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.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

The Great.... Aunt's Tale: Charlotte Baber

The first page of Charlotte Baber's letter to Francis Fowke.[1]

Please click on the image for a larger version.

When we read about our forebears adventures as they set off around the World, it is easy to overlook the pain and anxieties that must have been felt by those left behind; parents, grandparents, sisters, brothers, as well as former friends and acquaintances.

One of the saddest effects created by so many young men leaving for the Navy, Army or the colonies, however, was on all of the girls they left behind, their sisters, and the sisters of their acquaintances, with whom those boys had often grow up, and who they might well have expected to have  married in the fullness of time.

In my own Baber family tree, I have many such maiden "sisters" or "great aunts."

This is the story of just one of them, Charlotte Dorothea Baber (born circa 1750 - died 1814) who until a few days ago had existed for me as only a name set down on a few scribbled family trees from the 1880's, a will, and possibly her mortal remains in the crypt of Sunninghill Church.

As is often the case, with these chance discoveries, I stumbled onto the briefest mention of her in a website of Welsh Biographies, when looking for something else completely.

“How much longer Davies remained under the hospitable Walsh roofs I have been unable to confirm, but by good chance another letter in the Fowke Mss. (Ms. Eur. D.11 no. 17) tells us of Davies's situation in 1780. This letter, headed Wargrave, May 10th 1780, was written by a Miss C. D. Baber to her 'Dear Friend' Francis Fowke, whom it took just under a year to reach in India. It is eight pages of news, social chit-chat and sermonising from an old and close friend. 'Newly imported from the Metropolis, where I have been resident for these 3 months past in the House with my friend, Lady W. Wynn', Charlotte Baber had arrived back at her home in Wargrave (the family having recently sold Sunninghill Park near Ascot) when, to quote her own words, 'I saw Tutor Davies he looks as Gentle as ever. We talked you over I am glad to find Mr. Davies is so well situated he has the care of Master Dawson, son to Lord Darterry (sic). Lord D. is a man of real worth; and will I dare say esteem Mr. Davies according to his merits'.” [2]

Although the author of the article dismisses her letter as "news, social chit-chat and sermonising from an old and close friend", I thought that this was far to good an opportunity to miss, as it was going to be almost the only opportunity that I am ever likely to have to find out anything about Charlotte and her life.

Aliki-Anastasia Arkomani, of the British Library reference service was extraordinarily kind and efficient, and within hours of my initial request, I had a scan of the entire letter.

I had of course at that time, no idea what to expect to find in the letter.  However as I worked down its contents, I was amazed to discover just how much information, was contained in one single letter. It held a cornucopia of information, and of interest at all levels.

Here was a lady of about thirty years of age, still a spinster, and in those days obviously reaching an age where if she did not soon enter into matrimony, she will inevitably have to face her future as a old maid.

Her brother Edward  (1746-1827) had left for India in 1762, when she was about twelve, and was still out in the East. She was almost certainly unaware that he had in fact already left India due to increasing ill health in January 1780, and was on board "Het Lam", a Dutch East Indiaman, which meant that he would not reach England until January 1781.

Francis Fowke, by John Opie, Radnorshire Museums.

The letter was addressed to Francis Fowke, who had set out for India in 1773.   As the letter makes clear, Francis had clearly been a close childhood friend to Charlotte.  

Was she hoping that he still retained an affection for her?

Had she been waiting all these years, hoping against hope that he might arrive back home for her?

Because her writing is so good, I am going to post first the remaining seven pages of the letter, and then I will insert my transcription of the letter.

Into the transcript I have added end-notes that will I hope explain some of the background behind the contents of the letter.

Page 2 of Charlotte's Letter

Page 3 of Charlotte's Letter

Page 4 of Charlotte's Letter

Page 5 of Charlotte's Letter

Page 6 of Charlotte's Letter

Page 7 of Charlotte's Letter

Page 8 of Charlotte's Letter

Wargrave May 10th 1780.

