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Reign of Henry V. Part 2 page 4


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Henry had spent seven months in these operations. They had cost him a great number of his brave soldiers, and some of his most tried officers - amongst them the Earl of Worcester and Lord Clifford, who fell before the walls of Meaux. Sickness swept away many others; but the advantages of the reduction of Meaux were as distinguished as the costs; for it laid all the north of France as far as the Loire, with the exception of Maine, Anjou, and a few castles in Picardy, under his dominion. Whilst he lay before Meaux, however, he received the joyful intelligence of the safe delivery of his queen of a son, who had received his own name; the Duke of Bedford, the Bishop of Winchester, and Jacqueline, Countess of Hainault and Holland - who proved the cause of many misfortunes to the infant prince - being sponsors at his baptism.

One thing, however, troubled his joy on this auspicious event. Henry had probably studied the so-called science of astrology at Oxford, for it was part of the heap of rubbish regarded as real knowledge at that time. On leaving England, therefore, he strictly enjoined Catherine not to lie in at Windsor, for he had ascertained that the planets cast forward a lowering shadow upon Windsor, in the week when she might expect her confinement. From waywardness, or some other cause, Catherine especially chose as the place of her accouchement the forbidden spot - a conduct which she lived bitterly to rue. On the news being brought to Henry at Meaux, he eagerly demanded where the boy was born, mid on being told it was at Windsor, he appeared greatly struck and chagrined, and repeated to his chamberlain, Lord Fitzhugh, the following lines:-

"I, Henry, horn at Monmouth,
Shall small time reign and much get;
But Henry of Windsor shall long reign, and lose all.
But as God wills, so be it."

It is probable that these were sentiments which the king expressed, and that they owe their sibylline form to some chronicler or astrologer of the time. It is certain that Speed, Stowe, Fabyn, and Holinshed concur in saying that the king "prophesied the calamities of Henry VI." The boy was born on the 6th of December, 1421. On hearing of the fall of Meaux, Catherine left her infant to the care of its uncle, the Duke of Gloucester, and hastened to join Henry in France. She was escorted by the Duke of Bedford and 20,000 fresh troops, to enable Henry to complete the conquest of her brother and his unhappy country. She landed at Harfieur on the 21st of May, where she was received with great state and rejoicing by numbers of noblemen and gentlemen, who accompanied her on her route to Paris by Rouen to the Bois de Vincennes, where her father's court resided. Henry set out from Meaux to meet her there, and thence the two courts proceeded together to Paris to spend the festival of Whitsuntide.

But in the midst of these gay though unsatisfactory rejoicings, there came a pressing message from the Duke of Burgundy to Henry, entreating him to hasten to his assistance against the dauphin. Those sturdy Scots who had made such havoc amongst Henry's troops at Beauje, were still in the country; and the dauphin, collecting 20,000 men in the south, had put them under the command of the Earl of Buchan, the leader of those troops. They had crossed the Loire, taken La Charite, and proceeded to invest Cosne. At Cosne the dauphin joined Buchan; and the Duke of Burgundy, to whom these towns belonged, seeing that his hereditary duchy of Burgundy would next be menaced, was most urgent in his appeal to Henry to fly to his assistance.

Henry, in the midst of his glory and his good fortune, had for some time felt the approaches of an illness that no exercise in the field or festivities in the city enabled him to shake off. In vain he resisted the insidious disease. It seized relentlessly on his constitution, and defied all the science of his physicians. At the call of Burgundy, however, he roused himself, and set out from Paris at the end of July. Cosne had agreed to surrender if not relieved by the 16th of August, and Henry was impatient to come up in time. But a greater conqueror than himself was now come out against him. Death had laid his hand upon him; and he had only reached Senlis, about twenty-eight miles from Paris, when he was seized with such debility that he was obliged to be carried thence to Corbeil in a horse-litter. There, spite of his determined attempt to go on, his malady assumed such feverish and alarming symptoms that he was compelled to give up, and surrender the command of the army to the Duke of Bedford. He had left the queen at Senlis, but she was now returned to the Bois de Vincennes, and thither he caused himself to be conveyed by water.

In the castle of Vincennes, which had witnessed many a strange passage in the history of France and her sovereigns, the great conqueror now lay helpless and hopeless of life, tended by Catherine and her mother His very name had scared once more the dauphin from the field. No sooner did he hear that Henry was on the way, than he hastily abandoned the siege of Cosne re-crossed the Loire, and threw himself again into Bourges. The Duke of Bedford, who found no enemy in the field, was preparing to cross the Loire in pursuit of him, when he was recalled to the dying bed of his royal brother.

