The Coronations of Henry VI

The boy-king Henry VI was crowned King in England and in France. But the symbols of regal majesty at his Coronations, argue Dorothy Styles & C.T. Allmand, could not disguise the fragility of the union.

On May 21st 1420, at Troyes in Champagne, Henry V of England and Charles VI of France sealed a treaty (the 'final peace' as it soon came to be known) intended to settle the long-standing quarrel between their two countries by a union of the two crowns which would rule two sovereign and independent kingdoms. Some days later, on June 2nd, Henry married Charles's daughter, Catherine, a love-match none the less strong in political overtones since such a marriage, and any children which might come of it, would be a living witness of the union of the two crowns. On December 6th, 1421, amid general rejoicings, Catherine gave birth at Windsor to a son who was given the name of Henry. His father, busy campaigning in France, was destined never to see his heir for, on August 31st, 1422, be succumbed to illness and died at Bois de Vincennes, a royal castle to the south-east of Paris. Less than two months later the French king, Charles VI, also breathed his last. By this event, at least for those who accepted the terms of the treaty of 1420, the baby Henry, only ten months old, now became the first king of France and England.

But the treaty of Troyes had, in fact, divided France. To some, either because they accepted the legal and historic claims of the English kings to France or because the presence of an English 'occupying' force brought them, at a time of unstable French rule, a greater measure of political stability, such a succession was acceptable. To others, most of whom lived south of the river Loire, the treaty had betrayed the rights of Charles VI's eldest surviving son, the Dauphin Charles, to succeed his father as king of France. The 'final peace' of 1420, therefore, was in fact far from final. It created two nations, one loyal to one dynasty, one to the other. In the years which followed, the 'deprived' nation tried to restore the Dauphin to his rightful inheritance. In this it was opposed by the English and their supporters seeking to make a reality out of the terms of the treaty of Troyes. To achieve its aim, each side was to use the traditional method of war.

At first the English had the better of the military exchanges. Victories at Cravant in July 1423 and, more important, at Verneuil in southern Normandy in August 1424, opened the way southwards. Le Mans, capital of the county of Maine, was taken in August 1425, and before long much of the duchy of Anjou, still further to the south, was to come under English control. By 1428, in spite of minor reverses, the English had approached the line of the river Loire. It only remained to cross it to enter the heart of the enemy's obedience. But before that could be done, the vital and strategic town of Orleans, whose lord, the duke of that name, had been an English prisoner since the battle of Agincourt in 1415, had to be taken. An English army, led by Thomas, Earl of Salisbury, began the siege late in September 1428. But six weeks later Salisbury was dead, killed by a cannonball, while six months later, on May 8th, 1429, the English army was obliged to abandon the siege as the direct result of the exploits of Joan of Arc. Some ten weeks afterwards, on July 17th, 1429, after a lightning advance north-eastwards during which a number of towns had opened their gates to the French, the Maid brought the Dauphin, Charles, to Reims for his coronation as King of France. The challenge to Henry VI's title had now been made.

By that time the possibility of crowning the young Henry in France had already been discussed by the royal council in England, for the problems caused by the failure before Orleans and the generally unfavourable military situation were becoming daily more apparent. It would be necessary for Henry to reassert his right to the French crown and his authority over the kingdom through the symbolism of a coronation ceremony. And since Henry was regarded as the ruler of two Kingdoms, this point would have to be underlined by having a coronation in each of them. So it was that, on November 6th, 1429, a month before his eighth birthday and less than four months after the coronation of his rival, the Dauphin, in Reims, the young Henry VI was crowned King of England at Westminster Abbey by his great-uncle, Cardinal Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester, the traditional rite being modified to incorporate French practices to show that this was but the first part of a fuller coronation procedure which could only be completed in France. After the ceremony, a splendid feast was held. On this occasion every opportunity was taken, by the use of symbolism, to show Henry as the 'Enherytoure to the flowredelysse', the man

Borne by dyscent and tytylle of ryight Justely to raygne in Ingelonde and yn Fraunce.

But the claim to the French crown could not be strengthened merely by a coronation in Henry's French kingdom. A strong military intervention was needed to lend practical support to the already existing English presence there. For this purpose loans were to be raised, and in December 1429 Parliament voted subsidies to pay for the large force of nearly 5,000 men who had been retained to cross to France in the following year.

