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FRANCE: THE HUNDRED YEARS' WAR
Creçy and the Siege of Calais
 THE first important victory of the Hundred Years' War was that of Creçy. There the hungry, ragged English archers
and foot soldiers, rough men of the people, laid low the chivalry of France.
Creçy was more than a victory, it was the beginning of a military and social revolution. It showed that the
feudal army was hopelessly behind the times, hopelessly inefficient when confronted with science. The superb
courage of the French noble was of no avail when confronted with the superior arms and skill of the English
peasant. The French at Creçy never got within striking distance of the English, they could not show their
prowess with sword or spear, for the arrows of the common soldier laid them low, and their splendid but
weighty armour was of no avail against steel-pointed shafts sped with the force of iron muscles.
Hitherto war had been the profession and the pastime of the great. The knight or noble, superbly mounted and
clad in glittering steel, had alone counted in battle. To him had been all the honour and glory. The poor
man's part had been but to suffer, to see his crops laid low, his cattle slaughtered or driven off, his home
laid in ruins. And of his suffering no man took note. He was there to suffer. Creçy was one of the
turning-points in the lives of great and humble alike. Henceforth the gospel of the nobility of the sword was
no longer received with perfect faith.
From Creçy Edward marched his victorious little army to Calais, to which he straightway laid siege. From the
commercial side of the campaign Calais was a most important
 place: for it was from this port that the French corsairs sailed which did so much damage to English trade.
Archers, however, deadly though they were in a pitched battle, were useless against the enormous stone walls
of a medieval fortress. The clumsy engines of assault made to sling stones were hardly of more avail.
Gunpowder, indeed, had lately been discovered, and the English dragged two or three cannons about with them;
but they were small and quite powerless against the tremendous masonry of the walls.
The only means then of taking the town was by starvation. With dogged determination the English set about it,
and after eleven months Calais yielded.
Edward at once turned Calais into an English colony, settling it with several thousand English merchants and
their families. It very quickly became of immense importance, both from a military and a commercial point of
view. It was henceforth through this town that English armies were poured into France, and being on the
borders of Flanders it became also the centre of distribution for the wool trade. For two hundred years it
remained an English possession in spite of strenuous efforts on the part of the French to recover it. When at
length it was regained, the loss made little difference to England. It was only of value to them during the
aggressive and wholly unjustifiable wars of the Middle Ages.
For some years the pope, Clement VI, had been trying to mediate between the kings of France and England. But
he had joined with his efforts an endeavour to extend his power over the English Church, and Edward had
received his advances coldly. Now, however, pleased with the result of his campaign, he listened to Clement,
and a nine months' truce was signed. But no lasting peace could come of it. For Edward, flushed with victory,
was not in a mood to resign any of his claims; he still called himself king of France and denied Philip's
right to the title.
 But the truce was destined to last longer and men were to have little heart for war. In 1348 a pest, more
baneful even than the sword, swept over Europe from the East. This dreadful pestilence, known as the Black
Death, wiped out in France and England nearly a half of the population.
Battle of Poitiers
In 1350 Philip VI died and was succeeded by his son John. Under him the war continued, and ten years after
Creçy the battle of Poitiers was fought. Except that the pride of chivalry suffered an even greater defeat it
was but a repetition of Creçy. At Poitiers King John of France had one of the most magnificent of feudal
armies about him. All he had to do was to surround the little English army brought against him, and starve it
But that was not the chivalrous manner of waging war. The nobles were anxious to wipe out the shame of Creçy
in brilliant fashion. Merely to starve an army into surrender could bring no renown. So once again the
chivalry of France pitted itself against the English peasantry. Once again the uselessness of unscientific
courage was proved, and the knight went down before the churl.
The flower of French nobility lay dead upon the field. The king himself was taken prisoner to England, there
"to enjoy the insolent courtesy" of his captors. But in spite of Creçy, in spite of Poitiers, the conquest of
France was as far off as ever. Every feudal castle was a fortress, and the development of the art of
fortification had far outdistanced the invention of siege machines. Almost the only means of reducing a
fortress was by starvation or by treachery. An army might sit down for months before a fortress, and when at
last the endurance of the defenders was exhausted and they yielded, the conquerors only found themselves
master of a few more miles of territory, and the business of reducing the next fortress had to be begun.
 Even had it been possible by siege after siege to win the country it would have been impossible to hold it.
After a time then, weary of sieges, the English left the cities alone and ravished the land, making it a
desert. For four years they marched up and down practically unhindered, burning, plundering, and destroying,
until the once rich country was a wilderness of ashes and blood-stained ruins.
The Black Death had already carried off hundreds and thousands, and added to this the land was torn by civil
wars, the nobles fighting among themselves, and the peasants, driven mad by misery, rising against the nobles.
Treaty of Bretigny
The unhappy people, pushed at length to desperation, yielded to Edward's demands, and by the Treaty of
Bretigny half of France south of the Loire was given up to the English. It was given, too, not as a fief but
to be held outright "in the manner in which the kings of France had held it." On his side Edward resigned his
claim to the throne of France, and for a time there was peace.
It was, however, only exhaustion which had made France yield to the English yoke. Nine years later, when the
country had to some extent recovered from that exhaustion, Charles V, who had succeeded his father in 1364,
found an excuse for rejecting the Treaty of Bretigny, and the Hundred Years' War broke out again. It now
entered upon a new phase. Edward III had to a great extent lost his Flemish allies, he was old, and his great
general and son, the Black Prince, was ill. On the French side Charles V, the politic and not over-chivalrous
king, was aided by the military genius of Du Guesclin. So, for a time, all went well with France, and
misfortune after misfortune pursued the English, until at length little of Edward's conquests remained save
Bordeaux, Bayonne, and Calais.
But Charles V died at the age of forty-six, leaving his son,
 a child of twelve, to succeed him, and France fell once more on evil days. During the minority of Charles VI
the country was torn by strife between the nobles, who quarrelled for the power of regent. Then he, scarce
grown to manhood, became insane, and once more the country drifted fast into civil war.
Renewal of the War by Henry V
It was then that Henry V, the young and ambitious king of England, determined to reassert the English claim to
the crown of France. Once again at Agincourt the story of Creçy and of Poitiers was repeated, and fifteen
thousand English archers defeated an army of fifty thousand knights and nobles. After this prodigious victory
Henry's army was, however, too exhausted to do more, and he led it back to England.
In spite of the English menace civil war continued in France. When Henry returned with a fresh army he was
encouraged by the rebels, and in 1420 the poor, mad king was forced to sign the Treaty of Troyes. By this
Treaty Charles VI gave his daughter Catharine in marriage to Henry, and acknowledged him as his heir, thus
disinheriting his own son Charles, and making a gift of the French crown to a foreigner.
Henry, however, never became king of France, for he died in 1422 a little less than two months before his
father-in-law. And although upon the death of Charles VI the baby king of England, Henry VI, was proclaimed in
Paris as in England, many of the French rejected him. The Dauphin also was proclaimed as Charles VII, and the
miserable war dragged on.
FRANCE IN THE FOURTEENTH CENTURY