Monthly Archives: June 2011

Henry VI King of England and King of France.


He became king at the age of nine months. King of England that was. Henry VI was the progeny of Henry V of England and Catherine de Valois. Catherine de Valois was a French princess, the daughter of Charles VI of France. Two months after Henry VI became King of England his maternal grandfather Charles VI died. Charles VI was also called Charles the Mad on account of his mental ill-health. Henry VI inherited mental illness from this grandfather of his.

Henry VI’s regent was his paternal uncle John the Duke of Bedford. Another one of his English uncles Duke Humphrey was also prominent in the reign. Duke Humphrey founded a splendid library at Oxford University. His half uncle Henry Beaufort was an archbishop and another key figure in the administration.

Henry VI was crowned at Westminster as King of England. When he was 12 he went to France to be crowned King of France in Paris. Traditionally French kings were crowned at Rheims. However, by this time Henry VI’s maternal uncle Charles VII had begun to claim the Crown of France in his own right and fought for it. Henry VI could not make it to Rheims since this was in the hands of Charles VII.

Charles VII claimed that the Treaty of Troyes was void on a number of counts. The Treaty of Troyes, agreed in 1420, made peace between England and France. It ruled that Charles VI would be king till the end of his days but upon the hour of his demise the royal title to France would pass not to his son, Charles VII, but to his son-in-law Henry V. Of course as we known Henry V predeceased his father in law by two months. Charles VII arged that the Treaty was null for the following reasons. Charles VI was insane when he made the agreement. The agreement was extracted under threat. Henry V had died before Charles VI so the crown went to Charles VII and not to Henry VI. The duress argument is specious since peace treaties are necessarily extracted by force. This argument would annul all peace treaties.

Nevertheless Henry VI was the only man to effectively rule England and France although many claimed both titles.

Henry VI was a man of exceptional piety. His religiosity stood out even in an intensely spiritual epoch – the High Middle Ages. He would spend hours a day in prayer and neglect his regal duties. His spirituality shaded into insanity. He was too gentle and otherworldy to be an effectual monarch. He wrote poems. One of them is known at Eton as the Founder’s Prayer – calling on God who has created one and made one what one is to treat one as he will.

Some historians say that his religiosity is overblown. Some days he was too depressed to get out of bed. On other occasions he was so raving made that he was not fit to be seen. When ambassadors or other distinguished personages called on him courtiers had to explain why the king was not appearing. The most convenient explanation was that he was at prayer.

Henry VI was aware of Winchester College founded under Richard II to produce leaders in church and state. In reality the leaders of the twain were often the same. Henry VI at the age of 19 founded a school called the College of Our Lady of Eton beside Windsor. It was supposed to be for 70 poore scholars. A choirmaster and some priests were to be engaged there. The school was for boys aged 10 to 14. Therefater they were to proceed to King’s College Cambridge which Henry VI founded a year later. The two institutions have almost the same coat of arms. Eton has the white lily of the virgin Mary on its coat of arms. It also has the three gold fleur-de-lys of France (lily flowers) on w midnight blue background. It also has a gold lion of England on a red field. The college was given some fragments of the true cross and thorns from the crown of thorns. It was allowed to grant indulgences. That is to say it could let people skip Purgatory and get into heaven straight after their death. The indulgences were granted at the Feast of the Assumption – i.e. 15 August. This is the festival for when Mary was supposedly absorbed into heaven without dying because she was so holy.

IN 1441 HE founded King’s College, Cambridge. The King’s Scholars of Eton would go on to King’s College, Cambridge.

In 1453 he founded All Souls College Oxford.

Henry VI at one point wandered the roads as a tramp. He had gone walkies and the king could not be located for weeks. In the 1440s he went ever more off the rails. By 1453 he was patently insane. His French wife Margaret was very unpopular. She brought courtiers with her from France and they were appointed to high offices. Their occupation of these plum jobs caused much ill-will. When Henry VI’s son was born – Edward of Westminster – His Majesty the King reacted with supreme indifference. He was neither glad nor regretful nor angry.

In France Henry VI’s dominion grew feeble.

