Edward III. of Windsor—The Story of the Battle of Sluys
W HEN Edward III. was made king in 1327 A.D., he was only fourteen. He was too young to rule, and the power was really in the hands of his mother, Queen Isabella, and of a man called Roger Mortimer, Earl of March. Both the Queen and the Earl were wicked, so it was a sad time for England. There was fighting with Scotland, fighting with France, sorrow and misery at home.
When Edward was eighteen he resolved that he would no longer be king in name only. He took the Earl of March prisoner, tried him for the wicked things he had done, and condemned him to death.
Queen Isabella he shut up in a castle, and would not allow her to rule the kingdom any more. But he gave her money to spend, and he went to visit her once every year.
King Edward then really began to reign. He made peace with France, and, I am sorry to say, war again with Scotland. But after fighting there for some time he left Scotland, and began to fight again with France.
The war which now began is called the "Hundred Years' War," because it lasted, with times of peace between, for a hundred years. It began because Edward said that he had a right to be King of France as well as King of England. He said this was so because his mother, Queen Isabella, was the sister of King Charles IV. of France, who had died, leaving no son to succeed him. But the French had a law by which women were not allowed to wear the crown, so Edward had really no right to it. He could not receive from his mother what had never been hers. King Philip VI., who now had the crown, would, of course, not give it up, so a fierce and bitter war began.
The first great fight was at sea. Edward sailed from England with a fleet of about three hundred ships. As he came near to Sluys, a town in Flanders, he saw such a number of masts that it seemed as if a forest had come sailing out to sea.
"What ships are these?" said King Edward to the captain of his vessel.
"They are the ships of the King of France," replied the captain. "They have oftentime plundered your coasts. They lately burned the town of Southampton and took your good ship the Christopher."
"Ah, I have long wished to meet them," replied the King. "Now, please God and St. George, we will fight them; for in truth they have done me so much mischief, I will be revenged upon them if possible."
Edward's wife, Queen Philippa, was at Ghent, and Edward had many ladies on board who were going to join her there. So he arranged his vessels with great care, for he knew that the French had far more men and ships than he had. He put the ladies in the safest place, and guarded them carefully with a large body of archers and soldiers.
As the sun and wind were both against Edward, he lowered his sails and moved round so that the sun should be behind him. The French seeing this thought that he was afraid, and that he was running away. They had been waiting for the English in strong battle array. All their ships were fastened together with heavy chains so as to make it impossible for the English ships to break through their lines. Seeing the English flee, as they thought, the French unfastened the chains and made ready to pursue.
As the royal standard floated from the masthead the French knew that the King of England was with his fleet, and they hoped to take him prisoner. They filled the Christopher, the ship which they had taken from the English, with trumpeters and drummers and, to the sound of music and shouting, sent it to attack the English.
But the English won their own ship back again, and amid great cheering manned it with Englishmen once more.
The battle was fierce and terrible. The English were often in great danger, for the French were much the stronger, but when the battle was over there were very few Frenchmen left, and most of their ships were sunk or destroyed.
It was such a dreadful defeat that no one dared tell the King of France about it.
At last his court fool told him.
In those days great people always had some one near to amuse them by making jokes, and by laughing at everything. He was called a fool, although sometimes he was very wise and witty. But because he was called a fool he was allowed to say what he liked, and no one was angry with him.
"The English are great cowards," said the French king's fool to him one day.
"Why so?" asked the King.
"Because they have not the courage to jump into the sea and be drowned, like the French at Sluys," replied the fool.
In this way King Philip was told of the loss of all his ships, and his anger was so terrible that even his fool fled from him in fear.