Tho’ I have written to my dear Friend by the first ships of this season-yet I cannot suffer this opportunity to slip and not avail myself of it! This Vile War makes the mode of conveying our thought to each other; rest upon a very uncertain system; as our letters are in constant danger of being seized by those vile miscreants the French and Spaniards. This very idea puts such a check upon my inclinations to write; that I feel discouraged, even to take up the pen to my beloved Brother – as I fear some pirate will seize my sentiments, and give my thoughts to the winds, or the seas – tho’ we have hitherto been been successful, as but one of our India Merchant men have been taken; & that I think was the Osterley[3] – whether she had any letters on board for me, either from you, or my Brother is not yet come to my knowledge! If she had, I could not have received them; so must make up my mind, to the disappointment and with Female fortitude bear up against, the evils and calamities of this chequered Life; which abound’s with disruptions of various, kinds & sorts! Happy for you my dear Friend that you dwell in a Land where money seems to grow – for we are all undone in England – our very thought’s are Taxed – the Ministry seem determined to min us-but what have I to do with politics you’ll say – why truly I think I might busy myself in something more advantageous to female oeconomy, than suffer my mind to be agitated about the rise and fall of empire—the matter is, I am just newly imported from the Metropolis, where I have been resident for these 3 month’s past, (in the House with my Friend Lady W: Wynn) [4] whilst I was there;

Lady Williams-Wynn by Joshua Reynolds

I was flung into the company of dis-contents – then who called themselves patriots (a name without a meaning) and from them I learned we were mined, totally mined. – but admit the fact; I shall have neighbour’s faze and thus end’s the chapter upon Politicks. – during my stay in London I made three attempts to see Mr. Walsh [5] – but he was too cruelly inclined to gratify my wishes or too busily employed in restoring Liberty to free born English men, I know not which – but so it came to pass; that I arrived at Wargrave without a sight of him!  I saw Tutor Davies [6] – he looks as Gentle as ever. – we talked you over – I wish you had been within earshot of our discourse I fear to offend your modesty were I to relate all that said about you. – I am sincerely glad to find Mr. Davies is so well situated – he has the care of Master Dawson son to Lord Darterry [7] – Lord D: is a man of real worth; and will I dare say esteem Mr. Davies according to his merits. – your friend Mrs Hewer often makes enquiry after you, & made my Swear to give her Love when I address you!  Mind I have discharged my oath of obligation – I wrote you word Last year that the fair Sophia was departed this life – I wish you were in England (will all my heart) for now would be the Time to gain the widow – for Sophia is dead – Daniel is Dead – and even the good Nut Brown October is dead – or at least she appears to have lost her relish for the juice of the Malt [8] – poor woman I feel for her situation – She look’s like a sparrow that Sitteth alone upon a house top – Warfield is now the most forlorn spot on the Globe

Warfield Park [9]

 – it is the deserted village Goldsmith speaks off – Mr. Davy is still at Westead, but talk’s every day of leaving it – Browning & Cissy in a convent – Mrs. Tighe in London – the doctor get’s money fast – Little Earl eat up with gout, but has set his house in order (not to Die) but to marry, Miss Something the farmer’s daughter. – for my part tho’ I live within seven miles of Warfield, I seldom or Ever visit the place, I think Westminster Abbey would afford me the Sort of Pleasure as Warfield would in its present state. O’ the Days that we have sun “what Billings and Cooing; when Miss Duany & the Doctor were wooing; and Miss Baber [10]  & the Rev’d Mr Isham! [11]  not forgetting the little secret doings between Mr. Francis Fowke & the little Bannette, in fine all the innocent high day of youth; and moral simplicity. – how does your good sister do; I have written her once this season, and if I have time; will take up my pen again to address her! I expect yearly to hear of her marriage – what makes her so cruel to the swains of Bengal!  Are you acquainted with my friend Mr. Davies whom I recommend to your notice – I hope you will like him for his own merits sake – if not remember he is my friend.

The Royal Hospital at Chelsea. The Ranelagh Gardens
 are under the Rotunda on the right.

