Front Matter France Long Ago The Gauls In France The Priests of the Gauls Sailor Stories Conquests of the Gauls Two Great Battles Caesar in Gaul Gaul under the Romans First Christian Martyrs Patron Saint of France Franks Come to Gaul The First Kings Conquests of Clovis Clotaire and His Relatives Two Rival Queens Good King Dagobert The Saracens Checked End of the Merovingians Charlemagne's Wars Charlemagne's Manners Charlemagne, Emperor Feudalism Troublesome Sons The Strassburg Oath Normans Besiege Paris Last of the Carolingians The Year One Thousand Robert's Two Wives Wealth of the Clergy The First Crusade A Love Story The Second Crusade More Crusades The Battle of Bouvines Blanche of Castile The Sixth Crusade The Reign of Louis IX Effect of the Crusades The Battle of the Spurs End of Knights Templar The Hundred Years' War The Siege of Calais The Battle of Poitiers Seven Years of Misery The Brave du Guesclin Achievements of Charles V Charles VI Misrule in France The Disgraceful Treaty Joan to the Rescue Orleans and Rheims Joan's Martyrdom Charles's Successes The Crafty King Louis XI Louis XI's Reign Achievements of Louis XI Charles VIII The Second Italian War Death of Louis XII Francis I Rivalry of Kings Achievements of Francis I End of Francis's Reign Reign of Henry II A Young King and Queen Catherine's Regency The Forced Wedding Massacre of the Huguenots Death of Charles IX An Effeminate King he Battle of Coutras The Murder of the Guises Winning a Crown Conversion of Henry IV Henry IV's Second Marriage Death of Henry IV The Minority of Louis XIII Rule of the Favorites Richelieu and Louis XIII End of Louis XIII's Reign Beginning of a Great Reign Wars of the Fronde Death of Mazarin Versailles The Iron Mask Louis XIV's Campaigns Madame de Maintenon Later Wars of Louis XIV The Spanish Succession The Age of Louis XIV

Story of Old France - Helene Guerber

The Achievements of Charles V.

Meantime, the French king had been sitting quietly at home, managing finances and government so cleverly that the country was in a far more prosperous condition than it had been for many years. Instead of oppressing his people by constantly asking for more funds, this ruler actually remitted a large part of the taxes they had hitherto paid, so as to enable them to strengthen the walls of their cities, and equip themselves properly. Thus, you see, he was quietly preparing to renew the old conflict with England, but this time with far better chances of success.

His opponent, Edward III, less prudent than he, was meanwhile devoting most of his energies to pleasure, so when Charles finally used the complaints of the southern lords as a basis for renewing the war, England was ill prepared to meet it Charles V. began by sending a messenger to the Prince of Wales, summoning him to appear in Paris, to answer the charges made by the discontented lords. To this summons the fighting English Prince grimly retorted that he would certainly come, but with a helmet on his head and escorted by a force of sixty thousand men!

Undismayed by this answer, the King of France confiscated Guienne, where, helped by all those who were weary of English rule, he soon made great headway. The English, incensed by the falling away of many whom they had hitherto deemed friends, now became suspicious and revengeful, treating certain towns with such cruelty, that they daily lost further ground in the country.

Throughout this campaign the French made use of every device, often resorting to such trickery, for instance, as won back the city of La Rochelle, where the mayor was secretly in favor of the French. One day, when the English governor was dining with the mayor, a courier brought a letter from the English king. As warriors in those days considered it beneath their dignity to know how to read, the governor simply handed the letter over to the mayor, begging him to read it aloud. Gravely pretending to comply, instead of a warning to be on their guard as treachery was afloat, the mayor read an order for the English garrison to join the citizen troops and hold a grand drill and review on the market place on the morrow. The unsuspecting English, therefore, deserted the fort, and were drilling down on the square, when Du Guesclin, obeying a secret signal from the mayor, suddenly entered and seized the fortress, thus recovering possession of La Rochelle for the French.

