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

Early in June 1418 Henry V joined his army at Bec-Hellouin and advanced to the Eure. On 8 June the English crossed the river and laid siege to Louviers from both banks. Louviers was the last walled town of the Eure before it flowed into the Seine. It was a place of some strength, defended by a circuit of high modern walls and a triple line of ditches and manned by a Burgundian garrison. But their resistance lasted little more than a week. The English filled in the moat, undermined the walls and battered the town with artillery. The defenders launched several courageous sorties in an attempt to silence the English batteries. They made effective use of their own artillery, shooting projectiles into the English lines, one of which narrowly missed the King. But by the middle of June several breaches had been made and the besiegers began to prepare an assault. The townsmen, terrified of a sack, forced the garrison to negotiate a conditional surrender agreement. Its terms allowed a brief interval for relief. But with the government in chaos in Paris there was no prospect of that. Louviers punctually opened its gates on 23 June and submitted to the English King’s mercy. But Henry was not merciful. The surrender of Louviers opened a new and harsher phase of the English conquest. He refused to pardon the captain of the town, who had previously been captain of Bayeux and had sworn not to serve against him again. He hanged eight gunners of the garrison in retaliation for the casualties that they had inflicted. He imposed an indemnity of 8,000 écus on the inhabitants.

One of the men who was present to witness the scene was Cardinal Orsini. He had come into the English camp under safe-conduct to explore the possibilities of a negotiated peace. Orsini disapproved of Henry’s brutality (he protested against the execution of the gunners), and he was taken aback by the King’s obvious determination to press on with the conquest of Normandy. His report must have made gloomy reading when he returned to Paris. Henry had told him that his victories represented the will of God, who had sent him into France to chastise its sinful inhabitants. The visible disintegration of the country under its current rulers was proof of the justice of his claims. The Cardinal concluded that the King’s military position was so strong that for the moment any attempt at negotiation was doomed. The advance of the English seemed to be unstoppable. On 27 June the first contingents of Henry’s army reached the Seine at Pont-de-l’Arche.

Pont-de-l’Arche was a walled town on the south bank of the Seine. It was important mainly for its famous stone bridge of twenty-four arches, the only one between Rouen and Vernon. The bridge was fortified at both ends. It was defended by the river gate on the town side and by a great circular keep built on an island by the opposite bank of the river. The whole had been constructed by Philip Augustus in 1209 as part of a scheme of fortification designed to secure control of the lower valley of the Seine after the expulsion of the Angevin kings of England. When the English appeared before Pont-de-l’Arche in June 1418 the defence of Upper Normandy was in disarray. Robert de Braquemont had struggled on as royal lieutenant in the province even though he had been stripped of his office as Admiral of France by the triumphant Burgundians and many of the towns and garrisons for which he was responsible had repudiated the government which had appointed him. Braquemont was a good strategist. He realised that the only hope of holding Normandy was to keep the English south of the Seine, a broad, fast-flowing river which was the only practicable line of defence. He had therefore made no attempt to rescue Louviers and concentrated all his efforts on saving Pont-de-l’Arche. He had been remarkably successful in uniting the Normans of both allegiances behind this enterprise. At the beginning of June he had persuaded twenty-five walled towns of Normandy to enter into a treaty under which they had agreed to a limited measure of military cooperation regardless of party allegiance. He had also succeeded in raising a substantial field army from the towns and nobility of the province. About 1,000 men had been put into Pont-de-l’Arche under the command of Jean Malet de Graville, a firm Orléanist then at the outset of a long and famous military career. In addition there were about 2,000 men stationed on the north bank to stop the English trying to bridge the river or cross it by boat, and another 800 held in reserve ten miles away at the castle of Étrepagny. Braquemont’s reward was to be dismissed just as the English were approaching the town and denounced as a traitor in the streets of Paris.

He was replaced by an ardent Burgundian partisan, the lord of Chastellux, one of the Burgundian captains responsible for the capture of Paris, who had recently been made a Marshal of France by a grateful Queen. He arrived to take command just in time to witness the collapse of the French position on the Seine. In the early hours of 4 July 1418 the English succeeded in crossing the river. They had occupied a large island in the middle of the stream opposite the suburban abbey of Bonport, where they concentrated a large force under the command of Sir John Cornwall. About half a mile upstream another English force set up a noisy diversion. While the French moved the bulk of their forces along the riverbank to confront them, Cornwall silently crossed from the island in eight small boats assembled from wicker frames and animal skins. He was accompanied by his fifteen-year-old son and about sixty men. They brought with them a single horse and some small artillery pieces. There was a fight at the water’s edge, where a small number of French troops had been left to guard the bank. The alarm went up. But it was too late. By the time that the rest of the French force had returned to meet the new threat another 1,000 English had made the crossing in relays. When the sun rose Cornwall had established a secure bridgehead on the right bank. The Duke of Clarence crossed the river during the morning with another 4,000 men, about half the army. A strong French counter-attack was beaten off. The English could now invest both ends of the bridge and seal off the town. Their engineers began to assemble a pontoon bridge made of timber and hide which had been manufactured in sections in England and brought to the siege lines from Harfleur.

Chastellux’s army broke up before his eyes. Most of the men had been drawn from the garrisons of Rouen and other towns. With the English across the Seine their first priority was to defend their own walls. Inside Pont-de-l’Arche Jean Malet and his garrison recognised defeat. They sent parlementaires into the English camp and two days after the crossing, on 6 July, a conditional surrender was agreed. They promised to submit on 20 July unless by then the place had been relieved by the King of France or the Dauphin in person. Malet sent messengers to the Duke of Burgundy, accompanied by a delegation from the city of Rouen, bearing the terms of the surrender agreement and a desperate appeal for relief. With them rode an English herald. His mission was to call on John the Fearless to declare whether he intended to honour his treaty of neutrality with Henry V.

On 11 July 1418, they found John the Fearless at Provins, preoccupied with the preparations for his return to Paris. Everything there was in confusion. The Queen’s administration was in the process of being transferred from Troyes. All the principal officers of state and many senior officials and judges in Paris were being replaced by creatures of the Duke of Burgundy in the face of sullen obstruction from the civil service. The Parlement, which been in the forefront of the resistance, had been suspended and remained closed for six weeks while its personnel were purged. For the moment the operations of government were paralysed. On 14 July the Duke of Burgundy entered Paris with much ceremony by the Porte Saint-Antoine. He was accompanied by Isabelle of Bavaria in a golden litter and by all the leading Burgundian captains. They were escorted through the streets by 3,000 men-at-arms, 1,500 crossbowmen and 1,200 prominent citizens in uniform blue robes who had gone out to meet them at the bridge of Charenton. The procession made its way slowly across the city in the bright sunshine through streets strewn with flowers and lined with enthusiastic Parisians wearing St Andrew’s crosses. The air was filled with cheers and a deafening cacophony of trumpets and horns. Charles VI received them at the Louvre. He graciously welcomed the man who had murdered his brother. He kissed his estranged Queen. The crowd crammed into the great hall of St Louis wept. Then, spurning the traditional wine and spices proffered by the King, the Duke of Burgundy promptly left with the Queen to attend to more important business.

On the following day, 15 July, the Queen presided over a crisis meeting of the council. The main item of business was the situation on the Norman front. The representatives of Rouen and Pont-de-l’Arche were present. They were joined by messengers sent by the Bastard of Alençon from Domfront. After a siege of three months he had agreed to surrender the fortress to the Earl of Warwick on 22 July unless he was relieved. The Normans pressed for action. They wanted both Pont-de-l’Arche and Domfront relieved, Rouen reinforced and the English sieges at Cherbourg and Honfleur broken up. It was an impossible demand. But, ignoring the difficulties, the council went through the motions of complying. They ordered the immediate recruitment of an army of 15,000 men. They proposed to find 2,000 men-at-arms and 1,000 crossbowmen from the troops with John the Fearless in Paris and to support them with 12,000 infantry levies recruited in Paris and the towns of Upper Normandy. The English herald was sent back to Pont-de-l’Arche with a defiant message from John the Fearless declaring that when the time came he would confront Henry V in battle. The Duke of Burgundy’s dealings with the English had always been opportunistic. Now that he had won control of the King and the government it was in his interest to present himself as the defender of France against her ancient enemy. But John could not fight the English and the Armagnacs at once. Even if it had been possible to raise the troops and lead them to Pont-de-l’Arche within the five days that remained, there was no prospect of an army consisting mainly of raw urban infantry overcoming the experienced professional troops of the King of England. In the event the council’s plans proved impossible to execute. Pont-de-l’Arche surrendered on 20 July and Domfront two days later. Shortly afterwards the Duke of Exeter appeared before the walls of Rouen with a herald to reconnoitre the defences and summon the place to surrender. The response was a powerful cavalry sortie from the gates which resulted in the death of many of Exeter’s company. At about midnight on 29 July Henry V arrived with the bulk of his army outside the city.

Rouen was the largest French city which the English had besieged since the outset of the war eighty years earlier. Its thirty-five parishes were home to a permanent population of between 20,000 and 25,000 people. Its defences were outwardly imposing, ‘a prowde araye … welle hyt was ordaynyd for warre’, wrote John Page, an English soldier, probably an archer, whose account of the siege in doggerel verse is the most vivid of the contemporary narratives. Rouen was enclosed by a high wall nearly four miles in circumference, pierced by five fortified gates on the landward side and protected by a deep dry ditch. Most of these works dated from the beginning of the thirteenth century. On the north side, the city was dominated by the great citadel which Philip Augustus had built after 1204 to mark his conquest of the Norman capital from the Angevin kings of England. Since then a sprawling suburb had grown up north-east of the citadel to house the textile workshops and the tenements in which the industrial population worked and lived. These districts had recently been enclosed by a major extension of the walls. But there remained eight unprotected suburban parishes beyond the walls, all of which had been systematically demolished as the English approached, along with the Benedictine priory of St Gervais on the west and the Clos des Galées, the naval arsenal on the opposite side of the river. The towers and gates bristled with guns overlooking the desolate wasteland which the demolition teams had left around the city. A long fortified bridge constructed partly of stone and partly of timber linked the city to a heavily manned fort on the south bank. The task of organising the defence of the place had fallen to Guy Le Bouteillier and a group of Burgundian captains sent in haste from Paris. They commanded a professional garrison of between 1,200 and 1,600 men. But the main burden of the defence fell upon the 10,000 or so able-bodied male inhabitants. Guy Le Bouteillier installed himself in the citadel with part of the garrison. The rest were assigned to sectors of the city, each corresponding to one of the gates and each with its own commander. A mounted reserve was created to go to the aid of any sector in difficulties.

Henry V set up his headquarters in an abandoned Carthusian monastery by the Paris road, about half a mile east of the walls. At the outset a number of critical decisions were made. The King decided not to attempt an assault. Given the number of the defenders and the density of the streets and lanes within the walls it would have been a costly and uncertain business. He also seems to have resolved to make only limited use of his artillery. Although cannon were sited in front of all the gates and the city walls were overlooked on the north and east by high ground offering ideal vantage points, there is no evidence in any contemporary account of the siege of the kind of heavy artillery bombardment which the English had employed at Harfleur, Caen or Falaise, and no evidence of major damage to the city. The reason for this apparently surprising omission was that Henry wanted Rouen as much for its political as its military value. He intended it to serve as the capital of an English duchy of Normandy. The destruction of its walls and public buildings would have undermined this scheme and weakened the city in the face of a French counter-attack. So the English planned to starve the city into submission instead. Its sheer size made it vulnerable to famine. The harvest was not yet in. Too late, the municipal authorities had ordered every citizen to lay in supplies for ten months. The effect was simply to create a run on the shops and markets. An attempt had been made to reduce the numbers of ‘useless mouths’ by ordering out the old and infirm, the poor, and some of the women and clergy. But the response had been patchy and the magistrates’ efforts were largely frustrated by the great tide of refugees flooding into the city from the suburbs and surrounding country.

In the first few days after his arrival Henry set up a tight blockade. Working under the guns of the defenders and suffering heavy casualties from sorties, his men dug a deep trench and a bank the whole way round the walls on the landward side. The siege operations, like the defence, were divided into sectors corresponding to the gates of the city. The King himself took command of the eastern sector in front of the Porte Saint-Hilaire. The Earl of Salisbury occupied the marshy ground between the King’s sector and the river outside the Porte Martinville. The Duke of Clarence was posted in the ruins of the abbey of St Gervais on the west. The Duke of Exeter guarded the northern sector and Sir Thomas Mowbray and Sir John Cornwall were encamped outside the citadel. Access to the city by water was completely blocked. A large force commanded by the Earl of Huntingdon stood on the south bank opposite the quays of the city. The fort at the south end of the bridge was surrounded. Heavy chains were stretched across the river upstream and down and a timber bridge was constructed a short distance away. Barges filled with soldiers patrolled the stream on both sides. Eighty miles downstream where the Seine flowed into the sea, a fleet of galleys supplied by the King of Portugal blockaded the river mouth.

The first priority for the English after they had completed the blockade of Rouen was to secure their own communications. The English had an unhappy experience of major sieges. The few that they had undertaken in the previous century, at Tournai (1340), Rennes (1356), Reims (1359) and Nantes (1381–2) had all had to be abandoned because they could not feed their army. The lesson had been learned by 1418. A large-scale victualling operation was organised. This involved shipping supplies from southern England into Harfleur, which was turned into a great depot for the storage of supplies for the army. From there victuals were trans-shipped onto barges to be carried up the Seine.

