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

Michael D. Miller

Chapter 21: England's Position in 1422

 

The start of the troubles leading to the Wars of the Roses

As is explained in the Introduction to this work a long, perhaps a very lengthy, period of uneasy peace will often precede the outbreak of the fighting in a civil war. As is also explained, [pages ]this period needs to be studied if any real understanding is to be gained of the conflict itself. People do certain things, think certain thoughts, act in certain ways, engage in certain policies, become parties to plots, indulge their jealousies, undertake acts of revenge or violence, pursue their rivalries, commit betrayals, make and break promises, conduct themselves wisely or unwisely, are promoted or demoted, attach or detach themselves to or from factions, and all of these are part and parcel of the the civil war in the sense that the causes and reasons for it are contained therein. Once this is accepted, there is a strong case for taking 1399 as the start-date of the Wars of the Roses. Then the rightful King Richard II was deposed, for good reason perhaps, but still deposed and, as some said, an usurper took his place in a way that violated the sacrosanct principle of hereditary succession to the Throne. Any consequences of this violation were long delayed by the extraordinary feat of the first two Lancastrian Kings, Henry IV and his son Henry V, in establishing themselves in the hearts and minds of their subjects. It was not until King Henry V died in 1422 and was succeeded by his own son, a mere babe in arms, that the malicious factors went to work which led to the out-break of the Wars,  Only on 22nd May 1455 was fought the first battle, the 1st battle of St Albans. It is necessary to be certain what happened between 1399 and 1422, and between 1422 and 1455.

The House of Lancaster

The great achievement of the first two Lancastrian Kings, Henry IV and Henry V, was their acceptance by the people over whom they ruled. At King Henry V's death, the House of Lancaster was firmly seated on the Throne and it enjoyed enormous popularity with its subjects, nobles and commons alike. The only claimant to the Throne who had a better title, Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March, had shown no inclination to press his claim, but had himself acted as a loyal and dependable subject. Even a King as severe as Henry V, who was most insistent on loyalty, could recognise this. England enjoyed a degree of prosperity and peace such as it had rarely known before. Men and women were born, lived, raised their families and died in an atmosphere of fair and just rule by their Sovereign. With good reason, they had feared the tyranny of King Richard II. His two successors had ruled in accordance with the law of the land and, whilst they did not always see eye-to-eye with their Parliaments, they did not attempt to intimidate or browbeat them. Trade flourished, and men grew rich. By 1422, piracy had been largely put down at sea, and brigandage had mostly been suppressed on land. There was no fighting among the Great Nobles, and the country-side was not ravaged by their marauding armies. The Scots and the Welsh were quiet, and the Lollards had received a severe warning not to attempt any dangerous rebellions. The taxes were heavy, but Parliament could be relied upon to see that they did not reach ruinous levels, and to protect the people against expropriation. The Wars in France had created a national pride in the military prowess of their race. In short, there was much for which to be thankful.

 

The financial position of England in 1422

Those that have read Chapter will appreciate that the annual revenues of England were only just sufficient to meet the expenses of running the country in peacetime, and then only with the most careful economy. There was simply nothing left over to finance foreign adventures. These revenues were supplemented by taxation, but taxation could only be granted by Parliament and the two Convocations of Canterbury and York. These three separate bodies, which governed the taxation of the Laity and the Clergy respectively, were not as niggardly as is often suggested. When persuaded of the need, they could be most generous. Nobody likes paying taxes, but they frequently overcame this reluctance to vote the Crown considerable sums of money, even though there was a general feeling that 'the King should live of his own'. [For the meaning of this expression-see pages ] There are limits to all taxation, and the principle ones are the depth of the taxpayer's pocket, and thus of his ability to pay, and also of his willingness to do so. Parliament and the Convocations would have been failing in their duties if they did not have regard to these limitations.

