Indentures and the King’s Army

Source: Wikipedia

Put simply, an indenture was a contract written in two identical parts and divided irregularly—or indented—so that both halves could be joined together in the future. This post is mainly concerned with indentures made between King Henry V and his nobles for the invasion of France.

Funding an army was an intricate operation.  An astonishing amount of paperwork has survived from the reign of Henry V, informing us of the exactitude practiced by the exchequer clerks. Several steps along the way guaranteed that every soldier was accounted for. But how were they paid?

For the most part, the king did not pay the soldiers directly. He would be responsible for his own household, as well as recruiting specialists such as gunners, 119 miners, 100 stonecutters, 120 carpenters and turners, 40 smiths, 60 waggoners, and the like (Anne Curry, 1415 Agincourt, p.71). For the rest, the nobles indented to bring a certain number of men-at-arms and archers with them. By now, the old feudal system had mutated into what many historians now call Bastard Feudalism, more of a fee-based agreement between the king and noble, or noble (I’ll call him the Captain) and his retainers (or retinue). For military service, the indenture might be drawn up for one year or less, depending on the plan of campaign. For the Agincourt campaign, the indentures were for twelve months.

So when the Captain applied his seal to the indenture, he was paid, up front, one half of the first quarter’s wages (the king having raised the money through taxes and loans). The second half of the first quarter would be paid at the muster, when the Exchequer’s officials actually counted the men to determine that everyone showed up. For the second quarter, because funds were short, the Captain was given jewels or some equivalent collateral to be redeemed at a future point (some were still outstanding in the reign of Henry VI). He was expected to pay the second quarter’s wages out of his pocket. The third quarter’s wages were supposed to be paid after six weeks of that quarter, and so on, though as the months progressed, things got a little messy.

But, as everyone knew, the real fortunes to be made would come from booty and, especially, ransoms. This, too, had a very specific breakdown. For anything worth more than ten marks, the Captain was entitled to a third share from every man in his retinue, regardless of rank. The king took a third part of the Captain’s gains, and a third of a third from each soldier and archer. Prisoners of certain rank, like dukes, would automatically get turned over to the king, and the soldier would expect some sort of compensation.

Men were recruited in a three-to-one ratio: three archers to each man-at-arms. The latter included earls, bannerets, and knights. The earls, knights, etc. that were recruited by the great dukes would in turn recruit the men-at-arms and archers. From what I can gather, many servants doubled as archers, but not all. Some household servants were directly paid by their masters, and were not in receipt of military wages. Those numbers are unknown. The greater the noble, the larger his contribution. The Duke of Clarence, Henry’s brother, indented for one earl, two barons, 14 knights, 222 esquires, and 720 mounted archers. The Duke of Gloucester, the next brother, brought 800 men total. After that, the numbers fell considerably; York and Arundel brought 400 each, Suffolk 160 and Oxford 140. Many of the knights indented directly with the Exchequer for somewhere between 40 and 120. So there were many small indentures, all of which had to be accounted for. The men were counted on their return, as well, including those invalided home after Harfleur.

Wages were calculated on a daily basis. A duke earned 13s 4d, an earl would get 6s 8d, a baron 4s, a knight 2s. an esquire 12d, and an archer 6d—this at a time when a skilled craftsman earned between 3d and 5d per day. So the incentive for archers was high. The king was responsible for shipping to and from France, including horses, harnesses, and supplies—another huge expense, when it is calculated that over 25,000 horses were needed for this campaign.

Each of the king’s copies of the indentures was kept in a drawstring pouch at the Exchequer with the Captain’s name on it. Any documentation that accrued during the campaign was added to the bag, such as muster rolls and wage claims. What a pile that must have been! Interestingly, since the Agincourt campaign ended before the third quarter began and many had been invalided home, the accounting was considerably complex. Some men were left behind to garrison Harfleur, and of course, there were those who had died during the siege or had been killed in the battle. Ultimately, the king decided to fix the start and end dates of the campaign, and even determined to pay the men who had been killed the full amount. This generosity was not forgotten, at least by the yeomen. The nobles, on the other hand, who had paid the second quarter in full, were shortchanged by the king’s decision to end the campaign forty-eight days early.  It was left to them to petition Parliament for their loss. For some of the nobles, it was easier to compensate them with castles and land, and in some cases, admission to the Order of the Garter. Not everyone was happy, but who was going to complain to the hero of Agincourt?

