‘Visit Samuel Harman at the Dolphin further along the quay and give him this warrant and you’ll find there are virtually limitless funds waiting for us!’
William de Montacute – 15th April 1355
‘Tell me everything that happened.’ Henry de Vere, Earl of Oxford, had lost a throw of the dice determining who should attend the tournament at Woodstock. ‘I am jealous and starved of news. Take a seat.’
The Earl of Salisbury looked around Henry’s tent in wonderment.
‘Well, I would if there was somewhere to sit. What is going on here?’
‘An unmitigated disaster.’
‘I was sent here to mobilise an army large enough to allow for an invasion of Armagnac. However, I have received not a sou from the King. What you see now has come from my own pocket and my pocket is now depressingly shallow!’
‘Is that why your tent looks like the kitchen storeroom? Where do you sleep? And more to the point, where will I sleep?’
‘We can squeeze another bed over there.’
William studied Henry in momentary thought. ‘Come on, the Prince has an account at The Cherry Tree. We will stay there until we get funds.’
Later, after a bath and a mug of ale, it was as if Henry had become a different person. As they descended the withered and twisted set of stairs to The Cherry Tree’s justly famous dining room, he was full of good cheer.
The Cherry Tree, on the quay overlooking Sutton Harbour, was where seafarers and ship-owners rubbed shoulders with royalty and the aristocracy. That they were able to conduct their business so far from London was a sound measure of the importance of shipping to a nation that had two territories separated by three hundred leagues of usually hostile Frankish territory. Often, the only way of travelling between the two territories was by sea.
William struggled to understand the situation. ‘Have you sent a message to the King letting him know how short of funds you are?’
‘Three, all with no reply,’ Henry scowled.
‘Have you sent a message to the Prince?’
‘I have no idea where the Prince is.’
‘Then you will be happy to know that he is due here any time now.’
It was the most incredible of coincidences. The door to the dining room burst open and through the door walked the Prince. ‘William, Henry, I thought I might find you here.’ The Prince put his arms around the shoulders of his two comrades and the three of them were soon immersed in copious greetings, congratulations and condolences, the latter directed mainly at Henry de Vere, as he had missed the tourney.
A tall, gangly but handsome young man hovered near the door. The Prince waved a hand in the young man’s direction. ‘Oh, yes, you, of course, know the Earl of Richmond, my younger brother?
Both William and Henry de Vere nodded.
‘He has been living with me for over six months, but the time has come for him to do something useful.’
A gaggle of servants could be heard carrying luggage down the hallway outside the dining room. There was much banging and bustling and the voice of the landlord asking them to be careful. William nodded towards the hall.
‘How did you manage to bring the entire palace on horseback?’
‘I didn’t, I sent it on ahead in a wagon. There is more outside that should be stored in the mobilisation camp as it is intended for Bordeaux.’
After a meal which consisted mainly of roast meat and vegetables washed down with many mugs of beer, the Prince eventually got down to business. ‘So, how is mobilisation going?’
Henry groaned again. ‘Not well. I have my own men and some of Lord James’ Welshmen, and there are confirmed promises of men from virtually every lord we have contacted. It is the supplies; cooking utensils, tents, bows, arrows, swords, pikes, grappling irons, tunics, and a thousand other things, which are causing my biggest headache. I fear that without proper funding I cannot continue.’
The Prince face split into a cheery grin. He pulled a crumpled piece of paper from his inside pocket and handed it to Henry. ‘I enjoy being the bearer of good news. You will be happy to know that your problems are now over. All you have to do is visit Samuel Harman at the Dolphin further along the quay and give him this warrant and you’ll find there are virtually limitless funds waiting for us!’ Samuel is De la Pole’s agent and he is making an advance to fund our war against the Armagnacs. He urges us to spend carefully but to make sure the army is short of nothing it needs to be successful. Prince John’s role will be to do all the clerical work to make the mobilisation happen, but of course, his presence will give you just that extra edge of authority.
The Prince’s voice acquired a conspiratorial tone. ‘If we can deal with the Armagnacs expeditiously, I am in fact planning to do slightly more than originally intended.’ He rubbed his hand across his forehead. ‘Now, if you will excuse me, Henry, I need to talk to William about a private matter.’
William found Henry de Vere at breakfast and decided to be direct. ‘Henry, the Prince wants to steal twenty-five of your best men so we can take them up to Dartmoor for special training.’
‘The Prince and myself.’
‘Surely it is my turn to do something interesting. I could go and you could stay here to mobilise the army. I am really not looking forward to working for a fifteen-year-old prince.’
William struggled to suppress a wave of irritability. It was not unreasonable for Henry to wish to escape his dreary task, but it was the task which had been assigned to him. Before he had a chance to reply, the Prince rescued him, arriving at their table with genuine joviality shining on his face.
Obviously, he had overheard the last snippet of conversation. ‘No, Henry, William has the talents I need for a rather special mission. In any case, I want you to make the army your own. You will not be working for the Earl of Richmond. He will be working for you. I have made that very clear to him. You will be military commander in Aquitaine later in the year. It is important the army identifies with you as its leader.’
‘I only have fifty men in total. How am I going to receive and store the supplies?’ Henry protested.
‘Start the process of mobilising the army and in the meantime hire in people from the town to help. I must have twenty-five men, experienced soldiers, or the nearest you can get to that. I want archers. Archers are disinclined to do any physical work anyway.’
‘Mobilisation immediately? No one will leave home without pay in advance. And how will I influence any lords who may be wavering in their support of this war?’
The Prince smiled. ‘You now have access to ample funds. I will give you twenty blank pages that I have signed and sealed. Use these to do whatever you need to do to mobilise the army. Date them as you use them. It shouldn’t be a problem to get compliance with my seal on the documents.’
A thoughtful expression claimed Henry’s face as he took the documents from the Prince. ‘Training on Dartmoor? You are going to make an expedition to Scotland?’
William grinned. ‘Sorry, Henry, but that is all you need to know.’
He and the Prince spent a whole day sifting through the lists of men who were assisting with the mobilisation. They chose mainly archers but there were also engineers and siege specialists and everyone they chose was able to ride a horse.