Joan of Arc was born in Domremy – a village in what we would not call eastern France. The Dauphin (Charles VII) renewed the fight against Henry VI. In Domremy half the people supported Charles VII and half supported the Duke of Burgundy. Burgundy is what we now call eastern France. Back then it was a distinctive entity – almost a nation. The Duke of Burgundy was a nominal vassal of the king of France but vassals sometimes revolted against their rightful overlords. Burgundy still survives as the French region – Bourgogne. However, Burgundy in the 15th century was much bigger than the modern region.

The Burgundians were then allies of the English. Some people in France proper were still loyal to Henry VI as King of France.

Joan of Arc was religiously obsessed. She thought she saw and heard the Archangel Gabriel and the Archangel Michael appear and speak to her. These are auditory hallucination and visual hallucinations. These are surefire signs of mental illness. In those days these signs were regarded as the mark of a prophetess.

She went to see Charles VII. The idea of a 17 year old girl leading an army now is seen as daft. Back then it was beyond unimaginable. Charles VII at first scorned her. She guessed which colour eggs he ate that morning. She was able to identify him in a room never having met him before – he had swapped his regal robes with someone else to confuse her. Of course she could have heard of his physical description.

Joan of Arc was able to lead the army of Charles VII against the English. She lifted the siege of Orleans. For this she was known as the Maid of Orleans. This turned the tide of the Hundred Years War.

Charles VII had been down in the dumps but as Joan of Arc led his forces to victory he was inspired to fight on.

Joan of Arc was captured by the Burgundians. Charles VII could have rescued her but he chose not to lift a finger. He did not like the fact that his new-found success was down to a peasant girl. If she really was god’s instrument then god would free her. The Burgundians sold her to the English.

At Rouen she stood trial before English bishops for the crime of heresy. She wanted to be tried by French bishops. She was tried with heresy for saying that god was on her side. The trial was full of theological pitfalls. The erudite clerical lawyers tried to trip her up. Does God hate the English? No she said, he only wants the English Army out of France. Are you in a state of grace? If she said no that meant she was evil. If she said yes this was a grave presumption and a sin. She said if she was may God keep her there and if she was not may god put her into a state of grace. The trial was unfair. Canon law also stated that she could only be tried by the bishop of her diocese.

The verdict was a forgone conclusion. She was found guilty as charged. She was condemned as a witch. Religious crimes were the most severely punished. In this case it was by burning. Burning is a means of killing that results in utter destruction of the remains and was seen as a cleansing.

She was tied to the wooden stake in the centre of Rouen. The faggots were lit. An English soldier took pity on her and fashioned a cross for her to hold and handed it to her as the flames leapt up. Of course it is the smoke not the fire that killed the victims. Dry wood burns better and kills the person quicker. Green and damp wood takes longer. As the flames consumed her someone shouted, ”God forgive us – we have burnt a saint.” These were prophetic words indeed. She was a symbol of French national pride in the Great War. The Roman Catholic Church made her a saint in the 1920s. Her cross of Lorraine was a symbol of the French Resistance in the Second World War.

Joan of Arc was 19 when she died.

Henry VI neglected his duties and was increasingly insane. His lucid episodes were shorter and less frequent. He showed no interest when his son Edward of Westminster was born.

By 1453 the Hundred Years War is reckoned to be over. The bookend dates are debatable. However, they are generally held to be 1337 to 1453. Therefore the conflict lasted 16% longer than its name suggests. On the other hand there were long period of peace during the conflict. It was in fact a period of several separate wars. The name was not thought up until the 1800s.

Henry VI uncles urged him to fight on. The king recognised that the war was unwinnable for the English, Welsh and Irish. Even if we could win the price would be too high to be worth it. Very few Frenchmen wanted him as king. The French had learnt better tactics and found some formidable commanders. France was certainly winning. Crucially, the Burgundians had changed sides to back the French. If the war dragged on the English risked not only losing Calais. Scotland could conquer northern England. The French could easily invade England as they had done before. The war was deeply unpopular in England. It caused high taxes and heavy casualties. Henry VI was mentally ill but ending the Hundred Years War was the sanest thing he ever did. He was hailed as a peacemaker. His uncle Beaufort was pleased.

As part of the peace deal the king married Margaret of Anjou. She was a member of the French royal house – the Valois family.

The war party was disappointed. Yorkists used this against him. They said that Henry VI was a weakling and a loser.

