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POD Cast: 30 August 1422, Part 2

By Tim Venning

The tomb of Henry V. What if he didn't die in August 1422?

Picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

30 August 1422: What if Henry V did not die early? Part 2.

(Part 1 of this series can be found Here).

A surviving Henry V would be just as likely to win the crucial battle of Verneuil over the Dauphinist forces on the Normandy-Maine border on 17 August 1424 as the capable, experienced, but not rash Bedford did in OTL. Bedford was less bold and less of a gambler than Henry, and he had (and has) less of an heroic reputation, but both men would probably react in the same way to the Dauphinist challenge in 1424, by seeking to win a crushing victory to secure the Normandy frontier and then take over Maine. A potential difference between them was most likely to be in the aftermath of victory.

In OTL, Bedford was slow to advance and may have missed an opportunity to press on beyond Maine. Bedford proceeded with his own men from his headquarters in Paris and as many men as could be spared from the garrisons in Normandy to link up with the newly-arrived volunteers that had just landed from England. These latter were commanded by two of the most impressive of the English generals in France in the 1420s-1430s, the Earl of Warwick and Lord Scales.

This year’s campaign was intended to finish driving off the remaining French Dauphinists and their new Scots allies (led by the veteran Earls of Buchan and Douglas) out of Maine and back to the Loire. However, he was immediately distracted by the unusually bold French advance to seize control of the frontier town of Verneuil. The French took advantage of the presence of some Scots in their force who spoke passable English to get them to dress up in dirty clothes, tied them up, and paraded them in front of the walls as ‘captured English soldiers’ from a fictitious victory nearby. The ‘English prisoners’ confirmed that their army had just been defeated and was fleeing, and the panicking citizens opened the gate to the French to prevent the town being stormed and sacked.

Earl of Buchan.

Picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

This classic trick left the Franco-Scots army in control of the strongly-walled town, but within a couple of days, Bedford brought his just-assembled army there to retake it. The French emerged from the town to fight on the open fields in front of the walls, and intended – as at both Poitiers in 1356 and Agincourt in 1415 – to win by using their larger force of heavily-armed cavalry to ride the English down before the archers could shower them with arrows. The battlefield was wider than that at Agincourt, so the English, who had the smaller army, could not rely on a narrow front between bogs or thick vegetation to force the enemy to ‘bunch up’ so they could halt them. However, as at the previous battles, the English infantry carried sharpened stakes which they rammed into the ground to force enemy cavalry to halt and prevent them from riding over them.

This wasn’t as successful as it had been at Agincourt. The French had a body of well-armoured Italian heavy cavalry mercenaries from the Duchy of Milan who were more used to fighting together than the disparate groups of knights had been at Agincourt, and they pushed the English infantry back with the force of their charge.

However, the Milanese then failed to pull up and turn on the retreating archers, but rode on to pillage the nearby baggage train where the English wagons and horses were drawn up in a protective barrier. Bedford did not panic but regrouped his men, and they charged back into the fray to drive a wedge into the disorganised Italian knights (who had now halted at the barrier) and pushed back both them and the Scots who came to help them. As at Agincourt, the greater English ‘élan’ and discipline brought victory in the hand-to-hand combat and broke up the enemy.

Over a thousand of the Franco-Milanese-Scots forces were said to have been killed, including the two Scots commanders (Buchan and Douglas), and the English boasted that only a few of their archers had been killed.

This may well have been the usual ‘spin’, but the victory was seen as being as decisive as Agincourt and the Scots had lost so many men that they were now in effect no use to the Dauphin Charles as a viable weapon. Doubtless Henry would have won just as decisively.

