Monday, March 10, 2014

and “Truth”

France in 1429 C.E.

In a previous posting I took apart the book Conquest by Juliet Barker,1 about the conquest and loss of Normandy during the Hundred Years War. In the posting I criticized Juliet Barker’s book for being “Patriotically Correct”, and frankly biased and anti-French.

Here I will look at a passage in the book that serves as an illustration of bias. This describes the English attempt to retake the town of Lagny near Paris in 1432.
Bedford, meanwhile, was equally unsuccessful. At the beginning of May he had begun his second attempt in two years to relieve Paris by taking Lagny-sur-Marne. Despite throwing several temporary bridges across the Marne and building a fortified encampment surrounded by ditches which was larger than Lagny itself, his troops made no headway. They had to endure floods and a heat wave so powerful that some of the men-at-arms died from heatstroke because they were encased in armour: Bedford himself was said to have collapsed with exhaustion. And long-promised reinforcements from England failed to arrive.
Early in August the Bastard of Orléans, Raoul de Gaucourt, Gilles de Rais and Roderigo de Villandrando brought a large army to the relief of Lagny garrison. While the rest drew up in battle formation and kept the English busy with diversionary skirmishes and attacks on their encampment, Gaucourt slipped into Lagny from the other side with reinforcements and desperately needed supplies. The rest of the Armagnac army then withdrew towards Paris, still in battle formation, forcing Bedford to choose between continuing his siege and pursuing them to prevent an attack on the capital. When Bedford sent a message offering to fight them in a pitched battle, he was told in no uncertain terms that ‘they had done what they came to do’ and there was therefore no need for battle. Without the twelve hundred reinforcements, who were only just embarking from England, Bedford did not have enough men both to maintain the siege and protect Paris. On 20 August 1432 he therefore reluctantly raised his siege and returned to the capital, much to the disgust of its citizens, who were too afraid of the resurgent Armagnacs to venture into the countryside for the grape harvest, so that a shortage of wine was added to the lengthening list of their miseries.2
Now contrast that with this account:
In May, anxious to regain the initiative, the Regent laid siege to Lagny, a fortress which commanded the Marne and whose garrison was continually ambushing convoys on their way to Paris. The town was strongly fortified, guarded on two sides by the Marne, so Bedford blockaded it. A relief army under the Bastard of Orleans and the Castilian mercenary Rodrigo de Villandrando arrived on 9 August; no doubt the Bastard hoped to use the tactics he had employed at Montargis five years earlier.
On 10 August, a day of blazing heat, the Dauphinists tried to fight their way into Lagny and the besiegers tried to stop them. The struggle centred round a redoubt which defended the west gate; the English left wing captured it, but when their right wing was routed the Bastard attacked them and the townsmen joined in, the redoubt being retaken by the enemy. The Regent led another ferocious assault on the redoubt to stop Dauphinist wagons entering the city, and the fight surged backwards and forwards. At 4 o’clock Bedford reluctantly gave the order to disengage; the confused, untidy battle had lasted eight hours, several of his troops had died from heat-stroke and every man-at-arms, including himself, was exhausted—dehydrated, choked by dust, blinded by sweat, stunned and deafened by blows. (It is probable that Bedford’s exertions damaged his health permanently.) He had lost only 300 men but had suffered a moral defeat. He was further discouraged by a sudden change in the weather which brought heavy rain and caused the Marne to flood. When the Bastard made a feint as if to march on Paris, Bedford decided he had had enough and on 13 August raised the siege, abandoning his artillery.3
The description in the second account of severe fighting and the taking and retaking of a redoubt at the west gate do not exist in Barker’s account instead we get “diversionary skirmishes and attacks on their [English] encampment”. We also get the French refusing battle, indicating their supposed refusal to face the English in real battle. There is nothing about Bedford disengaging or an 8 hour battle instead. Further the English withdraw on August 20 and not the 13th. All in all the first account presents a far rosier picture of the engagement than the second and frankly the circumstantial detail of the second account rings more true. But what account is in fact “true”.
First it must be clarified just where Barker got her account and how she used it. It appears that Barker got this account from the Burgundian Chronicler Monstrelet:
