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

Michael D. Miller

Chapter 18: Preparations for the war with France 1414 - 1415


Henry's claims in law

Having secured his rule in his own country, Henry now felt he could concentrate of the first of his priorities, the Conquest of France. As with all else that he did, the preparation was meticulously careful. Sheer naked aggression would never serve, and he knew well that he would first have to establish his claim to the Crown of France in law, and then try to secure it by peaceful means before he could undertake the hostilities which the assertion of such a claim was bound to lead to. As will be seen, not even the aggressive instincts of his own people towards the French would be satisfied without the prior pursuit of peaceful means.

There were two possible means of establishing his claim to the Crown of France itself, or to large parts of France without the Crown, and they were both pretty spurious. He could have claimed that the Duchy of Normandy was properly his by his descent from William the Conqueror, and that the large parts of Western France over which his ancestor King Henry II (1154-1189) had ruled were part of the dowry of that Monarch's Queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine. He was looking for more territory than this however, so this claim would not serve him fully. He therefore based his claim on the right of his great-great-grandmother, Isabella, Queen of England as the consort of King Edward II (1307-1327), to the Crown of France. In spite of her right to succession, it had gone to its present holders, the House of Valois.

Philip III, King of France, reigned from 1270-1285. He fathered three sons, Philip IV, who reigned from 1285-1314, Charles, Compte de Valois, and Louis, Compte de Evreux. Philip IV sired by his Queen Joan 1 of Navarre three sons and a daughter, Louis, Philip, Charles and the Isabella who is central to this story. Louis succeeded his father as Louis X from 1314-1316, and left two children, John 1, who was born, crowned and died all in 1316, and Queen Joan II of Navarre. After the brief reign of King John 1, Louis X's two brothers succeeded him as Philip V (1316-1322) and Charles IV (1322) - Both died childless. On Charles' death, so King Henry V's argument ran, the Crown of France should have gone to Isabella, by now Queen of England, who lived until 1358. It did not do this however, because the Salic law prevented inheritance by the female line. It went instead to the male heirs of the House of Valois from whom the present King Charles VI was descended.

King Henry V lost no time in pursuing the claims made by his great-grandfather King Edward III on the grounds that the Salic law had no force in France, and that the Crown of France should have rightfully gone to Isabella, and thence to him. The House of Valois were thus usurpers. There is a rich irony in the House of Lancaster accusing others of usurping crowns, but there were other more serious grounds on which to criticise Henry's claims. If the Salic law did not apply in France, then Joan II, Queen of Navarre, who had married into her cousins family of Evreux and had produced issue, had a superior claim to that of Isabella. If that were not enough, King Edward III had surrendered his title as King of France at the Treaty of Bretigny in 1360 in exchange for Acquitaine, Poitou, Limousin, Quercy, Rouergue, Manch, Angoumois and Calais. Most of this territory had subsequently been lost later in the 14th-century due to English mal-administration which had lead to revolts and reconquest by that redoubtable French soldier, Bertrand du Guesclin. Finally, there was King Richard II's Treaty of Paris in 1386 [page ] by which he had surrendered all English lands in France except Calais, Bordeaux, Bayonne and Gascony.

