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History of France - H. E. Marshall

How du Guesclin Fought the King's Enemies
Charles V (the Wise) [1364-1380]

At this time there was civil war in Spain. Pedro the Cruel ruled so badly that his brother Henry rebelled against him and tried to take the throne from him. Henry asked the French King to help him and Charles very gladly sent to him the Free Companies under du Guesclin. Very soon du Guesclin routed Pedro's troops and placed Henry on the throne. Then Pedro appealed to the King of England for help, and the Black Prince came with a great army.

At Navarette there was a great battle fought in which once more the Black Prince was the victor. Du Guesclin was taken prisoner, the soldiers of the Free Companies were killed in thousands, and Pedro the Cruel was once more set on the throne.

The Black Prince was glad to have taken prisoner so powerful an enemy as du Guesclin. All the other great nobles were allowed to ransom themselves. For du Guesclin only Edward would take no ransom. But one day it was told the Prince that every one said he dare not let du Guesclin free because he was afraid of him.

The Prince was angry that any one should think this. So he sent for du Guesclin. "Bertrand," he said, "you shall yourself fix your ransom, be the price as small as you will."

But du Guesclin was proud and as generous as the Prince. "My ransom is a hundred thousand pounds,'* he said.

Even to the Prince this seemed a huge sum. "A hundred thousand pounds?" he cried. "And where do you suppose you will get it?"

"Sire," replied du Guesclin, "Henry of Spain will gladly pay half, Charles of France will gladly pay the second half. And if anything lacks there is not a young girl in all France who will not spin to free me out of your clutches."

So du Guesclin was ransomed. He soon returned to Spain with another army, and once more there was fighting. In the end Pedro was killed, and Henry set upon the throne.

In this way Charles freed Spain from a tyrant and himself from a second of his enemies. For by the time the fighting in Spain was over most of the soldiers of the Free Companies had been killed, and the rest so scattered that they were no longer a danger to France.

But the Black Prince meanwhile got little good out of setting a tyrant on the throne who was so soon driven from it again. For Pedro died without paying the money he had promised to the Black Prince, so that he had not enough to buy food for his soldiers. Want of proper food and the heat of Spain made them all ill, and many of them died. To get money the Black Prince was obliged to tax his own French provinces, so that the people there grew angry and discontented and ready to revolt.

Charles then seeing Edward with a shattered, worn out army, with his vassals in Gascony and Aquitaine in a state of revolt, thought that it was a good time to rid himself of the English King.

So as overlord he sent a letter to Prince Edward commanding him to appear before the peers of France to answer the complaints made against him by his French vassals.

When the Black Prince read the letter he looked fiercely at the messengers. Then he proudly answered: "Sirs, we will right willingly go to Paris to our uncle, but it will be with a helmet on our head, and sixty thousand men at our back."

So there was war once more between France and England. But Charles warned his soldiers not to fight a battle, but rather to protect the strong castles and walled towns.

Things went badly for the English. "Never was there King of France who less took sword in hand," said King Edward. "Never was there King who gave me more to do."

At length the Black Prince became so ill that he was obliged to return home. After that things went from bad to worse, until at length only three towns were left in the hands of the English. Then the Pope persuaded the two Kings to sign a truce for two years. Before the two years were over both the Black Prince and Edward III had died. So Charles was freed from the third of his enemies.

At this time Brittany was without a duke, and Charles thought it would be a good time to add it to the Crown of France. But the Bretons still held proudly to their independence. Charles then told du Guesclin to march against them, and compel them to own the French King as their only lord.

But du Guesclin would not fight against his own countrymen. Rather than that he sent his sword to Charles, giving up the post of Constable of France. But Charles could not thus lose his greatest soldier, and he sent his two brothers to beg him to take again his sword. This du Guesclin did, but he would not fight against Brittany. Instead he turned his sword against some English and Gascons who had formed themselves into a Free Company once more. Du Guesclin set out to besiege them in a castle of which they had taken possession. Thinking it hopeless to fight against so great a soldier the English leader promised to yield if no help came within fifteen days. To this du Guesclin agreed. But before the fifteen days were over he fell ill and died.

Not knowing what had happened the Governor came on the appointed day to give up the keys. He was received, to his indignation, by another leader. This, it seemed to him, was an insult. "Nay," he said, "it was to du Guesclin I yielded. To him only will I give up the keys."

"Du Guesclin is dead," was the mournful reply.

For a moment the haughty Englishman was taken aback, then he said proudly, "I shall still yield to him, I shall lay the keys upon his bier." And so it was done. The English leader knelt beside the coffin of the great soldier and laid upon it the keys of the castle he had held against him. He felt that it was less disgrace to yield to du Guesclin dead than to any man alive.

When the news of du Guesclin's death was known there was great sorrow throughout all France. Both peasants and soldiers wept for his loss. To the soldiers he was a great and glorious captain who had ever led them to victory and who had loved them like a brother. To the people he was a father, for he had cared for the poor and helpless, and given them rest from the terrible Free Companies, and from the yet more terrible English.

The King too grieved. He gave du Guesclin a splendid funeral, and caused his body to be laid among the kings of France in the great Abbey of St. Denis. Before the tomb he placed a lamp which night or day was never allowed to go out.

Two months later the King himself lay dead. His death was a great misfortune for France, for he had done much for his country. He was thoughtful and kindly and always ready to listen to those in trouble. Although he hated war he spent much in fortifying towns and castles to make them strong against the enemy. But he spent little on splendor and fine shows. So in spite of the wars the people's lives grew happier, the country more prosperous.

Charles had found France beggared, he left it rich. He had found France in misery, he left it prosperous. But, alas! he left a child of twelve to succeed him.