Saturday, 10 March 2018

Marrying Mistress Merlay: how Mearley became one of my ancestral homes. Part 1.

Figure 1. Mearley from the Keep at Clitheroe Castle:
 the Merlay Vaccary was located on the slopes of Pendle.
[please click on this image, or any of the others for a larger image]

Like nearly everybody else researching one's family history, I was expecting to, and had found a peasant farmer at the end of each branch of my tree.  With the exception of one other surname, all of my other branches were stalling at a point shortly before the date when King Henry VIII's new registers of christenings and deaths were established.

For several years, for my Nowell's , I thought that I had found my founding peasant farmer, in the form of one John Nowell, who had died 1525. (my 13 x great grandfather, twice over [1])

He had lived at Read near Whalley in Lancashire.

This belief persisted until I discovered the works of the Revd Dunham Whitaker. (1759-1822).

Whitaker who was Vicar of Whalley was one of those indefatigable antiquarians, who had both the time and inclination to research the history of his family, and that of the community that he lived in.

For reasons that I can hardly fathom, nobody seems to have thrown anything away. Christopher Townley in the early 1600's had found a pile of documents several feet deep on the floor of a turret at Clitheroe, and other nearby houses seem to have had muniment rooms filled to bursting, all of which Whitaker was able read at his leisure.

Whitaker himself was by happy chance related by marriage to the Nowell's [2], and as a result Whitaker's two volume book "An History of the Original Parish of Whalley and Honor of Clitheroe.... " contains a great of material about about the Nowell's and all of their many relatives through marriage. 

Reading these volumes, was for me was like falling into a Black Hole, or going into a time warping machine, because suddenly I found myself speeding and tumbling back four hundred years on more.

Suddenly, I had almost a surfeit of information.

On the 23rd of August 1138, the Scots encountered the local army of Yorkshire levies commanded by William le Gros, Count of Aumale and Earl of York, who was supported by Ralph Nowell, Bishop of Orkney.

Ralph is credited with having given a rousing speech directly following Aumale's shortly before the start of the battle.

Figure 2. A map showing the border between England and Scotland in 1138.

Much to the surprise of the Scots, under King David I, it was the English who won.  This caused the Scots to retreat northwards, and allowed the English to regroup.

In many ways it is a misnomer to call these wars Anglo-Scottish Wars.  They were really civil wars being fought out under the command of two cliques made up from Norman warlords with land in England and Normandy, as well as Scotland.  They were contesting the rights to exploit the lands previously held by a much larger number of semi-autonomous tenants and other local inhabitants.

These tenants and locals, who had seen their rights to the benefits of these estates removed in most cases were now to be called up, often probably against their wishes, to become members of their local warlord's armies.

The families who ruled in the south of Scotland and the north of England, were almost all from Normandy. However, while some of them may have been in the boats which arrived at Pevensey in 1066, far more seem to have arrived at subsequent landings that took place in Holderness and the Humber Estuary during the period from 1100 until about 1135. [4]

It appears very likely that the Nowell's, the Stuteville's and the Merlay families originally arrived in Holderness, and initially saw service under the Count of Aumale, in the early 1100's having very probably campaigned in Normandy for the count many times previously.

Aumale is a frontier town on a strategic crossing of the River Bresle, at the northernmost point in the Norman territories. It was very exposed to the French kings forces, and was constantly being fought over.  It has changed hands many times over the years.  In future blogs I will explore, this in more detail.

It is not clear where the Merlay (also spelt Meslay) family came from, however it is very likely to have been from the villages a few miles south of Chartres.

Figure 3. Geoffrey de Meslay, Vidame to the Bishop of Chartres.

A Vidame was the leader of the knights in the service of a bishop.  During the 1100's it was quite usual for Bishops to have their own armies. Geoffrey, on the left is one of only two knights shown on all of the 176 stained glass windows in the cathedral.  While it is unlikely that Stephen Merlay was closely related to Geoffrey, they were contemporaries, and it is possible that they were cousins.

Figure 4. The older Motte at Morpeth Castle

The Merlay family initially seem to have been given lands a few miles inland of Scarborough on the northern limits of the count of Aumale's Holderness domain.  Through marriage they gained Burton Agnes Hall, where a crypt from the period still survives.  Roger de Stuteville, a younger son of the Roger de Stuteville who had fought in the battle of the Standard, was probably the builder of the earliest work at the Hall, in the basement of the building to the west of the present mansion. This Roger had a son Ancelm, who died without issue, and five daughters, Alice, Agnes, Isabell, Gundreda who was a nun.

Alice became the wife of Roger de Merlay the I, son of the founder of Newminster Abbey in the County of Northumberland (1137). This Roger de Merlay was succeeded by a second Roger, and he again by a third Roger. [5]  This may be why so many of the eldest sons of the Nowell's were later to be called Roger.

Roger's Grandfather, William De Merlay had been given the tenancy of Morpeth, possibly as early as 1088, although the castle probably dates from a little later. [6]

Morpeth was a strategic crossing of the River Wansbeck, used by Scottish cattle dealers and drovers, and was the de facto frontier with Scotland for most of the 12th Century.  The De Merlay family built the castle on the south bank of the river at Morpeth from which to control and very probably tax the cattle trade as it came south over the bridge from the market that took place in a very wide street to the north of the bridge.

Figure 5. The Medieval bridge at Morpeth, on the road that the cattle took south.
The modern deck sits atop Medieval piers, and is barely
 wide enough for one mature beast at a time.

During the 1138 campaign, Morpeth was particularly badly damaged by the Scots, and the Merlay's new Abbey at Newminster, was sacked just a year after it been founded.

Figure 6. Map from M.A. Atkin, "Land Use and Management
 in the Upland Demesne of the De Lacy Estate of Blackburnshire c. 1300,
 showing the location of the 29 Vaccaries.

I believe that it was during the reorganisation, immediately following the Scottish invasion of 1138, that it was decided to send Stephen Merlay to Pendle.

It is not known how he fits into the wider Merlay family tree, however as he is one of my 23 x great grandfather's I would dearly love to hear from you if you know!

The lands upon which Mearley was founded, belonged ultimately to the De Lacy family, who owned Pontefract Castle together with many others.

In order to make the most of what was very poor and wet land in the Pendle Forest compared to their other lands in Yorkshire and Normandy, the De Lacy family decided to develop a series of deer parks and cattle ranches, called Vaccaries.

In 1189, Matilda de Percy had written about Sawley Abbey, just a short ride to the north of Mearley, when she said that it stood

"in a cloudy and rainy climate so that crops, already white in the harvest, usually rot in the stalk; and the convent, for forty years or more, has been oppressed by want and lack of all necessities through the intemperate weather."

Although it is not certain how, if at all the Vaccarie at Mearley was connected or related to the De Lacy owned and operated Vaccary, it is clear that Mearley operated in a very similar way to those run by the De Lacy workforce, that M.A. Atkin believes were organised directly.

Perhaps De Lacy had originally planned to have 30 cattle farms, but found that he had a willing tenant for the one at Mearley. Perhaps the Merlay family were able to demand better terms than the other local farmers.