In 1455 the Wars of the Roses broke out with the First Battle of St Albans. Richard of York attempted to overthrow his cousin and claim the Crown. Henry VI forces carried the day. Henry VI was present at the battle on one of the main streets in St Albans. Henry VI had an attack of mental illness. He chortled and quipped as the battle raged within plain view. He was not frightened, exhilarated, nerved or even curious about the battle.

The key figure in all this was Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick. The Earl of Warwick was known as kingmaker. Whichever side he supported won.

Henry VI was descended from John of Gaunt – one of the sons of Edward III. However, John of Gaunt had an elder brother Lionel. Lionel’s line had a stronger claim to the throne than John of Gaunt’s seed. John of Gaunt’s descendants had been a hardy race including the warrior kings Henry IV and Henry V. But Henry VI was away with the fairies. Lionel’s descendant the Earl of March kept his head down during the reign of his pugnacious cousins Henry IV and Henry V. He sagely did not assert his claim to the Crown. But when Henry VI was going soft in the head John of Gaunt’s descendants began to show an interest in claiming their birthright. Edward IV made an attempt on the throne. As we know initially it was defeated.

In 1460 Henry VI was deposed. He was imprisoned by was rescued. He fled to Scotland. His unpopular wife Margaret of Anjou led his forces because he was incapable of doing so. Edward IV reigned until 1470. Then Henry VI was restored. He reigned until 1471. Then he was deposed. His son Edward of Westminster led Lancastrian forces at the Battle of Tewkesbury. But the Lancastrians were bested and Edward of Westminster was slain.

Henry VI has already been taken prisoner. He was taken to the Tower of London. The building wherein he was incarcerated is called the Wakefield Tower. It had no sinister reputation back then. That 21 May he died . The Yorkists announced that he had died of grief upon hearing of the death of his son. Henry VI was so mentally ill that he did not have a normal emotional reaction to news. Therefore this explanation is highly improbable. In any case dying of a broken heart is scarcely credible for anyone. It is probable that he was murdered. Legend has that he was stabbed to death whilst at prayer. Edward IV has his rival hastily buried. The small and rushed funeral was because he wished to do no honour to his enemy. If many people had seen the corpse they probably would have seen stab wounds. Moreover, the obsequies could turn into a Lancastrian demonstration.

At Eton on the anniversary of the slayings a ceremony is held. ”They were most foully done to death in memory whereof I lay this rose.” The rose is red – red for Lancashire as Henry VI held the title the Duke of Lancaster.

Henry VII had Henry VI reburied in Windsro Castle.

People began to gather at his tomb and pray. They begged him to intercede for them with God. Some people reported miraculous cures after saying their orisons at his final resting place. He was commonly regarded as a saint though never canonised.









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Henry V – victor of Agincourt.


Henry V became King of England in 1413 upon the decease of his father. He had been known as Henry Bolingbroke early in his life. Henry V is best known as a soldier king. He was a fighter from the first – leading Lancastrian forces to victory at the Battle of Shrewsbury when he was 15. When Henry IV was in exile Henry V was taken under the wing of Richard II. Henry V went on campaign with Richard II to Ireland.

Henry V was determined to get something out of France. He came to the Throne when the Lancastrians seemed to have broad acceptance.

Henry V asked King Charles VI of France for the hand of his daughter in marriage and a substantial dowry. We also say ”her hand in marriage” it was probably another part of her body that he was more interested in Charles VI was also called Charles the Mad. He suffered intermittent attacks of insanity that included him believing that he was made out of a piece of glass. He insisted on having steel rods inserted into the sleeves of his shirts and the legs of his trousers. Charles VI perhaps surprisingly agreed to Henry V marrying his daughter. However, Charles VI did not agree to a dowry as handsome as Henry V had more or less demanded. Henry V mulled his next move. The rumour went abroad that he was contemplating declaring war on France. The news came to the ears of the Dauphin. The Dauphin is a title for the eldest son of the King of France. The Dauphin at the time was not the later Charles VII. The Dauphin in 1413 died before he could inherit the throne of France. Dauphin literally means ‘dolphin’ in French because that was the heraldic symbol of the Dauphin. The Dauphin sent a herald with a message to Henry V. The herald gave Henry V a gift from Charles VII – it was a box of tennis balls. Charles VII said that he had heard that Henry V was thinking of making war on France. He said Henry V would be wiser to stay at home play tennis. Henry V was not amused. He declared war on France.

