History of France
by Charlotte M. Yonge
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History Primers. Edited by J.R. GREEN.


























1. France.—The country we now know as France is the tract of land shut in by the British Channel, the Bay of Biscay, the Pyrenees, the Mediterranean, and the Alps. But this country only gained the name of France by degrees. In the earliest days of which we have any account, it was peopled by the Celts, and it was known to the Romans as part of a larger country which bore the name of Gaul. After all of it, save the north-western moorlands, or what we now call Brittany, had been conquered and settled by the Romans, it was overrun by tribes of the great Teutonic race, the same family to which Englishmen belong. Of these tribes, the Goths settled in the provinces to the south; the Burgundians, in the east, around the Jura; while the Franks, coming over the rivers in its unprotected north-eastern corner, and making themselves masters of a far wider territory, broke up into two kingdoms—that of the Eastern Franks in what is now Germany, and that of the Western Franks reaching from the Rhine to the Atlantic. These Franks subdued all the other Teutonic conquerors of Gaul, while they adopted the religion, the language, and some of the civilization of the Romanized Gauls who became their subjects. Under the second Frankish dynasty, the Empire was renewed in the West, where it had been for a time put an end to by these Teutonic invasions, and the then Frankish king, Charles the Great, took his place as Emperor at its head. But in the time of his grandsons the various kingdoms and nations of which the Empire was composed, fell apart again under different descendants of his. One of these, Charles the Bald, was made King of the Western Franks in what was termed the Neustrian, or "not eastern," kingdom, from which the present France has sprung. This kingdom in name covered all the country west of the Upper Meuse, but practically the Neustrian king had little power south of the Loire; and the Celts of Brittany were never included in it.

2. The House of Paris.—The great danger which this Neustrian kingdom had to meet came from the Northmen, or as they were called in England the Danes. These ravaged in Neustria as they ravaged in England; and a large part of the northern coast, including the mouth of the Seine, was given by Charles the Bald to Rolf or Rollo, one of their leaders, whose land became known as the Northman's land, or Normandy. What most checked the ravages of these pirates was the resistance of Paris, a town which commanded the road along the river Seine; and it was in defending the city of Paris from the Northmen, that a warrior named Robert the Strong gained the trust and affection of the inhabitants of the Neustrian kingdom. He and his family became Counts (i.e., judges and protectors) of Paris, and Dukes (or leaders) of the Franks. Three generations of them were really great men—Robert the Strong, Odo, and Hugh the White; and when the descendants of Charles the Great had died out, a Duke of the Franks, Hugh Capet, was in 987 crowned King of the Franks. All the after kings of France down to Louis Philippe were descendants of Hugh Capet. By this change, however, he gained little in real power; for, though he claimed to rule over the whole country of the Neustrian Franks, his authority was little heeded, save in the domain which he had possessed as Count of Paris, including the cities of Paris, Orleans, Amiens, and Rheims (the coronation place). He was guardian, too, of the great Abbeys of St. Denys and St. Martin of Tours. The Duke of Normandy and the Count of Anjou to the west, the Count of Flanders to the north, the Count of Champagne to the east, and the Duke of Aquitaine to the south, paid him homage, but were the only actual rulers in their own domains.

3. The Kingdom of Hugh Capet.—The language of Hugh's kingdom was clipped Latin; the peasantry and townsmen were mostly Gaulish; the nobles were almost entirely Frank. There was an understanding that the king could only act by their consent, and must be chosen by them; but matters went more by old custom and the right of the strongest than by any law. A Salic law, so called from the place whence the Franks had come, was supposed to exist; but this had never been used by their subjects, whose law remained that of the old Roman Empire. Both of these systems of law, however, fell into disuse, and were replaced by rude bodies of "customs," which gradually grew up. The habits of the time were exceedingly rude and ferocious. The Franks had been the fiercest and most untamable of all the Teutonic nations, and only submitted themselves to the influence of Christianity and civilization from the respect which the Roman Empire inspired. Charles the Great had tried to bring in Roman cultivation, but we find him reproaching the young Franks in his schools with letting themselves be surpassed by the Gauls, whom they despised; and in the disorders that followed his death, barbarism increased again. The convents alone kept up any remnants of culture; but as the fury of the Northmen was chiefly directed to them, numbers had been destroyed, and there was more ignorance and wretchedness than at any other time. In the duchy of Aquitaine, much more of the old Roman civilization survived, both among the cities and the nobility; and the Normans, newly settled in the north, had brought with them the vigour of their race. They had taken up such dead or dying culture as they found in France, and were carrying it further, so as in some degree to awaken their neighbours. Kings and their great vassals could generally read and write, and understand the Latin in which all records were made, but few except the clergy studied at all. There were schools in convents, and already at Paris a university was growing up for the study of theology, grammar, law, philosophy, and music, the sciences which were held to form a course of education. The doctors of these sciences lectured; the scholars of low degree lived, begged, and struggled as best they could; and gentlemen were lodged with clergy, who served as a sort of private tutors.

4. Earlier Kings of the House of Paris.—Neither Hugh nor the next three kings (Robert, 996-1031; Henry, 1031-1060; Philip, 1060-1108) were able men, and they were almost helpless among the fierce nobles of their own domain, and the great counts and dukes around them. Castles were built of huge strength, and served as nests of plunderers, who preyed on travellers and made war on each other, grievously tormenting one another's "villeins"—as the peasants were termed. Men could travel nowhere in safety, and horrid ferocity and misery prevailed. The first three kings were good and pious men, but too weak to deal with their ruffian nobles. Robert, called the Pious, was extremely devout, but weak. He became embroiled with the Pope on account of having married Bertha—a lady pronounced to be within the degrees of affinity prohibited by the Church. He was excommunicated, but held out till there was a great religious reaction, produced by the belief that the world would end in 1000. In this expectation many persons left their land untilled, and the consequence was a terrible famine, followed by a pestilence; and the misery of France was probably unequalled in this reign, when it was hardly possible to pass safely from one to another of the three royal cities, Paris, Orleans, and Tours. Beggars swarmed, and the king gave to them everything he could lay his hands on, and even winked at their stealing gold off his dress, to the great wrath of a second wife, the imperious Constance of Provence, who, coming from the more luxurious and corrupt south, hated and despised the roughness and asceticism of her husband. She was a fierce and passionate woman, and brought an element of cruelty into the court. In this reign the first instance of persecution to the death for heresy took place. The victim had been the queen's confessor; but so far was she from pitying him that she struck out one of his eyes with her staff, as he was led past her to the hut where he was shut in and burnt. On Robert's death Constance took part against her son, Henry I., on behalf of his younger brother, but Henry prevailed. During his reign the clergy succeeded in proclaiming what was called the Truce of God, which forbade war and bloodshed at certain seasons of the year and on certain days of the week, and made churches and clerical lands places of refuge and sanctuary, which often indeed protected the lawless, but which also saved the weak and oppressed. It was during these reigns that the Papacy was beginning the great struggle for temporal power, and freedom from the influence of the Empire, which resulted in the increased independence and power of the clergy. The religious fervour which had begun with the century led to the foundation of many monasteries, and to much grand church architecture. In the reign of Philip I., William, Duke of Normandy, obtained the kingdom of England, and thus became far more powerful than his suzerain, the King of France, a weak man of vicious habits, who lay for many years of his life under sentence of excommunication for an adulterous marriage with Bertrade de Montfort, Countess of Anjou. The power of the king and of the law was probably at the very lowest ebb during the time of Philip I., though minds and manners were less debased than in the former century.

