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The Reign of Henry VI


The Reign of Henry VI. - Minority of the King - The Condition of France - The Death of Charles VI. - The War continued against the Dauphin - Prospects, as it regarded the permanence of the English Power in France - Battle of Crevant - Liberation and Marriage of the King of Scotland - Surrender of Yvry - Battle of Verneuil - The Duke of Gloucester marries Jacqueline of Hainault, and endeavours to possess himself of that Country - Resentment of the Duke of Burgundy, and Withdrawal of the Duke of Brittany from the English Alliance - The Siege of Orleans - The Appearance of Joan of Arc - She raises the Siege of Orleans - Retreat of the English - Jargeau taken by Joan, and the Earl of Suffolk captured - Battle of Patay, and Capture of the Lords Talbot, Scales, and Hungerford - Auxerre, Troyes, and Rheims submit to the Maid of Orleans - Charles VII. crowned at Rheims.
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Henry VI., on the death of his father, was scarcely nine months old. However prosperous his father had been, and however well fortified he seemed to have left him in the care of his mother and the ability and unity of his uncles, as well as the reverence of the people for their late brilliant king, no one who had studied history, even in the smallest degree, but must have foreseen in the course of so long a minority many troubles, and probably much disaster.

While a strong hand guides the course of government, discordant elements, if they do not sleep, are at least suppressed in their action, and often scarcely seem to exist. But that hand once removed, all those elements start into motion. A thousand conflicting interests manifest themselves, and numbers of men are soon found struggling for an eminence which heretofore they had deemed unattainable. By such circumstances how many a minor has been plunged into calamity, and not unfrequently into speedy ruin!

But if this be true of the heir of one kingdom, how much more so must it be of the heir of two - and two such realms as England and France! It would, indeed, have been a miracle if the clashing ambitions of the blood-relations, and of other great men around the infant king's throne, had not produced much trouble and civil conflict. But the prospect of his power in France was still more critical. There he was the nominal heir to a throne of which his father had not lived to obtain possession - of a kingdom not yet entirely subdued by the British arms; a kingdom naturally hostile to an English ruler; a kingdom, of proud, sensitive people, who, though they had consented to the ascendency of Henry V., in order to procure some degree of repose, yet had by no means forgotten the haughty and the cruel deeds of the English in their country; above all, a kingdom in which the rightful heir to the throne was still alive - in fact, had still most devoted adherents; and who presented to their feelings the image of a young prince unjustly and unnaturally excluded from his own great patrimony by an imbecile father and a haughty conqueror.

Though the dauphin had disgusted a large portion of the French by his adherence to the Armagnac faction, which had steeped the capital and the country in the blood of its people; though he was stained by the blood of the murdered Burgundy, and was reputed to be more fond of pleasure and disgraceful companions than of good government and love to his people, still he was their native-born prince. He had fought from his mere boyhood against the island invaders. He was a Frenchman, and the hearts of all Frenchmen turned naturally towards him, notwithstanding his faults, in the spirit of inextinguishable patriotism. It would be his fault if this feeling did not grow, and that the French should come to regard him as the hope of the nation - the hope of its ultimate redemption from the galling yoke of the foreigners.

The effect of these circumstances became first manifest in England. After the interment of Henry V., Queen Catherine retired to Windsor with her infant charge, and the Parliament proceeded to take measures for the security of the throne during the minority. The nobles during the reign of Henry V. had been held in perfect and respectful subordination by the ability and the high prestige of the king. Parliament had asserted its own, but sought not to encroach on the royal prerogative in the hands of a sovereign who showed no disposition to encroach on the popular rights. But now Parliament, and especially the House of Peers, showed unmistakable evidence of a consciousness of their augmented authority.

Henry on his death-bed had named the Duke of Bedford as regent of France, the Duke of Gloucester as regent of England, and the Earl of Warwick as guardian of his son. On the arrival of the official information of the king's death, a number of peers and prelates, chiefly members of the royal council, assembled at Westminster, and issued commissions to the judges, sheriffs, and other officers, ordering them to continue in the discharge of their respective functions; and also summoning a Parliament to meet on the 5th of November. On the day previous to the meeting of Parliament, a committee of peers offered to the Duke of Gloucester a commission empowering him, in the king's name and with the consent of the council, to open, conduct, and dissolve the Parliament. Gloucester objected to the words, "with the consent of the council." He contended that it was an infringement of his own right, the king before Ms death having named him regent. But the peers insisted that what they did was made necessary by the extreme youth of the king, and Gloucester was obliged to give way.

