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An Analysis of the causes of the Wars and the course which they took.

Michael D. Miller

Chapter 14:  Henry Prince of Wales in Government 1408-1411


The third part of the life of the future King Henry V lies between the years 1408, when the Welsh wars were all but over and could be left to subordinates to bring to a conclusion, and March 1413 when his Father, King Henry IV, finally succumbed to his grievous bodily ills. Although he had been suffering from them since 1405, the year 1408 was the time when the Father's illness took a distinct turn for the worse, so much so that for increasingly lengthy periods he was incapable of carrying out his Royal duties. The proper place for the Prince of Wales and the heir to the Throne was permanently at his Father's side, not for mere brief periods when his Welsh duties would allow.

King Henry IV's illness

It is not at all clear what illness King Henry IV was suffering from, or what was the disease which eventually killed him. He is reported to have grown a huge tumour beneath his nose, and his whole body was said to be covered in sores which suppurated in a revolting fashion. To his contemporaries he was suffering from leprosy, and some even said that leprosy was a divine punishment for beheading an Archbishop, whilst others ascribed his sufferings to heavenly indignation to the disposition of a King. Was it in fact leprosy? At the beginning of the 15th-century, many people suffered from disfiguring and repellent skin complaints which were caused by the insanitary conditions in which they lived, even the greatest in the land. People did wash, but this was not a routine and certainly not a universal practice, and the necessity for personal hygiene was not understood. Cleansing agents, such as soap and creams to remove dirt and the excretions of the human body and so prevent them from clogging the pores and letting in infection, were not readily used. The standard of personal cleanliness had not altered much from the days when, 300 years earlier, the armies of the First Crusade had reached Constantinople. The fastidious Byzantines, themselves no models of cleanliness by modern standards, were horrified at the personal filth and generally unpleasant odours which emanated from the Western Princes. It is small wonder that people suffered from skin diseases, sometimes of the most revolting kind, and these were generally classed as leprosy, but whether this was correct is another matter. It is true the leprosy, which is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium leprae, does arise from dirty conditions, and can attack and destroy the extremities of the body, particularly the toes and fingers. In a more extreme form, it can destroy other parts of the body as well, such as the nose. There is at least some evidence that King Henry IV's toes were destroyed, and this was the talk of Paris which was hardly an unbiased source. It is more than possible that the King was suffering from another ailment.

It is very difficult for a modern doctor to form any opinion based on medieval descriptions of the symptoms. More usually these were governed by the desire to decry a political opponent or to explain, often with some malicious satisfaction, a visitation of divine wrath, and the wish to reach a scientific, logical and objective conclusion was less readily apparent. As such they were often hopelessly exaggerated. For instance, King Henry IV was said to have shrunk in size to that of a twelve year old child. No trace of his having done this was found when his grave was opened in 1831. The early attacks are said to have caused the King to scream in pain that his body was on fire. Again, this may have been contemporary gossip that the sin of taking away the Throne from King Richard 11 was so great that an earlier visitation of Hell's fires than was usual was only to be expected. Usk, who was present at the coronation, says that King Henry IV's hair was covered in lice when the crown was put upon his head. This too is possible but it seems that Usk, who was probably too far away to see for himself, was no lover of Henry of Bolingbroke, and may have been more anxious to describe an evil omen rather than a medical fact. Had it been true, the King would probably have died of typhus, a quick killer, long before he met his end. The fever and delirium which accompanies it would not have been missed by contemporary record, whatever the reason ascribed to it.

Very probably King Henry IV suffered from eczema which can produce revolting and unsightly sores. This may have had something to do with eating rye-bread, a common item in the 15th-century diet, which was infected with the fungus Claviceps purpurea, or ergot. Doctor Philip Nelson advanced the opinion that the King was suffering from peripheral dry-gangrene arising from this source and wrote in The Antiquaries Journal in July 1934:-

"This disease, characterised by dry-gangrene at the extremities, and variously called St Anthony's Fire, Ignis infernalis or Ignis sacer, was in early times, not infrequently mistaken for erysipelas"

[ The fire could be both infernal or sacred. This is but another sign of the unreliability of medieval descriptions of the sufferers symptoms].