Figure 7. Map from M.A. Atkin, marked to show Mearley
 in relation to the other vaccarie.

These vaccarie were clearly substantial operations, with the De Lacy records showing that between £500 and £800 a year was being sent to the De Lacy coffers in Pontefract by 1300.

It is hard to estimate the stocking rate, but a report written in 1869 stated that land in the Pendle Forest was able to carry one cow per three to four acres.

Figure 8. The parish boundary of Mearley superimposed on a Google Earth image.
The red markers are Great Mearley, and the blue ones, Little Mearley

The 1910, 6" to the mile Ordnance Survey map states that Mearley encompasses 1509 acres.  If Atkin is correct, at 4 acres per cow, that would be  377 beasts, and at 3 acres per cow, 503.  It seems unlikely that such large numbers of animals were carried at any one time, not least because there appears to have been an element of arable farming going on, at the property judging from the ridge and furrow visible on the flatter land towards Clitheroe.

I expect that it might have been nearer 200 in Winter.  I would welcome an informed opinion from a local farmer.

Figure 9. Pendle and Mearley in winter, courtesy of Steve Wignall.

Atkins records that other De Lacy vaccarie holding between 80 and 230 animals over winter.

What is certain, is that the cattle must have lived on the upper slopes and on top of Pendle. It appears that they probably met very few people, and were probably almost wild.  This is brought out by the very large cattle crush, or funnel built of dry stone walls that lead down into the Great Mearley settlement.

Figure 10. Little Mearley is situated in the trees below the deeply incised Clough,
 and Great Mearley below the sinuous track to the right 

Notice how the walls come down the slope from Pendle in a funnel shape, directly above the sinuous track into Great Mearley.

The sheer size of the cattle crush, for that's what I believe it is, and the substantial nature of the walls, suggest that some fairly large numbers of cattle were being brought down.

How did Adam Nowell secure his heiress?

How did he secure the land, and lay the foundations of his family's fortunes?

Both of these questions will probably always remain impossible to answer.

However writers including Christopher Norton [8] have studied the activities of Ralph Nowell, Bishop of Orkney, who we last met cheering on the Yorkshire levies as they fought off the Scots in the fields outside Northallerton in 1138.

In early Medieval times many clergy were married, and indeed Pope Benedict IX dispensed himself from celibacy and resigned in order to marry.
During 1074, Pope Gregory VII said that anyone who was to be ordained must first pledge celibacy, and that priests must first escape from the clutches of their wives, before they could be ordained.

By 1095Pope Urban II was having priests wives sold into slavery, children were abandoned.

It is clear however that into the Twelfth Century, clergy were still getting married, or at least cohabiting, and having families.  In 
1123-Pope Calistus II at the First Lateran Council decreed that clerical marriages were invalid, but in 1139, Pope Innocent II still felt it necessary for the Second Lateran Council to be asked to confirm the previous councils decree.

Yorkshire was a very long way from Rome, and it appears that Ralph Nowell must have been married [9] as Norton shows Ralph Nowell (still alive in 1154), having five sons, Gilbert canon of Ripon, Peter Priest of Wakefield, Adam the priest, Thomas and Paulinus of Leeds, who died circa 1202.

Intriguingly Alexander Nowell who became Dean of St Paul's immediately following the accession of Queen Elizabeth I, was married, and probably ruined his chances of promotion thereby. The Queen would accept married priests, but preferred her Bishops celebate.

There is no mention of Ralph having had any daughters, but this may quite possibly be because they had no property of their own, and therefore don't appear in records.

Norton believes that Paulinus married a daughter of Lefwin de Marisco, and to have a daughter called Ralph Nowell who was alive in 1227.  Several other Nowell's are mentioned including John Nowell chaplain de Marisco.

All of these Christian names were frequently used in every generation of the Nowell family until well into the 18th Century, and often beyond that date.

Adam is very probably connected with one of these families. But how to find the connection is likely to be a challenge, although I have access to resources, and in ways that the Revd Thomas Dunham Whitaker could only have ever dreamed of.

In part 2, I will go on to discuss aspects of the landscape at Mearley that raise really intriguing questions, and also to look at how the estate evolved over time.

I will also discuss a hypothesis that is developing in my mind, about the type of cattle that were present on Pendle all of those years ago.

If you have anything to add to the above, or would like to ask a question, please contact me at

[1] John Nowell had two wives. The first in 1486 was Douse [3], daughter of Robert Hesketh of Rufford. From this marriage, many generations later, Dorothy Nowell, married James Barton at the Collegiate Church in Manchester on the 7th of January 1787 to become one of my 4 x great grandmother's. By his second marriage, before 1505 John Nowell married Elizabeth Kay, daughter of Robert Kay of Rochdale, gent. From this second marriage were descended Alexander Nowell, Dean of St Paul's, Laurence Nowell, Dean of Lichfield, Robert, of Gray's Inn, Christopher & Nicholas.  There were also several girls, including Isabella, who married John Wolton of Whalley (my 12 x gt grandparents.)  From John and Isabella Wolton, was born James & John Wolton, together with several other offspring. This John Wolton became Warden of Manchester College in 1575, and then went on to become Bishop of Exeter in 1579. His daughter Mary, married my 10 x great grandfather John Baber, D. D., Rector of Tormarton and Vicar of Chew Magna.  During the 1880's, my Great Grandfather Harry Baber, married Clara Barton at Ramsbury in Wiltshire, almost certainly completely unaware that they were both descended from John Nowell who had died 350 years earlier. See "Dunham Whitaker: "An History of the Original Parish of Whalley and Honor of Clitheroe" volume 2.
[2] One of the other daughters of John Nowell and Elizabeth Kay was called Elizabeth who became wife to Thomas Whitaker of Holme, ancestor to the Revd Dunham Whitaker.  See "The Spending of the Money of Robert Nowell of Reade Hall, Lancashire, edited by the Rev Alexander Grosart, Vicar of St. George's, Blackburn, printed 1877.
[3] Also Dowse.
[4] See Paul Dalton, Conquest, Anarchy and Lordship, Yorkshire, 1066-1154. See also
[5]  See also Early Yorkshire Charters: Volume 9, The Stuteville Fee, edited by William Farrer, Charles Travis Clay. The Merlay's also appear in many of the other volumes of this work, as well as in Hodgkinson's Northumberland.
[7] M.A. Atkin, "Land Use and Management in the Upland Demesne of the De Lacy Estate of Blackburnshire c. 1300.
[8] Christopher Norton, St William of York, published 2006.
[9] Norton, pages 229 to 237. See Genealogical Table 4.  The family tree of Ralph Nowell and Paulinus of Leeds.

Monday, 11 September 2017

The Invasion of Normandy 1417, the siege of Honfleur

Figure 1: King Philip le Bel's shipyard at Rouen, with a fleet sailing on the Seine in the background. [1]

While searching for accounts in the original chronicles that describe the events of 1417 following the landing at Trouville, I have become aware of an intriguing inconsistency between the English and French accounts of the events that followed the landings.

Having recently visited many of the locations described, it became apparent to me that the English accounts have all overlooked, or played down a three week siege of Honfleur that took place in August 1417.

