Today it is a pleasure to welcome historian and broadcaster Michael Jones to the blog.
Hi Mike, thank you so much for agreeing to an interview for my blog History…the Interesting Bits. The last time we chatted was at the Harrogate History Festival a couple of years ago. I seem to remember asking you to convince me that Henry IV and Henry V were worth reading up on. I must say, your own arguments and your book 24 Hours at Agincourt certainly piqued my interest; all 3 of Henry IV’s sisters will appear in my book. And your latest book is a biography of Edward III’s eldest son, The Black Prince. I don’t need any convincing with him, he’s a fascinating character and I am really enjoyed reading your book.
And so, without further ado, to the interview. I hope the questions are not too onerous for you.
What do you love most about history?
Well, firstly, hello Sharon and thank you for your blog and website, and your enthusiasm for all things medieval. And good luck with your own book!
As a child, I loved history for its portrayal of men and women in challenging circumstances. I was fascinated by how they were – sometimes at least – able to triumph against all the odds. Now, as a historian, it is still those personal stories I am most drawn to. I wanted to write a biography of Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry VII (The King’s Mother) because she showed such courage and resourcefulness in adversity – and it was through this that I got to know Philippa Gregory, first advising her on her book The Red Queen, and then writing with her and David Baldwin The Women of the Cousins’ War. And in my most recent work, The Black Prince – a biography of Edward of Woodstock (the oldest son of Edward III and foremost military commander of his age) – I have enjoyed depicting the Prince’s charisma as a leader, the way he forged a remarkable esprit de corps amongst his fellow fighters.
What is your favourite period of history – and why?
I write on a number of subjects – ranging from the late middle ages to World War Two – and, as a tour guide, lead military and cultural tours covering many historical eras. But the reason I focus on the late middle ages is because of the quality of teaching I received at Bristol University (as an undergraduate and postgraduate), particularly from Charles Ross and James Sherborne. They shaped my abilities as a historian and I remain grateful to them to this day. And the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries are tumultuous yet vivid times, marred by plague and warfare yet possessing an acute sensibility to beauty and the uplifting power of ritual and display.
Which historical personality fascinates you the most – and why?
People are so interesting – and history is full of fascinating characters. In the middle ages we have so many choices. I immediately think of the Black Prince and Joan of Kent and Richard III and Anne Neville. In these instances, to learn about these remarkable men I believe we also need to get to know the women who helped shape their views and guided their counsel.
You have written books on the battles of Agincourt and Bosworth, what is it about medieval warfare that fascinates you?
Well, I have also written books on World War Two’s battle of Stalingrad and siege of Leningrad – and these events remain, for me, incredibly moving.
However, Agincourt and Bosworth are indeed fascinating: clashes that shaped our history and where the key turnaround happened very quickly, within hours, even minutes – and I will always be interested in them. When I wrote 24 Hours at Agincourt I was particularly struck by the headlong dash of Anthony, duke of Brabant (the younger brother of the duke of Burgundy). In his rush towards the battlefield – desperate to join the French army – he rode day and night, leaving behind most of his retinue and all of his armour. When he finally arrived at Agincourt he was accompanied by only a dozen men – and he was killed within minutes. Some applauded his chivalric idealism; others marvelled at his crass stupidity. And writing The Black Prince gave me the chance to bring to life three more extraordinary battles – Crécy, Poitiers and Nájera – so I am grateful for that as well.
How did you get involved in the ‘Looking for Richard’ project with Philippa Langley?
I got to know Philippa through the publication of my book Bosworth 1485 – Psychology of a Battle, which offered a different way of seeing Richard III – a mirror opposite of the picture presented by Shakespeare. Instead of removing Richard from the story of his family, the house of York, I placed him at the heart of it. Philippa had been writing a screenplay about the king, but had become stuck and was on the point of giving up. After we met, she rewrote the screenplay with my interpretation underpinning it, and then set out to visit the places that were significant in his life. We had said to each other that the only counter to the power of Shakespeare’s play would be to actually find the king’s physical remains. And that journey took Philippa to a social services car park in Leicester in the summer of 2004. Later, when Richard’s remains had indeed been uncovered, under the very spot where she had had her intuitive feeling, we wrote a book about it, The King’s Grave: the Search for Richard III.