 – My sister [12] is now in Town Frisking it away at Ranelagh – she writes in great spirits – I wish she may get a Husband these What prospects is the men I know not to be us two delightful virgins remain single! Their want of taste is very conspicuous your relation Mr. Kelsall is married – Miss Latham, still Miss Latham; blest with powers, that would charm a savage Beast, Soften Rocks, or bend the knotted Oak. [13] -- young Mr. Neville your Warfield neighbor, is on the brink of matrimony – he is going to wed Miss Greville; sister to Earl Temple, a beautiful nymph of seventeen with £20,000 at her disposal[14] – old Neville is to leave Billingham [15] and the young couple are to reside there. –the poor Forest Family, whom you must recollect, are still in the same forlorn situation, as they were when you left the Forest! Not a beam of sunshine, to chear [sic] their drooping spirits! If possible, their sky more clouded than ever – having lately lost their younger Brother Captn: Tom Forest. – He died on board a ship at the Last engagement of Rodneys [16] – his youth was their only hope – to him they looked up; to relieve their wretched situation – how uncertain are all human means & give us comfort – ‘tis heaven alone that can support the wretched; or give Prosperity to the happy. – let it be our case my dearest friend, to secure by our upright Conduct, the assistance of the almighty. – I must preach to you, who are in the midst of temptation, surrounded on all sides by every [alu??ment]; and in the full career of Life. – keep innocency, and take heed unto the thing that is right; for that shall bring them peace at the Last; when all worldly grandeur fails. – I know y’r heart, and am confident of your good intentions; let not example, which draws, were precepts fail “lead you into error – nor be hasty to get rich – whilst you live retain y’r integrity; for an honest man is the noblest work of God! Don’t despise me for Summonising, for, if I had not your real welfare at heart; I should spare my-self the trouble, of recommending virtue for your imitation! I look upon India-Calcutta in particular to be a horn’d place for youth – how few, that have returned from thence, whose characters will stand the test of enquiry – not even all the Wealth of Indus, which they have been at so much pains to accumulate; can secure them from the contempt of their country men – who justly abhor characters so depraved; I wish you, and my other connections in Bengal; to adopt those principles that do honour to human nature – this is the language I have ever held out to them – and I share reason to believe, it is the language which their own good heart’s have spoken to them in, upon all occasions. – I must now bid God Adieu – having much business in the writing way to finish. – My sincere wishes for your health, and welfare will ever attend you – make my comp’ts to y’r Father – and love to your sister, the muslin she so kindly intended for me, is not come to hand-pray desire she will not give herself any further trouble about it—believe me my dear Friend – yours most

All this family present                                                                    affectionately & sincerely
Their love & good wishes                                                              CD. Baber

What poor Charlotte very probably did not know was that her sermonising was going to fall onto the deafest of ears. 

Francis who was following in a path that his family had been following for the previous four generations at least, with Randall Fowke, his great grandfather, (1673-1745) in Madras, starting out in the Gun Room, then rising through hard work and good fortune to become second in the Council. 

Along the way he had made a fortune through diamond trading.

Francis Fowke's (1716-1800) father, Joseph was another larger than life character, [17] who also made his first fortune in Madras.
Joseph Fowke had been born in Madras and probably first travelled to England in around 1728 with his father. He returned to Madras in 1736 to begin work for the East India Company as a writer.  Here he met Elizabeth Walsh whose father had risen to the rank of third in council. Elizabeth married Fowke in May 1750. [18]

Elizabeth had a brother, called John Walsh, who was also serving in India. Walsh returned to England in 1759, where he had decided to settle himself in retirement. For his last two years in India, John had worked as Secretary to Robert Clive. When he first reached England he bought a house, Hockenhull Hall in Cheshire close to Clive’s own newly acquired estates in Shropshire. [19]

Three years later, John Walsh was keen to move, and in late 1764 he bought Warfield Park, near Bracknell. [20]

John Walsh was uncle to Francis Fowke and his sister Margaret.

It is very probable that it was at Warfield that Charlotte Baber had first met Francis Fowke and her sister Margaret. Presumably it was Margaret who had tried to send Charlotte the missing packet of muslim from India.

Margaret Fowke was present in Benares with her brother Francis, where she met another official, John Benn (1759-1825) who eventually married her shortly after their return to England in 1786. Margaret and John Benn inherited Warfield House from John Walsh after his death.

Benares by William Hodges, courtesy of the British Library.

Joseph Fowke having made his fortune, returned to Britain, only to get through his fortune in very short order, probably through heavy gambling losses. In 1771, he returned to India "to repair his fortunes" where he was once again able to restore his fortunes, by trading at Benares, before returning home once more in 1778. He appears to have then made a subsequent voyage back to India, as he returned home finally in 1788.

Although often pressed to marry an English lady following his return, Joseph was officially unmarried, although it is believed that he like very many of the  other English officials in India at that time had local mistresses, and in some cases wives, with whom they had gone through local weddings, sometimes Hindu weddings, and in other cases, Muslim ones.

Joseph Fowkes subsequently had mistresses in England following his return, one of whom gave birth to an illegitimate daughter Sophy.