I believe that this reticence to discuss the siege was a conscious attempt to cover-up, what must have been a serious upset for King Henry and his officers at the time.

The successful defence of the port of Honfleur by the town's Armagnac defenders, may indeed have changed the course of the entire expedition, by forcing King Henry V to reconsider and to change the original objectives of his operations.

This collective overlooking of the events by the English chroniclers, has also I believe concealed a second phase of the naval operations in the Bay of the Seine in August 1417.

Figure 2: Honfleur Customs House, one of the few buildings thought to survive from before 1417.

Almost all the chronicles that refer to the landings in France in 1417, like Monstrelet or Gesta Quinti make only a passing reference to the later naval aspects of the operation following the actual landing in 1417.

In order to understand the strategic dilemmas that were presented to King Henry in 1417 by his possession of Harfleur, I believe that it is crucial to first understand the naval situation, before one can fully comprehend the later progress of the campaign in late August and September 1417.

By the spring of 1416 it had become clear that the capture of Harfleur in 1415 was the only tangible and lasting success that King Henry V could claim for the immense effort that the English had put into his attack on France besides the possession of a number of high profile French captives.

This effort had imposed a heavy burden on his kingdom, both in monetary terms through taxation and the raising of loans, and also from the losses of soldiers experienced at the siege of Harfleur.

Maintaining possession of Harfleur was becoming an increasing serious problem for the King and his advisers, because if the garrison capitulated, even this victory would be lost.

The port was closely blockaded by French forces operating from Montvilliers monastery, and several other nearby fortified villages.  The main French siege headquarters at Montvilliers was located less than four kilometres from the walls at Harfleur.

Due to the critical shortages of supplies inside Harfleur and the tightness of the blockade, the garrison were having to mount raids for supplies into the Pay de Caux, often riding out behind the French positions for  twenty or more kilometres away from their base.

However, by doing so they were running huge risks of being cut off upon their return into the town.

The hinterland controlled by the garrison of Harfleur was far too small to allow the town to be self-sufficient, and in any case, many of the former Norman inhabitants of the town had become refugees, or had died during the siege, leaving insufficient cultivators left to work the land.

If the King lost Harfleur, and there was every prospect of this occurring, it would mean that he would lose face and status by comparison to the French leaders, and this in turn might cause him to vital lose support back in England.

Although France was split by a vicious civil war, the outcome of the struggle between at Armagnacs and the Burgundians was uncertain, and at any moment one or other of the principle protagonists might succeed in overcoming his opponent, and then in combining France’s resources against the far less powerful English kingdom.

The shortage of supplies at Harfleur had become critical during 1416.  Sir John Skidmore and Reginald Courtoys, victuallers, along with others, were dispatched by the governor from Harfleur to the king on 6th April 1416 to bring him word of the towns increasingly desperate situation.[2]

To relieve the situation a major naval expedition had had to be mounted from Southampton under the command of the Duke of Bedford, the King’s brother with which to break the French naval blockade of the port of Harfleur. [3]

The French had had all the advantages in this contest because they had a very good naval base at Honfleur from which to operate from, located almost within sight of the beleaguered garrison at Harfleur just across the estuary, as well as from Rouen about 130km up upstream from where to support any attack on English shipping approaching Harfleur.

The outcome of the battle fought by the Duke of Bedford on the 15th of August 1416, while nominally an English victory, which had enabled Harfleur to be replenished, had come at a high cost to the English in terms of ships sunk, and men lost.  Out of an English fleet originally believed to have numbered about 300 ships, about 20 ships and 700 men-at-arms and 2,000 archers had been either killed or seriously wounded.[4]

If one re-supply operation had required such a major effort, and had cost so many vessels and men, what would be the recurring cost of the future re-supply operations required to supply the garrison be?

How could he re-supply Harfleur several times every year in the face of what might become a steadily reinforced French naval presence at the mouth of the Seine?

How was the King to prevent his sole symbolic acquisition from falling to the French?

How could he do it without placing such a burden on the English economy and people that they might decide to change the regime?

As Craig Lambert [5] and Ian Friel show in their recent research, the organisation of King Henry V’s fleets both for the Harfleur and Agincourt Campaign in 1415, and also for the 1417 invasion were colossal feats of organisation, and ones that demonstrates that the King had developed an experienced and sophisticated staff, led by Richard Cliderowe and John Everdon, able to mobilise these fleets in the relatively short periods available.

The fleet in 1417 included 256 ships, of which 124 belonged to English owners or to the King.  The others were hired in mainly from the Low Countries.  This fleet was considerably smaller in numerical terms than the one used in 1415 when the King appears to have mobilised between 700 and 750 ships, and was smaller than some of the earlier fleets used by Edward III, whose fleets had numbered from between 300 ships and 450 ships for his Brittany expedition.

The 1417 invasion fleet had approximately 117 Nautical miles (135 miles) across which to sail, and were able to make the crossing in favourable weather in two days.

Lambert shows that the crews required to serve the ships would have exceeded the numbers of soldiers that the ships were transporting, requiring a ratio of approximately 1.2 sailors to each soldier carried.[6]

The average number of soldiers carried will have varied widely depending on the size of the vessel, but by dividing the number of men to be carried by the number of vessels we get an average of 18 to 20 soldiers per ship.

I am unable to find any indication of the numbers of horses that the expedition carried, however evidence collated by Lambert (2017) [7] shows that the numbers of horses carried on other expeditions substantially exceeded the numbers of men.  In 1415 the duke of York had taken 770 horses for a retinue of only 450 men.

Dukes were allowed 50 horses, earls, 24, barons 16, knights 6, esquires 4 and archers 1.  So that despite the fact that most of the soldiers would fight on foot, many had ponies to give them strategic mobility, and to carry supplies, equipment and things like tents for the most senior individuals.

The numbers of horses carried per ship depended on the size of ship, but seems to have ranged from 28 or 30, with 51 on one particularly large ship.  The Chronicles also state that in August 1417 the army had substantial quantities of siege engines like Sows [8], as well as cannon, all of which would need carrying across to France.

Although there were over 200 recognised ports around England in the medieval period, the ships in 1417 came from only 50 of these ports, situated along the south coast and as far north as the Humber. 

These ports included small fishing villages like Cromer, Sheringham, Wells-next-the Sea and Thornham.

The average size of English vessel used was only about 78 tonnes, while the average size for the hired in foreign vessels was surprisingly even lower at only 57 tons.

It appears that although there were larger English merchant vessels ranging between 200 and 300 tonnes in burden available that undertook important wine trade to Bordeaux, it appears that these ships were not taken up for service.  Lambert argues that this may have been to avoid disrupting the trade which brought in desperately needed monies from import duties for the Exchequer, and also to avoid potential for political issues with the powerful City merchant interests.

The mouth of the Seine has a complex set of shallow sand bars at its mouth, and as it was the King’s intention to land on open beaches, or to penetrate into the mouth of the river Seine, it would have made good sense to use smaller shallow draft ships, crewed by men accustomed to landing onto exposed open beaches, like those from North Norfolk, rather than it would be to risk larger cargo ships.

