By Tim Venning.
Henry V, as envisioned by the 1979 BBC TV Movie.
Picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
30 August 1422: What if Henry V did not die early? Part 3.
The military resources available to Bedford when he belatedly planned his southern advance for 1428 were not much smaller than those that Henry V would have had at his command. It is probable that the King, glamorous victor of Agincourt, would have had more success in attracting recruits from England than Bedford.
His status as King, not regent, and his thoroughness and determination in organisation would have led to more forceful orders for levying men by his vassals than Bedford could give – the latter faced challenges from his younger brother Humphrey and English court rivals.
The war duly became bogged down again in the years to 1429, with no major advances and the worrying betrayal of Le Mans to La Hire, even with a competent and well-supported local English commander (Sir John Talbot) nearby. It was recovered, but could any French officer be trusted?
Bedford did not lead the Orleans campaign of 1428 in person; had Henry been alive, he would probably have commanded in person. Not commanding in person was arguably a mistake by Bedford, making the campaign look less vital, though the veteran Earl of Salisbury was a militarily adequate substitute.
But was the target the best choice? Orleans, with its vital Loire bridge, was a more controversial choice for the Loire crossing than the one Bedford chose (changed by Salisbury), the next bridge downstream at Angers. The Orleans bridge was controversial because it was the fief of the captive Duke Charles of Orleans, while Anger was a stronghold of the pro-Dauphinist Duke of Anjou.
Thus the Orleans bridge was not considered a legitimate target by the customs of the time, as its lord was not free to defend or surrender it in person; attacking it was seen as the 15th Century equivalent of being “not cricket”.
In addition, Philip of Burgundy coveted it for himself and thus refused to take part in the siege without a promise of it being handed over to him. Orleans’ determined and experienced commander, Raul de Gaucourt, would not have been available if Henry had been alive – the King had forbidden the release of this former captive of Agincourt as he was too dangerous a foe.
What about an attack downstream on Angers instead? This would have been risky due to the extended lines of communication to Normandy or Paris, even with Brittany now an ally to provide support from the northwest. A flanking force would have had to protect the supply line from a sally by Dunois downriver from the city of Orleans.
On the other hand, it would have enabled the English to claim that Anjou was a legitimate target, its Duke Louis III, cousin and closest adult male heir to Charles VII, being a Dauphinist ally defying the English King’s claim to rule France.
The English commander, the veteran and competent Earl of Salisbury, died at the start of the attack on Orleans from a freak lucky shot by a defensive cannon on the walls, possibly as a result of his venturing to close to them during an inspection. (This was similar to the equally disastrous hit on the rash English King Richard I at a minor siege at Chalus in Poitou in 1199 in its results). Salisbury was forceful and had good organising ability. Had he still been in charge at the siege through winter 1428-9, he would probably have ensured that far fewer provisions were smuggled into the city and he might have been able to starve the city out as Henry V had done at Rouen in 1419 – or built a barrier of boats across the river to block French shipping. This was briefly attempted in our reality, but was abandoned after the strong current broke the barrier. Had Salisbury been alive, he could have ordered a second and better-made barrier or commandeered local boats for many more patrols. In reality, by this point there was no effective English officer in charge and the siege drifted on until Joan of Arc and Dunois arrived to relieve it.
Bedford did not bother to press the siege in person, and the town remained untaken. Was this another lapse on his part? Would Henry have fared any better? If Orleans had fallen, the way lay open to an attack on the Dauphinists’ principal headquarters at Bourges, although it was a large and walled town, so a substantial English army with a supply chain back to the Loire would have been needed. The siege might well have lasted as long as that at Rouen in 1419, and even Henry might have found it was too far from his base and at too much risk of counter-attack to allow him to win through unless he had a very large army or help from the Burgundians.
Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy. French acquaintances of mine don't describe him as "Good." They have harsher words to describe him.
Picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
The alternative would have been to attack Charles’ smaller but well-fortified personal headquarters at Chinon down the Loire, which would entail leaving Bourges alone and hoping that the nervy Charles, who rarely fought in battle and was not physically impressive or confident, fled in a panic and caused his army (led by Dunois) to break up or be too disheartened to fight well.
Did Henry understand the need for mobility and a bold approach to the war in the Loire valley once he had Orleans or Angers in his hands? Would he have risked a lengthy march away from the river to besiege Bourges or to chase a fleeing Charles, rather than carefully advancing to take one town at a time, just as he had done in Normandy in 1417-19?
A bold move to advance rapidly south or southwest from the Loire might, if the nervous Charles had been the enemy commander, have panicked the enemy into breaking up into smaller units which could not meet him in battle. Dunois was more likely to have stood and fought – but how many of the great noble commanders would have stayed with him had Henry’s men been roaming the countryside ravaging their estates, especially if the Burgundians were also coming to Henry’s aid.
The Madness of Charles VI. On an expedition against Pierre de Craon, the King, brandishing his sword, starts attacking the members of his retinue.
Picture courtesy History Today.
It is notable that in OTL Henry decided to tie himself down in minor campaigning in Champagne in 1422 instead of leaving that to a lieutenant while he himself headed straight for the Loire. Would he have been equally cautious in 1428 or 1429 and taken one town or castle at a time, even if he had Orleans or Angers in his hands?
If he had stopped to install English garrisons and secure his supply routes, momentum would have been lost and he could have missed his chance to take an under-manned Bourges while its commanders were disheartened by Charles having fled. Could Henry have ended up with the line of the Loire in his hands, but not enough troops or momentum to move on Bourges? If Dunois and his army had not been defeated and had avoided battle, as Charles V’s troops did successfully to Duke John of Lancaster’s march across central France in 1373, then would Henry’s success at Orleans have ended in another stalemate?
Even with Burgundian support, Henry would not have had available sufficient troops to hold down garrisons across a much wider area than that held by the English in 1422. Garrisoning extra areas in strength would have been impossible, so local cooperation was essential – and Henry was a foreign conqueror unlikely to attract sincere French backing unless the leading French nobles had no alternative Valois king to support. The frequent plots to hand over Norman and Maine towns to the Valois show how dangerous it was to rely on French cooperation.
An overwhelming military superiority would have helped, but Henry did not have the legal powers under English law to call up massive levies for an indefinite war. Royal tenants-in-chief and other noble contractors were supposed to produce a fixed number of levies for a defined period, usually a year – but excessive demands were likely to lead to protests in the next Parliament.
Alternatively, Parliament could vote the money for the King in taxes to hire mercenaries, professional troops who would serve for longer. War-weariness was not yet a threat at the time of Henry’s death in OTL, but it was likely to rise if he was unable to bring the conflict to a quick conclusion. The rejoicing at the Treaty of Troyes was likely to turn sour as it became apparent that it had not ended the war.
Bedford – though hampered by his political problems as regent – was unable to raise the major forces needed for a firm push southwards when Vernueil provided the opportunity in 1424-25, and he only made a major effort in 1428.
Henry was more forceful and had an established reputation as a victor, but even he might have faced difficulties in raising large armies and regular taxes for a prolonged war that would seem to have no easily attainable objective. The longer the war went on, the greater the likely resistance in England.
A major victory over the forces of Charles VII with his death or comprehensive defeat could have provided a chance for Henry to break the stalemate of the mid- to late-1420s. It would have broken up the Valois cause and left anti-English resentment without a focus, on the assumption that Henry could have added to the capture or exile of Charles’ son Louis (born 1423) by bribing the next Valois line – of Anjou – into acquiescing with his claim and not taking up the Valois cause.
The death of the controversial Charles, blamed for the murder of Duke John of Burgundy in 1419, might have caused sentimental support to rally to his innocent son Louis (born 1423) as a figurehead king free from blame for his father’s mistakes, with Dunois as his regent. A boy-king named after the national hero, St Louis, was a potential focus for patriotism. Joan of Arc and/or Dunois would have found it easier to rally public opinion to him than to the physically unattractive and withdrawn Dauphin Charles. But if the removal of Charles had neutralised Louis, it would have brought the Duke of Anjou into the field as the Valois adult heir.