War needs soldiers, and soldiers are very expensive. When engaged in soldiering, soldiers contribute little to the countries wealth. To call upon them to go a-soldiering means their normal contribution to the country's economy in peacetime is lost with a corresponding loss to the countries tax base. They also have to be paid, which means they take from the country's economy rather than contribute to it. At the time, archers were paid 6d a day and men-at-arms 1/=. This was excellent by the standards of the civil market, where the most that a skilled carpenter could expect was 5d a day. To maintain an army in the field of 6000 archers and 3000 men-at-arms, surely a minimal requirement for what King Henry V had in mind, meant an annual wages bill of 109, 500 for their pay alone, not to mention all the other things an army needs. Since the annual revenue of England was about 100, 000 in a good year, these figures need no further comment, except to say that the normal civil expenses of the Nation, which are explored in Chapter , still had to be met, war or no war. The probability is that the soldiers pay was often in arrears (perhaps indeed they were never paid),  and they therefore took to plundering. This medieval tradition, which was more honoured in the observance rather than the breach, can have done little to endear English rule to England's new French subjects.

King Henry V took to borrowing, a proceeding to which he was no stranger, to make up the difference between what was available to him and what he needed, but even this was not enough to meet his expenses. When he died, even the expenses of the Agincourt campaign had not been fully paid for. Many of the Crown jewels were pledged as security, and some were not fully redeemed until the 1430s. The Crown owed massive debts to private individuals. Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester, alone was owed more than 35, 000, a colossal sum for the time. It must have seemed very doubtful if he would ever be re-paid in full. This was no doubt true of many others as well, and also of cities, guilds and other groups. [It would seem that by his death in 1447 the Bishop had been repaid in full except for some trifling sums. How much of this was due to any writing off of his loans is hard to say]

There seems to be no extant list of the Crown's debts in 1422, and no serious attempt was made to draw up a balance-sheet showing the countries assets and liabilities; this was not attempted until 1433 [page ]. Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, was the Lord Protector of England, even if the Council saw to it that this position did not mean very much, [Chapter ] and he was not the man to interest himself in figures. The Chancellor, Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester was the effective head of the home-Government and John, Duke of Bedford, was the Regent in France. Both men had the names of being careful and conscientious administrators. As such, it seems impossible that they were not aware of the countries financial position even if only in general terms. There were a mound of unpaid debts with little hope of paying them, certainly in the short term. It was true that some of the conquered lands would, in time,  produce a handsome tax yield of their own. During the English occupation, Normandy alone yielded an amount equal to 20% of the total annual English revenues. But in 1422, many of the conquered lands were devastated, and devastated land will yield little income by way of tax. It would take time to them to recover sufficiently to pay the sort of tax yield for which King Henry V was hoping, perhaps a lot of time.

What does come down to us, perhaps seen through a glass darkly, is that the country was well on the way to insolvency by 1422. Realistically, England's credit was not worth very much. In short, in the adventure of the Conquest of France, England was engaged in an effort she could not hope to sustain. It was even questionable if she could hold onto what she already had.

The Conquest of France

When King Henry V launched his war in France he was guilty of a fundamental error in belief. He firmly believed that his new French subjects would readily accept the justice of his claim to the Throne of France, and would in time come to accept his rule as well.

This error undoubtedly lay in thinking that the old feudal bonds were as strong in the 15th-century as they had been in the 12th- and 13th-centuries. During these earlier centuries, the structure of society was very much simpler than it was in his own time. Then men and women were bound to their immediate lord, and even if he was in turn bound to a greater lord, they tended to think of him as the fount of all temporal authority. There was of course a King to whom all owed allegiance, but he was a distant and remote figure whom they rarely, if ever, saw. He lived in London or Paris which few in the community had ever seen. Few people travelled beyond the place of their birth, and some were bound to the lands on which they had been born. In these earlier times, winning over the Lord meant winning over the people as well. They cared little who was their King so long as he kept the peace, did not tax them too heavily, and left them alone to get on with their lives. Their immediate Lord was the one whom they regarded as authority. It was thus of no particular significance to them that during these earlier centuries, people living in what is now western and northern France were living under English rule. Normandy was William The Conqueror's own Dukedom, and many parts of western France had come to the English Crown as part of Eleanor of Acquitaine's dowry when she married the English King Henry II. They were largely content with English rule, and were not too concerned when their provinces became part of France and were thus ruled by the French King. In fact, by the start of the Hundred Years War in 1337, the English domains in France had shrunk to Bordeaux,  Gascony, Guienne, and a substantial part of South-Western France, although a toe-hold in Calais was afterwards added.