5. The First Crusade (1095—1100).—Pilgrimage to the Holy Land had now become one great means by which the men of the West sought pardon for their sins. Jerusalem had long been held by the Arabs, who had treated the pilgrims well; but these had been conquered by a fierce Turcoman tribe, who robbed and oppressed the pilgrims. Peter the Hermit, returning from a pilgrimage, persuaded Pope Urban II. that it would be well to stir up Christendom to drive back the Moslem power, and deliver Jerusalem and the holy places. Urban II. accordingly, when holding a council at Clermont, in Auvergne, permitted Peter to describe in glowing words the miseries of pilgrims and the profanation of the holy places. Cries broke out, "God wills it!" and multitudes thronged to receive crosses cut out in cloth, which were fastened to the shoulder, and pledged the wearer to the holy war or crusade, as it was called. Philip I. took no interest in the cause, but his brother Hugh, Count of Vermandois, Stephen, Count of Blois, Robert, Duke of Normandy, and Raymond, Count of Toulouse, joined the expedition, which was made under Godfrey of Bouillon, Duke of Lower Lorraine, or what we now call the Netherlands. The crusade proved successful; Jerusalem was gained, and a kingdom of detached cities and forts was founded in Palestine, of which Godfrey became the first king. The whole of the West was supposed to keep up the defence of the Holy Land, but, in fact, most of those who went as armed pilgrims were either French, Normans, or Aquitanians; and the men of the East called all alike Franks. Two orders of monks, who were also knights, became the permanent defenders of the kingdom—the Knights of St. John, also called Hospitallers, because they also lodged pilgrims and tended the sick; and the Knights Templars. Both had establishments in different countries in Europe, where youths were trained to the rules of their order. The old custom of solemnly girding a young warrior with his sword was developing into a system by which the nobly born man was trained through the ranks of page and squire to full knighthood, and made to take vows which bound him to honourable customs to equals, though, unhappily, no account was taken of his inferiors.

6. Louis VI. and VII.—Philip's son, Louis VI., or the Fat, was the first able man whom the line of Hugh Capet had produced since it mounted the throne. He made the first attempt at curbing the nobles, assisted by Suger, the Abbot of St. Denys. The only possibility of doing this was to obtain the aid of one party of nobles against another; and when any unusually flagrant offence had been committed, Louis called together the nobles, bishops, and abbots of his domain, and obtained their consent and assistance in making war on the guilty man, and overthrowing his castle, thus, in some degree, lessening the sense of utter impunity which had caused so many violences and such savage recklessness. He also permitted a few of the cities to purchase the right of self-government, and freedom from the ill usage of the counts, who, from their guardians, had become their tyrants; but in this he seems not to have been so much guided by any fixed principle, as by his private interests and feelings towards the individual city or lord in question. However, the royal authority had begun to be respected by 1137, when Louis VI. died, having just effected the marriage of his son, Louis VII., with Eleanor, the heiress of the Dukes of Aquitaine—thus hoping to make the crown really more powerful than the great princes who owed it homage. At this time lived the great St. Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux, who had a wonderful influence over men's minds. It was a time of much thought and speculation, and Peter Abailard, an able student of the Paris University, held a controversy with Bernard, in which we see the first struggle between intellect and authority. Bernard roused the young king, Louis VII., to go on the second crusade, which was undertaken by the Emperor and the other princes of Europe to relieve the distress of the kingdom of Palestine. France had no navy, so the war was by land, through the rugged hills of Asia Minor, where the army was almost destroyed by the Saracens. Though Louis did reach Palestine, it was with weakened forces; he could effect nothing by his campaign, and Eleanor, who had accompanied him, seems to have been entirely corrupted by the evil habits of the Franks settled in the East. Soon after his return, Louis dissolved his marriage; and Eleanor became the wife of Henry, Count of Anjou, who soon after inherited the kingdom of England as our Henry II., as well as the duchy of Normandy, and betrothed his third son to the heiress of Brittany. Eleanor's marriage seemed to undo all that Louis VI. had done in raising the royal power; for Henry completely overshadowed Louis, whose only resource was in feeble endeavours to take part against him in his many family quarrels. The whole reign of Louis the Young, the title that adhered to him on account of his simple, childish nature, is only a record of weakness and disaster, till he died in 1180. What life went on in France, went on principally in the south. The lands of Aquitaine and Provence had never dropped the old classical love of poetry and art. A softer form of broken Latin was then spoken, and the art of minstrelsy was frequent among all ranks. Poets were called troubadours and trouveres (finders). Courts of love were held, where there were competitions in poetry, the prize being a golden violet; and many of the bravest warriors were also distinguished troubadours—among them the elder sons of Queen Eleanor. There was much license of manners, much turbulence; and as the Aquitanians hated Angevin rule, the troubadours never ceased to stir up the sons of Henry II. against him.

7. Philip II. (1180—1223).—Powerful in fact as Henry II. was, it was his gathering so large a part of France under his rule which was, in the end, to build up the greatness of the French kings. What had held them in check was the existence of the great fiefs or provinces, each with its own line of dukes or counts, and all practically independent of the king. But now nearly all the provinces of southern and western France were gathered into the hand of a single ruler; and though he was a Frenchman in blood, yet, as he was King of England, this ruler seemed to his French subjects no Frenchman, but a foreigner. They began therefore to look to the French king to free them from a foreign ruler; and the son of Louis VII., called Philip Augustus, was ready to take advantage of their disposition. Philip was a really able man, making up by address for want of personal courage. He set himself to lower the power of the house of Anjou and increase that of the house of Paris. As a boy he had watched conferences between his father and Henry under the great elm of Gisors, on the borders of Normandy, and seeing his father overreached, he laid up a store of hatred to the rival king. As soon as he had the power, he cut down the elm, which was so large that 300 horsemen could be sheltered under its branches. He supported the sons of Henry II. in their rebellions, and was always the bitter foe of the head of the family. Philip assumed the cross in 1187, on the tidings of the loss of Jerusalem, and in 1190 joined Richard I. of England at Messina, where they wintered, and then sailed for St. Jean d'Acre. After this city was taken, Philip returned to France, where he continued to profit by the crimes and dissensions of the Angevins, and gained, both as their enemy and as King of France. When Richard's successor, John, murdered Arthur, the heir of the dukedom of Brittany and claimant of both Anjou and Normandy, Philip took advantage of the general indignation to hold a court of peers, in which John, on his non-appearance, was adjudged to have forfeited his fiefs. In the war which followed and ended in 1204, Philip not only gained the great Norman dukedom, which gave him the command of Rouen and of the mouth of the Seine, as well as Anjou, Maine, and Poitou, the countries which held the Loire in their power, but established the precedent that a crown vassal was amenable to justice, and might be made to forfeit his lands. What he had won by the sword he held by wisdom and good government. Seeing that the cities were capable of being made to balance the power of the nobles, he granted them privileges which caused him to be esteemed their best friend, and he promoted all improvements. Though once laid under an interdict by Pope Innocent III. for an unlawful marriage, Philip usually followed the policy which gained for the Kings of France the title of "Most Christian King." The real meaning of this was that he should always support the Pope against the Emperor, and in return be allowed more than ordinary power over his clergy. The great feudal vassals of eastern France, with a strong instinct that he was their enemy, made a league with the Emperor Otto IV. and his uncle King John, against Philip Augustus. John attacked him in the south, and was repulsed by Philip's son, Louis, called the "Lion;" while the king himself, backed by the burghers of his chief cities, gained at Bouvines, over Otto, the first real French victory, in 1214, thus establishing the power of the crown. Two years later, Louis the Lion, who had married John's niece, Blanche of Castile, was invited by the English barons to become their king on John's refusing to be bound by the Great Charter; and Philip saw his son actually in possession of London at the time of the death of the last of the sons of his enemy, Henry II. On John's death, however, the barons preferred his child to the French prince, and fell away from Louis, who was forced to return to France.

8. The Albigenses (1203—1240).—The next great step in the building up of the French kingdom was made by taking advantage of a religious strife in the south. The lands near the Mediterranean still had much of the old Roman cultivation, and also of the old corruption, and here arose a sect called the Albigenses, who held opinions other than those of the Church on the origin of evil. Pope Innocent III., after sending some of the order of friars freshly established by the Spaniard, Dominic, to preach to them in vain, declared them as great enemies of the faith as Mahometans, and proclaimed a crusade against them and their chief supporter, Raymond, Count of Toulouse. Shrewd old King Philip merely permitted this crusade; but the dislike of the north of France to the south made hosts of adventurers flock to the banner of its leader, Simon de Montfort, a Norman baron, devout and honourable, but harsh and pitiless. Dreadful execution was done; the whole country was laid waste, and Raymond reduced to such distress that Peter I., King of Aragon, who was regarded as the natural head of the southern races, came to his aid, but was defeated and slain at the battle of Muret. After this Raymond was forced to submit, but such hard terms were forced on him that his people revolted. His country was granted to De Montfort, who laid siege to Toulouse, and was killed before he could take the city. The war was then carried on by Louis the Lion, who had succeeded his father as Louis VIII. in 1223, though only to reign three years, as he died of a fever caught in a southern campaign in 1226. His widow, Blanche, made peace in the name of her son, Louis IX., and Raymond was forced to give his only daughter in marriage to one of her younger sons. On their death, the county of Toulouse lapsed to the crown, which thus became possessor of all southern France, save Guienne, which still remained to the English kings. But the whole of the district once peopled by the Albigenses had been so much wasted as never to recover its prosperity, and any cropping up of their opinions was guarded against by the establishment of the Inquisition, which appointed Dominican friars to inquire into and exterminate all that differed from the Church. At the same time the order of St. Francis did much to instruct and quicken the consciences of the people; and at the universities—especially that of Paris—a great advance both in thought and learning was made. Louis IX.'s confessor, Henry de Sorbonne, founded, for the study of divinity, the college which was known by his name, and whose decisions were afterwards received as of paramount authority.

