KING JOHN was called John II. in deference to the little son of Louis X., who reigned only ten days, but who nevertheless figures in the list of kings of France as John I. John II. was thirty-one years old, but, having received a more romantic than useful education, was hardly prepared to make a good king. Still, people said he was so generous, so impetuous, and meant so well, that he was known as John the Good.
He began his reign, however, by an act of great injustice, for he slew one of his father's ministers on mere suspicion of treachery. Then, not finding sufficient funds in the royal treasury, he, too, altered the coin, and finally summoned the States-General to impose new taxes upon his people.
On this occasion, the States-General first proposed that the nobles, who had hitherto paid no taxes, should pay their share. This suggestion proved so unwelcome to the lords, that many of them joined Charles the Bad, of Navarre, who, although his father had formally renounced all claims tot he crown of France, was doing all he could to win adherents in the country.
Thus, you see, when John, the second Valios king, came tot he throne of France, it was claimed also by Edward III. of England and by Charles of Navarre. Charles, who had married the king's daughter, and made friends with the Dauphin, became daily more insolent and daring, until he actually murdered the new general in chief appointed by John, under pretext that this man was a foreigner and had no right to command French troops! Such a high-handed deed naturally angered the monarch, who might have taken his revenge then and there, had not the women of the family interfered, and patched up a peace.
Before long, Charles was suspected of treacherously preparing to join the English. So the king surprised him one day when he was secretly dining with the Dauphin, and after killing some of his followers, clapped him in prison. Hearing of this, the friends of Charles the Bad openly joined the English, with whom France resumed war, for the seven years' truce had just come to an end.
During these seven years, although the kings themselves did not fight, several armed duels had taken place between knights of the two nations. The most famous of these encounters is the "Battle of the Thirty," waged between equal numbers of French and English nobles. In the midst of the fray, Beaumanoir (bo-ma-nwar'), leader of the French, wounded and almost dying of thirst, faltered and was about to surrender, but one of his companions seeing his plight, cried out, "drink your own blood, Beaumanoir, and your thirst will be quenched!" This Spartan encouragement so steeled the leader's arm, that he fought on until victory was secure.
When war broke out again, the English soldiers swept over thenorthern provinces, cleverly avoiding the battle which John was so eager to wage. When the northwestern part of the country had been laid waste, the English, under the leadership of the Prince of Wales, invaded southern France and began to burn and plunder there also.
This decided John to summon all the members of his recently instituted "Order of the Star," who pledged their word to die or be taken prisoners, but never to retreat. He also called all the other nobles, and when he found himself at the head of a magnificent army, marched boldly southward to attack the English forces, which were only about one tenth as large as his own.
The two armies met at Poitiers (1356), where the Prince of Wales proposed a peaceful settling of the quarrel; but the French insisted on such humiliating conditions, that he rejected them with scorn, and prepared to sell his life as dearly as possible. Although outnumbered, the English had the advantage in position; so they cleverly made the best of this, and succeeded in repelling the French onslaught. The ground would permit only a small part of the French to attack them at once. When the English suddenly swept down on the rest of the army, a panic ensued, and the day ended in a disastrous rout in which many Frenchmen lost their lives.
Three of the French princes, young and inexperienced men, fled with their attendants,—an example speedily followed by the bulk of the army. In fact, only a small number remained true tot he king, who, too proud to retreat, hewed right and left like a giant, piling up corpses around him until all his followers were either slain or taken prisoners.
Throughout this battle, his fourteen-year-old son, Philip, stood close beside him, and helped him by keeping a sharp lookout, and by constantly warning him on which side to turn to fend off the most threatening blows. But, in spite of John's valor, and of his son's devotion, the battle of Poitiers was lost, and the king finally was obliged to surrender his sword to a knight, who conducted him immediately tot he Prince of Wales's tent. There he was treated with the utmost courtesy, the Prince even waiting upon him at table in person, just as if he had been England's honored guest, and not her prisoner.
Meantime, the English host pursued the fugitives, securing more prisoners than their army numbered soldiers. These were, as a rule, released upon parole, only a few of the most important being detained until their ransoms could be paid. Among the latter were the king and his young son Philip, who, in that day's fighting, earned the nickname of "the Bold," by which he is well known. The royal prisoners were conveyed to London, where they made a triumphal entrance. We are told the Prince of Wales had his royal captive ride a fine war horse, while he escorted him, mounted on a mere pony. During John's sojourn of four years in England, he was entertained more as a guest than as a prisoner.