It was widely believed at the time that he may have brought at least one of his Indian mistresses home to England.  Joseph Fowkes had a brother who lived in Mamesbury in Wiltshire, who had also served in the East India Company.  He adopted a bastard daughter of his brother Joseph, and would later also look after several more, the children of his nephews Francis Fowke and Will Hollond. [21]

Benares was not part of British India at this time, but was located in the Province of Oude, part of the Moghul Empire. The city was situated on the Ganges, and was at the centre of many of the key trading routes across India.  The East India Company had a trading post there for most of the 18th Century, and it had become a very important location for the EIC, as it also acted as an intelligence post from which to observe the ever changing situation at the Moghul Court at Delhi.

On the 16th August 1775, Francis Fowkes was appointed to Benares and was given Letters of Credence to Rajah Cheyt Sing.  His appointment became one of the many causes of contention within the Calcutta Presidency Council, that was split into factions, siding with and against the Governor, Warren Hastings, with his recall occurring subsequently.  Somehow, he was able to get himself reappointed in 1780 to Benares where he was soon able to amass a considerable fortune through personal trading in drugs, diamonds and as an army contractor.

He also acquired at least one, and possibly more Bibi, and began to have children.

In 1781, Hastings had Francis Fowke removed once again from his post at Benares, however by April 1783, he had regained his post once more.

When Francis Fowke finally left Benares in 1786, he was faced with what to do with his mistresses.

In India in amongst his circle of friends including his cousin Will Hollond, at Dhaka with whom he frequently corresponded, having Indian mistresses was quite routine, as few Englishmen at that time expected to be able to return home, and even if they did they could not hope to return until they were old men in twenty two or more years time.

Will was also assembling his own harem, and the two cousins compared notes in letters of their relative situations. Both hoped against hope to survive long enough to be able to retire to Britain, and both struggled to come to terms with what to do in that event with their mistresses.

That Francis had had more than one is suggested by the following phrase in a letter written by J.P. Hoare "as I have so good an Opinnion" of the last mistress he had taken on from Fowke, that he was prepared to do so again again with another mistress. [22]

If poor Charlotte writing in May 1780, was not already aware of the social mores that applied in India, she was going to be given a major surprise when her brother Edward came home in 1781.  For he was bringing home.

When he wrote on the 21st December 1779 to Warren Hastings to request the use of the Governor's yacht and I should esteem myself highly obliged to you for the use of the yacht to carry us to the ship [23] note how he used "us" not I, and this word almost certainly reflects the fact that he was bringing his daughters Charlotte and Diana, and possibly their mother with him.

Edward who was back in England by early January 1781, will have brought not just the probably unexpected surprise of his sisters, Diana, Charlotte and Mary having nieces, but no doubt the news that Francis Fowke also had a large and growing family of Anglo-Indians in Benares.

In addition to this information, was the fact that Francis Fowke and his father had become involved in a fierce attack on Edward Baber's former boss, friend and patron the Governor, Warren Hastings.

On 19th April 1775 Commual O Deen,[24] an Indian who had previously made accusations against the Governor, came to Warren Hastings at 9 O'Clock in the morning, and with his dress torn and looking pale, and out of breath, saying that Nuncomar and Francis Fowke by threats and duress forced Commual O Deen to sign a petition or arzee, saying that he had paid Hastings 15,000 rupees in bribes over the past three years, and Barwell, 45,000 rupees.

This was to be the start of the very long and complex series of trials, that would lead to the impeachment of Warren Hastings and his appearance at the famous trial in the Houses of Parliament.

As Charlotte's brother Edward, was firmly amongst those who were in Warren Hastings camp, this would have had the effect of cutting off normal friendly relations to the Fowke family.

If as we suspect, Edward had brought home a "family" of mixed raced children, this would not have helped his sister Charlotte's chances of a suitable marriage partner, as has been demonstrated by her letter, social mores in England were increasingly changing away from those that had governed the early 18th Century, where morals were far more lax, especially in the hangover from the Restoration Period in the late 17th Century when there had been a huge amount of license for mistresses and extra-martial affairs.

As for Francis Fowkes.  With the passing of the India Act in 1784, and the changing situation for East India Officials, who were no longer allowed (in principle) to undertake private trading in the blatant way that had previously been expected, the older established families with deep roots in India found that their opportunities for future wealth had been sharply curtailed. He returned to England, and when he did so, he brought quite a few of his offspring home from India.  However, he probably did not bring their mother, or mothers. He was expected and expecting to find a wife in England, but although he is believed to have had several suitable opportunities, he didn't formally marry on his return, until very many years later.