9. The Parliament of Paris.—France had a wise ruler in Blanche, and a still better one in her son, Louis IX., who is better known as St. Louis, and who was a really good and great man. He was the first to establish the Parliament of Paris—a court consisting of the great feudal vassals, lay and ecclesiastical, who held of the king direct, and who had to try all causes. They much disliked giving such attendance, and a certain number of men trained to the law were added to them to guide the decisions. The Parliament was thus only a court of justice and an office for registering wills and edicts. The representative assembly of France was called the States-General, and consisted of all estates of the realm, but was only summoned in time of emergency. Louis IX. was the first king to bring nobles of the highest rank to submit to the judgment of Parliament when guilty of a crime. Enguerrand de Coucy, one of the proudest nobles of France, who had hung two Flemish youths for killing a rabbit, was sentenced to death. The penalty was commuted, but the principle was established. Louis's uprightness and wisdom gained him honour and love everywhere, and he was always remembered as sitting under the great oak at Vincennes, doing equal justice to rich and poor. Louis was equally upright in his dealings with foreign powers. He would not take advantage of the weakness of Henry III. of England to attack his lands in Guienne, though he maintained the right of France to Normandy as having been forfeited by King John. So much was he respected that he was called in to judge between Henry and his barons, respecting the oaths exacted from the king by the Mad Parliament. His decision in favour of Henry was probably an honest one; but he was misled by the very different relations of the French and English kings to their nobles, who in France maintained lawlessness and violence, while in England they were struggling for law and order. Throughout the struggles between the Popes and the Emperor Frederick II., Louis would not be induced to assist in a persecution of the Emperor which he considered unjust, nor permit one of his sons to accept the kingdom of Apulia and Sicily, when the Pope declared that Frederick had forfeited it. He could not, however, prevent his brother Charles, Count of Anjou, from accepting it; for Charles had married Beatrice, heiress of the imperial fief of Provence, and being thus independent of his brother Louis, was able to establish a branch of the French royal family on the throne at Naples. The reign of St. Louis was a time of much progress and improvement. There were great scholars and thinkers at all the universities. Romance and poetry were flourishing, and influencing people's habits, so that courtesy, i.e. the manners taught in castle courts, was softening the demeanour of knights and nobles. Architecture was at its most beautiful period, as is seen, above all, in the Sainte Chapelle at Paris. This was built by Louis IX. to receive a gift of the Greek Emperor, namely, a thorn, which was believed to be from the crown of thorns. It is one of the most perfect buildings in existence.

10. Crusade of Louis IX.—Unfortunately, Louis, during a severe illness, made a vow to go on a crusade. His first fulfilment of this vow was made early in his reign, in 1250, when his mother was still alive to undertake the regency. His attempt was to attack the heart of the Saracen power in Egypt, and he effected a landing and took the city of Damietta. There he left his queen, and advanced on Cairo; but near Mansourah he found himself entangled in the canals of the Nile, and with a great army of Mamelukes in front. A ford was found, and the English Earl of Salisbury, who had brought a troop to join the crusade, advised that the first to cross should wait and guard the passage of the next. But the king's brother, Robert, Count of Artois, called this cowardice. The earl was stung, and declared he would be as forward among the foe as any Frenchman. They both charged headlong, were enclosed by the enemy, and slain; and though the king at last put the Mamelukes to flight, his loss was dreadful. The Nile rose and cut off his return. He lost great part of his troops from sickness, and was horribly harassed by the Mamelukes, who threw among his host a strange burning missile, called Greek fire; and he was finally forced to surrender himself as a prisoner at Mansourah, with all his army. He obtained his release by giving up Damietta, and paying a heavy ransom. After twenty years, in 1270, he attempted another crusade, which was still more unfortunate, for he landed at Tunis to wait for his brother to arrive from Sicily, apparently on some delusion of favourable dispositions on the part of the Bey. Sickness broke out in the camp, and the king, his daughter, and his third son all died of fever; and so fatal was the expedition, that his son Philip III. returned to France escorting five coffins, those of his father, his brother, his sister and her husband, and his own wife and child.

11. Philip the Fair.—The reign of Philip III. was very short. The insolence and cruelty of the Provencals in Sicily had provoked the natives to a massacre known as the Sicilian Vespers, and they then called in the King of Aragon, who finally obtained the island, as a separate kingdom from that on the Italian mainland where Charles of Anjou and his descendants still reigned. While fighting his uncle's battles on the Pyrenees, and besieging Gerona, Philip III. caught a fever, and died on his way home in 1285. His successor, Philip IV., called the Fair, was crafty, cruel, and greedy, and made the Parliament of Paris the instrument of his violence and exactions, which he carried out in the name of the law. To prevent Guy de Dampierre, Count of Flanders, from marrying his daughter to the son of Edward I. of England, he invited her and her father to his court, and threw them both into prison, while he offered his own daughter Isabel to Edward of Carnarvon in her stead. The Scottish wars prevented Edward I. from taking up the cause of Guy; but the Pope, Boniface VIII., a man of a fierce temper, though of a great age, loudly called on Philip to do justice to Flanders, and likewise blamed in unmeasured terms his exactions from the clergy, his debasement of the coinage, and his foul and vicious life. Furious abuse passed on both sides. Philip availed himself of a flaw in the Pope's election to threaten him with deposition, and in return was excommunicated. He then sent a French knight named William de Nogaret, with Sciarra Colonna, a turbulent Roman, the hereditary enemy of Boniface, and a band of savage mercenary soldiers to Anagni, where the Pope then was, to force him to recall the sentence, apparently intending them to act like the murderers of Becket. The old man's dignity, however, overawed them at the moment, and they retired without laying hands on him, but the shock he had undergone caused his death a few days later. His successor was poisoned almost immediately on his election, being known to be adverse to Philip. Parties were equally balanced in the conclave; but Philip's friends advised him to buy over to his interest one of his supposed foes, whom they would then unite in choosing. Bertrand de Goth, Archbishop of Bordeaux, was the man, and in a secret interview promised Philip to fulfil six conditions if he were made Pope by his interest. These were: 1st, the reconciliation of Philip with the Church; 2nd, that of his agents; 3rd, a grant to the king of a tenth of all clerical property for five years; 4th, the restoration of the Colonna family to Rome; 5th, the censure of Boniface's memory. These five were carried out by Clement V., as he called himself, as soon as he was on the Papal throne; the sixth remained a secret, but was probably the destruction of the Knights Templars. This order of military monks had been created for the defence of the crusading kingdom of Jerusalem, and had acquired large possessions in Europe. Now that their occupation in the East was gone, they were hated and dreaded by the kings, and Philip was resolved on their wholesale destruction.

12. The Papacy at Avignon.—Clement had never quitted France, but had gone through the ceremonies of his installation at Lyons; and Philip, fearing that in Italy he would avoid carrying out the scheme for the ruin of the Templars, had him conducted to Avignon, a city of the Empire which belonged to the Angevin King of Naples, as Count of Provence, and there for eighty years the Papal court remained. As they were thus settled close to the French frontier, the Popes became almost vassals of France; and this added greatly to the power and renown of the French kings. How real their hold on the Papacy was, was shown in the ruin of the Templars. The order was now abandoned by the Pope, and its knights were invited in large numbers to Paris, under pretence of arranging a crusade. Having been thus entrapped, they were accused of horrible and monstrous crimes, and torture elicited a few supposed confessions. They were then tried by the Inquisition, and the greater number were put to death by fire, the Grand Master last of all, while their lands were seized by the king. They seem to have been really a fierce, arrogant, and oppressive set of men, or else there must have been some endeavour to save them, belonging, as most of them did, to noble French families. The "Pest of France," as Dante calls Philip the Fair, was now the most formidable prince in Europe. He contrived to annex to his dominions the city of Lyons, hitherto an imperial city under its archbishop. Philip died in 1314; and his three sons—Louis X., Philip V., and Charles IV.,—were as cruel and harsh as himself, but without his talent, and brought the crown and people to disgrace and misery. Each reigned a few years and then died, leaving only daughters, and the question arose whether the inheritance should go to females. When Louis X. died, in 1316, his brother Philip, after waiting for the birth of a posthumous child who only lived a few days, took the crown, and the Parliament then declared that the law of the old Salian Franks had been against the inheritance of women. By this newly discovered Salic law, Charles IV., the third brother, reigned on Philip's death; but the kingdom of Navarre having accrued to the family through their grandmother, and not being subject to the Salic law, went to the eldest daughter of Louis X., Jane, wife of the Count of Evreux.