The account of the landing at Trouville in my earlier blog post is based on Monstrelet’s Chronicle, which is written from a Burgundian point of view, and by an author located at a considerable distance from the events it was describing.

There are several other chronicles which describe these events from both the English and French points of view.  It is really interesting to compare and contrast their accounts which are written with a view to promoting their patron’s status and to appeal to their partisan potential readers point of view.

The following account comes from an early English translation of Titus Livius chronicle Vita Henrici Quiniti, made into English from the original Latin in 1513, which gives us a description of these events from an English point of view. [9]

Because his journey shoulde not be knowne to his enemies nor where he intended to arive, the Kinge kept his purpose secret from his companie, except that to such persons as was his pleasure he disclosed his councell. And for that cause he had commaunded that all the rest of his nauy should followe those two shipps Royall, whithersoeuer they woulde sayle.

To all the nauy it pleased God to send a good and plesaunt lo winde, vntill the first day of August they all arryued in Normandy, not farr from the Castell of Tonque. Then the watches and guardes of the sea banks, and of the havens of that cuntry, at the first perceauinge so greate an navye, whose streinght they knewe themselues not able to resist, left there stations and fledd to saue theire lyues.

The Kinge wth all his companie arriued and tooke land, where at his first landinge he dubbed 48 knights of his hoast, such as were able and worthie of that order; and that done he ordered to be pro- claymed all those ordynaunces and edicts that were published tofore the besieginge of Harefleet, and also diuers other such as he thought to be good and proffitable for his hoast. Not farr from the sea banke where he landed were smale and ruynate howses, wherein the Kinge wth diuers other his most familliar and his householde seruants were lodged for that night. And the residue of his hoast were lodged in there tents & pavillions. And when all the shipps were vnladen and discharged of theire carriage he sent againe all the navy into England, except such shipps as were deputed for the carriage of gunns and other engines and habiliments of warr.

And except also such shipps as the Kinge had assigned to the Earle of Marche readily manned and apparrelled to kepe the sea peaceably and quiett.

And that done the Kinge sent noble men of armes and horsebacke to espie the situacion and streinght of the castell of Humplewe [Honfleur] and of other Castells, Townes and Citties nighe vnto those parts; wth gentlemen, wth manie prisoners and greate prayes of beastes, returned to the hoast in euerie thinge satisfied the Kings mynde, for as much as was there charge. There enemies assured of there comminge in so greate a number were all stricken w"" feare, everie man of them for himselfe conveyed there stufe, there beasts, theire graynes, and all other goods into Citties, Castells, and Townes, lo not knowinge whome the Kinge woulde first assiege. Then they prepared there holds, they strenghtened there Townes and walls wth stones and gunns and other things necessarie.

The account fits well with that written by Monstrelet, but adds several intriguing details.  It describes the French coast watching organisation, and how the watchers fled, quite understandably given the scale of the fleet that was arriving on the tide.  The villagers at Trouville, evidently caught the sense of panic, and fled in turn, leaving their houses to their fate.

In the last paragraph, there is a good description of the King sending off reconnaissance parties towards Honfleur, and the other nearby castles.

Note also how “except such shipps as were deputed for the carriage of gunns and other engines and habiliments of war” and the “Earle of Marche readily manned and apparrelled to kepe the sea peaceably and quiet.”

History is written by the victors, and the victors will always attempt to overlook their setbacks and failures, and enhance their victories.

English accounts set out a timeline starting with the landing, followed by the capture of Bonneville, and then moving on directly to the capture of Auvillars, and then the siege of Caen.

It is when you turn to the French accounts of events, that a curious fact emerges.

There was a three-week siege of Honfleur by the English, and one which was unsuccessful, between the landing and the start of the attack on Caen, which does not get mentioned by the English historians.

The Chronicle of Saint Denys, contains the following description of the landing, and describes the landing operation, and the events of the first week in August as follows.  Like many Medieval Chroniclers, they wildly over estimate the size of the opposing army, however they understand the crucial importance of the control of the river ports on the Seine.

Chronique du religieux de Sant Denys contenant le règne de Charles VI,

“The King of England, delighted at the success [of his navy] which opened the entrance to Normandy, and considering himself already assured of the conquest of the country, embarked with all the forces of his kingdom, and fifty thousand archers, and arrived without obstruction, in the month of August, in view of Harfleur, the most important of the gates of all the duchy, which sends ships to all parts of the world.  The approach of the most violent storm would not have produced a greater terror than that which the arrival of the enemy spread over all the coasts of Normandy.

Everyone thought only of taking refuge in the strongest fortified places, as if to avoid the effects of the attack. The inhabitants of Toucques withdrew and abandoned their town to the King of England.

The prince thought then that it would be useful for him to have carefully guard the mouth of the Seine, by which every day passed all of the goods which were transported to Rouen and from Rouen to Paris, and that this would facilitate his army to have the means of roaming freely and ravaging the countries on either side of the river; consequently, he gave orders to attack Honfleur, a considerable port situated on the left bank. [10]

Those who governed the state in concert with the Comte d'Armagnac, constable of France, had foreseen this attack. They had also been careful to supply food and all kinds of defensive weapons to this town, which was besides surrounded by solid walls and a wide and deep ditch; In addition, there was a good garrison under the direction of an illustrious Norman knight named Betas de Harneville.

These brave men, summoned to surrender, not only refused to do so, as they had so often made between them, but they resolved by common accord to resist valiantly until death.

After vainly trying to shake their resolution by insinuate and exhortations and by the promises of perpetual franchises, the King of England ordered his men of war and his archers to begin the siege of the city.

Machines were erected around the walls, which were supposed to throw enormous stones with noise, seeming like that of thunder, and with a frightful assassination as if they had been vomited by hell.

For several days vigorous assaults were delivered against the city, and the besieged defended themselves with courage. They even had the boldness to make several clandestine sorties against the besiegers; they also threw from the top of the walls all kinds of projectiles, and killed some of the principal officers of the enemy's army.  The English finally grew tired, and seeing themselves frustrated in their hopes, they raised the siege and penetrated into the heart of Normandy. While they ran freely through the country without encountering resistance, the King of England sent messengers of peace to Bayeux, to Evreux, and to the other most important cities, to induce them to surrender, promising to confirm the old franchises of the inhabitants, so that they might, like their ancestors, taste the sweetness of repose and ease. These attempts were unsuccessful.

Wishing, however, to announce his expedition by some feat, he resolved to seize the town of Caen, the most important in Normandy after Rouen, renowned for its numerous population and the wealth of its commerce, and vowed not to let go that he would not have mastered it.

The French believed Honfleur to be a very strong town, knowing that it was furnished with arms and provisions of all kinds, surrounded by thick walls and large towers, and defended by a castle of great extent and almost impregnable. [11]

As far as I am aware, there are no earlier maps of Honfleur available than this map produced in 1656 by Jacques Gomboust. It shows the town as it was before the major redevelopment that took place between 1665 and 1685 when the two large basins were dug that such an attraction to tourists today. One of which largely removed a complete district of the Medieval town. (Dufau 2014)[12]

Figure 3: Honfleur in 1656. Courtesy of Gallica.

