Front Matter Gauls Defeat Romans Vercingetorix Saints of France Attila, Scourge of God Story of Clovis Sons of Clovis Mayors of the Palace Charles the Hammer Pepin the Short Charlemagne in Lombardy Defeat at Roncesvalles Emperor of the West Louis the Pious War of Three Brothers Louis the Stammerer Paris defies the Sea Kings Rollo the Viking Hugh Capet Becomes King Bishop Betrays the Duke Robert the Pious The Peace of God Harold Visits Duke William William Sails to England The Battle of Hastings Peter the Hermit First War of the Cross Louis the Fat and Laon King Fights his Vassal Second War of the Cross French Queen of England How Normandy Was Lost Albigenses War Battle of Bouvines Story of Hugh de La Marche Reign of St. Louis St. Louis's last Crusade Peter the Barber Knights vs. Weavers Pope vs. Philip the Fair Sons of Philip the Fair Philip VI vs. Flanders Battle and Plague King vs. Charles the Bad The Jacquerie Stephen Marcel Betrays Paris Charles V and du Guesclin Du Guesclin Fights for France The Madness of Charles VI The Battle of Agincourt The Maid of Orleans End of Hundred Years' War King vs. Charles the Bold Troubles of Duchess Mary Charles the Affable Knight Without Reproach Battle of the Spurs Francis I, Gentleman King King Taken Prisoner Duke of Guise Defends Metz Calais Returns to France The Riot of Amboise Huguenot and Catholic St. Bartholomew Massacre War of the Three Henries The Protestant King Edict of Nantes Reign of Favorites Taking of La Rochelle Power of the Cardinal-King Reign of Louis XIV The Man in the Iron Mask The Height of Power Edict of Nantes Revoked War of Spanish Succession

History of France - H. E. Marshall

How the King Quarrelled with Charles the Bad and Was Taken Prisoner
John II (The Good) [1350-1364]

Philip's son John was thirty-one when he came to the throne. He was just as proud and fond of show as his father, and he was even less a king and a general, although he was eager to win fame as a soldier. He was called John le Bon, or the Good. But that does not mean that he was good. It means that he was gay and good-natured with his favorites, and spent his people's money without stint upon them.

Almost at the very beginning of his reign John showed himself cruel and violent. The Constable of France, Ralph Count of Guines, had been taken prisoner by Edward of England. Now after six years he was allowed to return to France in order to find money for his own ransom. Joyfully he hurried to the King, by whom he believed himself much beloved.

John, however, looked darkly at him. "Count," he said, "come with me. I have that to say to you apart."

"Right willingly," answered the Count.

So the King led him into a room alone, and showed him a letter. "Have you before this day seen this letter?" he asked. The Count was troubled, and could not answer.

"Ah, wicked traitor, you well deserve death," cried the King. "And by my father's soul you shall not escape it."

So without more ado, or trial of any sort, the Count was led away, and his head was cut off.

No one knows what was in the letter, or why the Count was thus hastily killed. It was whispered abroad that there was treason in it, and that the Count had promised the town of Guines to King Edward as the price of his freedom. But the truth was never known, for King John did not deign to explain his cruel deed.

The King now possessed himself of all the Count's lands, and gave part of them to Charles de la Cerda, his favorite. Along with that he also gave him some land which belonged to Charles King of Navarre. This made Charles of Navarre furiously angry, and he became John's deadly enemy.

Even before this Charles had hated John, although he had married his daughter and was his son-in-law. Besides this, they were nearly related. And had it not been for the Salic Law, Charles might have been King of France. He had indeed a better claim to the French crown than Edward of England. He hoped to make himself King, and cared not by what means. For he was a wild and turbulent Prince, and although he was at this time not more than eighteen his own people had already given him the name of the Bad.

Now that John had given part of the land which rightfully belonged to him to de la Cerda, Charles followed the King's favorite with undying hatred, and sought a means of avenging himself. At length he found a chance. One day de la Cerda was passing through a small town in Normandy. Charles heard of it, and sent a troop of soldiers to attack him.

In dead of night they rode into the town, while Charles awaited their return without the walls. They broke into the house where de la Cerda slept, and killed him in his bed. Then they rode back to where their master waited for them outside the city wall.

At daybreak Charles saw his soldiers come galloping toward him. "Tis done!" shouted the leader from afar, "'tis done!"

"What is done?" asked Charles.

"He is dead," was the reply.

Then, well pleased, Charles rode on his way. He made no secret of what he had done, but openly boasted that he had but executed judgment on de la Cerda because of his many misdeeds.

When, however, the King heard of the murder he vowed vengeance, and gathered his men to fight Charles.

Charles, too, gathered his men, and made friends with the King of England, who willingly offered him help.

Then John took fright. He was not prepared to fight so great an enemy, and he pretended to forgive Charles. Charles then came to the King and kneeling before him humbly begged for pardon. "What I did," he said, "I did not in scorn of the King or of his authority, but because I had good cause to do it."

But the King answered never a word.

Then as Charles rose from his knees two Queens, Jeanne the widow of Charles the Handsome, and Blanche, the widow of Philip VI, came and knelt at John's feet, begging him to forgive Charles.

Still never a word spoke the angry King.

Then the Cardinal of Boulogne stepped forward. In the King's name, and for love of the two Queens who begged for him, he pronounced the pardon of Charles. "But let him beware of such deeds in future," he cried, "for were the murderer the King's son himself, and the victim but the poorest in the land, justice should be done on him."

