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War with France page 2


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On landing at Antwerp he found it difficult to move his various allies, who, like continental allies in all ages, were much fonder of receiving their subsidies than of fighting. The Germans demurred to advance against France except by authority of the Emperor of Germany, who, therefore, conferred on Edward the title of vicar of the empire. The Flemings, who were vassals of France, had like scruples to combat, which were eventually overcome by Edward assuming, at the instigation of Van Artavelde, the style of King of France, and, under plea of the right it conferred, claiming their aid in deposing Philip of Valois as the usurper of his realm.

By this act Edward made that breach between this country and France which it has taken so many ages to heal, and which has been the spring of incalculable miseries to both countries. Till then, the nobility, coming originally from Normandy, were to be found almost as frequently at the English court as at that of France, and the two countries seemed little different from the wide empire of one people under two or more sovereigns. In this fatal epoch, however, that unanimity was destroyed, and rivalries, animosities, and rivers of blood took its place.

This step was not taken by Edward without great misgivings and reluctance; and no sooner was it made, than his allies began to show symptoms of backwardness. The Duke of Brabant, the most powerful amongst the princes, seemed inclined wholly to withdraw from his alliance, and could be only held to his engagements by fresh privileges of trade being granted to his subjects, and a marriage contracted between the Black Prince and the daughter of the duke. To move the Germans, who were only concerned to get as much of the king's money as possible, he found it necessary to promise an attack on Cambray, a city of the empire which Philip had seized upon, or, in other words, to pay them for allowing him to fight their own battles. Finding that the attempt was useless, he then led his allies to the frontiers of France, where many of them threw off all pretence of doing that for which they had been so liberally paid, and refused to fight against France. Amongst these were the Count of Namur and the Count of Hainault, Edward's own brother-in-law (the old count being dead), who now discovered that they were vassals of France, and could not possibly direct their arms against it. We do not read that on this discovery they attempted to refund the money they had pocketed for this very purpose.

Deserted by these mercenaries, Edward, however, still advanced and entered France, encamping at Vironfosse, near Capelle, with 50,000 men, chiefly foreigners. Philip came against him with an army of nearly twice that amount, consisting of his own subjects, and having the advantage of being accompanied, blessed, and encouraged by the Pope - a most inspiriting circumstance in that age. Benedict XII. lived then at Avignon, and was a dependent on France, besides being incensed at Edward making an alliance with Ludvig of Bavaria, who lay under the ban of his excommunication. Edward marched as far as Peronne and St. Quentin, burning the villages and laying waste the country. The French king, however, avoided hazarding an engagement, and Edward, having made a detour by the Ardennes, found his armies exhausted, and returned to Ghent. There Benedict endeavoured to negotiate a peace between the two monarchs; but Edward, spite of the utter failure of his campaign, refused to listen to it. Yet his situation was pitiable, and his feelings could be by no means enviable. He had consumed and, indeed, anticipated, his whole year's revenue; he had seized largely on the substance of his subjects, had pawned everything belonging to himself and his queen, and was now in a manner in pawn himself, for he had incurred debts to his miserable, useless allies to the amount of £300,000. They would not allow him to return to England even to raise fresh resources, without leaving his queen behind, as a pledge of his return. Thus all his grand undertaking had ended in worse than smoke; in nothing whatever performed, and in formidable engagements incurred.