Although the walls shown in the 1656 plan have been greatly strengthened after 1417, following the serious sieges of the town that took place during the Wars of Religion in the 1560's and 1590's by the addition of two major Italianate bastions to the south of the town, it is still possible to make out some of the Medieval walls and towers in the plan that must have faced the English in 1417, buried inside the later walls.

The town in 1417 with its walls and towers was remarkably compact (approximately 280 x 195m), and in many ways it is closer in size to a castle, rather than a walled town. 

It was garrisoned by a highly experienced contingent under Betas de Harneville made up of many men who had experience of warfare at sea where even routine voyages could all too quickly turn violent. Until the landing their role had been to blockade Harfleur on a daily basis.

As described in Chronique du religieux de Sant Denys, the Constable of France had already had the opportunity to stock up the town with supplies.

Modern authors describe the landing at Torques and comment on the speed with which it was effected.

They believe that it took only a single day to land the forces, unlike the three or more days that it took to land in 1415 for the Harfleur operation.

I believe that this understanding is incorrect and needs reconsidering.

The 1415 landing had been made onto a rocky beach situated at the base of steep cliffs. The army had landed its siege equipment, onto this beach, and then had to struggled for several to get it up the escarpment and over the hills that overlook Harfleur.

The beach at Torques, although shallow is situated on a lee shore, and any shipping in the bay in the event of rough weather would have been at risk of becoming stranded.

I believe that the reason that the landing in 1417 only took one day, was not because it was a much more efficient landing than in 1415, but was because the King only landed his men and horses. Most of the supplies and a large proportion of the siege equipment remained on the shipping.

The reason for this was that King's aim was first to secure the hinterland inland of Honfleur with the aim of cutting the town off from support so that he could capture it from land.

To do this he planned to pass the shipping laden with the cannon and other siege equipment into the mouth of the Seine where they could be used to achieve his two objectives.

The first objective was to neutralise or capture Honfleur, and the second was to simultaneously to pass supplies into the beleaguered Harfleur.

Following the Trouville landing Titus Livius tells us..

And that done the Kinge sent noble men of armes and horsebacke to espie the situacion and streinght of the castell of Humplewe [Honfleur]

I believe that it is possible to work out the likely direction of these reconnaissance operations.

Figure 4. Conjectural naval operations in support of the siege of Honfleur in August 1417. Please click on image for larger version. [13]

As can be seen from Figure 4, Bonneville castle and Honfleur were located at either end of a large block of woodland.  These woods are situated on top of a ridge composed of blocky chalk, which is overlain with glacial clays.  This has resulted in a very unstable headland along the seashore, that frequently slumps to this day.  There is evidence however that a track ran along the tops of the bluffs and headland towards Honfleur.  I believe that this was the track used by the English scouts.

The woods were away to the east.  Once the scouts had arrived at the outskirts of Honfleur, they would have been able to summon the town, and to commence the blockading in preparation for the siege.  By the morning of the 3rd of August, the castle of Bonneville sur Toucques had started to negotiate for its surrender. The garrison had agreed that if the castle was not relieved by the 9th of August that it would surrender.

With his bridgehead secured, King Henry V was able to move his guns and other siege engines towards Honfleur, by coasting his fleet along the shore following a route parallel to that previously taken by his scouts.  In the event that any of the French naval vessels inside Honfleur, or from the base at Rouen arrived, the English would be behind the sandbanks in the mouth of the River Seine.

Scouts placed on top of the river bluffs would also be able to warn of any approaching force.

Figure 5. Modern Google Earth Image showing 1, the extent of medieval Honfleur, 2, the approximate High Tide line, 3, the approx Low Tide line, 4, the beach used to land the siege equipment

It is not clear if the King originally planned just a blockade, or if it was intended to capture Honfleur.

From the following text in Sant Denys, it looks as if they intended at first to capture the town.

For several days vigorous assaults were delivered against the city, and the besieged defended themselves with courage. They even had the boldness to make several clandestine sorties against the besiegers; they also threw from the top of the walls all kinds of projectiles, and killed some of the principal officers of the enemy's army.  The English finally grew tired, and seeing themselves frustrated in their hopes, they raised the siege and penetrated into the heart of Normandy. 

However, after several days of vigorous assaults and bloody repulses, the King may have begun to realise that he was running the risk of a re-run of the protracted 1415 siege of Harfleur.

With the garrison fighting for its very existence during the siege, and cannon very probably located on the sea shore within range of the mouth of the anchorage of the remaining French warships at Honfleur, the French were unable to interfere with the passing of supplies into Harfleur.  It is not known how many ships entered the river to Harfleur, or indeed how much food they were able to pass to the garrison, but it is clear that the King no longer had cause for concern over the situation at Harfleur for the following winter.

The King had dispatched scouts not just towards Honfleur, but also towards Dives sur Mer, Lisieux and also Auvillars.

These scouts probably had a number of functions to perform. Their principle role was to give the King early warning of the approach of any French relief force that might disrupt his siege operations, but they would also be tasked with driving in any cattle, sheep or pigs and horses that they could secure.

Over the first couple of weeks of August the scouts evidently moved fast, and across a wide swath of Normandy, and their approach caused panic amongst the local population, who seen to have been ill prepared to defend themselves against the English.  I will explore these operations in more detail in my next blog.

We don't know the exact dates of the siege of Honfleur, however it is believed to have lasted three weeks. If, as seems likely, it started by the 3rd of August 1417, it was probably abandoned on or about the 24th of August.

I believe it was the reports that the King was receiving from his scouts that caused him to rapidly reconsider his entire strategy during the period between about the 15th of August and the 21st of August.  The scouts reports were that cities like Lisieux were being abandoned at their approach, and that many smaller castles were surrendering on first summons.  It was becoming clear that the Armagnac parts of France were in no real position to resist his army, if he could move fast enough.

He was gambling that he could secure a large enough city and region before the French could recover from their surprise and unpreparedness, and mobilise forces with which to counterattack him.

In 1415, when the King had left Harfleur for Calais, the French had sunk their differences very quickly, and forces had very quickly been moved to prevent his movement across the river Somme.

He must have appreciated by just how tight a margin he and his battered army had survived the events at Agincourt in 1415.

It was unlikely that he could repeat the march to Calais in 1417, as besides the rivers he had crossed in 1415, he would have also had the Seine to cross. His army in 1417 was smaller than that in 1415, which suggests that he had a smaller operation in mind when he had planned his operations in the Spring of 1417, than the one he had fought in 1415.

With Honfleur unlikely to fall quickly, King Henry faced several dilemmas. Much of his army would wish to return to England by winter, and he had no port secured from which to re-embark his forces.

Needed to capture a port and a town or region large enough to give him security in France, so that he could retreat if necessary.

The ports at the mouth of the River Dives to the east of Caen were the only option open to him, unless he could capture Caen itself.

With reports reaching him from his scouts that told him of his enemies unpreparedness, he began to realise that he had  a fleeting opportunity to capture Caen.

I believe that with Harfleur replenished for another winter, and Honfleur resisting fiercely, this is why he abandoned his siege of the town, which was not to fall into English hands until 1419.