An embassy to France - August 1414

Undeterred by these legalistic quibbles, King Henry V pressed on. Open warfare had broken out between Armagnacs and Burgundians and both sides sought English help.John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy, was particularly hard pressed, and would have been correspondingly grateful for an English ally. Thinking that the time was ripe,  Henry dispatched Richard Courtenay,  Bishop of Norwich, to France in August 1414 with demands which were so extreme that the French, weak as they currently were, had no option other than to refuse them. With such demands, the French in their turn could make no counter-proposals which stood any chance of satisfying the English. It is surprising that they made any counter-proposals at all, and must have done so only in the desperate hope that somehow they would dissuade the English from attacking them when they had their hands full with Burgundy. The first English demand was for the Crown of France. When predictably this was refused, the English virtually put the same demand in another way, which they described as 'a lesser demand'; Normandy, Anjou, Maine, Touraine, Poitou, the lands between Flanders and the Somme, most of Provence, Acquitaine as it was before the Treaty of Bretigny in 1360, namely Guyenne,  Limousin and all of France between the River Loire and the Pyrenees Mountains west of the Masif Centrale were to be handed over to English rule. The unpaid ransom of King John II who had been captured at the Battle of Poictiers in 1356 was to be paid. The hand of King Charles VI's daughter Catherine was to be given to King Henry V together with a dowry of 2, 000, 000 crowns. King Charles VI was in one of his periods of insanity, and the Duc de Berri, as Regent, counter-offered with part of Acquitaine, Catherine's hand and a dowry of 600, 000 crowns. This was all subject to Charles' endorsement once he had recovered his wits. None of this satisfied the English, and the Embassy was the failure Henry had intended it to be.

Henry had had a strong hand but he had overplayed it. Frightened that the English were about to attack them, the Armagnacs made peace with the Burgundians. Even though John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy, had given Henry a promise of remaining neutral should Henry try and seize the Crown of France, and seemed likely to keep his promise, Henry had to think again. The Great Council of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal was summoned on 30th September 1414 to 'give advice'. Henry's claims were approved in principle, but the Council reined in the normally aggressive instincts of the English where the French were concerned, and counselled caution before Christian blood was spilt. The Synod of Canterbury, meeting a week later under Henry Chichele, now Archbishop of Canterbury, showed no such reticence about shedding Christian blood; it voted Henry a double subsidy, a step only taken when war was in the offing. When Parliament met in November 1414, it followed the same course as the Church, and it too voted a double subsidy. Henry could read the messages that his subjects were ready for war, but that he had to try and get satisfaction by further peaceable means.

A further embassy to France - February 1415

In February 1415 Richard Courtenay again journeyed to Paris with some modified demands. All of Acquitaine was to be handed over to the English, and Catherine's hand was to be given to King Henry V with a dowry of 1, 000, 000 crowns. The French countered again with part of Acquitaine and 800, 000 crowns. None of this was acceptable, and the Bishop returned home empty handed.

It was probably about this time that Louis, the Dauphin, sent Henry the present of tennis balls together with some cushions to recline on until he should come of man's estate and need no rest. It could have been mere propaganda put out by the Court to inflame public opinion that a deadly insult had been offered their King, but on the other hand, it was just the sort of silly thing that the Dauphin, a shallow and foolish youth, would do. Henry is supposed to have cried out"Ich Dien"which can mean, not only"I serve", but also"My Service"or "Me to serve", the preliminary to an aggressive act in the game of tennis. The story comes from Canon John Strecche, who was not a member of the Court and was not present. He is supposed to have heard it from one of his many friends in the circles of the Court. It is an amusing story which sums up the state of the relations at this stage between the English and French Courts, and it has the ring of truth about it.

The Dauphin's embassy

The Dauphin made it clear that he wished to send an Embassy to England, but was in no apparent hurry to do so. Henry had to write in April 1415 to enquire what had happened to it. Eventually it appeared at Winchester in June 1415 as Henry was preparing to embark. Guillaume Boisratier, Archbishop of Bourges, offered Henry Limousin and part of Acquitaine. Henry said that he had heard all this before, and a further embassy indicated some further concessions were to be made. In a private meeting, the Archbishop added Limoges and Tulle. Henry asked for assurances that his sovereignty was to be absolute, as he would not hold any lands as a vassal of the French King. To this the Archbishop had no answer. A further meeting with all the Lords present got very heated with many accusations of who would be responsible for unleashing the dogs of war. The Archbishop said that Charles was the rightful King of France whereas Henry was not even the rightful King of England. The insult found its mark, and Henry stormed out of the Council Chamber. The Chancellor, Henry Beaufort then read out an ultimatum; either hand over the lands or the English would take them by the sword. Diplomacy was at an end, although Henry did try one further approach by writing a letter to the Dauphin on 28th July 1415:-

"We exhort you in the bowels of Jesus Christ to execute and do the thing the Evangelist teacheth, saying 'Friend, pay that that thou owest and restore that that thou wrongfully detainest'. And to the end that the blood of innocence be not spilt, we require due restitution of our rightful inheritance by you wrongfully witholden from us".