The Black Prince is a controversial figure these days – what made you want to write his biography?
I admire the Black Prince and feel that modern scholarship has sometimes become overly critical of him, losing sight of the ideals that governed his life and won the respect of his contemporaries. While there is a place for such criticism, I wanted to write a sympathetic biography – putting the man back into the context of his times.
If you could talk to any person from history, who would it be and what would you ask them?
That has to be Richard III on the fate of the Princes in the Tower.
If you had a time machine, what specific event would you like to go back and witness – and why?
It would be the final stages of the battle of Poitiers, where the Black Prince turned the tables on a numerically superior foe and captured the French king, Jean II, by mounting up and charging straight at his opponent. It cannot be equalled for sheer drama.
What is your next project?
I am working on a book about the beginning of World War Two – and will then return to the late middle ages and write an account of the last stages of the Hundred Years War.
I owe huge ‘thank you’ to Michael Jones for taking the time to do this fabulous interview.
I can highly recommend Michael Jones latest book, The Black Prince, which is out now and is available from Amazon.
Michael Jones is a fellow of the Royal Historical Society and member of the British Commission for Military History. He works as a writer, battlefield tour guide and media presenter. He is the author of Bosworth 1485: Psychology of a Battle, 24 Hours at Agincourt and co-author, with Philippa Gregory and David Baldwin, of The Women of the Cousins’ War; and, with Philippa Langley, of The King’s Grave: The Search for Richard III. He lives in South London.
My book, Heroines of the Medieval World, is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.
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Agincourt was an astonishing clash of arms, a pivotal moment in the Hundred Years War and the history of warfare in general.
In August 1415, King Henry V claimed the throne of France and landed an army in Normandy. Two months later, outside the small village of Agincourt in Picardy, he was preparing for certain defeat. On 25 October his exhausted, starving and ailing troops faced a far larger French army, whose soldiers were fresh for combat and determined to destroy their opponents. But what was to take place in the following 24 hours, it seemed only the miraculous intervention of God could explain.
Interlacing eyewitness accounts, background chronicle and documentary sources with a new interpretation of the battle’s onset, acclaimed military historian Michael Jones takes the reader into the heart of this extraordinary feat of arms. He brings the longbowmen and knights to life, portrays the dilemmas of the commanders and shows the brutal reality on the ground, as archers seized swords, daggers and even mallets to beat their opponents, and heavily armoured men-at-arms sank into knee-deep mud in a bloody fight that astounded the courts of Europe.
Last October, at the Harrogate History Festival, I watched a panel entitled ‘600 Years of Beating the French’. Although it concentrated on the Battle of Waterloo – which was commemorating its 200th anniversary – there was one lone voice talking about Agincourt.
I have to admit, I’ve never really read much about Agincourt until last year. I wrote a blog post to commemorate the battle’s 600th anniversary and it piqued my interest. I managed to corner the ‘lone voice’ in the book shop afterwards and told him I had little love for the Lancastrian king and didn’t understand the reverence held for him and his victory at Agincourt.
I asked Dr Jones what was so special about Agincourt and Henry V in particular. Michael Jones was passionate and intensely knowledgeable on the subject and, luckily, was more than happy to try to persuade me of the merits of Henry V.
As a result of the conversation I bought his book (which he very kindly signed), which turned out to be a fascinating read.
24 Hours at Agincourt: 25th October 1415provides a detailed analysis of the battle, focussing on the immediate pre-battle preparations and on the action itself. The book covers all aspects of the campaign – and of campaigning in the early 15th century in general.
24 Hours at Agincourt is a full and frank account of Henry V’s 1415 campaign. Dr Jones analyses not only the leadership but also the propaganda, business transactions, the men themselves and even the religious undertones of the day. He discusses the requirements for a successful military campaign, such as good supply lines, leadership and reconnaissance and analyses the effects of what happens when one or more of these goes wrong.