Sadly the accounts of these events in the Chronicle's fail to mention any of ordinary men's  experiences.

However, John Nowell, as an archer may well have spent time in the trenches surrounding Honfleur.

He must have wondered at the cannon that were firing into the town with so much violence and noise.

Machines were erected around the walls, which were supposed to throw enormous stones with noise, seeming like that of thunder, and with a frightful assassination as if they had been vomited by hell.

Robert, as a household servant of Richard Beauchamp presumably had a more comfortable existence at the siege, perhaps living under a flap at the rear of his masters tent.

[2] Jonathan Sumption. Cursed Kings, The Hundred Wars War IV, page 498-499.
[3] Ian Friel (2017) Henry V's Navy, 39-40. 126-138.
[4]Craig Lambert (2017) Henry V and the crossing to France: reconstructing naval operations for the Agincourt campaign, 1415, Journal of Medieval History, 43:1, 24-39’ DOI: 10.1080/03044181.2016.1236503
[5]Lambert (2017) page 25.
[6] Lambert (2017) page 37.
[7] Lambert (2017) pages 37-38.
[8] Sows, a covered hut on wheels used as a siege engine, which could be used to protect miners as they attempted to reach the base of the castle walls, or a gate. Often covered in leather to protect against fire arrows, or burning items being thrown down onto the sow as it advanced.
[9] Charles Lethbridge Kingsford, editor, The First English Life of King Henry the Fifth written in 1513 by an anonymous Author known commonly as The Translator of Livius
[10] Chronique du religieux de Sant Denys contenant le règne de Charles VI, volume 2. Page 101 and 102.
[11] Chronique du religieux de Sant Denys volume 2. Page 102 and 103.
[12] Dufau, B. 2014, Evolution du Port de Honfleur, see
[13] Based on a Cassini map dating from circa 1750, from the Dave Romsey collection.  L'Havre has been removed.  The off-shore sandbanks may have been in different locations, and the channel of the Seine has moved a great deal since 1417, when it is known to have flowed much closer to the walls of Honfleur than it does today.

Monday, 28 August 2017

The Invasion of Normandy August 1417, Landing at Torques

Figure 1. Trouville Beach, the site of the landings on the 1st August 1417. The north shore of the Bay of the Seine can be seen in the distance.

“King Henry of England, accompanied by his brothers the dukes of Clarence and Gloucester, a number of other nobles, and a numerous army, landed at the port of Touques in Normandy, with the intent to conquer the whole of that duchy.  The royal castles at Touques was speedily invested on all sides, which caused the governor, Sir John d’Engennes [1]to surrender it within four days on condition that he and the garrison should depart with their effects.  Within a short time afterwards, the following towns and castles surrendered to king Henry without making any resistance:  Harcourt, Beaumont-le-Roger, Evreux, and several others, in which he placed numerous garrisons.”[2]

Amongst those who landed were two members of the Nowell family, the first was Robert Nowell, a household servant of Richard Beauchamp of Bergavenny, (1397-1421/22) [3] Earl of Worcester, and later Lord Bergavenny.

The second member of the Nowell family to land was John Nowell, who was an archer in the contingent of William Swinburne. [4] Sir William Swinburne, who came from Essex, had previously been appointed as the Captain of Marck, a castle forming part of the outer defences of the Pale of Calais, located in marshland very close to what is now the main motorway into the modern port of Calais, in 1408, and who had become an M.P. during 1414. Swinburne’s indenture in 1417 required him to provide four men at arms and fourteen archers.[5]

Sir William Swinburne was the son of Sir Robert Swinburne, by his second wife. He had an elder half brother called Sir Thomas Swinburne (1357-1412), who was the offspring of Sir Robert Swinburne's first wife, and who had served in Calais in 1395.

Amongst Sir Thomas's archers in 1395 was Richard Nowell of Read in Lancashire, so that it is entirely possible that John Nowell was following in the footsteps of earlier generations of his family by taking service with the Swinburne family. [6]

Most of us are aware of the Battle of Agincourt fought in 1415 by King Henry V and his army of archers. Few people today however are aware of the later campaigns fought in Normandy in the aftermath of the victory at Agincourt.

Thanks to the work of Professor Anne Curry of Southampton University and her Medieval Soldier Project [7], which has developed a database containing the names of several thousand individuals who took part in those events, and which are recorded in the indentures and musters that survive in the National Archives at Kew, and in Paris and Normandy to this day, I am finding that I can track the activities of many of these men from 1370 until 1444.

The records become particularly revealing after 1417, and this has led to my visiting many of the locations that they campaigned over during this summer, the 600th anniversary of the original landings.

In the projects database are at least 164 entries that refer to the Nowell family including about ten individuals from Read in Lancashire.  Some of whom I am descended from, or closely related to.

There are approximately 25 separate individuals listed, however because several appear in more than one entry, and a "John Nowell", for instance may be from one or more families or generations, it is not possible to be absolutely sure who is who, or how many John's there were.

At present, I am unable except in a few cases clearly linked to Read to determine exactly which ones are my direct ancestors, and who are the more distant ones.

However it is possible to show that Gilbert Nowell, a Man-at-Arms, who served at the Siege of Harfleur in the contingent of Sir John, Lord Harrington, (1384-1418) was a younger brother of John Nowell of Read from who I am descended. ( -d 1433)

It is clear from the database that Lancashire provided a substantial number of the archers and men-at-arms who served in Normandy. In some cases like the Banastre family, these are closely related by marriage, while others must have known each other from attendance at Manor Courts, or the cattle fairs or markets in Clitheroe or Burnley.

There is a clear pattern that emerges across many of the families associated with these campaigns of that it is the younger sons going off to war, and not the heirs to the family estates.

In most cases the eldest son stayed in Lancashire to run the family farms and estates. The younger sons who would not stand to inherit the estates from their father's were expected to make their own way in life.

This often meant going into the church, which many members of the Nowell family did, or into the in the case of the ones listed, into the army.  In some cases the families appear to have invested in giving these younger sons a head start in their new profession.

It appears that Gilbert Nowell was set up as a man-at-arms by the family at some considerable expense, as the equipment for a man at arms must have cost the family a considerable amount of money to provide.

Other less well heeled individuals like Robert and John Nowell landing on Touville beach had less fortunate, and had had to take less exalted roles in the army as archers or servants.

When King Henry V's army had landed at the mouth of the Seine on the late afternoon of the 13th August 1415, after its two day passage from Southampton, they had landed at Chef-de-Caux.  The English soldiers, like many of their descendants in more recent wars struggled with the local pronunciation, calling it Kidecaws.[8]

Figure 2. Chef-de-Caux foreshore, site of the 1415 landing. [9]

On that occasion between 900 and 1000 ships had made the crossing. The very largest was the Trinity Royal, of some 540 tonnes. Most were much smaller, often 30 tonnes or less.  Approximately 12,000 men, plus horses and supplies had had to be landed.  This took three anxious days to achieve, with the King very conscious for all time that at any moment the French forces might arrive atop the adjacent hills.

Having landed the King had then marched his army to Harfleur, which he had hoped to capture quickly, giving him a defended port from which to mount operations deep into France.

