The Lancastrian Kings, and the Close of the Hundred Years' War
Henry IV., Henry V., and Henry VI.—father, son, and grandson—were the Kings of the House of Lancaster. The first reigned fourteen years, the second nine, and the last thirty-nine; the first had difficulty in keeping the kingdom he had won, the second added to it by conquering the kingdom of France, and the third lost all through weakness and insanity.
It was only in the last five years of his reign that Henry IV. was free from rebellions against his rule.
In the first year there was a revolt which was intended to restore Richard II. to the throne. This was easily put down, and a few months later Richard died suddenly in his prison—put to death by order of the new King.
A more serious rebellion was the one led by Owen Glendower, a Welshman, under whom the Welsh people made an effort to recover their independence. Again and again the Welsh came down from their mountain valleys, attacked the border counties of England, and the returned to their mountain retreats, whither the English army could hardly follow them.
The most serious rebellion of all followed, in England, as a result of one of these raids in which the Welsh took prisoner an English lord, named Mortimer. King Henry feared Mortimer because he was the uncle of the young Earl of March, the rightful heir to the throne; and so he took no steps to ransom him. This conduct of the King angered the powerful family of the Percies, who had aided Henry to gain the throne, and had just won a great victory over the Scots; for Mortimer was related to them also. Accordingly, Sir Harry Percy, who was called "Hotspur" because of his quick temper, went to the King and said:
"Shall a man spend his goods, and put himself in peril for you and your realm, and you will not help him in his need?"
At this the King, in turn, grew angry, and said:
"Thou art a traitor! Wilt thou that I should aid mine enemies and the enemies of the realm?"
"Traitor am I none," Hotspur replied, "but as a true man I speak." And when the King drew his dagger upon him, and would have attacked him, Hotspur cried:
"Not here, but in the field!"
And with this, he left the King, and hurried home to raise his forces.
The Percies, with the Scots whom they had taken prisoners, then marched southward to join Glendower. At Shrewsbury, on the borders of Wales, they met King Henry, with his army.
"Then there was a strong and hard battle," says a chronicler, "and many were slain on both sides. And when Harry Percy saw his men fast slain, he pressed into battle, with thirty men, and made a lane in the middle of the King's host, till he came to the King's banner. And at last he was beset about and slain, and soon his host was scattered and fled. And Sir Harry Percy's head was smitten off, and set up at York, lest his men would have said that he had been alive."
Percy's uncle was taken prisoner and beheaded. His father was pardoned for a time; but next year he rebelled again, and when at last he was captured, after three years of wandering, he, too, was put to death. Glendower was never captured, but was no longer dangerous to England.
One reason for the King's success, in putting down rebellions, was that the people were prosperous during his reign; and another was, that he kept on good terms with Parliament. King Henry's title to the throne came from Parliament, and his need of money made it necessary to please them. The result was, that he appointed officers whom he knew to be satisfactory to the members of Parliament; he permitted them to examine into the uses made of the money raised by taxes; he chose his Council from among them; and he acknowledged that grants of money should always be made first by the House of Commons.
In the year 1413, Henry IV. died—of leprosy, it is said. Many people believed that his disease was a punishment upon him because he had executed an archbishop who rebelled with the Percies. The poet, Shakespeare, makes him speak these words, on his death-bed, to his son and successor, Henry V.:
Henry V. proved to be a conquering general, and became the idol of his people. He is represented by Shakespeare as having been a wild and reckless youth, who was so changed by the responsibilities of power that he became an ideal King. There is no proof of his wildness as a Prince, but as King he certainly was sober, clear headed, and vigorous.
He followed his father's advice to "busy giddy minds with foreign quarrels" by putting forth again the claims to the French crown. He invaded France with an army, made up mostly of archers. While he was making his way to Calais, the French met him with an army which outnumbered his own probably five to one. The battle was fought, at Agincourt (October 25, 1415), and proved as great a victory as those which Edward III. and the Black Prince had won in the beginning of the Hundred Years' War.
"The ground," says an old chronicler, "was narrow, and very advantageous for the English, and the contrary for the French; for the latter had been all night on horseback in the rain, and pages and valets and others, in walking their horses, had broken up the ground, which was soft, and in which the horses sunk in such a manner that it was with great difficulty they could get up again. Besides, the French were so loaded with armor that they could not move. First, they were armed in long coats of steel, reaching to their knees and very heavy, below which was armor for their legs, and above, armor for the head and neck; and so heavy was their armor that, together with the softness of the ground, they could with difficulty lift their weapons. The greater part of the English archers were without armor, wearing doublets, and having hatchets and axes, or long swords hanging from their girdles; some wore caps of boiled leather, or of wicker work, crossed with iron."
The French army was completely broken up. Their slain numbered as many as the whole of the English army, while the English lost little more than a hundred, all told. The victory was won almost entirely by the bowmen. After the battle, the English marched to Calais, and thence took ship for England, where they were received with great rejoicing.