One of his female cousin's on his Hollond side wrote of him that he was, "a blundering lover."

When he did at last marry in England, it was to his long term mistress, an actress, Mary Lowe, who he first set up in a Mayfair house, shortly after his return to England.  Later as Mary began to have the first of fifteen children by Francis, he moved her to a house in Wimbledon.

Twenty four years later Francis Fowke's, Aunt Strachey had no idea of the fact that he had had so many children, such was the secrecy with which he had arranged his life.

Francis bought an estate in Radnorshire and built a large house, Boughrood Castle, by 1817, where his children from both his "families" lived together. Two of his darker mixed race children remained living as "servants" on the property long after his death, in receipt of annuities.

Perhaps Charlotte had had a lucky escape.

She would subsequently go on to live in a number of houses in Berkshire and across the border in Arlesford by 1810 in Hampshire.  She eventually died in the house of her brother, Edward in Park Street, near Grosvenor Square in London in 1814.

[1] British Library: Asia, Pacific and Africa Collections, Private Papers (European Manuscripts), Mss Eur D11 no. 17


 [3] Osterley, was a ship of 758 tons launched on 9th October 1771 by Wells at Deptford. She was on her third voyage for the company when the French frigates Pourvoyeuse and Elizabeth captured her on 21 February 1779.  Her Managing Owner was William Dent, brother of Robert Dent a partner at Childs’ bank.

“By letter from Messrs Edward Parry and Daniel Barwell, passengers on board the ship Osterley, dated Cape of Good Hope 17 May 1779 we are informed of the capture of that ship the 21st February about Latitude 36 degrees near False Bay by two frigates named the Purvoyeuse of 40 guns and Elizabeth of 36 guns. Monsr [St Olen]Commander . The Purvoyeuse carried 26 Eighteen pounders, 2 twenty four pounders and 12 twelve pounders, the Elizabeth carries 24 twelve pounders.
… the French Commodore & his officers also declared that the ship Elizabeth was the property of an English Gentleman now at Fort St George. This information alarms us exceedingly. If the facts can be proved the treachery cannot be too severely punished.

We learn that the Company’s packets were all sunk the morning of the engagement & that after a cruize of eight days, a small French ship, loaded with Negro Slaves from Mozambique bound to Table Bay fell in with the Purvoyeuse, Elizabeth and Osterley, that the Commodore was prevailed upon to permit Messrs Parry, Barwell and two European Sick Seamen, being foreigners to leave the Prize, that they went aboard the vessel above mentioned, on arrival at the Cape the 2nd of March. It was supposed that Captn Rogers and every other person on board the Osterley would be carried to the French Islands when the Cruize was over. The French ship Cruized at almost as high as latitude 38 from the Cape of Infanta & back to Cape Seguilla but the Worthington and Grosvenor escaped & arrived safe at St Helena, the former the 20th of March and the latter the 1st of April. “

The loss of the Osterley caused great controversy in EIC circles, when it was revealed that a British subject John Laurence, resident at Fort St. George owned the Elizabeth. BL IOR L/MAR/B/400G, 22 February 1779. Letter from the ship Duke of Kingston to the EIC, 16 June 1779, London. IOR/R/E/4-868, p. 465.  Information from Pauline Davies.

[4] Almost certainly Lady Charlotte Williams - Wynn. It is not clear why Charlotte Baber spent so long with this family, but in this year, 1780 Lady Charlotte gave birth to Henrietta, her daughter. It is quite possible that the Charlotte Baber was acting as a companion during this period.
Her husband was Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn, 4th Baronet (23 September 1749 – 24 July 1789) who was born in Llanforda, Oswestry.

Charlotte Williams-Wynn was the eldest child of the Prime Minister George Grenville and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of the Tory statesman Sir William Wyndham, Bt. She was related to the two Prime Minister William Pitts through her paternal aunt Hester Grenville who married Pitt the Elder (the 1st Earl of Chatham) and who became mother of William Pitt the Younger. Her mother and father died in 1769 and 1770 respectively, and guardianship of their daughter Charlotte was assumed by George's elder brother, Richard Grenville-Temple, 2nd Earl Temple. In December 1771, she married Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn, 4th Baronet, and became known as Lady Williams-Wynn. The couple had eight children, six of whom survived to adulthood, including Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn, 5th Baronet and Charles and Henry Williams-Wynn. Upon her husband's death, Lady Williams-Wynn became the sole administrator of his Welsh estates under the terms of his will and functioned as such until her eldest son reached the age of majority.

