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War with France


Preparations for War with France - The utter Groundlessness of Edward III.'s Claims on the French Crown - Alliance with the Princes of Germany and the Netherlands - Artavelde, the Brewer of Ghent - Counter-alliances made by Philip of France - The First Invasion of France abortive - Edward's Debts and Difficulties at Home - Renews the War - Great Naval Victory of Edward at Sluys - Siege of Tournay - A Truce - Fresh Troubles at Home - Resistance of the Clergy - The Affairs of Brittany - Renewed War - Second Truce - Fresh Invasion of France - Great Victory of Crecy - War with Scotland - Capture of Calais.
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We are now arrived at a crisis in our history which marks at once the valour and the unscrupulous ambition of the English kings. There is no period of our annals in which the bravery of our countrymen assumed a more marvellous character, or in which it was displayed in a more unjust cause. Whenever we would boast of the martial ascendancy of the nation, we are sure to pronounce the words Crecy and Poictiers, but we are quite as certainly silent as to the political merits of the contest in which those names became celebrated. The invasions of France by Edward III. raised the martial glory of England to the highest pitch. There is nothing in the miracles of bravery done at Leuctra, Marathon, or Thermopylae which can surpass those performed at Crecy, Poictiers, and on other occasions; but there the splendour of the parallel ends. The Greek battle-fields are sanctified by the imperishable renown of patriotism; those of England, at that period, are distinguished only by empty ambition and unwarrantable aggression. The Greeks fought and conquered for the very existence of their country and their liberties; the English, to crush those of an independent people. The wars commenced by Edward III. inflicted the most direful miseries on France, were continued for generations, and perpetuated a spirit of hostility between the two great neighbour countries, which has been prolific of bloodshed, and most injurious to the progress of liberty and civilisation. The contest, as far as Edward III. was concerned, ended with a formal renunciation of his pretensions on the French crown, and in the acquisition of nothing but the town and district of Calais and Guisnes, destined to be lost, at a future day, with every other English fief and freehold in France.

The impolicy of Edward III. was equal to his spirit of aggression. He was not content to attempt the complete subjugation of Scotland, which his grandfather had invaded on pleas as empty as his own regarding France, and where, during the wars of three reigns, all the power and wealth of England had been put forth, only to prove that you may exterminate a brave people, but you cannot conquer it. While he was no nearer the real annexation of Scotland than his grandfather was the first day that he advanced beyond Berwick, he aspired to coerce a still more extensive empire. The real source of this great movement was merely military ambition.

Edward claimed to be the rightful heir to the crown of France through his mother. But it had always been held in that country that no female could succeed to the throne: no such occurrence had ever taken place. It was declared that this succession was prohibited by a clause in the Salic code - the code of an ancient tribe among the Franks. This clause, when carefully examined by the highest legal antiquaries, has been asserted not to bear out this principle of exclusion positively, but only to favour such exclusion. On this presumption, however, the French nation had uniformly acted for nearly 1,000 years. The ancient Franks were too barbarous and turbulent to submit to a female ruler, and those who succeeded them steadily pursued the same practice, passing over female heirs, and placing on the throne men in their stead. The third race of French kings had transmitted the crown in this manner from Hugh Capet to Louis Hutin, for eleven generations; during which period no female, nor any male, even, who founded his title on a female, had been suffered to mount the throne.

Edward asserted that in England and in other countries such claim was always considered valid; that a son could and would succeed to his mother as well as to his father; and this view of the case was supported by the Government lawyers of England and some jurists abroad in English pay; but then the succession was not to take place in England, but in France, whose whole history and practice were opposed to it. The French maintained, and truly, that it was a fundamental law that no foreigner could reign in France; and that it was a chief object of this law to exclude the husbands and children of those princesses of France who married foreigners. To put the matter still further beyond question, the Parliament of France, in the time of Philip the Long, had passed a solemn and deliberate decree, declaring expressly that all females were for ever incapable of succeeding to the crown of France.

