NOT long after this, the province of Brittany was claimed by two parties, each headed by a woman bearing the name of Joan. The King of France siding with one faction, Edward III. naturally took the part of the other. In the "War of the Two Joans," as this feud is called, the French and English were therefore again opponents, and it was nearly twenty-five years before the quarrel was definitely settled.
During this struggle, Edward III. once brought his troops within a few miles of Paris; but not daring to attack, he soon retreated toward the northwest. He had just crossed the Somme (som) River, when the French army overtook him near the village of Crécy (cra-see'), where a famous battle was fought (1346).
During this encounter, the Black Prince Edward's fifteen-year-old son, won his spurs, and the English proved victorious, although their troops were only about one third as numerous as those of the French. The French defeat on this occasion was due tot he fatigue of the soldiers, who had marched without rest to overtake the enemy; to the fact that the hired bowmen allowed their bowstrings to get wet; tot he favorable position occupied by the English, who had the sun behind them, while it shone full in the faces of their opponents; and to the total lack of discipline and restraint in the French ranks.
Finding their bowmen useless, the French knights actually spurred over them in their eagerness to reach the enemy. But their headlong courage proved of no avail, for the English bowmen shot well, and some of the French horses, hearing for the first time the reports of the English cannon, soon became unmanageable. The battle of Crécy is said to have been the first where cannon were used, although gunpowder had been known for some times.
Many French knights greatly distinguished themselves by their reckless courage on this day. As for the blind King of Bohe'mia, who had accompanied the French army, he no sooner learned that his brave son had perished, than he bade his servants lead him into the very thickest of the battle, so that he might strike a blow before he died. Tying the horses' bridles together, so that nothing could part them, these men led the heroic old monarch into the fray, and died there with him. Touched by this deed, the Black Prince adopted the King of Bohemia's motto and crest as his own; that is why, every since then, the Prince of Wales's crest has been three ostrich plumes with the German motto (Ich dien) "I serve."
The English triumph at Crecy was great, and the French loss was enormous. King Philip had to be dragged away from the battlefield almost by force. Late at night, he knocked at the gate of a neighboring castle, asking admittance, and when the warden suspiciously inquired, "Who goes there?" sadly answered, "It is the unfortunate King of France; open and admit him!"
The English, having won such a signal victory at Crecy, now passed on to besiege the town of Calais (cal'a, or Ca-le'), which lies directly opposite Do'ver, where the Channel is narrowest, and which thus promised the best foothold for them in France. But this city was so well fortified and so bravely defended, that although no help reached its inhabitants, the King of England had t wait nine long months until famine compelled them to surrender.
Exasperated by this long resistance, Edward declared he would spare the people only on condition that six of the most prominent burghers came to him, barefooted, clad in their shirts, with halters around their necks, ready to be hanged as scapegoats for the sins of their fellow-citizens. When this became known to the governor of Calais, he teered to be the first of the victims, and his generous devotion was immediately imitated by five other prominent citizens. When these six gaunt burghers appeared before King Edward, scantily clad and humbly bearing the keys of the city, he harshly ordered them executed; but his wife Philippa, more merciful that he, pleaded so eloquently with him for their release, that he finally consented to forgive them (1347). A fine monument now stands in Calais, representing the starving burghers, whose memory is justly kept very green in France, and particularly in their native city.
The detailed story of the battle of Crécy, of the siege of Calais, and of the heroism of its six burghers, has been admirably told by a French historian named Froissart, who lived at that time, and vividly described these stirring scenes. This is one of the French classics which has been translated into English, and which all young people greatly enjoy.
By order of Edward III., the French inhabitants were all driven out of Calais and replaced by Englishmen, who kept this port for more than two hundred years, in spite of all the efforts the French made to recover possession of it. To show they meant to retain it forever, the English even placed this taunting rhyme above the city gate:—
"When lead and iron swim like wood,
A siege of Calais may be good."
Owing to the appearance of a terrible pestilence, known as the Black Death, the war came to an abrupt pause in 1348. This disease, which came from the East, swept over all Europe, carrying away more than one third of the population; and it was because both the French and the English were so busy burying their dead, that they concluded a seven years' truce, during which Philip VI. manfully tried to bring order in his realm.
The death of so many of his subjects, added to heavy war taxes, had sorely impoverished France; so, to secure funds, the king resorted to the old means of altering the coin. Then, finding that insufficient, he decreed that all the salt used in his realm should be bought from the government, and that each family should be required to purchase a certain amount every year. This salt tax (gabelle) was soon to prove a sore burden to the French, a burden which became more and more galling as time went on.
Philip VI.'s domains were largely increased by the purchase of Dauphiné (do-fee-na'), a province in the southeastern part of France. This land was bought by the king (1349) for his grandson, Charles, who was therefore given the title of "Dauphin." About one year after this, Philip VI. died (1350), leaving his son John II. to continue the terrible Hundred Years' War. Thus the Dauphin Charles, John's eldest son, became heir to the throne. When, in his turn he became King Charles V, he gave the title of Dauphin to his eldest son, and decreed that the name should always thereafter be borne by the heir to the French throne.