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Reign of Edward III page 4

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Thus terminated the battle of Poictiers, one of the most wonderful victories ever achieved, being won by an army numerically only one-sixth of that which it defeated, and fighting under the disadvantage of being surrounded in the enemy's country, and against the King of France in person, with all his chivalry. Thus stood King John, a captive at the end of the fight where, without striking a single blow, he might have expelled the English army from his soil, and bound the formidable Prince of Wales to a peace of seven years.

The true glory, therefore, of the Black Prince was that, so far from taunting John with this, he received him with the utmost courtesy. He advanced from his tent to meet the captive king with every mark of respect and regard. He bade him not think too much of the fortune of war, but to bear in mind that he had won the admiration of both armies, and the fame of the bravest man who had fought on that side. He caused a banquet to be spread in his tent for the king and his dauntless son, who thenceforward, from his stoical heroism, bore the name of Philip the Hardy. Edward refused to sit down at the table, as being only a vassal of the King of France. He said, "You shall find my father ready to show you all honour and friendship, and you shall, if you will, become such friends as you have never yet been." The king was so much touched by the respect and kindness of Edward, that he declared, though defeated, it was no loss of honour to yield to a prince of such consummate valour and generosity.

The attendants of the king are said to have been affected to tears by the noble conduct and consoling words of the prince to their royal master, and the spirit spread through the army towards all the prisoners. Edward also showed the same spirit of justice and liberality towards others. He presented to Sir James Audley 500 marks of yearly revenue for his services in the action; and when he found that he had transferred the whole of it to his four squires, he again settled 400 yearly upon him. He also heard all the eager and conflicting claims respecting the capture of the king, the distinction and the ransom being alluring objects; and finally adjudged it impartially, not to any of his own great barons, but to the poor French exile Sir Denis de Morbeque.

The prince conducted his royal prisoner to Bordeaux whence, in the following April, he set sail with him and his son for London. They made their entrance into the English capital on the 24th of that month, 1357, landing at Southwark, whence they rode in procession through the city to Westminster, vast crowds attending them the whole way to satiate their wonder at the novel spectacle of the monarch of France riding there as a captive. He was clad in his royal robes, and mounted on a white steed of remarkable size and beauty; while the Prince of Wales rode by his side, clad in a much plainer dress, and on a black palfrey. This might, to our present ideas have appeared an aping of humility; but it was doubtless dictated to the prince by a chivalrous courtesy, and presented a fine contrast to the savage pomp of a Roman triumph, in which great kings and queens, amid all the spoils of their ravaged realms, were made to walk in chains, while the proud conqueror rode in his chariot blazing with gold.

It was, indeed, a time of singular triumph to the English people, for there were now two captive kings, those of France and Scotland, in their metropolis. Edward III advanced to meet King John at the gates of his palace with the greatest courtesy, and received him, not as a prisoner, but as a neighbouring potentate arrived on a social visit.

The King of Scots had now been a captive in England eleven years. There had been no want of endeavours on the part of the Scots or of the King of England to effect his liberation. During the early portion of David's captivity this was not so much the case, because there was strong leaning in him towards the French alliance - a natural result of his nine years' kind entertainment in that kingdom in his early youth. But his sojourn in England produced as decided an attachment to the English; and Edward, perceiving this, was willing to have on the throne of Scotland a friend who might counteract the hostile tendency of the nobles. During the last six years, various negotiations had been entered into with the Scots for the release of David, but the ransom was considered by them too high. In 1351 this cause broke off the treaty; in 1354 the Scots agreed to give a ransom of 90,000 marks, payable in nine years. But their French allies, dreading an amicable state of things between Scotland and England, having lately lost Calais, and being then threatened with a fresh invasion by the English, induced the Scots to break the agreement. The effect of this measure was speedily seen in an invasion of England by the Scots, which compelled Edward to return from Normandy, and was followed by his celebrated raid, called the "Burnt Candlemas," in Scotland. Now, however, a treaty was concluded, in which the Scots consented to pay 100,000 marks in ten years, giving hostages for the due fulfilment of this compact. In November of this year, 1357, David was restored to liberty, and returned to his kingdom; and, before reverting to the prosecution of the war with France, we may briefly state what were the consequences of this transaction.