What right, then, had Edward to dictate to the FrencL nation his own views in opposition to theirs? None whatever. By custom, the usage of nearly 1,000 years, and by express recent law, the principle of the French nation was clearly established. True, Edward was nearer in blood to the throne than Philip of Yalois, who had now succeeded. He claimed from his mother, who was daughter of the fourth preceding king, Philip the Fair, and sister of the three preceding kings; while Philip de Valois was only cousin-german to the deceased king, Charles le Bel. But all this the laws and practice of France pronounced to amount to nothing. That no female could succeed, or could transmit succession to her offspring, over that there was no passing legally; and if Edward had succeeded in proving a valid claim from the female side, he would only have proved his own exclusion; for the last three kings had all left daughters who were still alive, and who all stood before him in the order of succession.

In a legal point of view, then, Edward had not a leg to stand upon in this question, whether as a king of French or of English descent; for no race of monarchs had made such arbitrary work with succession as the kings of England, from the Conqueror downwards. Besides this, Edward, according to all the laws of honour and of nations then prevailing, had practically renounced any claims of the kind which he might pretend to. The French king had succeeded to the throne in 1329. The peers of the realm had declared the crown his. The Parliament of Paris, and after that the states general of the kingdom had confirmed their judgment; and not only all France, but all Europe had recognised him as rightful possessor of the throne. In 1331 the King of France called upon Edward to come over and do homage for his province of Guienne. Philip, who was an able man, and of years of experience, was too prudent to allow any one to retain the shadow of a claim against him. He lost no time in summoning so powerful a rival as the King of England to do that homage which would at once cut off any real claim, had it existed; and, on Edward seeming to hang back, was preparing to seize his fief by force of arms as forfeited. To have refused to yield this feudal homage would have been virtually to renounce his right to the province, or to involve him in a war with this powerful monarch. He therefore went over to France, having first, as if that would have any legal or rightful effect, secretly in his own council entered a protest against this act prejudicing his own claims on the French crown through his mother. Such have often been the private reservations by which kings and other men have sought to give a plea to their own consciences for the violation of the most public and binding acts.

Edward was at that time about eighteen years of age, brave and ambitious. He was attended by a splendid retinue of peers and knights, and was met by the King of France with a similarly imposing train. The act of homage was publicly performed in the cathedral of Amiens. Edward appeared in a robe of crimson velvet, embroidered with leopards of gold. He came wearing his armour, girt with his sword, and with his golden spurs of knighthood on his heels. Philip of France received him seated in a chair of state, before which was placed a cushion for the King of England to kneel upon. No doubt, as this act implied vassalage, so far as any lands in France were concerned every precaution was taken that so powerful a monarch of a neighbouring nation, and a suspected rival, should make no equivocal submission. Edward, on his part, was careful to give none but the smallest and most indispensable tokens of dependence, and refused to kneel. On this the grand chamberlain of France, unquestionably well instructed beforehand by his royal master, not only insisted that he should kneel, but that he should perform his homage by laying aside his regal ornaments, his sword and girdle and spurs. His anger at this humiliating demand before the assembled chivalry and high-born ladies of France was excessive; but no remonstrance could move the grand chamberlain, and he was obliged to submit, and kneel bare-headed and stripped of all the marks of his royal rank. There can be no doubt that his indignation at this proceeding whetted his enmity against Philip de Valois, and led in no trifling degree to his future terrible invasions of his kingdom. Yet it was not till 1336, five years afterwards, and seven after Philip had sat quietly on his throne, that he openly declared the superiority of his own claims to it, and his determination to assert them.

The King of England had just cause of quarrel with Philip of France, which might deserve chastisement, but could afford no ground for an attempt to dethrone him. He had repeatedly sent money and men to the aid of the Scots, and to pave the way for the return of the young king and queen, who were exiles in France. But the immediate instigator of this enterprise was the brother-in-law of Philip, Robert of Artois, who had justly incurred the king's resentment, and had fled the country in disguise. This Robert, Count of Artois, was a man of a fiery temper, and unprincipled. He had married the king's sister; and, being in high favour with him, hoped to prevail upon him to reverse the acts of Philip the Fair, which had prevented his succession to the earldom of Artois. Robert was undoubtedly the male heir; but his aunt Matilda being married to Otho, Duke of Burgundy, and his two daughters to two sons of Philip the Fair, that monarch adjudged the county of Artois to the heir female, and this judgment was confirmed by Philip the Long. The count had clearly just cause of complaint, and on the death of Charles the Fair he zealously supported the claims of Philip of Valois, and hoped, from the services which he then rendered, as well as from his alliance by marriage, that the king would now reverse this settlement of the county of Artois in his favour. Philip, however, though he held the count in the highest favour, and consulted him on all occasions of state, yet declined to reverse the decisions of his two predecessors, and satisfied himself with conferring on him the earldom of Beaumont le Roger.