1. Wars of Edward III.—By the Salic law, as the lawyers called it, the crown was given, on the death of Charles IV., to Philip, Count of Valois, son to a brother of Philip IV., but it was claimed by Edward III. of England as son of the daughter of Philip IV. Edward contented himself, however, with the mere assertion of his pretensions, until Philip exasperated him by attacks on the borders of Guienne, which the French kings had long been coveting to complete their possession of the south, and by demanding the surrender of Robert of Artois, who, being disappointed in his claim to the county of Artois by the judgment of the Parliament of Paris, was practising by sorcery on the life of the King of France. Edward then declared war, and his supposed right caused a century of warfare between France and England, in which the broken, down-trodden state of the French peasantry gave England an immense advantage. The knights and squires were fairly matched; but while the English yeomen were strong, staunch, and trustworthy, the French were useless, and only made a defeat worse by plundering the fallen on each side alike. The war began in Flanders, where Philip took the part of the count, whose tyrannies had caused his expulsion. Edward was called in to the aid of the citizens of Ghent by their leader Jacob van Arteveldt; and gained a great victory over the French fleet at Sluys, but with no important result. At the same time the two kings took opposite sides in the war of the succession in Brittany, each defending the claim most inconsistent with his own pretensions to the French crown—Edward upholding the male heir, John de Montfort, and Philip the direct female representative, the wife of Charles de Blois.

2. Crecy and Poitiers.—Further difficulties arose through Charles the Bad, King of Navarre and Count of Evreux, who was always on the watch to assert his claim to the French throne through his mother, the daughter of Louis X., and was much hated and distrusted by Philip VI. and his son John, Duke of Normandy. Fearing the disaffection of the Norman and Breton nobles, Philip invited a number of them to a tournament at Paris, and there had them put to death after a hasty form of trial, thus driving their kindred to join his enemies. One of these offended Normans, Godfrey of Harcourt, invited Edward to Normandy, where he landed, and having consumed his supplies was on his march to Flanders, when Philip, with the whole strength of the kingdom, endeavoured to intercept him at Crecy in Picardy, in 1348. Philip was utterly incapable as a general; his knights were wrong-headed and turbulent, and absolutely cut down their own Genoese hired archers for being in their way. The defeat was total. Philip rode away to Amiens, and Edward laid siege to Calais. The place was so strong that he was forced to blockade it, and Philip had time to gather another army to attempt its relief; but the English army were so posted that he could not attack them without great loss. He retreated, and the men of Calais surrendered, Edward insisting that six burghers should bring him the keys with ropes round their necks, to submit themselves to him. Six offered themselves, but their lives were spared, and they were honourably treated. Edward expelled all the French, and made Calais an English settlement. A truce followed, chiefly in consequence of the ravages of the Black Death, which swept off multitudes throughout Europe, a pestilence apparently bred by filth, famine, and all the miseries of war and lawlessness, but which spared no ranks. It had scarcely ceased before Philip died, in 1350. His son, John, was soon involved in a fresh war with England by the intrigues of Charles the Bad, and in 1356 advanced southwards to check the Prince of Wales, who had come out of Guienne on a plundering expedition. The French were again totally routed at Poitiers, and the king himself, with his third son, Philip, were made prisoners and carried to London with most of the chief nobles.

3. 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, 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.

4. 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.

5. Renewal of the 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.

6. 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.

7. Insanity of Charles VI.—The Constable, Clisson, was much hated by the Duke of Brittany, and an attack which was made on him in the streets of Paris was clearly traced to Montfort. The young king, who was much attached to Clisson, set forth to exact punishment. On his way, a madman rushed out of a forest and called out, "King, you are betrayed!" Charles was much frightened, and further seems to have had a sunstroke, for he at once became insane. He recovered for a time; but at Christmas, while he and five others were dancing, disguised as wild men, their garments of pitched flax caught fire. Four were burnt, and the shock brought back the king's madness. He became subject to fits of insanity of longer or shorter duration, and in their intervals he seems to have been almost imbecile. No provision had then been made for the contingency of a mad king. The condition of the country became worse than ever, and power was grasped at by whoever could obtain it. Of the king's three uncles, the Duke of Anjou and his sons were generally engrossed by a vain struggle to obtain Naples; the Duke of Berry was dull and weak; and the chief struggle for influence was between Philip of Burgundy and his son, John the Fearless, on the one hand, and on the other the king's wife, Isabel of Bavaria, and his brother Louis, Duke of Orleans, who was suspected of being her lover; while the unhappy king and his little children were left in a wretched state, often scarcely provided with clothes or food.

8. Burgundians and Armagnacs.—Matters grew worse after the death of Duke Philip in 1404; and in 1407, just after a seeming reconciliation, the Duke of Orleans was murdered in the streets of Paris by servants of John the Fearless. Louis of Orleans had been a vain, foolish man, heedless of all save his own pleasure, but his death increased the misery of France through the long and deadly struggle for vengeance that followed. The king was helpless, and the children of the Duke of Orleans were young; but their cause was taken up by a Gascon noble, Bernard, Count of Armagnac, whose name the party took. The Duke of Burgundy was always popular in Paris, where the people, led by the Guild of Butchers, were so devoted to him that he ventured to have a sermon preached at the university, justifying the murder. There was again a feeble attempt at reform made by the burghers; but, as before, the more violent and lawless were guilty of such excesses that the opposite party were called in to put them down. The Armagnacs were admitted into Paris, and took a terrible vengeance on the Butchers and on all adherents of Burgundy, in the name of the Dauphin Louis, the king's eldest son, a weak, dissipated youth, who was entirely led by the Count of Armagnac.

9. Invasion of Henry V.—All this time the war with England had smouldered on, only broken by brief truces; and when France was in this wretched state Henry V. renewed the claim of Edward III., and in 1415 landed before Harfleur. After delaying till he had taken the city, the dauphin called together the whole nobility of the kingdom, and advanced against Henry, who, like Edward III., had been obliged to leave Normandy and march towards Calais in search of supplies. The armies met at Agincourt, where, though the French greatly outnumbered the English, the skill of Henry and the folly and confusion of the dauphin's army led to a total defeat, and the captivity of half the chief men in France of the Armagnac party—among them the young Duke of Orleans. It was Henry V.'s policy to treat France, not as a conquest, but as an inheritance; and he therefore refused to let these captives be ransomed till he should have reduced the country to obedience, while he treated all the places that submitted to him with great kindness. The Duke of Burgundy held aloof from the contest, and the Armagnacs, who ruled in Paris, were too weak or too careless to send aid to Rouen, which was taken by Henry after a long siege. The Dauphin Louis died in 1417; his next brother, John, who was more inclined to Burgundy, did not survive him a year; and the third brother, Charles, a mere boy, was in the hands of the Armagnacs. In 1418 their reckless misuse of power provoked the citizens of Paris into letting in the Burgundians, when an unspeakably horrible massacre took place. Bernard of Armagnac himself was killed; his naked corpse, scored with his red cross, was dragged about the streets; and men, women, and even infants of his party were slaughtered pitilessly. Tanneguy Duchatel, one of his partisans, carried off the dauphin; but the queen, weary of Armagnac insolence, had joined the Burgundian party.