The French held two garrisoned towns on the north bank of the Seine, at Quillebeuf and Caudebec, where they had stationed armed ships to block the passage of the river. These places had to be reduced if the English army was not to starve. Quillebeuf was besieged shortly after the investment of the city. Its garrison was annihilated in a battle beneath the walls on 16 August. But Caudebec proved to be tougher. The Earl of Warwick, who had recently arrived with his company from Domfront, was sent to deal with it. The place held out valiantly while no fewer than 100 victualling barges were held up in the Seine waiting to pass its walls. Eventually an English herald went into the town and negotiated an agreement with its defenders. They undertook to surrender if and when Rouen was captured. In the meantime they would allow free passage to English shipping travelling between Rouen and the sea. Upstream of the city the main problem was the occupation of the Mont Sainte-Catherine by a large French garrison based in the fortified monastery at the summit. Possession of this great hill east of the city was vital to the English in order to secure their communications with Pont-de-l’Arche and to protect their rear from any relief force approaching from the east. The garrison of the monastery successfully beat off a determined night attack in the first few days of the siege. But they had limited stocks of food, and after holding out for a month they were finally forced to surrender on 1 September.

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.

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

Illustration of the Siege of Rouen illustration from A Short History of the English People, by John Richard Green, illustrated edition, Volume II, Macmillan and Co, London, New York, 1893.

The negotiations were awkward from the start. They were punctuated by repeated wrangling about procedure. The two sides argued about their powers; about who should begin; about the order in which the issues should be discussed; about that old bone of contention, whether the proceedings should be in Latin or French. There were long sulky silences, in which the two sides glared at each other both refusing to speak. Once they got down to the substance of the matter a measure of common ground emerged. But the exchanges were ill-tempered throughout and were not helped by the acerbic manner of both the principal spokesmen. The English delegates made it clear that they would not consider anything less than the territories ceded by the ‘Great Peace’ of 1360 plus Normandy. The Brétigny territories, they pointed out, had already been offered to them by the Armagnac princes in 1412 and in 1415 and Normandy was theirs by right of conquest. The question was how much more the Dauphin was willing to offer in return for armed support against the Duke of Burgundy. The opening demand of the English was for Touraine, Anjou, Maine, Flanders and the old domains of Henry of Lancaster in Champagne. After much bluffing the French admitted that they were authorised to concede the Brétigny territories and the whole of Normandy with the important exception of the city and bailliage of Rouen. They were also willing to discuss the sharing out of the Duke of Burgundy’s domains in Flanders and Artois once they were conquered. This offer, which was in fact not far from the English side’s expectations, they professed to regard as ‘void, useless and virtually null’. But the English declined to give any indication of their irreducible minimum.

The Dauphin was evidently dismayed by his ambassadors’ interim report, which reached him after the first week. He wrote a personal letter to Henry V to ask him to be more reasonable. Peace was surely possible if the two of them combined to confront the ‘horrible evil, cruelty and deceit of the Duke of Burgundy against the nobility and monarchy of France from which you are yourself descended’. By the time this missive was received more fundamental difficulties had arisen. The main one was the feudal status of the ceded territories, the issue which had bedevilled every previous Anglo-French conference since the 1340s. Philip Morgan put the question directly. Was the Dauphin offering to cede the Brétigny provinces and Normandy in full sovereignty or were Henry and his descendants to hold them as vassals of the Kings of France? Norry ought to have been ready for this question, but he was not. He deferred his answer until the following day and when it came it was no answer. It was a difficult question, he said. He would prefer to discuss other matters first. He had gone as far as his instructions would allow. The matter would be better thrashed out at a personal meeting with the Dauphin. He assumed that Henry V, as a just man, would be willing to hold them on the same basis as his forebears. Philip Morgan’s reply was uncompromising. As rightful King of France he had no reason to accept any superior but God in those parts of France that he held. This provoked uproar. The delegates of both sides rose from their seats and, all talking at once, rehearsed all the old arguments.

Shouting above the hubbub the English put the question. If the negotiations continued was there any prospect of the Dauphin accepting Henry’s demand for full sovereignty? The French, according to the English record, seemed to have ‘some difficulty’ in answering, but eventually said that they thought that there was. Would the Dauphin be in a position to deliver, Morgan asked, bearing in mind that he was a minor and that his father was still alive? There followed a long argument about the Dauphin’s powers, the extent of the territory under his control and the amount of support which he enjoyed among the French princes. It seemed, said Norry in conclusion, that there was little prospect of agreement. Their safe-conducts were about to expire and they saw no point in continuing. The final session was held on the following day, 24 November. The French proposed a short truce until February 1419 for further discussions. Only if they put all their proposals in writing, said Morgan; but unless they had something better to offer than he had heard so far there would be no point. Thereupon the Dauphin’s ambassadors got up and walked out.

The English King was unconcerned. His bargaining power was bound to increase over the following weeks as the noose tightened around Rouen. Henry maintained just enough contact with the Dauphin’s court to avoid a final breakdown. He replied to the Dauphin’s letter with a suggestion that discussions should be resumed once Rouen had fallen. He received the Dauphin’s ambassador Louis de Chalon at his headquarters within days of his departure from Alençon, and suggested that another Dauphinist embassy should be sent to confer with him in person. Meanwhile he had already turned to the Burgundians to find out what they were willing to offer. Guillaume de Champdivers, the usual intermediary between John the Fearless and the English King, had visited his headquarters to lay the ground. Another conference had been set up for December to hear the proposals of the Burgundian side.

Outside the beleaguered city Henry V was preparing for battle with the Duke of Burgundy’s relief army. The garrisons of Lower Normandy had been stripped to the bone to increase his numbers. The long siege of Cherbourg had finally come to an end when the Duke of Gloucester’s miners succeeded in undermining a section of the walls. The starving garrison surrendered at the end of September, releasing several hundred troops to join the King at Rouen. More men arrived from England and 500 from Ireland, whose wild appearance, primitive-looking weapons and diminutive ponies astonished the defenders of the city. The English were digging themselves in. They cut trenches across the approaches from Paris and armed them with palisades, timber towers and artillery. They stationed men in the forests east of Rouen to stop the enemy from approaching unseen. They sent spies to watch the progress of the Duke of Burgundy in the Île de France.

On 24 November 1418 John the Fearless had about 4,000 troops in Paris according to English reports. Unable to feed them there and perhaps afraid of provoking riots among the citizens, he led them out of the city, accompanied by the Queen, and encamped twenty miles away outside Pontoise. The sick King was brought along in Isabelle’s baggage train for fear that others might take control of him in her absence. They remained at Pontoise for five weeks while John the Fearless addressed urgent appeals in the King’s name to the councillors in Paris to find reinforcements, to the treasurers to find money and to the defenders of Rouen to hold out against increasingly hopeless odds. They were offered mendacious promises of imminent relief which were read out in the market-place of Rouen. All the time the Dauphinist offensive continued unabated in the Duke’s rear. Their garrisons around Paris raided up to the suburbs and across the Île de France, frustrating all attempts to bring victuals to the troops encamped at Pontoise. Further south the Dauphin took advantage of the Duke of Burgundy’s preoccupations to march on Tours and lay siege to the only surviving Burgundian garrison in the Loire valley.

From Pontoise Philippe de Morvilliers and other Burgundian councillors, accompanied by the papal legate Cardinal Orsini, rode ahead towards Rouen to confer with the English. They clung to the hope of some negotiated solution that might save the Duke from the humiliation of losing France’s second city without striking a blow for its defence. Henry V’s delegates met them at Pont-de-l’Arche. Theirs were familiar faces. Richard Beauchamp Earl of Warwick was a veteran of earlier negotiations with the Burgundians going back to 1411, ‘a man of impressive bearing, exceptional judgment and great military experience, with a practised and accomplished eloquence on any subject,’ wrote an admiring contemporary. With him sat Henry’s steward Sir Walter Hungerford and the abrasive Philip Morgan, both of whom who had also been at the conference with the Dauphinists at Alençon, and Morgan’s fellow Welshman the lawyer Henry Ware. Henry V had no desire to hurry things along before Rouen fell. The talks were stalled for several days by another argument about the use of French, a language which the English King claimed that his commissioners ‘cannot write and hardly speak or understand’. This may have been true of some of them although Warwick certainly spoke excellent French. The discussions eventually proceeded in a mixture of English and French with documents being translated into Latin. But the message was no more palatable for being understood. The English expressed interest in a marriage alliance. Henry V declared himself to be delighted by the portrait of Catherine of France which was brought to him by the cardinal. But he wanted a dowry of a million écus along with the provinces of the south-west ceded at Brétigny plus Normandy, all to be held in full sovereignty. Unlike the Dauphin’s men, who had been willing to concede very similar territorial demands and even contemplated the possibility of giving way on sovereignty, the Burgundians dismissed the English claims out of hand. The King was incapacitated, they said. The Duke had no authority to alienate his heritage. About ten days before Christmas the conference broke up. The cardinal returned to Pontoise to report the failure of his mission. Then he gave up his peace mission as a lost cause and left for Italy.

Inside Rouen the defenders were reduced to the last extremes of privation and distress. People were eating roots and vermin. Cats were reported to be changing hands at 18 blancs and a quarter of a horse at 100 sous. No grain was to be had at all. By Christmas about 200 people a day were dying of starvation. Their bodies were thrown into great open grave-pits in the cemetery of St Mary Magdalen and then, when it was full, piled up in the streets. Disease began to spread through the city. Order broke down. People fought in the streets over morsels of food. The captain of the garrison turned to desperate measures. He organised a suicidal sortie from several gates at once with all the forces that could be spared, apparently with the intention of breaking through the English lines. At one of the gates the drawbridge collapsed beneath the weight of the horsemen, propelling them into the ditch. The rest were thrown back from the English siege lines with heavy losses. Shortly before Christmas the defenders rounded up several thousand ‘useless mouths’, mostly women and children and the poor and indigent, and pushed them out of the gates, hoping to save food and cast upon the English the moral responsibility for feeding them. But the English drove the wretches back with volleys of arrows, forcing them to cower in the ditch beneath the walls where many of them died of starvation or exposure.

The Duke of Burgundy’s army had by now exhausted the supplies available around Pontoise. After the failure of the negotiations at Pont-de-l’Arche John the Fearless decided to lead his troops north to the Beauvaisis where the rest of the army was supposed to muster at the end of December. The new plan was to march on Rouen from the east in the new year while another force approached to reprovision the city by water from the west. The Burgundian Admiral of France Charles of Lens was sent with a team of men to requisition ships along the coast of Picardy. They planned to load the holds with food and fill the decks with men-at-arms and archers and then force their way up the Seine and past the English siege works. A final appeal for support was sent to the Dauphin. He not only rejected it but forbade all those of his allegiance to join the army of relief. As a result none of the military nobility of France appeared at Beauvais except for the Duke’s own subjects and retainers in Picardy and Artois.

On 29 December the Duke of Burgundy entered Beauvais with the troops who had been with him at Pontoise. The rest of his army was waiting for him outside the town but in pitifully small numbers. John had a series of fraught meetings with his principal captains. In the midst of the discussions a delegation from Rouen appeared. They had made their way through the English lines at great risk to themselves with up-to-date reports of conditions in the city and an ultimatum. This was the last appeal that they would make to him for protection, they declared. Unless the city was relieved in a matter of days they would renounce their allegiance and submit to the King of England. John the Fearless was embarrassed and apologetic. To his infinite dismay, he told them, he did not yet have the strength to relieve Rouen. But before long, he said, reinforcements would arrive and the position would change. They asked him how long. By 8 January, he replied. The delegates of Rouen left to report back to the defenders of the city. But it soon became clear that the Duke had been too sanguine. Shortly after the men of Rouen had left a runner reached Beauvais with the news that the Dauphin had captured Tours. This was followed by persistent reports that he was marching on the bridge-town of La Charité-sur-Loire and threatening to invade the Nivernais and Burgundy. In the new year John was closeted with most of the senior officers of the financial departments from Paris. Their reports were dismal. On about 3 January 1419 he decided to abandon the relief of Rouen. The English were too strong, the Dauphin too threatening, the treasury empty. So the Duke of Burgundy disbanded his army and sent a runner to Rouen with a secret message advising the townsmen to sue for the best terms they could get.

By the time that this message reached the defenders of Rouen they had already given up hope and decided for themselves to negotiate with the besiegers. Late on 31 December 1418 a knight of the garrison appeared at the land gate at the southern end of the Seine bridge and called for a knight or baron to come forward from the English lines. The Yorkshire knight Sir Gilbert Umfraville appeared. They asked him to arrange for a delegation of twelve men to come before the King. The meeting took place on New Year’s Day at the Charterhouse by the Paris road. The Frenchmen began by trying to get relief to the wretched people in the ditch beneath the walls. ‘Fellows, who put them there?’ Henry answered. Then they asked to be allowed to negotiate a conditional surrender. They had been charged to defend the city by the King of France whose subjects they were, they said. They were willing to become subjects of the King of England but would need to give due notice to the Duke of Burgundy. Henry, in his most uncompromising mood, told them that their city was his by rights and they had kept him out of it. The Duke of Burgundy was well aware of the situation and had no need of more messages. They would have to choose between death or unconditional surrender.

