Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

line of his march, and destroyed whatever grain and other provisions they could not remove; so that his army, day after day, was reduced to new straits, forced to feed on raw chestnuts, on asses' flesh and other carrion, without even having a plentiful supply of such disgusting and noxious aliments. The early winter made the rains of each day be succeeded by piercing frosts in the night. Covering, shelter, fuel, they had none, to afford relief from the inclemency of the weather. Putrid fever and dysentery had been brought with them from before Harfleur, and were exacerbated by their other sufferings. The towns of any note were all so far provided with garrisons, that Henry durst not attempt to enter them; and any humble and indefensible villages that lay in his way could yield no resources. He was constantly harassed on his march, both by sallies of troops from the strong places, and by the peasants rising in a mass to exterminate invaders who had brought such calamities upon their country; so that his men knew not what rest was for an instant by day or by night, even had they possessed any kind of shelter under which to taste repose. Add to all these sufferings the hourly expectation of attack from enemies five times his numbers, daily receiving reinforcements, suffering under none of the privations which continually thinned his ranks and paralyzed those that survived, defending their own country with the blessings and help of their fellowcitizens, while he traversed, slowly and suffering, the fields of an unoffending people, amidst their loud and just execrations. The gallant resistance made so unexpectedly at Harfleur, and the sickness which there visited his army, must oftentimes, during the leisure of the siege, have brought on reflections sufficiently painful to a generous nature, which evil training had rather perverted than altered. But it would not be easy to imagine the distress in which the eighteen days of his sad march to Maisoncelles must have been passed, surrounded by the misery he had brought on his own people; conscious that he had, if possible, still less right to harass his adversaries; and expecting the just retribution that seemed to await him, when they should avenge their wrongs by his destruction.

In this emergency it is certain that he was found not unequal to the greatness of the occasion, either in firmness, in courage, or in prudence. He appears, indeed, to have displayed all the qualities of a great captain; and we are only left to lament that such rare and excellent endowments, instead of being employed in a just and lawful contest, should have been exerted, first, to injure his fellow-creatures, and then to secure his own and his army's escape from the punishment they so well deserved.

He made his march with perfect deliberation and composure, not dispiriting his own men, or encouraging his enemies by any seeming impatience or anxiety. Once or twice, as at Eu, he took advantage of an attack made upon him, with unequal force, to repulse it with loss. The only places where any omission had been made to waste the country, he ravaged, so as to obtain some scanty supplies. Endeavouring to pass the Somme at Blanquetage, where Edward the Third had crossed before the battle of Crecy, he found that ford well guarded, as were all the other shallows; and where no force was stationed, stakes and spikes had been driven into the bed of the river. He therefore made a sudden movement to the right by Airaines, and was thus brought to some villages not deserted. These he burnt, after giving them up to pillage.1 He sent out light troops to scour the country on all sides, and prevent any surprise. Again and again foiled in his attempt to pass the river, he came to the bridge of St. Maxence, but found it defended by an army of 30,000 men, more than three times his own force. Here then he halted, and prepared to fight, not doubting that he should be immediately attacked. But the offer of battle thus made was not accepted: such was the boldness of the front he showed, and so secure did the French feel, as indeed they well might, that he could never escape to Calais, though they should let him alone. After this halt he moved by Amiens upon Boves, where he again stopped, and for two days offered battle, but it was again refused. He therefore moved up the river upon Corbie; and the peasants having risen, and, with some support from the troops in that town, attacked him, he made such resistance as com- 1 Note XXXV.

/ pelled them to retreat with considerable loss. At length, near Betancourt, between Ham and St. Quentin, he discovered a ford, which the garrison of the former place had, in disobedience of the orders given by the Dauphin, neglected to protect with stakes, and so he succeeded in passing over his army.

The French appear to have placed their main reliance upon defending the line of the Somme, and to have prudently resolved that there should be no attack made upon Henry as long as he was kept on the left bank. His unexpected success in crossing gave them, naturally, some uneasiness; and a council was held by the King and the Dauphin at Rouen, whither the court had come upon the fall of Harfleur. A difference of opinion prevailed, but the great majority1 were clear that the English must not be suffered to reach Calais without a battle. Their resolution to engage him was, according to the laws of chivalry which then prevailed, communicated to Henry by a herald, naming the time and place where they were ready to give him the meeting. But he answered that he should neither take counsel nor law from his enemies; adding, however, that he neither sought nor shunned a fight with them.2 The French troops then moved rapidly on from all points, and succeeded, from their vast superiority of numbers, in getting before him to St. Pol, on the Annion.

1 All the authorities say the majority was of thirty-five to five. « Mezeray, i. 1005.

It is said by some writers, and the state of the campaign renders the report probable, that, seeing himself hemmed in, he offered to give up Harfleur, and to make compensation for all the damage his invasion had caused, provided he might be allowed to retreat unmolested on Calais.1 If such an offer was wisely made, it was with manifest, but not very unpardonable, imprudence, rejected, from the confidence which filled the French of gaining such a victory as must inflict a signal punishment upon their enemy, and prevent all future aggression on his part. Both parties now prepared for the battle, which was fought on St. Crispin's-day, 25th October, near the castle of Agincourt, or Azincour, close to Maisoncelles.

The French were commanded by the Constable D'Albret, and Marshal Boucicault under him. Dampiere, the high admiral, was also present, with the other great officers of the crown, the Dukes of Orleans, Bourbon, Bar, Alencon, and almost all the great nobles of France, except the Duke of Burgundy, whose two brothers, however, Brabant and Nevers, were there. He himself stood aloof, nor would permit his son Charolois to join, in consequence of Henry's intrigues, his own sordid scheme of joining the victorious party, and his criminal design to profit by the event, should it prove disastrous to his country. Henry had the invaluable assistance of Sir Thomas Erpingham, an old and experienced

1 Mezeray, i. 1605.

« ZurückWeiter »