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Northern Europe: British Isles; Scandinavia; the Netherlands; France. page 4

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In Scandinavia we find that Sweden had never taken kindly to the Union of Calmar, and was often engaged in fierce hostilities with Denmark, in favour of which country there was a strong party amongst the nobles and higher churchmen. Some of the nobles, and the mass of the people, the peasantry, were enthusiasts for national independence. In 1434 the men of Dalecarlia, patriots and lovers of freedom beyond all other Swedes, revolted under the leadership of an owner of mines, and peace was restored only by the appointment of a native noble as viceroy, ruling in conjunction with the mine-owner. During the latter half of the 15th century the country was generally under the enlightened rule of native independent sovereigns.

We have hitherto seen little or nothing of the country called the Netherlands, the region now forming Belgium and Holland. The northern part of this territory, in its physical formation, is exactly like Lower Egypt, as being the creation of a great river through the deposits from currents of the water made sluggish, on approaching the sea, by division into many channels. Holland was, in fact, made by the Rhine. Most of Belgium is a monotonous flat, perhaps owing its existence to the retreat of shallow marine waters. The Hollanders, and the western coast-people, are mostly of Teutonic race, or Flemish; those of the south-western region, or Walloon country, are largely of Celtic origin. In ancient Roman days, the territory between the arms of the Rhine was called Batavia, and the people became allies of Rome. They were at last merged in the swarms of the Frisian and Frankish tribes. The mediaeval Holland, then including the land which was buried by an irruption of the sea in the 13th century, and made into the Zuyder Zee, was under the rule of Karl the Great, the people keeping their native customs and the Frisian laws which asserted the freedom of their race. In the 10th century, when the great ruler's empire had been broken up, we find the northern country, after its conversion to Christianity, partly by force, partly by the persuasion of missionaries already noted, subject to a count of Holland and a bishop of Utrecht. In the southern Netherlands there were many petty sovereigns, of whom the chief were the dukes of Brabant and counts or earls of Flanders. These small autocrats were ever at issue among themselves, and feudal despotism prevailed, except in Brabant. We have seen some of the nobles, as Godfrey of Bouillon and the counts of Flanders and Hainault, engaged in the Crusades. Those expeditions reduced the barons' power in the expenditure of their resources, and the influence of territorial lords received a great shock in the battle of Bouvines, in 1214, where we saw Philip Augustus of France inflict a severe defeat.

A new epoch for the country began at this time. Towns rose to importance, buying charters of freedom from impoverished lords, with fixed payments of dues. The citizens thereby secured the right of being tried by their own magistrates, and all enjoyed personal freedom. Every freeman, in order to exclude runaway serfs, and mere vagabonds and outlaws, from municipal privileges, was enrolled in a trade-guild. We have already noted the great increase of commerce due to the Crusades, and the Netherlands did not fail to benefit therefrom. A chief source of the growing prosperity was the weaving of woollen and linen cloth. Large fleets of Dutch and Flemish ships traded to Spain and Languedoc, and Flanders was a great mart for England and all northern Europe. The population grew fast, and all parts of the country were tilled. Eastern goods collected at Venice and Genoa were sent over the passes of the Alps to the Rhine, and thence conveyed by the river to Bruges (Brugge, the "city of bridges"), with her many canals, now so fair in her decay. This town became a northern Venice, and one of the greatest commercial places in Europe, as the chief entrepot for both Mediterranean and northern merchandise. Ghent became famous for her woollen manufactures, and by the end of the 13th century was one of the largest towns in Europe, much exceeding the Paris of that age. The burghers of the Netherlands became very powerful, having armed forces far superior to those of the feudal lords. In 1302, when Flanders had been annexed to France, the men of Bruges arose against an oppressive governor, and utterly defeated a great French host, under Philip le Bel (IV.), at the battle of Courtrai. In Brabant freedom grew, and a legislative and judicial council arose, of whose 14 members only four were nobles, and ten were chosen by the people. At Ghent, in 1338, under Jacob van Arteveldt, the people drove out all nobles and adherents of the count of Flanders, and it was a fleet of their ships which greatly aided Edward III. in his naval victory of Sluys. The famous Philip van Arteveldt of Ghent asserted the self-government of the city against another count of Flanders, but in 1382 Charles VI. of France, after some defeats, routed the Flemings at Roosbeke, between Courtrai and Ghent, the patriotic Van Arteveldt being among the slain.

