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EDWARD THE THIRD'S WARS IN FRANCE.
No war had broken out in Europe since the fall of the Roman empire so memorable as that of Edward III. and his successors against France, whether we consider its duration, its object, or the magnitude and variety of its events. It was a struggle of one hundred and twenty years, interrupted but once by a regular pacification, where the most ancient and extensive dominion in the civilised world was the prize, twice lost and twice recovered in the conflict; while individual courage was wrought up to that high pitch which it can seldom display, since the regularity of modern tactics has chastised its enthusiasm, and levelled its distinctions.
France was, even in the fourteenth century, a kingdom of such extent and compactness of figure, and population, and resources, and filled with so spirited a nobility, that the very idea of subjugating it by a foreign force must have seemed the most extravagant dream of ambition. The Pope, Benedict XII., wrote a strong letter in March, 1340, dissuading Edward from taking the title and arms of France, and pointing out the impossibility of his ever succeeding. Yet in the course of about twenty years of war this mighty nation was reduced to the lowest state of exhaustion, and dismembered of considerable provinces by an ignominious peace. What was the combination of political causes which brought about so strange a revolution, and though not realising Edward's hopes to their extent, redeemed them from the imputation of rashness in the judgment of his own and succeeding ages ?
The first advantage which Edward III. possessed in this contest was derived from the splendour of his personal character, and from the still more eminent virtues of his
Besides prudence and military skill, these great princes were endowed with qualities peculiarly fitted for the times in which they lived. Chivalry was then in its zenith ; and in all the virtues which adorned the knightly character, in courtesy, munificence, gallantry-in all delicate and magnanimous feelings, none were so conspicuous as Edward III. and the Black Prince. As later princes have boasted of being the best gentlemen, they might claim to be the most perfect knights in Europe; a character not quite dissimilar, yet of more high pretension. Their court was, as it were, the sun of that system which embraced the valour and nobility of the Christian world ; and the respect which was felt for their excellences, while it drew many to their side, mitigated all the rancour and ferociousness of hostility. This war was like a great tournament, where the combatants fought indeed á outrance, but with all the courtesy and fair play of such an entertainment, and almost as much for the honour of their ladies. If we could forget, what never should be forgotten, the wretchedness and devastation that fell upon a great kingdom, too dear a price to pay for the display of any heroism, we might count these English wars in France among the brightest periods in history.
Philip of Valois, king of France, and John, his son, showed but poorly in comparison with their illustrious enemies. Yet they had both considerable virtues : they were brave, just, liberal, and the latter, in particular, of unshaken fidelity to his word. But neither was beloved by his subjects ; the misgovernment and extortion of their predecessors during half a century had alienated the public mind, and rendered their own taxes and debasement of the coin intolerable. Philip was made by misfortune, John by nature, suspicious and austere ; and although their most violent acts seem never to have wanted absolute justice, yet they were so ill conducted, and of so arbitrary a complexion, that they greatly impaired the reputation, as well as the interests, of these monarchs.
Next to the personal qualities of the king of England, his resources in this war must be taken into account. It was after long hesitation that he assumed the title and arms of France, from which, unless upon the best terms, he could not recede without loss of honour. In the meantime, he strengthened himself by alliances with the emperor, with the cities of Flanders, and with most of the princes in the Netherlands and on the Rhine. Yet it does not appear that he profited much by these conventions, since he met with no success till the scene of the war was changed from the Flemish frontier to Normandy and Poitou. The troops of Hainault alone were constantly distinguished in his service.
But his intrinsic strength was at home. England had been growing in riches since the wise government of his grandfather, Edward I., and through the market opened for her wool by the manufacturing towns of Flanders. She was tranquil within, and her northern enemy, the Scotch, had been defeated and quelled. The Parliament, after some slight precautions against a very probable effect of Edward's conquest of France, the reduction of their own island into a province, entered as warmly as improvidently into his quarrel. The people made it their own, and grew so intoxicated with the victories of this war, that for some centuries the injustice and folly of the enterprise do not seem to have struck the gravest of our countrymen.
