Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Standing Army of the Hundred Year's War

As at the end of the first act in the Hundred Years' War, the great difficulty in time of peace was the presence of the bands of free companions, or mercenary soldiers, who, when war and plunder failed them, lived by violence and robbery of the peasants. Charles VII., who had awakened into vigour, thereupon took into regular pay all who would submit to discipline, and the rest were led off on two futile expeditions into Switzerland and Germany, and there left to their fate.

The princes and nobles were at first so much disgusted at the regulations which bound the soldiery to respect the magistracy, that they raised a rebellion, which was fostered by the Dauphin Louis, who was ready to do anything that could annoy his father. But he was soon detached from them; the Duke of Burgundy would not assist them, and the league fell to pieces. Charles VII. by thus retaining companies of hired troops in his pay laid the foundation of the  first standing army in Europe, and enabled the monarchy to tread down the feudal force of the nobles. His government was firm and wise; and with his reign began better times for France. But it was long before it recovered from the miseries of the long strife. The war had kept back much of progress.

There had been grievous havoc of buildings in the north and centre of France; much lawlessness and cruelty prevailed; and yet there was a certain advance in learning, and much love of romance and the theory of chivalry. Pages of noble birth were bred up in castles to be first squires and then knights. There was immense formality and stateliness, the order of precedence was most minute, and pomp and display were wonderful. Strange alternations took place. One month the streets of Paris would be a scene of horrible famine, where hungry dogs, and even wolves, put an end to the miseries of starving, homeless children of slaughtered parents; another, the people would be gazing at royal banquets, lasting a whole day, with allegorical "subtleties" of jelly on the table, and pageants coming between the courses, where all the Virtues harangued in turn, or where knights delivered maidens from giants and "salvage men."

In the south there was less misery and more progress. Jacques Cœur's house at Bourges is still a marvel of household architecture; and René, Duke of Anjou and Count of Provence, was an excellent painter on glass, and also a poet.

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