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The Reign of Henry VI page 3

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Bedford did not allow them much time to enjoy their good fortune. Leaving a garrison in Ivry, he marched on to Verneuil. At his approach Buchan called a council of war, to determine what course of action they should adopt. The more prudent portion of the council advised a retreat, representing that all the past misfortunes of Prance had resulted from their rashness in giving battle when there was no necessity for it; and that this was the last army of the king, the only force remaining to enable him to defend the few provinces which were left him. But there were a great number of young French noblemen, who, precisely as at Azincourt, insisted upon fighting, and that counsel prevailed.

The French army possessed many advantages in the fight. They were greatly superior to Bedford in numbers, but they were an ill-assorted crowd of French, Italians, and Scotch, the last the only staunch portion of the host. They had, however, the town defending one of their flanks, and for them, if necessary, to fall back upon. They took the precaution to leave their horses and baggage in the city, and to fight on foot, with the exception of about 2,000 men-at-arms, chiefly Italians, on horseback.

The English had, as usual, adopted the tactics of Creepy and Azincourt. The duke had ordered them to post the horses and baggage in the rear, to plant their pointed stakes in front, and wait.

The Earl of Douglas, aware of the mischief of attacking these archers thus posted, also advised to wait, and provoke, if possible, the English to attack him. But here, again, the characteristic impatience of the French defeated his wise caution. The Count of Narbonne rushed on with his division, shouting, "Mountjoye! St. Denis!" and the rest were obliged to follow and support him. The whole body of the French army came down upon the English front, which stood firm under the shock, shouting, "St. George for Bedford!" The weight and impetuosity of the enemy broke in some degree the ranks of the archers, and forced them back towards their baggage, which they found attacked by La Hire and Saintraille, with their cavalry. The archers let fly at these, and, after repeated charges, put the whole to flight, the Italians being the first to flinch under the deadly shower of arrows, and gallop off the field. The archers then turned again, accompanied by their rear division, and fell furiously on the van of the enemy. Here they came upon the Scots, who were fighting like lions, and for three hours they maintained a deadly struggle against the archers in front, and the Duke of Bedford thundering on their flank with his men-at-arms. The French well supported their Scottish allies, but at length the whole were compelled to give way, and were pursued with great slaughter. The carnage was terrible. There were about 4,000 French, Scots, and Italians left on the field, and 1,600 of the English. The Earl of Buchan, the Earl of Douglas and his son Lord James Douglas, Sir Alexander Meldrum, and many other Scots of rank and distinction, were slain. Of the French, four counts, two viscounts, eight barons, and nearly 300 knights fell; amongst them, the Viscount Narbonne, chief author of the mischief, the Counts Tonnere and Ventadour, with Sieurs Roche-baron and Gamaches. The Duke of Alencon, Marshal La Fayette, and 200 gentlemen, were made prisoners. Bedford, as his brother Henry had done at Azincourt, called his officers around him, and returned thanks to God on the field. In everything the duke had kept in view the military maxims of his illustrious brother, and the battle of Verneuil was long compared to that of Azincourt. It was fought on the 17th of August, 1424. But it was the last great victory of this able commander, whose prudence and ability were destined henceforth to be crippled and eventually crushed by the reckless ambition and fatal quarrels of his relatives, above all by the conduct of his brother Gloucester.

This great overthrow appeared to annihilate the power of Charles VII. His last army was dispersed and demoralised. The Scots were so decimated that they never again could form a distinct corps in the French army, for they could ho longer draw fresh troops from their own country, where now James I. reigned in strict alliance with England. Charles was so straitened that he had not even money for his personal needs, much less for subsisting his troops. It was all that ho could do to get his table supplied with the plainest fare for himself and his few followers. Day after day brought him the news of some fresh loss or disaster. Towns most important to him were compelled to surrender for want of supplies. All the country north of the Loire was lost to him, and his enemies were preparing to drive him out of the last remains of his hereditary kingdom.

But it was the singular fortune of this prince, when reduced by his demerits to the lowest condition, always to find himself raised again by circumstances, which no merit or talent of the ablest or most prudent man could originate. He was, spite of his weaknesses, his follies, and his repeated overthrows, always saved by something little short of a miracle, and reserved to triumph over all his enemies, and to secure to the French crown provinces which it had lost for ages.