However, the problem lay in the aftermath of the battle. Bedford, a cautious man, moved to take the main remaining Dauphinist towns and castles in Maine, but did not advance to the Loire, let alone cross it, though there was no remaining army to stop him and the few enemy garrisons left in his path or to each side were too small to threaten to cut off his army. Was this a major mistake that lost the chance of a decisive blow? Would the lack of a Dauphinist force to save them have induced the garrison of whatever walled town on the Loire which he chose to attack – Angers, Orleans, or Tours – to surrender for their own safety as Verneuil had done?

Would a victorious Henry V – probably with an army not much larger than that which Bedford had, given the lack of enthusiasm in England for volunteering for the campaign in OTL 1424 – moving across the Loire into Berry or the Massif Central in 1424 have ended up stranded like Charles XII did in 1709 in Russia if he could not secure towns or persuade Armagnac lords to defect to his side? This fate might have awaited Henry V or, later, Bedford in an invasion south of the Loire in the mid-1420s even if they had control of Angers, Tours, Orleans, or another bridge. Smaller English armies met this fate south of Normandy time and again, as at Bauge in 1421 and when John de la Pole was captured on a raid in 1423.

The Royal Standard of Henry V.

Picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

All these aggressors had an effective administrative ‘machine’ behind them to organise a regular ‘input’ of men and weaponry, plus adequate supplies, but notably failed to secure larger forces of volunteers from England for the war – and this factor was already occurring for the ‘call-ups’ while Henry was alive in 1421-22 and did not just start with his death.

The latter did not result in a loss of momentum or confidence, given the impressive victory which Bedford secured in 1424 at Verneuil and the destruction of the Franco-Milanese mercenary force that had threatened to turn the tide of battle. The English war effort indeed seems to have slackened off after the Treaty of Troyes, which legally secured the succession to the throne of France for Henry.

Did this give the majority of the rural landed elite, the men who raised the troops in the localities each year when requested by the King, the false impression that the war was won so efforts to raise men could be reduced? If so, this would also have hampered Henry had he lived.

It has been argued persuasively that the superior organisation of resources by the English Crown in the 14th and 15th Centuries gave Edward III and Henry V major advantages in ‘war readiness’ as well training, equipment, and supplies over the larger but less concentrated raising of men and materials for war in France. This factor applied to England by 1420-22 and gave it a distinct advantage over France – the Dauphin was unable to use a smoothly-operating administrative machine, which everyone was used to obeying, to call a mass-levy of his vassals south of the Loire, though he had a larger territory there than Henry did north of the river.

Indeed, when a large force of skilled French aristocratic cavalry had last been assembled – for the Agincourt campaign – they had little experience of fighting together and proved ineffective in battle. The status-conscious lords were also chary of obeying social inferiors in battle, meaning that it had to be a Royal prince of impeccable lineage who commanded them. At Agincourt, the genealogically-qualified commander, Duke Charles of Orleans, lacked any serious military experience as he faced the veteran Henry V. Duke John of Burgundy, far more experienced, had been kept away because the French high command feared he might stage a coup.

The English captains, fewer of whom were ‘touchy’ and autonomous great aristocrats who rarely came into contact with the State, were more used to fighting together cohesively and obeying orders. The only great English lords with semi-autonomous domains and considerable freedom of action were arguably the Marcher lords; the Percies of Northumberland had had this status until destroyed by Henry IV in 1403. Again, England had the advantage on this issue in 1420-22. Bedford’s 1424 army was heavily weighted in favour of their ‘knock-out’ arm, archers, as Gustavus Adolphus’ Swedish army was to be in favour of cavalry and artillery in the Thirty Years’ War in 1630-32.. The danger lay in the enemy over-running the archers before they had time to fire – as La Hire was to do at Patay in 1429.