The Parliament immediately on assembling ratified all the acts by which it had been convoked, and entered upon the duty of arranging the form of government for the minority. Gloucester contended that his authority as regent did not depend on the consent of the council, but was the act of the late king himself; and that in no commissions of the late king had any such words as acting by the consent of the council been introduced. But Parliament declared the appointment of the late king to be of no force, inasmuch as to make it valid, it required the consent of the three estates. It was also shown that the two last centuries presented three minorities, those of Henry III., Edward III., and Richard II., and in none of them, except in the two first years of Henry III., had the powers of the executive government been committed to a guardian or a regent.

They refused altogether the title of regent, as far as England was concerned, but, leaving the Duke of Bedford regent of France, they did not even grant to Gloucester the same power under another name in this country. They gave the chief authority to the Duke of Bedford as the elder brother, and nominated him not regent, which might sanction the idea of his authority being derived from the crown only, but protector, or guardian of the kingdom. They then appointed Gloucester protector during the Duke of Bedford's absence only, making him, as it were, merely deputy-protector, his brother's lieutenant.

They thus completely set aside the arrangement of the late king, and reduced the power of Gloucester to a subordinate degree. They limited it still more by appointing the chancellor treasurer and keeper of the privy seal, and sixteen members of council, with the Duke of Bedford as president. In the absence of the duke, Gloucester was to officiate as president. The care of the young king was committed to the Earl of Warwick, and his education to Henry Beaufort, Bishop of "Winchester, afterwards the famous Cardinal Beaufort. Beaufort was one of the three natural sons of John of Gaunt by Catherine Swynford, who were legitimated by royal patent, and had taken the name of Beaufort from the castle of Beaufort in France, where they were born. The bishop was thus half-brother to Henry IV., and, consequently, great uncle to the infant king. Both as a churchman, and as belonging to a family which, though of royal blood, could have no pretensions to the crown, Parliament deemed him a fitting person to enjoy that important office.

These arrangements must have been very mortifying to the Duko of Gloucester; but being proposed by the Peers, and fully consented to by the Commons, he acquiesced in them with the best grace he could. The following liberal salaries were voted to the members of council: -

£ s. d.

To the Protector, per annum 5,333 6 8

„ Dukes and archbishops 200 0 0

„ Bishops and earls 133 6 8

„ Barons and bannerets 100 0 0

„ Esquires 30 0 0

Having also enacted regulations for the proceedings of the council, and continued the tonnage and poundage and the duties on wool for two years, the Parliament was dissolved.

In France the Duke of Bedford appeared, for the moment, all powerful. He had a reputation for ability, both in the council and the field, second only to his late brother the king. He had had great experience under the consummate command of Henry Y., and was everywhere regarded as a man of the highest prudence, probity, bravery, and liberality. The authority which the English Parliament had conferred on him, adding even to that designed by the late king, raised him still more in public opinion. He had now the whole power of England in his hands. His troops had long been inured to victory, and he was surrounded by a number of the most distinguished generals that the nation had ever produced. There were the Earls of Somerset, Warwick, Suffolk, Salisbury, and Arundel, the brave Talbot, and Sir John Fastolfe. He was master of three-fourths of France, was in possession of its capital, and was in close alliance with the most powerful prince of France, the Duke of Burgundy. Following out the dying advice of the late king, he offered to Burgundy the regency of France, but that prince declined it, and, by the advice of his council, Charles VI. conferred it on Bedford.

"While everything thus appeared to favour the English interest, the dauphin's affairs were eminently discouraging. He possessed but a fragment of France in the south, and his officers were more celebrated for their ferocity than their military skill. He was only about twenty years of age, and had the character of an indolent and dissipated prince. His wife, Mary of Anjou, was a woman of great beauty and virtue, but she was neglected by him for his mistress, Agnes Sorel, to whom he was blindly devoted. The Duke of Burgundy, the most powerful prince of the blood, was his mortal enemy, on account of the assassination of his father. The other great princes of his family, who should now have given strength to his party, the Dukes of Orleans and Bourbon, the Counts of Eu, Angouleme, and Vendome, had been prisoners in England ever since the fatal day of Azincourt. The Duke of Brittany, one of the greatest vassals of his crown, had now deserted him and gone over to Burgundy and England. No other prince or noble had joined his standard, nor any foreign nation except the Scots.