The army of that year was a remarkable one, fit for a notable undertaking. It was some years since the great nobility, dukes and earls, had turned out in such numbers. The old tradition that when a king himself went overseas with an army, the nobility supported him personally, died hard. The prospect of the coronation ceremony in France was also an attraction, while the need to provide a council to advise the King on many different matters also accounts for their presence. In addition, much trouble was taken to collect large quantities oil cannon, this expedition and that of 1428 (intended for the siege of Orleans) being the only two during these years on which artillery was used on any significant scale. To convey this equipment, together with men and horses, a large fleet was required. What was left of Henry V's navy, part of which had been sold off since his death, was put into commission again; in addition ships from many English and foreign ports were assembled by commissioners specially appointed for the purpose. From ports all along the south and east coasts vessels of all sizes were assembled at Sandwich and Dover in the summer of 1430, and in March 1431 those ships in which horses could be transported were visited and inspected in advance to see how many animals they could carry. All this took time; it also cost money. In all, probably more than £2,500 was spent on shipping in 1430, a very considerable sum which reflects the size of the expedition setting out for France.

The presence, in some numbers, of members of the royal household suggests that this was not envisaged as an expedition of short duration. Three bishops, John Stafford of Bath and Wells, formerly Treasurer and Keeper of the Privy Seal and Chancellor to-be; William Alnwick of Norwich; and Philip Morgan of Ely, once Chancellor of Normandy, accompanied the King. The distinguished and learned William Lyndwood, a notable canon lawyer of the day, was appointed 'to be of our council about our person' for six months, while John Carpenter, the royal chaplain, John Walden, the king's confessor, and John Somerset, the royal physician since 1427, were also in attendance. Somerset may also have acted as grammar master. He certainly had a surgeon, William Stalworth, and a number of assistants with him, should the king's health need attention.

On St George's Day, April 23rd, 1430, Henry VI sailed from Sandwich to Calais, where he stayed at the castle until July, when he moved to Rouen, the journey being undertaken by road with a large company of men-at-arms accompanying the King to ensure his safety. Once at Rouen, he probably stayed at the castle, the administrative centre of the English dominion in France, where his uncle John, Duke of Bedford, Regent of France, resided with his staff. Probably on account of the very uncertain military situation in the Seine valley between Rouen and Paris, Henry was to stay in Rouen until November 1431, a period of some sixteen months. A valuable source of information for part of his stay is the Household Book of the Earl of Warwick which covers a year and four days from March 15th, 1431. Each page of this volume gives a daily account of expenses, and is headed by a list of those who had dinner and, sometimes, supper. The first name every day is that of 'Madame Talbot', Margaret, Warwick's eldest daughter, who was wife of John, Lord Talbot, later to be created first Earl of Shrewsbury, and one of the outstanding military commanders of his day. The list of diners on Wednesday, March 14th, 1431, included two royal valets whose duty is revealed by the list for the next day which describes them as being valets corone regis , probably guards for the crown which was to be used for the French coronation. There were some eight valets having this duty, and the daily list of diners includes them in varying numbers. Occasionally, as on May 19th, 1431, the king came to dinner with the Earl of Warwick and others, always well escorted, on this occasion by sixty persons. On Sunday, May 27th, a large company of guests, including many French and English nobles and important councillors, dined with the Earl and his household, some seventy-eight in all, some of them involved in the trial of Joan of Arc, whose death at the stake was to take place three days later in the market place, only a few hundred yards away.

There were occasions, such as New Year's Day, Lady Day and Easter Sunday when musicians entertained the Earl's household. Musicians also played on Sunday, April 8th, 1431, when the King came to dinner with a large retinue. The players were generally men from Rouen, but Warwick also had his own company of musicians. When he was obliged to be away from Rouen in August 1431, four of the King's trumpeters played during supper the evening before he left, and his return was greeted at dinner by the presence of a number of guests, including the Regent, Bedford, when four musicians entertained the company.

The daily accounts of the cost of food, and what provisions were bought for Warwick's household, have at times pleasant detail. On June 26th and 27th, 1431, when the chief guests were Lord Talbot and the Earl of Stafford, strawberries and cream were served at supper. After each pantry account there follows the wardrobe account for the day, this including necessities such as candles and wax, and the provender needed for the horses. There were at least sixty-four horses in stable in 1431, and sometimes a few more. Some were hired in Rouen, and were used to haul the barges on the river journey of 130 miles or so to Paris. The wardrobe expense account for November 20th, 1431 refers to Warwick's departure that day for Paris. His task was to accompany the King to the capital for the coronation, for although the King's departure is not referred to, it is clear from other evidence in the Household Book that the King had left Rouen. No longer did the valets guarding the crown appear in the daily lists of diners which became shorter during the remaining two weeks before the Countess of Warwick, with Lady Talbot, set out on the river journey to Paris.