Early in the 15th century the country came under the control of Philip of Burgundy, whose dominions extended from the foot of the Alps to the German Ocean, including the "overlordship" of all the 17 provinces of the Netherlands. The country was then very prosperous, and fully enjoying the freedom provided in her charters. The municipal bodies had much influence over the sovereign and the nobles of the Council. In the assemblies of the States, the stadtholder represented the prince in his absence, intervening between the nobles and the towns, on questions of taxation, as a check on both parties. The jealousy of the towns with regard to each other, and municipal isolation, were ultimately very detrimental to the cause of freedom. We may here note, as an important element in the prosperity of the Netherlands, the herring-fishery of the Flemings and the Dutch. Cured fish were of great value as diet in days when the lack of all winter-food for cattle, except hay, compelled people to eat salted provisions during several months of the year. The Church-fasts also caused a great consumption, and the North Sea fisheries were a very mine of wealth, coming next to the manufactures and trade, and serving as a school of skilled and sturdy mariners for the future Dutch navy. Philip of Burgundy, as guardian of his cousin Jacqueline of Hainault, one of the ablest and the most beautiful ladies of her time, had sworn to maintain the privileges and institutions of the Netherlands. Villain as he was, he first robbed his ward of her possessions, and then informed the cities and estates of the Netherlands that he considered his oaths of no effect, unless he chose to renew them. In 1435 he compelled the Flemings to aid him in a war with England, their best friend in the way of commerce. An insurrection took place in Bruges, but the city was blockaded, to the ruin of her trade for the time, and with the death of many thousands from famine. The citizens had then to pay an enormous fine, and leave their privileges at the Duke's mercy. In 1448, Ghent rose against unjust taxation, but the city was compelled to submit to a heavy fine and loss of municipal rights, after a contest of four years. The death of Philip in 1467 brought to power his son Charles the Bold, or "Rash," "Headstrong," as his French name (le Temeraire) is better rendered. The new ruler engaged in warfare with Louis XI. of France, and oppressed the Netherlanders with grievous exactions in order to meet his expenses. The government became a mere despotism, and it was a great relief when Charles, in 1477, fell in battle against the Swiss. His daughter and successor, Mary of Burgundy, granted the "Great Privilege," the Magna Charta of the Netherlands, by which natives alone could hold office, and no taxes could be imposed, or war undertaken, without the consent of the estates. Provision was also made against arbitrary imprisonment, and the constitution of the Netherlands became the freest hitherto seen in any country. In a few years Mary died from a horse-accident, and the rule of the country came to her little son Philip, whose father, Maximilian of Hapsburg, then "King of the Romans," or heir to the headship of the "Holy Roman Empire," conquered the cities one after another, revoked the Charter, slew the chief burghers, and brought the Netherlanders again under practically absolute rule.

In France, Philip IV., surnamed Le Bel (the Fair), ruled from 1285-1314. He found himself in a time of transition from feudalism to the modern system, and was in sore want of money to meet the expenses of large bodies of civil servants needed for administration, and of mercenary troops and hired fleets for war. His warfare with the Flemings has been given, and the expenditure in this contest brought a serious quarrel with Pope Boniface VIII., who resented the French king's taxation of the ecclesiastical property in his realm. In 1301, the violent occupant of the Papal chair issued a " bull" asserting his supremacy over all kings. Philip had the document burned, and another instrument of the same kind, with a threat of excommunication, brought matters to a crisis. In 1303, Boniface was seized by Philip's emissaries, and treated with gross indignity, and he died shortly after the occupation of Rome by French troops. The election of a Frenchman (Clement V.) as Pope then brought a reconciliation between the king and the Church. The reign of Philip IV. was notable for the establishment of the Paris parliament, which was a judicial, not a legislative body, divided into three courts-or chambers, dealing with various political, judicial, and financial matters. He also recognised the new middle class, the bourgeoisie, by summoning their representatives as deputies of the cities to form a tiers etat, or "third estate," in the national assembly or States-General, the other two orders being the clergy and the nobles. On the death of Charles IV., in 1328, the last of Philip's three sons who reigned in succession, there was no male heir remaining of the elder line of the Capets, and the Salic law, excluding females from the French throne, brought in the House of Valois in the person of Philip VI. (1328-1350), nephew of Philip IV. The events of the great war between France and England under this sovereign and his successors John II. and Charles V. have been given, and we need only notice the dreadful peasant-war of 1358, the rising called the Jacquerie, from the words "Jacques Bonhomme," a nickname for the lower class in France. The country-folk had been driven to madness by the misery due to pillage in the war, and they committed atrocities which were avenged in like fashion.