Erysipelas is thus also a possibility, and the modern Concise Medical Dictionary has this to say:-

"An infection of the skin and underlying tissues with the bacterium Streptococcus Pygenes. The affected areas, usually the face and scalp, become inflamed and swollen, with the development of raised patches that may be several inches across. The patient is ill, with a high temperature. Attacks may recur in certain individuals,  possibly because of a defect in their lymphatic systems".

It does seem strange that St Anthony's Fire, which had been known since the 9th-century, was not recorded as the cause of the King's illness. However that may be, none of this prevented contemporary medical opinion from falling back onto the usual stand-by for doctors of the time when they had no other explanation, that the King was suffering from venereal disease contracted from the excesses of his youth. This also is quite possible, given the lasciviousness and general lack of hygiene of the age. Nothing is really known for certain, except that the King's attacks left him incapacitated for increasingly lengthy periods, and the Prince had to rule in his place.

Friction between Father and Son

The two men were very different, and this stepping into and stepping out of the King's shoes from time to time was scarcely satisfactory. The ideas of the strong-minded Prince did not always accord with those of his cautious Father. This lead to friction between them and soon mutual suspicion and dislike began to replace the earlier close accord between a fond and admiring father and a brave and competent soldier son. There had been some earlier trouble in 1406 when the Prince was rumoured to have said that his Father's illness meant that he should abdicate. When this reached the King's ears he was beside himself with rage, and the Prince had some difficulty in assuaging the Royal wrath. Later, there were to be further such rumours, this time better founded, and they did nothing to endear the Son to the Father. Things became so bad that by, the end of King Henry IV's reign, the Prince was in disgrace.

In such situations, it is inevitable that people should take sides. The most prominent of the Prince's party, effectively the young Turks, included the three Beaufort brothers, John Beaufort, now Earl of Somerset and Captain of Calais (John died in 1410), Henry Beaufort, by now Bishop of Winchester and the Prince's one-time tutor, Sir Thomas Beaufort, later to become Earl of Dorset and Duke of Exeter, Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, Thomas, Earl of Arundel, and the ex-shepherd boy, Henry Chichele, Bishop of St David's and later to become Archbishop of Canterbury. Two of the Prince's younger brothers attached themselves to his faction, John, later to become Duke of Bedford and Humphrey, who was later Duke of Gloucester. John was a distinct asset, having a great talent for administration, whilst Humphrey was already showing the defects of character which were later to make him such a disastrous influence in affairs of State. The King's party was headed by Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury, his friend of many years standing who like the King had suffered at the hands of King Richard 11 and who had shared his exile, and included the Prince's remaining brother Thomas, later to become Duke of Clarence. Thomas had never been close to the Prince and, although he later served his brother with loyalty and distinction after he became King, was at this time given on principle to taking the opposite course to that espoused by his eldest Brother. Later relations were to be further soured by a sordid squabble about an inheritance in which the Beauforts were involved. These were not parties in the sense that they were implacably opposed; at no time was there any grounds to suspect treason, although it is difficult to say what would have happened if anybody had been forced to take sides. They were simply groups whose general sympathies lay with the Father or with the Son.

The scene

As a backdrop to the scene on which these actors played their parts some points need to be noted:-

1). In 1402 the Statute De Heraetico Carburundo was enacted. From now on heretics were to be burnt at the stake. Already some Lollards had been burnt. Others were to follow.

