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Reign of Henry V. Part 1 page 10


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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.

Such were, not improbably, the thoughts of the king, for he resolved to spare the city, but to win it. He therefore pressed on his works, which, extending over a circuit of several miles, required enormous labour and much time. The troops of Bouteillier did not allow him to construct these in quiet. They continued to make daring sorties; and many a gallant deed of arms was done under the walls of the city. But Henry continually brought up fresh troops; the camp on St. Catherine itself, as is obvious to all who contemplate the immense traces of its fortifications, could, if necessary, shelter 10,000 men. He collected vast numbers of workmen also from the country round; and, finally, so completed his circumvallations, that neither could the sallying garrison make any impression, nor could a single article of provisions find its way into the city. All such supplies from the river he had cut off by drawing three strong chains of iron across it above the city, and three similar ones below. Above, near his own troops, and protecting them, he threw across a bridge, and near the bridge he moored a squadron of boats, which he had had dragged over land by enormous labour of men and horses. He had a fleet of hired Portuguese ships guarding the mouth of the river; and the banks and islands of the Seine were protected by detachments of soldiers. Supporting these strong defences he had a numerous garrison at Pont de l'Arche; and, while he shut out all supplies from the town, his 200 small vessels in the river plied to and fro, bringing in abundance to his camp from the whole country.

These stringent measures soon began to tell. Before two instead of ten months had expired, famine had shown its hideous face. Though the governor had reduced the population greatly before the siege commenced, he now expelled from the city 12,000 more useless mouths, as they were termed in the iron language of war. Henry forbade them to be admitted within the lines, for the tender mercies of sieges are cruel under the most humane of commanders. To permit at will the expulsion of the people was to prolong the siege, and, therefore, as at Calais, under Edward I., notwithstanding some of these wretched outcasts were fed by the humanity of the troops, the greater number perished through want of food and shelter.

But within the city famine stalked on, and the misery was terrible. During the third month the besieged killed and subsisted on their horses. After that, for ten months, they killed the dogs and cats; and the necessity growing more and more desperate, they descended to rats, mice, and any species of vermin they could clutch in their famine-sharpened fingers. It is said that, in the whole siege, from famine, from the wretched unwholesome food eaten, by the sword, and other means, no less than 50,000 of the inhabitants perished.

All this time the unhappy people cried vehemently to the Duke of Burgundy, the head of the Government, for succour. Their messengers returned with flattering but fallacious promises, and no relief was ever sent. On one occasion the heartless minister even fixed the precise day on which he would arrive in force and compel the English to raise the siege. At this news a wild joy ran like lightning through the famishing city. The bells were rung with mad exultation; people ran to and fro spreading the glad tidings and uttering mutual congratulations. The troops were ordered to be every man in readiness to rush forth at the right moment, and second the assault of their friends without. The day came and went; no deliverer appeared, and a deadly despair sank down on the devoted city.

It was in the midst of these horrors that the Cardinal Ursini, who had in vain exerted himself to reconcile the insensate factions, now turned to Henry, and entreated him to moderate his pretensions, and incline to peace. But Henry was too sagacious a politician to renounce the advantages which the folly and crimes of his enemies opened up to him. He was willing to make overtures of peace, and he did so to both parties, but it was still on his fixed terms of the sovereignty of France. He repeated his clear persuasion that his work was the work of an avenging Providence. "Do you not perceive," he said to Ursini, "that it is God who has led me hither by the hand? France has no sovereign. There is nothing here but confusion; there is no law, no order. No one thinks of resisting me. Can I, therefore, have a more convincing proof that the Being who disposes of empires, has determined to put the crown of France upon my head?"

After the union of Burgundy and the queen, Armagnac grew more savage in his retaliative warfare. He sent from Paris his captains Tannegui du Chastel and Barbazan to attack the Burgundians. They carried on a murderous warfare, taking several towns and fortresses, and putting their garrisons to the sword. Armagnac himself took the field, and, being repulsed from Senlis, in revenge he beheaded all his prisoners. Then the Bastard of Thian, the Burgundian commander, in retaliation, also put to death his prisoners. Such was the devilish atrocity to which the contending chiefs had arrived, that it began to revolt the most callous. The Bishop of Paris took courage and opened a correspondence with Burgundy. The dauphin, who, as well as his imbecile father, was in the hands of Armagnac, also sent agents to treat with the duke and the queen his mother. The Pope, Martin V., had sent the cardinals Ursini and St. Mark to endeavour to mediate between the factions, and to put an end to this scandalous condition of things, and they succeeded in making a treaty with Burgundy and the queen. The people of Paris were in raptures at the news, but Armagnac was still in the city with a strong garrison; he had still the wretched king and the dauphin in his power; and he refused to recognise the treaty, and proceeded to proscribe and put to death as traitors all who dared to utter a different sentiment. The city was deluged with blood. But his time was now come. The whole people were weary of his savage despotism, and were ripe themselves for some desperate deed.

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Pictures for Reign of Henry V. Part 1 page 10

Great Seal of Henry V
Great Seal of Henry V >>>>
Henry V
Henry V >>>>
Cradle of Henry V
Cradle of Henry V >>>>
Room in the Lollards' Tower
Room in the Lollards' Tower >>>>
French Carpenter and Maid-Servant
French Carpenter and Maid-Servant >>>>
The Battle of the Carpenters and Butchers
The Battle of the Carpenters and Butchers >>>>
Parliament of Henry V
Parliament of Henry V >>>>
Azincourt. - King Henry V. and the Sire de Helly
Azincourt. - King Henry V. and the Sire de Helly >>>>
Monmouth Castle
Monmouth Castle >>>>
Reception of Sigismund on the Coast of England.
Reception of Sigismund on the Coast of England. >>>>
Mass in the Abbey Church of Marmontier
Mass in the Abbey Church of Marmontier >>>>
Rouen
Rouen >>>>
Cardinal Ursini
Cardinal Ursini >>>>

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