The dogs of war

Shakespeare has it that when embarking for France King Henry V cried out:-

"The signs of war advance,

No King of England, if not King of France."

In fact the signs of war had been obvious since the beginning of his reign, for Henry was a realist, and he well understood that the French would never concede a fraction of the demands that he had in mind. A war was inevitable, and he had prepared for it. The sheer size of his preparations was prodigious, because he had learnt in the Welsh wars that prior preparation, even down to the minutest detail, was essential to the successful prosecution of a war. Bows, bow-strings and arrows had been manufactured in huge quantities. The Sheriffs had been instructed to pluck 6 feathers from every goose in the land to ensure there would always be a plentiful supply for the arrows. Much of the equipment needed by each soldier would be provided by the soldier himself [Chapter ], but there were a mass of things which were beyond any individual's capacity to provide,  particularly as Henry foresaw correctly that there would be many more sieges than there would be battles. At the time, cannon were regarded as weapons more suitable for the siege than for the battlefield, and the smiths had worked day and night casting cannon in the foundries in the Tower and Bristol, and more cannon were purchased from abroad. Since there were not enough native English gunners, skilled German and Italian gunners were engaged. Cannon fired stone balls, or gun stones, and these had to be laboriously chiselled by masons so that they fitted the bore of the guns. So well did they do their work that 10, 000 were delivered to the Tower by the end of 1414. The gunpowder that they would need was stockpiled in quantities that would always secure an adequate supply. The more customary siege engines,  mangonals and trebuckets, which flung huge stones against the walls were assembled in prefabricated form for shipment and land-transport until they could be assembled in the place where they were needed. Towers for moving against the walls of a besieged city together with the rams for knocking down the masonry of the city wall were similarly prepacked, as were "sows", a form of moveable tunnel with a roof to protect the men who were digging at the foot of the city's wall. There would have to be mining, so miners and sappers were engaged, together with the vast quantities of timber, rope, picks and shovels that they would need. Pontoons for bridging rivers or waterways were not forgotten, and they too were manufactured for assembly at the scene of action. A medieval army usually lived off the countryside, but Henry was anxious to have an assured food supply and appointed the Mayor and Aldermen of the City of London and the Sheriffs of the counties as his purveyors. They responded nobly when called upon to do so, particularly at the siege of Rouen when provisions ran short. Ships were always a worry. At the time, Henry had no navy of any size, and there was always the danger of hostile interference with his transports. In any case, no medieval navy could have transported all his army and all that it would need from its own resources. Nearer the time, Henry requisitioned the ships he needed, depending upon the Royal Prerogative to require his own subjects to provide him with ships when he needed them. He even impressed foreign ships in English ports under the ancient right of angary, which allows a belligerent to require even neutral ships to perform in his service. In the event, his army was transported in Dutch, Venetian and Genoese ships as well as English. [Footnote:-These two rights still exist today. Of the merchant ships which accompanied the Falkland Islands Task-Force in 1982, half were requisitioned under the Royal Prerogative]. The whole provision was an outstanding feat of logistics which would tax the resources of even the Staff of a modern army, and Henry had either done it all himself, or had personally supervised others to see to it that they did it to the high standards on which he insisted.

Then came the men. The men were engaged by the indenture system, and themselves provided their personal equipment and armour [Chapter ]. Besides the English, the King could call upon his French subjects, and the Gascons in particular answered his call with enthusiasm. As each contingent tramped in to Southampton, it was checked by the Mustering Officers to see that each contract was fulfilled, and that each man had his weapons and equipment to the standards which the contract specified. It seems that Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, found himself in severe trouble for being short of two men-at-arms. It is always difficult to be certain of the numbers of a medieval army, but it seems that the rank and file who sailed to France numbered 2, 500 men-at-arms, 7, 000 archers, some of whom were mounted, 120 miners and 75 gunners. On top of this there were of course the King himself, 3 Royal Dukes, 8 Earls, 18, perhaps 19 Barons, and an unknown number of knights, Squires and Captains who were to serve as the officers.