2). The Beaufort family had been legitimated by an Act of Parliament during King Richard 11's reign. This was now confirmed by a further Statute of 1406, but with the important reservation "excepta dignitate regali"; they were to be debarred from succession to the Throne. This was later ascribed to the meanness and jealousy of Thomas Arundel,  Archbishop of Canterbury rather than to any spite on the part of the King. Also in 1406, the Act of Settlement of 1404 was amended to allow claims to the Throne by descent through the female line. Both these measures were to play an important part in the subsequent history of the Wars of the Roses.

3). Lollardy was becoming to be regarded as a serious threat rather than a mere nuisance. The origins of Lollardy can be traced further back than the late 14th-century when the don and scholar John Wyclif first gave Lollardy articulate expression. Nobody had forgotten the "Twelve Conclusions" which had been nailed to the door of St Paul's Cathedral in 1395. Amongst other things, they condemned in ringing terms the doctrine of transubstantiation, auricular confession, praying to the Saints, pilgrimages, the granting of indulgences [pardons for a fee], and the celibacy of priests which was said to lead to unnatural lust and even child murder. Most heinous of all was the attack on the sacraments themselves, that bread still remained bread, and did not take on the character of being Our Lord's body simply because it was blessed by a priest who was every bit as sinful and corrupt as the parishioner kneeling before him. All these were heresies of the grossest nature. On a more pragmatic note, for many years men had felt dissatisfaction with the power, pride and wealth of the Church, and with the right of the Pope to appoint whoever he chose to benefices in England. The Statutes of Provisors which were passed in King Edward 111's reign had put a stop to the Pope raising taxes in England, the so-called 'Peter's Pence', but the general complaints on other matters persisted. Men even went on to question the authority of the Pope and the Cardinals in religious matters and from thence it was only a short step to attacking the authority of their own native born Churchmen, many of whom were known to be corrupt. The writing of the Bible in Latin attracted particular criticism since few of them could understand it. Wyclif's translation did something to put this right, but his Bible was suppressed whenever Churchmen could find copies to burn. All this was of great concern to the orthodox Churchmen, of whom Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury, was the most prominent and the most extreme.They waited with impatience for their chance to strike hard against Lollardy.

King Richard 11 did take some steps against the Lollards, but he never seems to have been too worried by them. No doubt the malicious sense of fun which he possessed in ample measure was tickled to see the writhing of the Church under the lash of their preaching. Lollardy, although it commanded widespread support and sympathy, was passive by nature, and in the first half of King Henry IV's reign the King was too concerned with armed rebellions to worry too much about those who refrained from taking up arms in support of their views. Now however the Scots were quiescent, the French were engrossed in their own political turmoil, and the Welsh were subdued. The support of the Prince could be counted upon; he had given some proof of his views when he had tried to get Parliament to pass an Act against the Lollards in 1406 which had only narrowly failed. Events were to show that the Archbishop was gravely mistaken in the Prince, but by 1408, it appeared that the turn of the Church zealots had come at last.

4). Also in 1406 the English had a stoke of good fortune. The youthful heir to the Scottish Throne, James, had been sent to France under the charge of the Earl of Orkney to be educated at the French Court. Their ship was intercepted by English ships off Flamborough Head and the young Prince was captured. He was not to regain his liberty till 1424. He was far too useful a pawn in English hands. If the (Scottish) Duke of Albany, who subsequently became the Scottish Regent, should give any trouble, the English could always threaten to send James back. The Earl of Orkney had only recently regained his own liberty after being captured at the Battle of Homildon Hill 1402. Once more, he found himself in an English prison, where he joined Albany's own son Murdach, who was already languishing there.

