Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Agincourt in the records of Salisbury City council

Agincourt in the records of Salisbury City council

Niall C.E.J. O’Brien


The first general Entry Book of the city of New Salisbury which relates to the years 1387-1452 is one of the earliest civic records of its kind in England. Much of the document is concerned with meetings of the city council, listing those who attended such meetings and assessing the citizens for taxation.[1] Yet among the ordinary business of social and economic life in a medieval town are records of national and international events. One of those events was the military campaign in France by King Henry V in the summer and autumn of 1415 with the bloody seize of Harfleur, the long march through northern France and the remarkable victory of a small English army against a large French army at Agincourt.

The campaign of 1415 was part of the Hundred Years War between England and France. The English victory at the Battle on Agincourt on Friday, 25th October 1415 (St Crispin’s Day) crippled France for a generation and opened the possibly of Henry V succeeding King Charles VI as King of France when the latter died. Yet these results were unforeseen at the start of the campaign and indeed at first the campaign was not enthusiastically supported before it begun. The war with France was objected to by an unknown number of people in England. In June 1412 Thomas Biston refused to contribute to the 100 marks that the city of Salisbury was due to pay for the expenses of King Henry IV travelling to France.[2]

Back ground

The back ground to the campaign of 1415 lies in the Hundred Years War and in the succession to the throne of England. More immediately King Henry V had claimed the title of King of France through his great-grandfather Edward III and the French lands of Normandy, Touraine, Anjou, Brittany, Flanders and Aquitaine by ancient inheritance. Yet he was prepared to renounce this claim if the French would acknowledge the English claim on Aquitaine and other French lands as settled under the terms of the Treaty of Brétigny.

Behind the English claims to French lands and the crown of France rested the unsound authority of Henry V to be king of England. His father, Henry IV had seized the throne from the rightful King of England, Richard II, and had the deposed king murdered after rumours of a revolt to restore the old king. There were other people who had a better claim to be king of England than Henry V. Thus when Henry V became King on 20th March 1413 he needed something to help secure his throne.[3] A glorious campaign in France would help.

Preparing for war

In the spring of 1414 Henry V called a Great Council to discuss going to war with France, but the lords insisted that he should negotiate further to secure English interests. In the following negotiations Henry said that he would give up his claim to the French throne if the French would pay the outstanding ransom of John II (who had been captured at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356), and concede English ownership of the lands of an the ancient English lands in France. In return King Henry would marry Princess Catherine, the young daughter of Charles VI, and receive a dowry of 2 million crowns. The French responded with what they considered the generous terms of marriage with Princess Catherine, a dowry of 600,000 crowns, and an enlarged Aquitaine.

This was not good enough for Henry V and by the start of 1415 negotiations had ground to a halt. For Henry V the negotiations were as much to buy time to build up an army and military supplies as it was to please the Great Council. In December 1414, Henry V persuaded the English parliament to grant him a "double subsidy", a tax at twice the traditional rate, to fund the new army.[4] The Salisbury assembly on 11th January 1415 was told of the subsidy and elected four assessors and four collectors with the first half payment to be made by 2nd February. About £13 was to be levied from the city.[5]

Salisbury asked for a war loan

On 25th February 1415 the Duke of York and the Bishop of Winchester (then Chancellor of England), arrived in Salisbury to personally deliver the king’s letter seeking a loan to finance the French campaign. On 2nd March 1415 the mayor and citizens discussed the matter with the Duke and Chancellor and agreed to a loan of £100. The subsequent collection among the citizens raised £102 13s 4d. The 87 subscribers gave between 13s 4d and £10 (John Moner) with many people given £1 or 1 mark (13s 4d). Walter Shirle was sent to the king to offer the loan and obtain a pledge of security for its repayment. Henry V would not give such security until he arrived in Wiltshire and so on 17th June 1415 the loan money was entrusted to Walter Shirle. But Walter Shirle did not keep the money for long. On 3rd July 1415 he returned for the king’s council at Winchester having paid the money or incur the council’s “grave indignation”. The Chancellor promised the wool customs at Southampton on a certain day to repay the loan.[6] 

By 1430 this £100 loan was still not repaid when the government asked for another 100 marks to continue the war in France. The government promised to repay both loans but it is unknown if they ever did.[7]

War is declared

On 19th April 1415, Henry again asked the Great Council to sanction war with France, and this time they agreed. By August the army was assembled and ready to sail, but not without causing trouble in England before they left. On 4th August a group of soldiers attached to the Duke of Lancaster attacked some people of Salisbury on Fisherton Bridge with arrows and swords. Four citizens were killed without much satisfaction from the Lancastrian soldiers.[8]

Later trouble occurred at Southampton where the army was assembled to sail to France. John Harry accused the mayor, John Lewisham, of being a traitor to the king for not attending at Southampton to see the city soldiers off to France. The mayor reply was not recorded but John Harry served a period of time in jail for such an accusation.[9]   

At about the same time the city authorities was instructed to muster a force of light horsemen, bowmen and other soldiers to fortify the city and keep the peace.[10]