People's perceptions of the Society in which they lived had changed over the years between these earlier centuries and the 15th-century, and even if the changes were only slowly understood, they still made themselves felt. Times were different to what they had earlier been. The cataclysm of the Black Death in the 1340s contributed as much as anything else to the break-up of feudal society and the feudal way of life, even if its effects were slow to make themselves apparent. In both England and France the Royal Power began to assert itself more and make itself more apparent. [This is discussed in greater detail in the introduction to this work. Whilst its comments are restricted to England, many of the same factors were at work in France as well]

Even if at the start of the 15-century, nationalism had not taken on the full and at times most unattractive aspects with which we are familiar today, there was nevertheless the feeling, and the pride, that the English tended to think of themselves as the English, and the French tended to think of themselves as the French. When King Henry V made his claim to the Throne and Crown of France, [page ]

he based it on a medieval legal view which was in itself feudal by nature. If God accepted it (on this he had no doubt whatever) then so must the French people. It would be unfair to blame Henry for basing his claim on principles which had held sway for many centuries and would do so for some time to come, even if in a much modified form, but it would be fair to accuse him of failing to realise that the feudal view no longer had the grip of peoples minds that it had once had. He ignored, and possibly did not even understand, that the French in the 15th-century were making great strides to becoming a nation, faster perhaps than the English themselves, and certainly faster than their immediate neighbours, the Germans, the Dutch, the Italians and the Spaniards. Again, Henry did not grasp that the French, like the English, were emerging from the feudal era, and in doing so were abandoning its concepts. The French Kings may have ruled abominably for most of the time. Their political leaders may have engaged in squabbles as fatuous as they were lethal. The land may have suffered grievously from their marauding armies. But they were still French, and not even the better rule which the English promised them, and to some extent provided under the wise head and careful hand of John, Duke of Bedford when he was Regent of France, had much appeal for them.

The quality of rule is not however the determining factor. If people feel that they are a recognisable people in the ethnic sense, they are not likely to be content with an alien rule, but are more probably going to insist on their own rule however obvious its failings may be. Empires are perfectly possible, provided that the subject population consents, even if grudgingly. When that consent is withdrawn politically, then the Empire cannot, in the ultimate, continue. It may be a long time before it withers and dies, and it may be prolonged by military repression or the apparatus of the modern police state, but in the end it is certain to pass away.

The French have never liked the English, even before there were the present causes for the antipathy they have acquired over later centuries. Eustache Deschamps writing in the 14-century of England and the English had this to say:-

"Poltroons, cowards, skulkers and dastards."

and:-

"England, the heart of a rabbit in the body of a lion,

"The jaws of a serpent, in an abode of popinjays".

In the light of such scathing denunciation, the views of Julius Caesar Scalinger, although they date form the 16-century, can be taken to reflect the views of the 15th-

"The perfidious, haughty, savage, disdainful, stupid, slothful,

inhospitable, inhuman English."

[The Book of Insults by Nancy McPhee 1978]

Northern France had been devastated by the war. From the accounts given, the reader may be excused for thinking that only a few castles and towns had been knocked about, and would soon be repaired. The truth was far grimmer. Henry's policy of ferocity on campaign, and of dispatching parties to raid and destroy deep into enemy-held territory had laid waste large areas of the country-side. Terrified of the English, much of the population had fled before their armies, and many never returned. Some contemporary writers have been mentioned but there are many others, notably Georges Chastellain, and they all tell much the same story. The nobility and the gentry, the backbone of the country and the infra-structure of its government, had left and did not wish to return. Once prosperous people, on whose entreprenurial skills any economy depends, had fled taking their skills with them. Some set up in business in their new homes

and prospered there, whilst others preferred to take up any menial employment rather than return to English occupied territory. Once rich and important cities, where many could find employment, were now little more than ruins. The land was under populated, and was thus untilled and under productive. The forests were full of bandits, the riff-raff of any war, common criminals, English and French deserters, ruined men of every class, and these preyed upon the country people and made travel unsafe. Wolves were to be found in great numbers, and they made the cultivation of both land and beasts a hazardous occupation. Later, under the gifted administration of John, Duke of Bedford, the ravaged lands did recover some degree of their previous prosperity. The Normans in particular had an admiration bordering on fondness for him and his just and fair ways. It was not enough however, and never would be enough, to reconcile the French people to English rule.

