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Ch. 2: The Hundred Years' War

1. Wars of Edward III.--By the Salic law, as the lawyers called it, the crown was given, on the death of Charles IV., to Philip, Count of Valois, son to a brother of Philip IV., but it was claimed by Edward III. of England as son of the daughter of Philip IV. Edward contented himself, however, with the mere assertion of his pretensions, until Philip exasperated him by attacks on the borders of Guienne, which the French kings had long been coveting to complete their possession of the south, and by demanding the surrender of Robert of Artois, who, being disappointed in his claim to the county of Artois by the judgment of the Parliament of Paris, was practising by sorcery on the life of the King of France. Edward then declared war, and his supposed right caused a century of warfare between France and England, in which the broken, down-trodden state of the French peasantry gave England an immense advantage. The knights and squires were fairly matched; but while the English yeomen were strong, staunch, and trustworthy, the French were useless, and only made a defeat worse by plundering the fallen on each side alike. The war began in Flanders, where Philip took the part of the count, whose tyrannies had caused his expulsion. Edward was called in to the aid of the citizens of Ghent by their leader Jacob van Arteveldt; and gained a great victory over the French fleet at Sluys, but with no important result. At the same time the two kings took opposite sides in the war of the succession in Brittany, each defending the claim most inconsistent with his own pretensions to the French crown--Edward upholding the male heir, John de Montfort, and Philip the direct female representative, the wife of Charles de Blois.

2. Creçy and Poitiers.--Further difficulties arose through Charles the Bad, King of Navarre and Count of Evreux, who was always on the watch to assert his claim to the French throne through his mother, the daughter of Louis X., and was much hated and distrusted by Philip VI. and his son John, Duke of Normandy. Fearing the disaffection of the Norman and Breton nobles, Philip invited a number of them to a tournament at Paris, and there had them put to death after a hasty form of trial, thus driving their kindred to join his enemies. One of these offended Normans, Godfrey of Harcourt, invited Edward to Normandy, where he landed, and having consumed his supplies was on his march to Flanders, when Philip, with the whole strength of the kingdom, endeavoured to intercept him at Creçy in Picardy, in 1348. Philip was utterly incapable as a general; his knights were wrong-headed and turbulent, and absolutely cut down their own Genoese hired archers for being in their way. The defeat was total. Philip rode away to Amiens, and Edward laid siege to Calais. The place was so strong that he was forced to blockade it, and Philip had time to gather another army to attempt its relief; but the English army were so posted that he could not attack them without great loss. He retreated, and the men of Calais surrendered, Edward insisting that six burghers should bring him the keys with ropes round their necks, to submit themselves to him. Six offered themselves, but their lives were spared, and they were honourably treated. Edward expelled all the French, and made Calais an English settlement. A truce followed, chiefly in consequence of the ravages of the Black Death, which swept off multitudes throughout Europe, a pestilence apparently bred by filth, famine, and all the miseries of war and lawlessness, but which spared no ranks. It had scarcely ceased before Philip died, in 1350. His son, John, was soon involved in a fresh war with England by the intrigues of Charles the Bad, and in 1356 advanced southwards to check the Prince of Wales, who had come out of Guienne on a plundering expedition. The French were again totally routed at Poitiers, and the king himself, with his third son, Philip, were made prisoners and carried to London with most of the chief nobles.

