Joseph Norton I (orpheusinhades) wrote in common_history,
Joseph Norton I

The Hundred Years' War, Chapter 2

So, when last we left England, the boy king Richard, grandson of the last king (Edward III) sat on the throne, and the French had regained some of their losses against the English.

Edward, the Black Prince, though a great military leader, was never king – he died a year before his father, and so never inherited. Interestingly, he was never called "the Black Prince" during his lifetime, but now always is – the name is believed to have come either from his black temper or his black armor. His younger brother, John of Gaunt (so called because he was born in Ghent, which was in modern-day Belgium), however, had been instead influencing politics back in England.

John was Duke of Lancaster (in England) by his first marriage, to his cousin Blanche (whose father was the first Duke of Lancaster). Family intermarriages at the time were considered a great deal more ordinary than they are now – since royalty couldn't marry just anyone. His wife had died a few years earlier, however, giving him the freedom to marry again, this time to the daughter of the king of Castile (central Spain).

John had protected the religious reformer John Wyclif from persecution. Wyclif was the first to initiate an English translation of the Bible all in one volume (the entire Bible being only available in Latin otherwise), and proposed controversial reforms in the Church which founded a movement called the Lollards. Later reforms of this type blossomed into the Protestant Reformation, cutting the western Christian world in two.

At any rate, John was definitely a major "mover and shaker" of the English political world. However, due to some bad maneuvering he managed to become distrusted by both the boy king and by the people. In the so-called "Peasants' Revolt" of 1381, which happened because of an unpopular tax (to pay for the military), John's palace was destroyed by rioters. The king met with the rioters and agreed to some of their demands, but during these meetings, one of the primary rebel leaders was assassinated, so the group fell apart. The rebellion's leaders were rounded up and executed, and the agreed-to reforms were revoked.

John had several children by a mistress (whose sister married Geoffrey Chaucer, writer of the Canterbury Tales). After his second wife died he married her, and those children were later legitimized as the Beauforts, but barred from the line of succession. However, much later, during the so-called War of the Roses, the Beauforts would come back into play. But that is another tale.

Richard sent his diplomatic uncle abroad to serve... as a diplomat. John's son Henry (by his first marriage) was less successful in convincing the king (now 32 years of age, the same as Henry) of his good intentions, and was officially exiled and ejected from the line of succession in 1398. When John died the following year in 1399, Richard declared that Henry could not inherit, and that the estate of Lancaster belonged to the English crown.

Henry, unsurprisingly, wasn't so hot on being kicked out of his own family estate. He returned to England and declared himself king, deposing Richard and imprisoning him in Pontefract Castle (where the former king was murdered the next year). He was the first king to give his coronation address in English rather than French.

Henry was now Henry IV, King of England. However, his early reign was marred by several rebellions, in Wales, and Northumberland (in northern England) - the French also lent aid to the Welsh rebels. These rebellions were put down by the king's young son Henry (later Henry V), who led armies before the age of sixteen. It was at that tender age that he was shot by an arrow to the face, and nearly died of his wound. But the royal physicians managed to save his life, and Henry continued his military career.

In the meantime, his father was slowly dying of a debilitating disease which may have been leprosy or syphilis, and Henry V (also called young prince Hal) ended up basically running the show. The Lollards hoped for a sympathetic ruler in Henry, but as Henry took the trappings of power he aimed for stability rather than revolution. When his father died in 1413, Henry V soon afterward set his sights back on France.

Charles VI, who had been King of France since 1380, suffered from bouts of madness, now thought to be bipolar disorder. However, at the time it just made him a crazy man. He did not even lead his troops, being incapable in the field. Henry, to the contrary, was young and charismatic, an acknowledged military genius.

At the battle of Agincourt (1415), the French encircled the English troops, intending to keep them from reaching their supplies at Calais. Henry famously addressed his troops before battle – a speech which was dramatized by Shakespeare as the St. Crispin's Day speech –

"we few, we happy few, we band of brothers; for he who sheds his blood with me today will be my brother... and gentlemen in England now abed shall think themselves accursed they were not here, and hold their manhoods cheap while any speaks that fought with us, upon St. Crispin's Day!"