At the beginning of this year, the duke of Bedford, styling himself regent of France, collected about six thousand combatants from different parts under his obedience, whom he marched against the town of Lagny-sur-Marne, held by the supporters of king Charles. There might be in that place from eight hundred to a thousand picked and well-tried men, under the orders of a Scots captain, called sir Ambrose Love, and sir John de Foucault, who valiantly conducted those under their banners. With the duke of Bedford were the lord de 1 Isle-Adam, marshal, sir John bastard de St. Pol, the bastard d Aunay, knight and lord of Orville, Philibert de Yaudray, the lord d Amont, and many others of notable estate, who had long laid siege to the town, to reduce it to the obedience of king Henry. There were numerous pieces of artillery pointed against the gates and walls, which they damaged in many places, and caused the greatest alarm to those of the garrison, for in addition, they were much straitened for provisions. The duke of Bedford had them frequently summoned to surrender, but they would never listen to it, for they never lost hopes of being relieved by their party, as in fact they afterward were. The besieged had thrown a bridge of boats over the Marne, for their convenience of passing and repassing, and had erected a bulwark at each end, the command of which was entrusted to a certain number of men-at-arms.
While these things were passing, the king of France assembled about eight hundred combatants, whom he dispatched to Orleans, under the command of the marshal de Bousac, the bastard of Orleans, the lord de Gaucourt, Rodrique de Yillandras, the lord de Saintrailles, and other captains of renown, to throw succours into the town of Lagny. They advanced in a body to Melun, where they crossed the Seine, and thence, through Brie, toward Lagny, being daily joined by forces from their adjoining garrisons. In the meantime, the duke had so hardly pressed the garrison, that they had offered to capitulate when the French forces arrived. The duke prepared with diligence to offer battle to the French, and sent for reinforcements from all quarters. He ordered his heralds at arms to signify to the French his willingness to combat them and their allies, if they would fix on the time and place. To this they returned no other answer than that, under the pleasure of God and of our blessed Saviour, they would not engage in battle hut when it should be agreeable to themselves, and that they would bring their present enterprise to a happy conclusion.
The French advanced in handsome array, in three divisions, to a small river within a quarter of a league of the town ; and the duke of Bedford, having drawn up his army in three divisions also, marched thither to defend the passage. When the two armies were near, several severe skirmishes took place at different parts : especially on the quarter where the heir of Warwick and the lord de 1 Isle-Adam were posted, a sharp attack was made by Rodrique de Villandras, the lord de Saintrailles, and other captains, who were escorting a convoy of provision for the town. In spite of their adversaries, they forced a passage for part of their convoy to the very gates, and drove in from twenty to thirty bullocks, a number of sacks of flour, and a reinforcement to the garrison of about four score men-at-arms; but this was not effected without great effusion of blood, for very many were killed and wounded on both sides.
On the part of the French was killed the lord de Saintrailles, eldest brother to Poton de Saintrailles. In another quarter, where sir Thomas Kiriel, sir John bastard of St. Pol, the lord d Amont, and Philibert dc Vaudray were posted, many gallant deeds were done, and several killed and wounded on both sides. The English lost there a gentleman called Odart de Remy.
These skirmishes lasted nearly till vespers, and as it was St. Laurence’s day in August, and very hot, the two armies suffered greatly from it. The French captains, perceiving that they could not gain any advantage, for the English and Burgundians were strongly posted, retreated with their army to Cressy in Brie, where they halted for the night, and thence marched to Chateau-Thierry and to Vitray-le- Francois, where they stayed four days. The duke of Bedford, knowing that the French intended entering the Isle of France, and fearing they might conquer some of his towns, decamped in no very orderly manner from before Lagny, for many things were left behind by him, and advanced towards Paris. Having collected his men, he followed the French to offer them battle again ; but they sent for answer, that they had gained what they had come for.
The lord de Gaucourt was of infinite service to the French by his wisdom and prudence. The French now left Vitry and returned toward Lagny, where the lord de Gaucourt remained : the other captains led their men to the garrisons whence they had come. The besieged were much rejoiced, and not without cause, at the departure of their enemies, for the siege had lasted upwards of four months, in which time they had suffered very great hardships from want of provision and other distresses.4
Now it is interesting to point out that Barker’s account lessons the aspects of Monstrelet’s account that although it talks of skirmishes, makes it known that they are serious. Further it admits that the French were able to get supplies into Lagny. The account alleges that the English offered battle before the French relieved Lagny. The account further alleges that the French got no advantage and withdrew. Given that the siege was shortly afterwards raised this is unlikely. Certainly the circumstantial detail in the account of Seward seems to call forward a defeat along with Monstrelet’s admission that the French were able to get supplies in. Monstrelet was a Burgundian partisan and it seems clear that he is down playing a reverse. Monstrelet admits Bedford left behind material. And of course Bedford offers battle again but the French don’t take it up.