10. Treaty of Troyes.—Meanwhile Henry V. continued to advance, and John of Burgundy felt the need of joining the whole strength of France against him, and made overtures to the dauphin. Duchatel, either fearing to be overshadowed by his power, or else in revenge for Orleans and Armagnac, no sooner saw that a reconciliation was likely to take place, than he murdered John the Fearless before the dauphin's eyes, at a conference on the bridge of Montereau-sur-Yonne (1419). John's wound was said to be the hole which let the English into France. His son Philip, the new Duke of Burgundy, viewing the dauphin as guilty of his death, went over with all his forces to Henry V., taking with him the queen and the poor helpless king. At the treaty of Troyes, in 1420, Henry was declared regent, and heir of the kingdom, at the same time as he received the hand of Catherine, daughter of Charles VI. This gave him Paris and all the chief cities in northern France; but the Armagnacs held the south, with the Dauphin Charles at their head. Charles was declared an outlaw by his father's court, but he was in truth the leader of what had become the national and patriotic cause. During this time, after a long struggle and schism, the Pope again returned to Rome.

11. The Maid of Orleans.—When Henry V. died in 1422, and the unhappy Charles a few weeks later, the infant Henry VI. was proclaimed King of France as well as of England, at both Paris and London, while Charles VII. was only proclaimed at Bourges, and a few other places in the south. Charles was of a slow, sluggish nature, and the men around him were selfish and pleasure-loving intriguers, who kept aloof all the bolder spirits from him. The brother of Henry V., John, Duke of Bedford, ruled all the country north of the Loire, with Rouen as his head-quarters. For seven years little was done; but in 1429 he caused Orleans to be besieged. The city held out bravely, all France looked on anxiously, and a young peasant girl, named Joan d'Arc, believed herself called by voices from the saints to rescue the city, and lead the king to his coronation at Rheims. With difficulty she obtained a hearing of the king, and was allowed to proceed to Orleans. Leading the army with a consecrated sword, which she never stained with blood, she filled the French with confidence, the English with fear as of a witch, and thus she gained the day wherever she appeared. Orleans was saved, and she then conducted Charles VII. to Rheims, and stood beside his throne when he was crowned. Then she said her work was done, and would have returned home; but, though the wretched king and his court never appreciated her, they thought her useful with the soldiers, and would not let her leave them. She had lost her heart and hope, and the men began to be angered at her for putting down all vice and foul language. The captains were envious of her; and at last, when she had led a sally out of the besieged town of Compiegne, the gates were shut, and she was made prisoner by a Burgundian, John of Luxembourg. The Burgundians hated her even more than the English. The inquisitor was of their party, and a court was held at Rouen, which condemned her to die as a witch. Bedford consented, but left the city before the execution. Her own king made no effort to save her, though, many years later, he caused enquiries to be made, established her innocence, ennobled her family, and freed her village from taxation.

12. Recovery of France (1434—1450).—But though Joan was gone, her work lasted. The Constable, Artur of Richmond, the Count of Dunois, and other brave leaders, continued to attack the English. After seventeen years' vengeance for his father's death, the Duke of Burgundy made his peace with Charles by a treaty at Arras, on condition of paying no more homage, in 1434. Bedford died soon after, and there were nothing but disputes among the English. Paris opened its gates to the king, and Charles, almost in spite of himself, was restored. An able merchant, named Jacques Coeur, lent him money which equipped his men for the recovery of Normandy, and he himself, waking into activity, took Rouen and the other cities on the coast.

13. Conquest of Aquitaine (1450).—By these successes Charles had recovered all, save Calais, that Henry V. or Edward III. had taken from France. But he was now able to do more. The one province of the south which the French kings had never been able to win was Guienne, the duchy on the river Garonne. Guienne had been a part of Eleanor's inheritance, and passed through her to the English kings; but though they had lost all else, the hatred of its inhabitants to the French enabled them to retain this, and Guienne had never yet passed under French rule. It was wrested, however, from Eleanor's descendants in this flood-tide of conquest. Bordeaux held out as long as it could, but Henry VI. could send no aid, and it was forced to yield. Two years later, brave old Lord Talbot led 5000 men to recover the duchy, and was gladly welcomed; but he was slain in the battle of Castillon, fighting like a lion. His two sons fell beside him, and his army was broken. Bordeaux again surrendered, and the French kings at last found themselves master of the great fief of the south. Calais was, at the close of the great Hundred Years' War, the only possession left to England south of the Channel.

14. The Standing Army (1452).—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 Coeur's house at Bourges is still a marvel of household architecture; and Rene, Duke of Anjou and Count of Provence, was an excellent painter on glass, and also a poet.



1. Power of Burgundy.—All the troubles of France, for the last 80 years, had gone to increase the strength of the Dukes of Burgundy. The county and duchy, of which Dijon was the capital, lay in the most fertile district of France, and had, as we have seen, been conferred on Philip the Bold. His marriage had given to him Flanders, with a gallant nobility, and with the chief manufacturing cities of Northern Europe. Philip's son, John the Fearless, had married a lady who ultimately brought into the family the great imperial counties of Holland and Zealand; and her son, Duke Philip the Good, by purchase or inheritance, obtained possession of all the adjoining little fiefs forming the country called the Netherlands, some belonging to the Empire, some to France. Philip had turned the scale in the struggle between England and France, and, as his reward, had won the cities on the Somme. He had thus become the richest and most powerful prince in Europe, and seemed on the point of founding a middle state lying between France and Germany, his weak point being that the imperial fiefs in Lorraine and Elsass lay between his dukedom of Burgundy and his counties in the Netherlands. No European court equalled in splendour that of Philip. The great cities of Ghent, Bruges, Antwerp, and the rest, though full of fierce and resolute men, paid him dues enough to make him the richest of princes, and the Flemish knights were among the boldest in Europe. All the arts of life, above all painting and domestic architecture, nourished at Brussels; and nowhere were troops so well equipped, burghers more prosperous, learning more widespread, than in his domains. Here, too, were the most ceremonious courtesy, the most splendid banquets, and the most wonderful display of jewels, plate, and cloth-of-gold. Charles VII., a clever though a cold-hearted, indolent man, let Philip alone, already seeing how the game would go for the future; for when the dauphin had quarrelled with the reigning favourite, and was kindly received on his flight to Burgundy, the old king sneered, saying that the duke was fostering the fox who would steal his chickens.

2. Louis XI.'s Policy.—Louis XI. succeeded his father Charles in 1461. He was a man of great skill and craft, with an iron will, and subtle though pitiless nature, who knew in what the greatness of a king consisted, and worked out his ends mercilessly and unscrupulously. The old feudal dukes and counts had all passed away, except the Duke of Brittany; but the Dukes of Orleans, Burgundy, and Anjou held princely appanages, and there was a turbulent nobility who had grown up during the wars, foreign and civil, and been encouraged by the favouritism of Charles VI. All these, feeling that Louis was their natural foe, united against him in what was called the "League of the Public Good," with his own brother, the Duke of Berry, and Count Charles of Charolais, who was known as Charles the Bold, the son of Duke Philip of Burgundy, at their head. Louis was actually defeated by Charles of Charolais in the battle of Montlhery; but he contrived so cleverly to break up the league, by promises to each member and by sowing dissension among them, that he ended by becoming more powerful than before.

3. Charles the Bold.—On the death of Philip the Good, in 1467, Charles the Bold succeeded to the duchy of Burgundy. He pursued more ardently the plan of forming a new kingdom of Burgundy, and had even hopes of being chosen Emperor. First, however, he had to consolidate his dominions, by making himself master of the countries which parted Burgundy from the Netherlands. With this view he obtained Elsass in pledge from its owner, a needy son of the house of Austria, who was never likely to redeem it. Lorraine had been inherited by Yolande, the wife of Rene, Duke of Anjou and titular King of Sicily, and had passed from her to her daughter, who had married the nearest heir in the male line, the Count of Vaudemont; but Charles the Bold unjustly seized the dukedom, driving out the lawful heir, Rene de Vaudemont, son of this marriage. Louis, meantime, was on the watch for every error of Charles, and constantly sowing dangers in his path. Sometimes his mines exploded too soon, as when he had actually put himself into Charles's power by visiting him at Peronne at the very moment when his emissaries had encouraged the city of Liege to rise in revolt against their bishop, an ally of the duke; and he only bought his freedom by profuse promises, and by aiding Charles in a most savage destruction of Liege. But after this his caution prevailed. He gave secret support to the adherents of Rene de Vaudemont, and intrigued with the Swiss, who were often at issue with the Burgundian bailiffs and soldiery in Elsass—greedy, reckless men, from whom the men of Elsass revolted in favour of their former Austrian lord. Meantime Edward IV. of England, Charles's brother-in-law, had planned with him an invasion of France and division of the kingdom, and in 1475 actually crossed the sea with a splendid host; but while Charles was prevented from joining him by the siege of Neuss, a city in alliance with Sigismund of Austria, Louis met Edward on the bridge of Pecquigny, and by cajolery, bribery, and accusations of Charles, contrived to persuade him to carry home his army without striking a blow. That meeting was a curious one. A wooden barrier, like a wild beast's cage, was erected in the middle of the bridge, through which the two kings kissed one another. Edward was the tallest and handsomest man present, and splendidly attired. Louis was small and mean-looking, and clad in an old blue suit, with a hat decorated with little leaden images of the saints, but his smooth tongue quite overcame the duller intellect of Edward; and in the mean time the English soldiers were feasted and allowed their full swing, the French being strictly watched to prevent all quarrels. So skilfully did Louis manage, that Edward consented to make peace and return home.

