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Reign of Henry V. Part 1 page 4

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Again in April of the following year, 1415, the dauphin regained possession of Paris by a base stratagem. He invited Ms mother, Queen Isabella, the Dukes of Orleans and Berri, with the other princes of the blood, to meet at Melun, in order to settle all differences and unite with one accord against the English invader. The queen and princes fell into the snare. They set out for Melun, and the dauphin simultaneously hastened into the capital, closed the gates against them, and ordered them, with the exception of Berri, severally to retire to their estates. One great object of Louis was to secure the rich hoards of his mother, which she had deposited in the church of St. Denis. Once possessed of them, he charged his mother, Orleans, Burgundy, and the rest of the princes of the blood - for Louis was a perfect Ishmaelite in his enmities - with being the authors of all the calamities which had fallen on France. The declaration would have been true enough had he included his own share in them. But he now promised to redress everything; and, as an earnest of his intentions, he proceeded to perpetrate still worse extravagances, follies, and wrongs. He levied on all sides the most arbitrary exactions, which he spent surrounded by troops of insolent and insatiable courtiers. His court became still more disgracefully licentious than any before it. He shut up his wife, the daughter of the Duke of Burgundy, in the chateau of St. Germain-en-Laye, and placed at the head of his court a servant of the palace as his mistress. The Duke of Burgundy, enraged at the treatment of his daughter, vowed vengeance against the profligate dauphin, and prepared to march against him, accompanied by his butcher chiefs, Caboche, Legoix, and others of the white-hood clan. Meantime Armagnac was ravaging the south of France and St. Pol the north. Never was a country so torn by faction and desolated and degraded by crime; and it was at this moment that Henry of England prepared to descend on the devoted land, announcing himself as the scourge of a justly incensed Providence.

In little more than twelve months after mounting the throne, Henry forwarded to France, in July, 1414, his demand of the crown of that country. No answer was returned. He then reduced his requisition from the whole realm to the following modest one; namely, the provinces of Normandy, Maine, and Anjou; the territories which formerly composed the duchy of Aquitaine; and the several towns and counties included in the treaty of Bretigni; that Charles VI. should put him in possession of half of Provence, the inheritance of Eleanor and Sanchia, the queens of Henry III., and of his brother Richard, and two of the four daughters of Beranger, once sovereign of that country. That he should pay up the arrears of King John's ransom, 1,200,000 crowns, and give Henry his daughter Catherine, with 2,000,000 crowns more.

To this astounding demand the French Government replied that the king was willing to give the hand of his daughter, with 600,000 crowns, a higher sum than had ever been paid with any princess of France, and all the territories anciently included in the duchy of Aquitaine.

To this Henry refused to consent, but summoned a Parliament, the speaker of which was Thomas Chaucer, the son of the great poet, and received from it the unwontedly liberal supply of two-tenths and two-fifteenths. To give an air of moderation to his demands, however, Henry still pretended to negotiate. He sent over to Paris a splendid embassy, consisting of 600 horsemen, headed by the Earl of Dorset and the Bishops of Durham and Norwich. They entered the capital with so much parade and magnificence, that the French vanity was surprised and mortified by it. The ambassadors first proposed a continuation of the truce for four months. They repeated the terms of the former embassy as to peace and the matrimonial alliance of the two countries, but consented to accept the princess with half the original sum. On the other side, the French raised the amount proffered from 600,000 to 800,000 crowns. Here the matter ended, and the embassy returned.

This was, no doubt, precisely what Henry expected; and now he made preparations for an immediate invasion. On the 16th of April he summoned at Westminster a council of fifteen spiritual and twenty-eight temporal peers, when he announced his resolve "to recover his inheritance by arms." His speech was received with the utmost applause and enthusiasm. The great barons and knights, eager to obtain military fame, engaged to furnish their quotas of troops to the utmost of their ability; Parliament granted two-tenths and fifteenths, and dissolved and made over to the king no less than a hundred alien priories, not conventual. Henry himself exerted every means of increasing his resources. He raised loans by pawning his crown jewels, the magnificent crown itself of Henry IV., and by other means, and altogether amassed the sum of 500,000 nobles in ready money. He rifled the cupboards and buffets of the royal palaces, and gave them as pledges of the ultimate payment of their prices to great creditors.