There were other arrangements to be made as well to carry on the governance of the country during what promised to be a long absence of the King. John, Duke of Bedford, was appointed Regent of the Realm by an instrument which, in the customary manner, was signed by King Henry V only as he was on the point of embarkation. In John's hands was placed the responsibility for the civil government of the country and the task of defending it against the Scots who might be tempted to invade, against the Welsh who might see their chance of another rising, or against the French who could be expected to raid coastal towns. At the time, the higher nobility numbered 17, of whom two were mere boys and one was blind. The great majority of the remaining 14 went with the King to France, but some stayed behind to assist John to discharge these onerous responsibilities, among them Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester. John was not only a redoubtable soldier as he was later to prove, he was also a talented administrator who was to show time and again that the King had once again made an excellent choice.

Such an expedition cost a lot of money, and although both the Clergy and Parliament had been generous, more was still needed. King Henry V was used to raising money by pledging his personal possessions from the times of the Welsh wars. The Crown jewels were freely pledged, and some were not redeemed until the 1430s. Loans were raised, not always entirely voluntarily, by something akin to War Bonds.

The great Bishop of Winchester, who had the reputation of being somewhat acquisitive and who had an itchy palm, was induced by his nephew to advance huge sums, and at the time of King Henry V's death in 1422 was still owed the staggering sum of 35, 630 with but doubtful prospects of being repaid in full. There was every reason to suppose that, in time, the war would pay for itself. Henry had every intention of taxing his new subjects, and at the time of his death the taxation yield from Normandy alone was equal to 20% of that of England. The King had the right to 1/3 of all booty, and the right to any ransoms of Royal personages that may be captured. The security was felt to be there, even if it was distinctly prospective in nature. The feeling of the country was fully behind the war, and one way or another the necessary money was forthcoming.


Efficient and single minded as the preparations for the attack upon France had been from the King himself down to the rawest recruit in his ranks, there was a hitch which very nearly undid the whole enterprise. Considering the high popularity of King Henry V and the general support for his forthcoming war with France, it is surprising indeed that there should have been any plot against his life. What is even more surprising are the names of the people who took part in it.

On 1st August 1415, on the eve of sailing for France, Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March, demanded an audience with the King and had an alarming story to tell.Exactly what motivated Henry, Lord Scrope of Masham, Richard, Earl of Cambridge, and Sir Thomas Grey to enter into a plot to assassinate King Henry V and to denounce him by public proclamation as "Henry of Lancaster, Usurper of England" is not at all clear. Not even their confessions throw much light upon their reasons for such a dangerous undertaking. The lessons of the rebellion of 1400 should have been obvious to the plotters [page ], that an attempt to depose a popular monarch would be unlikely to find favour with the populace, and there can have been little reason to believe that the public would have found a successful attempt any more palatable. The popular supposition of the time, which has been adopted by some later writers, was that the plotters were bribed by the French, but there seems to be no evidence of this, and the confessions, which were full and seemingly frank, make no mention of the offer of French gold. Scrope may still have nursed a grudge that the House of Lancaster had beheaded his traitor uncle, Richard Scrope, Archbishop of York in 1405 [page ]. If so, he had bidden his time. Scrope had a long record of faithful service to Henry, both as Prince of Wales and as King, who had regarded him as one of his closest confidantes, and one of the few people who was really close to him. Scrope had been the Treasurer in 1410 and 1411 when Henry, as Prince of Wales, had ruled in place of his sick and incapacitated Father. He had since been engaged on a number of occasions in delicate business for Henry, and had even been named as one of the trustees of the King's will should he die during the French wars. Shakespeare's words of King Henry V's address to Scrope when the plot was unmasked give some indication of their relationship:-