There was a large element of ritual and theatre about such occasions. In fact these brutal exchanges were the prelude to a long and painful negotiation about the terms of surrender. On the following morning two large pavilions were erected outside the Porte Saint-Hilaire. There the abbot of the Norman abbey of Saint-Georges de Boscherville and an official of the cathedral, supported by twenty-two representatives of the garrison and citizens, haggled for two weeks with a commission led by the Earls of Warwick and Salisbury. The townsmen crowded onto the walls to watch. The English soldiers stood about in groups in no-man’s-land as the heralds of both sides, ‘dressed like lords’ in coats of arms and gold braid, passed from tent to tent with messages. Henry’s terms were bleak, and after a week he threatened to bring the talks to an end unless they were accepted. Inside the city a bitter dispute was in progress between the professional garrison, who were determined to hold out for terms that would salve their honour, and the mass of the population, who wanted to bring an end to the siege at any price. The garrison was blamed for the failure of the defence. Guy Le Bouteillier was even accused of having sabotaged the recent catastrophic sortie from the gates. A tempestuous meeting at the hôtel de ville broke up inconclusively, some declaring that they would rather die fighting than surrender while others plotted to kill the captains of the garrison unless they opened the gates. Eventually, on about 9 January 1419, the defenders resolved to demolish a large section of their walls and set fire to the city at several points unless the English King moderated his terms. Henry, who wanted to take the city intact, finally yielded. He appointed the Archbishop of Canterbury, Henry Chichele, who had recently arrived from England, to mediate with the clergy of the city. It was Chichele who finally reached agreement with the defenders on 13 January 1419.

The terms were harsh although not as harsh as they might have been. The town and castle were to be surrendered intact on 19 January 1419 unless by noon on that day they had been relieved by a French army commanded by Charles VI or the Duke of Burgundy in person. If the French army appeared the garrison and the inhabitants would have to witness the clash of arms from the walls without intervening. The remaining terms reflected Henry V’s determination to revive the twelfth-century English duchy of Normandy. Before the surrender the ‘useless mouths’ in the city ditches were to be taken back and fed. The city was to be cleaned up and all corpses buried outside the walls. Once Henry had taken possession, the city would retain all the privileges granted to it in times past, whether by his forebears the dukes of Normandy or by the kings of France. The inhabitants might retain their property in Normandy but only if they were willing to enter the English King’s allegiance. As for the garrison, non-Normans could depart under safe-conduct leaving nothing behind them, but native Normans had the choice of submission to their new master or imprisonment. The King exacted a heavy price for nearly six months of defiance by those whom he called his subjects. Rouen was to pay the largest indemnity ever exacted from a French city: 300,000 écus, the first instalment of which was to be handed over within three days of the surrender, the rest a month later. In addition all horses and war material were to be surrendered and the King was to be allowed a site of his choice in the city or its suburbs on which to build a palace. Eighty hostages were delivered up as security for the performance of these terms.

The interval allowed for the French to relieve Rouen was a perfunctory formality. By the time the captain’s messenger reached the Queen and the Duke of Burgundy they had already released their troops and left Beauvais. The Duke did not dare to show his face in Paris. He withdrew to Provins in Champagne until the spring, blaming the Dauphin for the disaster. For his part the Dauphin was not sorry to watch his rival’s humiliation. On about 15 January 1419 his representatives arrived at Louviers and received a safe-conduct to come before Henry V at Rouen. They came with proposals for a summit meeting between Henry V and the Dauphin to resolve the issues which had been too delicate for their ambassadors to broach at Alençon. They must have been present in the English camp to witness the surrender of the city on the 19th. In the Charterhouse Guy Le Bouteillier, who had directed the defence of the city for the past year, knelt before Henry V and delivered up the keys. The King handed them to his uncle Thomas Beaufort Duke of Exeter, whom he had appointed captain of the town. Later in the afternoon the banner of St George was hoisted above the citadel. Almost all the indigenous population of the city swore the oath of allegiance to Henry V, as they had warned John the Fearless they would. One of them was Guy Le Bouteillier himself, the first important layman to submit to the English King. He was to become one of the most loyal adjutants of the English government in Normandy.

‘If Rouen cannot defend itself what city can?’ asked the masters of the University of Paris. The doomsayers who had predicted that the fall of Rouen would be followed by the collapse of resistance throughout Normandy were swiftly proved right. No one wished to suffer the fate of Caen or Rouen. The nagging fear that the French King’s officers would return and punish them as traitors faded as the English occupation began to look as if it would endure. Caudebec surrendered automatically in accordance with the terms already agreed with the Earl of Warwick. The garrison of Montivilliers, the largest in the Pays de Caux, opened its gates to the English captain of Harfleur and marched away. The submission of these places was the signal for a wholesale desertion of the French cause. A number of task forces were detached from the English army and sent to overawe the regions which had not yet submitted. There was very little resistance in any of them. The seaports of the Pays de Caux, Fécamp, Dieppe and Eu, surrendered to the English one after the other in the month following the fall of Rouen. Honfleur, the last port of Normandy still holding out for Charles VI, was blockaded from land and sea by the Earl of Salisbury and entered into a conditional surrender agreement on 25 February. By the end of March all the walled places of the Seine were in English hands except for the fortress of La Roche-Guyon, dominating the river from its great man-made cliff at the edge of the Vexin, and Richard Coeur-de-Lion’s mighty Château-Gaillard at Les Andelys. North of the Seine only Gisors still held out and south of it only Ivry. The English had already penetrated upriver into the Île de France. Vernon, Mantes and Meulan were abandoned by their garrisons as they approached for want of stores to withstand a siege. Abbeville, Beauvais and Pontoise became frontier towns. The English were within twenty miles of Paris. Their raiding parties penetrated as far as Saint-Cloud, within sight of the city walls. ‘And now, blessed be God,’ wrote an Englishman with the army to a friend in London, ‘a man may ride from Brittany through the whole duchy of Normandy … and in a short time, I expect, all the way to Calais.’


The joust is an individual conflict between two knights; it is distinct and different from the tournament. It will often be agreed that there should be three rounds; the two men ride at each other, aiming to pass each other on the left-hand side, and to strike each other with their lances. This began to be popular in the 13th century; jousting frequently takes place before the tournament proper begins, often on the previous day.

A particularly famous jouster of the past was the German knight Ulrich von Liechtenstein, who wrote up his experiences in verse. Ulrich, rather unusually, enjoyed cross-dressing, and described a journey he made dressed as the goddess Venus, during which he took part in innumerable jousts and tournaments, all for the unrequited love of his lady.

Thus like a woman I was dressed

And all I had was of the best.

The peacock feathers on my hat

Were rather dear, I’ll tell you that.

Ulrich was eccentric in other ways. On one occasion he even ordered a bath, during which two pages poured rose petals all over him, an experience which, curiously, he seems to have enjoyed. If you are considering taking part in tournaments under a pseudonym, then that of Ulrich would be a good one to choose, but it might be better to claim to come from Gelderland rather than his real homeland of Styria.


Scoring systems are complex, and will vary from event to event. In jousting, the top score normally comes for unhorsing your opponent; breaking your lance is the next best action; striking your opponent on the helmet comes third. The tournament’s overall prize, the ‘man of the match’ award, will be given to the knight who has most distinguished himself, and there may well be differing views on that. It could be that someone who has been unhorsed several times has shown conspicuous bravery, and deserves to be well rewarded.

There is a lot of technique to learn if you want to be a skilled jouster. Controlling your horse properly is important, but it is not easy with so many things to think about at the same time. You have to make sure that your horse takes a straight line, and does not veer off course, or even worse, cross in front of the other jouster. In Spain they have taken to erecting a barrier between the two jousters, so as to avert this, but no one has yet thought of introducing it in France or England.

Do not be tempted to impress by using an oversized lance: if you strike a low blow with a heavy lance, and your opponent strikes you a high blow with a lighter lance, he will unseat you. A medium-sized manageable lance will be much better than a great big one that will unbalance you and pull you out of your saddle. Your horse will go much better if you have a lighter lance. Think about what your opponent is doing, and adjust your own tactics accordingly. It is tempting to close your eyes just before the moment of impact. Don’t do this. Be careful not to turn your shoulder away; Edward Beauchamp made this mistake in a joust in 1381, and was knocked off his horse as a result.

Ulrich von Liechtenstein was expert in jousting techniques. He wrote a boastful account of one of his bouts:

I turned a little from the man

(to knock him sprawling was my plan)

I struck him in the collar then.

I turned and jousted with such skill

Sir Otte almost took a spill.

Here are a few key points to remember:

    Ride upright, with long stirrups, holding the reins in your left hand.

    Use a lance of manageable weight.

    Make sure your helmet is on straight, and that you have a good line of sight.

    Hold your lance in the palm of your hand, not just with your fingers.

    Do not let the tip of your lance tilt up or down.

    Do not twist, or turn your shoulder.

    If your opponent always aims for the same place, vary your own tactics.

    Keep your eyes fixed on the target, not on the tip of your lance.

During the Middle Ages, tournaments often contained a mêlée consisting of knights fighting one another on foot or while mounted, either divided into two sides or fighting as a free-for-all. The object was to capture opposing knights so that they could be ransomed, and this could be a very profitable business for such skilled knights as William Marshal. There was a tournament ground covering several square miles in northern France to which knights came from all over Europe to prove themselves in quite real combat. This was, in fact, the original form of tournaments and the most popular between the twelfth and thirteenth centuries—jousting being a later development, and one that did not completely displace the mêlée until many more centuries had passed. The original mêlée was engaged with normal weapons and fraught with as much danger as a normal battle. Rules slowly tempered the danger, but at all times the mêlée was more dangerous than the joust.

The provenance of the heavily armoured, aristocratic equestrian warrior has excited much debate. It has been argued, most notably by Lynn White, that it was the arrival of the stirrup in eighth-century Western Europe that prompted the emergence of cavalry capable of ‘mounted shock combat’. with lance held tightly ‘couched’ under the right arm; and that, moreover, since warhorses, armour, weapons, and military training required landed endowment for their maintenance, it was in effect the stirrup which was responsible for the establishment of a feudal aristocracy of equestrian warriors. More recent research, by Bernard Bachrach among others, has suggested that the solid fighting platform necessary for a rider to engage in mounted shock combat depended upon a combination of stirrup, wraparound saddle with rigid cantle (back plate), and double girthing or breast-collars. With the rider thus ‘locked onto the horse’s back in a sort of cock-pit’, it was possible, experimentally from the later eleventh century, and with greater regularity in the twelfth, to level a couched lance with the assurance of the combined weight of horse and rider behind it. Furthermore, historians no longer accept that the medieval aristocratic elite was actually brought into being by advances in horse-related technology. Rather, an existing military aristocracy-great lords and the household knights whom they armed and horsed-adopted new equipment when it became available, and pursued the tactical possibilities which that equipment offered. Those possibilities could not ensure battlefield supremacy for the knightly warrior. Nor was he the only important component in field armies. But the elite distinction of mounted shock combat, associated as it was with the emergence of chivalry as an aristocratic code of martial conventions and behaviour, gave rise to an image of the nobleman as equestrian warrior which, while being firmly grounded in reality, proved irresistible to manuscript illuminators and authors of romance literature, Although presenting an idealized world, such artistic works reflected the martial mentalite of the nobleman while contributing to its further elaboration and dissemination; and they leave us in no doubt that the warhorse was at the heart of the medieval aristocrat’s lifestyle and mental world.

This was perhaps most clearly displayed on the tournament field. It is surely significant that tournaments begin to appear in the sources in the early twelfth century. Apparently connected with the emergence of the new cavalry tactics, the tourney provided a training ground for individual skills with lance and sword, and team maneuvers by controls of knights. They also offered opportunities for reputations in arms to be made or enhanced, although that depended upon the identification of individuals amidst the dust and confusion of the mêlée. It was probably this need for recognition on the tournament field, as well as the similar demands of the battlefield, which brought about the development of heraldry in the twelfth century. Along with lance pennons, surcoats, and smooth shields, the caparisoned warhorse was emblazoned with heraldic devices, thereby becoming a perfect vehicle for the expression of individual identity and family honour within the military elite. A similar message was conveyed by the martial equestrian figures which, until the fourteenth century, were so commonly to be found on aristocratic seals, and by the ceremonial involvement of warhorses, decked out in heraldic caparisons, in the funerals of later medieval noblemen.


In the summer of 1348 a ship docked at the Channel port of Melcombe Regis in Dorset. In the fleas infesting the fur of the black rats on board were the deadliest plague bacillae that have ever visited mankind. The Black Death emptied towns, wiped out villages, and struck at rich and poor alike, killing the wife and three of the daughters of King Edward III, along with swathes of his poorer subjects. Spreading swiftly inland from that fatal bridgehead in Dorset, the plague reached London by the autumn of the same year. Although the capital, by today’s standards, was still tiny – it was possible to walk right across London from the Tower to the city’s western wall at Farringdon in half an hour – it was a crowded labyrinth of cheek-by-jowl dwellings; a warren of filthy, mud- and shit-strewn streets, which were an ideal breeding ground for the pestilence.

In a thousand days after that first, fatal landfall, the Black Death wiped out between a third and a half of England’s entire population. In London alone one mass burial ‘plague pit’ north of the Tower accommodated 10,000 victims. Another, at nearby Blackfriars, held 42,000. Although this first blast of the plague had blown itself out by 1350, it was to return in recurrent waves right up to the mid-seventeenth century – the Great London Plague of 1665 in which fifty-eight of the Tower garrison’s soldiers died being its last major visitation.

