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The Reign of Henry VI page 4

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The war in Hainault and Holland, created by the marriage of Gloucester and Jacqueline of Bavaria, whose life more resembles a romance than a piece of real history, perfectly crippled the proceedings of Bedford. He lost the grand opportunity of following up the impression of the battle of Verneuil, and thus putting an end to the war. For three years the war was almost at a standstill. Neither the regent nor Charles were in a condition to make further demonstrations than slight skirmishes and sieges, which, without advancing one party or the other, tended to sink the people still deeper in misery. This interval presented in the court of Charles a series of the most disgraceful and bloody intrigues, and in the court of London the most bitter dissensions.

Charles VII, during three years, in which the Duke of Bedford's hands were completely tied by the circumstances related, had, notwithstanding his late severe disasters, a fair opportunity of gathering new strength, and making head against the embarrassed English. The Duke of Brittany was eventually prevailed upon by the Earl of Richemont to go over to Charles. There were various other symptoms of the good-will of the people and of different nobles to his cause. But the opportunity was wasted, and worse than wasted; fresh follies and crimes exposed him to the contempt of his subjects.

The place of favourite was now occupied by Camues de Beaulieu. Him Richemont dispatched with promptitude and audacity. His assassins fell upon him in a field immediately after quitting the presence of the king, and stabbed him to death. Charles, on seeing the favourite's horse come galloping back covered with blood, was excessively enraged at this murder of his favourite, and vowed vengeance; but, as in the case of the death of Burgundy, he remained perfectly passive. To console him, and to answer his own ends, Richemont recommended the very assassin, De la Tremoille, to his good graces. He calculated on Tremoille's devotion to him; but he was in this case mistaken. De la Tremoille was as crafty as he was devoid of conscience. He immediately consoled, not only the king, but Madame de Giac, whose husband he had drowned. Assisted by the genius of his wife, he soon exerted the most unlimited power over Charles, and set Richemont at defiance. The deluded and enraged constable determined to destroy the traitor. He entered into a conspiracy with several other noblemen to seize Tremoille by force and kill him. But Tremoille was more knowing than the Duke of Burgundy. He laughed at all the smooth overtures of Richemont, refused to meet him and his friends, kept close with the king in the castle, maintained a strong guard, and saw his enemies, who laid open siege to the fortress, obliged by the winter to retire.

In the spring the conspirators returned, and took the town of Bourges; but the king and his favourite had already abandoned the place, and sought a fresh stronghold. Richernont's allies made their submission, and he himself was compelled to retire; when he made an ineffectual war on Charles in Poitou and Saintonge. De la Tremoille and his wife maintained their ascendancy, but often the miserable king was surrounded by embarrassments. Marshal Severac, who had fought so long and bravely for him., had become outrageous for the arrears of pay for himself and soldiers. He threatened that, if the king did not pay him, he would desolate and plunder the whole of Languedoc. On examining the state of the royal coffers there were found only two crowns. In another quarter, the Count of Faix seized Beziers, and the queen's brother, Rene of Anjou, went over to the English. Such was the condition to which Charles VII. was reduced.

On the other hand, Bedford was equally incapacitated from availing himself of the opportunity to crush this last feeble remains of the royalty of France. The court of London was torn by the dissensions of his brother Gloucester and Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester. That prelate was not more ambitious than he was politic. He carefully hoarded the large revenues of his see and of his private estate, and gave an air of patriotism to his wealth, by lending it to the crown in its need. He had furnished to the late king £28,000, and to the present £11,000. He had thrice held the high office of chancellor; he had been the ecclesiastical representative at the Council of Constance, and had acquired a good character for sanctity by having made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem

Every act of his ambition wore an air of patriotism. He had, in his character of guardian of the young king and of chancellor, opposed with all his energy the attempt of Gloucester on Hainault. When the duke persisted in proceeding on that expedition, he took advantage of his absence to garrison the Tower, and committed it to the keeping of Richard Wydville, with the significant injunction "to admit no one more powerful than himself." On the return of Gloucester he was accordingly refused a lodging in the Tower; and rightly attributing the insult to the secret orders of his uncle Beaufort, he instantly took counter-measures by ordering the lord mayor to close the city gates, and to furnish him with 500 horsemen, as a guard, with which he might in safety pay his respects to his nephew, the king, at Eltham. The followers of Beaufort, on the other hand, posted themselves at the foot of London Bridge, of which they sought to take forcible possession. They barricaded the street, placed archers at all the windows on both sides, and declared that, as the duke had excluded the chancellor from going into the city, they would prevent the duke going out. The country was on the very edge of civil war. In vain the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Duke of Coimbra, the second son of the King of Portugal, by Philippa, sister of the late monarch, rode to and fro between the hostile relatives, endeavouring to effect a pacification. The bishop wrote off post haste to Bedford, entreating him to come instantly to prevent the effusion of blood. "For, by my troth," he said, "if ye tarry long, we shall put this land in jeopardy with a field, such a brother ye have here! God make him a good man!"

Bedford left his now greatly weakened post in France with a groan over the folly and the obstinacy of his brother; and landing in England a little before Christmas, summoned a Parliament to meet at Leicester in February. In the meantime he strove hard to reconcile the antagonists. He sent the Archbishop of Canterbury and a deputation of the lords to request Gloucester to meet the council at Northampton towards the end of January, representing that there could be no reasonable objection on his part to meet his uncle, who, as the accused party, had just right to be heard; and assuring him that efficient measures should be taken to prevent any collision between their followers.

Gloucester, in his fierce resentment, was not to be persuaded; he was, therefore, summoned to attend in his place in Parliament. There Gloucester presented a bill of impeachment against Beaufort, in which, after stating his own grievances, he preferred two serious charges, which he swore had been communicated to him by the late king, his brother. These were nothing less than that Beaufort had exhorted Henry V. to usurp the crown during the life of his father; and, secondly, tlaat he, Beaufort, had hired assassins to murder Henry while he was Prince of Wales.

Beaufort replied to these charges that, so far as they related to the late king, they were false, and he instanced, in proof of his innocence, the confidence Henry V. had reposed in him on coming to the throne, and his constant employment of him. He denied having given just cause of offence to Gloucester, and complained of Gloucester's behaviour towards him. The Duke of Bedford and the other lords took an oath to judge impartially between the opponents, and then they on their part agreed to leave the decision to the Archbishop of Canterbury and eight other arbitrators. After Beaufort had solemnly declared that he had no ill-will to Gloucester, and besought his reconciliation, Gloucester appeared to consent. They shook hands, the bishop resigned his seals of office, and requested permission to travel.

It was thought, however, that Gloucester was by no means in a mood for submitting even to the council. He was reported to say, "Let my brother govern as him listeth while he is in this land; after his going over into France I woll governe as me seemeth." Out of doors the followers of the two antagonists being forbidden to bring arms to the neighbourhood of the Parliament, they came with bats upon their shoulders, whence it was called the Parliament of Bats. These being also forbidden, they put stones and lumps of lead in their pockets, so ready were they for an affray.

The council, apprehensive of mischief, and especially from Gloucester after the departure of Bedford, called upon both of the dukes to swear that, during the minority of the king, and for the peace and security of his throne, they would "be advised, demeaned, and ruled by the lords of the council; and obey unto the king and to them as lowly as the least and poorest of his subjects."

Bedford, after a sojourn of eight months, returned to France. The Duke of Brittany was severely punished for his defection. The English poured their troops into his province, and overran it with fire and sword to the very walls of Rennes. The duke solicited an armistice; it was denied him: again the war went on, and again he was everywhere discomfited. At length he was compelled to accept the terms dictated by Bedford, and swore once more, with all his barons, prelates, and commonalty, to observe the treaty of Troyes, and do homage to Henry for his territories, and to no other prince whatever.

Flushed with this success, the leaders of the army in the following year, 1428, were urgent to make a grand descent on the country south of the Loire, and to drive Charles from the provinces yet adhering to him.. Bedford, conscious of the suspicious character of some of his allies, was strongly opposed to the measure. Several councils were held in Paris to discuss the propriety of this undertaking, and Bedford in vain opposed it; he was overwhelmed by a majority of voices. Of this circumstance he afterwards complained in one of his letters to the king. "Alle things prospered for you," he wrote, "till the time of the seage of Orleans, taken in hand God knoweth by what advice." It was now Orleans that the commanders were eager to attack. Montague, Earl of Salisbury, had just brought over from England a reinforcement of 6,000 men. He was regarded only inferior in the field to the Earl of Warwick, and was, therefore, unanimously elected general on the occasion.