The speech is, of course, poetic license on Shakespeare's part. He was born centuries later. However, the facts are not poetic license. The English had less than 6,000 men, the French about 25,000. The French lost nearly a third of their men, whereas the English losses were stated as thirteen men-at-arms and about a hundred footmen.

In other words, it was a bloody slaughter, where Henry won despite staggering odds to the contrary. Though perhaps a great deal of the victory was due to luck, Henry managed to capitalize on that luck to inflict tremendous losses and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

He followed up his victory with more and more, as well as allying with the Holy Roman Emperor (essentially the king of Germany) to install a new Pope, which was acceptable to both of the current factions of the church (which had been split between alternate popes).

In 1419, Henry was at the walls of Paris. The French surrendered, and acknowledged Henry's claim on the French throne. Henry wedded Charles VI's daughter, Catherine of Valois, and it was agreed that upon Charles' death Henry would become king of France as well as England.

The war won, Henry moved on to his other plans. Standing at the head of a united Christendom, he planned a new Crusade against the heathen to retake the Holy Land from the infidels (after the Crusades Israel still stood in the hands of Islam). He planned to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.

However, in August of 1422, before reaching the age of 35, the great hero died unexpectedly of dysentery, leaving his infant (less than a year old) son Henry VI on the throne. Henry missed inherited the throne of France by a scant few months, for Charles VI died in October.

The French Dauphin (pronounced "dough-fanh", a French term for prince, derived from a dolphin symbol), Charles's son, was prohibited from inheriting by the terms of the treaty. The young Charles was 19, and though the English lacked the power to enforce their kingship, the French lacked the will to overthrow their rule, having just gotten the pants beaten off of them.

The French, then, stayed as English subjects for the nonce. However, bizarrely enough, a mad young peasant girl named Jeanne Darc (also called "Joan of Arc") would forever change the future of France. At the age of 16, having heard voices in her head she claimed were the voices of the archangel Michael, St. Catherine, and St. Margaret, she went to the Dauphin, telling him that they had told her she must lead the French against their English overlords. She dressed in men's clothes to visit him and picked him out, disguised in a group of courtiers, though she could not know what he looked like.

She demanded that the Dauphin aid against the English siege of Orleans, an independent French duchy. The Dauphin, impressed by her fanaticism and perhaps believing her, allowed the peasant girl to lead an army against England. The French for the most part didn't believe it was really breaking a treaty, for they believed that the treaty was unfairly signed against the former mad king. So, the war started up yet again in earnest. This time, however, the victories belonged to the French, fighting fanatically in defense of the "Maid of Orleans".

The soldiers loved her dearly, though she demanded unheard-of things from her troops – not only that they refrain from rape and murder, but that they keep from swearing, attend church regularly, and behave like professional soldiers at all times. They seem to have earnestly believed that she was a saint.

In 1429 the French Dauphin was crowned Charles VII at Reims Cathedral, in front of Jeanne. The French continued with victory after victory, and recaptured Paris, and eventually all of France except for the northern port of Calais (which remained English territory for quite some time).

However, in 1430, Burgundy, an ally of the English, captured Jeanne, and within a year she was up on charges of heresy in front of an English-led church tribunal. Her cross-dressing, voices, and claims of divine inspiration were all used as evidence of her heresy, which she admitted to, but then took back her admission. She was burned at the stake, shouting "JESUS" over and over again, and after her charred corpse was shown to the crowd (to show that she was indeed a woman), they threw it into the Seine in lieu of a Christian burial.

Her martyrdom inspired the troops to victory, however, and the Hundred Years' War was over. The French had won. After several years, Joan's heresy was overturned, and she was eventually sainted – the French clearly did not want their kingship depending on a heretic violating a treaty.

Charles VII ruled for thirty more years before being succeeded by his son. Henry VI ruled for twenty more before the War of the Roses threw England into a bloody civil war.

Hope you learned something!
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