The Black Death left a mixed legacy for the rest of the fourteenth century. With a world population brutally slashed by up to 350 million, labour became a precious commodity. Serfs and peasants, having survived this most perilous of dangers, knew that their time and labour were a prize to be won rather than a right to be demanded by grasping landlords, greedy nobles and arrogant rulers. The reign of young King Richard II coincided with the upsurge of violent protest by his poorer subjects known to history as the Peasants’ Revolt.

The revolt erupted in ugly violence like a plague buboe bursting. A cocktail of social ills brewed in the previous reign curdled to bring the pustule to a virulent head. The legacy of the Black Death, combined with the seemingly endless wars in France, had drained manpower away from the land: a labour shortage that the ruling caste vainly attempted to stem with a series of savage laws. The Statute of Labourers of 1351 pegged wages at their 1348 pre-plague levels, despite roaring inflation. Labourers were also commanded to work where and when their lords and masters required. Serfs and villeins who left their lord’s land in search of higher wages were threatened with branding, and even giving alms to roaming beggars was banned in a bid to starve the beggars into work. In a desperate effort to raise cash for an exchequer denuded by the cost of the French wars and decreasing productivity, the government slapped tax after tax on a declining population already struggling to survive.

Such was the grim inheritance of the boy king Richard II. A delicate nine-year-old with what the chronicler Richard Holinshed called ‘an angelic face’ framed by a halo of fair curls, Richard grew into one of those inept kings periodically thrown up by the Plantagenets in marked contrast to their usual run of strong, ruthless warriors. Unlike his fierce father and grandfather, Richard of Bordeaux was a ruler in the mould of Henry III or Edward II – unwarlike, pious, effeminate, and with a strong aesthetic interest. And also like those two ill-starred monarchs, the young king had a streak of stubbornness, coupled with the unwavering conviction that, as God’s anointed, he could do no wrong.

Richard’s unhappy reign began and ended at the Tower. The day after his grandfather Edward III’s death on 22 June 1377 he was taken there in procession, and sequestered until his coronation. Three weeks later, dressed all in white, the divine-looking child king was brought to Westminster Abbey to be crowned. Richard had inherited an inherently unstable and almost bankrupt country from his grandfather. Cash strapped and at a loss, in November 1380 the Royal Council called a parliament to approve a radical new moneymaking scheme. This was a single levy – the poll tax – payable by every English adult, prince or peasant, aged over fifteen, at the same rate: three groats (one shilling). The sum represented a week’s wages for a master craftsman, and perhaps a month’s hard-earned graft for an agricultural labouring serf.

The commissioners dispatched to the countryside to raise the new tax were bitterly resented and violently resisted. The chief serjeant-at-arms, a thug named John Legge, was reputed to line up young village girls and grope under their skirts to determine whether they were virgins and exempt from the hated tax. Such abuse bred a murderous loathing among the commons. It was the third tax hike in as many years, and rather than pay, many people temporarily vanished from their villages or attacked the tax collectors, who returned to London having only succeeded in raising two thirds of the expected revenue. Foolishly, the council sent them back again in the spring of 1381. This time, grumbling turned into a spontaneous outburst of popular rage the like of which had never been seen in England before.

By June, the temperature in the countryside was as hot as the midsummer sun. A spontaneous tax strike in the villages of northern Essex spread south like wildfire racing through a cornfield, and crossed the Thames into north Kent, where the revolt was coordinated by a popular leader Walter (or Wat) Tyler. Tyler may have been a discharged soldier from the wars in France, and/or a common highway robber. But he was clearly a charismatic, bold and determined character – the first popular revolutionary since ‘Longbeard’ Fitzosbert had rallied Londoners to the cause of social justice in the reign of Richard I. Tyler turned an inchoate mob of peasants into a focused – if undisciplined – people’s army. In early June 1381, some 20,000 strong, Wat’s horde converged on Kent’s county town of Maidstone.

They ransacked the town jail, releasing its prisoners. One of the freed men, John Ball, was an ordained priest sick of the steadily accumulating wealth and worldly ways of the established Church. Abandoning his parish in York and hitting the road, Ball had become an itinerant preacher of the sort known as Lollards. His proto-Protestant – and to the Church, heretical – doctrines were a potent mix of biblical simplicity – calling for a return to the tenets of poverty and justice preached by Christ – and an explosive social egalitarianism summed up in Ball’s oft-repeated couplet:

When Adam delved and Eve span

Who was then the gentleman?

Naturally, this inflammatory question did not go down well with Ball’s superiors in the Church, or the civil authorities struggling to keep a lid on simmering social tension. He was repeatedly jailed, and was serving out the latest sentence when Wat Tyler’s army arrived at the prison gates.

Ball’s wild oratory whipped the peasants on, but they needed little urging. When they arrived at Canterbury, chronicler Jean Froissart tells us, a substantial part of the city’s population swelled their ranks: ‘And in their going they beat down and robbed houses … and had mercy of none.’ They ordered the monks at the cathedral to elect a new archbishop, since, they threatened prophetically, the hated current incumbent, Simon Sudbury, was a dead man walking: ‘For he … is a traitor and will be beheaded for his iniquity.’ Ominously, the mob carried out their first executions, decapitating some of Canterbury’s wealthier citizens. Moving west towards London, the peasant army arrived at Rochester where they looted the castle built by Gundulf, the Tower’s architect; and took the children of the castle’s constable, Sir Richard Newton as hostages. Tyler sent Newton ahead with a personal message for King Richard. The ruffian peasant chief demanded that the boy king should meet him in three days’ time at Blackheath, a large expanse of common land south-east of the capital.

As Tyler’s ragged army trod grimly towards the city from Kent, an even larger peasant army, possibly totalling 50,000 or even 70,000, was simultaneously converging on the capital from Essex. Led by another self-appointed people’s tribune, Jack Straw, who harangued his followers from a hay wain on Hampstead Heath which became known as ‘Jack Straw’s castle’, the men of Essex were stirred by the same injustices, and fired up by the same hopes, as the men of Kent. This peasants’ pincer movement threw the unprepared royal authorities on to the back foot. The regime’s strong man – and chief target of the peasants’ wrath – the king’s uncle, John of Gaunt, was, fortunately for him, absent on a military mission against the Scots. One of his brothers, Thomas of Woodstock, Earl of Buckingham, was in Wales; while the third royal brother, Edmund of Langley, Earl of Cambridge, was embarking from Plymouth on a military expedition to Spain with the only substantial armed forces available to the administration. As the peasants converged on the fat capital bent on taking it apart, the naked city was defenceless.

Those members of the council still in London sent for King Richard from Windsor Castle, and withdrew with him and his mother Joan, ‘the Fair Maid of Kent’, behind the stout walls of the Tower, along with its garrison of around 1,000 men. England’s ruling class assembled in the fortress, astonished and fearful at the hurricane of discontent that had so suddenly blown up. The Earls of Kent, Salisbury, Warwick, Arundel, Oxford and Suffolk were there; along with Sir Robert Hales, England’s Lord Treasurer; Simon Sudbury, the hated chancellor and Archbishop of Canterbury; John Legge, the loathed serjeant-at-arms and chief enforcer of the poll tax that had sparked the revolt; and William Walworth, a prosperous and hard-nosed London fishmonger who was the city’s lord mayor.

On Wednesday 12 June 1381, Tyler’s ragtag army arrived at Blackheath and pitched camp. Sir John Newton sailed up the Thames by barge to convey Tyler’s message to the king at the Tower. On being admitted to the royal presence, he prostrated himself on the floor and begged Richard’s pardon for the insolence of the demands he brought. He asked the king to meet ‘the commons of your realm’ and hear their grievances. Newton begged the king to give an appeasing answer, for if he did not, the peasants would slaughter his hostage children. On his council’s advice, Richard agreed to meet the rebels the next day. A grateful Newton hurried back to Tyler with the good news.

A tense night in the Tower followed. From the battlements, the fearful inhabitants could just make out, in the darkness to the south-east, tiny pinpricks of light from the fires of the rebel host encamped on Blackheath. During the night the elderly Archbishop Sudbury came quaking to the king and surrendered the Great Seal – symbol of his other job, the Chancellorship of England. Word had reached him of the destruction of his see at Canterbury, and now raiding parties of peasants had swarmed into his London palace at Lambeth on the south bank, and systematically vandalised it, tearing tapestries to ribbons and smashing plates while raucously yelling, ‘A revel! A revel!’. Sudbury clearly believed that by resigning his secular office he might appease the peasants’ fury. But it was too late for such a gesture.

The next day, Thursday 13 June, the feast of Corpus Christi was celebrated by King Richard with a morning Mass. Then the royal party left the Tower in a flotilla of five barges and rowed downriver to the agreed rendezvous. Awaiting their arrival, the peasants, too, had heard a Corpus Christi Mass – a fiery sermon preached by John Ball in which he harped on his favourite egalitarian theme of the yawning chasm between rich and poor.

They [the rich] are clothed in velvet and camlet furred with grise, and we be vestured with poor cloth. They have their wine, spices and good bread, and we have the dross of the chaff and drink water. They dwell in fair houses, and we have the pain and travail, rain and wind in the fields. And by our labours … they keep and maintain their estates. We be called their bondsmen … we be beaten … and we have no sovereign to whom we may complain, nor that will hear us, nor do us right.

As Ball spoke, their sovereign was on his way to hear their complaints. The court’s intention was to disembark between Rotherhithe and Greenwich and walk to Blackheath, but on nearing the river bank they saw the vast and threatening throng gathered there. The royal party understandably hesitated. Froissart reports, ‘When they saw the king’s barge coming they [the peasants] made such a cry, as though the devils of hell had been among them … And when the king and his lords saw the mood of the people even the best assured of them were in dread.’ Famished and thirsty in the midsummer heat, with the tempting prize of London lying before them awaiting plunder, the rebels were in no mood to parley with those they blamed for their misery.

With a nervous Sudbury and Hales whispering in either ear – like the archbishop, the treasurer had had his Essex estates trashed by the rebels – Richard stayed on the safety of the river and attempted to address the mob from his barge. In his thin, piping treble the boy king asked for their demands. He was answered by a cacophony of ribald shouts and jeers, from which the clear message emerged that nothing less than the heads of his advisers trembling beside him would satisfy the rebels’ thirst for revenge. Thoroughly alarmed, the king’s counsellors insisted on turning their barges round and returning to the safety of the Tower as fast as their oars could row them. Following them along the south bank with shouts of ‘Treason!’, the thwarted peasant army moved west too, in a race which the frantic crew of the barges narrowly won, gratefully regaining the safety of the Tower. Angry, and believing that the king’s evil counsellors were stopping Richard from hearing their case, the peasants turned their frustrated fury on the prostrate city before them.

Reaching London Bridge, they found the drawbridge guarding its southern side barred. Further inflamed, the mob set fire to a nearby Southwark brothel, staffed by Flemish prostitutes and owned by Lord Mayor Walworth. Either this persuaded the guards on the bridge to change their minds, or more probably the bridge gates were opened by sympathisers from within the city. There were plenty of Londoners of the poorer sort, who burned with the same sense of injustice as their country cousins. As the men of Kent swarmed across the bridge and into the city, with blood-chilling yells of ‘Burn!’ and ‘Kill!’, their allies from Essex, approaching from Stepney, also gained access through the Aldgate, a few hundred yards north of the Tower. The two peasant armies met and mingled with their allies from within the city, perhaps 100,000 strong: a greater number than the entire population of London.

Fuelled by copious consumption of beer and wine – looted or offered free by terrified tavern owners – the huge mob went mad with the joy of slaughter and destruction. For the first time in its history, London was ruled by an anarchic crowd, intoxicated and metaphorically drunk, too, with their sudden power. Their first target was the princely Savoy palace, riverside home of the hated John of Gaunt. The peasants were adamant that the contents of this all-too-conspicuous symbol of excess should be smashed rather than stolen. One of them, who tried to make off with a plate, was caught and burned alive.

After murdering the guards at the palace gates, the rebel commons took their bloody axes to the great vats and barrels in the Savoy’s cellars, releasing a flood of wine. Their next goal was John of Gaunt’s treasury. Again, they scorned to steal, and removed the jewels and precious stones, gold plates and silver tableware, only to throw them from the palace’s terrace into the Thames. A gorgeous jewel-encrusted padded jacket belonging to the absent duke was draped on a pole as a substitute for the hated tyrant and riddled with arrows. Then it was the turn of the ducal wardrobe to be laid waste. Shimmering silk, rich velvet, furs, plump cushions and ancient tapestries were ripped to shreds, before being piled into a gigantic pyre in the Savoy’s great hall and set ablaze. The inferno spread to the rest of the palace and soon the whole building was in flames. Many peasant lives were lost when three unopened barrels were hurled into the flames and exploded with shattering force – the ‘yokel band’ being unfamiliar with the properties of gunpowder. Scores more looters, overcome with alcohol, were trapped in the cellar when the Savoy’s roof collapsed, and slowly asphyxiated under the ruins, their ‘cries and lamentations’ horrifying all who heard them. By morning, the once proud palace was a smouldering heap of blackened stone, charred timbers and molten metal.