If the French have never liked the English, in the 15th-century they had every reason to loath them. The country was garrisoned by English soldiers who had enlisted for pay and plunder, and these they intended to have. Their pay, in theory excellent, was in practise hopelessly in arrears because there was never the money to pay them. A soldier who has weapons in his hands is not going to go hungry simply because he cannot afford to pay for his meal, but he took things further than this. There may have been peace in the immediate neighbourhood, but in the eyes of the soldiers this did not inhibit them from taking anything they fancied. If the owners resisted, they were savagely beaten and sometimes killed. It is always a mistake to garrison conquered territory with young front-line soldiers, whose training and instincts are for daring and dangerous action. For garrison duty, it is usually better to rely on older men of greater understanding and tact, and to make sure that they are properly fed and regularly paid. When he was alive, King Henry V, and after his death John, Duke of Bedford, and their subordinate commanders, did all they could to keep their men in order and see that they behaved, but as long as the soldiers went unpaid, it was a hopeless task. It has been said, with much truth, that Henry's soldiers won his war and lost his peace.

The English settlers who came from home and the English soldiers who took their discharge and settled in France did nothing to help matters. Arrogant and contemptuous of the conquered French whilst enjoying their new properties, which had been taken from dispossessed Frenchmen, they behaved as beggars on horseback always behave, and caused much resentment. English officials, from the highest to the lowest, were noted for their icy contempt of the despised foreigner. It is an open question whether the men or their womenfolk were worse in this regard. On their own they did much to ensure that reconciliation between the two races never had a chance to take root and flourish. The Burgundians, the allies of the English, suffered in the same way. They too were constantly reminded that they were mere Frenchmen, and some of them began to wonder who they disliked more, their Dauphinist (Armagnac) political enemies or their allies who were supposed to give them protection. After Bedford's death in 1435, they changed sides, and this alone did as much as anything else to expel the English from France.

There have been instances where a foreign conquest and subsequent foreign rule have managed to make themselves acceptable, but this can only come about where there is a substantial degree of integration between conquerors and conquered, and this in turn will only happen where there is a substantial amount of intermarriage. Of necessity, this can only be a very slow process. The Norman conquest imposed some hated Norman Lords upon a sullen and resentful Saxon population. It took nearly 300 years for Norman and Saxon to sink their differences sufficiently to think of themselves as English. During that time, they had been through much together. Norman knights and Saxon rank and file had served together in the Crusades, particularly the successful 1st Crusade, [1095-1099] and later on substantial numbers had served together under King Richard 1 in the 3rd Crusade in the late 12th-century, where they had fought, suffered, gone hungry and thirsty, and died together. Both had taken part in the struggles which lead to Magna Carta [1215] and the establishment of Parliament in the second half of the 13th-century. There had been much to join them rather than to perpetuate their differences. Even though the differences had not entirely disappeared by then, it was an English army which had routed the French at the Battle of Crecy in 1346, and it fought under the banner of an English King. It did not matter that the armoured knights were generally of Norman stock and the archers sprang, in general, from Saxon forebears. They thought of themselves as English, and therein lay their pride.

There may have been every hope and expectation in King Henry V's mind for believing that his conquest would last for ever, and every reason, perhaps with hindsight, for saying that it was most unlikely to have done so. There was no reason to suppose that 300 years would be granted to the process he set in motion, and still less reason to suppose that the bonding influences which had worked so well between Norman and Saxon would work their alchemy between English and French. Even if England had been in a position to sustain the military effort, his enterprise was, in the long term, and possibly even in the short term, almost certainly doomed to end in costly failure. 