5). King Charles VI of France, who ruled from 1380 until 1422, suffered from recurrent fits of madness. On a very hot day in 1382, the King was riding at the head of a large force to chastise the Bretons. A lunatic sprang out of the bushes, seized the King's bridle, and shouted some gibberish that he was about to be murdered. During the flurry to apprehend the unfortunate man, a lance belonging to one of the escort fell with a loud clang onto the helmeted head of a colleague. The incident was thought to have unhinged the King's mind, which was considered to be unstable anyway. The King then attacked his escort and had to be restrained by force. Whilst he was capable of long and lucid periods of sanity, he was at other times hopelessly out of his wits. He was convinced he was made of glass, and would shatter if anyone touched him. He told all and sundry that his name was George, not Charles. He became filthy, and the modest standards of cleanliness of the time required forcible washing. During these periods, he was incapable of exercising the Royal authority. This alone removed any restraint upon the chief political rivals in France to live at peace with each other. John the Fearless (a most inappropriate title), Duke of Burgundy, and Louis, Duke of Orleans, nursed a deep hatred of each other. Their rivalry was bitter and murderous, and only the Royal power could keep it in check. This was now wanting for long periods of time.

One November night in 1407, Louis, Duke of Orleans, paid a visit whilst in Paris to his sister-in-law, Isabeau of Bavaria, the Queen of France. The visit was probably not an innocent one, as Isabeau was well known for the freedom with which she granted her favours. Riding home through the streets of Paris without a care in the world, indeed with the happy memory of an enjoyable evening behind him, and singing at the top of his voice, Louis was set upon and stabbed to death by ruffians in the pay of John the Fearless. His son Charles succeeded to the Dukedom and vowed revenge. [The new Duchess of Orleans was none other than Isabel, the widow of King Richard 11.] France was now on the verge of civil war. Initially there was little fighting, but both sides sought the aid of King Henry IV. Henry made it clear that England should not become involved; there was too much to worry about at home. The Prince, his martial instincts aroused,  suffered none of his Father's inhibitions and was all for some fighting. For the moment however, he had to obey his Father.

Such then, and very briefly, was the situation in 1408 when the Prince, freed from his Welsh duties, began a regular attendance at the meetings of his Father's Council. He was soon to be deeply involved in the Affairs of State.

The Prince orders things to his liking

At an early stage, the Prince seems to have concluded that things would proceed more smoothly if somebody other than Thomas Arundel was Chancellor. Thomas Arundel meanwhile, probably failing to understand the Prince's intentions towards himself, prepared from his august position as Archbishop of Canterbury to strike hard at the Lollards. In 1408, he published The Constitutions of Oxford, which were instructions and guidance on how to deal with the Lollards. This was deliberate provocation, as Oxford University was a hot-bed of Lollardy. They were ignored, as he knew they would be, and in 1409 he moved to enforce them. This was physically resisted, as again he knew would be the case, and he looked to the Prince to support him as a true and faithful son of Holy Church. The Prince however, was prepared to be equivocal, at least on this occasion, on the subject of Lollards. He took the side of Thomas Courtenay, his old friend and Chancellor of the University. Having realised that he had gravely mistaken the temper of the Prince, the Archbishop then made another grave error. Counting on the support of the King, he tendered his resignation in protest at the actions of the Prince, only to find that the King was lapsing into a long period of incapacity, and that his resignation was immediately accepted by the Prince without the courtesy of asking him to reconsider it. [King Henry IV's incapacity lasted from November 1409 until November 1411].

Having thus got rid of the Archbishop, who retired consumed with rage, the way was now clear for the Prince to appoint to the Council people of his own outlook and views.

His father was sick, and he was now acting in his father's place. He proceeded with caution, and first summoned a Parliament to meet in January 1410. Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester, in the absence of a Chancellor, opened it and soon got a request from it for good and substantial government under the Prince. The way was now clear for the Prince to appoint his own nominees. Sir Thomas Beaufort became the Chancellor, and Lord Scrope of Masham became the Treasurer in place of Sir John Tiptoft.[This was the first Parliament to meet since 1407, when Parliament met in Gloucester to avoid a severe outbreak of the Plague in London.]. The Prince went further than this. When John Beaufort, Earl of Somerset, died in March 1410, he took on the Captain-ship of Calais himself.