Michael Jones leads us through the story of Agincourt, from the launch of the campaign in England, through the Siege of Harfleur and the march to Agincourt to the battle itself and the aftermath. He discusses at length the value and quality of both the English and French commanders, and of their decisions of the day, analysing their weapons and tactics – and their overall effectiveness.
Henry’s own battle experience at Shrewsbury in 1405 demonstrated to him the terrible effectiveness of the English longbow, and it is likely that on the Agincourt campaign he wished to forge these bowmen into a formidable fighting force…
The book draws heavily on the primary sources from both sides of the battle. Dr Jones carefully evaluates these sources, analysing them for bias and discussing their proximity to the action. He also uses the examples of earlier battles of the Hundred Years’ War and the wars against Scotland to demonstrate and discuss the development of battle strategies.
The book offers a new interpretation of the battle which attempts to explain some of the confusion and ambiguity in the contemporary sources, providing new insights into the planning and prosecution of the battle. Dr Jones gives credit to Henry V’s impressive group of captains, his ‘Band of Brothers’, discussing the abilities of each and their contributions to the campaign and the battle itself.
A major strength of the book is that Michael Jones looks at the battle from both sides, analysing the French contribution to its outcome as thoroughly as he does the English. The French tactics are explained and discussed, as are the strength and qualities of France’s allies, and the divisions among the commanders.
24 Hours at Agincourt is a lively, descriptive book which demonstrates Dr Jones’ passion and enthusiasm for his subject. The narrative is engaging and entertaining. Michael Jones is passionate about Henry V and the significance of his victory at Agincourt, and this shines through when talking to him and in his writing. He convincingly argues of Henry V’s qualities as a general and also rehabilitates Edward Duke of York as a key figure at the centre of the battle’s history. He explains how it was these two men, working together, who were pivotal to the success of the campaign.
I have to admit, for anyone interested in knowing more about Agincourt, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Dr Jones’ writing style is so easy and engaging – it was an absolute pleasure to read. I have a new-found admiration for Henry V – even if I still don’t like his father.
I did my history PhD at the University of Bristol and subsequently taught at the University of South West England, Glasgow University and Winchester College. I am a fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a member of the British Commission for Military History and now work freelance as a writer, tour guide and presenter.
Among my history titles I have written on the battles of Agincourt, Bosworth, Stalingrad and Leningrad, and in After Hitler, provided an account of the last days of the Second World War in Europe. I am also the author, with Malcolm Underwood, of The King’s Mother (a biography of Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII), with Philippa Langley, The King’s Grave: the Search for Richard III and with Philippa Gregory and David Baldwin, The Women of the Cousins’ War.
I have been a consultant to a number of TV programmes, including Channel 4’s Richard III: Fact or Fiction, the History Channel’s Warriors series, the National Geographic’s Mystery Files and Russia Today’s The Children of Stalingrad. I have also been interviewed on the BBC’s Today programme and appeared on Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time.
I am fascinated by timeless themes of military history: leadership, morale and motivation at moments of crisis – and how people respond to challenges against the odds. I have worked closely with veterans of the battle of Stalingrad and siege of Leningrad – and their stories of fortitude and resolve in desperate circumstances remain deeply moving. In my medieval titles, most recently my biography of the Black Prince, I am drawn to the age of chivalry, and the remarkable esprit de corps and camaraderie that bound together its foremost fighters.
Edward of Norwich, 2nd Duke of York, was born into wealth and privilege. Grandson of 2 kings and 1st cousin to 2 kings, his life story is full of ambition, glory and war, duty and service – and a hint of treason. All the ingredients needed for a rollicking good novel; with also the possibility of a strange love story.
Edward was born, probably at King’s Langley, in about 1373. A birthday of 1375 has also been suggested, but 1373 seems most likely. The fact he has Norwich after his name has suggested he could have been born there, but there is a theory that it is a derivation of “d’Everwick”, meaning “of York”.
Edward’s father was Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York and 5th son of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault. His mother was Isabella of Castile, daughter of Pedro the Cruel, king of Castile, and his mistress – and later, wife – Maria de Padilla. Although the couple had 3 children, their marriage doesn’t appear to have been a happy one and there were rumours of scandal surrounding Isabella, with a question mark raised over the paternity of her youngest son, Richard of Conisbrough. Edward also had a sister, Constance, who was close in age to him and born around 1374.