Given the proximity of the Duchy of Anjou’s lands to Henry’s troops on the Loire, and their alternative dynastic interests in the Kingdom of Naples, Henry’s military strength should have enabled him to reach an agreement with Duke Louis and his heir Rene. This would have been contingent on their support in return for keeping the Duchy unplundered and English support to their claim on the kingdom of Naples – which Louis’ father had occupied in the 1390s before its reconquest by their rival King Ladislas (died 1414).
As of the 1420s, Ladilas’ sister Joanna II was in possession of Naples, but Rene of Anjou was in an on-off war with her, so he was not usually that interested in French events, and it was possible Henry could have bought him off.
As in real life in the 1440s, Henry V’s son was an obvious candidate for an Angevin bride in any treaty between the English Kings and the Angevins, such as Duke Louis III’s niece Margaret, born in 1429.
With the throne of Naples in the hand of Joanna II, a woman, the Angevins were to launch repeated attacks throughout the second third of the 15th Century. Although Naples fell instead to its other enemy Aragon in 1442, the Angevin line kept up their attempts to regain it until the 1650s.
Even when France was free from the English, the cultured and luxury-loving “Good King Rene” (Duke of Anjou from 1434) preferred to live in Provence rather than his fief Anjou.
Consequently, it seems unlikely that the Angevins would make a sustained struggle for the French throne against Henry if the senior Valois line had been neutralised in the mid 1420s.
A victory in and conquest of the Loire valley would have led to English hopes that the war was over and, as a result, new Royal demands for men or money for garrison work would have been resisted.
The sheer scale of geography would aid the cause of the French resistance – even if now nominally in the hands of Charles’ infant son Louis (XI), born 1423, as the next surviving legitimate heir – in preserving a foothold in southern France. The refugee Valois court would have been able to rally in the south if Henry’s army was not strong enough to risk a march to Toulouse, or possibly through friendly Burgundy to Lyons in 1425 or 1426. Without a major military demonstration in these areas, Henry is unlikely to recieve the adherence of their landowners, even if he had destroyed the Valois army in the Loire area in 1424-25 and secured the grudging support of all lowland western France. The isolated castles and towns of the Massif Central and the geographically remote areas of Languedoc and the Rhone valley would have been likely to remain out of his control if an alternative Valois candidate to be King of France had remained at large.
Lacking the manpower to garrison the areas he had conquered south of the Loire, Henry would have been even more dependent on the support of opportunistic ex-loyalist and Burgundian allies than he had been when winning and keeping Paris and Champagne. He did not have the men to enforce obedience except when he and his army were personally present.
He would have had to make extensive concessions to the local lords and promise a continuance of the status quo to secure their adherence (possibly making examples of a few die-hards and giving their lands to the likeliest potential allies).
As long as Henry had the momentum of victory, he was unlikely to be directly challenged on the battlefield – provided that he had the support or the neutrality of the adult Valois males of the Anjou, the next adult heirs to Charles and they were usually resident in Lorraine or Provence.
As King of England as well of France, and overlord of Ireland (and possibly overlord of Scotland if he had forced this concession out of his hostage King James I), Henry would not have been able to stay in south or central France for long. He could march as far as the Mediterranean or the Rhone if he and his Burgundian allies worked together, but only briefly. This area was therefore most at risk of revolt should the surviving legitimist heir, possibly Dauphin Louis, be able to acquire enough troops to mount a campaign there, or if an oppressive or incompetent Henrician governor sparked off a revolt.
The Valois princes of the House of Anjou, who would have lost their lands in the Loire valley for opposing Henry, were a crucial factor here as they owned the Duchy of Provence – safe across the lower Rhone. Had Charles and Louis been captured or killed, the Valois of the Anjou had the next claim to France, and Duke Louis (died 1434) and his brother Rene would have been claiming the throne. From 1431, Rene was also Duke of Lorraine by marriage, adding extra resources to the potential Valois legitimist cause in eastern France.
