Reign of Henry V. Part 1 page 10
While Henry was thus successfully prosecuting his campaign in Normandy, there had occurred a slight disturbance at home. The Scots, thinking that, the king being absent with the flower of the army, the kingdom must be left greatly unprotected, made a descent upon England. The Duke of Albany and Earl Douglas crossed the borders each with an army, and while Albany laid siege to the castle of Berwick, Douglas invested that of Roxburgh. But the Dukes of Exeter and Bedford, the regent, made a rapid march northward with such forces that the Scotch leaders suddenly abandoned their enterprise, and disbanded their armies.
Simultaneous with this inroad once more appeared Sir John Oldcastle, Lord Cobham, on the scene. He had been concealed in Wales, but the absence of the king afforded him also the expectation of taking vengeance on his enemies. It has been surmised that the Scotch and Sir John had mutually concerted this attack. Be this, however, as it may, there can be no doubt that both Sir John and the Lollards in general were greatly embittered by the cruelties practised on them by the bishops. These dignitaries had set them the example of bloodshed, and had certainly taken the initiative in the attempt to put down difference of theological opinion by destroying their opponents, and during the three years that Lord Cobham had eluded them, they had pursued and burnt the Lollards with increasing severity. Such lessons are readily taught, and nothing could be more natural than that the injured party should seek retaliation in kind. Sir John, too, was probably deeply incensed by his old companion, the king, giving him over so forcibly to the tender mercies of the clergy; and, though they could not in this case assert that he sought his life, he probably felt little compunction in disturbing his Government in the endeavour to come at the official persecutors.
The hasty retreat of the Scots defeated the intentions of the Lollards, and Lord Cobham, hastening from his rendezvous near St. Alban's, endeavoured to regain the Welsh mountains, but he was intercepted near Broniart, in Montgomeryshire, by the retainers of Sir Edward Charlton, Earl of Powis.
When brought before the House of Peers, his former indictment read, and asked by the Duke of Bedford what he had to say in his defence, he made a bold and able speech; but being stopped and desired to give a direct answer, he refused to plead, declaring that there was no authority in that court so long as Richard II. was alive in Scotland; for it seems, like many others, he was still of opinion that the Scotch Richard was genuine. He was at once condemned, and was hanged as a traitor in St. Giles's Fields, and burnt as a heretic, December, 1417.
In the spring of 1418 Henry resumed his operations in Normandy with vigour. He had received a reinforcement of 15,000 men, so that he could divide his forces, and conduct several operations at the same time. Amongst his new troops appeared a new race on the continent, which excited especial wonder amongst the French. These were a regiment of Irish, who were now sufficiently reconciled to the English rule to form a portion of their army. Monstrelet, the great French chronicler of those times, says, "The King of England had with, him numbers of Irish, mostly men on foot, having only a stocking and shoe on one leg and foot, with the other leg and foot quite naked. They carried targets, short javelins, and a strange sort of knives. Those who had horses had no saddles, but they rode excellently well on small mountain horses. These Irish did ofttimes make excursions all over Normandy, doing infinite mischief, and bringing back to the camp much spoil and forage. They took men, and even little children from the cradle, with beds, furniture, and all, and, mounting them on the top of their booty, on cows and bullocks, drove them all before them, for the French often fell in with them riding in this manner." They took the men and children for ransom, but the French were greatly horrified at them, for they believed that they took the little children to eat.
The Dukes of Gloucester and Clarence, the king's brothers, took the command of different bodies of troops, and proceeded to reduce the strongest towns in Lower Normandy. Gloucester compelled Cherbourg to surrender, after a long and obstinate defence, on the 29th of September; but before this most of the towns of Lower Normandy had opened their gates. Henry advanced along the Seine and made himself master of the whole country from Louviers to the sea; finding, in this part of his campaign, infinite advantage from his conquest of Harfleur. Pont de l'Arche completed the possession of all Lower Normandy, with the exception of Cherbourg, which Gloucester was blockading. By July, making certain of the ultimate fall of this city, Henry regarded Lower Normandy as his own. The people had defended their cities with obstinate valour. In vain he reminded them that he was the descendant of their own Rollo, and that all his nobles drew their origin from Normandy. The Normans had fresher and more recent memories - those of the havoc of the Edwards, and the repeated burning of their ports and ravaging of their coasts by the English. The two people had ceased to speak the same language, and the barbarities of war had placed a vast gulf of national antipathies between them.