Edward was born into a time of great change in the English monarchy. His grandmother, Philippa, had died in 1369 and his grandfather, Edward III, king since 1327, was slipping into senility, allowing his mistress, Alice Perrers, and her cohorts too much control of his affairs. In 1376 Edward’s eldest son and heir – and England’s hero of the time – Edward, the Black Prince, died after years of debilitating illness. The prince’s death broke the old king, who died the following year, leaving his 10-year-old grandson Richard of Bordeaux, son of the Black Prince, as king.
The government – and the country – was largely in the hands of Edward and Richard’s uncle, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. John was the 4th son of Edward III and married to Edward of Norwich’s aunt, Constance of Castile. It was a time of uncertainty; many feared John would usurp the crown for himself, but he stayed loyal to his nephew and Richard was crowned as King Richard II.
At only 4 years old Edward of Norwich attended the coronation, receiving his knighthood as part of the celebrations. Edward would be a loyal supporter of Richard II and received numerous royal grants, including the title of Earl of Rutland in February 1390. He was also given the title Earl of Cork when he accompanied Richard on his Irish campaign in 1394/5, leading several successful missions.
In the 1390s Edward emerged as a leading member of Richard’s circle of intimates. A man of considerable ability, Richard named him “the most able,wise and powerful man that he could think of”¹ and is even said to have considered leaving his crown to Edward. After the death of Richard’s queen, Anne of Bohemia, in 1394, Edward was one of the 3 feoffees of her estate, allowing him control of considerable patronage.
Richard practically showered Edward with lucrative positions, including: admiral of the North & West (1391), Constable of Dover and Warden of the Cinque Ports (1396), Constable of the Tower of London (1397) and Constable of England (1398). He was also involved in the king’s diplomacy in France and the Holy Roman Empire, undertaking diplomatic missions to both.
Richard even took personal interest in Edward’s marriage prospects. In 1381 Edward had been betrothed to Beatriz of Portugal as part of the Anglo-Portuguese alliance against Castile. However, when the Portuguese made peace with Castile, Beatriz was married to Juan I of Castile instead.
Richard II suggested the sister-in-law of Giangaleazzo Visconti of Milan and also considered 3 relatives of Charles VI of France before suggesting Jeanne de Valois, younger sister of Richard’s proposed bride, Isabelle de Valois. Edward was addressed as ‘the king’s brother’ in recognition of their proposed marriages to sisters, even long after Edward’s planned marriage had fallen through.
By October 1398 Edward was married. His bride was a very curious choice for England’s most eligible bachelor. At 25 and likely to inherit his father’s dukedom in the not-too-distant future, Edward must surely have had the choice of every heiress in the kingdom of marriageable age. And yet his bride was twice widowed, 20 years his senior and with no dowry or inheritance to speak of.
Philippa was the 3rd daughter of John Mohun, 2nd Baron Mohun and a founding member of the Order of the Garter, and his wife Joan Burghersh. She had first been married to Walter Fitzwalter, 3rd Baron Fitzwalter, who died in 1386 and secondly to Sir john Golafre who died in 1396. Having no male heirs, Philippa’s mother had sold the reversion of the Mohun estates to Lady Elizabeth Luttrell, leaving her daughters with no landed inheritance.
The fact this was hardly a glittering match for such an illustrious magnate greatly suggests that it was a love match. And, as with Philippa’s previous 2 marriages, the union was to remain childless; Edward would eventually name his young nephew as his heir.
While Edward was finalising the domestic arrangements for his new bride, England was falling into turmoil. Richard II had imprisoned one uncle Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester, in Calais and was distrustful of another uncle, John of Gaunt.
In the 2nd half of the 1380s Gloucester and the Lords Appellants had been the focus of opposition against Richard’s personal rule and had attempted to curb the king’s excesses, forcing restrictions to his rule. John of Gaunt had restored order following his return from campaigning in Spain, but in 1397 Gloucester was murdered whilst imprisoned in Calais, most likely on Richard’s orders. It was said Edward had played a leading role in the arrest of Gloucester and the earls of Arundel and Warwick and he certainly benefited from the aftermath, receiving a significant share of the forfeitures that followed.