4. The Fall of Charles the Bold (1477).—Charles had become entangled in many difficulties. He was a harsh, stern man, much disliked; and his governors in Elsass were fierce, violent men, who used every pretext for preying upon travellers. The Governor of Breisach, Hagenbach, had been put to death in a popular rising, aided by the Swiss of Berne, in 1474; and the men of Elsass themselves raised part of the sum for which the country had been pledged, and revolted against Charles. The Swiss were incited by Louis to join them; Rene of Lorraine made common cause with them. In two great battles, Granson and Morat, Charles and all his chivalry were beaten by the Swiss pikemen; but he pushed on the war. Nancy, the chief city of Lorraine, had risen against him, and he besieged it. On the night of the 5th of January, 1477, Rene led the Swiss to relieve the town by falling in early morning on the besiegers' camp. There was a terrible fight; the Burgundians were routed, and after long search the corpse of Duke Charles was found in a frozen pool, stripped, plundered, and covered with blood. He was the last of the male line of Burgundy, and its great possessions broke up with his death. His only child, Marie, did not inherit the French dukedom nor the county, though most of the fiefs in the Low Countries, which could descend to the female line, were her undisputed portion. Louis tried, by stirring up her subjects, to force her into a marriage with his son Charles; but she threw herself on the protection of the house of Austria, and marrying Maximilian, son of the Emperor Frederick III., carried her border lands to swell the power of his family.

5. Louis's Home Government.—Louis's system of repression of the nobles went on all this time. His counsellors were of low birth (Oliver le Daim, his barber, was the man he most trusted), his habits frugal, his manners reserved and ironical; he was dreaded, hated, and distrusted, and he became constantly more bitter, suspicious, and merciless. Those who fell under his displeasure were imprisoned in iron cages, or put to death; and the more turbulent families, such as the house of Armagnac, were treated with frightful severity. But his was not wanton violence. He acted on a regular system of depressing the lawless nobility and increasing the royal authority, by bringing the power of the cities forward, by trusting for protection to the standing army, chiefly of hired Scots, Swiss, and Italians, and by saving money. By this means he was able to purchase the counties of Roussillon and Perpignan from the King of Aragon, thus making the Pyrenees his frontier, and on several occasions he made his treasury fight his battles instead of the swords of his knights. He lived in the castle of Plessis les Tours, guarded by the utmost art of fortification, and filled with hired Scottish archers of his guard, whom he preferred as defenders to his own nobles. He was exceedingly unpopular with his nobles; but the statesman and historian, Philip de Comines, who had gone over to him from Charles of Burgundy, viewed him as the best and ablest of kings. He did much to promote trade and manufacture, improved the cities, fostered the university, and was in truth the first king since Philip Augustus who had any real sense of statesmanship. But though the burghers throve under him, and the lawless nobles were depressed, the state of the peasants was not improved; feudal rights pressed heavily on them, and they were little better than savages, ground down by burthens imposed by their lords.

6. Provence and Brittany.—Louis had added much to the French monarchy. He had won back Artois; he had seized the duchy and county of Burgundy; he had bought Roussillon. His last acquisition was the county of Provence. The second Angevin family, beginning with Louis, the son of King John, had never succeeded in gaining a footing in Naples, though they bore the royal title. They held, however, the imperial fief of Provence, and Louis XI., whose mother had been of this family, obtained from her two brothers, Rene and Charles, that Provence should be bequeathed to him instead of passing to Rene's grandson, the Duke of Lorraine. The Kings of France were thenceforth Counts of Provence; and though the county was not viewed as part of the kingdom, it was practically one with it. A yet greater acquisition was made soon after Louis's death in 1483. The great Celtic duchy of Brittany fell to a female, Anne of Brittany, and the address of Louis's daughter, the Lady of Beaujeu, who was regent of the realm, prevailed to secure the hand of the heiress for her brother, Charles VIII. Thus the crown of France had by purchase, conquest, or inheritance, obtained all the great feudal states that made up the country between the English Channel and the Pyrenees; but each still remained a separate state, with different laws and customs, and a separate parliament in each to register laws, and to act as a court of justice.



1. Campaign of Charles VIII. (1493).—From grasping at province after province on their own border, however, the French kings were now to turn to wider dreams of conquest abroad. Together with the county of Provence, Louis XI. had bought from King Rene all the claims of the house of Anjou. Among these was included a claim to the kingdom of Naples. Louis's son, Charles VIII., a vain and shallow lad, was tempted by the possession of large treasures and a fine army to listen to the persuasions of an Italian intriguer, Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, and put forward these pretensions, thus beginning a war which lasted nearly as long as the Hundred Years' War with England. But it was a war of aggression instead of a war of self-defence. Charles crossed the Alps in 1493, marched the whole length of Italy without opposition, and was crowned at Naples; while its royal family, an illegitimate offshoot from the Kings of Aragon, fled into Sicily, and called on Spain for help. But the insolent exactions of the French soldiery caused the people to rise against them; and when Charles returned, he was beset at Fornovo by a great league of Italians, over whom he gained a complete victory. Small and puny though he was, he fought like a lion, and seemed quite inspired by the ardour of combat. The "French fury," la furia Francese, became a proverb among the Italians. Charles neglected, however, to send any supplies or reinforcements to the garrisons he had left behind him in Naples, and they all perished under want, sickness, and the sword of the Spaniards. He was meditating another expedition, when he struck his head against the top of a doorway, and died in 1498.

2. Campaign of Louis XII.—His cousin, Louis XII., married his widow, and thus prevented Brittany from again parting from the crown. Louis not only succeeded to the Angevin right to Naples, but through his grandmother he viewed himself as heir of Milan. She was Valentina Visconti, wife to that Duke of Orleans who had been murdered by John the Fearless. Louis himself never advanced further than to Milan, whose surrender made him master of Lombardy, which he held for the greater part of his reign. But after a while the Spanish king, Ferdinand, agreed with him to throw over the cause of the unfortunate royal family of Naples, and divide that kingdom between them. Louis XII. sent a brilliant army to take possession of his share, but the bounds of each portion had not been defined, and the French and Spanish troops began a war even while their kings were still treating with one another. The individual French knights did brilliant exploits, for indeed it was the time of the chief blossom of fanciful chivalry, a knight of Dauphine, named Bayard, called the Fearless and Stainless Knight, and honoured by friend and foe; but the Spaniards were under Gonzalo de Cordova, called the Great Captain, and after the battles of Cerignola and the Garigliano drove the French out of the kingdom of Naples, though the war continued in Lombardy.

3. The Holy League.—It was an age of leagues. The Italians, hating French and Spaniards both alike, were continually forming combinations among themselves and with foreign powers against whichever happened to be the strongest. The chief of these was called the Holy League, because it was formed by Pope Julius II., who drew into it Maximilian, then head of the German Empire, Ferdinand of Spain, and Henry VIII. of England. The French troops were attacked in Milan; and though they gained the battle of Ravenna in 1512, it was with the loss of their general, Gaston de Foix, Duke of Nemours, whose death served as an excuse to Ferdinand of Spain for setting up a claim to the kingdom of Navarre. He cunningly persuaded Henry VIII. to aid him in the attack, by holding out the vain idea of going on to regain Gascony; and while one troop of English were attacking Pampeluna, Henry himself landed at Calais and took Tournay and Terouenne. The French forces were at the same time being chased out of Italy. However, when Pampeluna had been taken, and the French finally driven out of Lombardy, the Pope and king, who had gained their ends, left Henry to fight his own battles. He thus was induced to make peace, giving his young sister Mary as second wife to Louis; but that king over-exerted himself at the banquets, and died six weeks after the marriage, in 1515. During this reign the waste of blood and treasure on wars of mere ambition was frightful, and the country had been heavily taxed; but a brilliant soldiery had been trained up, and national vanity had much increased. The king, though without deserving much love, was so kindly in manner that he was a favourite, and was called the Father of the People. His first wife, Anne of Brittany, was an excellent and high-spirited woman, who kept the court of France in a better state than ever before or since.