All of this looks like an attempt to dress up a reverse, to down play it and to set up the English and Burgundians has so formidable that the French refuse to accept battle with them twice! It is of interest that Barker down plays in her version of this event, the severity of the fighting indicated in Monstrelet and ignores entirely Bedford leaving behind considerable material. As it is Monstrelet’s account is problematic. Esspecially considering it was written and then rewritten much many years later to conform to the purpose of glorifying the Burgundians and their Dukes.
It is obvious that Seward’s account is using different sources than Barker and certainly not Monstrelet, unlike Barker. So aside from other Chroniclers, which I could quote, is there a contemporary or near contemporary source that might help to settle the matter or at least tell us where the balance of probabilities is located. Well we do have such a source The Journal written by an unknown citizen of Paris, usually called the Bourgeois of Paris. He seems to have written his journal entries generally not so long after various events. He was a for a long time a Burgundian Partisan and he cannot be accused like some of the other French Chroniclers of bias in favour of the French. Here is the Bourgeois’ description of the battle at Lagny:
On St. Lawrence’s day, Sunday, [August 10], the English launched an attack upon Lagny, took the ramparts and established the regent’s banner on them. But it was not their long; the defenders, who were fresh and rested, came out and made a frontal attack on them, whilst the men who had come to help them came hurriedly up and attacked the English in the rear, so that the English had more than enough on their hands. The weather became un-usually hot just as the fighting began, hotter than anyone could remember, and this distressed the English more than their enemies did, so that they were forced to withdraw. Three hundred or more Englishmen were killed that day, either by their enemies or by the heat. It was no wonder for their was five Armagnacs [French] to two Englishmen,, so witnesses said, which is no small odds at a time like that. They had had to pitch their tents in the same place where they began to besiege Lagny, and unfortunately – since Fortune begins to turn against anyone, she piles one trouble upon the other – luck was against them in several ways. Between the Monday and the Tuesday the Marne rose four feet overnight and broke its banks. Indeed it rained twenty-four days in a row that July, and then in August there was a spell of extraordinary and unusual heat, which burned all the verjuice vines. Because of this, and because so much wine was being taken to the army, wine became very dear in Paris. What had cost 6d. in July, by mid-August cost three blancs. And even with the money you could not buy any; the tavern-keepers all shut up shop very punctually.
On the Wednesday of the octave of our Lady’s Assumption, St Bernard’s day, [August 20th], the Duke of Bedford, Regent, together with his troops, abandoned the siege of Lagny. They were so nearly caught that they had to leave their artillery behind, also their food all cooked and waiting, many hogsheads of wine, that Paris was so short of, and bread as well.5
It appears that Seward is wrong to date the withdrawal from Lagney on August 13th when the actual date was August 20th. Still the overall description by the Bourgeois of Paris is that a real battle occurred at Lagny on August 10th and that the English lost. It is interesting that Barker mentions at the end of her account a shortage of wine and produce in Paris at the same time. This indicates that she is familiar with what the Bourgeois wrote but she ignores the overall account of the Bourgeois of the battle which was not according to that account just some skirmishes.
Aside from the error of placing the withdrawal on August 13th and not the 20th it appears that aside from relying on other chroniclers Seward was relying on the Bourgeois, as indicated by Seward saying the English lost 300 men, like the Bourgeois. Since the Bourgeois’ account is fairly contemporary and apparently agrees with other chroniclers it probably is accurate.
Both Monstrelet’s and Barker’s accounts of the battle try to disguise and play down a failure and try to put the best face on it, Thus Barker showing her bias selected the account that made the English look better. Hence she used Monstrelet and ignored accounts like the Bourgeois of Paris’. And while using Monstrelet she played up and down played features in such a way as to make the English look better and to down play a significant defeat.
An example of bias.
1. Barker, Juliet, Conquest, Little Brown, London, 2009. The posting is at Here.
2. Barker, pp. 185-186.
3. Seward, Desmond, The Hundred Years War, Penguin Books, London, 1978.
4. Monstrelet, Enguerrand de, The Chronicles of Monstrelet, vol. 1, William Smityh, London, 1840, pp. 605-606.
5. Anonymous, A Parisian Journal, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1968, pp. 279-280.

Pierre Cloutier

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