Henry V and his brothers – Part 2

Henry V, from Nat’l Portrait Gallery, London (Wikipedia)

Henry V was fortunate in that he had three brothers to assist him—especially considering he spent most of his reign in France. His relationship with his next brother Thomas, Duke of Clarence, was a bit rocky, but he had to put his personal feelings aside. After all, Thomas was his heir. Once Henry became king, they put their youthful hostilities behind them and Thomas proved to be a strong and forceful leader of men—albeit a little rash at times. When we take a closer look, we see that Henry seems to have wanted to keep him under his direct control; for instance, rarely was Clarence given the opportunity to be regent in the king’s absence (like his other two brothers).

At Harfleur, Clarence led a contingent to the other side of the town from the king; he distinguished himself at the siege to Henry’s satisfaction. In fact, when it came to the time for Harfleur to surrender, they sent representatives to Clarence rather than Henry, hoping to get better treatment. Afterwards, however, when deciding whether to return to England or continue overland to Calais, he argued so aggressively against Henry that the king sent him home. It was said that Clarence was incapacitated by dysentery, but many historians think this was a cover for him to save face, since he went to Calais instead of England. Obviously he wasn’t at Agincourt! When Henry returned to France in 1417, Clarence was prominent in many of the king’s operations, but it was always under the king’s orders.

Thomas was finally given sole command in France the year Henry went back to England with his bride. Finally, he would have the chance to make a name for himself! Unfortunately, at Baugé, he imprudently led an undermanned attack against a Franco-Scottish army, not bothering to wait for his archers. The battle was a crushing defeat that ended in his own death—and advertised to the French that the English were not unbeatable. Henry cut short his progress in England and returned to France so he could reverse the damage done. Did he mourn his brother?  There doesn’t seem to be much evidence of this.

John, the next in line, has come down to us as very capable, solid, steadfast, a good warrior and a great leader. On Henry V’s ascension, John was created Duke of Bedford, the name he has been known to posterity. His eleven-year stint as Warden of the East Marches of Scotland gave him solid training to take over as regent when Henry went on his Agincourt campaign, and again in 1417. In late 1416, John was put in command of a fleet to take provisions to Harfleur, already under siege by a combined Franco-Genoese navy. Attacking the besiegers, Bedford fought for seven hours against the formidable Genoese carracks which towered over the English ships. Ultimately, the English were victorious and decisively lifted the siege, and the conflict, known as the Battle of the Seine, once again demonstrated their vaunted invincibility (this was before Baugé).

Humphrey, the youngest brother, was made Duke of Gloucester at Henry’s coronation. He was still unproven at the time of the Agincourt campaign, so he pretty much operated under the watchful eye of the king. He was eager to prove himself and showed quite a knack for managing the artillery, and Henry gave him plenty of opportunity to hone his skills as commander. Although he was seriously injured at the Battle of Agincourt, the king straddled his prone body and defended him until he was dragged to safety. This was to be the only pitched battle Humphrey ever fought in, but he otherwise proved himself a clever and able commander during the subsequent sieges while the king strived to conquer Normandy. On Henry’s last campaign, Bedford fought in France and Gloucester served as regent in England, so he must have demonstrated enough competence to be trusted.

Tomb of Henry V at Westminster Abbey

When Henry died in 1422, he appointed Bedford as regent of France and also of England—when he was there. Gloucester’s role was  more ambiguous. He was assigned as protector of the baby Henry VI, but the child’s upbringing and education were given to Thomas Beaufort, Duke of Exeter (and Henry’s half-uncle).  Gloucester insisted that he should be governor of the realm by right of his birth and his interpretation of Henry’s will. However, the lords in Parliament had other ideas and he had to be satisfied with Protector and Defender of the realm and head of the Council. Humphrey was already demonstrating unsettling tendencies toward self-aggrandisement which would later prove his downfall.

There’s a whole lot more to this story, needless to say, and I intend to devote a whole book to this…probably two novels from now.  More research is required!