But this by no means contented Robert of Artois. He forged a will, as that of his grandfather, settling the county upon him, and presented it to the king. Philip, who instantly recognised the forgery, denounced so mean and criminal an act in no measured terms; and the count retired, muttering that he who placed the crown on Philip's head knew how to take it off again. These words being reported to Philip, he appeared to have lost all command of himself: he denounced and condemned the count for forgery, degraded him from all honours and offices, confiscated his property, and banished him from France. His rage did not stop there. He seized and imprisoned the count's wife, though his own sister, on pretence of her cognisance of the fraud; burnt at the stake a woman of the house of Bethune, as the actual framer of the deed, and as having practised by sorcery against the king's life. He still pursued the fugitive count, by interfering to prevent his stay in Brabant, where he had taken refuge.

However righteous might be this indignation, it was far from politic, for Robert of Artois was a very able man, and was thus driven into the arms of Edward of England, where he proved a most formidable and most persevering enemy. He exerted all his art and persuasion with Edward to assert his title to the crown of France. The king and Robert were united by no common principle, except that of professed resentment against the King of France, and of having just claims in his country; though one was excluded by male heir ship and the other by female. The King of France, sensible of the mischief the count might create in the English court against him, called upon Edward to expel him from the country, and threatened, in case of refusal, to fall upon Guienne. This only added to the anger of Edward and to the ostensible motives of invasion. The King of France issued a sentence of felony and attainder against the count and against every vassal of his crown who harboured him. Edward retorted the protection which he had given to his enemy, the King of Scots, and commenced active measures for invading France. He made alliances with various princes of the Netherlands and Germany; his father-in-law, the Count of Hainault, was his active agent, and very soon were engaged the Duke of Brabant, the Duke of Gueldres, the Archbishop of Cologne, the Marquis of Juliers, the Count of Namur, the Lords of Baquen and Fauquemont, and the people of Flanders. The Earl of Flanders adhered to Philip, who also engaged the Kings of Navarre and Bohemia, the Dukes of Brittany, Austria, and Louvain, the Palatine of the Rhine, and some other petty princes of Germany.

Edward expected more efficient aid from the Flemings than from any other of his allies; they had grown rich and considerable through trade, and had dealings with England, whence they received wool, and where they found good customers for their manufactures. They were the first people in the northern countries of Europe who had made progress in the arts and in manufactures, and their self-earned affluence had the usual effect of inspiring them with a spirit of independence. They had resisted and thrown off the oppressions of their nobles, and expelled the earl, who was not disposed to consent to their bold assumptions. A wealthy brewer, Jacob van Arta-velde, a sort of Cromwell of the Netherlands, had, by the force of his character, not only led them on, but placed himself at their head, and now exercised a power equal to that of any sovereign. To him Edward applied to enlist the Flemings in his favour; and though he was himself as deeply imbued as any man living with the feudal spirit and all its ideas of the subserviency of the people, in this case it was convenient to overlook it. Van Artavelde entered heartily into Edward's views, and inspired his countrymen with them, who had a great dislike to Philip of France, because he had supported

their earl against them. He invited Edward over to Flanders, and promised him vigorous aid.

Edward, before embarking in this serious undertaking, called for the advice of his Parliament, and solicited its support, which was promptly given. It voted him 20,000 sacks of wool, the very commodity of all others acceptable to the Flemings, and of the supposed value of 100,000. With the price of this wool he could also pay his German allies. Besides this grant, he levied a heavy contribution on the tin of Cornwall, pawned the jewels of the crown, and raised money by all possible means - amongst others, seizing on the property of the Lombards, who now exercised the trade of money-lending, formerly carried on by the Jews. With a numerous fleet, he set sail from Orwell, in Suffolk, on the 15th of July, 1338, attended by a considerable body of English troops and some of his nobility.

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