It is hard to avoid thinking that Henry V was determined to go to war against France. He had not been reasonable. He had impolitely asked for so much. He was offered most of what he wanted and when it was not given to him he had declared war.

Preparations were made for the English Fleet to sail the army across to Normandy. Henry V called soldiers from Ireland, Wales and England. Henry wanted to reclaim Normandy which he called ‘my dukedom’. It had not been ruled by the English Crown for over 200 years. While the army was being gathered and provisioned a conspiracy was afoot. A noble of English aristocrats were founded to be plotting to overthrow Henry V at the behest of the House of Valois. The plotters were arrested, tried, convicted and punished with death.

Henry landed in Normandy in the autumn of 1415. He laid siege to Harfleur.

There was a 3 month long siege. Henry V’s men fell ill with various illnesses. Some of them were urinating a score of times a day. Hundreds of them died. After 10 weeks on 27 September the city of Harfleur surrendered.

Once the siege was over Henry V rashly decided on a raid through France. He intended to march to Calais. The autumn was inclining towards winter.

Henry V found his marched blocked by the French Army in October 1415. Henry V formed up his army in between two forests. There was a wide ploughed field between the two forests. At the far end of the field stood the French Army. There was a castle that stood a couple of miles to the west named Agincourt. The battle became known as the Battle of Agincourt. There was another castle to the east called Tramescourt. The battle could easily have taken its name from that.

Henry V’s men marched forward to the narrowest point between the two forests. Henry V had his men drive sharpened stakes into the mud. These were to prevent or at least slow the enemy from getting close to them. Arrows were kept in bundles and distributed. It is perhaps surprising how well organised his army was. The soldiers tended to keep their arrows, once given to them, arrowhead down into the mud. This made them easily accessible but also that they were more likely to cause infection in any wound they inflicted on the enemy.

The French mounted knights were very eager to get at the enemy. They refused to be restrained and to wait for the French men at arms to engage the enemy. The English, Welsh and Irish archers fired at the enemy. Their bows had a range of up to 800m. The arrows had a great penetrating power. Many French soldiers were hit by bolts at a great distance.

The French soldiers crashed into the English lines one after another. The dead and wounded lay in the mud and more French soldiers fell over them. Frenchmen even drowned in puddles, weighed down by armour and crushed by their compatriots landing on them.  Some French soldiers managed to get to the English lines and a melee ensued. As the third French line impacted on Henry V’s army he saw that his men were hard pressed. He ordered that the Frenchmen who had been taken prisoners – even those worth a huge ransom – be killed. It was done. Some see this as an atrocity. Later some French peasants attacked the baggage train to the English rear. Some English pages were killed.

At the end of the battle thousands of Frenchmen had been slain and scores of Englishmen, Irishmen and Welshmen lay dead. It was plainly a victory for Henry V. Henry V hastened to Calais as the winter drew in.

The scale of the victory is very likely exaggerated by English propagandists. The French sources do not comment overmuch on the battle. One tries to play down one’s defeats but even so in private documents one would expect the French sources to note that the military situation was very grave. If the victory had been crushing then why did the English not capitalise their advantage and march on Paris? Paris was a walled city and in winter it was very foolish to go so far from supplies to take on a much more numerous enemy. Besides, Henry V had no siege engines with him.

The dragged on for a further five years. A notable event was the siege of Rouen in 1417. Henry V had man Irish troops with him. Henry V refused to let the civilians leave the city. The city’s defenders kicked the civilians out. Henry V realised that the civilians were being kicked out because food was running low. If he allowed them to leave and forage then the soldiers inside the city could hold out longer. Like Caesar battling the Gauls Henry V let the civilians starve to death in between the lines. Henry V’s willingness to let civilians die must be held against him. Such cruelty was not unexampled at the time. The defenders of the city could have brought the suffering to an end by throwing in the towel. Let us remember that Henry V’s claim was that he was the rightful duke of the Normans. He had come to liberate them and he cared for their well-being. This rings very hollow in the light of what he did. However, he could argue that he was their rightful lord and because they had betrayed him and been faithful to Charles VI these people deserved to die.