If there ever was a combination of circumstances to make a death-bed hard, and cause the heart to cling tenaciously to life, they were those which surrounded Henry of Monmouth. But never, in the most trying hour of his existence, not even when he contemplated the vast hosts hemming him in on the eve of the great fight of Azincourt, did he display such unbroken firmness. For himself he expressed no anxiety and no regrets; his only solicitude was for his son and successor, still only nine months old. He called to his bedside his brother the Duke of Bedford, the Earl of Warwick, and others of his lords, and to them he gave the most solemn injunctions to be faithful guardians of their infant sovereign. He expressed no remorse for the blood which he had shed in his wars, unquestionably believing all that he had so often asserted, that he was the chosen instrument of Providence for the chastisement and renovation of France.

To the Duke of Bedford he said, "Comfort my dear wife - the most afflicted creature living." He most earnestly recommended, both to him and all his commanders, to cultivate the friendship of the Duke of Burgundy; never to make peace with Charles, who called himself dauphin, except on condition of his total renunciation of the crown; never to release the Duke of Orleans or any of the French princes of the blood taken at Azincourt; nor in any way to yield the claims of his son on France. He appointed his brother the Duke of Gloucester protector in England during his son's minority, and his brother the Duke of Bedford regent in France, who should avail himself on all occasions of the counsel of the Duke of Burgundy. Being assured by his physicians that he had not more than two hours to live, he then sent for his spiritual counsellors; and while they were chanting the seven penitential psalms he stopped them at the verse, "Build thou the walls of Jerusalem," and assured them that when he had completed the settlement of France he had always intended to undertake a crusade. This was precisely what his father had done on his deathbed; and this appeared still a favourite idea of the European princes.

Having thus systematically concluded all his affairs, temporal and spiritual, he calmly expired on the last clay of August, 1422, amid the sobs and deep grief of all around him.

The contemporary writer, Titus Livius, who had seen him, thus describes his person: - "In stature he was a little above the middle size; his countenance was beautiful, his neck long, his body slender, and his limbs most elegantly formed. He was very strong; and so swift, that, with two companions, without either dogs or missive weapons, he caught a doe, one of the fleetest animals. He was a lover of music, and excelled in all martial and manly exercises."

The qualities of his mind were in no respect inferior to those of his body. He was generous, aspiring, undaunted, and far-seeing. He has been compared disingenuously, by some historians, with the two great Edwards, but in nothing was he their inferior. In a far shorter career, he equalled, if he did not surpass, their military genius; and in all that related to humanity of conduct while prosecuting his wars, he was immeasurably their superior. It is only necessary to recollect the carnage and devastation which they carried everywhere in their march, the towns they relentlessly sacked, the lands and villages which they burnt and plundered, to perceive how far Henry exceeded them both in feeling and sound policy. They died detested by those whose cities and fields they had ruthlessly destroyed; Henry was remembered with affection for his protection to the invaded, and especially to women, and to the weak and aged. He exhibited instances of partial severity; theirs was general, and continued to the last.

Towards his own subjects he was constitutionally just. He was, as we have said, especially of a military genius, a warrior by ambition and from impulse. Martial fame was his grand fascination, and his imagination coloured all his aspirations, and justified to himself all his enterprises. He believed that the path of his honour was, at the same time, the path of duty; and, contented with the liberal supplies of his subjects, he made no attempt at encroachment on their rights. No monarch ever more fully realised the lean ideal of a great prince to his subjects, and four centuries have not availed to withdraw from his memory the splendour which his conquests threw around him in his life.

There was one circumstance in which the death of Henry Y. differed greatly from that of many kings mighty and dreaded in their lifetime. His corpse was not abandoned the moment the breath had departed, and what had been a king was only a carcase. There was not a revolting exhibition of the baseness of courtiers, as in the cases of William the Conqueror and Edward III. On the contrary, his officers determined that he should, though dead, depart from France with as much regal state as he entered it. They had the body embalmed, and carried in great ceremony to the Church of Notre Dame, where the funeral service was performed with all the pomp that the Roman Catholic Church knows so well how to employ on such occasions.