Charles VII. (1422-1461), on coming to the French throne, was recognised as king only to the south of the Loire, while the infant sovereign of England, Henry VI., was acknowledged to the north of that river, with his uncle, the duke of Bedford, as regent, in "alliance with the duke of Burgundy. The reign of the French ruler, a delicate, scholarly, timid, and somewhat voluptuous young man of 19, began in disaster. Two defeats of his troops seemed to make it certain that the whole country would be finally subject to England. The resources left to Charles lay in the national pride of the French people, and in the adhesion to his cause of the houses of Anjou and Lorraine, and of the duke of Brittany, who brought with him a large number of brave soldiers and some able commanders, countrymen of Du Guesclin, the great patriot and hero of the previous century. Dunois and La Hire, two of his captains, forced the English to raise the siege of Montargis, about 40 miles north-east of Orleans. In 1428, a historical crisis, in which the destinies of two great nations were involved, came in the English siege of Orleans. That city was regarded as the last stronghold of the French national party, the key to the southern territory, and its possession by the enemy would involve the complete subjugation of France. The siege of the town, lying on the north, or right bank of the Loire, with suburbs extending far on the southern side, connected with the town by a strong bridge, was entrusted to the earl of Salisbury, one of the bravest, most skilful, and most experienced of the English generals, trained to war under Henry V. It was now, for the first time, that any great use of cannon was made in siege-operations, and the possession of two towers called the Tourelles, at the southern end of the bridge, enabled the English to rake some of the principal streets. On October 23rd, 1428, this important position was stormed by the French, and the hopes of the besieged rose higher when Dunois and La Hire arrived with reinforcements, and the earl of Salisbury was killed by a cannon-shot. The bridge across the river had been broken down by the French, and access to the town was thus cut off on the south. The new English commander, the earl of Suffolk, then resorted to blockade, aiming at a surrender through famine. Early in 1429 the lines of works round the place were nearly finished, and provisions were growing scarce in Orleans. At the "Battle of Herrings," fought at Rouvrai, a French attack on a great convoy of salted fish and other stores for the English troops in Lent was defeated, and the fate of the city seemed to be settled when a wonderful young woman appeared, backed by the power which the pious describe as faith, and which sceptics decry as superstition.

Jeanne Dare (absurdly translated as "Joan of Arc"), heard of before this crisis as La Pucelle, or The Maid, was daughter of a small farmer in the hamlet of Domremy, on the borders of Champagne and Lorraine. Her fancy fed, as she tended her father's flocks, on legends of saints, and her soul brooded over her country's miserable condition. After hearing voices and seeing visions, she made her way, in soldier's garb, to the presence of the king, and at last induced him to believe in her mission to save France from the English. In April, 1429, she took the field clad in a new suit of white armour, mounted on a black war-horse, and bearing a lance in her right hand. Her unhelmeted head showed fair, expressive features, deep-set earnest eyes, and long black hair. A page carried before her a banner of white satin, strewn with the lilies of France, and bearing the words Jesus, Marie. The hearts of the troops were won at the outset by the sight of her fine figure, her skill in horsemanship, and her grace and ease in handling her weapons, which included a small battle-axe and a consecrated sword, taken at her bidding from one of the shrines of St. Catharine. In order to understand the success now achieved by Frenchmen against men of the same race as the victors of Crecy, Poitiers, and Agincourt, we must remember the immense power of faith, or credulity, in that age. The followers of Jeanne firmly believed her to be the chosen instrument of Heaven. Her enemies were as strongly persuaded of her being aided by the powers of evil. All the rest was due to the skill of the French leaders, the personal courage of Jeanne, and the restoration of strict discipline in the French army, a point on which the Maid successfully insisted. On the night of April 28th, amid a storm of thunder and rain, she made her way into Orleans, at the head of a large convoy of provisions, and boats at the same time brought supplies up the river. In ten days more the siege was over. The English bastilles, or chief posts on the siege-works, named "Rouen," "Paris," and "London," were stormed, and on May 8th the besiegers slowly and sullenly retired. In June two victories were won by the French at Jargeau and Patay, and on July 17th, about five months after the first interview with the king, Jeanne fulfilled her promise of seeing Charles crowned at the ancient cathedral of Rheims. She stood at his side by the high altar, with her victorious banner in her hand, having amazed men by her success and won for herself a deathless name. Her tragical fate, after capture in May, 1430, by the Burgundians besieging Compiegne for the English, and her delivery to the enemy at Rouen, needs no further remark than that she was condemned and burnt as a sorceress and heretic by her own countrymen, at the instance of the University of Paris, the trial being conducted by Pierre Cauchon, bishop of Beauvais. The guilt of Englishmen in the matter lay in allowing the crime committed, through religious bigotry, by renegade Frenchmen. In 1456, after a revision of her trial, the Pope caused the reversal of her condemnation. The English cause went on to ruin. In 1435 the duke of Burgundy recognised Charles VII., and the able duke of Bedford died. A period of inaction, from 1436 to 1449, was employed by the French king in reforms, as he considered them, which included a right of permanent taxation in a certain form without consent of the "Estates" or national assembly, and the institution of regular troops which formed the first "standing army" of France. In 1449 the war was renewed, after desultory fighting in previous years, and Rouen and Cherbourg were taken by the French. In 1452 Talbot, earl of Shrewsbury, was defeated and killed at Castillon, near Bordeaux, and in the following year that town, the last fortress in English hands save Calais, was taken. The dream of French conquest was thus brought to an end, and England was saved, in fact, from being an appendage of France, and involved in all her Continental wars.

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Pictures for Northern Europe: British Isles; Scandinavia; the Netherlands; France. page 4

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