The Duke of Bedford, Henry's brother, was appointed regent of the kingdom during the royal absence; and the youthful monarch, full of aspirations of glory and conquest, set forward towards Southampton, the port of embarkation.

Meantime, the French princes, engrossed by their own dissensions, had made no exertions to prepare the kingdom for such a formidable attack. They fondly hoped that Henry would close with the liberal terms offered him, and were, therefore, thunderstruck with the present promptitude of his motions. They hastily sent over the Duke of Vendome and the Archbishop of Bourges to repeat the last advanced terms offered through the Dub of Berri. They met Henry at Winchester, but he would listen to nothing but the most complete surrender of all the rights that England ever possessed in France. There was now no going back; the time for mere diplomatic talk was over with Henry. He declared that the crown of France was his right, and that he would wrest it from its usurper by the sword. The Archbishop of Bourges, who seems to have been a man of spirit, on this assumed a bold demeanour, and declared that the King of France lad made all possible concession, not out of any fear, but from sincere desire of peace. That if the king imagined could easily overcome France he deceived himself. Chat its throne was the firmest in Europe. "If," said he, "thou makest thy attempt, our sovereign lord will call upon the blessed Virgin, and upon all the saints, and by their aid thou wilt be driven into the sea by the king, his faithful subjects, and powerful allies; or thou wilt be slain, or taken captive." To this lofty language Henry only smiling, replied, "We shall see." He appeared no way to resent the freedom of the spirited prelate, but gave him his passports at his request, and dismissed him and his attendants with valuable presents.

Proceeding to Southampton, Henry actively superintended the preparations for the embarkation of his army, which lay encamped along the shore in magnificent array. While he was thus engaged he once more sent off a messenger to the King of France, as if it were necessary to announce formally his coming. This time it was Antelope, his pursuivant-at-arms, who was instructed to demand all the provinces of England and the hand of Catherine, or to deliver the king's defiance. It was at this time, when the old king made a mild but firm reply, that the wild and profligate Louis, the dauphin, sent his gasconading message, accompanied by a parcel of tennis-balls, telling Henry that they much better befitted him, by all accounts of his past life, than cannon-balls; on hearing which, Henry is said to have been stung with momentary anger, and replied, "These balls shall be struck back with such a racket as shall force open Paris gates."

Some historians have treated this incident as apocryphal and improbable; but no fact is better authenticated by almost every chronicler of the time, and nothing is more accordant with the character of Prince Louis.

But in the very midst of Henry's active occupation of embarking his troops, danger was much nearer to him than from the tennis-balls or bravadoes of the giddy dauphin. A conspiracy to assassinate him was discovered at the very moment that it was intended to carry it into execution; and what is singular, the discovery came from the very person for whose especial benefit the movement was intended.

The young Earl of Marche, as we have already had occasion to state, was not only the true heir to the throne, but had been brought up with Henry, and was really attached to him. The sister of the young earl was married to Richard, Earl of Cambridge, and brother to the Dyke of York. Cambridge, by his alliance with the true prince, appears to have been infected with the ambitious desire of seeing himself not merely brother to a legitimate prince who was contented in his station, which, though that of a subject, was honourable and happy, but brother to a king. From the little light thrown by cotemporary historians on the progress of the riot, we can only perceive that Cambridge had sought the co-operation of several persons who were known to have acted or suffered in the opposition to the late king. These were Sir Thomas Grey, of Heton, in Northumberland, and Lord Scrope, of Masham, both of whom had been involved in the Percy insurrections themselves, or by their near relatives. Scrope was at this time high in the favour of his sovereign. He was his trusted chamberlain, and one of the most confidential of his privy council. In the chase and in his social hours, he was the especial companion of Henry. Yet he appears to have given in to this base conspiracy, and Henry was to be assassinated before embarking, after which, the conspirators were to escape to Wales with the Earl of Marche, and there raise the banner of revolt in his behalf.