It soon became evident that the abode of David at the English court had produced the same effect as that formerly made upon him by his residence in the court of France. His facile and amiable but weak mind had been completely won over by Edward, who now saw, as he imagined, a quieter and more effectual mode of securing the crown of Scotland than by war. David had lost his wife, the sister of Edward, but had no children. He had grown fonder of the more polished and luxurious court of England than of his own ruder country and turbulent nobles. He did not, therefore, hesitate, after the death of his wife, to propose to the Scottish Parliament that, in case of his dying without issue, Edward's third son, the Duke of Cambridge, should succeed him. The Scots, of course, rejected the proposal without ceremony. Still it was well known that a secret treaty existed between David and Edward III. for this object. In 1371 David died, and Robert Stewart, the grandson of Robert Bruce, by David's eldest sister, Marjory, succeeded to the throne, by the full consent of the Scottish Parliament, under the title of Robert II. Though Edward menaced, he never asserted his new claim to the crown, for his hands were full with the French war, and, soon after, the death of his son, the Black Prince, put an end to all such ideas. From that time to the reign of James VI., a period of 232 years, the Stewarts continued to reign, when they also succeeded to the crown of England, and thus prepared the way for the ultimate and entire union of the kingdoms.

The battle of Poictiers filled up the measure of the calamities of France. Crecy was a decisive blow; the loss of Calais was another. But these were still only a minor portion of the losses and miseries which had been crowding upon her through ten years of invasion. Normandy, Artois, Picardy, and the southern provinces of France had been repeatedly traversed by hostile armies, their fields laid waste, their cattle driven off or destroyed, their crops trodden under foot; their cities, towns, and villages burnt or pillaged. By sea or by land France had suffered defeat and heavy loss of men, ships, and property. At Sluys, in mid Channel, and on various parts of the coast, the English had destroyed her fleets. In defending her ally of Brittany, Charles of Blois, her treasures had been largely drawn upon; and now came this desolating overthrow, in which the flower of her nobility was crushed or made captive with their king.

That captivity let loose all the elements of disorder which had been accumulating through these terrible years. The people were impoverished, and numbers of them utterly ruined; all were wretched and discontented. The nobles were grown arrogant with the weakness of the state, and the country was overrun with bands of armed marauders, calling themselves "Free Companions," who preyed at will on the already sorely fleeced people, committing every species of outrage, and thus aggravating awfully the miseries of the nation.

The dauphin was only a youth of eighteen, and, though possessed of superior talents, and unusual prudence and spirit for his age, was necessarily destitute of that authority and that experience which such a crisis required, and his two younger brothers could afford him no assistance in so difficult a position. Besides the want of support in the members of his own family, he had a most dangerous and indefatigable enemy in his relative, the King of Navarre, who possessed that determined disposition to mischief which most truly entitled him to the name given him by the public, Charles the Bad.

He was still in prison, but he found means through stone walls to exercise his pre-eminent talents for intrigue, treachery, and malicious machinations. Pretending even to the crown, he had all the seditious arts and fiery recklessness of the demagogue; and he stooped to ally himself with any malcontent class, or to work with any dirty tool. Accordingly, when the dauphin called together the states of the kingdom to enable him to obtain supplies, and reasonably imagining that he should find all classes, under the calamitous condition of the country, ready to unite with him for the restoration of the king, and the re-establishment of order, he was met by demands for the limitation of the royal prerogative, the punishment of past offenders, and, above all, for the release of the King of Navarre.