There is, indeed, ample room for national exultation at the names of Crocy, Poitiers, and Agincourt. So great was the disparity of numbers on those famous days, that we cannot with the French historians attribute the discomfiture of their hosts merely to mistaken tactics and too impetuous valour. They yielded rather to that intrepid steadiness in danger_which had already become the characteristic of our English soldiers, and which, during four centuries, has ensured their superiority whenever ignorance or infatuation has not led them into the field. But these victories, and the qualities that secured them, must chiefly be ascribed to the freedom of our constitution, and to the superior condition of the people. Not the nobility of England, not the feudal tenants, won the battles of Crecy and Poictiers, for these were fully matched in the ranks of France-but the yeomen, who drew the bow with strong and steady arms, accustomed to its use in their native fields, and rendered fearless by personal competence and civil freedom.
It is well known that each of the three great victories was due to our archers, who were chiefly of the middle class, and attached, according to the system of that age, to the knights and squires, who fought in heavy armour with the lance. Even at the battle of Poictiers, of which our country seems to have the least right to boast, since the greater part of the Black Prince's small army was composed of Gascons—the merit of the English bowmen is strongly attested by Froissart.
EDWARD THE THIRD'S WARS IN FRANCE.
The glorious termination to which Edward was enabled, at least for a time, to bring the contest, was rather the work of fortune than of prudence and valour. Until the battle of Poictiers he had made no progress towards the conquest of France. That country was too vast, and his army too small, for such a revolution. The victory of Crecy gave him nothing but Calais—a port of considerable importance in war or peace, but rather adapted to annoy than to subjugate the kingdom. But at Poictiers he obtained the greatest of prizes by taking prisoner the king of France. Not only the love of freedom tempted that prince to ransom himself by the utmost sacrifices, but his captivity left France defenceless, and seemed to annihilate the monarchy itself. The tumultuous scenes which passed in the capital necessarily distracted men from the common defence against Edward.
These tumults were excited and the distraction increased by Charles, king of Navarre, surnamed the Bad, to whom the French writers have, not perhaps unjustly, attributed a character of unmixed and inveterate malignity. John had bestowed his daughter in marriage on the king of Navarre ; but he very soon gave a proof of his character by procuring the assassination of the king's favourite, Charles de la Cerda. An irreconcilable enmity was the result of this crime. Charles became aware that he had offended beyond the possibility of forgiveness, and that no letters of pardon nor pretended reconciliation could secure him from the king's resentment. Thus, impelled by guilt into deeper guilt, he entered into alliances with Edward, and fomented the seditious spirit of Paris. Eloquent and insinuating, he was the favourite of the people, whose grievances he affected to pity, and with whose leaders he intrigued. As his paternal inheritance he possessed the county of Evreux, in Normandy. The proximity of this to Paris created a formidable diversion in favour of Edward III., and connected the English garrisons of the north with those of Poitou and Guienne.
There is no affliction which did not fall upon France in this miserable period. A foreign enemy was in the heart of the kingdom, the king a prisoner, the capital in sedition, a treacherous prince of the blood in arms against the sovereign authority. Famine—the sure and terrible companion of war—for several years desolated the country. In 1348 a pestilence, the most extensive and unsparing of which we have any memorial, visited France, as well as the rest of Europe, and consummated the work of hunger and the sword. The mercenary troops in the service of John or Edward, finding no immediate occupation after the truce of 1357, scattered themselves over the country in search of pillage. No force existed sufficiently powerful to check these robbers in their career. Undismayed by superstition, they compelled the pope to redeem himself in Avignon by the payment of forty thousand crowns. France was the passive victim of their license, even after the pacification concluded with England, till some were diverted into Italy, and others led by Du Guesclin to the war of Castile. Impatient of this wretchedness, and stung by the insolence and luxury of their lords, the peasantry of several districts broke out in 1358 into a dreadful insurrection. This was called the Jacquerie, from the cant phrase Jacques bon homme, applied to men of that class, and was marked by all the circumstances of horror incident to the rising of an exasperated and unenlightened populace.
Subdued by these misfortunes, though Edward had made but slight progress towards the conquest of the country, the regent of France, afterwards Charles V., submitted to the
peace of Bretigni. By this treaty all Guienne, Gascony, Poitou, Saintonge, the Limousin, and the Augoumois, as well as Calais and the county of Pouthieu, were in 1360