Eventually peace was negotiated at the Treaty of Troyes. The deal was this. Henry V would be king of France after Charles VI died. Until then Charles VI would rule France. Catherine, the daughter of  Charles VI, married Henry V.

Henry V sired a son known as Henry VI with his wife Catherine de Valois. However, six weeks after the infant’s birth Henry V died of dysentery. He was about 38. As Shakespeare wrote he was too famous to live long.

Henry IV


Henry IV became King of England in 1399. He soon dispatched his cousin whom he had deposed. Henry IV was known as Henry Bolingbroke early in his life. This is because he was born at Bolingbroke Castle in Lincolnshire. Henry IV was the son of John of Gaunt. John of Gaunt was the son of Edward III. During the reign John of Gaunt had acquired much power and indeed been king in all but name. Henry IV acquired a taste for royal dignity and was jealous of his effete cousin. Henry IV ruled much of Lancashire, a north-western English county. He is seen as the founder of the House of Lancaster.

Henry IV was a considerable player in the politics of the 1390s. He had been exiled for being overmighty by his cousin Richard II. Henry IV had returned to claim not only his lands but the Crown. Henry IV was always uneasy because he was aware that he was a usurper.

Henry IV had been shoehorned into power by clergy especially Thomas Arundel the former Archbishop of Canterbury. Henry IV was careful to keep on the right side of the church. He was aware that medieval rulers who fell foul of the church normally ended badly. Those who cultivated the clergy ruled smoothly. Henry IV eagerly crushed the Lollards. The Lollards were a Christian reformist movement. Henry IV authorised their burning at the stake.

There was an attempt to overthrow Henry IV. In 1400 Henry IV discovered a plot to oust him and restore Richard II. Several leading nobles were executed. Richard II was still alive at the time but this bid to rescue him sealed his doom. After this Henry IV felt that he could not afford the risk – he could not let his cousin live.

In 1403 there was a more serious attempt to depose Henry IV. The rebels included Welsh separatists and one of the magnates of northern England, Hotspur. At the Battle of Shrewsbury Henry IV’s son the future Henry V led the royal forces. Henry V was wounded by an arrow in the face. The rebels were routed.

Owen Glendower continued to lead a revolt in Wales that dogged the reign of Henry IV. This was one of the reasons why Henry IV was preoccupied with domestic affairs and felt unable to tangle with any disputes on the continent.

In 1405 the traitor Richard le Scrope who was Archbishop of York led a rebellion in the north of England. It was defeated and le Scrope suffered the fate of traitors.

Then there was yet another revolt in northern England led by the Earl of Northumberland who had been involved in an earlier insurrection. The Scots assisted this rebellion but it too was defeated.

Henry IV married twice. His first wife Mary de Bohun gave him some children including Henry V. When Mary de Bohun died Henry IV married Joan of Navarre. Navarre was then an independent kingdom in the mountains of northern Spain.

Henry V tried to maintain peace with his neighbours. He was vulnerable to a foreign prince sponsoring another claimant to the Throne of England. However, in 1406 some English pirates landed a prize catch upon the German Ocean. It was James I of Scotland. James I was not yet King of Scots but was heir apparents and indeed inherited the Throne whilst a captive. He was brought to England and remained a prisoner there for decades. One could scarcely blame the Scots for attacking Henry IV when he would not release their king.

In 1413 Henry IV died.

Richard II, the boy king.


Richard II became the King of England upon the death of his paternal grandfather in the year of our Lord 1377. Richard II was then 10 years of age. His father was the Black Prince who had died the year before. Richard II was known as Richard of Bordeaux before he became king. This is because he was born in Bordeaux.

Richard II faced a war in France and domestic discontent. On account of his youth the kingdom was effectively governed by his paternal uncle John of Gaunt. John of Gaunt’s nickname is derived from ‘Ghent’ the city in Belgium.



