A Soldiers’ Chronicle of the Hundred Years War
College of Arms Manuscript M 9
Anne Curry & Rémy Ambühl
Hello and welcome to you both! Thank you for joining us in this issue of the Medieval Herald. May we begin with an overview of your research and studies to date?
Anne: Henry V has featured large since my BA dissertation at the University of Manchester on the treaty of Troyes. My MA looked at Henry’s lands as earl of Chester. But then I diverted to military organization in Lancastrian Normandy in my first post (and PhD) at what was then Teesside Polytechnic. At Reading and subsequently Southampton I moved back to the battle of Agincourt, but also to new ways of looking at the English army through an on-line database of soldiers 1369-1453 (medievalsoldier.org). More recently, after sorties into the parliaments of Henry VI and the Gascon rolls, I am back in Henry V’s Normandy, working on an on-line calendar of the Norman rolls and on finally bringing together all my research into a monograph on the English Army in Normandy 1415-1450.
Rémy: I trained as a teacher in human sciences in Belgium (1996-9) before studying history at the University of Lille (1999-2003). I crossed the channel for a Masters at the University of Nottingham (2003-4) which led to a PhD at Sant-Andrews (2005-2009), and eventually to my current position at the University of Southampton (2012-). My work has focused on the politics and ethics of war in fourteenth and fifteenth century France, England and Burgundy. I have developed a strong interest in the laws of war, their nature, how they formed, evolved and interacted with politics and diplomacy. My initial focus was on the study of prisoners of war (see my book Prisoners of War in the Hundred Years War (Cambridge, 2013) but more recently I have been looking at the surrender of castles and urban communities.
And do you remember when and why you first decided to specialise in medieval history?
Rémy: I think I do. It was during my training as a teacher in Belgium. My history teacher was a medievalist at heart and an inspiring one. He taught me how to raise questions.
Anne: Me too. It was the sight of a medieval castle (Lumley) out of my bedroom window as a child, and all the visits to medieval sites in the north. At Manchester Ian Kershaw, John Roskell and Richard Davies, and at Teesside Tony Pollard, inspired me to researching the later middle ages.
Now, College of Arms Manuscript M 9: tell us about its origins, authors and its history.
The M 9 chronicle was written for Sir John Fastolf, one of the most famous participants in the fifteenth-century phase of the Hundred Years War. It seems to have been penned in Fastolf’s household in the 1450s. A short preface by Fastolf’s secretary William Worcester tells us that its authors were Peter Basset and Christopher Hanson, both soldiers in the war. We have been able to reconstruct their military careers and to find out more about the scribe of the text, also mentioned by Worcester, Luket Nantron of Paris.
The chronicle is written in the French of France, making it the only known chronicle in that language produced in England in this period. The fact that the chronicle is the work of a team is also unusual, although we have strong suspicions that it was partly based on an earlier, but no longer surviving, life of Henry V by Basset.
It is certain that the chronicle was used by Edward Hall for his great history published in 1548, and also by a number of heralds, so we have spent some time considering how it might have ended up in the College of Arms.
And what exactly does it record?
The chronicle focuses on a short period of the Hundred Years War between 1415 to 1429. But these years, beginning with Agincourt and finishing with the entry of Joan of Arc to Orleans, is particularly rich in events – and exceptionally successful for the English. The work ends abruptly – presumably because Fastolf’s death in 1459 prevented its completion – but was intended to cover the whole of the 35 years from 1415 to 1450 (at least that’s what William Worcester tells us).
The work was written for Fastolf and he features prominently in it, but it is by no means a biography. It offers an account – tightly focused on military matters – of English conquests under Henry V and the duke of Bedford. Its most astonishing feature is lists – lots and lots of them – not just of English participants but also French and Scottish. More enemy are named than the home side. We’ve had to identity over 700 people and also reflect on why the authors were so keen to name names.
What does it add to our knowledge of the Hundred Years War?
Several chronicles cover the period, especially French and Burgundian. But our authors demonstrate an unequalled knowledge of the war in Maine which is little covered elsewhere. Also, its extensive lists of names show a deep local knowledge, although we have found that they are not always accurate. We have had to think about where the information came from, and also whether Fastolf himself fed in reminiscences. Are we seeing an example here of false memory syndrome?