Lord Scrope was an interesting character. He was well educated and well read, he possessed a fine library which was rare for the times, and he had the reputation as a sound financier. He was thus in every way fitted for the post to which the Prince appointed him. Although the nephew of the Archbishop of York who was beheaded in 1405, there was no doubt about his loyalty. He was in fact very close to the Prince, who made him privy to his innermost thoughts. In 1415, on the eve of sailing for France at the start of King Henry V's French wars, he was to betray his King and was to pay the usual penalty for doing so. In 1410 however, there was no harbinger of these unhappy times to come.

One further measure of this Parliament should be noted. An Act was passed to the effect that Sheriffs who wrongly certified that persons were the truly elected members to serve in Parliament were to be fined 100.

Having secured the Council of his choice, the Prince could now turn his attention to France, and undoubtedly what he saw and subsequently did had a large influence on the launching of the French wars in 1415 which left such a bitter legacy to his son and heir, King Henry VI. He could conclude with every justification that the French were weak politically and incompetent militarily - in marked contrast to the high standard of military proficiency which they reached in the middle of the 15th-century under the leadership of Generals who were every bit as competent as he was himself. In 1410 however, the goose was ripe for the plucking.

A military expedition to France - 1411

In March 1409, Charles, Duke of Orleans, was forced into a reconciliation with John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy. It was a mere form of words of the kind which was quite common in the Middle Ages when Kings tried to make their warring subjects live at peace with each other. It was of course totally insincere, and nobody thought that matters would rest there. In September 1409, the Duchess of Orleans, surely one of the most unfortunate Princess who has ever lived, died in childbirth. Charles promptly married Anne, the daughter of Bernard, Count of Armagnac, an aggressive and very able Gascon who had connections with the war-like house of Albret. Later Charles d'Albret, as Constable of France,  was to lead the French Army at the Battle of Agincourt where he perished. Armagnac, although a mere Count, was able in April 1410 to manipulate the Dukes of Orleans, Berri, Brittany and Bourbon into the Compact of Gien with the aim of depriving John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy, of all the offices which he held and disgracing him. The published aim of the Compact was expressed somewhat differently:-

"to maintain the King's Majesty and Freedom".

By now,  a definite line up was noticeable with a split down the centre of the country. The Armagnac party (Armagnac was the name now given to this faction in preference to that of Orleans), could count on support from Normandy, Brittany, the Auvergne and that part of Gascony which lay within the French dominion. The Burgundian force rested with the Flemings, Picardy, Burgundy and Lorraine. The sympathy of the Parisians was strongly for Burgundy. Both parties advanced to meet each other, and armed conflict was only averted by King Charles VI who managed, at the end of 1410, to persuade each faction to withdraw their forces from the neighbourhood of Paris by the so-called Peace of Bicetre. In 1411 however, the Armagnacs began to arm again, and in July 1411 felt strong enough to make a formal demand for the punishment of John the Fearless. Some manoeuvring took place, but John the Fearless was unable to keep his force together. It was serving under the usual feudal terms which only obliged military service for 40 days. The Flemings in particular were anxious to return home. At this stage, John the Fearless appealed to England for armed help.

If King Henry IV had been reluctant to become embroiled in military actions in France, the Prince had no doubts about the actions he should take and no inhibitions about taking them. The Low Countries were vital to the English wool trade, and they were part of John the Fearless's domains. It would be catastrophic if Burgundy was eliminated. He promptly dispatched a force of between 1000 and 1200 men under the command of some of England's best soldiers, Thomas Earl of Arundel, Sir John Oldcastle, both of whom had served in the Welsh wars, and the two brothers, Sir Robert and Sir Gilbert Umphraville who had made their names on the Scottish border. In the fighting that followed, the Armagnacs were worsted, and the English particularly distinguished themselves. It was clear to all that they had saved the Duke of Burgundy.

Copyright Michael D. Miller 2003