Two years later, Henry invaded France a second time, and the remainder of his reign was occupied with his conquests there. The French had grown cautious since the battle of Agincourt, and would not fight another great battle. The advance of the English, therefore, was slow. They first captured many castles in Normandy, and laid siege to Rouen, the capital of that province. The rulers of the city, in order to reduce the number of mouths to be fed, drove out a large number of the poorer, unarmed inhabitants. King Henry would not permit them to pass through his lines, so for several weeks these poor creatures wandered between the English line and the walls of Rouen, starving and shelterless.
"War," said the English King, in justifying this cruel policy, "has three hand-maidens ever waiting on her—fire, blood, and famine—and I have chosen the meekest maid of the three.
The French, meanwhile, were divided into two great parties, at war with one another. Their King, Charles VI., was insane, and the control of the government was disputed between his son, the Dauphin, and the King's uncle, the Duke of Burgundy. At last, in 1419, the Duke of Burgundy was murdered by one of the Dauphin's followers, in revenge for a murder which Burgundy had himself caused.
This made the breach between the two French parties too wide to be healed for many years. The new Duke of Burgundy went over to the side of the English, and with him went the French Queen, and the city of Paris.
Soon a treaty was signed, in 1420, by which Henry married the French Princess, Katherine. The contest for the throne of France was settled by acknowledging Henry as regent of France during the lifetime of the insane King, Charles VI., and agreeing that he was to become King in his own right after Charles's death.
The Dauphin and his followers refused to recognize this treaty as binding. For the present this did not much matter, for the English speedily drove the Dauphin's followers south of the river Loire, leaving all the northern half of France in possession of the English King. But, in the midst of his victories, Henry V. died of camp fever, in 1422, and the upholder of the English rights was then his infant son by Queen Katherine—a babe nine months' old.
A short time after the death of Henry V., Charles VI. of France died. This left the crowns of both England and France to the baby King, Henry VI. The government was placed in the hands of Henry V.'s brother, the Duke of Bedford, who was a man of noble character and an excellent soldier.
For several years, Bedford carried on the war in France with great success. At last, the only place of importance held by the dispossessed Dauphin was the city of Orleans, and to this the English were laying siege. If this should fall, the whole of France would pass into English hands.
But now there occurred one of the most wonderful things in history—the rise to successful leadership over the French army of a young girl, named Joan of Arc.
Joan was of peasant birth, and like most peasants could not read or write. She was a good, sweet girl, and very religious; and she was deeply touched by the miseries of France. She began to hear "voices" of the saints, which urged her to free France, and to bring the Dauphin to the city of Rheims to be crowned king. She long resisted the voices, saying,—
"I am a poor girl. I cannot ride or be a leader in war." In the end, her voices prevailed; and she came, in men's armor, with a holy banner and a sword, to raise the siege of Orleans. It was only with difficulty that she secured the Dauphin's permission; but as soon as she appeared in the camp, she put a new spirit into the French. The English scarcely dared to oppose her, for they believed that she was a "limb of the devil."
In a short time, Joan drove the English from Orleans, and then led the French King to Rheims, where he was crowned. Joan then said her work was done, but the French would not permit her to return home. After some further fighting, she was captured by soldiers of the Duke of Burgundy, who sold her to the English.
At the command of the English, she was accused as a witch and a heretic. After a long and unjust trial, she was condemned to death. She was publicly burned at the stake, calling with her last breath upon the name of Jesus. One of the English soldiers was so impressed by her courage and piety that he exclaimed:
"We are lost! We have burned a saint!"
Joan of Arc had accomplished her work. She convinced the French that, if they would unite, they could drive the English from their land. Even the Duke of Burgundy finally broke off his alliance with England, and joined in the attack upon the common enemy. Just at this time, moreover, the Duke of Bedford died. With their best general gone, and the French united against them, the English were not able to hold what Henry V. had won.
Matters did not mend for the English when Henry VI. grew up to manhood. He had no taste for war or business, and would far rather have lived the life of a monk. Fierce quarrels broke out among the English nobles, and those who secured power proved corrupt and unsuccessful in their government.
So, bit by bit, the English lost the lands which they held in France. In 1450, Normandy was again taken from them. Soon Bordeaux, on the Bay of Biscay, was the only place which they held in southern France; and in 1453, after the defeat of the English in a hard-fought battle, this too was obliged to surrender. There then remained to them only one place in France—the city of Calais, which Edward III. had taken in 1347, and which England was to hold for a hundred years longer.
The great civil wars, called the Wars of the Roses, were now coming on in England, so that nothing could be done to recover the lost possessions in France.
Without any treaty of peace, the long Hundred Years'
War—which had lasted since 1337—was suffered
quietly to come to an end.