3. The Jacquerie.--The calls made on their vassals by these captive nobles to supply their ransoms brought the misery to a height. The salt tax, or gabelle, which was first imposed to meet the expenses of the war, was only paid by those who were neither clergy nor nobles, and the general saying was--"Jacques Bonhomme (the nickname for the peasant) has a broad back, let him bear all the burthens." Either by the king, the feudal lords, the clergy, or the bands of men-at-arms who roved through the country, selling themselves to any prince who would employ them, the wretched people were stripped of everything, and used to hide in holes and caves from ill-usage or insult, till they broke out in a rebellion called the Jacquerie, and whenever they could seize a castle revenged themselves, like the brutes they had been made, on those within it. Taxation was so levied by the king's officers as to be frightfully oppressive, and corruption reigned everywhere. As the king was in prison, and his heir, Charles, had fled ignominiously from Poitiers, the citizens of Paris hoped to effect a reform, and rose with their provost-marshal, Stephen Marcel, at their head, threatened Charles, and slew two of his officers before his eyes. On their demand the States-General were convoked, and made wholesome regulations as to the manner of collecting the taxes, but no one, except perhaps Marcel, had any real zeal or public spirit. Charles the Bad, of Navarre, who had pretended to espouse their cause, betrayed it; the king declared the decisions of the States-General null and void; and the crafty management of his son prevented any union between the malcontents. The gentry rallied, and put down the Jacquerie with horrible cruelty and revenge. The burghers of Paris found that Charles the Bad only wanted to gain the throne, and Marcel would have proclaimed him; but those who thought him even worse than his cousins of Valois admitted the other Charles, by whom Marcel and his partisans were put to death. The attempt at reform thus ended in talk and murder, and all fell back into the same state of misery and oppression.

4. The Peace of Bretigny.--This Charles, eldest son of John, obtained by purchase the imperial fief of Vienne, of which the counts had always been called Dauphins, a title thenceforth borne by the heir apparent of the kingdom. His father's captivity and the submission of Paris left him master of the realm; but he did little to defend it when Edward III. again attacked it, and in 1360 he was forced to bow to the terms which the English king demanded as the price of peace. The Peace of Bretigny permitted King John to ransom himself, but resigned to England the sovereignty over the duchy of Aquitaine, and left Calais and Ponthieu in the hands of Edward III. John died in 1364, before his ransom was paid, and his son mounted the throne as Charles V. Charles showed himself from this time a wary, able man, and did much to regain what had been lost by craftily watching his opportunity. The war went on between the allies of each party, though the French and English kings professed to be at peace; and at the battle of Cocherel, in 1364, Charles the Bad was defeated, and forced to make peace with France. On the other hand, the French party in Brittany, led by Charles de Blois and the gallant Breton knight, Bertrand du Guesclin, were routed, the same year, by the English party under Sir John Chandos; Charles de Blois was killed, and the house of Montfort established in the duchy. These years of war had created a dreadful class of men, namely, hired soldiers of all nations, who, under some noted leader, sold their services to whatever prince might need them, under the name of Free Companies, and when unemployed lived by plunder. The peace had only let these wretches loose on the peasants. Some had seized castles, whence they could plunder travellers; others roamed the country, preying on the miserable peasants, who, fleeced as they were by king, barons, and clergy, were tortured and murdered by these ruffians, so that many lived in holes in the ground that their dwellings might not attract attention. Bertrand du Guesclin offered the king to relieve the country from these Free Companies by leading them to assist the Castilians against their tyrannical king, Peter the Cruel. Edward, the Black Prince, who was then acting as Governor of Aquitaine, took, however, the part of Peter, and defeated Du Guesclin at the battle of Navarete, on the Ebro, in 1367.

5. Renewal of the War.--This expedition ruined the prince's health, and exhausted his treasury. A hearth-tax was laid on the inhabitants of Aquitaine, and they appealed against it to the King of France, although, by the Peace of Bretigny, he had given up all right to hear appeals as suzerain. The treaty, however, was still not formally settled, and on this ground Charles received their complaint. The war thus began again, and the sword of the Constable of France--the highest military dignity of the realm--was given to Du Guesclin, but only on condition that he would avoid pitched battles, and merely harass the English and take their castles. This policy was so strictly followed, that the Duke of Lancaster was allowed to march from Brittany to Gascony without meeting an enemy in the field; and when King Edward III. made his sixth and last invasion, nearly to the walls of Paris, he was only turned back by famine, and by a tremendous thunderstorm, which made him believe that Heaven was against him. Du Guesclin died while besieging a castle, and such was his fame that the English captain would place the keys in no hand but that of his corpse. The Constable's sword was given to Oliver de Clisson, also a Breton, and called the "Butcher," because he gave no quarter to the English in revenge for the death of his brother. The Bretons were, almost to a man, of the French party, having been offended by the insolence and oppression of the English; and John de Montfort, after clinging to the King of England as long as possible, was forced to make his peace at length with Charles. Charles V. had nearly regained all that had been lost, when, in 1380 his death left the kingdom to his son.