In February, 1340, he managed to get over to England, where nothing but difficulties and mortifications awaited him. He had sent over during the campaign to obtain fresh supplies from Parliament through his son, whom he had left guardian, Parliament offered to grant him 30,000 more sacks of wool, but then they demanded in return that the king should make considerable abatements both of royal licence and prerogative. The king had caused sheriffs and other placemen to be elected into Parliament to increase his facility of obtaining grants This stretch of power the Parliament very properly insisted should cease, and to that the king consented; but they went on next to demand that the ancient privileges of purveyance and levying of feudal aids, for knighting the king's eldest son and marrying his eldest daughter, should be abolished. There the king demurred; these were his ancient rights, and not all his necessities, and the temptation of the 30,000 sacks of wool, could induce him to sacrifice them. When he appeared in person, lie obtained better terms, but not without a straggle. Parliament now called for a confirmation of the two charters. which the kings of those ages were always breaking, and I which Edward had to confirm fifteen times in the course of his reign. This, therefore, he probably considered no great matter; but Parliament also asked for a confirmation of the privileges of boroughs, a pardon for old debts and offences, and some reforms in the administration of the common law. In return for these concessions, it offered him the liberal supplies of a ninth fleece, lamb, and sheep, and the same of the movables of the burgesses; as well as a duty of forty shillings on each last of leather, on each sack of wool, and on each 300 sheepskins exported, for two years; and because these would corne in I too slowly, they gave him 20,000 sacks of wool at once, to be deducted from these taxes. Parliament also took a | very prudent precaution, in affording him the sinews of j war, to protest against the assumption of the title of King of France, declaring that they owed him no obeisance as King of France, and that the kingdoms must for ever remain separate and independent of each other. i While the king was making these preparations for the renewal of the war, Philip of France was using strenuous exertions to collect a fleet powerful enough to prevent his landing. He had sought this aid from the Genoese, at that time the great maritime power; as we shall soon find that he had also employed them, to a great extent, as archers in his army. The fleet numbered 400 sail, manned by Genoese sailors, and containing an army of 40,000 men; that is, about 100 men on an average to a vessel; from which we may form some idea of the smallness of the ships of those times. Edward, informed of this, collected also a fleet, with which, though consisting of only 240 sail, he was impatient to set out and engage that of his rival. His council advised him to wait till he had a force more equal; but Edward set out on the 22nd of June, many English ladies going over in other vessels to pay their respects to the queen. On the 24th the English fleet was off the harbour of Sluys, in Flanders, and there found the French fleet lying to prevent their disembarkation. Their masts and streamers, says Froissart, appeared like a wood. When Edward saw them, he exclaimed, "Ha! I have long desired to fight the French, and now I will do it, by the grace of God and St. George!"

The next morning, having placed the vessels bearing the ladies at such a distance that they might see the battle in safety, Edward, with the instinctive address of a British naval captain, manoeuvred so as to get the wind of the enemy. This movement, being mistaken by the French for a sign of fear in the king, induced them to come pouring out of the harbour; by which Edward gained another object which he sought, that of having them more in his power of attack. The battle commenced at ten in the morning, and lasted nine hours. During the fight the Genoese showered in upon the English their arrows from their deadly crossbows; but they were briskly answered by the long bows of the English; and when all the arrows were spent, they seized each others' ships with grappling irons and chains, and the men-at-arms fought hand to hand with swords and axes, as if on land. The English, fighting in the presence and under the daring example of their king, displayed the utmost courage, and finally victory decided for them. They took or destroyed nearly the whole of the French fleet. Fifteen thousand of the enemy - some authors say more - were killed, or perished in the sea. To make the catastrophe the more complete, the Flemings, seeing the battle incline for the English, rushed down to the shore in great numbers, and cut off the retreat of the French, making terrible slaughter amongst them. Edward then accomplished his landing with the greatest éclat, inspiring his allies with some temporary spirit.

This is a remarkable engagement, being the first great naval victory of England, the first brilliant proof of that maritime ascendancy which awaited this country. So great was the defeat of the French, that no one dared to breathe a syllable of it in the hearing of Philip; and it was only made known to him by the court jester. Some one speaking of the English, "Pho!" said the fool, "the English are but cowards." "Why sop" said the king. "Because," added the fool, "they did not dare the other day at Sluys to leap into the sea from their ships like the French and Normans."