But in the very depth of these depressing circumstances a sudden light sprang up. His father, Charles VI., died on the 21st of October, 1422, at his palace of St. Pol in Paris. This event was not likely to afflict the dauphin greatly. The Valois had shown a wonderful callousness to their natural ties, and for years the dauphin had been engaged in active war with both his parents, and had been formally renounced and disinherited by them. In a political point of view the death of the king was of the very highest advantage to him. It cut at once a powerful bond of obedience to the English. Many of the French nobility, while ostensibly supporting the English, did it only out of deference to their own monarch. But that monarch once gone, they could not for a moment thin& of conferring their allegiance on a mere child and a foreigner when the true heir was at hand. In all French, hearts, more or less, whenever or however situated, these sentiments began actively to stir; and the death of Charles YI., instead of seating Henry of Windsor on the throne of France, gave a shock to the English power there from which it never recovered.

The dauphin, when the news of his father's death reached him, was in Auvergne; and his knights at once conducted him to a little chapel near, erected the banner of France, and proclaimed him king. They then marched to Poictiers, where, Rheims being in the hands of his enemies, he was solemnly crowned and proclaimed as Charles VII.

Even in Paris there was some attempt at rising in his favour, as in England there had been a rising on the borders of Wales in favour of the old line; but, in both instances, the power of Henry's authorities crushed the movement, and all for the time remained quiet.

In Paris there appeared for some time after the king's death to prevail a sort of interregnum. Henry VI. was not proclaimed as King of France, and the Parliament of Paris ignored his name in its acts; bat, on receiving his full authority from England, and hearing what the dauphin was doing, the Duke of Bedford ordered Henry to be proclaimed. He moreover summoned a great, assembly, consisting of the Parliament, the archbishop and his clergy, the university, the chief military officers, the magistrates and principal burgesses of the city, who all swore allegiance to Henry VI., King of England and King of France. The same ceremony took place throughout all the provinces of France which were subject to the English and Burgundians. Thus Franco had two monarchs, and it remained to be decided by the sword which of them should prevail. On the side of Henry of England was military and territorial power; on that of Charles VII., the less conspicuous, but far more potent, force of nature and of patriotism.

The Duke of Bedford exerted himself to strengthen the English alliance to the utmost. To bind to him more securely the powerful Duke of Burgundy, he concluded the marriage with the Princess Anne, the youngest sister of the duke, which had been contracted at the treaty of Arras. On the 17th of April, 1423, he met at Amiens, Burgundy, the Duke of Brittany, and his brother Arthur, the Earl of Richemont. Bedford knew that, next to Burgundy, the Duke of Brittany was the most desirable ally of the English. The provinces of France now in possession of England lay between the territories of those two princes, and must always be exposed to their attacks, when not in friendship with them. The Duke of Brittany had already acceded to the treaty of Troyes in resentment towards the Government of Charles VI., and had done homage to Henry Y., as the acknowledged heir to the throne. But Bedford sought to bind him by fresh ties. His brother, the Earl of Richemont, was a bold and ambitious man, and Bedford planned to gratify his ambition. The Earl of Richemont had been one of the prisoners taken at Azincourt. While in England, Henry V. had shown him much kindness, and had permitted him to visit Brittany on his parole, where affairs of state made his presence highly desirable. He was in Brittany when Henry's death took place, and declared that as his parole was only given to Henry, it was now void, and, therefore, he declined to return to England. The plea was wholly untenable according to the laws of honour, but Bedford, so far from seeking to enforce the obligation, sought to lay him under one of a more pleasing kind. He proposed a marriage between Richemont and another of the sisters of the Duke of Burgundy, the widow of the dauphin Lewis, the elder brother of Charles. By this marriage Richemont became not only allied to Burgundy, but to Bedford, and the Duke of Brittany more deeply interested in the career of these princes. At this meeting they all swore to love each other as brothers, to support each other against the attacks of their enemies, whoever they might be; but, above all, to protect the oppressed people of France, and to banish as soon as possible the scourge of war from its so long afflicted soil.

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