The Public Mood

In 1422, there were few who appreciated that England was in not in a financial position to sustain the military effort, and even fewer who could comprehend that she was engaged in a project which would most probably, sooner or later, end in failure. One of these was Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester, who was King Henry V's old tutor. The Bishop was a highly intelligent man of enormous experience in government, having held a number of high government offices during the whole of Henry's reign, and even during the reign of his father. Another would have been John, Duke of Bedford, a talented and experienced administrator, who was the Regent in France. He was in daily contact with the French, and would have been well appraised of the French view of affairs, and of their dislike of what they regarded as alien rule which had resulted from what they thought of as their recent humiliations on the battle-field. Neither should have been under any illusions that the conquest of France, which had been bequeathed to them by the dying King, was an idea which was almost bereft of hope.

Such men were however the exception, and the chief devotee of further military conquest was Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, the Lord Protector of England, a boisterous individual on whom the Bishop was supposed to keep an eye and exercise a guiding hand. Military success has a glamour of its own with an especial appeal. All may recognise, particularly those who have experienced it at first hand,

that war is a hideous and beastly business which has been described as the ultimate obscenity. At the same time, there can be few who do not rejoice in the success of their nations arms, and it would indeed have been a dull fellow who did not take pleasure and pride in the splendid victory of Agincourt and of the subsequent successes of the English soldiers. The English returned in ample measure the dislike the French harboured for them, and to it they added the fatal error of contempt. Was not one English soldier equal to any two Frenchmen, or was it three, or five, or perhaps ten? Even the disaster of Bauge 1421 [page ] could be source of pride, for who could fail to admire the spirit and dash of Thomas, Duke of Clarence and the English cavalry?

All this was of course nonsense as events during the 15th-century were to show. It would be wrong to chide our ancestors with not having heard of the much later dictum of Napoleon, who of all men was in a position to know, that there are no bad soldiers, only bad officers. Once the French had organised their military properly, a very different picture was to emerge. In 1422 however, the average Englishman viewed the French as easy prey, and it only needed effort to subjugate them and keep a hated race in its proper place. Added to this, had not the hero King, King Henry V, decreed on his death-bed that the conquest was to continue until full and final success was achieved? To counsel any other course would be treachery to his sacred name, and that had scant appeal to anyone who called himself an Englishman.

Political impossibilities

To those who in 1422 gave serious thought to the position, it must have been apparent that the time had come for diplomacy to consolidate the position in a permanent peace settlement which went beyond the Treaty of Troyes 1420. Even though some of the Treaty's gains might have to be surrendered, and the project of the Conquest of France abandoned, there was the real hope that considerable territorial gains and, just possibly, the right of succession to the Crown of France would be retained. It was of course very questionable if they could be held in perpetuity for the reasons explored earlier in this Chapter, but who could know then and who could say today? The impossible has been achieved with sustained effort however unpromising the initial aspect, and it might just have been achieved with a period of peace to reconcile the English King's new French subjects to his rule, however unlikely this may have initially appeared. If the English had their difficulties, those of the French were immeasurably greater, and they were in a very weak position indeed. They had no recognisable leaders, but they did have a wholesome fear of the Burgundians. Philip-the-Good, Duke of Burgundy, whose father had been murdered by the Dauphinists in 1419 [page ] may, as a Frenchman, have had no particular liking for the English, but he had good reason for a reciprocal fear of all Frenchmen of other parties. He had a current and pressing need for his English allies. It should not have been too difficult to assure England of his immediate alliance, however unreliable he might prove to be as an ally in the long term. By keeping the Burgundians and Dauphinists at loggerheads, a promising possibility, English diplomats, with a position of present military strength behind them, could have achieved much. How long any settlement would have lasted is an open question, and England's difficulties with her new territories would have been immense, but at least she would have been relieved, for a time at any rate, of everlasting war.

Herein lay a series of difficulties. Who was to formulate the policy and dispatch an embassy with suitable instructions? Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester, the Chancellor of the Realm and the dominant force on the Council, is described by many historians as the leader of the peace party. This may well have been so, as he was one of the few people who was in a position to know the true state of affairs and who had the intellectual capacity to grasp them. Yet as the story of the War in France unfolds, the question which arises is whether Henry Beaufort was as committed to the cause of peace, either in 1422 or in later years, as he is said to have been. He does not appear to have pressed any such views with the force of which he was capable. A certain hesitancy is noticeable in his dealings on the subject of peace with the two surviving brothers of King Henry V, John, Duke of Bedford, the Regent of France, with whom he had cordial and intimate relations, and Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, who soon made it clear that he was opposed to Henry Beaufort on any issue, regardless of its merits. In later years, particularly at the Congress of Arras 1435 and the Oye Conference 1439,  [pages ] Henry Beaufort was to betray a measure of muddled thinking and indecisiveness. The muddled thinking made it impossible for him to see the wood for the trees, and the indecisiveness lead to his failure, on both occasions, to see and thus to grasp the opportunities to reach an advantageous settlement as he could easily have done. If he really was a firm advocate of peace, then his lack of persistence in pressing home his views is all the more remarkable.