In September 1397 he was made Duke of Aumale and given the post of Constable of England – formerly held by Gloucester. As Constable, Edward would preside over Richard’s legal reforms, extending the court of chivalry to include treason and other offences which touched the king’s dignity.
Of the other 2 ringleaders of the Lords Appellant, Richard Fitzalan, earl of Arundel was beheaded and Thomas de Beauchamp, earl of Warwick was stripped of his titles and imprisoned on the Isle of Man. Two of the younger members of the Lords Appellants, Thomas of Mowbray, earl of Nottingham and Henry Bolingbroke earl of Derby, had initially escaped any severe retribution. However, in 1398 Richard found a pretext to exile them both from the country.
Bolingbroke was the son of the most powerful man in the kingdom – John of Gaunt – he was also cousin to both Richard II and Edward of Norwich. On Gaunt’s death in 1399, instead of passing his inheritance onto Bolingbroke, Richard appropriated it for the crown, putting some of the lands into Edward’s care – and extending his cousin’s exile to life.
Later that year Richard set off on campaign to Ireland, taking with him his cousin Edward and Bolingbroke’s 13-year-old son, Henry of Monmouth. We don’t know how Edward had reacted to his cousin Henry’s disinheritance, but it can’t have been an easy time for him, caught in the middle of his warring cousins, and he may have felt uneasy with the sudden change in Henry’s circumstances at the hands of the king. He later claimed that he had not drawn any of the revenues from the Lancastrian lands which had been put in his custody.
Whilst Richard was in Ireland Henry of Bolingbroke landed at Ravenspur in Yorkshire, announcing that he had returned only to claim his inheritance. While Richard headed back to England to face him, Henry was progressing through the country, gaining support. Edward advised Richard to send John Montague, Earl of Salisbury, into north Wales while Richard gathered his forces. Montague raised 4,000 men, but his force had disintegrated by the time the king arrived. On arriving in south Wales, Richard had immediately pressed northwards, leaving Edward and his main force behind him.
There seems to be some confusion as to Edward’s actions. He was reputedly attacked as he made his way through Wales, but by which side is unclear. He was said to be part of the delegation sent – by Bolingbroke – to Richard at Flint, wearing Bolingbroke’s livery.
Jean Creton, in his Histoire du Roy d’Angleterre Richard II, says Edward ‘said nothing to the king, but kept at as great a distance as he could from him’². Creton stated there was no man alive that Richard had loved better and depicted Edward as a Judas deliberately betraying his king in 1399.
However, the transition of power from Richard II to Henry IV was far from plain sailing for Edward. Henry and Edward were 1st cousins, but Edward was one of the key personalities of Richard’s tyrannical reign, and a focus for revenge. According to the chronicler, Thomas Walsingham, Edward came close to being lynched as tempers ran hot during Henry’s 1st parliament. Edward was accused of urging Gloucester’s murder, a claim he was forced to vehemently deny. Henry resisted calls for the death penalty for Richard’s adherents, and settled instead for punishment by the confiscation of all titles and rewards granted since 1397.
Edward was one of the greatest losers; he lost the constableships of England and the Tower of London and his manor of Burstwick was granted to the earl of Northumberland. He was no longer Duke of Aumale and back to being, simply, earl of Rutland. However, when parliament finished, Henry confirmed Edward’s custody of the Channel Islands and his lordship of the Isle of Wight, suggesting the new king had confidence in his cousin’s loyalty, even if parliament didn’t.
By the end of 1399 Edward had become embroiled in the Epiphany Rising, the plot to murder Henry IV and his sons during a tournament at Windsor on Twelfth Night. Edward is said to have been a conspirator, but it was he who betrayed the plot to the king, and he was rewarded with the restoration of the lordship of Oakham in Rutland. The plot’s failure meant death for Richard II; Richard had been held at Pontefract Castle since his deposition, but the uncovering of the plot meant he was too dangerous to keep alive. He died around 14th February 1400, probably from starvation.