However, the siege of Harfleur had turned into a protracted event lasting until early October, by which time many of his men had become invalids from illnesses caught in the trenches and from the insanity conditions in the camps surrounding Harfleur. Many had to cut away the seats of their hose, such was their condition.

For the 1417 operation King Henry V decided not to repeat his landings on the north shore of the River Seine, but to land to the south shore at the mouth of the River Touques.

Figure 3. Oblique image of the landing site at Trouville and the Bay of the Seine; courtesy of Google Earth

This made considerable tactical sense, as the main French forces in the area were stationed in the Harfleur area and upstream towards Rouen.

Planning for the landing had been underway for at least a year, and possibly longer.  When King Henry had returned to London from Calais following the battle at Agincourt, he had left a beleaguered garrison of 900 men-at-arms and 5,000 archers under the Earl of Dorset at Harfleur that controlled only a very limited area around Harfleur.

By early in 1416 the town was besieged  by the Armagnac forces under the command of Bernard of Armagnac, the newly appointed Constable of France. The only way to procure rations locally was to mount raids into the local countryside bypassing the local French garrisons at Montivillers only four miles from Harfleur, as well as in nearby villages and monasteries.


"A wretched cow’s head was sold for 6s 8d sterling, and the tongue for 40s and [there] died of English soldiers more than 500, in default of sustenance." [10]

France was however a deeply divided country, with the Burgundian and Armagnac's at each others throats fighting a savage civil war, and each represented a far more serious threat to each other, than did the forces of King Henry V.  The war with the English, was only a sideshow, or a distraction from a far greater threat.

This meant that the Armagnac's could only afford to divert a small proportion of their forces to defeating the English.  The other contingents had to be deployed to the Paris Basin to fight against the forces of John the Fearless.

The Armagnac's realised that the best way to force the English out of Harfleur was to cut off their supplies by land and sea.  To cut off the 150 mile sea route to Southampton, the French hired 20 galleys from Genoa as well as others from Castile with which to mount a blockade during the summer of 1416.  Individual English ships attempted to run the gauntlet to Harfleur.  Most were captured, however one succeeded by flying the French flag in bluffing its way into the town.

Raids were mounted on Portland, the Isle of Wight, and into Southampton Water by the French and their allies in an effort to prevent English shipping operating across the Channel to Harfleur.

Figure 4: The Mayor of Southampton's Seal showing a single masted English ship. The Geneose ships were believed to have included some two masted Carracks. [11]

The King's brother John Duke of Bedford was ordered to assemble a fleet for the relief of Harfleur, and on the 15th of August 1416, a six or seven hour battle in the mouth of the bay resulted in a significant victory for the English, who were able to capture or sink several of the Genoese vessels, which were much larger than the English vessels.

Losses were heavy on both sides, with the English losing around 20 ships. Three of the large Genoese Carracks were captured, and another destroyed, as well as a French coq being secured.  The English believed that they had killed about 1,500 French and captured about 400 more. They themselves lost about 700 men-at-arms and 2,000 archers, however they claimed victory because they were able to break the blockade and to take much needed supplies into Harfleur.

It must have been clear however to King Henry and his advisers, that another relief effort would become necessary before too long if the garrison at Harfleur was not ultimately to fall, but that this further operation would have to take place in the following year, 1417, as the winter gales would rule out any substantial effort before then.

By February 1417 messages were being sent out to the County Sheriff of Kent as well as many others, instructing them to begin assembling their forces.

Rex Vicecomiti Kantiae, Salutem.

Cùm, in propria Persona nostra, simus, cum Dei adjutorio, versus partes Franciae, pro Recuperatione &; Adeptione Jurium &; Haereditatis Coronae nostrae, ut cunctis satis liquet, à diu per Adversarium nostrum Franciae injuriosè detentorum &; occupatorum, in proximo profecturi, Nos, considerantes qualiter, inter Gratiarum Donationes, Nobis à Deo, nuper, dum in partibus illis ex hac causa eramus, variè collatas, idem Deus Nobis, non nostris Meritis, set suâ ineffabili Bonitate, inter caeteros, per Sagittarios nostros, suis Sagittis, Gratiam atque Victoriam Inimicorum nostrorum multipliciter infudit, Ac proinde de sufficienti Stuffura hujusmodi Sagittarum, cum ea celeritate, qua commodè fieri poterit, &; pro meliori expeditione praesentis Viagii nostri, provideri volentes,
Tibi Praecipimus, firmiter Injungentes, quòd statim, visis praesentibus, per Ballivos tuos ac alios, quos ad hoc nomine tuo duxeris ordinandos & deputandos, in singulis Villis &; aliis Locis Comitatûs tui, de quacumque Auca (praeter Aucas Brodoges vulgariter nuncupatas) Sex Pennas Alarum suarum, pro Sagittis ad opus nostrum de novo faciendis magis congruas &; competentes, pro Denariis nostris, de Exitibus Comitatûs tui praedicti provenientibus, in hac parte rationabiliter solvendis, cum omni festinatione possibili capi &; provideri, ac Pennas illas usque Londoniam, citra Qartumdecimum Diem Martii proximò futurum, duci &; cariari facias,
Et Nos tibi inde, in Compoto tuo, ad Scaccarium nostrum, debitam Allocationem habere faciemus.
Teste Rege apud Westmonasterium decimo die Februarii.
Per ipsum Regem.
Consimilia Brevia diriguntur Vicecomitibus subscriptis, sub eadem Datâ; videlicet,
Vicecomiti Wilts.
Vicecomiti Sur. Sussex.
Vicecomiti Midd.
Vicecom. Lincoln.
Vicecom. Cantebr. Hunt.
Vic. Essex. Hertford.
Vic. Sutht.
Vic. Bedf. Buck.
Vic. Oxon. Berk.
Vic. Norff.  Suff.
Vic. Somers. Dors.
Vic. Northampton.
Vic. Rotel.[12]

By March 1st, William Collyng and Richard Skall had received orders for 1,000 sides of bacon.

Presumably many hundreds of similar orders for victuals and supplies were being carried across England.

By July 1417 approximately 1500 ships had been assembled at Southampton, including many from countries including the Low Countries, Venice and Genoa. Genoa had agreed to provide six transports for £1667, despite their long standing agreements with France to whom they generally hired their warships.

There remained one serious impediment to the success of the operation.  Nine Genoese galleys, as well as a number of French vessels were known to be operating out of Honfleur, and these had the ability to seriously disrupt an invasion fleet made up very largely of very small fishing and merchant ships, with only a limited escort of warships to cover them.

John, Earl of Huntingdon, a 22 year old, veteran of Agincourt, was dispatched with a force which was successful in defeating and destroying nine Genoese galleys, off the Cap-de-la-Heve, which was the most north westerly point of the Bay of the Seine on the 29th of June 1417. This left the way clear for Henry's invasion fleet so that it was able to set sail for France on the 30th of July 1417.

The King appears to have originally planned to go to Harfleur, but then to have changed his mind, which intentionally, or otherwise helped to keep the French forces north of the river Seine.

