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

Battle and Plague
Philip VI (of Valois) [1328-1350]

The war with England continued. On the whole it now went ill with the French King, and in 1346 the English won a great victory at Crecy.

I think I need hardly tell you the story of that battle, you have read of it so often in English history. Never had France suffered such a terrible defeat. When night fell there gathered round the King and his oriflamme no more than five barons and sixty common soldiers. The rest of his great and splendid army lay dead upon the field, or were scattered in flight.

"Sire," said one of the five knights, "get you gone. It is time. Lose not yourself thus foolishly. If you have lost this time you will gain another time."

Then he took the King's bridle, and led him away by force. And being turned from the field the King rode until he reached a strong castle. There they found the gates closed, and the drawbridge up, for the night was dark and misty. Then the King called aloud for the governor.

He came quickly to the walls, crying, "Who is it that calleth there this time of night?"

"Open your gates," answered Philip. "It is the unfortunate King of France."

The governor knew the King's voice, so he let down the bridge, and opened wide his gates. Then the King entered and with him but five knights. But there he rested only a short time. Then taking guides with him who knew the country, he hastened forth again, and never drew rein until he was safe within the walls of Amiens.

Philip was now greatly disheartened, and he disbanded his troops, for he had no money to pay them. It seemed as if the way to the capital lay open for Edward. But instead of following up his victory by pursuing Philip and marching on Paris, he now turned northward to Calais. Calais was very strongly fortified. It could not be taken by assault. So Edward encamped with his army round it to starve it into surrender.

It was a sad winter for France. Besides the army before Calais another small English army, led by the Earl of Derby, marched through the land destroying and conquering. The people were in utter misery. They were ground down by taxes which if they paid they starved. Yet if they did not pay they were punished in many cruel ways. So miserable were they that it is said some even plotted with the King of England, and were ready to deliver their country into his hands.

At length spring came, and Philip began to think of gathering an army to aid the brave people of Calais who had held out all the long winter. But the nobles were so disheartened by their defeat at Crecy that they w r ere slow to answer the King's call to battle. It was July before the army was ready to march.

To reach Calais was difficult. Philip tried to make friends with the Flemish, for he saw that if he could march through their land he could relieve Calais more easily. He promised them many favors. But although the Flemish had themselves killed their great leader Jacques van Artevelde, they were no more ready than before to yield to the King of France. They did not believe in his promises, and they refused to help him.

So Philip was obliged to march on Calais from the south. But when he came near he saw that the King of England was so strongly posted that to fight him would be impossible. He began then to propose peace.

Philip offered to give up Calais. Edward refused. Philip offered then all the French lands which Edward I had possessed.

"It is too little," said Edward III. At length, seeing nothing he offered would move Edward, Philip sent four knights to ask him to appoint a place where they could fight fairly.

"Sire," said the spokesman, "the King, my master, sendeth you word by us that he is come to do battle with you. But he can find no way to come at you. Therefore he would that you appoint certain of your counsel, and likewise of his, and that they between them advise a place for battle."

But Edward replied sternly: "Say to mine enemy who wrongfully keeps me from mine heritage that I am here, if so ye list. Say that here I have been nigh a whole year, and that he knew right well. He might have come sooner an he would. But he hath suffered me to abide here so long, greatly to my cost and charge. Having done so much to make myself master of Calais, I shall not depart from that which I am on the point of winning. If Philip and his men cannot pass this way, let them try another passage, if they think to come hither."

Then the knights departed sadly and told the French King all that Edward had said. And when the French King saw he could do nothing, he broke up his camp, and marched away in great wrath against Edward.

The brave people in Calais were starving, but their courage was unbroken. When they saw the King and his army come their hearts were glad, for in a few days, they thought, they would be free. When they saw him march away without striking one blow for them, their hearts sank. They could endure no more, and they yielded.

You have read in English history how six brave men gave themselves to save their fellows, and how Queen Phillipa begged on her knees for their lives, and saved them. So I will not tell it again here.

As soon as Edward had possession of Calais he sent all the Frenchmen out of it. From London he brought hundreds of men with their wives and families, so Calais became an English town. It remained so for two hundred years.

Both sides now were tired of this war, and so they made a peace for ten months, and Edward went home to England.

Philip was at peace with England for the rest of his life. But although France had relief from war for a little it suffered from another and terrible evil. This was the plague of the Black Death. This plague spread all over Europe, and when it ceased more than half the people were dead.

At Paris it was so terrible that five hundred people died every day. They died so quickly that it was impossible to bury them in proper graves, and they were laid hastily in great trenches. They were laid there, too, without prayer or chant or service of any kind. For many of the priests fled, leaving to poor orders of monks and nuns the task of caring for the dying and burying the dead. The plague spread like wildfire. Those who were well to-day were dead to-morrow. Those who visited the sick seldom escaped with their lives. Whole towns and villages were left empty and deserted. It was not only the common people who suffered. Great nobles and fine ladies too were attacked by the terrible disease, and even in the King's household many died.

It may interest those of you who have read about English literature to know that this Black Death was also called the Plague of Florence. It was from this plague that Boccaccio's ladies and gentlemen fled. And it was the stories they told each other which Chaucer later on told again in English in the famous Canterbury Tales.

For a year and a half the plague lasted, and when it ceased at last the people went mad with joy. There was nothing but feasting, and marriages, and merrymaking.

In 1350 Philip died. He had not been a good King, and he was a foolish general. He was proud and passionate and a spendthrift. He was careless of his people's happiness and he loved splendor and fine shows more than any King before him. His wars and his splendors cost a great deal of money, and he ground down the people mercilessly to get it.

He ordered a new tax called the Gabelle. This was a tax upon salt, which could only be bought from the King's warehouses. All the salt had to be brought to him, and he fixed the price. He fixed it so high that he earned the hatred of rich and poor. Besides this, he laid many other taxes on the people, so that the trade of France was well-nigh ruined.

Yet Philip added a great territory to the kingdom of France. Between the Alps and the Rhone there lies a great tract called the Dauphine. It was called so because the noble who ruled over it carried a dolphin painted on his shield. This ruler sold his land to King Philip, who made his eldest son Dauphin. Ever after the eldest son of the King of France was called the Dauphin, just as the eldest son of our King is called the Prince of Wales.