The queen, it appears, was not present at his death, and was kept in ignorance of it for some days. On its being communicated to her, she was attended by some of the nobles to the city of Rouen, and thither the body of the king was carried in solemn procession, and there lay in state for several days. "The body was then laid on a chariot drawn by four noble horses. Just above the dead body they placed a figure made of boiled leather, representing his person as nigh as might be devised, painted curiously to the semblance of a living creature, on whose head was put an imperial diadem of gold and precious stones; on its body a purple robe furred with ermine; in the right hand a sceptre royal; in the left an orb of gold with a cross fixed thereon. And thus adorned was this figure laid in a bed on the same chariot, with the visage uncovered towards the heavens; and the coverture of this bed was of red, beaten with gold; and besides, when the body should pass through any good town, a canopy of marvellous value was borne over it by men of great worship. In this manner he was accompanied by the King of Scots as the chief mourner, and by all the princes, lords, and knights of his house, in vestures of deep mourning. At a distance from the corpse of about two English miles, followed the widow, Queen Catherine, right honourably accompanied. The body rested in the Church of St. Wolfran, in Abbeville, where masses were sung by the queen's orders for the repose of Henry's soul, from the dawning of morning till the closing of night. The procession moved through Abbeville with increased pomp. The Duke of Exeter, the Earl of Marche, Sir Louis Robsart, the queen's knight, and many nobles, bore the banners of the saints. The hatchments were carried by twelve renowned captains; and around the bier-car rode 400 men-at-arms in black armour, their horses barbed black, their lances held with the point downwards. A great company clothed in white, bearing wax-torches, lighted, encompassed the procession. The queen, with a mighty retinue, followed."

Thus this vast procession kept on its way from town to town, through Hesdin, Montreuil, Boulogne, to Calais, where it arrived on the 12th of October, and found vessels ordered by the privy council waiting to convey the corpse and the company over. From Dover the great funeral procession advanced slowly through Canterbury and Rochester to London. On the way it was met by fifteen, bishops in their pontifical habits, and by many abbots in their mitres and vestments, and a great assemblage of priests and people. The priests chanted their solemn, anthems for the dead all the way from Blackheath and through the streets of London, where they arrived on Martinmas day. Thus they went on to St. Paul's, and, after the obsequies there performed, to Westminster Abbey. All the way every householder stood at his door with a torch in his hand; and all London seemed to follow after. The princes of the family rode in open, carriages immediately after the bier, so that their grief might be manifest to all the people, who were greatly edified thereby, and especially by the deep sorrow of the queen. The body was interred near the shrine of the Confessor. The queen had a splendid tomb there erected for him, on which was inscribed that it was done by his queen, Catherine. Before it was extended a silver-plated effigy, with the head of solid silver, gilt.

During Henry's reign the long schism which had prevailed in the Church was terminated. It had lasted forty years, during which time there were two rival Popes; and towards the end of the time three. The Emperor Sigismund then set himself to remove this scandal, and by his exertions all the leading governments of Europe were brought to combine for the purpose. At the Council of Constance they compelled one Pope to resign, and excommunicated the two others; a new one, under the name of Martin V., being elected at the next conclave.

The reign of Henry V. is also remarkable for a fact which demonstrated that the old feudal system was at an end so far as it regarded the constitution of the army. The kings could no longer calculate on the nobles supplying their proper quotas of men. Henry, therefore, in 1415, before setting out for France, empowered commissioners to take in each county a registration of all the free men capable of bearing arms; to divide them into companies, and keep them in a state of discipline, ready to resist any invader. Thus arose a fixed militia, and this left him more at liberty to obtain contracts with powerful barons to serve with their vassals under his banners, or to enlist men. To keep his armies efficient he paid very high wages - two shillings per day to men-at-arms, equal to thirty shillings now; and from six to nine pence per day to archers - equal to from seven to ten shillings now. Yet, notwithstanding this, Henry was never supplied with a force capable of carrying out his designs of permanent conquest, but owed his success rather to the disunion of his enemies. The whole of his royal revenue was only about 45,000 - equal in value to about 600,000 of our present money.

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Pictures for Reign of Henry V. Part 2 page 4

Armour of the Fifteenth Century
Armour of the Fifteenth Century >>>>
Assassination of the Duke of Burgundy
Assassination of the Duke of Burgundy >>>>
Tomb of Henry V
Tomb of Henry V >>>>
Paris in the Fifteenth Century
Paris in the Fifteenth Century >>>>
Funeral Procession of Henry V
Funeral Procession of Henry V >>>>

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