungerford, John lord Grey of Codnor and Philip Morgan. Opposite them sat a delegation of hardened Dauphinist partisans. Jean de Norry, who acted as spokesman, called himself Archbishop of Sens although he had in fact been elected only by the Armagnac faction in the cathedral chapter and was never consecrated. He resented the whole idea of haggling with the invaders and at one point likened their representatives to the Devil. With him sat the Duke of Burgundy’s intemperate old enemies Louis de Chalon Count of Tonnerre, Jean de Vailly the First President of the Dauphin’s new Parlement, and Robert de Braquemont the Dauphinist Admiral of France. Braquemont’s son had recently been captured by the English and sent to join other politically significant prisoners in the Tower of London. He cannot have felt much better about the occasion than Norry did.