Review: Agincourt: Henry V, the Man-at-Arms & the Archer

This book is a very solid overview of not only the battle but events leading up to it, from the beginning of Henry V’s reign, the coup attempt at Southampton, the siege of Harfleur, and the long detour the army had to make to find a crossing of the Somme. It’s not until about halfway through that we get to the battle. I’m not complaining, mind you. You can’t tell the story without the background. It’s just that I found the book description a little misleading, as was (in my opinion) the statement on the back cover that we see the battle “through the eyes of key participants”. I’m very deep into my research by now, and I bought this book hoping I would get some really specific stuff, about individual archers, some of Henry’s captains, etc. I should have known better. Agincourt has been gone over meticulously; there’s only so much stuff that’s ever going to come to the surface unless some researcher gets really lucky. With that said, this is a very good book for anyone getting started on their research. The narrative is solid and we get some good historical background. For instance:

His (Henry V) deep piety has been much remarked on and his knowledge of Biblical precedent had featured in the campaign before, such as when he suggested to the townsfolk of Harfleur that he would use the powers allocated by God to a king chastising his subjects as outlined in the Book of Deuteronomy. The whole expedition has been given the impression of something approaching a Crusade by the king, as an act sanctioned and approved by God.

Henry V and his motivations were reasonably discussed, though I really didn’t get the impression I was seeing the battle through his eyes or anyone else’s. But that didn’t matter too much; I came away with a substantial understanding about how the army dealt with their hardships along the way, and even got a good overview of the French side. I thought the Harfleur siege was explained in good detail as well. Unfortunately for me, there wasn’t anything I hadn’t already read before, which made sense once I looked at the bibliography; all the sources used were secondary works. Regardless, the book was interesting, well written, and flowed very smoothly.

Henry V and his brothers – Part 1

Henry as Prince of Wales from Thomas Hoccleve, Regement of  Princes, Arundel 38, f. 37 – Wikipedia

Henry of Monmouth (so named because he was born at Monmouth Castle in Wales) was not his father’s favorite. That honor went to the next son Thomas, probably a year younger than him. It was said that young Henry was a bit aloof, and I suspect this had a lot to do with his father’s absence through much of his youth; Henry Bolingbroke spent many years galivanting around Europe and going on crusade. It’s kind of amazing he had any opportunity to beget so many children! Between 1386 and 1394 poor Mary de Bohun bore six children, dying while giving birth to her second daughter Philippa. The children were then raised by relatives.

When Bolingbroke was exiled in 1398, young Henry was surrendered as a hostage to King Richard II. Second son Thomas accompanied his father to Paris where—let’s face it—he had his sire all to himself. I suspect this accounted for Bolingbroke’s preference for him; could it be the first time he paid any real attention to his child?

Maybe I’m not being fair. Judging from the medications that were purchased for him, young Henry may have been a bit sickly. Thomas, on the other hand, was reportedly gregarious, good looking, and martially inclined. Very little was said in these early days about John, the next son born in 1389 and Humphrey, 1390. Their little sisters, Blanche (1392) and Philippa (1394) were married to foreign princes and don’t figure much in Henry’s story.

When young Henry was taken in by King Richard, his fortunes actually took a turn for the better. The childless king took a fancy to him, and it was even said that Richard saw future greatness in the boy. In many ways he treated Henry like the son he never had, took him to Ireland with him, and famously knighted him in the field. However, when word came to Ireland about Bolingbroke’s invasion, Henry was confined to Trim castle along with the heir of Buckingham for safekeeping. Apparently he didn’t resent the necessity, for the next time he saw Richard—after the king had been apprehended and imprisoned—Henry attempted to alleviate Richard’s discomfort. He was distressed by the usurpation, though not enough to refuse his elevation to Prince of Wales.

King Henry IV expected his sons to follow in his footsteps—at least as far as military and leadership training was concerned. Bolingbroke was a champion jouster as a young man, and took over governing the duchy of Lancaster when John of Gaunt campaigned in Spain and Aquitaine from 1386-89.  Bolingbroke would have been 19 years old at the time. So after his new reign began, he had high expectations for his heir. The Welsh rose in rebellion during the first year after Bolingbroke took the crown, and Henry was put under the tutelage of Sir Henry “Hotspur” Percy at Conwy Castle. Unfortunately, Hotspur abandoned the cause after a couple of years in favor of his own rebellion. Within the year, Henry was given the lieutenancy of Wales, a major command and a lot of responsibility for a sixteen year-old. He would play a role in the Battle of Shrewsbury (1403) against his former mentor, taking an arrow in the face that nearly ended his life. That put him out of commission for about a year.