Henry did all in his power to efface these cruel recollections. He maintained a strict adherence to his orders for the protection of the inhabitants, though we fear his Irish troops were found rather difficult to deal with on this head; and he abolished the gabelle, an odious duty on salt, and other oppressive impositions. He was ever open to appeals against injury and injustice; and his manners were most affable and winning to all who approached him. Before proceeding to the siege of Rouen, he organised a Government for Lower Normandy, appointed a chancellor and treasurer, and left that part of France, though under a foreign rule, far more quiet and habitable than any other district of the realm.
The siege of Rouen was the grand operation which was not only to lay all Normandy at the feet of the conqueror, but open the highway to Paris. Rouen, the capital of Upper Normandy, was at that time one of the most populous and beautiful cities in France. It is situated within a semicircle of hills, smooth in character, but of considerable elevation; and its southern side is washed by the broad waters of the Seine. It is said to have contained 200,000 inhabitants; but, if that were true, a very large proportion must have inhabited the suburbs. The present boulevards, which surround the old portion of the city, terminated by the river at each end, stand on the site of the ancient ditch and defences; and though the buildings are as dense and the streets as narrow as they could possibly be in the time of Henry V., they do not include more than half the present population, which is merely calculated at 91,000. These 91,000 have spread themselves on every side, far beyond the boulevards, the ancient limits. They extend over the pleasant ranges of Cauchois, Beauvoisine, and La Monte on the north and west; for two miles eastward, with intermingled gardens and manufactories, up the valley of Martinville, on the north side of St. Catherine's Hill; for a mile or more, with wharfs and works of trade, along the banks of the Seine in the same direction; and on the southern bank of the river, in the Faubourg St. Sever, lies a population of at least 10,000 people, amid the smoke of tall chimneys and the sounds of manufacturing industry, which two bridges connect with the old city. Where, then, the 200,000 inhabitants of Henry's time could have stowed themselves, while the less than 100,000 of the present Manchester of France demand so much room, is a problem not easily solved. If they occupied the suburbs to a similar extent, they must, at the approach of the English army, have been burnt out and dispersed into the country at large, for the Rouenese determined to defend their city to the last. The general commanding there, Guy le Bouteillier, at once set fire to all the suburbs, destroying every house, garden, and fence without the walls, that they might afford no shelter to the enemy, and made the whole circle of the environs of Rouen one naked and black desert.
The French calculated greatly on the resistance of Rouen; they fondly hoped that it would altogether arrest the progress of the conqueror, and do that for the wretched Government which it took no pains to do for itself. The city was strongly fortified. On all sides it was enclosed by massive ramparts, towers, and batteries. Fifteen thousand trained men, and a garrison of 4,000 men-at-arms were collected within it. Many of these were gentlemen of Lower Normandy, who, having vainly endeavoured to check the progress of the enemy in their own neighbourhood, had retired hither to assist in making one last and determined stand against the power which had driven them from hearth and home. The governor had made every preparation for the most obstinate resistance. Not only had he laid waste the environs and annihilated the suburbs, but he had commanded every man and every family to quit the city who had not provisions for ten months, and the magistrates had enforced the order.
Henry has, indeed, been blamed, in a military point of view, for not making a rush upon Rouen so soon as he had reduced Harfieur, and opened to himself the Seine. Then, it is said, Rouen was feebly garrisoned, was full of people stricken with panic, and the defences were in an imperfect condition. By prosecuting the sieges of successive smaller towns he had allowed the Rouenese ample time to prepare for his approach, to strengthen their old fortifications and add new ones, to reduce the useless mouths and increase the militant hands. This is probably true; but Henry knew that it was only a work of time, of which the French allowed him any quantity, and he went on step by step, confident of accomplishing his object.