6. House of Burgundy.--Charles VI. was a boy of nine years old, motherless, and beset with ambitious uncles. These uncles were Louis, Duke of Anjou, to whom Queen Joanna, the last of the earlier Angevin line in Naples, bequeathed her rights; John, Duke of Berry, a weak time-server; and Philip, the ablest and most honest of the three. His grandmother Joan, the wife of Philip VI., had been heiress of the duchy and county of Burgundy, and these now became his inheritance, giving him the richest part of France. By still better fortune he had married Margaret, the only child of Louis, Count of Flanders. Flanders contained the great cloth-manufacturing towns of Europe--Ghent, Bruges, Ypres, etc., all wealthy and independent, and much inclined to close alliance with England, whence they obtained their wool, while their counts were equally devoted to France. Just as Count Louis II. had, for his lawless rapacity, been driven out of Ghent by Jacob van Arteveldt, so his son, Louis III., was expelled by Philip van Arteveldt, son to Jacob. Charles had been disgusted by Louis's coarse violence, and would not help him; but after the old king's death, Philip of Burgundy used his influence in the council to conduct the whole power of France to Flanders, where Arteveldt was defeated and trodden to death in the battle of Rosbecque, in 1382. On the count's death, Philip succeeded him as Count of Flanders in right of his wife; and thus was laid the foundation of the powerful and wealthy house of Burgundy, which for four generations almost overshadowed the crown of France.

7. Insanity of Charles VI.--The Constable, Clisson, was much hated by the Duke of Brittany, and an attack which was made on him in the streets of Paris was clearly traced to Montfort. The young king, who was much attached to Clisson, set forth to exact punishment. On his way, a madman rushed out of a forest and called out, "King, you are betrayed!" Charles was much frightened, and further seems to have had a sunstroke, for he at once became insane. He recovered for a time; but at Christmas, while he and five others were dancing, disguised as wild men, their garments of pitched flax caught fire. Four were burnt, and the shock brought back the king's madness. He became subject to fits of insanity of longer or shorter duration, and in their intervals he seems to have been almost imbecile. No provision had then been made for the contingency of a mad king. The condition of the country became worse than ever, and power was grasped at by whoever could obtain it. Of the king's three uncles, the Duke of Anjou and his sons were generally engrossed by a vain struggle to obtain Naples; the Duke of Berry was dull and weak; and the chief struggle for influence was between Philip of Burgundy and his son, John the Fearless, on the one hand, and on the other the king's wife, Isabel of Bavaria, and his brother Louis, Duke of Orleans, who was suspected of being her lover; while the unhappy king and his little children were left in a wretched state, often scarcely provided with clothes or food.

8. Burgundians and Armagnacs.--Matters grew worse after the death of Duke Philip in 1404; and in 1407, just after a seeming reconciliation, the Duke of Orleans was murdered in the streets of Paris by servants of John the Fearless. Louis of Orleans had been a vain, foolish man, heedless of all save his own pleasure, but his death increased the misery of France through the long and deadly struggle for vengeance that followed. The king was helpless, and the children of the Duke of Orleans were young; but their cause was taken up by a Gascon noble, Bernard, Count of Armagnac, whose name the party took. The Duke of Burgundy was always popular in Paris, where the people, led by the Guild of Butchers, were so devoted to him that he ventured to have a sermon preached at the university, justifying the murder. There was again a feeble attempt at reform made by the burghers; but, as before, the more violent and lawless were guilty of such excesses that the opposite party were called in to put them down. The Armagnacs were admitted into Paris, and took a terrible vengeance on the Butchers and on all adherents of Burgundy, in the name of the Dauphin Louis, the king's eldest son, a weak, dissipated youth, who was entirely led by the Count of Armagnac.