BL Royal_ms_14_e_iv_f201v

Meanwhile, his younger brother Thomas was sent to Ireland as lieutenant in 1402, an office he was to perform on and off—mostly off—for the next ten years. His salary was constantly in arrears and he hated the job, preferring something closer to home. His father preferred having him around, too, and didn’t object when he turned his responsibilities over to a second in command and came back to London. Although he was given the somewhat empty position of steward of England, he had no titles until the year before his father died, when he was made Duke of Clarence. This gave him the necessary prestige to command an invasion of France planned in conjunction with the Armagnacs against the Duke of Burgundy. Although this whole episode was a fiasco, since the French made peace and bought him off, Thomas got his first experience at least by heading a chevauché, the closest thing so far to actual combat.

John was next in line after Thomas, and Henry IV had plans for him as well. The young prince was sent to Northumberland under the tutelage of the Earl of Westmorland, whose rivalry with the Percies had reached a climax. Although Earl Henry Percy (Hotspur’s father) had survived the fallout from the Battle of Shrewsbury, his prestige and authority had greatly diminished in the region. John was appointed Warden of the East Marches toward Scotland—Hotspur’s former command. Westmorland was created Warden of the West Marches. This galled Percy to no end, and three years after Hotspur’s death, Percy launched an aborted rebellion against Henry IV. John accompanied Westmorland as they pursued and dealt with the rebels. John was destined to stay in the North all the way through the end of his father’s life; the experience would hold him in good stead when he would take over as regent during his brother’s reign.

This left Humphrey, who was only nine years old when Henry IV took the throne. Either his father ran out of jobs for him, or perhaps the king wanted to keep a son nearby, for Humphrey was stuck in the unenviable position of having nothing to occupy his talents. He was dragged along as the king moved about the country. Both Humphrey and John were young enough to benefit from the presence of Henry’s queen Joan of Navarre, who he married in 1403. Joan was obliged to leave her sons behind when she came to England, so she was ready to take the motherless boys under her wing. Now that Humphrey was the only son left at home, so to speak, he spent quite a lot of time with her. He wasn’t to make any major contribution to history until his brother became king.

Henry, as Prince of Wales, took his responsibilities very seriously—in contradiction to Shakespeare, who portrayed him as a good-for-nothing layabout, hanging around with drunks and thieves and causing trouble. The Welsh rebellion lasted nine years and Henry was in the thick of the fighting. He had no leisure to play around, and I don’t think he even spent much time in London. In 1410, as a result of his father’s failing health, Henry headed the Council in charge of the government. Unfortunately, he disagreed with the king on some fundamental political issues and he was dismissed a year later (there’s some question that he and his uncle Cardinal Beaufort may have tried to persuade King Henry to retire. If so, this backfired terribly.) His dismissal could have freed him up to go drinking with his buddies, but it wasn’t to last very long. King Henry IV died in March of 1413, and Henry V mounted the throne a changed man—allegedly.

Shakespeare’s Harry Hotspur

Dispute between Hotspur, Glendower, Mortimer and Worcester by Henry Fuseli – Wikiart

Harry Hotspur (aka Sir Henry Percy) was a major character in Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 1 who died at the hands of his nemesis, Prince Hal, at the battle of Shrewsbury. Unfortunately, we tend to forget that although Shakespeare was one of our greatest bards, he was not a historian and we can’t take his plays at face value. Yes, Hotspur was killed at Shrewsbury. But no, Hal was at the other end of the battlefield leading a flanking movement, still fighting with an arrow embedded in his face. I think that’s an even more dramatic story, but Shakespeare had other ideas (enter Falstaff).

But that’s not all. Hotspur was not Hal’s rival for Henry IV’s affection. In fact, Sir Henry Percy was the king’s age, not the son’s; he was actually born three years before Henry IV. He was knighted alongside Henry Bolingbroke by King Edward III in 1377. They traveled together to the great Tournament at Inglevert in 1390 (Hal would have been four years old at the time).