On the 30th of July he appeared before the town. He had 200 sail of small vessels on the Seine, so that he could convey his troops to any portion of the environs. He found the brave and patriotic Bouteillier ready to encounter him. Instead of lying concealed behind his strong walls this leader met him in the open field, and attacked him with the utmost impetuosity. The battle was desperate and bloody, and though ultimately compelled, by the numbers and the tried valour of the English, to retire, he never ceased to renew the attack, and interrupt the commencement of Henry's works for the investment of the place. He continually made fierce sorties, destroyed his embankments, beat up the quarters of the soldiers now here, now there, and greatly obstructed the operations of the besiegers.
At length Henry succeeded in encamping his army in six divisions before the six gates of the city. He protected these by lofty embankments from the shot from the city, and connected them with each other by deep trenches, so that the men could pass from one to the other without danger from the arrows of the enemy. Then, finally, the whole town on the land sides was enclosed in strong military lines, which he strengthened with thick hedges of thorn, and on the most commanding situations without the camp he placed towers of wood, batteries of cannon, and engines for the projection of arrows and stones.
At the present day, with our scientific engineering and our immense power of artillery, the situation of Rouen must be pronounced weak, provided that an enemy is once in possession of the heights around it. From iihese, and especially from the hill of St. Catherine - which, 900 feet in height, immediately and prominently overlooks the eastern end of the town - modern batteries would demolish the whole city in a single day. But at that time, though formidable trains of artillery are talked of, they were unquestionably clumsy, inefficient, and ill-directed. Cannon was brought by the French to Azincourt, but we hear of nothing that it did, while the grand weapon of that day, the yew-bow and the cloth-yard shaft, familiar to the brawny arms of British yeomen, carried death wherever they came. Henry is said to have discharged stone bails of a foot diameter from huge cannon at Harfleur, and one of these very stones is yet preserved in the court of the Museum of Antiquities at Rouen of still greater diameter; while two of these enormous guns, one containing one of these ponderous balls, are shown at Mount St. Michael in Normandy. However, Henry found himself unable to make a breach in the walls by any power that he possessed, or to bombard the town from the heights, and set zealously to work thoroughly to invest the place, and reduce it by blockade.
Yet he was in entire possession of all the surrounding eminences, and especially of that of St. Catherine, from which he drove the garrison. The numbers of English travellers who every summer climb this verdant hill, and behold from it the whole magnificent panorama of the city and its environs, one of the most lovely scenes in the world, still behold the ancient town itself much as it might be supposed to meet the eye of Henry V. Those pleasant slopes to the north and west, instead of gay villas and umbrageous gardens, as now, were covered with tents and armies. The populous valley of Martinville, and the wide, flat suburb of St. Sever, across the river, the Southwark of Rouen, were then burnt and waste, and not, as now, busy with manufactories, with bleaching grounds and streaming people; but the old town presented its broad mass of red and almost continuous roofs, and the cathedral, St. Ouen, St. Maclou, and a score of other stately churches, some of the noblest ecclesiastic structures in the world, rose high into the air above towers and palaces. These magnificent churches, now hoary with age, were then comparatively new; reared in all the exuberance of the florid style, every buttress, port, and finial, every tower, to its dizzy summit, encrusted with work delicate and clear as if carved in ivory; every glorious window and soaring spandrel perforated with the most gorgeous tracery. We may believe that Henry - who was not, like most of the princes and nobles of those days, an illiterate, or semi-illiterate man, but who had been educated at Oxford, and had intellectual tastes, and was especially fond of music, and a master himself on the harp - would pause, even if he had the power, ere he would willingly let loose destruction on so fair a scene. In the choir of that proud cathedral lay the lion heart of Richard of England; in its southern aisle, the dust of Rollo, the founder of his race; and many a recollection of the proudest days of Normandy and Normanic England clustered around it. Far and wide, wherever his eye fell - and it could range over scores of miles - it was a scene befitting the locality of such a capital. The lovely Seine flowed on through the richest meadows, its bosom gemmed by numbers of the most wooded and fairy-like islands, and swept the feet of the precipitous chalk cliffs of St. Catherine with a serene grace that seemed to promise ages of peaceful abundance to that fair capital.
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