The mob fanned out across the city, searching for new targets. They broke into London’s jails and freed the prisoners. As so often, foreign immigrants were singled out for attack. In previous pogroms Jews would have been the chief scapegoats, but since Edward I had expelled them, the peasants turned on Italian Lombards, who had taken over the Jews’ moneylending functions, and dozens were slaughtered. Dutch Flemings, resented for their domination of the cloth trade, were another easy target. Thirty-five Flemings, who had sought sanctuary in St Martin-in-Vinery Church, were dragged out and beheaded on a single bloody block. Thirteen more were decapitated outside the St Austin’s friary. In all 150 died. A distinguished eyewitness to the savagery, the poet Geoffrey Chaucer – a future custodian of maintenance at the Tower as Clerk of the Kings’ Works who, having an apartment over the Aldgate, had seen Jack Straw’s Essex men swarm into the city – reported, ‘There was a very great massacre of Flemings, and in one heap there were laying about forty headless bodies of persons who had been dragged forth from the churches and their houses; and hardly was there a street in the City in which there were not bodies laying.’

Later, the poet put the savagery he had seen into verse:

They yelled, as fiends do in hell,

The ducks cried, as men would him quell, …

The geese, for fear, flew over the trees,

Out of the hive came the swarms of bees;

So hideous was the noise, ah Benidicte!

Certes, he Jack Straw and his men

Made never shouts half so shrill

When that they would any Fleming kill …

Any citizen who looked remotely prosperous, such as the corrupt banker Sir Richard Lyons, who was killed on sight, was at risk. To be a servant of the state involved in oppressing the poor meant immediate death, as the tax collector Roger Leggett discovered when he was hauled from his house in Southwark and beheaded at Cheapside. The frenzied mob ignored Church sanctuary, prising a terrified Richard Imeworth, hated keeper of the King’s Bench prison in Southwark, from the pillar he was desperately clinging to in Westminster Abbey, and slitting his throat.

Knowing that the chief targets of their rage were out of reach with the king in the Tower, the mob took their frustrated fury out on property. The Temple, St John’s Hospital at Clerkenwell and ostentatious private houses of the wealthy were all torched because their owners were immured in the Tower. These properties shared the Savoy’s fiery fate before the mob, their fury temporarily sated by the orgy of rape, looting, arson and murder, reeled eastwards along the river. Surrounding the Tower, they collapsed on either side of the fortress, throwing themselves down on Tower Hill and St Katherine’s Square, screaming taunts, threats and obscenities at the Tower’s dumb walls. Inside the fortress, calm amidst his cowering courtiers, was young King Richard. He climbed to the roof of the White Tower to observe the raging fires and the sack of the city by his rebellious subjects.

In the heart of the Tower, the Royal Council spent the short summer night in anxious session. It was split between hawks and doves. The hardliners, led by London’s tough-minded lord mayor, William Walworth, were all for taking the Tower’s garrison out on a sortie and scattering their ill-armed besiegers while they were dead to the world. Although the peasants were numerous, Walworth argued, few had weapons, many were too drunk to stand, and the rest would be sleeping off their bloody binge. Even outnumbered by some fifty to one, the Tower’s professional soldiers would easily defeat this scum of the earth.

The doves were represented by the old Earl of Salisbury, the council’s senior member. He advised the king to appease the mob ‘with fine words’, and buy time by pretending to grant their requests. Richard, wise beyond his fourteen years, decided to adopt this course. He would ride out to confront the mob – but only to draw them out of London so that the hated ministers, quivering inside the Tower, could escape. Any promises extracted from him under duress would be empty words. The urgent thing was to get the peasant mob out of London, disperse them – then deal with them at leisure.

At daybreak on Friday 14 June, after hearing morning Mass, the king went up to a perch on the Tower’s eastern wall. Shouting over the cacophony of yells from the slowly stirring rebel host, he agreed to meet them – so long as they promised to go home afterwards. In the meantime, added Richard, he was issuing a general pardon ‘for all manner of trespasses and misprisions and felonies done up to this hour’. To match his words, Richard flourished a parchment with the promised pardon and affixed the royal seal to the document in full sight of the mob. A few minutes later, the great gates of the Tower swung open and the king, with a knot of his more courageous courtiers, rode out. It was an indisputably brave thing for the boy to have done – the desperate and still-drunken mob could have torn him to pieces on the spot. But, miraculously, they did not.

Awestruck, most of the mob followed the slight figure of the king as he rode eastwards out of the city to the fields known as Mile End. The courtiers around Richard were jeered all the way through the city wall at Aldgate to the open country beyond. But some of Tyler’s followers – probably including Wat himself, along with Ball and Straw – hung back. As the Tower’s guards attempted to close the fortress’s heavy gates after readmitting Joan, the queen mother – who had tried to accompany her son in a wagon, but turned back because of the sheer press of people in the streets – the peasants swept the sentries aside and stormed into the fortress. Their hoarse cries of triumph as they insolently ruffled the hair and tugged the beards of the bewildered sentries echoed around the ancient walls. For the first time since its construction four centuries before, London’s pre-eminent castle and royal palace was in hostile hands.

The rebels rampaged through the Tower, smashing locked doors, helping themselves to food and drink, wrecking and looting as they went. Then, on the first floor of the White Tower, ignoring the sanctuary of the church, they burst into the Romanesque splendour of St John’s Chapel. Here they found the most hated men in the kingdom huddled in prayer. Anticipating their likely fate as they heard the raucous cries of the approaching mob, Archbishop Simon Sudbury had held a short service, shriving the sins of his terrified companions. Then the chapel door burst open, and their ragged enemies, stinking of blood, sweat and drink, were upon them.

With chilling roars of vengeance, the peasants made good the threats they had uttered to Sudbury’s monks at Canterbury. The archbishop just had time to gasp the brief prayer ‘Omnes sancti orate pro nobis’ (‘All the Holy saints protest us’). Then the old man – along with the equally detested treasurer Sir John Hales, tax commissioner John Legge, and William Appleton, personal physician to John of Gaunt – was roughly dragged out of the chapel, borne in savage triumph through the Tower’s gates and up the slope of Tower Hill. Luckily for him, the detested John of Gaunt’s eldest son and heir, young Henry Bolingbroke, Earl of Derby, and a cousin and almost exact contemporary of King Richard, who was also in the Tower, was hidden by one of his father’s retainers, John Ferrour of Southwark – an act of mercy that would have momentous if unintended consequences for the future Henry IV and English history, – and dire ones for Richard himself.

A log was laid on Tower Hill – and the luckless quartet from the chapel became the first of 125 people to be executed in the Tower’s shadow over the next 400 years. Archbishop Sudbury was first to suffer. With Christian charity he forgave the amateur executioner before stretching his neck on the block. Nervous and inexperienced, his killer bungled the blow. ‘Aha!’ cried the stricken archbishop, his hand rising instinctively to the gaping wound on his neck. ‘It is the hand of God.’ Without waiting for the cleric to remove his hand, the swordsman struck again, severing Sudbury’s fingers. Still the archbishop lived, collapsing on the ground. It took a total of eight clumsy strokes delivered to his head, neck and shoulders before death mercifully ensued and the archbishop’s head rolled free. Their bloodlust unslaked, the murderers took the mangled head, nailed it inside his clerical mitre, stuck it on a pole and set it up on London Bridge – the traditional display case for traitors’ skulls. After watching this horrifying spectacle, Hales, Legge and Appleton were brutally dispatched in their turn.

Meanwhile, similar scenes of horror continued inside the Tower. In the royal palace, the king’s bedchamber was vandalised and then, in an inner sanctum, the mob discovered the king’s mother: Joan, the first Princess of Wales, once a beauty so alluring that she was known as the Fair Maid of Kent, but now grown so obese that she waddled rather than walked. Reputed to be the damsel whose dropped garter inspired her father-in-law Edward III to found the noblest order of chivalry, Joan at fifty-one, despite her corpulence, was still the embodiment of refinement and female delicacy.

Not that this deterred Wat’s army of drunken peasants. They crowded into the chamber where Joan lay in bed surrounded by her terrified and weeping ladies. Tapestries were torn from the walls, coverlets were stripped from the queen mother’s bed, and lewd threats were uttered. One of Joan’s ladies was raped, and the same fate appeared to await Joan herself. The peasants, however, contented themselves with a few forced snatched kisses. Their beery breath and rough embraces made the queen mother faint away, before they trailed out of the room. For fear that they would return, Joan, still swooning, was disguised in rough commoners’ clothes, hustled out of the Tower and into a barge which rowed her upriver to the safety of Baynard’s Castle.

Knowing nothing of these bloody events unfolding back at the Tower, Richard spent the day haggling with the peasants, granting demand after demand for an amelioration of their conditions – a freeze on rents, an end to court fines for rent arrears, properly negotiated work contracts – with a show of reluctance, stringing out the negotiations in the hope that the crowds would weary and go home. Finally, some 40,000 rebels – mainly Essex men – turned homewards, some carrying the pardons which the king had granted them. A weary but relieved Richard and his courtiers headed back towards the Tower. They were halfway there when they were met by a herald who blurted out the terrible news of the murders and mayhem that had taken place in their absence. The messenger did not know what had become of the king’s mother, but it was clear that the Tower was an unsafe destination. They made instead for the Royal Wardrobe office at Blackfriars which was still in loyal hands.

Arriving there, Richard was relieved to learn that his mother was alive. Hearing the details of her near-death experience, and the confirmation that his senior ministers had been brutally murdered, he hardened his resolve to deal with their murderers in the only language they understood. Having seen that his appeasement had merely led to more bloody anarchy, the young king was now ready to listen to the hard-line William Walworth. Richard’s attempts to kill the revolt by kindness had failed, Walworth argued. More concessions would merely whet the rebels’ thirst for blood. If they carried on like this, they too would share the fate of the victims at the Tower. It was time for resolute action.

Richard and his courtiers again agreed to parley with Tyler the next day. This time the meeting place was to be Smithfield, the open space north of London where horses were traded and cattle penned and slaughtered. Smithfield had also witnessed the bloody evisceration of ‘traitors’ like William Wallace: it was an appropriate setting for the climactic act of violence in the Peasants’ Revolt. Saturday 15 June dawned hot and sultry. The king waited until the heat of the day had passed at 5 p.m. before riding out again to meet the mob, pausing en route to say his prayers at Westminster Abbey. He was accompanied by a retinue of around 200 knights, pages and foot soldiers, led by a grimly determined Walworth. Richard, his slight figure disappearing inside a long gown trimmed with ermine, arrived at Smithfield where Tyler and around 20,000 followers awaited him.

Tyler’s two days as uncrowned king of London had swelled him to foolish arrogance. In his sweaty pomp he rode up alone to confront Richard. Brandishing a dagger, he grabbed the monarch’s hand, insolently addressing him as ‘Brother King’. Tyler reeled off a list of new demands, each more outrageous than the last. They included the abolition of all ranks of nobility; the stripping from the former lords of their lands and goods; the confiscation of Church land and property, and the reduction of bishops from princes of the Church to the status of poor, wandering priests like John Ball. It was a redprint for social revolution. In Tyler’s primitive communist state, only Richard would be left as titular king, while real power would lie with Wat and his men. Richard replied quietly that all reasonable demands would be granted – providing the peasants now returned to their villages.

There followed a tense pause, as brooding as the torrid afternoon. Tyler demanded a jug of beer. He quaffed a mouthful, before coarsely spitting it on the ground in front of the king – itself an act of unpardonable lese-majesty in the eyes of the horrified courtiers. Then the tension suddenly snapped. Turning to the king’s personal page, the peasant leader demanded that he hand over the ceremonial Great Sword of State that he carried, since in future he, Wat Tyler, would be wielding the state’s power. Boldly, the page indignantly refused: the sword was the king’s property, he declared, and Tyler was not fit to hold it since he was ‘only a villein’. Enraged, Tyler stood in his stirrups and, waving his dagger over his head, vowed that he would not eat until he had the page’s head on a platter. This was the moment that the lord mayor had been waiting for. Walworth spurred his horse forward.

Wat Tyler’s death (left to right: Sir William Walworth, Mayor of London (wielding sword); Wat Tyler; King Richard II; and Sir John Cavendish, esquire to the King (bearing lance)

Shouting that Tyler was a ‘stinking wretch’, Walworth pushed between the peasant chief and the king. Tyler aimed his dagger at the mayor’s chest. The blow was deflected with a clang, since under his robes Walworth had taken the precaution of donning a breastplate. Now it was his turn to strike. Drawing his short sword, the mayor hit Tyler full in the forehead with the pommel, following up with a slashing blow across the rebel’s neck. Dropping his dagger, Tyler reeled back, grabbing instinctively at his bleeding neck. Seizing the moment, another courtier, Sir Ralph Standish, rode up and drove his sword deep into Tyler’s guts. Groaning, the peasant lord slid from his horse and collapsed in a bloody heap.

This was the moment of supreme danger for Richard. At the sight of their leader writhing on the ground, the peasants started forward with a collective roar of rage, clearly intent on killing the king and all who rode with him. Richard was equal to the peril. He fearlessly forced his horse forward, piping out, ‘Sirs, would you kill your king? I am your rightful captain, and I will be your leader. Let all those who love me, follow me.’ Quite alone, Richard rode up to and through the mob, which parted like the biblical Red Sea before the small figure in his royal robe. The king led them north into the open countryside called Clerkenwell Fields, and there, after again promising to pardon their rebellion and address their grievances, he left them – returning to the Tower where Walworth was already rallying a small contingent of troops and frightened Londoners. Returning to Smithfield with this armed following, Walworth’s first concern was to ensure that Tyler was dead. To his horror, he learned that the ruffian still lived. Tyler had been taken to the hospital of the nearby Priory of St Bartholemew. Mercilessly, Walworth had the dying man dragged from his bed, taken out to Smithfield, and beheaded.