Henry lacked one crucial advantage, as had Edward III in the 1350s and 1360s – the ability to seize and retain large areas of territory quickly. The nature of the defenders’ terrain, covered by walled towns that artillery could not yet overwhelm, assisted his enemies. One destructive battle that wiped out the enemy leadership (using archers as well as cavalry) had won Duke William of Normandy all England in 1066, but that had been before widespread use of stone walls around both towns and aristocratic residential sites. The crushing victory at Agincourt could not win Henry all France in 1415, and neither could victory over Charles VII’s army do this for Bedford at Verneuil in 1424. The same would have applied to Henry V if he had been in command at Verneuil, though he might have advanced on Anjou and the Loire more quickly than Bedford did.

This lack of ability to turn a military victory into securing territory in an era of walled towns and primitive cannons could arguably be countered by overwhelming towns’ captains’ will to resist, for which mobility and an unbroken run of success were vital.

The murder of Duke John of Burgundy in the presence of the Dauphin (who was later to be Charles VII)’s presence in 1419 by Charles’ men blackened his faction as being especially faithless to potential waverers and, although not immediately, drove Duke John’s son and successor Duke Philip to sign up as an English ally. The ‘minor’ English defeat in 1421 at Bauge by the Dauphin’s men, led by the experienced and confident Scots (as cohesive and enthusiastic as Dunois’ and Joan of Arc’s army was to be in 1429) was therefore an ominous indicator for the future – it showed that the English were not invincible.

Bauge was also a reminder that archers lacked lethal force if there were not enough of them at the battlefield to effectively cripple and demoralise the enemy, or there was no enemy obligingly charging along a narrow front that could be raked with arrows; it was a forerunner of the disaster at Patay in 1429.

The lethal effect of the English (or Welsh) longbows had repeatedly worked against armoured knights since Edward III’s defeat of the Scots at Halidon Hill in 1333, and was to work against a slow-moving mass of infantry as late as Flodden in 1513. It was not a new tactic to use archers against well-armed and superior numbers; the Parthian cavalry had used it against Crassus’ Romans at Carrhae in 53 BC.

The core of the English army. There were usually more of them. I'm informed the longbow was courtesy of the Welsh.

Picture courtesy Siobhan Williams.

But archers were not decisive if they were unable to bring lethal fire to bear for long enough, and they needed a suitable battlefield; a closely-packed mass of slow-moving cavalry, as at Halidon Hill or Agincourt, was an ideal target. Mud (as at Agincourt) or a steep hillslope (as at Halidon Hill or Flodden) could enable them to pick off either infantry or cavalry. Archers that lacked these advantages were not able to keep the revived French from victories after 1429 – and the French victories at Patay (1429) and Formigny (1450) both took place in the open field.

The need for the English to garrison conquered towns meant that after the acquisition of Normandy in 1417-19, some archers were bound to be absent from the field army, serving in garrisons – and the supply from England was not inexhaustible.

Another major English victory, destroying the Dauphinist army and avenging Bauge would have helped, but the physical elimination of the enemy leadership – particularly of Charles VII – would have been far more crucial.

If the French nobles had no candidate to rally around, resistance would be pointless; any subsequent revival of national feeling against a foreign king would need a leader. The Dauphinists had far greater potential resources, although less willpower in concentrating them. Henry would have had to prove quickly that resisting him was futile. He had to neutralise the Dauphin, who was at a disadvantage as a national symbol of resistance because of his disputed legitimacy. Henry then had to ensure no new French pretender emerged. If Charles VII was dealt with, the next heir would be Duke Charles of Orleans (son of Charles VI’s late brother Duke Louis, murdered by the Burgundians in 1407), who was in English hands from 1415-40. Then came the next male line of the Valois, that of Charles VI’s uncle Duke Louis of Anjou (d. 1384) – represented in 1417-34 by Duke Louis (III).

After the Anjou line came the Burgundians, who may indeed have had hopes of securing the French crown through the removal of the Dauphin from the line of succession after 1417. The English Crown never secured the allegiance of the Anjou line, and after 1420, the alliance with Burgundy was built on mutual convenience rather than trust.