Edward served the Lancastrian dynasty in much the same way he had Richard II. In October 1400 he was appointed Keeper of North Wales and July 1401 he was dispatched to France as Henry’s lieutenant in Aquitaine, in response to an appeal from the archbishop of Bordeaux who described Edward as ‘the man closest to the king after the king’s sons’.
Whilst in Bordeaux Edward succeeded as the Duke of York, following his father’s death on 1st August 1402. In May of the following year Edward gave up his office to return to England and by the autumn he was campaigning in Wales. In October he was appointed the king’s lieutenant in south Wales for 1 year, but by November the appointment had been extended to 3 years.
Still owed money from his time in Aquitaine, and with Henry unable to meet the costs of the war in Wales, Edward was left in serious financial straits. His men were on the verge of mutiny. However, Edward was one of those rare commanders, who knew how to inspire men and command loyalty. Forced to mortgage his properties to release funds, he made a promise to his troops that, on his honour, he would receive none of his own revenues until they were paid.
The Duke of York’s duty in Wales stood him in good stead in February 1405 after his sister, Constance, implicated him in a plot against the crown. York was imprisoned in Pevensey Castle for 17 weeks. But it was the Prince of Wales who came to his defence in parliament. Henry of Monmouth described Edward as “a loyal and valiant knight”. Speaking of clashes against Owen Glendower, in 1407 Prince Henry said “If it had not been for the duke’s good advice and counsel he and others would have been in great peril and desolation.”
As far as the Prince of Wales was concerned, York “had laboured and served in such a way as to support and embolden all the other members of the company, as if he had been the poorest gentleman in the realm wishing to serve him in order to win honour and renown”.³
The Duke of York was an authority on hunting, translating the work Gaston Phebus, Count of Foix, Livre du Chasse” into English and adding several chapters himself. He dedicated the work, Master of Game to the Prince of Wales, the future Henry V. The book gives us a glimpse of the Duke of York’s personality and shows us why his men and peers thought so much of him:
“I ask of every person who reads this little treatise, or comes to hear of it, whatever their estate or condition, that in plain and simple language they will add to it anything they find useful and remove all that seems superfluous … so that this work may always grow through the advice and counsel of all hunters, and with this in mind, I tried to set out, as simply and clearly as I knew, what I understood of this craft, for the use and remembrance of all.”³
Edward and Prince Henry were particularly close. Edward was something of a mentor to the young Prince of Wales, as well as being his hunting master.
However, when Henry IV and the Prince of Wales quarreled over foreign policy, Edward sided with the king. In 1412 he accompanied the king’s 2nd son, Thomas, on campaign in France, to aid the Armagnacs against the Burgundians. Following the king’s death in 1413 he was preparing to defend Aquitaine in the June, and by August he was in Paris, negotiating a possible marriage between the new king, Henry V and Catherine of Valois.
Edward was back in England by October 1413, but was constantly involved in the diplomacy between England and France that led to Henry’s invasion of the country in 1415. In August 1415 Edward’s brother, Richard of Conisbrough, earl of Cambridge was executed for his involvement in the Southampton Plot to replace Henry V with his Mortimer cousin. For once, the Duke of York was above suspicion.
Shortly after the executions the fleet set sail for France and landed there on 13th August 1415. Almost immediately the army besieged Harfleur, finally taking the small town on 22nd September, but at great cost. During the siege dysentery had spread through the army, decimating Henry’s forces and leaving him with barely 6,000 men to continue the campaign.
As a result, Henry decided to make a run for Calais and safety, hoping to find a crossing of the River Somme whilst avoiding the French army amassing near Rouen. Edward, Duke of York, led the vanguard, taking part in several skirmishes from the harassing French troops and marching his men at an incredible pace. His men were starving and desperately ill – with more succumbing to dysentery every day.
According to historian Michael Jones, the Duke of York used his extensive hunting expertise to formulate the battle plan that would give Henry V the great victory that is still remembered today.