In reality, far from being the son Henry IV wished he had in contrast to his own wayward offspring,  Hotspur had been one of Hal’s early mentors. In the first few years after the usurpation, Hotspur had been made Constable of Chester, Flint, Conwy, and Caernarfon castles—all in addition to his other duties as Warden of the East Marches and Justice of North Wales. To say he had his hands full was an understatement! Hal was put under his tutelage at Chester, and I don’t think it would be totally out of line to suggest the prince might have experienced a bit of hero worship at this stage. He was only about sixteen, and Hotspur was the most famous knight of the age. He was indefatigable.

Even at Hal’s tender age, he was already being primed to take on his first responsibility in Wales. Unfortunately, it was unexpectedly thrust upon him at the end of 1402 when Hotspur grew annoyed at his lack of governmental support (and lack of payment) and resigned his command. Leaving young Hal in charge, he rode off, back to Northumberland. Just like that. How could the prince not feel abandoned?

The Welsh didn’t need much more incentive to rise up again, and they were soon attacking town after town, burning and pillaging. Prince Hal called up troops from nearby shires that owed the king service and went after them, holding his own. He was joined by his father a few months later and together they advanced into the heart of Wales. Unfortunately, their foray turned into a disaster and the English were forced to withdraw because of the terrible weather; the king was nearly killed when a storm blew his tent down on top of him. Henry was only saved because he wore his armor to bed. Their ignominious defeat was only made worse on discovering that the Percies had just won a tremendous battle at Homildon Hill, and came home loaded with hostages, among them the Scottish Earl of Douglas.

As depicted in Shakespeare, King Henry demanded that Hotspur turn over his prisoners and Harry angrily refused, precipitating the conflict that drove him to rebel. That much corresponds to history. In the play, there’s a scene where he conspired with Owain Glyndwr, Mortimer, and his uncle the earl of Worcester. This probably did not happen, though it’s possible some communication took place between them. The Welsh did not participate in the battle of Shrewsbury, though it’s possible they were creating a diversion by a very successful attack on Carmarthen in South Wales. Or the timing could have been a coincidence. Historians just don’t know, but since Glyndwr was occupied at Carmarthen, he couldn’t have been expected at Shrewsbury.

Death of Henry “Harry Hotspur” Percy, from a 1910 illustration by Richard Caton Woodville Jr. – Wikipedia

One can only imagine the shock and betrayal Hal must have felt to discover that his former friend and tutor had declared himself his enemy. I doubt he even knew trouble was brewing—it certainly caught his father by surprise. King Henry moved at his usual unpredictable speed and showed up with an army literally in the nick of time. Hotspur withdrew from besieging the town and prepared for battle.

Shrewsbury was a close-fought contest, and Hotspur was in the middle of the action. Shakespeare has him meeting Prince Hal seemingly alone, and they fight a duel where Hal slays his antagonist. And Falstaff takes credit for the killing after Hal walks away—apparently to get help. But of course, that’s all made up. The battle was total chaos and only the shouts of “Henry Percy dead!” turned the tide. His men panicked and fled, and later the trail of bodies stretched up to two miles away, with most of them fatally wounded in the back. No one knows precisely what happened to Hotspur, but after a search his body was found where the fighting was fiercest. Although the king supposedly shed a few tears over his corpse, he didn’t have any problem ordering that Hotspur’s naked body be propped up between two millstones so everyone knew he was truly dead.

While Hotspur fought valiantly, Prince Hal was leading a charge on the enemy flank; he wreaked havoc on the leaderless rearguard. It wasn’t until the fighting was over that Hal collapsed into the arms of his companions. In all probability he was unconscious for days—if not longer. Under almost any other circumstances his wound would have been fatal, for the arrowhead was embedded six inches into his skull next to his eye. It was only under the brilliant ministrations of John Bradmore, the most innovative surgeon in the kingdom, that Hal survived. It was probably a long time after the battle before he learned of Hotspur’s death.

You can learn more about the Battle of Shrewsbury and events leading up to it in my novel, THE USURPER KING.