If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be. — Thomas Jefferson

Story of the English - Helene Guerber

The Battle of Poitiers

The black death no sooner ceased its ravages than the Hundred Years' War was renewed. This time it was carried on from the south, because the Black Prince had taken up his abode in Guienne and held his court at Bordeaux. The French king who had been defeated at Crecy was dead, but his son, John I., had collected a large army to drive the English out of the realm.

After four years of fighting, in the course of which no great battle occurred, the French hemmed in the English forces near Poitiers in 1356. The English army was only about eight thousand strong, while the French were five times as numerous. The Prince of Wales, seeing the odds against him, cried, "God help us! It only remains for us to fight bravely!"

He felt so sure of defeat that he allowed a priest to try to make peace; but when he heard that the French king would consent only on condition that he surrender with one hundred knights, he haughtily answered that he would never be made a prisoner of war, except sword in hand.

Thus forced to fight, the Englishmen behaved so well that, in spite of the dashing courage of the Frenchmen, they not only won the victory, but took John and one of his sons prisoners. The Prince of Wales, like a true knight, treated his captives with the utmost courtesy, even waiting in person upon the king at table.

The royal prisoners were soon taken to England. They entered London in state, almost as if they were the victors, John wearing his regal mantle and sitting upon a magnificent steed, while his conqueror, plainly clad and riding a pony, escorted him with every mark of respect.

The captive king was lodged in the Savoy Palace, where he staid three years, while his son governed France in his name. At the end of that time, the treaty of Bretigny was signed, and it was agreed that John should return to France upon paying three million crowns of gold, and that Edward should renounce all claims to the throne of France. But the English king kept many provinces in France, which were all governed by the Black Prince from his court at Bordeaux.

John went home, but finding that the money could not be raised, and hearing that two of the princes whom he had left in England as hostages had escaped, he went back of his own free will, and staid in London until he died. The new French king, however, managed so cleverly that in ten years the French gradually recovered the greater part of their lost territory without fighting any great battles.

The Black Prince's health was so undermined by an unsuccessful war in Spain that he was no longer able to sit upon his horse, and had to be carried in a litter. The pain he suffered affected his temper, and instead of being gentle and courteous as of old, he became cruel and revengeful.

The people of Limoges having revolted, the Black Prince went thither, and after taking the town he put all the inhabitants to death. But this act of cruelty did not prevent other cities from revolting too, and four years after the Black Prince finally left France, there remained only five cities that still belonged to the English.

The Black Prince died at forty-six, not long after his return to England. He was buried in the Cathedral of Canterbury, where the armour he wore still hangs near the place where his body rests. All England mourned for him, and one of his friends died of grief at his loss.

The Normans and the Saxons, who had hitherto been rivals, had become friends while fighting against the French. These wars also had the effect of making France and England dislike each other, and the Norman nobles, who had hitherto spoken French, now considered it more patriotic to talk English. So, while there had formerly been three languages in England, Latin for the church and for scientific writings; French for the court, for the nobility, for story books, and for lawsuits; and English for the common people, there was now but one language for all practical purposes.

Much of this reform was brought about by the war, but it was also helped on greatly by the fact that some of the learned men now began to write in English. One of these men is the noted English reformer Wyclif, "the Morning Star of English prose," of whom you will soon hear more. Another is the poet Chaucer, who is called "the Morning Star of English poetry." He composed the delightful poems known as "The Canterbury Tales," in which he relates the stories told by a group of pilgrims on their way to visit the shrine of St. Thomas of Canterbury.

Edward carried on so many wars during his long reign that he had to depend upon the good will of Parliament to supply him with necessary funds. This body took advantage of these necessities to win certain privileges and to work certain reforms, which all tended to limit the power of the king and to extend the privileges of the people.

The end of Edward's life was very sad. He had lost his wife and favourite child, and for a time he became the dupe of a woman named Alice Perrers, who pretended she loved him dearly. But she was only a vulgar and grasping woman, and when she had secured all the dead queen's jewels, and, much money and land, she forsook the king on his deathbed, after stealing even his last finger ring. A priest, coming into the room, found the dying king all alone, forsaken by every one. He held his cross before the monarch's eyes, and staid with him until he breathed his last, and his fifty years' reign was ended.

Throne Room, Windsor Castle.

Edward III. was a great warrior and very ambitious, but, as you have seen, he did not retain his French conquests very long. He built the palace of Windsor by levying troops of workmen, on the same plan as the Norman kings raised an army in time of war. He was the last king who did this, however, for the people were gradually growing more independent.


Front Matter

Early Times
The Druids
The Britons
Caesar in Britain
Queen Boadicea
The Great Walls
The Great Irish Saint
The Anglo-Saxons
Brave King Arthur
The Laws of the Saxons
The Story of St Augustine
Three Great Men
The Danish Pirates
King Alfred and the Cakes
Alfred conquers the Danes
A King's Narrow Escape
The King and the Outlaw
The Monasteries
An Unlucky Couple
St Dunstan
King Canute and the Waves
A Saxon Nobleman
Lady Godiva's Ride
The Battle of Hastings
The Conquest
Lords and Vassals
Death of William
The Brothers' Quarrels
Arms and Armour
The "White Ship"
Matilda's Narrow Escapes
Story of Fair Rosamond
Thomas a Becket
Murder of Thomas a Becket
Richard's Adventures
Richard and the Saracens
The Faithful Minstrel
Death of Richard
The Murder of Arthur
The Great Charter
The Rule of Henry III
A Race
Persecution of the Jews
The Conquest of Wales
A Quarrel with France
The Coronation Stone
The Insolent Favourite
Bruce and the Spider
Death of Edward II
The Murderers punished
The Battle of Crecy
The Siege of Calais
The Age of Chivalry
The Battle of Poitiers
The Peasants' Revolt
Richard's Presence of Mind
A Tiny Queen
Henry's Troubles
Madcap Harry
A Glorious Reign
The Maid of Orleans
The War of the Roses
The Queen and the Brigand
The Triumph of the Yorks
The Princes in the Tower
Richard's Punishment
Two Pretenders
A Grasping King
Field of the Cloth of Gold
The New Opinions
Death of Wolsey
Henry's Wives
The King and the Painter
A Boy King
Lady Jane Grey
The Death of Cranmer
A Clever Queen
Elizabeth's Lovers
Mary, Queen of Scots
Captivity of Mary Stuart
Wreck of the Spanish Armada
The Elizabethan Age
Death of Elizabeth
A Scotch King
The Gunpowder Plot
Sir Walter Raleigh
King and Parliament
Cavaliers and Roundheads
The Royal Oak
The Commonwealth
The Restoration
Plague and Fire
The Merry Monarch
James driven out of England
A Terrible Massacre
William's Wars
The Duke of Marlborough
The Taking of Gibraltar
The South Sea Bubble
Bonny Prince Charlie
Black Hole of Calcutta
Loss of the Colonies
The Battle of the Nile
Nelson's Last Signal
The Battle of Waterloo
First Gentleman of Europe
Childhood of Queen Victoria
The Queen's Marriage
Wars in Victoria's Reign
The Jubilee