9. Invasion of Henry V.--All this time the war with England had smouldered on, only broken by brief truces; and when France was in this wretched state Henry V. renewed the claim of Edward III., and in 1415 landed before Harfleur. After delaying till he had taken the city, the dauphin called together the whole nobility of the kingdom, and advanced against Henry, who, like Edward III., had been obliged to leave Normandy and march towards Calais in search of supplies. The armies met at Agincourt, where, though the French greatly outnumbered the English, the skill of Henry and the folly and confusion of the dauphin's army led to a total defeat, and the captivity of half the chief men in France of the Armagnac party--among them the young Duke of Orleans. It was Henry V.'s policy to treat France, not as a conquest, but as an inheritance; and he therefore refused to let these captives be ransomed till he should have reduced the country to obedience, while he treated all the places that submitted to him with great kindness. The Duke of Burgundy held aloof from the contest, and the Armagnacs, who ruled in Paris, were too weak or too careless to send aid to Rouen, which was taken by Henry after a long siege. The Dauphin Louis died in 1417; his next brother, John, who was more inclined to Burgundy, did not survive him a year; and the third brother, Charles, a mere boy, was in the hands of the Armagnacs. In 1418 their reckless misuse of power provoked the citizens of Paris into letting in the Burgundians, when an unspeakably horrible massacre took place. Bernard of Armagnac himself was killed; his naked corpse, scored with his red cross, was dragged about the streets; and men, women, and even infants of his party were slaughtered pitilessly. Tanneguy Duchatel, one of his partisans, carried off the dauphin; but the queen, weary of Armagnac insolence, had joined the Burgundian party.

10. Treaty of Troyes.--Meanwhile Henry V. continued to advance, and John of Burgundy felt the need of joining the whole strength of France against him, and made overtures to the dauphin. Duchatel, either fearing to be overshadowed by his power, or else in revenge for Orleans and Armagnac, no sooner saw that a reconciliation was likely to take place, than he murdered John the Fearless before the dauphin's eyes, at a conference on the bridge of Montereau-sur-Yonne (1419). John's wound was said to be the hole which let the English into France. His son Philip, the new Duke of Burgundy, viewing the dauphin as guilty of his death, went over with all his forces to Henry V., taking with him the queen and the poor helpless king. At the treaty of Troyes, in 1420, Henry was declared regent, and heir of the kingdom, at the same time as he received the hand of Catherine, daughter of Charles VI. This gave him Paris and all the chief cities in northern France; but the Armagnacs held the south, with the Dauphin Charles at their head. Charles was declared an outlaw by his father's court, but he was in truth the leader of what had become the national and patriotic cause. During this time, after a long struggle and schism, the Pope again returned to Rome.

11. The Maid of Orleans.--When Henry V. died in 1422, and the unhappy Charles a few weeks later, the infant Henry VI. was proclaimed King of France as well as of England, at both Paris and London, while Charles VII. was only proclaimed at Bourges, and a few other places in the south. Charles was of a slow, sluggish nature, and the men around him were selfish and pleasure-loving intriguers, who kept aloof all the bolder spirits from him. The brother of Henry V., John, Duke of Bedford, ruled all the country north of the Loire, with Rouen as his head-quarters. For seven years little was done; but in 1429 he caused Orleans to be besieged. The city held out bravely, all France looked on anxiously, and a young peasant girl, named Joan d'Arc, believed herself called by voices from the saints to rescue the city, and lead the king to his coronation at Rheims. With difficulty she obtained a hearing of the king, and was allowed to proceed to Orleans. Leading the army with a consecrated sword, which she never stained with blood, she filled the French with confidence, the English with fear as of a witch, and thus she gained the day wherever she appeared. Orleans was saved, and she then conducted Charles VII. to Rheims, and stood beside his throne when he was crowned. Then she said her work was done, and would have returned home; but, though the wretched king and his court never appreciated her, they thought her useful with the soldiers, and would not let her leave them. She had lost her heart and hope, and the men began to be angered at her for putting down all vice and foul language. The captains were envious of her; and at last, when she had led a sally out of the besieged town of Compiègne, the gates were shut, and she was made prisoner by a Burgundian, John of Luxembourg. The Burgundians hated her even more than the English. The inquisitor was of their party, and a court was held at Rouen, which condemned her to die as a witch. Bedford consented, but left the city before the execution. Her own king made no effort to save her, though, many years later, he caused enquiries to be made, established her innocence, ennobled her family, and freed her village from taxation.