Miraculously, this bloody climax marked the end of the uprising. Wat Tyler’s dream of a peasants’ paradise died with him. Without their charismatic leader, the fearsome host of peasants meekly returned to their homes and villages to await the inevitable royal retribution. It was not long in coming. In contrast to his honeyed words and the promises made at Mile End and Smithfield, Richard now proclaimed to the peasants, ‘Serfs ye are, and serfs ye shall remain.’ Tyler’s head replaced that of Sudbury on the spikes topping London Bridge. Some 150 other rebels, including Ball and Straw, were hunted down and paid the full penalty for their revolt. The social order of king, lords and commons which had been so briefly and brutally turned topsy-turvy was restored. But the fallibility of monarchy – in the form of the frail young monarch himself – had been rudely paraded for all to see, and neither peasant nor king would ever forget it.

What Drove the Rise of the English Longbowman?

The answer to this question can be found in the stories of the various ways people used bows and arrows in the times between the Norman Conquest and the Black Death. Sometimes their activities are lost to history because of the lack of records, at other times the royal administration may have discouraged popular archery either deliberately or by neglect. But an English tradition of popular archery existed throughout the period.

Much has been made of the Anglo-Norman experience of archery in their wars against the Welsh and its influence on the development of military archery in England. The Norman kings and Marcher Lords gained control of large parts of Southern Wales through conquest and alliance by the middle of the twelfth century. Then they used the archery skills of their new tenants and allies in their assault on Ireland. Part of the reason why the Southern Welsh archery skills have been emphasised is because of the graphic accounts of its effectiveness left us by Giraldus Cambrensis. Meanwhile there is evidence of archery skills developing in the English border counties, or more likely being discovered and exploited by the Anglo Norman rulers. But as accounts of military archery in Stephen’s reign make clear, there was an active English archery tradition at the same time as the Welsh archers were impinging on the Anglo Normans. But it is probable that the Welsh contribution to the development of military archery was to demonstrate the effectiveness of more powerful bows than were commonly used in the contemporary English tradition. At the same time, the Battle of the Standard strongly suggests that there was a tradition of archery in Northern England, probably encouraged by two centuries of Norse influence, and more centuries of warfare with the Scots. While the Norsemen did not make extensive use of military archery, they understood the value of archery. Their tradition of archery may well have concentrated more on longbow use, since there are tenth-century finds of longbows from Hedeby in Norway and Ballinderry in Ireland.

After King John lost the wealthiest parts of his cross-Channel kingdom to Philip Augustus of France military tactics in England developed surprisingly slowly. Despite the rapid expansion of both the types of weapons and the social classes included in the Assizes of Arms under Henry III it took until the end of the thirteenth century for the beginnings of the English tactical system became apparent. Edward I tended to use archers in the same way that William I and Stephen had: to provide general harassing or covering fire and to weaken bodies of stalwart infantry until the mailed horsemen could destroy them. That is men that might turn a battle their way rather than win it outright. The battles of the Standard in 1138 and Boroughbridge in 1322 are much more significant stages in the development of military practice in England. In both these battles, the small numbers of knights present dismounted to stiffen the infantry line while relatively large numbers of archers were placed in and around the front line to rebuff the oncoming enemy with arrow shot. But, for as long as the Norman and Plantagenet kings kept their focus mainly on Continental European matters, military practice continued to follow the Continental tradition with knights and mailed horsemen being the masters of the battlefield. As a result, the lessons of the Battle of the Standard were largely forgotten until the thirteenth century when a solution had to be found to a major military problem. England was no longer able to raise the numbers of mailed horsemen necessary to match those that could be raised in France and the German states.

The thirteenth century was the key period for the development of popular archery in England. Henry III and Edward I progressively extended the reach of the Assizes of Arms to include men from more social groups. Between 1230 and 1285 the duty of arms ownership for peacekeeping and military service was extended to include both free and serfs, so that by 1285 no healthy non noble layman aged between 16 and 60 was specifically excluded. Significantly, the most numerous groups were those that were expected to have bows and arrows. This was the time when the major official recognition and encouragement of archery happened; and by doing so it marked the recognition that an English tradition of popular archery existed. Edward III’s 1363 proclamation requiring archery practice only had force because the bow had been established as the legally required weapon of a majority of the population in the previous century. But a century earlier Henry III’s advisers must have discerned some level of interest in archery among the population of England when they added bows and arrows to the weapon types required by the Assizes of Arms. The reach and influence of the medieval kings of England was not sufficiently powerful that they could make men take up weapons that they had no interest in. This became apparent in the second half of the thirteenth century when Edward I was disappointed by the number and quality of knights coming forward in answer to his summons. While in part this had an economic cause, knightly arms were not cheap, there was also an element of weariness and resentment with Edward’s demands since he was at war so often. But it shows very clearly that it was difficult to force men to take up arms if they felt it was against their interests.

The main reason Henry III expanded the scope of the Assizes of Arms was the need to increase the pool of competent men available to recruit English armies from. With the loss of many of the his European lands, and resulting loss of both revenue and manpower, Henry and his advisers were left in a weak position in comparison with the king of France. So they had to look more closely at the potential military resources available in England. This led them to begin to include the English tradition of archery and so undo Henry II’s omission, after he had left archery out of his English Assize of Arms in 1181. They might well have remembered the ‘foundation myth’ of the Norman and Plantagenet kings of England, that an archer struck the fatal blow at the Battle of Hastings, they may have recalled the effectiveness of archery in Henry I’s and Stephen’s reigns as well as that of the Welsh archers. So they probably felt that the inclusion of military archery would help to balance the relative lack of mailed horsemen. The staged inclusion of archery in the Assizes of Arms may show that the royal administration didn’t realise initially the potential of the English tradition of archery to provide fighting men, and in particular were ignorant of the amount of archery practised by the peasantry, both free and unfree. Although there is very little evidence of archery as a sport in the eleventh to thirteenth centuries, what little there is shows that members of the population at large enjoyed archery. While they were nowhere near as widespread and numerous as was the case in the late fourteenth, fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, they showed that popular archery existed. Whatever their motives, Henry III and his advisers could hardly have foreseen the fearsome power that the archers of England and Wales would bring to European battlefields in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

But one question remains: why did the Henry III and Edward I encourage military archery through their Assizes of Arms and the Statute of Westminster in the thirteenth century? Contemporary experiences of powerful infantry in North Wales, Scotland and Continental Europe all demonstrated the effectiveness of steady bodies of pike armed infantry. They could resist and even defeat mailed cavalry, the ‘battlefield kings’ of the time. Infantry armed with close-quarters weapons such as swords axes and shields found bodies of pike-armed men very difficult to defeat. Perhaps more importantly, steady pike-armed infantry could be raised and trained much more quickly than effective military archers regardless of whether the archers were using, shorter bows, longbows or crossbows. So why didn’t the English kings and their military advisors take the easier and more widely followed path and develop pike armed infantry? It was a sort of medieval military ‘scissors, paper, stone’. Good numbers of archers could negate pike-armed infantry and menace the horses at least of mailed cavalry. Pike-armed infantry could negate mailed horse but not archers. Infantry armed with close quarters weapons were not decisive forces in armies of the period because they were vulnerable to both mailed horse and archers. Mailed horse could negate unprotected archers (as the Scots managed at Bannockburn) and disordered pike-armed infantry. If the archers were protected by either infantry, including dismounted knights as at the Battle of the Standard or by mounted knights as at Falkirk they could to all intents and purposes win the battle. In addition to these abilities, archers were very useful as garrison troops, and light infantry for foraging and harassing the enemy. Looked at in these terms the real question becomes why was it only among the English and Welsh (and some English ruled lands like Gascony) that large numbers of men developed the ability to use increasingly heavy hand bows in war? This is particularly surprising since Henry II’s Assize of Arms issued in Le Mans in 1180 allowed those men belonging to the lowest income group included the option of having bows and arrows. It is believed that the robust tradition of popular archery in England and Wales is part of the explanation.

When did longbow archery become the dominant form of archery in England and Wales? The evidence recounted in this book makes it clear that shorter bows, between about 4 and 5ft in length, were in widespread use up to the middle of the fourteenth century at least. The most telling evidence comes from two legal reports mentioning bows and ell and a half in length (about 54in or 1.37m in length) and various illustrations. At the same time, direct evidence of longbows about two ells or yards in length also comes from other legal reports. Ireland has provided archaeological evidence of complete bows of both lengths; a shorter bow from twelfth-century Waterford and a longbow from late tenth-century Ballinderry. Yet by the start of the fifteenth century at the latest it is very difficult to find any trace of shorter bows still being use. They may well have been but longbows were the predominant form by then. Longbows are more demanding on the bowyer who has to find and work longer staves, and on the archer, who will have to master the long draw, and likely greater draw weight of the bow. The benefit is greater power in the arrow, and, vitally from the point of view of military archery, greater weight in the arrow and arrowstrike.

Evidence begins to emerge in the last two decades of the thirteenth century onwards of significant activities which point to deliberate development of the power of the bow used in England. It is possible that the archer freeman of York, Robert of Werdale made a small contribution to this change to the use of longbows in war, but we have no proof. This is a significant period in English military history since it marks the time when the Statute of Winchester completed the legal recognition of the English tradition of archery begun fifty years earlier. This royal encouragement of archery begins to be complimented by the development of an archery equipment industry in England. The earliest clear records of the import of bowstaves come from this time. The existence of craftsmen bowyers is confirmed in the records of expenditure on bows by royal officers for selected men that also comes from these decades. In the case of these purchase records the prices paid for the bows in the 1280s was the same as that paid by Edward III’s administration in the 1340s, implying a particular standard of bow was required. Evidence of this trend to more powerful bows also comes from stratified finds of arrowheads, where arrowheads with a socket diameter of at least 10mm become more common in the late thirteenth century and into the fourteenth century, demonstrating the more widespread use of heavy bows.

There is one piece of clear evidence of how and when long-draw bows that could be drawn to at least 30in, like those found on the Mary Rose, came to be the standard for military archery. It is a royal order made in 1338 to Nicholas Caraud, the King’s Artillier. He was instructed ‘to buy 4000 sheaves of arrows of an ell in length with steel heads.’ There would be no need for arrows a yard long if they were not going to be shot from longbows. As the Waterford bow and the description of John of Tylton’s bow and arrow show, bows around an ell and a half (c.54in or 1.37m) in length, shot arrows of around 26–27in (66–68cm) in length. Edward III was determined that the archers in his armies would have powerful bows, this was why the English and Welsh archers shattered the French armies. The first half of the fourteenth century was a time of significant technological change in the archery equipment used in the English tradition of archery. Long-draw bows became the norm; heavier arrows evidenced by arrowheads with larger socket diameters became the norm; stringers became more skilled at making strong thin strings that no longer required arrows to have bulbous nocks. Evidence of the way the royal administration drove these changes in the fourteenth century can also be found in the increasing number of records of imports of bowstaves including Edward II’s order for Spanish yew bows in the 1320s. By the 1340s the royal administration was issuing substantial orders for bows and arrows which give no measurements for the bows and arrows required. This suggests that bowyers and fletchers knew what the king expected by this time.

But this was also the time when the Luttrell Psalter showed some men shooting shorter bows at the butts. A reasonable deduction from all this is that the Royal standard for military bows was the longbow, and that this standard brought about a shift in the English archery culture to almost total practice with the longbow in the second half of the fourteenth century. This change might explain in part the complaints of both Edward II and Edward III between 1315 and the 1340s that the Arrayers were dilatory, corrupt and sending feeble, poorly equipped archers to muster. While the Arrayers may have been both dilatory and corrupt, they may also have been sending archers equipped with shorter bows like those shown in the Luttrell Psalter and other illustrations; men who were competent enough with shorter bows, but who struggled with the longbows in use in the royal armies.

How active and pervasive was the English tradition of archery? It is difficult to find much trace of it before the beginning of the thirteenth century, except for military archery mainly in Stephen’s reign, particularly the Battle of the Standard. This lack of evidence arises for two main reasons: lack of records and a general tendency to restrict the activities of much of the population through a rigid understanding of the significance of free and unfree status. Once Henry III started to erode this separation by including unfree men in the Assize of Arms, the wider tradition of archery was brought forward into national significance. The thirteenth century marks the time in history when written records increased enormously in number which gives us so much more information about the practice of archery in England. Much of this information is peripheral, just recording the ownership and use of bows and arrows. As such it provides illumination of the practice of archery by Englishmen of the time in a way that a tract from an enthusiast does not. The ordinariness of some of the records illuminates a tradition of archery among ordinary men which was the foundation of the near legendary skills and reputation of the English and Welsh archers in the coming decades.

Magna Carta and the Forest Charter restricted the physical penalties that could be exacted for offences against the aw in general and Forest Law in particular. This meant that more of the men engaged in illegal activities in the royal forests with bows and arrows survived to repeat their offences and develop their skills. Since the forests covered maybe a quarter of England in the thirteenth century, this was likely to be quite a large number of men. Moreover the vast increase in the number of private parks presented even more opportunities for men to practice archery illegally. In addition, the forests and parks provided opportunities for men with archery skills to gain good work as foresters, parkers and hunters. It is difficult to know how many foresters and foresters’ men used archery skills in their work in the royal forests, but given the number and size of the forests 1,000 would be the likely minimum. As has been noted above there were perhaps 3,200 private parks in the early fourteenth century, meaning at least 3,200 skilled archers could have been employed as parkers and hunters. In addition to these men there would have been a good number of men employed as hunters full or part time by noble and gentry households both lay and clerical. All these made up an elite in terms of skill, almost certainly men capable of using powerful longbows. Writs of summons and the pay records for Edward I’s Welsh and Scottish campaigns show larger numbers of archers being required than could have been supplied from this skilled group. He expected men who were conforming to the demands of the Assizes of Arms and the Statute of Winchester to come to his armies. These men would have had more variable levels of skill and quality of equipment and it is quite likely that many of them used shorter bows, 4 to 5ft in length. But as their achievements proved these bows were effective.

