Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Before Agincourt

In France an intermittent civil war, punctuated by truces, had been going on since 1407 between the Burgundians and the Orleanist faction that later became known as the Armagnacs. King Charles VI had suffered from bouts of insanity since 1392, and his relatives feuded over who would control France while he was incapacitated. Simmering for some time, the rivalry between Burgundy and Orleans became openly violent when the king’s nephew, John the Fearless, duke of Burgundy, had the king’s brother, Louis, duke of Orleans, assassinated in Paris November 23, 1407.

The two factions bid against each other for English support. Negotiations began between the English and the Burgundians and the Burgundians offered sufficiently attractive terms that an English army supported the Burgundians in breaking the blockade of Paris at the battle of St. Cloud on November 9, 1411.

The desperate Orleanists offered even better terms, and in May of 1412 the English agreed to support them. In August the English launched an expedition to Normandy under the duke of Clarence. Clarence arrive in Normandy only to discover that the French factions had made temporary peace while he was en route, and had to content himself with extracting promises of a large indemnity to depart, some in cash and with hostages as surety for the rest.

Around this time the earl of Warwick did much destruction on the frontiers of Calais, burning Samer and taking Wissant by storm.

Afterwards, he held a deed of arms at Calais beginning the twelfth day of Christmas.

James I, king of Scots, had been captured by English pirates in 1406, and delivered to the English crown. He would not be ransomed until 1424.

Murdoch Stewart, Duke of Albany, grandson of Robert II of Scotland, had been captured at the battle of Homildon Hill in 1402. He would remain an English prisoner until 1416, when he would be traded for Henry Percy, second earl of Northumberland, son of Henry “Hotspur” Percy


Henry V was crowned king of England April 9, 1413.

In the spring of 1413 a popular revolt encouraged by the duke of Burgundy took control of the city of Paris and the persons of the king and dauphin for several months. Called the Cabochien revolt after one of their leaders, Simon Caboch of the wealthy but low-status guild of butchers, they wore white hoods as livery. The Burgundian knights Leon de Jacqueville and Robert de Mailly were also described by Monstrelet and the monk of saint-Denys as leaders of the revolt.

Orleanist ministers and servants in the royal households, as well as Paris burghers of the Orleans faction, were imprisoned, murdered and executed.

By July, the Duke of Orleans and his allies were gathering their forces and pressing for the release of the King, Quean and Dauphin. King Charles VI was described as then being ‘in good health”.

Around this time the English took, plundered and burnt the small town and monastery of Treport in Normandy.

Cabochien brutality had alienated potential supporters within Paris, and the Orleans party was accumulating powerful forces outside the city.

By the middle of September the duke of Burgundy and most of his supporters had left Paris and the Orleans faction was in control of the city and the royal court.

In September an embassy from England, led by the earl of Warwick and Henry Chichele, bishop of St. Davids, met at Leulinghen, halfway between Calais and Boulogne with ambassadors for the French king, but were only able to agree on an eight month truce.

By November 14, 1413, the duke of Burgundy had been accused of raising troops in breach of royal proclamations.


Oldcastle's Lollard revolt was intended to begin with an attack on the king at Twelfth Night at Eltham palace. Forewarned by spies and informers, the king crushed the revolt, which seems to have had little support, on January 10th. Seventy or eighty were captured and 45 executed. On March 28 the king offered a general pardon to all rebels who submitted before midsummer.

On January 24th the truce with France was extended through February 2nd, 1415.

January 26th, the Armagnacs issued a summons for a French army to assemble against the Duke of Burgundy, who was marching on Paris with 2,000 men, having left Lille on the 23rd.

February 3rd Beauchamp was appointed captain of Calais.

In February, the duke of Burgundy retreated from his position outside Paris.

The English Parliament met at Leicester April 30th.

The King received envoys from both the Burgundians and Armagnacs at Leicester between April and June. Several embassies were also sent to Paris in April, May and July-August.

In May, the Armagnacs invaded the Burgundian territory of Artois, taking and plundering Soissons with brutality that was remarkable by contemporary standards. Monstrelet reports that English fought on both sides in the assault.

The Armagnacs besieged Arras without success in June. The count d'Eu and Lord Montagu did arms in the mines.

In September John of Burgundy signed the peace treaty of Arras

October 20th, Beauchamp was appointed an envoy to the Council of Constance, and he had reached the city no later than January of 1415.

In November Parliament met again, and at that point it was clear the Henry V was prepared to go to war with Parliament’s support if his claims were not met.

On December 13, John de Clifford asked the king to order John Neville, warden of the Marches, to be present at a combat between him and William Douglas of Drumlanrig at Carlisle. Safe conduct was granted for Douglas “to him and six persons chosen by him, attended by eighty horsemen, to go to Carlisle, to perform certain feats of arms before judges, against Sir John de Clifford and six persons of his nomination”.

The combat was accomplished some time before the safe conduct expired on February 15, 1415. It seems to have been a series of single combats.

Douglas had visited England several times earlier as part of Scottish embassies to negotiate the release of King James and a truce with England.


In February, an English embassy visited Paris, but the French were unwilling to agree to Henry’s demands. Portuguese men-at-arms, who were English allies, were with the English and fought four different challenges against the French at that time, but no English did. It seems likely that it was English policy not to seek or accept such combats, either to avoid hampering the diplomatic effort, or because the English wanted to husband their resources for the expected war.

In February Henry was also preparing for war by impressing tentmakers and seamen.

In March he sent to Holland and Zeeland to hire ships.

On April 11, he gave orders to seize all English and foreign ships above twenty tons.

On April 16 the king’s chancellor declared to his council the king’s intent to make a voyage to recover his inheritance.

On April 24th, it was announced that the truce with France was extended to June 8.

In June, a final embassy from France arrived in England, but was a failure. The French offered an enlarged Aquitaine, marriage with Catherine of France and a dowry of 800,000 francs, but Henry demanded Normandy, Anjou, Touraine, Poitou, Maine and Ponthieu in addition.

On April 29, the king ordered his treasurer to pay wages to various retinues, and had indentures drafted for several retinues for the expedition.

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