His battle plan depended on a contingent of English archers being able to provoke the French into attacking down an enclosed valley, channelling them into the path of massed volley fire from a 2nd contingent of archers. The knights and men-at-arms would then enclose the survivors and destroy the remainder of the French army.
York was in the thick of the fighting, 90 men were killed defending his banner – the majority of the English casualties on the day. York fought valiantly but was killed as his helmet was smashed into his skull. His men protected their fallen leader’s body, preventing the French from breaking through the thin English line.
The London Chronicler wrote:
The Duke of York was slain,For his king he would not retreat, even by a foot, til his bascinet into his brain was brent [impaled].³
Edward Duke of York had led an illustrious and often controversial career. He had served 3 kings. He had written the first book on hunting in the English language. He could quote Chaucer, was a generous lord and a great military leader. The Chronicler of Godstow regarded him as a “second Solomon”. However, his reputation suffered damage during the Tudor era, when he was accused of being fat and dissolute – it was said he’d died at Agincourt after being suffocated in his armour because he was too heavy to rise after a fall.
The reverence with which Henry treated Edward after his death proves the lie of the later propaganda. Edward’s will was honoured; his nephew Richard inherited his lands and title, gifts to his men were fulfilled, such as Sir John Popham who received armour, a horse and a life rent from one of the Duke’s manors.
Edward asked to be buried in the church at Fotheringhay, where he had recently founded a college of priests. He was laid to rest beneath the choir steps, the grave marked by a marble slab with his figure upon it, engraved in brass. A larger memorial was added in Elizabethan times.
Edward’s wife Philippa survived him by 16 years, spending her widowhood at Carisbrooke Castle as the Lady of the Isle of Wight. She died 17th July 1431 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
Edward’s nephew Richard, 3rd Duke of York, would go on to challenge Henry VI for the throne, dying at the Battle of Wakefield in December 1460. His son Edward would take up the mantle and succeed as Edward IV in March 1461, just 3 months after his father’s death.
Footnotes: ¹ Given-Wilson quoted in Oxford Database of National Biography; ² Jean Creton Histoire du Roy d’Angleterre Richard II quoted in Oxford Database of National Biography; ³ 24 Hours at Agincourt by Michael Jones.
Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia
Sources: The Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon; The Plantagenets, the Kings who Made England by Dan Jones; History Today Companion to British History Edited by Juliet Gardiner and Neil Wenborn; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; 24 Hours at Agincourt by Michael Jones; Agincourt: My Family, the Battle and the Fight for France by Ranulph Fiennes Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens by Mike Ashley; The Plantagenets, the Kings that made Britain by Derek Wilson; englishmonarchs.co.uk; oxforddnb.com; britannica.com; upenn.edu.
This Sunday, 25th of October 2015, marks the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt. One of the greatest battles in English history, it epitomises the pinnacle of English successes against their traditional enemy, France, during the epic struggle of the Hundred Years War. But what started it all?
The origins of the Hundred Years War go back 200 years before its outbreak, to Henry II. His marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine meant he was not only Duke of Normandy in the north of France, but Duke of Aquitaine in the south. And his accession to the English throne in 1154 brought all these French possessions to the crown of England. This made for the awkward position that the sovereign of England was technically a vassal of the King of France, causing no end of squabbles and friction for years to come.
Wars broke out frequently and the French gradually ate away at England’s French possessions.
It all came to a head with a crisis in the French monarchy. When Philip IV, the Fair, of France, died in 1314, he was successively succeeded by each of his 3 sons; Louis X, Philip V and Charles IV. Only one of these kings produced a son, King John the Posthumous was born 5 months after the death of Louis X, his father, and lived – and ruled – for only 5 days. Following the death of the baby king Philip V seized the crown, effectively disinheriting Louis X’s daughter, Jeanne.
Although Salic Law was known in France, it generally related to property and had never actually been used to decide the succession to the crown. However, Philip V made certain that it would be from now on, by having the Estates General declare that women were not eligible to succeed to the throne of France.
Unfortunately for the French royal family, both Philip V and his successor, his brother, Charles IV, only had daughters. Charles IV died in 1328, leaving his wife, Jeanne d’Evreux, pregnant; a regency council was set up to rule the country, until the child’s birth. However, Jeanne gave birth to a daughter, Blanche, and France had to find a new king.