"Ingrateful, savage and inhuman creature,

Thou, that didst bear the key of all my counsels,

That knewest the very bottom of my soul"

In religious matters Scrope, who was orthodox enough to loath the Lollards and all their doings, was something of a mystic. Who can say what motivates such men? His conscience may have been troubling him of late that Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March, was the rightful heir to the Throne and that he had been in the service of an usurper. This alone would have been enough to consign his immortal soul to eternal torment in Hell. Richard, Earl of Cambridge, was the younger brother of that arch-turncoat Edward, Duke of York,  without however his brother's ability to survive and prosper whatever way the wheel of fortune may have turned. His Countess, until her recent death, had been Anne Mortimer,  Edmund Mortimer's sister. The light of pure greed shines through his confession; with his former wife's brother on the Throne, who could say what limit there would have been to the riches he could expect. [Footnote:- Richard and Anne's 4 year old son, also Richard, became the Duke of York after his uncle's death on the battlefield of Agincourt. As head of the House of York, he was to play a huge part in the Wars of the Roses]. Sir Thomas Grey's motives are even more obscure, although it appears that marriage ties may have played some part. His eldest son was married to the daughter of The Earl and Countess of Cambridge, and Lady Grey's brother-in-law was the Earl of Northumberland; Henry Percy, Hotspur's son, had taken refuge in Scotland and was currently languishing in a Scottish prison, where he had no hope of being restored to his Earldom. On the other hand, Grey himself was the son-in-law of Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland, against whom there was no breath of disloyalty. However that may have been, Grey was a key figure in the conspiracy. Among the other factors of his considerable standing in the North of England, he was Constable of Bamborough and Norham Castles, and the conspirators may have had some hopes of winning Scotch support, perhaps even Scottish troops, by handing over these two important border fortresses.

The plot, hatched at various manor houses in the neighbourhood of Southampton, was as incompetent in its preparation as it was quixotic in its concept. Davy Howell, a distinguished and trusted Captain, was to hand over the Royal Castles in Wales to the Welsh who were said to be waiting to rise. It later turned out that Davy Howell had no knowledge of what was expected of him. Sir John Oldcastle and the Lollards, in spite of Scrope's loathing of them, were to raise the Welsh border country, while the Scots, tempted by the offer of the border castles, were to invade the north. It will never be known if Oldcastle, the Welsh, or the Scots had any greater knowledge than did Davy Howell, and it must be remembered that the rightful King of Scotland was still a prisoner in England [page ]. A further attempt was made to involve Lord Clifford, whose sister Maud was now the Countess of Cambridge. Clifford may have had some sympathy with his sister's husband and with Henry Percy, but he seems to have regarded the whole thing as being so absurd that he not only refused to become involved, he did not even raise the matter with the King.

The Conspirators had to involve the Earl of March, but they failed to realise one crucial factor. Edmund Mortimer,  although a pleasant, mild mannered, fairly gifted and easy going young man with a penchant for gambling and the company of lowly-born young ladies of doubtful virtue, was scarcely the stuff of which heroes were made. He lived in mortal terror of his cousin the King, who had recently read him a stern lecture against becoming involved in politics and had backed it up with a large "fine"which Edmund had had to pay. Scrope had recently been to see him with a furious complaint about the involvement of the Lollards, saying that if they took part the plot was bound to fail. After a few days of agonised contemplation, he went to the King and revealed all.

King Henry V was a decisive man, and he struck at once. If he felt any grief that such men as Lord Scrope should betray him at this important hour, he could not give way to feelings of nostalgia, or allow the memories of past comradeship to intervene; nor for that matter could he show any mercy. The three men were immediately arrested, and all three boldly admitted their guilt. They were tried and executed without any delay. Then, without a backward glance, Henry turned his attention once again to the matter in hand, the invasion of France.

Copyright Michael D. Miller 2003