Henry would have needed the aid of foreign rulers such as his long-term ally, German Emperor Sigismund – whose main concern at this time was the revolt in Bohemia. At best, Henry might have forced the Angevin princes to accept him as King of France for his lifetime by a risky march to Lyons and Avignon around 1426.
Picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
It is possible that Henry’s son Henry VI’s real-life bride of 1445, Margaret of Anjou (born 1429), would in due course have been considered as a suitable focus for a marital alliance to keep the Anjou dynasty loyal to Henry’s cause. However, she could not transmit the claim of the Anjou line to the French throne to her son and so reconcile the rival families. She had brothers who were her father Rene’s heirs.
If Henry and his wife Catherine of Valois had more than one son, would Henry divide up two huge realms between them? As the two kingdoms were legally declared separate realms with their own administrations in the Treaty of Troyes in 1420 – meaning that the English elites were not obliged to pay for or send troops to help ‘English France’ – this was a likely outcome. It would reassure the English elites that they were not going to prop up Henry’s army in France indefinitely, with the probability of serious grumbles in Parliament about any diversion of their taxes to the French campaigns if these went on for year after year.
Henry was a popular and charismatic – and when necessary, ruthless – king. As a result, he would be in a better position to have fended off threats of a ‘tax strike’ by Parliament or his nobles, or refusals by the latter to supply tenants as infantry to his army, than many other kings or his OTL regent successors would have been.
However, such threats had stymied the equally charismatic and even more blunt and aggressive Edward I’s French campaign in 1294. Henry would probably have had to rely heavily on his French dominions and Burgundy for troops for any ‘final push’ to the south after neutralising Charles VII and Bourges in 1425 or 1426, and been more precarious as King of France than he appeared.
Putting one son on the English throne and a second (possibly born in 1423 or 1424) on that of France was logical, and the Plantagenets could well end up with two separate ruling dynasties separated by the Channel.
There is also an intriguing possibility that Henry V was genuinely interested in the current 1420s idea of a Crusade to rescue the Byzantine Empire from the Ottoman Turks who had, by this date, surrounded Constantinople, following the break down of a truce in 1421. Henry had been making noises about going on this proposed campaign to Pope Martin V, possibly just to reassure him that if the Papacy helped to end the French wars, he would help the Papacy in return. But he was genuinely pious and a devout Christian patron, founding new friaries in England.
With Bedford as regent in France and Duke Humphrey of Gloucester in England, and assuming Henry had overcome Charles VII by around 1428 and France had been at peace, could Henry have risked leaving his realms to go on a ‘Holy War’? Could he have followed Richard I’s precedent – if he had enough troops from two exhausted realms to make it seem worthwhile? Or perhaps he might have joined the real-life Balkan Crusade after the OTL Church reunion Council of 1438-39.
Henry V may not have been a robust person, given his apparent physical collapse from the effects of dysentery at the siege of Meaux when he was 35 or 36. Once he was dead, his French heir (possibly called Edward, Richard, or even Louis) would probably still be a young and untried ruler reliant on a mixture of ageing English and potentially disloyal French nobles – along with a potentially relieved English elite not prepared to pour money and men into backing them up.
If Henry V had died around 1433-35 in his mid-late forties, and the vastly experienced Bedford died in 1435 as he did in OTL, then the new English and French kings would probably both be teenagers. The precarious structure of “Anglo-Valois” rule could have collapsed in short order, especially once an adult male Valois prince, such as Louis, Charles VII’s son, possibly backed by the Angevins, was available.
The second English king of France could well end up as an unwanted refugee at his brother’s court in London. The recriminations over: “Who lost France?” would have been even louder than they were in real life. Would the largely passive and unwordly Henry VI face a brother interested in his throne?
Comment on this article Here.
Tim Venning has written a series of books for SLP on Ancient Rome, starting with Caesars of the Bosphorus.