It would seem that the conspiracy was as ill-constructed as it was wicked. The conspirators do not appear to have obtained the decided sanction of the principal person concerned. Probably Cambridge might have speculated on private conversations with his brother-in-law, the Earl of Marche, and have persuaded himself that he would fall in with such a scheme when it appeared to him feasible. But when, at the moment of action, Marche was apprised of the intended blow, he refused, by the earnest advice of his man Lacy, to swear to keep the secret, but required an hour in which to consider of the proposal. However the persuasions of Cambridge or his own secret feelings might have inclined him at any previous moment, now, when Ms friend and noble patron Henry was menaced with instant death, Marche at once decided, and hastened to apprise the king of his danger. That Marche had listened to the voice of the tempter is plain from his first requesting a pardon from Henry for giving ear "to his rebels and traitors sufficiently to understand their schemes."

This pardon Henry at once accorded, but he seized the conspirators, and brought them immediately before a council, where their fate was to be decided by twelve jurors of the county. Grey pleaded guilty to the charge of having conspired to kill the king, "to proclaim the Earl of Marche, in case Richard II. was really dead," to having by their emissaries solicited the said Richard, or, as he was by the indictment declared to be, Thomas of Tumpington, who personated that monarch, to invade the king's dominions with a body of Scottish forces and Scottish lords.

Cambridge and Scrope demanded to be tried by their peers, whereupon all the lords of the army were summoned; the Duke of Clarence was appointed to preside in place of the king, and the Duke of York, that he might not sit in judgment on his own brother, nominated the Earl of Dorset his proxy.

Cambridge made an earnest appeal to the king for mercy, and Scrope pleaded, like Marche, that he had only listened in order to ascertain the objects of the conspirators, so that he might effectually defeat them. The plea did not avail him any more than the cowardly prayer of Cambridge. They were all three condemned, were led out to the north gate of the town, and had their heads struck off, just as the royal fleet, with a favourable wind, hoisted sail, and bore out of the harbour of Southampton, on the 13th of August, 1415.

This memorable expedition, thus painfully inaugurated by the blood of treason in the very near kindred of the king, consisted of 6,000 men-at-arms, and 24,000 archers, which so many occasions had now demonstrated to be the real power of England. These troops were carried in a fleet of 1,500 sail; and, with an auspicious wind, entered the mouth of the Seine on the second day, August 18th. Three days were consumed in landing the troops and stores, and it does not appear that there was any opposition from the enemy.

Henry at once laid siege to the strong fortress of Harfleur, situated on the left bank of the river, and defended by a numerous garrison, under the command of the Counts D'Estouteville, De Guitri, and De Gaucourt, as well as others of the French nobility. The siege was conducted according to the principles of the greatest master of engineering of the time, Master Giles, the splendid manuscript of whose work, "De Regimine Principum," is yet preserved in the Harleian Collection of the British Museum.

The French knights of the garrison displayed the utmost bravery, and made repeated assaults on the troops of Henry while throwing up their entrenchments, but they were received in such a manner by the archers that they were soon very glad to keep within the shelter of their walls. These walls themselves were in bad repair; the succours which had been promised by the Government did not arrive; the English cannon was fast demolishing the outworks, and sappers undermining the towers. A worse enemy than even the English was also amongst them - the dysentery, owing to the dampness of the place, and the unhealthy quality of the provisions; and the garrison surrendered on the 22nd of September, after a defence of thirty-six days.

Henry seated himself on his throne, placed beneath a magnificent tent, on the summit of a hill opposite to the town, where he received the submission of the garrison. On each side of the throne stood the English nobles; Sir Robert Umphraville on the king's right hand bearing the royal helmet, surmounted by the crown, on the point of a lance. Do Gaucourt, the Governor of Harfleur, attended by thirty-four burgesses, approached; and kneeling, presented the keys of the town and prayed the king's mercy.

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