On Sunday, December 2nd, 1431, Henry VI, riding a white horse, made his solemn entry into his French capital. Contemporary accounts of this event have survived, accounts which have probably influenced the record of the chronicler, Enguerrand de Monstrelet. Leaving St Denis, the great abbey on the river Seine north of Paris where kings of France were buried, and where he had spent the last two days, the young Henry, now all but ten years old, rode towards Paris. With him were the Dukes of Bedford and York, the Earl of Warwick and others in a large company. First to come to meet the King was Jacques du Chatelier, Bishop of Paris, followed by Simon Morhier, the prôt or the crown's chief administrative and legal officer in Paris and the immediate surrounds, accompanied by leading bourgeois from the capital. A little nearer Paris came representatives of the courts, the legal profession and the financial administration, all in colourful ceremonial costume. Most likely to make the greatest impression upon the ordinary bystanders, however, were not the notable personalities but the representations, or mysteries, which had been organized for the occasion: the huge tableau of the arms of the city of Paris; or the goddess Fame and the nine worthies, both male and female, led by a herald who exhorted the young king to rule the famous city of Paris with love and justice. At the gate of St Denis the King was once again confronted with a huge shield bearing the arms of the capital, a silver ship with a crew representing the main elements of Parisian society, bearing three hearts out of which, when opened, spilled white doves, other birds and flowers to symbolize the affection of the three estates for their newly-arrived lord.

Once in Paris the King was met by further representations. One such concerned the life of St Denis, his preaching of the Christian faith, and his martyrdom. If Denis was a very French saint, English devotion to St George was not forgotten, his arm being produced for veneration by the King. Other scenes enacted were taken from the life of Mary and Christ. At one point Henry came face to face with a living representation of himself, symbolically wearing two crowns, sitting under a canopy covered in satin bearing the arms of France and England and surrounded by councillors, both French and English. The theme of the union of the two crowns was to be further emphasised by a presentation, organized by the butchers at the Grand Pont, of a live stag covered. in the arms of France and England. Most impressive and significant of all, however, was to be the reception of the King by members of the guilds who came to shield him with a large square canopy (un ciel d'azur sem).

The historical significance of the symbolism and pageantry should not escape us. Ever since the mid-fourteenth century the first, solemn entries of the kings of France into both the capital and some of the major towns of their realm had been occasions for public manifestations of the power of monarchy and the respect which it tried to elicit from its subjects, a kind of dialogue between king and people, as one modern writer has described it. The symbolism of such occasions assumed great importance, for the theatrical aspects of the king's reception were intended to emphasise the force of the monarchical idea in France. The first of such representations had been seen about 1355, but by 1380, when Charles VI had become king, royal entries had become theatrical affairs, stage-managed and planned in advance to make the maximum impression upon the onlooker.

Two aspects of the ceremony in particular emphasised the cult of monarchy. Henry rode a white horse (une haquenée blanche ), a deliberate choice since white was often regarded as a symbol of sovereignty, which the king was now claiming in France. But perhaps even more significant was the use of the canopy to escort Henry once he had made his entry into Paris, and the emphasis placed upon such a canopy in the tableau of himself which had greeted him once he was in the capital. The use of such a canopy was a well-recognised mark of rank and honour, probably eastern in origin, certainly known to the era of the Roman Empire and to the Byzantine world of the end of the first millennium. By the end of the thirteenth century the social importance of a person might be judged by whether the bed on which he or she slept had a canopy or not. By the early years of the fourteenth century the canopy had become a necessary part of the bed of the seigneurial class, a symbol of seigneurie as well as of honour. In the course of the fourteenth century, in both England and France, with the growing popularity of the Corpus Christi procession during which the Host was carried under a decorated canopy, the idea of God's sovereignty over man had been increasingly widely expressed in this way. The practice was soon to be taken up and developed by those who wished to emphasise the power and authority of monarchy and its 'imperial' pretensions through the expressive use of symbols. The seals of Philip V of France (1317-22) showed the king seated under a fixed canopy; the year 1339 saw the issue of a coin which was popularly known as a pavillon d'or, or 'golden canopy', since it showed the king, Philip VI, seated beneath this symbol of majesty; whilst in 1389, while on a tour of southern French towns, Charles VI was formally received by his subjects bearing a canopy held over him in procession.

