Tuesday, May 19, 2009

France History: House of Burgundy

Charles VI. was a boy of nine years old, motherless, and beset with ambitious uncles. These uncles were Louis, Duke of Anjou, to whom Queen Joanna, the last of the earlier Angevin line in Naples, bequeathed her rights; John, Duke of Berry, a weak time-server; and Philip, the ablest and most honest of the three. His grandmother Joan, the wife of Philip VI., had been heiress of the duchy and county of Burgundy, and these now became his inheritance, giving him the richest part of France.

By still better fortune he had married Margaret, the only child of Louis, Count of Flanders. Flanders contained the great cloth-manufacturing towns of Europe—Ghent, Bruges, Ypres, etc., all wealthy and independent, and much inclined to close alliance with England, whence they obtained their wool, while their counts were equally devoted to France. Just as Count Louis II. had, for his lawless rapacity, been driven out of Ghent by Jacob van Arteveldt, so his son, Louis III., was expelled by Philip van Arteveldt, son to Jacob. Charles had been disgusted by Louis's coarse violence, and would not help him; but after the old king's death, Philip of Burgundy used his influence in the council to conduct the whole power of France to Flanders, where Arteveldt was defeated and trodden to death in the battle of Rosbecque, in 1382.

On the count's death, Philip succeeded him as Count of Flanders in right of his wife; and thus was laid the foundation of the powerful and wealthy house of Burgundy, which for four generations almost overshadowed the crown of France.

Renewal of the Hundred Year's War

This expedition ruined the prince's health, and exhausted his treasury. A hearth-tax was laid on the inhabitants of Aquitaine, and they appealed against it to the King of France, although, by the Peace of Bretigny, he had given up all right to hear appeals as suzerain. The treaty, however, was still not formally settled, and on this ground Charles received their complaint. The war thus began again, and the sword of the Constable of France—the highest military dignity of the realm—was given to Du Guesclin, but only on condition that he would avoid pitched battles, and merely harass the English and take their castles. This policy was so strictly followed, that the Duke of Lancaster was allowed to march from Brittany to Gascony without meeting an enemy in the field; and when King Edward III. made his sixth and last invasion, nearly to the walls of Paris, he was only turned back by famine, and by a tremendous thunderstorm, which made him believe that Heaven was against him. Du Guesclin died while besieging a castle, and such was his fame that the English captain would place the keys in no hand but that of his corpse. The Constable's sword was given to Oliver de Clisson, also a Breton, and called the "Butcher," because he gave no quarter to the English in revenge for the death of his brother. The Bretons were, almost to a man, of the French party, having been offended by the insolence and oppression of the English; and John de Montfort, after clinging to the King of England as long as possible, was forced to make his peace at length with Charles. Charles V. had nearly regained all that had been lost, when, in 1380 his death left the kingdom to his son.

The Peace of Bretigny

This Charles, eldest son of John, obtained by purchase the imperial fief of Vienne, of which the counts had always been called Dauphins, a title thenceforth borne by the heir apparent of the kingdom. His father's captivity and the submission of Paris left him master of the realm; but he did little to defend it when Edward III. again attacked it, and in 1360 he was forced to bow to the terms which the English king demanded as the price of peace. The Peace of Bretigny permitted King John to ransom himself, but resigned to England the sovereignty over the duchy of Aquitaine, and left Calais and Ponthieu in the hands of Edward III. John died in 1364, before his ransom was paid, and his son mounted the throne as Charles V. Charles showed himself from this time a wary, able man, and did much to regain what had been lost by craftily watching his opportunity. The war went on between the allies of each party, though the French and English kings professed to be at peace; and at the battle of Cocherel, in 1364, Charles the Bad was defeated, and forced to make peace with France. On the other hand, the French party in Brittany, led by Charles de Blois and the gallant Breton knight, Bertrand du Guesclin, were routed, the same year, by the English party under Sir John Chandos; Charles de Blois was killed, and the house of Montfort established in the duchy. These years of war had created a dreadful class of men, namely, hired soldiers of all nations, who, under some noted leader, sold their services to whatever prince might need them, under the name of Free Companies, and when unemployed lived by plunder. The peace had only let these wretches loose on the peasants. Some had seized castles, whence they could plunder travellers; others roamed the country, preying on the miserable peasants, who, fleeced as they were by king, barons, and clergy, were tortured and murdered by these ruffians, so that many lived in holes in the ground that their dwellings might not attract attention. Bertrand du Guesclin offered the king to relieve the country from these Free Companies by leading them to assist the Castilians against their tyrannical king, Peter the Cruel. Edward, the Black Prince, who was then acting as Governor of Aquitaine, took, however, the part of Peter, and defeated Du Guesclin at the battle of Navarete, on the Ebro, in 1367.

Monday, May 4, 2009

France History: The Jacquerie

The calls made on their vassals by these captive nobles to supply their ransoms brought the misery to a height. The salt tax, or gabelle, which was first imposed to meet the expenses of the war, was only paid by those who were neither clergy nor nobles, and the general saying was—"Jacques Bonhomme (the nickname for the peasant) has a broad back, let him bear all the burthens." Either by the king, the feudal lords, the clergy, or the bands of men-at-arms who roved through the country, selling themselves to any prince who would employ them, the wretched people were stripped of everything, and used to hide in holes and caves from ill-usage or insult, till they broke out in a rebellion called the Jacquerie, and whenever they could seize a castle revenged themselves, like the brutes they had been made, on those within it. Taxation was so levied by the king's officers as to be frightfully oppressive, and corruption reigned everywhere. As the king was in prison, and his heir,Pg 29 Charles, had fled ignominiously from Poitiers, the citizens of Paris hoped to effect a reform, and rose with their provost-marshal, Stephen Marcel, at their head, threatened Charles, and slew two of his officers before his eyes. On their demand the States-General were convoked, and made wholesome regulations as to the manner of collecting the taxes, but no one, except perhaps Marcel, had any real zeal or public spirit. Charles the Bad, of Navarre, who had pretended to espouse their cause, betrayed it; the king declared the decisions of the States-General null and void; and the crafty management of his son prevented any union between the malcontents. The gentry rallied, and put down the Jacquerie with horrible cruelty and revenge. The burghers of Paris found that Charles the Bad only wanted to gain the throne, and Marcel would have proclaimed him; but those who thought him even worse than his cousins of Valois admitted the other Charles, by whom Marcel and his partisans were put to death. The attempt at reform thus ended in talk and murder, and all fell back into the same state of misery and oppression.