Henry Beaufort did have his problems. As Chancellor, he did not have the authority to dispatch an embassy on his own initiative, and any attempt to engage in secret diplomacy would soon have come to light. The only person with such authority was the King himself, and during his minority the Regent, and here, quite apart from personalities, the arrangements made by the dying King Henry V posed an obstacle. Whether Philip-the-Good, Duke of Burgundy, was ever offered the Regency of France is not clear, [page ]but the office was certainly held by John, Duke of Bedford from 1422 until his death in 1435. The proper place for John was in London as Regent of England. The dying King was unwilling to humiliate Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, by excluding him from government entirely, although he was well aware of the many flaws in Humphrey's character. He therefore became Lord Protector of England, although subordinate to John. The Council did much to keep Humphrey in check, although it seemed reluctant to undo all that the dying Henry had done on his deathbed. [pages ] These somewhat unclear arrangements made by the dying King left in some doubt who was the effective Regent of England, although John was undoubtedly Regent of France and senior to Humphrey. This could, and should, have been resolved by the Council, and principally by Henry Beaufort, immediately after King Henry V's death, but here again he betrayed a degree of fumbling hesitation and indecisiveness. Whilst willing to take the lead in reducing Humphrey's influence in Affairs of State during King Henry VI's minority, [page ]there was a curious unwillingness to confront Humphrey on the issue of who should be the Head of State before the infant King came of age to rule himself. Even after Humphrey had proved that he was quite unfit to take any part whatever in government, Henry Beaufort initiated no move by the Council to appoint John as Regent of both England and France.

Even supposing this difficulty had been resolved, and the Regency of both countries entrusted to the wise and capable John, there were still enormous difficulties. Public opinion was still very much in favour of the war's continuance, and much persuasion would have been required to persuade the man and woman in the street that peace was the preferable alternative. Humphrey's influence may have been reduced in the Council, but he was the sworn enemy of Henry Beaufort, and his enormous popularity with the common people would have lead him to seek to undo, possibly successfully,  anything that Henry might have attempted in the way of persuasion. The greatest difficulty of all however lay with John.

John, Duke of Bedford, though a thoughtful man without any of the difficulties of character possessed by his brother Humphrey, was fiercely loyal to the memory of his dead brother King Henry V. If that King had said the conquest must continue, then John would have regarded himself as bound to follow this course however unwise he may have thought it to be. To him, it was a matter of integrity; he had given the dying King a promise, and he would do his best to carry it out. Men of integrity are rare in any age and as such are to be valued, but they do have one fault; they are apt to become very blinkered, and thus fail to see the greater issues. So it was with John.

It is easy to be critical of Henry Beaufort, and this section does not hesitate to criticise him freely. The difficulties of advocating that peace should be sought in 1422 (and for some years afterwards), even if he did feel that peace was necessary, were so enormous that, although the stage was very favourable in 1422, he may well have concluded that it was politically impossible even to raise the subject.

Only a King, at least as strong in character as King Henry IV, or King Henry V had he been so minded, could have compelled his subjects to look reality in the face and accept that that such a settlement was required, and there-after have ridden out the political storm which was bound to follow. This could have included attempts at assassination or another kind of coup by those discontented with a policy of this nature. It would have been a very fraught situation, and heads would have had to roll, perhaps literally. The King would have to take care that his was not among them.

In England in 1422 there was no such King. The rightful Monarch, King Henry VI was a babe in arms, just a few months old. A settlement by diplomacy may have been regarded by some as highly desirable, but it was not possible to make the necessary moves. The conquest, with all its portents for a dreadful failure, was set to continue.

Copyright Michael D. Miller 2003