12. Recovery of France (1434--1450).--But though Joan was gone, her work lasted. The Constable, Artur of Richmond, the Count of Dunois, and other brave leaders, continued to attack the English. After seventeen years' vengeance for his father's death, the Duke of Burgundy made his peace with Charles by a treaty at Arras, on condition of paying no more homage, in 1434. Bedford died soon after, and there were nothing but disputes among the English. Paris opened its gates to the king, and Charles, almost in spite of himself, was restored. An able merchant, named Jacques Coeur, lent him money which equipped his men for the recovery of Normandy, and he himself, waking into activity, took Rouen and the other cities on the coast.

13. Conquest of Aquitaine (1450).--By these successes Charles had recovered all, save Calais, that Henry V. or Edward III. had taken from France. But he was now able to do more. The one province of the south which the French kings had never been able to win was Guienne, the duchy on the river Garonne. Guienne had been a part of Eleanor's inheritance, and passed through her to the English kings; but though they had lost all else, the hatred of its inhabitants to the French enabled them to retain this, and Guienne had never yet passed under French rule. It was wrested, however, from Eleanor's descendants in this flood-tide of conquest. Bordeaux held out as long as it could, but Henry VI. could send no aid, and it was forced to yield. Two years later, brave old Lord Talbot led 5000 men to recover the duchy, and was gladly welcomed; but he was slain in the battle of Castillon, fighting like a lion. His two sons fell beside him, and his army was broken. Bordeaux again surrendered, and the French kings at last found themselves master of the great fief of the south. Calais was, at the close of the great Hundred Years' War, the only possession left to England south of the Channel.

14. The Standing Army (1452).--As at the end of the first act in the Hundred Years' War, the great difficulty in time of peace was the presence of the bands of free companions, or mercenary soldiers, who, when war and plunder failed them, lived by violence and robbery of the peasants. Charles VII., who had awakened into vigour, thereupon took into regular pay all who would submit to discipline, and the rest were led off on two futile expeditions into Switzerland and Germany, and there left to their fate. The princes and nobles were at first so much disgusted at the regulations which bound the soldiery to respect the magistracy, that they raised a rebellion, which was fostered by the Dauphin Louis, who was ready to do anything that could annoy his father. But he was soon detached from them; the Duke of Burgundy would not assist them, and the league fell to pieces. Charles VII. by thus retaining companies of hired troops in his pay laid the foundation of the first standing army in Europe, and enabled the monarchy to tread down the feudal force of the nobles. His government was firm and wise; and with his reign began better times for France. But it was long before it recovered from the miseries of the long strife. The war had kept back much of progress. There had been grievous havoc of buildings in the north and centre of France; much lawlessness and cruelty prevailed; and yet there was a certain advance in learning, and much love of romance and the theory of chivalry. Pages of noble birth were bred up in castles to be first squires and then knights. There was immense formality and stateliness, the order of precedence was most minute, and pomp and display were wonderful. Strange alternations took place. One month the streets of Paris would be a scene of horrible famine, where hungry dogs, and even wolves, put an end to the miseries of starving, homeless children of slaughtered parents; another, the people would be gazing at royal banquets, lasting a whole day, with allegorical "subtleties" of jelly on the table, and pageants coming between the courses, where all the Virtues harangued in turn, or where knights delivered maidens from giants and "salvage men." In the south there was less misery and more progress. Jacques Coeur's house at Bourges is still a marvel of household architecture; and René, Duke of Anjou and Count of Provence, was an excellent painter on glass, and also a poet.


Charlotte M. Yonge

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