4. Campaigns of Francis I.—Louis left only two daughters, the elder of whom, Claude, carried Brittany to his male heir, Francis, Count of Angouleine. Anne of Brittany had been much averse to the match; but Louis said he kept his mice for his own cats, and gave his daughter and her duchy to Francis as soon as Anne was dead. Francis I. was one of the vainest, falsest, and most dashing of Frenchmen. In fact, he was an exaggeration in every way of the national character, and thus became a national hero, much overpraised. He at once resolved to recover Lombardy; and after crossing the Alps encountered an army of Swiss troops, who had been hired to defend the Milanese duchy, on the field of Marignano. Francis had to fight a desperate battle with them; after which he caused Bayard to dub him knight, though French kings were said to be born knights. In gaining the victory over these mercenaries, who had been hitherto deemed invincible, he opened for himself a way into Italy, and had all Lombardy at his feet. The Pope, Leo X., met him at Bologna, and a concordat took place, by which the French Church became more entirely subject to the Pope, while in return all patronage was given up to the crown. The effects were soon seen in the increased corruption of the clergy and people. Francis brought home from this expedition much taste for Italian art and literature, and all matters of elegance and ornament made great progress from this time. The great Italian masters worked for him; Raphael painted some of his most beautiful pictures for him, and Leonardo da Vinci came to his court, and there died in his arms. His palaces, especially that of Blois, were exceedingly beautiful, in the new classic style, called the Renaissance. Great richness and splendour reigned at court, and set off his pretensions to romance and chivalry. Learning and scholarship, especially classical, increased much; and the king's sister, Margaret, Queen of Navarre, was an excellent and highly cultivated woman, but even her writings prove that the whole tone of feeling was terribly coarse, when not vicious.

5. Charles V.—The conquest of Lombardy made France the greatest power in Christendom; but its king was soon to find a mighty and active rival. The old hatred between France and Burgundy again awoke. Mary of Burgundy, the daughter of Charles the Bold, had married Maximilian, Archduke of Austria and King of the Romans, though never actually crowned Emperor. Their son, Philip, married Juana, the daughter of Ferdinand, and heiress of Spain, who lost her senses from grief on Philip's untimely death; and thus the direct heir to Spain, Austria, and the Netherlands, was Charles, her eldest son. On the death of Maximilian in 1518, Francis proposed himself to the electors as Emperor, but failed, in spite of bribery. Charles was chosen, and from that time Francis pursued him with unceasing hatred. The claims to Milan and Naples were renewed. Francis sent troops to occupy Milan, and was following them himself; but the most powerful of all his nobles, the Duke of Bourbon, Constable of France, had been alienated by an injustice perpetrated on him in favour of the king's mother, and deserted to the Spaniards, offering to assist them and the English in dividing France, while he reserved for himself Provence. His desertion hindered Francis from sending support to the troops in Milan, who were forced to retreat. Bayard was shot in the spine while defending the rear-guard, and was left to die under a tree. The utmost honour was shown him by the Spaniards; but when Bourbon came near him, he bade him take pity, not on one who was dying as a true soldier, but on himself as a traitor to king and country. When the French, in 1525, invaded Lombardy, Francis suffered a terrible defeat at Pavia, and was carried a prisoner to Madrid, where he remained for a year, and was only set free on making a treaty by which he was to give up all claims in Italy both to Naples and Milan, also the county of Burgundy and the suzerainty of those Flemish counties which had been fiefs of the French crown, as well as to surrender his two sons as hostages for the performance of the conditions.

6. Wars of Francis and Charles.—All the rest of the king's life was an attempt to elude or break these conditions, against which he had protested in his prison, but when there was no Spaniard present to hear him do so. The county of Burgundy refused to be transferred; and the Pope, Clement VII., hating the Spanish power in Italy, contrived a fresh league against Charles, in which Francis joined, but was justly rewarded by the miserable loss of another army. His mother and Charles's aunt met at Cambrai, and concluded, in 1529, what was called the Ladies' Peace, which bore as hardly on France as the peace of Madrid, excepting that Charles gave up his claim to Burgundy. Still Francis's plans were not at an end. He married his second son, Henry, to Catherine, the only legitimate child of the great Florentine house of Medici, and tried to induce Charles to set up an Italian dukedom of Milan for the young pair; but when the dauphin died, and Henry became heir of France, Charles would not give him any footing in Italy. Francis never let any occasion pass of harassing the Emperor, but was always defeated. Charles once actually invaded Provence, but was forced to retreat through the devastation of the country before him by Montmorency, afterwards Constable of France. Francis, by loud complaints, and by talking much of his honour, contrived to make the world fancy him the injured man, while he was really breaking oaths in a shameless manner. At last, in 1537, the king and Emperor met at Aigues Mortes, and came to terms. Francis married, as his second wife, Charles's sister Eleanor, and in 1540, when Charles was in haste to quell a revolt in the Low Countries, he asked a safe conduct through France, and was splendidly entertained at Paris. Yet so low was the honour of the French, that Francis scarcely withstood the temptation of extorting the duchy of Milan from him when in his power, and gave so many broad hints that Charles was glad to be past the frontier. The war was soon renewed. Francis set up a claim to Savoy, as the key of Italy, allied himself with the Turks and Moors, and slaves taken by them on the coasts of Italy and Spain were actually brought into Marseilles. Nice was burnt; but the citadel held out, and as Henry VIII. had allied himself with the Emperor, and had taken Boulogne, Francis made a final peace at Crespy in 1545. He died only two years later, in 1547.

7. Henry II.—His only surviving son, Henry II., followed the same policy. The rise of Protestantism was now dividing the Empire in Germany; and Henry took advantage of the strife which broke out between Charles and the Protestant princes to attack the Emperor, and make conquests across the German border. He called himself Protector of the Liberties of the Germans, and leagued himself with them, seizing Metz, which the Duke of Guise bravely defended when the Emperor tried to retake it. This seizure of Metz was the first attempt of France to make conquests in Germany, and the beginning of a contest between the French and German peoples which has gone on to the present day. After the siege a five years' truce was made, during which Charles V. resigned his crowns. His brother had been already elected to the Empire, but his son Philip II. became King of Spain and Naples, and also inherited the Low Countries. The Pope, Paul IV., who was a Neapolitan, and hated the Spanish rule, incited Henry, a vain, weak man, to break the truce and send one army to Italy, under the Duke of Guise, while another attacked the frontier of the Netherlands. Philip, assisted by the forces of his wife, Mary I. of England, met this last attack with an army commanded by the Duke of Savoy. It advanced into France, and besieged St. Quentin. The French, under the Constable of Montmorency, came to relieve the city, and were utterly defeated, the Constable himself being made prisoner. His nephew, the Admiral de Coligny, held out St. Quentin to the last, and thus gave the country time to rally against the invader; and Guise was recalled in haste from Italy. He soon after surprised Calais, which was thus restored to the French, after having been held by the English for two hundred years. This was the only conquest the French retained when the final peace of Cateau Cambresis was made in the year 1558, for all else that had been taken on either side was then restored. Savoy was given back to its duke, together with the hand of Henry's sister, Margaret. During a tournament held in honour of the wedding, Henry II. was mortally injured by the splinter of a lance, in 1559; and in the home troubles that followed, all pretensions to Italian power were dropped by France, after wars which had lasted sixty-four years.



1. The Bourbons and Guises.—Henry II. had left four sons, the eldest of whom, Francis II., was only fifteen years old; and the country was divided by two great factions—one headed by the Guise family, an offshoot of the house of Lorraine; the other by the Bourbons, who, being descended in a direct male line from a younger son of St. Louis, were the next heirs to the throne in case the house of Valois should become extinct. Antony, the head of the Bourbon family, was called King of Navarre, because of his marriage with Jeanne d'Albret, the queen, in her own right, of this Pyrenean kingdom, which was in fact entirely in the hands of the Spaniards, so that her only actual possession consisted of the little French counties of Foix and Bearn. Antony himself was dull and indolent, but his wife was a woman of much ability; and his brother, Louis, Prince of Conde, was full of spirit and fire, and little inclined to brook the ascendancy which the Duke of Guise and his brothers enjoyed at court, partly in consequence of his exploit at Calais, and partly from being uncle to the young Queen Mary of Scotland, wife of Francis II. The Bourbons likewise headed the party among the nobles who hoped to profit by the king's youth to recover the privileges of which they had been gradually deprived, while the house of Guise were ready to maintain the power of the crown, as long as that meant their own power.