Edward had lost about 4,000 men himself in the battle, but still he had no lack of followers. The splendour of this victory, and the fame of the large sums which he had brought with him, gathered his allies about him like swarms of locusts. Nearly 200,000 men advanced with him towards the French frontiers, but achieved nothing of consequence. Of these, 50,000, under Robert of Artois, laid siege to St. Omer. A single sally of the governor was enough to squander these untutored forces, and notwithstanding the abilities of Robert of Artois, they could never again be collected. Edward invested Tournay, which was defended by a strong garrison; and when reduced to distress, Philip appeared with a large army, but avoided coming to action. Edward, provoked at this caution, sent him a challenge to single combat, which he declined. While the armies lay in this position, and Edward had wasted ten weeks, effecting nothing and paying his numerous army of useless allies, Jane, Countess of Hainault, sister to Philip and mother-in-law of Edward, came forward as a mediatrix between them. She had retired from the world to a convent, but this destructive quarrel between persons so near to her called her forth to endeavour to reconcile them. Her exertions were seconded by the Pope and cardinal; but all that they could effect was a truce for one year.

Philip managed soon after to win over the Emperor of Germany, who revoked Edward's title of imperial vicar, and his other allies rapidly withdrew as his money failed. He was now harassed by them as most importunate creditors, and was glad to steal away to England, where he arrived in the worst of humours. He had involved himself deeply in debt, and had achieved nothing but his naval victory. The anger which was excited by his foreign creditors fell on his subjects at home. Landing unexpectedly, he found the Tower very negligently guarded, and he immediately committed the constable and all in charge of it to prison. He then let his vengeance fall on the officers of the revenue, and collectors of the taxes, who had so greatly failed him in his need. Sir John St. Paul, keeper of the privy seal, Sir John Stonore, chief justice, and Andrew Aubrey, Mayor of London, were displaced and imprisoned, as were also the Bishops of Chichester and Lichfield, the chancellor and treasurer. Stratford, Archbishop of Canterbury, to whom the charge of collecting the new taxes had chiefly been entrusted, also fell under his displeasure; but he assumed an attitude of defiance, threatening excommunication against any one daring to execute these which he termed illegal arrests, and appealed to Magna Charta in behalf of himself and brethren. The king appointed commissioners to inquire into the guilt of all concerned. He issued a proclamation, accusing the archbishop of having embezzled or misapplied the taxes intended for the king's use. The archbishop denied the charge, and, supported by the clergy in a regular combination against the king, accused him of arbitrary acts and infringements of the constitution, telling him that the favour of the Church was higher than that of the state, inasmuch as the priests had to answer at the Divine tribunal for the conduct of kings themselves, and reminding him that prelates before then had cited emperors to their seats of judgment. This dispute was carried on with great heat on both sides; but the king, driven by the clamours of his creditors, was obliged to call a Parliament; and though he omitted to summon Stratford, the archbishop appeared before the gates arrayed in full pontificals, with crozier in hand, and attended by an imposing train of bishops and priests. He demanded admittance as the highest peer of the realm; but it was not till Edward had kept him there two days that-he admitted him, and even became reconciled to him.

The king's necessities, no doubt, made him give way, for he had difficulties sufficient without the opposition of the clergy. He was overwhelmed with debts, for which he was paying ruinous interest, and was worried both by his foreign and domestic creditors. His attempts on France, which had brought him into this humiliating condition, had proved utter failures. Parliament declined to assist him, except on its usual conditions of fresh restrictions on his power. The barons claimed that peers should only be tried by peers; they called for a new subscription of the Great Charter; they demanded that no offices should be filled, except by the advice of his council; and that, at the commencement of every session, he should resume all offices, in order to inquire into their faithful discharge. Edward, as was his wont, signed all these and other demands, obtained his grant of 20,000 more sacks of wool, and then declared that the conditions to which he had agreed were void, because they had been extorted.

It was hoped that the truce which had been entered into between France and England might be succeeded by a peace. Edward's total want of success might naturally have been expected to incline him to it; but he claimed exemption from rendering homage for Guienne, and that Philip should cease to support the King of Scots against him. Neither of these points would Philip yield, when an event took place which renewed the war with fresh spirit, and with the most wonderful change of fortune.

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Pictures for War with France page 2

The Battle of Sluys
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Genoese Bowman
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Edward the Black Prince
Edward the Black Prince >>>>
French and English Cavalry
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