Ceremonies of a not dissimilar nature and purpose were known to the English. Londoners were accustomed to the formal reception of important visitors at Blackheath. In 1416 Sigismund, King of the Romans, had been met by the guilds 'yn the best aray that they cowthe, on hors bak... with moche honour and grete reuerence', the King, Henry V, meeting his illustrious guest just outside the city and escorting him into London to a more formal reception. But it was the well-known reception of Henry V by the Londoners after his victory at Agincourt which, in many respects, resembled the French receptions most. Both made use of outsize figures, biblical and mythical, perhaps sculptured in stucco, in addition to large heraldic representations made of wood and painted canvas. In both instances flocks of birds were released, and the patron saint was given prominence, a statue of St George being given a place of honour 'in a canopied niche' (sub uno tabernaculo splendido ) on Henry V's return to London in November 1415. The idea of majesty implied by the use of the canopy was clearly known to the King and members of his court. Two contemporary chroniclers report that when, a few weeks earlier, the Norman town of Harfleur had been captured by Henry, he had had the prisoners brought up a nearby hill to his tent where, seated in majesty upon a throne 'over which was spread cloth of gold and fine linen' in the form of a canopy (sub uno papilione), he had received them formally, an idea repeated, albeit somewhat differently, in the London celebrations in November, when 'underneath a canopy... borne on four poles... an enthroned figure of majesty in the form of a sun' was carried in procession.

After the accounts of Henry VI's 'majestic' entry into Paris, those of his coronation which survive are generally shorter. Tradition had it that kings of France should be crowned in Reims, but that city, since 1429, had been under 'enemy' control, and Paris had to do. Furthermore, Henry was not crowned by the Bishop of Paris, but, for the second time, by his great-uncle, the Cardinal- Bishop of Winchester, who also insisted upon singing the Mass, much to the annoyance of the Bishop whose cathedral, Notre Dame, was being used for the occasion. Not only was the celebrant English, but the ceremony itself, according to Monstrelet, was more in the English tradition than in the French. The singing, however, in the opinion of a usually critical witness, was of a good standard.

After the ceremony, a great feast followed. But the organization of it left much to be desired, and the food was said to be very poor, having been cooked three days before, 'which', one Parisian wrote, 'seemed very odd to the French'. Equally prone to contemporary criticism were the celebrations which followed the feast, condemned by the same Parisian as quite inadequate since they failed to bring to the tradespeople the profits which they had a right to expect. In spite of the welcome given to the King at a moment of considerable poverty and at a most unfavourable time of year, by the day he came to leave nobody, it was said, had a good word to say for him since neither he nor the English had given much in return. Perhaps not surprisingly Henry stayed little more than a week in Paris before setting out on the journey which was to bring him back to the French coast by way of Rouen and Abbeville. By early February 1432 he was back in England. He had left his French kingdom for the first and last time.

Later in February Henry made his entry into London with ceremony not unlike that with which he had been greeted in Paris some weeks earlier. Again the King was met by members of the London guilds, formally dressed. Whereas in Paris Henry had been greeted by the nine male and nine female worthies, the emphasis in London was to be upon figures representing the kingly virtues, strength (leading to victories over enemies) being prominent among them. Once more symbolic birds were used and, as in Paris, a boy 'rayed lyke a kyng' was to be seen, this time sitting among female figures representing Mercy, Truth and Reason. A reference, in one account, to 'a tabernacule, and there yn syttynge a kynge whythe a ryalle aparayle' suggests a canopied structure similar to that from earlier accounts cited here. Finally an antelope bearing prominently the arms of England and France was a close parallel to the live stag doing the same in Paris. In spite of the differences, seemingly similar ideas had been running through the minds of those who had designed the tableaux in the King's two capitals.

Henry was now something extraordinary, the twice-crowned king of two kingdoms, in theory united through him, in practice at war with each other. The coronation in Paris was to make the matter of peace and reconciliation between them difficult, if not impossible. Henry's long visit to France (in all it lasted over twenty-one months) at an impressionable age must have made him feel that he was the legitimate king of France, now formally received and crowned. Certainly the coronation could and would be used to strengthen his legal claim, with the effect that in future English negotiators, when pressed to abandon Henry's title to the French crown, could point to the events of December 1431 and reply that they could not 'un-king' their king. Any concession which might be made by Henry or, worse still, by anyone acting on his behalf, had to take this fact into account. The coronation in Paris had made it almost impossible for the English to make any face-saving diplomatic concession. More than that, it committed them to the military defence of their king's right. As events were to prove, only a French re-conquest, achieved by force of arms, could effectively resolve the impasse once and for all.

Dorothy Styles was Lecturer in History at Birmingham University and is the editor of Ministers' Accounts for the Collegiate Church of St Mary's Warwick, 1432-85 (1969).