This time the dissensions of the English council turned the scale in his favour. Instead of the Duke of Gloucester exerting himself to maintain concord at home, and sending over fresh forces and supplies to his brother the regent in France, he had plunged himself into violent altercations with Henry Beaufort, which produced anger, dissensions, and partisanship in the Government, and threatened the worst consequences. But still more startling and pregnant with calamity was the rash marriage of Gloucester with Jacqueline of Bavaria. Nothing so mischievous as this to the ascendency of England in France could have been devised by the subtlest enemy; and Gloucester appears to have been of so headstrong and impetuous a temper, that he set at nought all considerations of policy and all sound advice.

Jacqueline of Bavaria was the heiress of Hainault, Holland, Zeeland, and Friesland. This heiress of whole kingdoms was, moreover, handsome, high-spirited, and of a bold and masculine understanding. The court of France had early cast its eyes upon her desirable domains, and secured her for the dauphin John. After the death of the dauphin, her uncle, called John the Merciless, who had formerly waged fierce war to deprive her of her heritage, now sought to marry her to the Duke of Brabant, whose stepfather he was. Henry V. had sought her hand for his brother Bedford; but the immense advantage which the possession of Hainault and Holland would give to the English, already on the eve, as it appeared, of becoming masters of France, no doubt excited the strongest, if not the most open opposition on the part of her near relative, the Duke of Burgundy, and others who dreaded such a contingency. Jacqueline was worried into the marriage with the Duke of Brabant. It was an ill-starred union. The duke was a mere boy of sixteen. and a sickly and wilful boy. Jacqueline was of ripe womanly age, and had, too, a will of her own. She began with despising her husband, and ended by hating him. Their life was diversified chiefly by quarrels. The favourite of her husband, William le Begue, had insulted Jacqueline, and, at her instigation, her half-brother, called the Bastard of Hainault, proceeded to punish him, and, in truth, killed him. Her husband, in his revenge, drove away all the ladies and the servants who had accompanied her from Holland; and soon after the people rose and massacred the favourites of the duke. Jacqueline got away to her mother at Valenciennes, and from Valenciennes she made her way over to England, where she was received with a warm welcome, and had a pension of 100 per month conferred on her by the king.

While in England she is said to have fallen in love with the Duke of Gloucester, and the Duke returned the sentiment with the promptitude which his own ardent character and the extent of the lady's lands made very natural. Henry V., however, saw instantly how destructive would be any such alliance to all his hopes in France. The Duke of Brabant was the near relative of the Duke of Burgundy, and Burgundy was his heir. It was inevitable that the duke would view with profound alarm a marriage which would not only deprive him of the reversion of Holland and Hainault, but place the English on almost every side of his paternal lands, with an extension of power and influence perfectly overwhelming. Henry, therefore, not only did all in his power to discourage this ominous connection, but it no doubt lay very much at the bottom of his earnest injunctions on his deathbed to his brothers to cultivate with all their energy the friendship of Burgundy.

But all sentiments of policy or prudence were lost on Gloucester. His ambition, if not his love, fired at the idea of possessing such a splendid territory in right of his wife, made him disregard every other consideration. He resolved to marry Jacqueline, contending that the Duke of Brabant was within the prescribed degrees of consanguinity, though a dispensation had been obtained for that very purpose. A second dispensation was requisite before Gloucester could marry the duchess, and this the Pope, Martin Y., refused, in consequence of the representations of the Duke of Burgundy. Resolved not to be defeated, Gloucester applied to Benedict XIII., who, though he had been deposed from the papal chair by the Council of Constance, refused to submit to its dictum. He was only too happy to oblige where Martin had disobliged, and Gloucester married the heiress of Holland.