The French campaign

On 13th August 1415 Henry V landed in northern France and made for the port of Harfleur in Normandy. The captured port would be an important place from where to land extra supplies and troops to advance across France. The English could have used Calais, which they held, as a port to supply the army but having a base in Normandy had important political and historic considerations. The siege began on the vigil of the Assumption of the Blessed Mary (15th August). But the town did not give up easily and it was not until Sunday, 22nd September, before the town surrendered. The Salisbury account says that Henry V “made arrangements for its safe keeping, appointing the Earl of Dorset captain thereof”.[11] 

After resting his troops Henry V set off across France on 8th October to reach the English held port of Calais. The campaign season was nearing its end and Henry wanted to show his power by crossing France rather than just returning to England by Harfleur.[12] He also wished to avoid too much contact with Harfleur owing to the great pestilence brought on by the siege.  
Henry V had hoped to be back in England by 21st October 1415. A king’s writ was sent to Salisbury to send two representatives (Walter Shirle and Henry Man) to a parliament at Westminster on that date.[13] But the French army which was assembled too late for the relief of Harfleur blocked the direct road to Calais. On the Somme River all the main crossings were held by the French and Henry was forced to cross the river further south than he had hoped. Having crossed the river Henry V turned north for Calais but the road was blocked at Agincourt by a large French army.[14] The Salisbury Entry Book says there were 100,000 French against an English force of 10,000.[15] Other sources give about 50,000 for the size of the French army.[16] 


The English army was smaller and in poor shape yet they held the better position in the narrow battlefield. The French charged with horses and men-at-arms on foot believing that they didn’t need their 4,000 crossbowmen to secure victory. But the muddy ground, the English longbow and the desire of the English soldiers to kill the French soldiers rather than capture them for ransom resulted in a great slaughter among the French.[17] The Salisbury account said that 91 named French knights were killed along with 4,000 other knights and squires. Other accounts say as many as 6,000 French were killed among who were many prisoners killed after the battle when Henry V feared a revolt among the prisoners in response to a French attack upon the English baggage train. The English dead numbered below 100. Thus did Henry V overcome his enemies and give thanks to the “most high God, and His mother the Virgin Mary, and St. George and all the saints of God” as the Salisbury account proclaimed.[18]

Religion was never far from the medieval mind and after all that had happened in the Campaign of 1415 many English soldiers were very thankful to God to see England once again.

A view of the Battle of Agincourt

After Agincourt

After the battle the English army made for the safety of Calais where Henry V rested for a few weeks while sending part of his army back to England. On Saturday, 23rd November 1415, Henry V landed in Dover bringing with him some captured French lords. From there he made his way to London where he was met on the approaches to the city with “an immense multitude” of people. On Saturday, 30th November, Henry V entered London as the undisputed King of England and in the eyes of many the rightful King of France. So “great was the multitude of both men and women who stood in the streets from the corner of St. George’s church in Southwark as far as Westminster that starting at ten o’clock” King Henry V and his forces and captives did not “reach Westminster by three in the afternoon”.[19]

After the 1415 campaign

After the celebrations of a great victory had died down the general Entry Book of Salisbury returned to the ordinary life of a medieval town – William Reynald was arraigned for his wicked words against John Moner; the sellers of cheese, milk, grapes, apples, pears and other fruit were told to keep to the place assigned to them in the market place; and victuallers bringing food to the city for sale were not sell in secret or before full daylight.[20]

End of post

[1] David R. Carr (ed.), The first general Entry Book of the city of Salisbury 1387-1452 (Wiltshire Record Society, Vol. 54, 2001), dust jacket introduction
[2] David R. Carr (ed.), The first general Entry Book of the city of Salisbury 1387-1452, no. 107
[5] David R. Carr (ed.), The first general Entry Book of the city of Salisbury 1387-1452, no. 143
[6] David R. Carr (ed.), The first general Entry Book of the city of Salisbury 1387-1452, nos. 145, 146, 149
[7] David R. Carr (ed.), The first general Entry Book of the city of Salisbury 1387-1452, no. 270
[8] David R. Carr (ed.), The first general Entry Book of the city of Salisbury 1387-1452, no. 151
[9] David R. Carr (ed.), The first general Entry Book of the city of Salisbury 1387-1452, no. 162
[10] David R. Carr (ed.), The first general Entry Book of the city of Salisbury 1387-1452, no. 154
[11] David R. Carr (ed.), The first general Entry Book of the city of Salisbury 1387-1452, no. 154
[13] David R. Carr (ed.), The first general Entry Book of the city of Salisbury 1387-1452, no. 152
[15] David R. Carr (ed.), The first general Entry Book of the city of Salisbury 1387-1452, no. 154
[18] David R. Carr (ed.), The first general Entry Book of the city of Salisbury 1387-1452, no. 154; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cgeyIYa-OMQ 
[19] David R. Carr (ed.), The first general Entry Book of the city of Salisbury 1387-1452, no. 154
[20] David R. Carr (ed.), The first general Entry Book of the city of Salisbury 1387-1452, nos. 161, 167

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