The Black Death of around 1350 has reduced the population very substantially. This meant that there were not enough hands to till the fields and to gather in the harvest. Less food was needed, there was less pressure on the land. This was good for those who wished to rent or buy land. It was bad for those who wished to rent out land or to sell it. Feudal lords had rights of service from their peasants. Serfs who lived on a lord’s land had a duty to work unpaid one or two days a week. These serfs could only grind their corn at the landlord’s mill and pay to do so. They were subject to corvee which meant unpaid work on the roads. Serfs required their lord’s permission to wed or to become a priest or religious. Permission was almost always granted. There were free peasants. A free peasant rented land but was not subject to doing unpaid labour or requiring a lord’s permission to do this or that. Some free peasants even bought land. The Church was a major landlord. Abbeys, priories, convents, monasteries, chantries, bishoprics and such rights acted as landlords and required of their serfs such service. Some of this wealth went to good works or to support the clergy and religious living frugally. There were also clerics who lived in the lap of luxury.

The laws of supply and demand dictated that labour was now a seller’s market. Because more landlord’s wanted labour and there were not enough labourers around after the Plague the going rate for labour went up. Edward III had tried to address this by bringing in a Statute of Labourers in 1351. This was an act passed by parliament setting rates for labourers and forbidding them to be paid more. However, this was widely flouted. Inflation was also a factor.

The war with France raged on and became less successful and this more expensive for the English. More taxes were imposed on the overburdened peasantry.

In the summer of 1381 things reached boiling point. A Poll Tax was announced. This meant that every man or woman rich or poor must pay a tax – the same amount. A wandering priest John Ball muttered the rhyme, ”When Adam delve and Eve span who was then the gentleman?” In modern English this is –  When Adam dug and Eve was spinning thread who was an aristocrat? John Ball was pointing out that God did not create a social hierarchy. John Ball was a renegade priest in that he believed in Lollardry. The Lollards were a sort of early day Protestant sect who wished to rid the church of its corruption and worldliness. It was not God’s will that there should be such social inequality. The Church was a vehement advocate of social inequality and used hellfire to terrorise any who questioned the prevailing socio-economic system. The upper ranks from the clergy were drawn almost to a man from the upper class.

The story is that a tax collector came to the house of one Wat Tyler in Kent. Wat Tyler was out but his daughter was in. The tax collector demanded that the girl pay her tax. She said that she was exempt because the tax only applied to those over the age of 14 and she was below that age. The tax collector insisted that she was underage. The tax collector demanded that she take her clothes off so he could judge her age. She refused and he tried to strip her. She shrieked for help. Her father working in a nearby field heard her screaming and ran to save her. He found the tax collector assaulting her. He beat the tax collector to death.

A rebellion broke out with Wat Tyler as the doyen. There was also a clash between rebels and government forces at Brentwood in Essex on 30 May which may have caused a revolt there. However, Tyrler was the leading peasant. He linked up with John Ball and Jack Straw. Peasants from Kent and Essex converged on London. Kent and Essex are the counties adjacent to London – Essex to the north-east and Kent to the south-east.

That June tens of thousands of peasants entered London. There was a skirmish at London Bridge. They stormed the Tower of London and killed the soldiers there. Some rebels were xenophobes. Anyone suspected of being a Fleming was seized and asked to say bread and cheese. If the person responded in Flemish then he was killed on the spot.

John of Gaunt’s house was the Savoy Palace which was on the Strand. It was so called because it had formerly been the embassy of the Savoy. The Savoy was then an independent state in Italy. Italy did not exist as a political entity at the time. The Savoy Hotel stands on the sight. The Strand was called that because it was a strand, a beach on the bank of the Thames. The Thames was much wider until the Embankment was built-in the 19th century.  The Savoy Palace was broken into and set on fire. John of Gaunt had wisely made good his escape.

Simon Sudbury was the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor at the same time. He was blamed for the Poll Tax. His name was due to his being from the village of Sudbury. He was beheaded on Tower Hill. Henry Hales the Lord Treasurer was also seen as culpable and suffered an identical fate as the unfortunate cleric. Their heads were impaled on spikes and the spikes were placed on London Bridge. This was the standard way to treat the heads of executed traitors.

Richard II was almost powerless. He had very few soldiers. Almost the whole of the army was in France. Military repression was not an option in the short-term. His only tactic was to defuse the situation through negotiation. Tens of thousands of peasants were marauding drunk through London looting shops at will. The rebels leaders drew up a list of their objectives. They demanded the abolition of the feudal system with the exception of the king. The king was the apex of the state. It was difficult to conceive of a state without a king at its head. Moreover, in these intensely religious times it was believed that the king was appointed by god and to question the king’s authority was to reject god. Even the most radical not going to go against religion. This is why the rebels laid stress on their opposition not to the king but to his evil ministers who had misled him. If only the kindly king knew of their plight, he would hear their cries and save them. It was a classic medieval rebel’s formula – good king and bad ministers. Because the king was a child this claim had a little plausibility.