Figure 5: An extract from an early 18th Century Map of the Trouville area, showing the location of Bonneville  Castle. Notice how the river channel of the Touques was much wider than it is today. Carte de l'élection du Pont-L'Evêque, généralité de Rouen, placée en la vicomté d'Auge.. [Please click on for larger version] [13]

The beach at Trouville offered a good location for the landing, as the range of wooded hills to the east screened the location from the nearest substantial French forces at Honfleur. The English could easily march to cut off and destroy the French shipping based at Honfleur, or push on towards Harfleur further up the estuary and just across the river from Honfleur. With both banks of the Seine secured, pushing supplies into the beleaguered garrison at Harfleur would be much easier.

Figure 6: The river Touques at low tide, approximately one kilometre inland of the current beach. [14]

Henry appears to have learned a number of lessons from his first landings, because this time he planned for, and was able to disembark his force in a day. The landing took place on the 1st of August 1417, on the long shallow beach shown in Figure 1.  The area along the shore is heavily built up today with the seaside towns of Deauville and Trouville.  This has dramatically changed the sea shore.

When Trouville was first developed in the 1880's as a seaside resort, considerable filling and reclamation took place along the water meadows and river flats in the river valley.

It is very probable that the estuary was much wider in 1417 than it is today, and because the ships used in those days would have been much smaller than today's vessels, and in most cases little different in draught to the yachts and small fishing vessels that use the port today, they were probably able to enter the river over the coastal bar, and then to pass up it for more than a mile at high tides.

The first serious obstacle to the King's further advance was the castle at Bonneville-sur-Touques.

In 1417, this castle which stands on a steep hill, just inland of the modern town of Trouville, may have dominated the landing area, at the head of the tidal zone. It was probably located at the first practical crossing of the river, which is much silted up today.

Figure 7: Bonneville-sur-Touques Castle.

On about the fourth of August the English forces commenced moving inland, and their first objective was to attack Bonneville-sur-Touques castle.  The castle is reported to have held a garrison of 500 men, however this figure seems very high for what is an otherwise fairly small castle.

Bonneville has a distinguished history going back to the days of William the Conqueror, who is believed to have supervised preparations for his invasion of England from it.

Figure 8: A Google Earth image showing the massive ring ditch surrounding the castle, as well as the surviving structures within it.

The Chroniclers give no indication of which of King Henry's troops it was that assaulted the castle, so we have no way of knowing what if any part  Robert and John Nowell played in these events.

The castle is situated on the side of a steep bluff, so that the top of the ditch nearest the church is considerably higher than the side to the south that faces the river. As such, the ditch can have held little if any water.

Figure 9: Showing the location of the castle in relation to the Touques River.

A very good article on the castles history, containing many old photos from the early 1900's can be found at

The castle suffered extensive damage in the course of the 1939-45 War when it has used by the German Todt organisation as a local headquarters. Today it is in private hands, and is only open on a few occasions every year.

On the day, I visited there was no opportunity to visit the interior, and lacking an army to lay siege to it, I was reduced to scouting it out. However, I did discover that a footpath led down from close to the modern entrance to the castle into the moat.

Figure 10. The upper section of the moat.

As you go down the path, it soon disappears into dense stinging nettles and other vegetation, but I was rewarded as the original stone revetting inside the bank becomes visible in many places.

Figure 11. Deep nettles proving a highly effective defences to today's intruders.

Figure 12.  The steep wall to the castle embankment.

Figure 13. Reaching the lower part of the moat.

At this point the ground under foot becomes much damper, and there appear to be springs feeding from the adjacent fields into the moat, and flowing down towards the bottom.

Figure 14. The village laundry.

At the bottom the springs combine into a small stream, that feeds the old village laundry site.

Did the garrison us the site for their washing I wonder?

There is a fine church on top of the hill, that in its current form is believed to post date the siege, and to incorporate stone recovered from the castle, when it subsequently fell out of use.  The church yard offers commanding views back over the river estuary, and must have featured as the jumping off point for any assault on the castle.  Old photos show that the main gate of the castle faced down towards the estuary, providing the castles principle means of defence.

Figure 15. The Church at Bonneville sur Touques.

Unfortunately during August this year the trees have been especially verdant, and these effectively block the view towards the castle from the churchyard.

Figure 16. The castle from the north west, and from the site of the church.

Was John Nowell one of those trying to beat the defenders from the ramparts, firing his arrows up over the walls?

From Bonneville, the King split the army into three contingents, and then proceeded to march to the south and west. This move was unexpected by the French, and very probably also by most of his own soldiers, but would lead to a series of stunning successes that led to the capture of almost all of Normandy within two years, and was to take him and many of his men on to Paris.

In subsequent posts, I will explore some of the other locations in Normandy with which I can associate my Nowell ancestors, who were to fully exploit many of the opportunities presented by the King's new colony in Normandy.

For most, the welcome sun, and richness of the countryside, must have made a great change from the cold and wet associated with herding cattle from Pendle and Whalley over the Pennines and down to Wakefield and beyond, which was the lot of their brothers and cousins back home in Read, Little Mearlay and the nearby villages in Lancashire.

If you are aware of any additional information that you feel might aid my research, I would be most pleased to hear from you at  Although my written and spoken French is not particularly good, I can read French and would be very pleased to hear from local historians in these communities in France.

[1] Sir John d’Engennes, then made his way to the castle at Cherbourg, where he was made governor. The Duke of Gloucester then laid siege to the city of Cherbourg, which fell to the English after ten weeks. Sir John d’Engennes had agreed with Gloucester to give up the place in return for receiving a sum of money. He was given a passport to go wherever he pleased by the English, and went to Rouen which had recently fallen to the English. He stayed beyond the expiry date of his passport and was seized by the English, who on orders of King Henry had him beheaded. Monstrelet, The Chronicles of Enguerrand de Monstrelet, Volume II, page 380.
Jean de Bonenfant and Michel le Comte, subordinate commanders under Sir John d'Engennes, secured their release from the English, where unfortunately their fellow Frenchmen took a poor view of their having surrendered the castle. They were arrested and then decapitated in Paris. Nouveaux essais historique sur la ville de Caen et son arrondissement by Gervase de la Rue, page 264, published in 1842.
[2]  Monstrelet, The Chronicles of Enguerrand de Monstrelet, Volume II, page 370.
[3] Richard Beauchamp of Bergavenny, (born c. 1397-d. 1422) earl of Worcester, TNA, E101/51/2, m5.
He had married Lady Isabel la Despenser on the 27th July 1411. He would die at the siege of Meaux in 1422.
[4] Muster Roll TNA, E101/51/2, m25, also
[5] La Normandie et l'Angleterre au moyen âge: Colloque de Cerisy-la-Salle, 4-7 ... By Véronique Gazeau, page 304.
[7] E101/44/30, no1, no1_m13
[8] Chef-de-Caux is now built over by the modern town of Sainte-Adresse. Kidecaws, Gesta Henrici Quinti, page 13.
[9] From Gallica
[10] William Worcester’s Boke of Noblesse, given in
[11]From the British Library Blog.  See for a very good description of these events. Catalogue Reference: E 329/430
[14] Photos by the author.