2. The Reformation.—The enmity of these two parties was much increased by the reaction against the prevalent doctrines and the corruptions of the clergy. This reaction had begun in the reign of Francis I., when the Bible had been translated into French by two students at the University of Paris, and the king's sister, Margaret, Queen of Navarre, had encouraged the Reformers. Francis had leagued with the German Protestants because they were foes to the Emperor, while he persecuted the like opinions at home to satisfy the Pope. John Calvin, a native of Picardy, the foremost French reformer, was invited to the free city of Geneva, and there was made chief pastor, while the scheme of theology called his "Institutes" became the text-book of the Reformed in France, Scotland, and Holland. His doctrine was harsh and stern, aiming at the utmost simplicity of worship, and denouncing the existing practices so fiercely, that the people, who held themselves to have been wilfully led astray by their clergy, committed such violence in the churches that the Catholics loudly called for punishment on them. The shameful lives of many of the clergy and the wickedness of the Court had caused a strong reaction against them, and great numbers of both nobles and burghers became Calvinists. They termed themselves Sacramentarians or Reformers, but their nickname was Huguenots; probably from the Swiss, "Eidgenossen" or oath comrades. Henry II., like his father, protected German Lutherans and persecuted French Calvinists; but the lawyers of the Parliament of Paris interposed, declaring that men ought not to be burnt for heresy until a council of the Church should have condemned their opinions, and it was in the midst of this dispute that Henry was slain.

3. The Conspiracy of Amboise.—The Guise family were strong Catholics; the Bourbons were the heads of the Huguenot party, chiefly from policy; but Admiral Coligny and his brother, the Sieur D'Andelot, were sincere and earnest Reformers. A third party, headed by the old Constable De Montmorency, was Catholic in faith, but not unwilling to join with the Huguenots in pulling down the Guises, and asserting the power of the nobility. A conspiracy for seizing the person of the king and destroying the Guises at the castle of Amboise was detected in time to make it fruitless. The two Bourbon princes kept in the background, though Conde was universally known to have been the true head and mover in it, and he was actually brought to trial. The discovery only strengthened the hands of Guise.

4. Regency of Catherine de' Medici.—Even then, however, Francis II. was dying, and his brother, Charles IX., who succeeded him in 1560, was but ten years old. The regency passed to his mother, the Florentine Catherine, a wily, cat-like woman, who had always hitherto been kept in the background, and whose chief desire was to keep things quiet by playing off one party against the other. She at once released Conde, and favoured the Bourbons and the Huguenots to keep down the Guises, even permitting conferences to see whether the French Church could be reformed so as to satisfy the Calvinists. Proposals were sent by Guise's brother, the Cardinal of Lorraine, to the council then sitting at Trent, for vernacular services, the marriage of the clergy, and other alterations which might win back the Reformers. But an attack by the followers of Guise on a meeting of Calvinists at Vassy, of whose ringing of bells his mother had complained, led to the first bloodshed and the outbreak of a civil war.

5. The Religious War.—To trace each stage of the war would be impossible within these limits. It was a war often lulled for a short time, and often breaking out again, and in which the actors grew more and more cruel. The Reformed influence was in the south, the Catholic in the east. Most of the provincial cities at first held with the Bourbons, for the sake of civil and religious freedom; though the Guise family succeeded to the popularity of the Burgundian dukes in Paris. Still Catherine persuaded Antony of Bourbon to return to court just as his wife, Queen Jeanne of Navarre, had become a staunch Calvinist, and while dreaming of exchanging his claim on Navarre for the kingdom of Sardinia, he was killed on the Catholic side while besieging Rouen. At the first outbreak the Huguenots seemed to have by far the greatest influence. An endeavour was made to seize the king's person, and this led to a battle at Dreux. While it was doubtful Catherine actually declared, "We shall have to say our prayers in French." Guise, however, retrieved the day, and though Montmorency was made prisoner on the one side, Conde was taken on the other. Orleans was the Huguenot rallying-place, and while besieging it Guise himself was assassinated. His death was believed by his family to be due to the Admiral de Coligny. The city of Rochelle, fortified by Jeanne of Navarre, became the stronghold of the Huguenots. Leader after leader fell—Montmorency, on the one hand, was killed at Montcontour; Conde, on the other, was shot in cold blood after the fight of Jarnac. A truce followed, but was soon broken again, and in 1571 Coligny was the only man of age and standing at the head of the Huguenot party; while the Catholics had as leaders Henry, Duke of Anjou, the king's brother, and Henry, Duke of Guise, both young men of little more than twenty. The Huguenots had been beaten at all points, but were still strong enough to have wrung from their enemies permission to hold meetings for public worship within unwalled towns and on the estates of such nobles as held with them.

6. Catherine's Policy.—Catherine made use of the suspension of arms to try to detach the Huguenot leaders, by entangling them in the pleasures of the court and lowering their sense of duty. The court was studiously brilliant. Catherine surrounded herself with a bevy of ladies, called the Queen-Mother's Squadron, whose amusements were found for the whole day. The ladies sat at their tapestry frames, while Italian poetry and romance was read or love-songs sung by the gentlemen; they had garden games and hunting-parties, with every opening for the ladies to act as sirens to any whom the queen wished to detach from the principles of honour and virtue, and bind to her service. Balls, pageants, and theatricals followed in the evening, and there was hardly a prince or noble in France who was not carried away by these seductions into darker habits of profligacy. Jeanne of Navarre dreaded them for her son Henry, whom she kept as long as possible under training in religion, learning, and hardy habits, in the mountains of Bearn; and when Catherine tried to draw him to court by proposing a marriage between him and her youngest daughter Margaret, Jeanne left him at home, and went herself to court. Catherine tried in vain to bend her will or discover her secrets, and her death, early in 1572, while still at court, was attributed to the queen-mother.

7. Massacre of St. Bartholomew (1572).—Jeanne's son Henry was immediately summoned to conclude the marriage, and came attended by all the most distinguished Huguenots, though the more wary of them remained at home, and the Baron of Rosny said, "If that wedding takes place the favours will be crimson." The Duke of Guise seems to have resolved on taking this opportunity of revenging himself for his father's murder, but the queen-mother was undecided until she found that her son Charles, who had been bidden to cajole and talk over the Huguenot chiefs, had been attracted by their honesty and uprightness, and was ready to throw himself into their hands, and escape from hers. An abortive attempt on Guise's part to murder the Admiral Coligny led to all the Huguenots going about armed, and making demonstrations which alarmed both the queen and the people of Paris. Guise and the Duke of Anjou were, therefore, allowed to work their will, and to rouse the bloodthirstiness of the Paris mob. At midnight of the 24th of August, 1572, St. Bartholomew's night, the bell of the church of St. Germain l'Auxerrois began to ring, and the slaughter was begun by men distinguished by a white sleeve. The king sheltered his Huguenot surgeon and nurse in his room. The young King of Navarre and Prince of Conde were threatened into conforming to the Church, but every other Huguenot who could be found was massacred, from Coligny, who was slain kneeling in his bedroom by the followers of Guise, down to the poorest and youngest, and the streets resounded with the cry, "Kill! kill!" In every city where royal troops and Guisard partisans had been living among Huguenots, the same hideous work took place for three days, sparing neither age nor sex. How many thousands died, it is impossible to reckon, but the work was so wholesale that none were left except those in the southern cities, where the Huguenots had been too strong to be attacked, and in those castles where the seigneur was of "the religion." The Catholic party thought the destruction complete, the court went in state to return thanks for deliverance from a supposed plot, while Coligny's body was hung on a gibbet. The Pope ordered public thanksgivings, while Queen Elizabeth put on mourning, and the Emperor Maximilian II., alone among Catholic princes, showed any horror or indignation. But the heart of the unhappy young king was broken by the guilt he had incurred. Charles IX. sank into a decline, and died in 1574, finding no comfort save in the surgeon and nurse he had saved.

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