In the year 1424, the year in which, after the battle of Agincourt, France was delivered over to Henry V., an extraordinary event occurred in the life of this little French peasant. We have not the same horror of that treaty, naturally, as have the French. Henry V. is a favourite of our history, probably not so much for his own merit as because of that master-magician, Shakespeare, who of his supreme good pleasure, in the exercise of that voluntary preference, which even God himself seems to show to some men, has made of that monarch one of the best beloved of our hearts. Dear to us as he is, in Eastcheap as at Agincourt, and more in the former than the latter, even our sense of the disgraceful character of that bargain, le traite infame of Troyes, by which Queen Isabeau betrayed her son, and gave her daughter and her country to the invader, is softened a little by our high estimation of the hero. But this is simple national prejudice; regarded from the French side, or even by the impartial judgment of general humanity, it was an infamous treaty, and one which might well make the blood boil in French veins.
We look at it at present, however, through the atmosphere of the nineteenth century, when France is all French, and when the royal house of England has no longer any French connection. If George III., much more George II., on the basis of his kingdom of Hanover, had attempted to make himself master of a large portion of Germany, the situation would have been more like that of Henry V. in France than anything we can think of now. It is true the kings of England were no longer dukes of Normandy—but they had been so within the memory of man: and that noble duchy was a hereditary appanage of the family of the Conqueror; while to other portions of France they had the link of temporary possession and inheritance through French wives and mothers; added to which is the fact that Jean sans Peur of Burgundy, thirsting to avenge his father’s blood upon the Dauphin, would have been probably a more dangerous usurper than Henry, and that the actual sovereign, the unfortunate, mad Charles VI., was in no condition to maintain his own rights.
There is little evidence, however, that this treaty, or anything so distinct in detail, had made much impression on the outlying borders of France. What was known there, was only that the English were victorious, that the rightful King of France was still uncrowned and unacknowledged, and that the country was oppressed and humiliated under the foot of the invader. The fact that the new King was not yet the Lord’s anointed, and had never received the seal of God, as it were, to his commission, was a fact which struck the imagination of the village as of much more importance than many greater things—being at once more visible and matter-of-fact, and of more mystical and spiritual efficacy than any other circumstance in the dreadful tale.