Richard II met the rebels at Mile End but it was inconclusive.

Richard II agreed to meet the peasants at Smithfield. He rode out to meet them. Beside Richard II was William Walworth the Lord Mayor of London. Richard II spoke to Wat Tyler who was on horseback. Wat Tyler drank some wine, swilled it around his mouth and spat it on the ground. This may have merely been an example of his uncouth manners. William Walworth took it as a calculated insult to the King’s Majesty. He insulted Wat Tyler as a thief. Tyler gave as good as he got. William Walworth drew his sword and slew Tyler. This was in full views of thousands of peasant rebels. They drew their bows as if to send a volley of hundreds of arrows into the royal party. Richard II on the spur of the moment rode forward and gave an extempore speech

He told them not to fire on their king. He said he would be their captain and promised them that all their wishes were granted if they would disperse and go home in peace.

The king had saved a the day. It is fascinating to speculate what else would have happened. The state could have been overthrown and some primitive socialist regime established. Most likely the country would have devolved into bloody anarchy and after years of warfare a new royal regime would have emerged. In the end the state was preserved without a hiatus.

The peasants went back to their villages. When Richard II had a chance he withdrew sufficient men from the front in France. Soldiers were sent to rebel villages to hunt down rebel leaders. John Ball and Jack Straw were identified and arrested. They were both held in the tower of St Albans Abbey and then executed. In the village of Sudbury in Essex centuries later a mass grave was found of headless corpses dating from around 1381. In all probability these were decapitated rebels.

Richard II announced that the promises he made were not freely given and were therefore a nullity. The serfs would be reduced to a state of servitude even more vile than that from which they had temporarily emerged. William Walworth died of natural causes four years later. There is a road in South London named after him. Ironically in the 1980s it was the headquarters of the Labour Party.


Richard II made peace with France. The war was horrendously expensive and English victory was not in sight.

Richard II married but had no children.

He founded Winchester College. William of Wykeham helped to set it up. This was a school for boys. Hardly any girls went to school at all. The idea was that these boys would go on to the New College of St Mary of Winchester at Oxford. This is better known as New College, Oxford.

In 1399 Richard II was overthrown by his first cousin Henry IV. Richard II was imprisoned. He was starved to death. This made it appear that he died of a wasting disease and was not murdered. It is just possible that he really did die of a disease. Henry IV made sure than many people attended the funeral. Henry IV wanted to make sure that everyone knew that Richard II was dead and no false rumour got legs about Richard II still being alive.

Richard II was reasonably successful. He dealt with a very tricky situation early in his reign and that must be his crowning glory. The fact that he was overthrown shows a degree of feebleness on his part. His peace policy must count in his favour.

Edward III since the conquest.


Edward III became King of England in the year of grace 1327. His father, Edward II, was murdered by the Earl of Mortimer. Queen Isabella, the mother of Edward III, was also concerned in the murder of Edward II.

Edward III became king as a child. For the first few years his mother Isabella and her paramour Lord Mortimer effectively ruled the realm. Edward III was but a symbol in their hands. The Earl of Mortimer was forced to agree to Scotland’s sovereignty at the Treaty of Northampton in 1328. This was unpopular but was the right decision. A new war against a strong and united Scotland would have been even more unpopular.

After some years Edward III took the reins of power. The Earl of Mortimer was deposed, imprisoned and put to death in 1330. Edward III took advantage of a Scots Civil War. David II, the son of King Robert the Bruce, was challenged by Edward Balliol. Edward Balliol was the heir to John Balliol. The Balliols were more amenable to co-operating with England. In the end the Bruce family won. Edward III decided to make peace.

Edward III is remembered most as a warrior king. Like his grandfather Edward I this king, Edward III, wished to acquire more territory. When Edward III ascended the royal throne he ruled none of Scotland. The absolute independence was recognised by England. However, Edward III ruled Wales and the east coast of Ireland. The remainder of Ireland paid lipservice to Edward III but the Irish chieftains were able to rule their tribes as they saw fit. Edward III ruled Gascony which is roughly the south-eastern fifth of France.