So long as Gloucester and his bride remained quiescent in England, the Duke of Burgundy, probably under the persuasions of Bedford, remained passive also. But presently Gloucester and Jacqueline landed at Calais with an English army of 5,000 or 6,000 men. This was a few weeks after the great battle of Verneuil, and Burgundy was greatly pleased, believing that Gloucester was come with reinforcements for the combined army destined to complete the subjugation of France. But his astonishment and indignation knew no bounds, when he learned that Gloucester and his lady had marched directly into Hainault, and taken possession of it in virtue of the marriage. He was at the moment celebrating his own nuptials with the Dowager Duchess of Nevers. He instantly recalled his troops from the combined army, and sent them to assist the Duke of Brabant to drive Gloucester from Hainault. He wrote the most passionate letters to all his vassals, commanding them to hasten to the assistance of Brabant. On his part, Gloucester wrote to the Duke of Burgundy, deprecating his hostility, declaring that he had broken no treaty or peace with Burgundy, and was merely taking possession of his own. He even added that Burgundy had formerly favoured this very alliance. To this Burgundy replied by declaring it false, and the two angry dukes proceeded to still higher words, and the engagement to fight a duel, which, however, never came off.

Meantime, the effect of this quarrel was most disastrous to the campaign of Bedford. Not only had the Duke of Burgundy withdrawn his troops to oppose Gloucester, but Gloucester, on his part, also intercepted the troops and supplies intended for Bedford, and diverted them to his own contest in Hainault. In a great council at Paris it was at length, decided that the legitimacy of the two marriages should be submitted to the Pope, and that the contest should pause till his decision was received. The Duke of Brabant consented, but Gloucester refused. The Duke of Burgundy thereupon prosecuted the war against Gloucester with redoubled determination; and, to add to Bedford's embarrassment, the Count of Richemont, flattered by Charles with the appointment of Constable of France, vacant by the death of the Earl of Buchan at Verneuil, prevailed on his brother, the Duke of Brittany, also to go over to Charles. Nay, the Burgundians, brought into contact with the enemies of England, began to listen to their representations of the English ambition, and suggestions were even made to the duke from various quarters for a reconciliation with the rightful King of France. Luckily, the murder of his father was still strong in his remembrance, and he remained for eight years longer the ally of his brother-in-law, Bedford, but not the same cordial and efficient one.

Gloucester maintained the contest against his combined foes for about a year and a half, when the exhaustion of his resources, and his jealousy of the growing influence of his uncle Beaufort in the government at home, drew him to England. His departure was fatal to all his views on Hainault. No sooner was he gone than Valenciennes, Conde, and Bouchain opened their gates to Burgundy. Jacqueline, at Gloucester's departure, had entreated him not to leave her behind. But the people of Mons insisted on her remaining there to head the resistance to Brabant and Burgundy. It was only in tears that she consented to remain, predicting the fatal consequences of their separation. Her fears were speedily confirmed. Mons was invested by Burgundy, and the perfidious citizens delivered up Jacqueline to him. She was conducted by the Prince of Orange to Ghent, where she was to be detained till the Pope had decided on the validity of the marriage.

The adventurous Jacqueline did not feel herself bound to wait for the decree of the pontiff. She planned, with a woman's ingenuity, escape from her prison. She seized her opportunity, dressed herself and her maid in male attire, stole unobserved, in the dusk of the evening, out of her place of detention, mounted on horseback, and, passing the city gates, continued her flight till she reached the Borders of Holland, where her subjects received her with enthusiasm. But the Duke of Burgundy was not inclined thus to let her escape. He pursued her to Holland; her subjects refused to betray her, and a war was prosecuted in that country for two years. The Duke of Gloucester sent her a reinforcement of 500 men, and would have sent her more, but was prevented by Bedford and the council.

In 1426, the Pope pronounced the validity of the marriage with the Duke of Brabant; but that feeble personage died soon after, and Jacqueline, who now certainly, according to all the laws of God and man, was free, became the wife of Gloucester. But right was of little importance in that age, and especially in the case of a woman, The Duke of Burgundy, called the Good - for what reason we never could discover - was determined to reduce her by force of arms, and compel her to acknowledge him as her heir. Had England not been engaged in the conquest of France, the Duke of Gloucester would have been victoriously supported in his claim as it was, these claims were destructive of the greater object of ambition. Little, however, as the Duke of Gloucester was able to contribute to the support of his wife, who now assumed the title of the Duchess of Gloucester, it enabled her to maintain the contest till 1428, when the power of Burgundy bore her down; and he compelled her to sign a treaty nominating him her heir, admitting him to garrison her towns and fortresses in security of that claim, and pledging her word never to marry without his consent.

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