[Illustration] from History of France by H. E. Marshall


Once again Charles knelt at the King's feet to thank him for his mercy. Still without a word John rose and passed from the hall. In his heart there was no forgiveness, and he could not bring his lips to speak it.

Even after this make-believe peace Charles still went on stirring up strife against his father-in-law, for he was a scoundrel and a traitor, and he made strife for the love of it. He made friends with the Dauphin, and tried to make mischief between him and the King. He persuaded the Dauphin that his father hated him. So John's hatred of Charles grew ever greater and greater.

"I shall have no joy so long as he is alive," he said, and never ceased to seek for a way of getting rid of his enemy. At length he found it.

One day the Dauphin asked Charles of Navarre and some other friends to a feast. Hardly were they seated at table when the door was thrown open, and the King entered. Before him marched a noble, drawn sword in hand. "Let no man move," he cried, "if he desires not to die by this sword."

At these words all the guests sprang to their feet in fear and astonishment. King John advanced to the table. He seized the King of Navarre and drew him roughly toward him. "Know, traitor," he cried, "that you are not worthy to sit at table with my son. By the soul of my father I shall neither eat nor drink so long as you live."

As he spoke one of the King of Navarre's men threw himself on King John, dagger in hand. But ere he could do the King a hurt he was seized and bound. In a few minutes all the Dauphin's friends were made prisoners. With tears in his eyes the young prince threw himself at his father's feet.

"Ah, my lord," he cried, "you do me great dishonor. What will be said of me, if having prayed King Charles and his lords to feast with me, you do thus? It will be said that I betrayed them."

"Let be Charles," the King replied. "They are wicked traitors. You do not know all that I know."

Then with his prisoners the King rode forth to the field that is called the Field of Pardon. There he caused their heads to be struck off. Only with great difficulty was he persuaded to spare the life of Charles. He, instead of being killed, was put into prison. There at first he lived in constant dread and fear. For five or six times every day and every night he was told that his head was to be cut off, or that he was to be thrown into the river in a sack, at such and such a time.

But although Charles was wild and turbulent he had winning ways. He spoke so gently and kindly to his jailers that they began to be sorry for him, and ceased to torment him with threats of death.

Charles the Bad had made friends with Edward of England, and although at this time there was a truce between France and England it had never been kept very well. Now Edward made the imprisonment of Charles an excuse for breaking it altogether, and the Black Prince marched into France with an army, fighting and plundering near and far. John also gathered a fine army and marched after him. They met at length near Poitiers. And here the Black Prince, who had been marching through France fighting and destroying at will, found opposed to him a French army five or six times as large as his own.

To fight seemed folly. So the Black Prince sent to John offering to give back all that he had won during the war if he were allowed to depart in peace.

But King John was sure of victory, and by no means ready to listen to Prince Edward's terms. As the price of peace he demanded that the Prince and one hundred of his best knights should yield themselves prisoner. To this the English would not listen, and they prepared to fight. It was a fierce battle which now took place, and many a great stroke was given and received.

The English had the best of the position on the slopes of a hill well protected by high hedges. But the French were in far greater numbers, and had King John been anything of a general he could easily have won the victory. As it was, mistake after mistake was made, and the day went against him. Soon the French were in confusion, many were killed, and many fled, among them the three eldest sons of the King.

"Sire, ride forward," said a knight to the Black Prince when he saw the confusion of the French. "The day is yours. Let us seek out the King of France, for he is brave. He will not flee."

And he said truth. Where the fight still held out stood the King of France. For although he was no general he was a brave fighter. To right and to left he swung his battle-axe, dealing death at every blow. By his side his youngest son, Philip, a boy of thirteen, fought as for his life. He would not leave his father as his brothers had done. Now he watched over him lovingly. And above the clang and clash of battle rose his clear childish voice, shrill with excitement "Father, ware right! Father ware left!" he cried as now on one side, now on the other, he saw the enemy come.

Bravely fought the little group of knights about their King. The standard bearer was struck down. The oriflamme fell, and its flame-colored silk was trampled and stained with blood. Still the King fought on while all around him shouted: "Yield! yield! lest you die."

At length a knight forced his way to the King's side. "Yield Sire! I pray you!" he cried, in right good French.

"To whom do I yield?" asked the King. "Where is my cousin the Prince of Wales? If I might see him I would speak with him."

"He is not here," the knight replied. "But yield you to me, and I shall bring you to him."

"Who be you?" said the King.

"A Knight of France. But being banished from the realm of France, I serve the King of England," was the reply. Then the King gave the knight his right gauntlet saying, "I yield me to you."

But when the knight would have led King John to the Prince he could not. For the throng about them was great and every one was eager to claim the honor of having taken the King. He was snatched from one to another, each man crying, "I took him! I took him!" so that the King was like to be torn in pieces.

Then it seemed to John that having yielded he was in greater peril of his life than when he fought. "Sirs," he said, "strive not. Lead me courteously and my son to my cousin the Prince. Strive not for my taking, for I am so great a lord that I can make you all rich."

Then seeing the tumult that was made, two great English lords rode forward. "For what do your strive? " they asked.

"Sirs, "replied one, "it is for the French King, who is taken prisoner. And there be at the least ten knights and esquires who cry that he is theirs."

Then the great lords bade every man stand back. On pain of death they charged them to make no more noise, and taking the King and his son they led them right courteously to the Black Prince.

So ended this sad day for France. All the flower of French knighthood lay dead upon the field, and the King and his youngest son were prisoners.