2-8 November 1415 – Opening of Parliament

Westminster Abbey

By Dan Spencer

At Calais Henry debated whether to continue the campaign. The Latin lives of the 1430s claim that he consulted his men ‘whether, as ought to follow a great victory, he should go on to besiege neighbouring towns and castle’. Ardres was mentioned as a specific target.  French local records reveal fears that Henry would attack Boulogne. But at the end of the day, Henry decided to demobilise his army. Over the course of this and following weeks soldiers from the army were gradually transported back to England where they were disbanded. Individual retinue leaders were responsible for procuring and paying ship masters to transport their men, for which they were later able to claim back 2s for each man and horse from the Exchequer. The soldiers were shipped to the main ports in the south-east, with the majority taken to Dover and Sandwich in Kent, although others were sent to Portsmouth and Southampton in Hampshire. Transporting such thousands of men and horses took a long time, it was for this reason that in early 1417 it was agreed that the men should be paid wages up to 23 November.

Meanwhile back in England, parliament opened at Westminster on 4 November presided over by the king’s brother, John, duke of Bedford. Writs had been issued for this assembly as far back as 12 August: Henry knew that he would need more taxation as the campaign was underway.

News of the king’s victory, which had only reached London five days earlier, meant that Agincourt was very much in the minds of the lords and commons. The absence of many noblemen in France, however, meant that only nineteen lords (in contrast to the 43 who had attended the parliament of November 1414) were available. Proceedings began on 4 November in the Painted Chamber where the chancellor of England, Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester, made an opening speech where he explained that parliament had been summoned for two reasons: one to provide for the governance of the realm during the king’s absence and secondly to assist his expedition to France. He then recounted the progress of the English army in France, which after having captured the town of Calais:

‘travelled through the heart of France towards his town of Calais, and as a result of his most noble and most excellent courage, with a small number of men in comparison with the might of his enemies, he encountered and fought with a large number of dukes, earls, barons and lords of France and other lands and countries overseas, and with all the chivalry and might of France and the same lands and countries; and how finally, with the Almighty’s help and grace, all the French were defeated, taken or killed, without great loss to the English; and how he, after such a glorious and marvellous victory, has now arrived safely at his said town of Calais with his men and prisoners, praise be to God, with the greatest honour and gain which the realm of England has ever had in so short a time.’

Beaufort continued by saying, however, that such an ‘honourable and profitable’ expedition could not continue without assistance and support. Indeed the vast costs of the campaign meant that taxation was necessary to pay for the king’s debts and to ensure the safety of Harfleur. Two days later the commons elected Sir Richard Redman, an MP for Yorkshire and a counsellor of Bedford, to be their speaker.

This information came from Anne Curry, Agincourt: A New History (Stroud: Tempus, 2005), pp. 283-4;Anne Curry, ‘After Agincourt, What next? Henry V and the campaign of 1416’, The Fifteenth Century, vol. VII (2007); ‘Henry V: November 1415,’ in Parliament Rolls of Medieval England, ed. Chris Given-Wilson, Paul Brand, Seymour Phillips, Mark Ormrod, Geoffrey Martin, Anne Curry and Rosemary Horrox (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2005), accessed September 27, 2015, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/parliament-rolls-medieval/november-1415

Plan of the Palace of Westminster from 1834 taken from Wikipedia and is in the Public Domain