Orleans was one of the most important places in the kingdom; it commanded the great road to the southern provinces. It was one of the few places which still could show some remaining vestiges of prosperity. Its fall would be fatal to the independence of the whole realm. On the part of the French everything was done which could enable it to hold out a siege. Abundant stores and ammunition were collected into the city; batteries were erected on all sides upon the walls; and, to afford the enemy no shelter, the beautiful suburbs, containing twelve churches, various monasteries, and mansions of the citizens, were razed to the ground. The vineyards, gardens, and fields for a league round were laid as bare as a highway. The inhabitants of the neighbouring country, and of the towns of Bourges, Poictiers, Rochelle, and other places, sent money, troops, and stores. The Parliament at Chinon voted 400,000 francs in aid of the city. Charles VII. himself appeared to be roused from his torpor by the imminent danger of this quiet town, and sent thither all the troops that he could spare, under some of his most famous commanders, Saintrailles, De Guitry, and Villars. He appointed the Count de Gaucourt governor, and many brave Scots - encouraged by a treaty which Charles had made with their sovereign, James I., binding himself to marry the dauphin to a daughter of his, and give him the county of Evreux or the Duchy of Berri - threw themselves into it. There was every prospect of a desperate defence.

Salisbury, reducing Meun, Jeuville, and other places on the way, advanced towards Orleans, and sat down before it on the 12th of October. He pitched his tent amid the ruins of a monastery on the left bank of the river, and directed his first attack against the Tournelles, a, tower built at the extremity of the bridge leading into £he city. This he took by assault; but the garrison retreating, broke down an arch of the bridge behind them, and there was another defence erected at the city end of the bridge. From the windows of the evacuated Tournelles, Salisbury directed the attack on the city. His post was discovered, and a huge stone ball was discharged from a cannon at the window. He observed the flash, and started aside; but the window was dashed in, the officer who had been standing behind him was killed, and the iron-work of the window driven in different directions with such force, that Salisbury was so wounded in the face by it that he died in about a week.

The command devolved on the Earl of Suffolk, who endeavoured to convert the siege into a blockade. He erected huts at intervals all round the city, covered from the enemy's fire by banks of earth, throwing up lines of entrenchments from one of these posts, or bastiles, as they were called, to the other. But the circuit which they had thus to occupy was so vast that the intervals between the bastiles were too great for his amount of forces to secure. The Bastard of Orleans, a natural son of the Duke of Orleans who was killed by Burgundy, made his way into the city with numerous bodies of French, Scots, Spaniards, and Italians. De Culant, whom Charles had named Admiral of France, did the like by means of the river, and thus Orleans continued during the winter to set the besiegers at defiance.

Early in February, the Duke of Bedford sent aid from Paris - Sir John Fastolfe, with 1,500 men, and 400 wagons and carts laden with stores and provisions for the army before Orleans. Sir John had reached Rouvrai-en-Beausse, when he received the alarming intelligence that the Count Charles of Bourbon, the Count of Clermont, and Sir John Stewart, Constable of Scotland, had thrown themselves with 4,000 or 5,000 cavalry betwixt him and Orleans. They were, moreover, in full march upon him. This intelligence reached him at midnight, and he lost no time in preparing for the attack. He drew up all his wagons and carts in a circle, enclosing his troops, leaving an opening at each end, where he posted his archers in great force. Every moment he expected the attack, but the enemy was disputing as to the best mode of making the assault. The French were for charging on horseback, the Scots were for dismounting and fighting on foot. It was not till three o'clock in the morning that the disputants resolved each to fight in their own way. The attack was made simultaneously at both openings, but the archers sent such well-directed volleys of arrows amongst the assailants, that the French speedily galloped off the field, leaving nearly all the Scots dead upon it. Six hundred of the united, or rather disunited, force were slain; and Sir John marched in triumph into the camp before Orleans with the stores which the French had confidently counted upon possessing. The Constable of Scotland, the Sieurs D'Albret and Rochechouart were amongst the slain, and the Count of Dunois was severely wounded. This battle, from the salted fish and provisions which Sir John was conveying for the use of the army during Lent, was called the Battle of Herrings.

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