Lady Charlotte Williams - Wynn died on the 29th September 1832 at Richmond aged 79, wife of Sir Watkins Williams-Wynn, Bart. The Gentleman's Magazine, Volume 102, Part 2; Volume 152, page 389.

[5]Almost certainly Col. John Walsh (1726-1795) who was uncle to Francis Fowke, and the son of Joseph Walsh, Governor of Fort St. George, by his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Neville Muskelyne (1663-1711) of Purton in Wiltshire. Neville Maskelyne, the Royal Astronomer, and his sister, Margaret Maskelyne, who married Robert, 1st Baron Clive, were his first cousins. Like many of his relatives, Walsh entered the service of the East India Company (in 1742) and became paymaster of the troops at Madras. In 1757, Clive appointed Walsh his private secretary and he acted in this capacity throughout the campaign in Bengal of that year. Two years later, Clive commissioned him to return to London and lay before Pitt his project for reorganising the administration of Bengal. In 1771 he bought Warfield Park in Berkshire, with some of the estimated £140,000 that he had brought back from India. See for more details of his life.

[6] David Davies, (1742-1819) Who was appointed Rector of Barkham in Berkshire on the 25th May 1782, two years after this letter was written. He had only been made a Deacon on the 28th April 1782. He had been born in Barbados, and been educated at the Codrington College on that Island. He became a social reformer and undertook a survey of the household incomes of the rural poor, which went on to influence policy.

[7] Dartrey; Probably a reference to Thomas Dawson (1725-1813), who was made Baron Dartrey in 1770, and then given a viscountcy in 1758. This family originally called Dawson had taken estates near Galway in Ireland.

[8] Possibly a reference to a mistress of Colonel Walsh, who never married, but who is known to have had several mistresses.  Was she of a dark brown complexion perhaps?  Very probably, as October was the great month for brewing —that luxurious and substantial branch of rural economy; and many and merry are the songs and stories of "nut-brown October" to " gladden the heart of man," with the soul-stirring influence of its regaling. Hops, too, are generally picked this month.

[9] Warfield Park, home to Colonel Walsh.  See;  The former site of Warfield House appears to be a static caravan park on the outskirts of Bracknell.   Perhaps "now the most forlorn spot on the Globe" once more.

[10] Charlotte's sister Diana Baber ( 1739? -d 1807).

[11] The Revd Euseby Isham (1742-1814) of Lamport in Northamptonshire, who Diana Baber had married in 1773.

[12] Mary Baber (1754-18??) Spinster. Ranelagh Gardens in Chelsea was a pleasure ground built on the site of land secured by the Earl of Ranelagh as security against the funding he was providing to build the adjacent Chelsea Hospital. Ranelagh built himself a substantial house on the land. The loans were not paid off until many years after his death, so the house, which was occupied by William Baber and his wife Margaret was not returned to government until about 1735 when the loan was eventually repaid.

Interior of the Ranelagh Gardens by Canaletto.

[13] Probably a reference to the marriage of Captn Thomas Latham R.N. to Jane Kelsall in. After Thomas Latham's death she remarried Sir Henry Strachey of Sutton Court near Chew Magna in Somerset, in 1770, who had been a colleague of Joseph Fowkes in Madras and elsewhere in India.

[14] Miss Catherine Grenville, youngest sister of Earl Temple, to Mr. Neville, son of Richard Aldworth Neville, Esq; of Billingbeare, Berkshire.  The Annual Register, or a View of the history, politicks and literature of ..., By Robert Dodsley, page 243, published 1781.

[15] Billingbeare, Berkshire.

[16] Admiral Rodney (1718-1792) who had successfully relieved Gibraltar in late January 1780, during the Great Siege having defeated a Spanish fleet the 16th of January 1780 at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent, known as the "Moonlight Battle" because it took place at night.

[17] See




[21] Family Secrets, The Things We Tried to HIde, by Deborah Cohen published 2013. Pages 15 to 20.

[22] J.P. Hoare to F. Fowke, 1786, Mss. Eur. E7, APAC.  See also Claud Alexander to David Anderson, 9 June 1783, Add. Mss. 45424. BL.

[23] Letters to Warren Hastings. BL. Add Man 29144 folio 216.

[24] More usually written Kamaluddin or Kamaluddin Khan today.