But even if this removal of rival French heirs did not occur, Henry remaining alive and in command through the mid 1420s would have given the English extra advantages over the ‘Regent’ Bedford’s position in real life. Henry would have been less distracted by quarrels among the ruling Council in England after 1422. Bedford, though regent of France, was only head of the Council in England when he was there and he could not send orders home from France with an expectation of unquestioning obedience, as a King could. In his absence, his ambitious brother Duke Humphrey of Gloucester was senior councillor – and Humphrey was to embarrass the Burgundian alliance by seeking to ‘cut out’ Duke Philip in the contest to secure the heiress of Holland, Jacqueline, in 1426-27. Humphrey would not have defied Henry in that manner.

The senior minister in the English regency council, Bedford’s half-uncle (Chancellor) Bishop Henry Beaufort, was subject to intrigue and eventual removal by his rivals – which he would not have faced as the appointee of a vigorous adult King rather than of a regency.

All of this distracted Bedford from his work in France in the mid-1420s. However, the round of sieges north of the Loire could have been expected to continue under Henry as it did under Bedford from 1422 – at risk of a sudden French counter-attack and morale-boosting victory such as that achieved at Montargis in 1428 by Charles’ new captain, Dunois.

Dunois was a bastard of the murdered Duke Louis of Orleans and half-brother of the captive Duke Charles and, along with the Dauphinist mercenary commander La Hire, they were to show that the English did not have a monopoly in effective leadership by the late 1420s.

The new French leaders were also ‘professionals’ from a middling social background, not the ducal amateurs who had ruined the Agincourt campaign. They showed more loyalty to their King than the intriguing royal and aristocratic commanders had in the 1410s, even with Charles lacking in élan or confidence.

Dunois was a competent soldier and a worthy foe of the English commanders – and he was not hampered in command in the field by his social superiors, unlike the way the professionals (Constable D’Albret and Marshal Boucicaut) had been at Agincourt. This was a serious danger for the English. The potential kindling of a ‘nationalist’ spark of enthusiasm for the Dauphinist cause was duly lit by Joan of Arc – backed by Dunois – in 1429. Recent research has also reminded us of the role played behind the scenes in this by Charles’ mother-in-law Yolande of Anjou, a princess of Aragon.

The main question is whether Henry had the ability or resources to press the war to a conclusion. If not, his presence at the head of the Anglo-Burgundian alliance after 1422 as an adult sovereign would have provided their cause with a more effective leader than the regent, his brother John, Duke of Bedford, could be for the infant Henry VI.

For all his skills and leadership, Bedford lacked the final legal legitimacy of being the sovereign whose decisions could not be reversed at the end of his regency. He had to interrupt his French campaigns to deal with his disgruntled brother Humphrey of Gloucester in England. Although he was able to continue the war, it was more sporadically than Henry would have been able to. Bedford had to deal with crisis in England from December 1425 to March 1427, chiefly caused by Humphrey, who would have been unlikely to challenge Henry with his full royal powers.

Bedford had worryingly low numbers of fresh English recruits for his 1424 and 1428 campaigns, which may indicate war-weariness. Would Henry have fared any better? He would have had full power in England but still might have been ignored by disgruntled local leaders; the barons had refused to back belligerent Edward I, who was as forceful and popular as Henry, in 1294.

Bedford was able to cement the Burgundian alliance through good personal relations with Duke Philip, his brother-in-law (who noticeably did not abandon the alliance until Bedford was dead). As a competent general, he won another major victory over Charles VII’s army at Verneuil in 1424. It ended the threat to Normandy that had existed since Bauge, and Bedford occupied Maine in 1425. But this did not open the way to a quick occupation of the crucial Loire valley and Charles’ main bases at Chinon (ironically formerly a major stronghold of the English Angevin kings, as Henry II’s birthplace) and Charles VII’s ‘capital’ Bourges.

To be continued....

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Tim Venning has written a series of books for SLP on Ancient Rome, starting with Caesars of the Bosphorus.


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