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The Southampton plot

What if the 'Southampton plot' to assassinate Henry V on his way to Agincourt had succeeded? Watch historian Prof Anne Curry discuss the implications.
ANNE CURRY: I’m standing outside St. Julian’s Church in Southampton, close to the Watergate at the southern edge of the town. And it is here, allegedly, that the Earl of Cambridge, one of the plotters in the Southampton plot, was buried. But what exactly was this plot? And how did it disrupt the expedition to France? There were four men involved in this plot. The main plotter was Richard, Earl of Cambridge, cousin of the King and brother of Edward, Duke of York, who was to meet his end at the Battle of Agincourt.
There was also Henry Lord Scrope of Masham, a man who’d been quite closely connected with Prince Henry and was still in royal service on diplomatic missions in the years leading up to the Agincourt campaign. Then we have Sir Thomas Grey of Heaton, a northern knight with ambitions and with personal relationships. His young son had recently married the equally young daughter of Richard, Earl of Cambridge. And then finally we have Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March. He was also a cousin of the King, and some people thought he had a better claim to the throne than Henry V. The plot, essentially, was to put Mortimer on the throne of England, to depose Henry V, to kill him and all of his brothers.
But the plot was disclosed to the King by Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March. He realised that things were getting too difficult, and this put the other plotters into a rather difficult position. Edmund Mortimer was not well regarded by the other plotters, in fact one of them called him “but a hog, but a pig.” But why should they have plotted against Henry V at all? Well, some of them had personal grievances. Richard, Earl of Cambridge was very annoyed at the high marriage fine of 10,000 marks that he had to pay to the King. Sir Thomas Grey wanted to be more famous and richer than he was.
Henry Lord Scrope, well, perhaps he’d got a little fed up with Henry, and I think, we can suggest, that he was not that keen on the expedition to France. Together they plotted; they started to plot in June, they were meeting up in Yorkshire, and then they began to meet together in late July. We know they had various meetings on the Itchen Ferry at Cranbury, just north of Southampton. But everything got rather too dangerous. So in other words, they all dithered, they didn’t do anything about it at all. They had ideas, but they weren’t necessarily implementing them.
March, though, thought things were getting out of hand, and he thought that perhaps the plot would be disclosed to the King, and he would find his head on the block, and therefore, on the 31st of July, while Henry V was at Portchester holding a council, he told the King of this plot. The King was absolutely furious and immediately arrested the three other plotters. Within a few days, they were brought to Southampton and imprisoned in the castle. On the 2nd of August, Sir Thomas Grey was tried, he wasn’t a peer, and therefore his trial was in the standard criminal procedure, and he was immediately found guilty and hanged, drawn and quartered. His head was sent to Newcastle.
On the 5th of August, because they were peers, Henry Lord Scrope and Richard, Earl of Cambridge, were tried by their fellow peers, and both of them were found guilty, also. But because Cambridge was close to the King, he was spared the penalty of hanging before beheading. He was beheaded and he was even allowed to be buried with this head, allegedly in St. Julian’s Church. By contrast, Henry Lord Scrope’s head was chopped off and was taken to York, where it was displayed. Henry then acted very ruthlessly against men who’d previously been friends with him, and you can see why. He did not want his campaign to be disrupted any further.
But you’ve got to ask, why should men have thought of plotting against the King when the King had a huge army with him? It may be there were other peers too, who were not sure about Henry V. Henry had become slightly obsessive over the war with France, maybe that is one thing that put them off him. He’d become a very hardline King; he was charging them large amounts of money, he was not giving them necessarily all the patronage they might have expected. So maybe they thought they’d get support, and certainly in their confessions, they mentioned Lord Clifford was one of their supporters, and even the Earl of Arundel, one of the King’s friends.
Maybe there was more to this plot than meets the eye. But it’s also possible that there was no plot at all, that this was just careless talk, a sort of political moaning, if you like, rather than an actual plot. The plot also had various complexities to it, like getting a false Richard II to restore, or getting Welsh assistance. It really is a bit of a mess, as far as a plot is concerned. Is it, then, that Henry just wanted to act swiftly and savagely at any sign of opposition to him in order to ensure there’d be no problems in England while he was away in France? He was taking a bit of a risk, being away for so long.
His campaign was intended to last 12 months. There are many puzzling things about the Southampton plot, but it’s an often forgotten element in the Agincourt campaign.
Henry V’s French campaign might have been derailed before he left the UK because of a conspiracy to remove him from power. In this video, Anne discusses the plot, its protagonists and its implications.
She outlines the possible motivations behind the plotters’ actions and poses a shocking question: did the plot actually exist at all?
A plot was said to be uncovered and men were punished. Shakespeare included the dramatic scenario in his play and history seems to have accepted the plot’s existence. But what do you think? Could another interpretation be put on Henry’s actions at this time?
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Agincourt 1415: Myth and Reality

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