Although beaten in the south, and finally forced to leave Guienne, the English were far from discouraged. Three armies were sent one after another to invade France and reconquer what had been lost, although, owing to ill-health, the Prince of Wales could no longer lead them.

Charles V, knowing his towns were too well fortified and provisioned to yield easily, calmly allowed these armies to exhaust themselves by sweeping aimlessly over the deserted country, where, when they had burned villages and harvests, nothing remained for them to live upon. The French forces cut off stragglers and small bodies of the foe, but refused to fight any great battles, causing Edward III to exclaim, "Never king armed himself so little, yet never man gave me so much to do!"

By these tactics, in which he was ably seconded by his generals, Charles V. succeeded in regaining all of France, save Calais, Bordeaux, and three other cities on the coast. You see, these were very hard times for the English, for King Edward was old, the Prince of Wales slowly dying, and the heir to the throne was only a child, unfit to take up the burden of the English government and continue the Hundred Years' War.

Statue of du Duesclin


Du Guesclin, the man who had done so much for France, was, however, not long to survive his old opponent, the Prince of Wales. The year after the latter's death, Du Guesclin was besieging a strongly fortified castle which had promised to surrender to him at a certain date if not relieved, when he felt his end draw near.

He gave his sword to a friend, saying: "It has aided me to conquer the enemies of my king . . . I hand it over to you, protesting that I have never betrayed the honor that the king did me when he entrusted it to my keeping." Then this man, who was far in advance of his times in many respects, added, "Forget not, in whatever land you may be engaged in war, that people of the Church, women, and children are not your enemies."

These were very different principles from those professed by most soldiers of his day, when the taking of a town or castle was only too often the signal for a hideous massacre, not even babes at the breast being spared.

Du Guesclin had just breathed his last, when the armistice ended, and the English governor appeared with the keys of the castle. It is said he firmly refused to hand them over to any one save Du Guesclin, on whose coffin he solemnly laid them with his own hands, thus faithfully keeping the promise he had made.

Charles V was the next to die,—two months after the general who had done him such good service, and who lies buried beside him at St. Denis. This sickly king had done great things for France during his sixteen years' reign. Besides expelling the English, and settling the quarrels in Brittany and with Navarre, he had almost rid the country of the Great Companies, and had brought such order and economy into the government that he actually left great sums in the treasury, instead of huge debts as his predecessors had done.

It is also said that Charles gently but firmly deprived the nobles of many of their privileges, so that after him kings alone had the right to coin money, bestow titles, or declare war in France, while any one could appeal to the crown for redress, if dissatisfied with the judgment given by any of the nobles. The chief court of the realm was the Parliament of Paris, which was given a permanent home in an ancient palace, henceforth to be known as the Palace of Justice.

Charles, himself a student, not only founded the first royal library,—which boasted of nine hundred and ten volumes,—but had the Bible, and several Greek and Latin works, carefully translated. This king also founded hospitals, continued the construction of the Louvre, and began erecting the Bastille, a famous fortress in Paris, to awe the citizens should they again attempt to rise up against the government, as had happened at the time of his regency. It was also to serve as state prison for political offenders, so it will often be mentioned hereafter, for it plays a tragic part later on in French history, as you will learn.

Although Charles once said the noble words, "Kings are happy only in having the power to do good," he did not always put this sentiment into practice; still, he was, on the whole, one of the good kings of France, and deserves special credit for protecting learning and encouraging progress.

It may, perchance, amuse you to read some homely social rules which a poet of Charles V's time gave to ladies. They were: "Do not be slovenly in your dress, and do not put your fingers in the dish at table . . . Do not rush into a room, but before you open the door give a gentle cough. Walk slowly to church, and do not run or jump in the streets. Those of you who cannot read must learn the hymns at home, so as to keep pace with the priests. Do not steal. Do not tell lies."