One candidate was Edward III of England. Edward was the oldest grandson of Philip IV through his daughter Isabella of France, Queen of Edward II of England. However, Edward III was only 15 years old and England – and Edward – were controlled by Edward’s mother, Isabella of France, and her lover, Roger Mortimer, who had deposed and possibly murdered Edward’s father, Edward II. Edward’s claim came through his mother – and he was English.
The assembly of French notables, convened to decide who should be king, declared: “It had never been seen or known that the kingdom of France should be subject to the government of the King of England.“
As a result, they chose another as their king; the nephew of Philip IV, Philip of Valois, Count of Anjou and Maine. Philip was in his thirties, with a 9-year-old son, and had been Regent during Jeanne’s pregnancy.
Edward III initially agreed to pay homage to Philip VI, who was crowned in 1329, for his French possessions. However, he was still a minor and under the tutelage of his mother and Mortimer. When Edward took control of his kingdom, in 1330, he had a change of heart. Irked by Philip’s support for the Scots, and encouraged by local conflicts in Guyenne, Edward questioned the validity of his oath to Philip, made while he was still a minor. And in 1337 Edward III declared war.
Initial English successes devastated France: the French fleet was destroyed at Sluys in 1340, and Edward III ravaged the French countryside, in a great chevauchee. In an attempt to bring the French to battle Edward’s ‘scorched-earth’ policy saw towns besieged, convents and monasteries ransacked and the people displaced. The French were eventually brought to battle at Crecy in 1346, where their cavalry was destroyed. The fall of Calais followed in 1347.
In 1356, at the Battle of Poitiers, the English, under the Black Prince (Edward, Prince of Wales) captured France’s king, John II the Good. John was sent to England – where he died in 1364, still awaiting the payment of his vast ransom.
The 1360 Treaty of Bretigny was the crowning success of England’s war, with Edward III taking possession of almost a third of France.
Although technically at peace, the two countries kept picking at each other – each supporting opposing factions in places of mutual interest, such as Brittany. In then end, with the failing health of the Black Prince, and and aging Edward III, a resurgent France emerged under Charles V; which saw English possessions reduced to a few ports and their environs by 1380.
After 1389 truces between France and England were almost continuous. Richard II married Isabella of Valois, daughter of Charles VI, in 1396, as part of a 28 year truce.
Charles VI had suffered from madness since 1392 and France had started to implode. The king was surrounded by bad councillors and factions, such as the Armagnacs and Burgundians, had riven the country apart with their in-fighting. Many parts of France were ruled almost totally independent of central government.
However, with the turn of the century, the English had problems of their own and were unable to take advantage of France’s woes. Richard II was imprisoned and, later, murdered by the usurping Henry IV, who spent his reign preoccupied by troubles and rebellions in England.
Henry IV and his son, the future Henry V were divided as to which French factions they should support; Henry IV preferred the Armagnacs, while the Prince of Wales supported the Burgundians.
With the death of Henry IV, and the accession of Henry V, English ambitions turned to France yet again. Almost immediately, Henry laid claim to his inheritance in France. he made a pretense of negotiating for peace, while preparing for war. He would accept nothing less than the total reinstatement of the Plantagenet possessions in France.
There is an, almost certainly, apocryphal story of Henry V taking up arms against the French after they jokingly sent him a set of tennis balls, suggesting that he stick to such ‘childish’ occupations, for which he had established a reputation during his father’s reign.
Henry saw war with France as a way of diverting the interests of the great nobles away from internal conflicts, thus restoring and maintaining order at home. With peace negotiations faltering, and having dealt with several plots to displace him from his throne – the last of which, the Southampton Plot was foiled in the first week of August 1415 – Henry V and his army arrived in Normandy on 13th August 1415 and laid siege to Harfleur.
Harfleur held until 23rd September, by which time Henry’s army of about 10,000 was greatly depleted by dysentery. He was making for Calais – and England – when, on 25th October, he came face-to-face with the French.