Given its great value, why do you think it has remained unpublished until now?
It took some time for the chronicle to be identified. An Oxford B Litt student of the 1920s, Benedicta Rowe, was the first to evaluate it but thought it added little to Hall’s chronicle. K.B. McFarlane also drew on it for his work on William Worcester.
But it is a complicated text and it has needed considerable editorial input which has taken us many years to complete. That’s because of the chronicle’s multiple authorship and its long lists of names of people and places. All of them needed to be identified. These were challenging obstacles which must have discouraged scholars in the past towards producing an edition. But we are pleased we stuck at it.
When did you first decide to tackle it and what was it like working on the ms?
Anne: I first came across the chronicle during my PhD and made a transcript of it. Over the years I have dipped into it, including its account of Agincourt in my collection first published by Boydell in 2000 (The Battle of Agincourt. Sources and Interpretations). The English captains and commanders in the lists were familiar to me but I knew that it would be a huge task to identify the large numbers of French.
Rémy: Shortly after I completed my PhD Anne contacted me to work on the identification of the French names. This was my first paid job after I graduated at Saint Andrews.
Anne and Rémy: We have both been busy on other projects since then, but it has been great to get back to the chronicle, and work together on all of the questions it raises. We have been keen to look not only at the chronicle and the context of its production. But it also has a post medieval history which we have been fascinated by. We have also brought in experts on manuscripts, French language and sixteenth-century texts to work with us.
The book’s blurb includes the tantalising line that the manuscript “had an influence on Shakespeare.” What form did that take?
This is a really striking episode near the end of the narrative – the death of the earl of Salisbury at the siege of Orléans. This is a notably detailed passage for chronicle. Salisbury, peering out of one of the upper windows of a tower which had been recently captured from the French, was struck on the face either by a piece of the metal from the window frame or by a piece of the gun stone. He died from his wounds eight days later. The graphic description given by the chronicle is followed by denunciation of the shooter, the son of a gunner of Orléans. The father had left his son in charge of the gun whilst he went to have his supper, telling him not to use it. But the son found the opportunity to kill the English commander too tempting.
This account is unusual as it identifies the person who fired the gun. It’s also a story with much personal interest. No wonder then that it was taken up by Edward Hall. Whether Shakespeare too it from Hall or from Holinshed who copied all is tricky to know. But Shakespeare’s scene certainly originated in our chronicle.
What is next for you both?
Rémy: In terms of research, I’m continuing my work on surrender, setting in the broader context of international humanitarian law. More specifically, I am writing a monograph on the agency of citizens in surrenders, using the fall of Rouen in 1449 as my case study.
Anne: I am completing my on-line calendar of the Norman rolls, but also going back to my early work on Henry V and Cheshire which will be published by the Chetham Society.
And finally, what has your experience been of online conferences over the last two years? The hybrid model (online and in-person) seems likely to spread, at least in the short-term. What are your thoughts on conference formats these days?
Rémy: I have led the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Culture at the University of Southampton throughout the crisis. The move online was an opportunity which we wholeheartedly seized, organising conferences/study days with international outreach for participants and audience. But everyone misses the drinks and dinner afterwards and the informal chatting. For our next study day on cross cultural exchanges (31 May 2022) we are contemplating a hybrid format, as we don’t want to lose the outreach we have had in the past two years but we do also want the ‘human contact’ which we have missed.
Anne: I am retired now so it been very helpful attending conferences and seminars on zoom. That said, I much enjoyed the three conferences I was able to attend in France in the autumn of 2021. As Remy says, it’s the informal contact which you miss – and of course the cuisine!
ANNE CURRY is Emeritus Professor of Medieval History at the University of Southampton, and author of many works on the Hundred Years War, particularly on the battle of Agincourt. She also edited the 1422-53 section of the Parliament Rolls of Medieval England.
RÉMY AMBÜHL is lecturer in History at the University of Southampton and author of Prisoners of War in the Hundred Years War (CUP 2013) as well as several articles in English and French on the Hundred Years War, and is currently working on surrender, initially supported by a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship.
Cover image: Detail from Bibliothèque Nationale de France, manuscrit français 5054 (Martial d’Auvergne, Les Vigiles de Charles VII, c. 1484), folio 53v (the battle of Rouvray).