Huntsmen in England, regardless of class were more likely to practise bow and stable hunting than par force hunting. It is noteworthy that this was not just the case among the English before the Conquest but was also generally true in the reigns of the Norman and Plantagenet kings. The ‘Laws of Cnut’ noted above allowed all men the right to hunt on their land encouraging and acknowledging popular hunting before the Conquest which in turn suggests the existence of a popular archery tradition in England. After the imposition of Forest Law by William I this tradition was repressed, particularly where it related to hunting. Although the vast extent of the royal forests under the Norman and Plantagenet kings meant that forestry and hunting continued to provide employment opportunities for archers whether English or Norman. But when Magna Carta and the associated Forest Charter banned the imposition of ferocious physical penalties for illegal hunting in the royal forests in the first quarter of the thirteenth century popular archery grew. The importance of hunting to this growth of popular archery should not be underestimated.

When bows were used in illegal activities including poaching they seem to have been used by people from a wide range of social and economic groups. Many of the cases noted above were perpetrated by ordinary men and make clear that men carried bows at all sorts of times, not just when they were expecting trouble. This is made particularly clear in the cases where an unstrung bow was used as a club. But in the reports of both poaching and other illegal activities bows were used in a minority of cases. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, bows became more commonly used in crimes, reflecting the greater number of men practising archery in these later centuries. Before the fourteenth century it is fair to suggest that archery was a minority pastime.

There was a blossoming of popular archery in the thirteenth century and that this led to there being enough competent archers for Edward III to achieve great things in his wars. By doing so he ensured that popular archery became a defining characteristic of life in medieval England.

The Regency of William the Marshal

The trebuchet was first introduced to England in 1216 during the invasion by the future king Louis VIII of France. In 1225, King Henry III of England invited an artillery engineer named Jordan, with the illuminating nickname of the `Trebuchet Maker’ to construct a large number of these engines for the royal government. By the late 1220s, trebuchets were the dominant type of stone-throwing artillery in the royal arsenal.

John’s sudden death in 1216 might have brought the end of his dynasty and a second conquest from across the Channel. Louis of France and the rebel barons who supported his claim to be king of England controlled the crucial south-east of the country: the ports of London, Southampton and Portchester and the castles of Guildford, Farnham and Winchester. It is true that access to the midlands was blocked by John’s foreign captains, Fawkes de Breauté and Engelard de Cigogné, and that the justiciar Hubert de Burgh was holding out in Dover castle. But now that John was dead, the French `were confident (in Wendover’s words) `that they had the kingdom of England in their power’. Even before John’s death French soldiers had been boasting that England was theirs and that the English had no right in the land. In principle this boast was a riposte to the English claim still to be entitled to Normandy. The French were going to redress the balance: William the Conqueror after all had taken England with a small army in 1066. Because of the power of armed knights a battle involving few troops could have decisive results, as Philip Augustus’s victory at Bouvines in 1214 and the Spanish crusaders’ victory at Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212 had recently shown. Louis’s invasion might even be seen as another Norman conquest. Certainly the Norman branches of families who had lost their English lands in 1204 took part in it, as they were excepted from the peace terms in 1217.

Louis had favourable conditions for victory: control of the centres of government, support of the rebel barons who claimed to be upholding Magna Carta, and a just cause in terms of avenging the disinherited Normans. That `hammer of kings’, Hugh bishop of Lincoln, had supposedly prophesied on his deathbed in 1200 that `this Frenchman, Philip, will wipe out the English royal stock, just as an ox plucks up grass by its roots, for already three of the sons [Henry the Young King, Geoffrey duke of Brittany, Richard I] have been eliminated and the fourth one [John] will only have a short respite’. Hugh thought this to be appropriate vengeance on the adulterous Eleanor of Aquitaine, who had insulted Louis VII of France by marrying Henry II with such alacrity. Prophecies are not facts, of course, but medieval ones often expressed significant points of view and they were much regarded in a culture which considered divine or devilish intervention a common experience in life.

The answer to the French threat in 1216 was to rely on William the Marshal. He became the hero of the hour, or at least that is the story in his biography which was written in romantic verse (that is, in French) in the 1220s. The Marshal had led an exciting and dangerous life from the time he had been handed over to King Stephen as a hostage in 1152 at the age of five or six. Reality and chivalrous romance blend in his actual life and in his verse biography in a way which it is impossible to disentangle. His recorded career is a model of chivalry: he was trained as a squire in the Tancarville family who were the master chamberlains of Normandy; as a knight he was ransomed by Eleanor of Aquitaine; he himself knighted the Young King (Henry II’s son) and fought in France with him against his father. After a pilgrimage to Jerusalem the Marshal returned to the allegiance of Henry II and saved him from defeat by killing a horse under the future Richard I. Yet he won Richard’s favour, just as he had won Henry II’s. To King John he behaved in a similarly firm way, refusing to give up his homage to Philip Augustus after 1204 and yet supporting John against the rebel barons in 1215. When John died so suddenly the next year, his will named William the Marshal first among his lay executors. The verse biography elaborates this and has John say with his last gasp: `Sirs, for God’s sake beg the Marshal to forgive me, and because I am surer of his loyalty than that of any one else, I beg you to entrust to him the guardianship of my son, for the land will never be held by anyone except with his help.’ The Marshal was reluctant to take on an almost hopeless cause but at last he was persuaded by the sight of the helpless child, the future Henry III, and by his sense of honour.

John’s men buried him at Worcester and went to Gloucester where the pathetic dignity of the future king, then aged nine, caused them to burst into tears. The boy seemed, as a poet put it with pardonable exaggeration, a `tiny spark of minute beauty, the sole hope of the torn kingdom’, like the star of Bethlehem. With dubious legality John’s men immediately crowned their little king as Henry III in Gloucester abbey with an improvised gold circlet, for they had no archbishop of Canterbury (Langton was in Rome and had been thought a traitor by John), no Westminster abbey (Louis held London), and no regalia (some of it had been lost in John’s disaster crossing the Wash and the rest was inaccessible in Westminster abbey). During the coronation dinner a messenger rushed in to say that the Marshal’s castle at Goodrich only twelve miles away was being attacked by Louis’s partisans.

The Marshal confided to his knights that he seemed to be embarking on a sea without bottom or shore. They replied that even if the worst happened and Louis took the whole of England, there was still an honourable course open to them by seeking refuge in Ireland. Heartened by this, the Marshal told his men that he would carry the little king on his shoulders from island to island and country to country and would not fail him even if he had to beg for his bread. The sentiments expressed here in the verse biography are not so much those of the Dunkirk spirit as of the knights errant in contemporary romances who pledge themselves to superhuman quests. The Marshal’s motives in upholding Henry III were presumably more complex than this. Nevertheless, as the verse biography argues, Henry’s cause might have foundered at the start if it had not been championed by the Marshal with his reputation as one of the best knights in Europe. This gave the regime prestige, and the Marshal stood as a focus of loyalty in terms of European chivalry as well as of English custom and feudal law.

Support for the boy king, however, did not depend as exclusively on the Marshal as his biography suggests. Like other apparently simple medieval narratives, the biography is a work of art which skilfully presents its author’s and hero’s point of view. Other elements favouring Henry can readily be cited. First of all, John’s death deprived his opponents of the personal cause of their rebellion. Instead of a tyrant they were now resisting a helpless boy, who was as entitled to his inheritance as any other heir. Magna Carta (clauses 2-6) had shown the importance the barons attached to laws of inheritance by specifying the rights of heirs immediately after the claims of the church. Secondly, the boy had the official backing of the new pope, Honorius III, through the legate Guala. He had added papal authority to the makeshift coronation ceremony at Gloucester by presiding at it, and furthermore within a month of John’s death he set his seal along with the Marshal’s to the revised text of Magna Carta, which was issued by the new government to all magnates and royal officials. This reversal of Innocent III’s condemnation deprived the rebels of another of their grievances, yet it did not release them from excommunication. On the contrary, Guala made the struggle against Louis into a holy war. The royalist forces wore the white cross of crusaders, they were absolved of all their sins before going into battle, and recruits were described as converts. The precedent for launching a crusade against fellow Christians had been established eight years earlier by Innocent III when he authorized the Albigensian crusade against the Cathar heretics of southern France. That was a frightening precedent, as a crusade meant that the enemy were considered infidels and were therefore given no quarter. Henry III’s troops were to show that this was what they too meant by a crusade when they sacked Lincoln and committed other atrocities in 1217.

A third element favouring the royalists in 1216 was the character of the men they had on their side in addition to the Marshal and the papal legate. They were few but formidable. First there were John’s foreign captains of whom the two most important – the Norman exile Fawkes de Breauté and the Poitevin aristocrat and troubadour Savari de Mauléon – had been named among John’s eight lay executors. Of great experience and the king’s personal tutor was the Poitevin bishop of Winchester, Peter des Roches. Then there was the justiciar Hubert de Burgh, who independently of the Marshal had refused to surrender to Louis at Dover when told of John’s death. Thirdly, there were loyal English nobles like Ranulf earl of Chester, and John’s agents of long standing such as William Brewer. The king’s side lacked numbers but not prestige nor experience.

Decisive victory for Henry III came in 1217 in the land battle at Lincoln in May and the sea battle off Dover in August. Battle was joined at Lincoln to prevent the French, who had won control of East Anglia, from penetrating northwards. It was an overwhelming victory for Henry’s side despite their inferior numbers: the count de Perche, the French commander, was killed and numerous knights were taken prisoner. The captain responsible for the surprise stratagem of attacking from within Lincoln castle was Fawkers de Breauté. The sea battle off Dover was thought even more crucial than Lincoln by both Louis and his opponents because it lost the French their access to Kent and London.


In the face of a royalist army of 406 knights, 250 or 317 mercenary crossbowmen and an unknown but small number of foot-sergeants, a combined army of rebel barons and their French allies besieging Lincoln castle withdrew within the old walled Roman portion of the city, having mistakenly supposed that the royalist force was in fact larger than their own, which numbered 611 knights and 1,000infantrymen. (This error resulted from the royalist commander, William le Marshal, having left a number of standards with his baggage-train, which from a distance therefore resembled a substantial body of troops.) The royalists were nevertheless able to enter Lincoln via a postern in the castle and also by breaking through an ‘ancient’ blocked gateway in the west wall, surprising the rebels between the castle and the cathedral. The royalist crossbowmen, under Fawkes de Brébuté, sallying from the castle, were repulsed, but the knights were successful in overrunning the rebels’ siege-engines and routing the Frenchmen in a street-fight, killing their commander, the Comte de Perche. The rebels’ flight was hampered at a narrow gate by a panic-stricken cow, as a result of which some 3-400 knights and 3 rebel earls were captured by the victorious royalists, whose own losses totalled just one knight and a handful of infantry.

DOVER, 24 August 1217

Abandoning his own siege of Dover following the defeat of his northern forces at Lincoln, Prince Louis (later Louis VIII) of France, to whom the rebel barons had offered the English crown, summoned reinforcements from Calais. These sailed over 900-strong in 70 nefs and 10 large warships under Eustace the Monk, the majority of them doubtless in the warships with their supplies and equipment in the nefs. They were intercepted én route to London by an English fleet of 16 Cinque Ports vessels and 20 smaller craft commanded by the justiciar Hubert de Burgh.

These managed to get to windward of the larger French fleet and then bore down on it from behind, laying down a heavy barrage of crossbow-fire and then throwing powdered quicklime, which choked and blinded the French. One by one the French vessels were overtaken and boarded, Eustace’s own being surrounded by 4 English ships when it was unable to fire its trebuchet because of a severe list. Some others sank, their sides ‘perforated’ (either by missiles or as a result of collisions), and only 15 ships are said to have escaped. Eustace was captured and unceremoniously beheaded on his ship’s rail. As a direct result of this decisive defeat Prince Louis, with his lines of communication cut, renounced his claim to the throne and evacuated his troops from England.

Matthew Paris has Hubert de Burgh, the justiciar and castellan of Dover, say, `I beseech you by the blood of Christ to allow me to hang rather than give up the castle to any Frenchman, for it is the key of England.’ Despite the nationalist bias of Matthew Paris (and of his predecessor Roger Wendover), these events should not be seen in simplistic terms as victories of the English over the French. This would be absurd, since the most effective of Henry III’s captains, Fawkes de Breauté, was a Norman, and the Marshal himself was Norman by upbringing and remained throughout his life – in his opinion at least – a true vassal of Philip Augustus as well as of the English king. Nevertheless this hard-fought struggle with Louis of France, coming on top of the loss of Normandy, polarized the difference between English and French interests and encouraged a sense of apartness on both sides of the Channel. Such apartness was foreign to the whole life experience of international knights like the Marshal and it was foreign too to the Poitevin and papal influences which shaped the education of the new king, Henry III. He could not have felt that his throne had been saved for him by the English, still less by the French of Paris, but primarily by people of southern (technically Occitan) speech who had come like his mother from south of the Loire or like Guala from Italy.