Undoubtedly there were many evils to redress, and abuses of the royal power to complain of; but this was not the time when honourable men would have sought to enforce these objects. It was taking a cowardly advantage of the unfortunate position of a mere youth, to wrest from him what he had 110 legal authority to yield. Brave and upright men would have brought back the monarch, and from him demanded those measures which justice and the circumstances of the kingdom required. But what should have been reform was dastardly and lawless faction; and the very naming of the King of Navarre, the evil genius of France, betrayed its real origin. Marcel, the provost of the merchants, was the determined tool of Charles of Navarre, who put himself at the head of the mob, and endeavoured to terrify the dauphin into submission to his demands. The states, influenced by the same spirit, demanded the entire change of the king's ministers, the punishment of several of them; and, dividing itself into separate committees, attempted to usurp the different departments of the executive. The dauphin was only to act under the control of a council of thirty-six members of the states-general, in which were to reside the powers of the whole body, and the King of Navarre was at once to be liberated. The dauphin temporised with the art of a much older man, till he had obtained from the states some supplies, with which he proposed to put down disorders in the provinces, and then he dissolved the states, spite of the citizens of Paris, headed by Marcel and Ronsac the sheriff.

Freed from this millstone about his neck, Charles dispatched Sir Robert de Clermont, a brave commander, into Normandy, against Sir Godfrey de Harcourt, who was again gone over to the English, in resentment for the execution of his brother, Count Harcourt, as one of the adherents of the factious King of Navarre.

Sir Robert de Clermont came up with Sir Godfrey near Coutances, in November, 1356, and not only routed his forces, but slew him. Soon after this a truce was made with the English in Normandy; but still the captains of Edward pursued their predatory career in Brittany and Gascony. To complete the mischief, the King of Navarre escaped from his prison at Creave-coeur, and was received with raptures by the disaffected people of Amiens and Paris. He harangued the people in those cities, and seemed, by the drift of his speeches, to aim at a republic. His brother, Philip of Navarre, remained in the English camp, and denounced the idea of a republic as pregnant with disorder, mutability, and bloodshed.

Charles, the dauphin, was compelled to call the states-general together again, to demand fresh taxes for the prosecution of the war; but Marcel, the democratic provost, uniting with the King of Navarre, opposed all his measures, and excited the people to violence. He caused them to assume blue hats, as a badge of their adherence to his party, which, from its co-operation with Charles of Navarre, was also called the Navarrese party.

Matters now ripened apace from anarchy into civil war. In February, 1358, a man of the name of Mace, having murdered the treasurer of France, took refuge in a church. The dauphin ordered him to be fetched thence, and put to death. But when Robert de Clermont and John de Con-flans, the marshals of France, went to execute this command, the Bishop of Paris protested against it as a violation of the sanctuary of the church; and Marcel, the provost, seizing so admirable an opportunity for bearding the dauphin, marched with the whole mob of Paris to his palace, then called the Palais de Justice. Entering without any regard to the person of the dauphin, he seized the two marshals and put them to death so close to the prince that his dress was sprinkled with their blood, "How now," cried the dauphin; "will you shed the blood royal of France?" Marcel replied, "No;" and, to show his pacific intentions, he rudely snatched from the dauphin's head the embroidered hat of a pale rose colour, put it on his own head, and clapped his own blue hat on that of the dauphin. The bodies of the murdered marshals were dragged through the streets, where, during the day, Marcel went about in the dauphin's hat.

Thus the capital of France was reduced to the utmost anarchy. The dauphin returned into Picardy and Champagne, where he assembled the states of those provinces, and was aided by them to the best of their ability. But all France was one scene of discord, insurrection, violence, and crime. The mercenary and predatory bands of the Companions, many of whom, or at least their leaders, were English, were engaged by the King of Navarre to carry out his projected republic. The dauphin, on the other side, assembled forces to oppose him; and now broke out one of the most frightful calamities which can afflict a nation - that of a peasants' war. In the reign of Richard II. in England, some few years after this time, our own country was on the verge of such a horrible state of things, under Wat Tyler and Jack Straw. At the time of the Reformation, Germany experienced its unspeakable atrocities, under the name of the Bauern Krieg, or "War of the Peasantry, and France now was doomed to drink deeply of its demon horrors, under the name of the Jaquerie, from the gentry being used to call the peasants Jaques Bonhomme, or Goodman James.

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