Memorials of the Tower of London

De Ros, William Lennox






THE Battle of Agincourt, that extraordinary victory, gained, against all the usual chances of war, by the cool and deliberate courage which has been from the earliest times the characteristic quality of English troops, filled the Tower with illustrious and noble prisoners.

The Chivalry of the times, though it led the captors to spare the lives of persons of birth and quality, did not prevent them from taking every possible pecuniary advantage of the unhappy position of their prisoners. The personal captivity of a great landed proprietor was consequently a cause of the utmost distress, and damage, to his estates and family. Too often it occurred, that the neighbour encroached; the tenants eluded the payment of their rents and services; the stewards, and all concerned in the property, took advantage of their master's absence; and, worst of all, his feudal chief, or sovereign, frequently increased the evil by his extortions, instead of acting as a protector to the family and estates of the captive vassal.

Though Henry V. probably treated his noble prisoners


of Agincourt with as much courtesy and regard as was customary at the time, yet he was not a man to scruple at screwing out the utmost amount of ransom which a prisoner of distinction could produce, by heavy impositions on his vassals. Shakespeare's graphic dialogue between Henry V. and the royal herald on the field of battle shows the prodigious number of the French nobility that fell into his hands by that memorable victory:-

" King Hen.: What prisoners of good sort are taken ? Exeter.: Charles Duke of Orleans, nephew to the King; John Duke of Bourbon, and Lord Boucicault. Of other lords and barons, knights and squires, Full fifteen hundred."


We find from various authorities, that although these illustrious personages were, in the first instance, treated with the respect due to their rank and misfortunes, yet after time had been allowed them for free communication with their families and territories, in order to collect the vast sums demanded for their liberty, restrictions and hardships were imposed by their captor, as a means of inducing more prompt and effective measures on the part of their friends and dependants for collecting their ransoms. That of Charles of Orleans (who before his capture had the ill fortune to be grievously wounded in the battle) was fixed at an enormous sum, equal to about 500,000L. of our present money; and his noble companions the Dukes of Bourbon and Boucicault died in


the Tower, while vainly awaiting the collection in France of equally large ransoms, levied with much delay and difficulty, on the inhabitants of their exhausted and ruined lands.

It was this Charles of Orleans who, a very few years after the murder of Richard II., married his young widow, Isabella, who had been sent back to France by Bolinbroke. Perhaps there is not in all his plays a more beautiful and touching scene than that in which Shakespeare describes the parting of Richard with his young queen. Isabella did not long survive her marriage to Charles of Orleans, who deeply lamented her death, little aware of the wretched existence which awaited her, had she survived to bewail the long and sad captivity in which he afterwards languished in the Tower, till his ransom was at length paid in the year 1440, after an imprisonment of twenty-five years, the greater part of which was of a rigorous nature, though relaxed a few years before his release.


[1] HENRY V., act iv. scene 8.