Edward faced a formidable task in re-establishing the crown in the esteem of the nobility. He also wished to regain the Duchy of Normandy which had not been ruled by the King of England in over a century.

Edward III fell into a dispute against the King of France. The argument initially related onto to Edward III’s possession of certain French territories. Edward III, in his capacity as Duke of Aquitaine, failed to do homage to King Philip VI of France. Edward III then broadened the terms of the dispute to his claiming the Crown of France. Edward III’s claim had a little merit in that he was descended from the King of France, Philip IV. Philip IV was the maternal grandfather of Edward III. Philip VI was the nephew of Philip IV. Moreover, the French Crown had shifted within the French royal family. Philip VI was the first king of the Valois dynasty. This began what was later dubbed the Hundred Year’s War. This name was not invented until the early 19th century when Sir Walter Scott invented the name. In fact it wa a series of six wars. There were long periods of peace during this time – up to 20 years at a time. When the Hundred Year’s War started and finished is a matter of some discussion. One can go with the bookend dates 1337-1453.

Edward III scored a major naval victory at the Battle of Sluys in 1340.  This enabled the English Army to be shipped across the Channel unhindered because the English Navy had sent most of the French Fleet to the bottom.

Edward III’s Welsh and English Army landed at laid siege to Calais. The town held out for months. Disease broke out in the English camp. Edward III had the leading burghers brought to him with nooses around their necks. If a town surrendered when its capitulation was first demanded then the citizens’ lives would be spared and the citizenesses’ virtue would be spared. Their property would not be pillaged. Edward III was intent on having the city fathers executed. However, Edward III’s wife pleaded for their lives. The king showed clemency. This is commemorated by a statue in the garden of the Houses of Parliament.

Edward III wisely sought help from abroad. The Holy Roman Empire lent vocal support but military aid was not forthcoming. Edward III was canny enough to make sure that there was peace between his southern realm and Caledonia. Battle of Crecy the English and Welsh Army scored another resounding victory in 1356. The French had hired some Italian crossbowmen. The crossbow was very accurate but was slow to fire. The English longbow was less accurate but had a greater range, penetrating power and was much quicker to fire. The French knights rode down the archers who were on their own side! It is often overlooked that the French knights had to ride down a steep bank and that caused many horses to fall.

There was a hiatus in the war when in 1349 the Black Death came to England. Fleas on rats spread the bubonic plague by biting people. This disease effected the lymph nodes and killed most people within days. A few survived. Perhaps a third of the populace died. Cities were most impacted. The most remote places escaped most lightly.

Edward III’s army won a massive victory at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356. Edward III was not there – his son and heir the Black Prince commanded the English and Welsh Army. It was a stunning success given that the English Army was heavily outnumbered. The English and Welsh archers did savage work shooting down heavily armoured French knights. The French were faintly contemptuous of tactics and command. Most French knights wished to close with the English and Welsh. They snorted disdain at Edward III for bringing peasants onto the field of battle.The French King John II was taken prisoner. He was brought back to England and imprisoned in a tower in St Albans that still stands. He was ransomed back to France for a vast sum of money.

The English managed to gain control over the western half of France. He went all out for the French Crown in 1359 but that proved to be beyond his reach. He signed the Treaty of Bretigny. This gave him absolute sovereignty over Normandy, Aquitaine and so forth. On the other hand he renounced any claim to the Crown of France. There had been much heavy taxation to pay for this war.

Edward III’s son was Edmund the Black Prince. The Black Prince’s title, as the eldest son of the King of England, was Prince of Wales. The Black Prince was so called because he wore a suit of armour that was painted black. The Black Prince commanded the Welsh and English army to great effect. The Black Prince took the motto of King John of Bohemia – ”Ich Dien”. This means, in German, ”I serve.” The Black Prince married his first cousin Joan the Fair Maid of Kent. Their son was Richard II who seemed to suffer no genetic defects from such consanguinity.

The Black Prince fell ill and died in 1376.

Edward was successful in controlling the aristocracy. This was mainly because they rallied around him for the war against France. He created more peers thus reducing the power of the pre-existing peers. He introduced the title duke for members of his family.

Edward III died in 1377.