Although in the autumn of 1217 a formal peace was made with Louis, and another revised issue of Magna Carta (together with a new Charter of the Forest) symbolized settlement at home, the Marshal did not think that anything permanent had been achieved. The only solution he could see when he lay dying in 1219 was to entrust the kingdom to the pope in the person of his new legate, Pandulf:

Car n’a teil gent en nule terre

Comment il a dedenz Engleterre

De divers corages chascuns . . .

[Because there are no people in any land

like those in England,

where each person has his own opinion . . .]

That comment came from a man whose memory of strife extended back to Stephen’s reign, but it would apply equally well to the next fifty years and the struggles of Henry III with his barons.

Every Christian knight wished to die in Jerusalem. To the Holy Sepulchre the Marshal had borne the cloak of the Young King in accordance with his oath more than thirty years before. He himself was appropriately buried in that evocation of the Holy Land in England, the round church of the London Temple, which had been dedicated by the patriarch Heraclius of Jerusalem in 1185. The Marshal’s biographer gives Philip Augustus the last word: `The Marshal was truly the most loyal man I ever knew in any place where I have been.’ Such praise was possible from the king of France because the Marshal, through his conduct as a knight, stood above national rivalries. The Marshal symbolized old-fashioned idealism.

Portugal and the Changing Art of War


Portuguese kings needed more revenue by the late fourteenth century especially because of their escalating military costs. These cost increases were mainly a consequence of developments in the technology of warfare. Chain mail, long worn by knights, was being steadily replaced by more expensive plate armour. Fortifications were being re-designed and strengthened to better withstand sieges. Perhaps most important of all, the introduction and escalating use of the crossbow amounted to a revolution in weaponry. Systematic recruitment and training of crossbowmen (besteiros) probably began in Portugal during the first half of the fourteenth century, but progressed slowly. The process required complex organisation on a national scale, but was an essential step towards the creation of a permanent royal army. Units of crossbowmen were raised on a quota basis by the Portuguese municipalities. The archers were recruited primarily from the sons of tradesmen, not members of the nobility or their retainers, and they were equipped with their weapons directly by the crown.

Though in the struggle against Juan of Castile a substantial proportion of Joāo I’s army still consisted of feudal levies, the presence of the crossbowmen enabled Nuno Álvares Pereira to apply one of the most important lessons of the Hundred Years War – namely, that well-trained, disciplined bowmen drawn up in sound defensive positions could devastate slow-moving knights on horseback. So it had been at Crécy and Poitiers – and so it was at Aljubarrota. On that memorable field the Portuguese army, though smaller than that of Castile, was more coherent, better led and perhaps more advanced on the road to modernisation. While Portugal did not retain these advantages for long, they were nevertheless crucial in 1385, when the kingdom’s need was greatest.

Early in the fourteenth century the still more revolutionary powder weapons were introduced; but they were then too unreliable and therefore slow to gain acceptance. However, by the start of the fifteenth century cannon were proving their worth, especially in siege warfare. Under the early Avis kings they were gradually incorporated into the nation’s arsenal. Firearms and gunpowder were kept strictly under crown control, with a central arsenal maintained in Lisbon. Cannon were used to great effect by both Afonso V and later monarchs in Morocco. They were also mounted on warships.

The English also remained active in Spain, fighting against Castile as allies of Navarre, Aragon or, in the 1380s, Portugal. In 1381-82, for example, Edmund Langley, Earl of Cambridge, led 1,500 men-at-arms and 1,500 archers (mostly English but including Gascons and Castilian exiles) in an invasion of Castile alongside the King of Portugal, while some 4-800 English archers under 3 esquires were in the Portuguese army at Aljubarrota. The largest English expedition was that of1386-87, when the Duke of Lancaster, pressing his own claim to the throne of Castile, invaded Galicia and León in alliance with Portugal, his forces totalling as many as 2,000 men-at-arms, 3,000 archers and perhaps 2,000 further foot-soldiers.

With so many French and English troops around it is hardly surprising to find the Spanish states very soon beginning to emulate their military organisation and techniques. As early as 1372, for instance, we find King Fernando of Portugal stipulating that his vassals were in future expected to field troops equipped either in the French or the English manner. Full reorganisation was in hand by 1382, when both Portugal and Castile laid down new rules for the raising and administration of their armies. Fernando entirely abolished the Moorish military nomenclature that had been used for hundreds of years and replaced it with the current Anglo-French terminology of his allies. The ancient office ofalferez mor (Chief-standard-bearer), the military commander-in-chief in the king’s absence, was abandoned and replaced instead by a Constable (Condestabre) and a Marshal (Marichal).

Portugal, normally fielded only some 2-3,000 men-at-arms in the 14th century, plus at the most 10-12,000 infantry. Even in the Toro campaign as late as 1475 she put only 5,600 horse and 14,000 foot in the field, as compared to Castile’s 4,000 men-at-arms, 8,000 jinetes (spelt with a ‘g’ in Portugal) and 30,000 infantry in 1476.

The Military Orders

After 1275 the Orders had been gradually taken over by the aristocracy, and then by the crown, and were subsequently stripped of much of their wealth. In addition they were sapped of their strength by their use in the civil wars that so racked the Iberian kingdoms; in 1354, for example, the anti-Master of Calatrava, Pedro Estevaiiez Carpenteiro, mustered 600 lances against Pedro the Cruel’s own appointed Master, Diego Garcia de Padilla, brethren of Santiago, Calatrava and Alcantara fighting on both sides in the Trastamaran conflict of the 1350s and 1360s. It is hardly surprising, then, that one modern authority should state that ‘by 1330 all the Orders were smaller, weaker, more dominated by the kings and nobles and less effective against the Moslems’. By the end of this era their very independence had been stripped from them too; in Castile the crown effectively took the Masterships of Calatrava, Santiago and Alcantara for itself in 1487, 1493 and 1494 respectively.

Nevertheless, the Orders could still muster substantial forces throughout the 14th and 15th centuries. Calatrava alone housed 150 freyles caballeros (brother knights) in 1302, in addition to which the Order had 40 commanderies by the end of the 14th century and 51-56 by the beginning of the 16th. The Order’s Grand Commander and Castellan respectively raised forces of 500 cavalry and 1,200 infantry, and 1,200 cavalry and 800 infantry, against one another in 1442, while the Master raised 400 cavalry and an unknown quantity of infantry from the Order’s Andalusian estates alone 40 years later. Excluding its Portuguese commanderies the Order of Santiago could field some 250 freyles in the 14thcentury, and 400 freyles and 1,000 lances from its whole 84 commanderies by the 16th, while the Master of Alcantara was able to raise as many as 1,500 horse and 2,500 foot in 1472. Froissart tells us that even the Portuguese Order of Avis, of which the Mastership had been at the disposal of the crown since 1385, had 200 brethren. In fact the numbers of each Order’s brethren seem always to have been proportionately small, and most of the troops they raised were actually vassals or mercenaries. Thus brethren are frequently to be found in the role of officers commanding units of infantry or crossbowmen, or even artillery (of which the Orders had their own). The actual command structure of each individual Order was headed by its Master (Maestre or Mestre). His deputy was the Grand Prior (Prior Mayor; in the Order of Calatrava the Gran Prior came below the Clavero), after whom came the Grand Commander (Comendador Mayor); the Castellan or Key-bearer (Clavero), assisted by a Sub-Ciavero and a Quartermaster (Obrero); and finally the Alferez or Standard-bearer of the Order. Organisation of individual commanderies remained as before, except that most now only contained 4 brethren, not 12.

All this meant that well before the end of the fifteenth century waging independent war was inexorably moving beyond the means of even the greatest of magnates – unless they could act in unison with powerful outside forces. Great nobles might still retain a capacity to put into the field significant forces, but were at a growing comparative disadvantage to the crown. This was graphically demonstrated by the downfall of the duke of Braganc, a in 1483. From the time Joāo I became firmly established on his throne, no Portuguese noble dared to offer a direct challenge to the king militarily. The only exception was Pedro, the beleaguered ex-regent, who was easily overwhelmed at Alfarrobeira in 1449. Nobles who sought to get rid of a king were thereafter more inclined to try assassination. This helps to explain why from the time of Afonso V monarchs and their families were usually protected by a royal guard approximately 200 strong. In short, there is no doubt that by the Avis era advances in the art of war strengthened the king vis-à-vis the nobility and contributed significantly to Portugal’s advance towards modern statehood.


Prior to the arrival of the English and French in the mid-14th century, Spanish warfare depended for success on fast-moving raids and the systematic use of siege warfare, and though pitched battles were not exactly unknown they were certainly extremely uncommon. The Spanish therefore lacked the training and experience to meet du Guesclin’s and the Black Prince’s companies of veterans on anything like equal terms, and the latter consequently had a low opinion of them. Froissart says of the Spanish: ‘It is true that they cut a handsome figure on horseback, spur off to advantage, and fight well at the first onset; but as soon as they have thrown 2 or 3 darts, and given a stroke with their lances, without disconcerting the enemy, they take alarm, turn their horses’ heads and save themselves by flight as well as they can. This game they played at Aljubarrota.’

The reference to their throwing of darts is significant, because this was characteristic of the skirmishing style of warfare that the Spaniards had been involved in with their Moslem neighbours for centuries. It had even led to the evolution of a special troop-type-the jinete-whose light armour, low saddle, short stirrups and nimble horse put him on an equal footing with the light, javelin-armed horsemen of Granada. The role of the jinete in battle was identical to that of his Moslem counterpart-to charge towards the enemy, discharge his javelins, and wheel away again before he could reply. In addition jinetes patrolled the flanks and rear of the army and cut down fugitives. At Trancoso and Aljubarrota in 1385 and at Salamanca in 1387 the Castilians employed their jinetes to outflank the Portuguese and fall on their rear. At Najera too they were positioned on the flanks of the Franco-Castilian army, probably with a similar plan in mind, but on this occasion they proved utterly ineffective in the face of the Black Prince’s longbowmen. Their one success against the English was at Ariñez in 1367, where a large body of jinetes under Don Tello surprised Sir William Felton’s company of some 100 or 400 men-at-arms and archers on a hillside. Chandos Herald tells us how Felton himself charged them on horseback, ‘and the Castilians followed him on all sides, throwing lances and javelins at him. They killed his horse under him, but Sir William defended himself fiercely on foot, though it was of little use for he was killed in the end.’ Don Tello then turned on the rest of Felton’s company: ‘the Spaniards launched many attacks on them, pressing them hard and hurling javelins and lances and spears. And that brave band of men … charged down more than a hundred times with drawn swords and made them retreat, nor could the Castilians harm them by throwing lances and darts.’ In the end it took the French marshal d’Audrehem’s men to finish the action, these dismounting and attacking on foot once they arrived on the scene. The moral here is that although the jinetes had succeeded in pinning the English company down, it nevertheless took dismounted men-at-arms to successfully conclude the engagement, and prior to the coming of the French and English, Spanish men-at-arms were not prepared to dismount in battle. Even afterwards they dismounted only reluctantly, though it is noteworthy that the elite Order of the Sash accompanied du Guesclin’s vanguard on foot at Najera. That the Spanish nevertheless recognised the tactical potential of dismounted men-at-arms is clear from the fact that Pere IV, King of Aragon, categorically forbade his troops ever to attack Castile’s French mercenaries once they had dismounted, recommending (rather negatively) that they should keep their distance and wait until the French had remounted before attempting to attack them.

In the field Spanish troops, like those elsewhere in Europe, drew up in 3 battles (batallas), which were divided into so many quadrillas or squadrons, each commanded by a knight called a quadrillero. The best troops were stationed in the centre and at the extremities of the line, and the infantry (crossbowmen, javelinmen and slingers) were drawn up in front. Compared to the English or French they delivered disordered charges, both on horseback and on the rare occasions that they dismounted. The Granadines made the most of this weakness when they actually took the Castilians on in the field in open combat, resorting to sudden feigned or real charges by bands of yelling horsemen whose intent was to disorder, panic or draw the enemy in disorganised pursuit, at which the Moslems would wheel and hurl their javelins at them at close range.


More unusually, the Portuguese crown also developed one of the most effective fighting navies possessed by any contemporary European monarch in this period, its only serious rival being that of Castile. The origins of this Portuguese navy are obscure, though there are fleeting mentions of crown warships as early as the mid-twelfth century. In 1317 King Dinis, concerned to defend the coast and shipping from Muslim corsairs and to mount his own offensive operations, contracted with the Genoese Manuel Pessagno to establish a permanent galley fleet based in Lisbon. This was a far-sighted, long-term investment, for navies even more than armies could not be created overnight. During the next few decades, the Portuguese crown accumulated the necessary resources and experience to sustain a permanent fleet and to begin to build up a great naval tradition. In the fourteenth century, the navy consisted mainly of galleys for which rowers were recruited from Portugal’s coastal communities; but it must at times have also included various kinds of sailing ships.

The high cost and technical proficiency needed to maintain galley squadrons meant they were a military arm which only the state could sustain. Already in 1369 King Fernando possessed thirty-two galleys. Later, galleys played a key role in the successful defence of Lisbon by Joāo of Avis in 1384. Portugal also developed a capacity to move substantial military forces by sea using sailing ships. This capacity made serious campaigning in North Africa possible – and without it the famous Ceuta expedition of 1415 could not have been mounted. Moreover, it was Portuguese success in building and manning ocean-going sailing vessels that made possible the country’s role in early Atlantic exploration.