During the four years that King John was kept in England, Charles the Dauphin, who had fled from the field of Poitiers ruled over France in his father's stead. But the country was in a miserable state, and Charles was too young to govern it with the strong hand which it needed.
Hired soldiers, called Free Lances, who fought for whoever paid them the largest sums, wandered through the country. And the people of France learned to dread and hate these Free Lances, who showed respect to none and who robbed and killed all who came in their way.
The nobles, too, treated the peasants worse than slaves until at length they forsook their miserable huts. and went away into the forests to live in caves. For no hardships were so great as those which their masters laid upon them.
It seemed to the nobles that the peasants would always suffer without a word, and they mocked at their sullen faces and nicknamed them Jacques Bonhomme, or as we would say, "Jack Goodfellow."
But the barons made a mistake when they thought that the peasants would submit to their exactions for ever. For at length, in 1358, goaded into desperation by the cruelty of their lords, the peasants armed themselves with scythes and pitchforks, or any weapon on which they could lay their hands, and attacked the nobles, burning their castles, slaying their wives, and even their little children. Then they wandered through the country, the poor peasant women dressed in the fine garments they had stripped off the wives of the nobles.
This revolt of the peasants was called the Jacquerie, or the Rebellion of Jacques, from the name Jacques Bonhomme, given so carelessly by the barons to the peasants on whom they trampled. Other risings of the peasants in after-years were also called by the same name.
At first the nobles were alarmed at the fury of the Jacquerie. Charles the Bad, who had been set free when King John was taken prisoner, invited the leaders of the rebellious peasants to meet him, pretending that he wished to help them. But when they came he cruelly put them to death, first placing on the head of their chief a red-hot iron. Only then did the nobles take courage to go out against the Jacquerie, and hunt them to death as they would have hunted wild beasts.
Meanwhile, in Paris itself there was great unrest. Etienne Marcel, the chief magistrate of the city, demanded that the dauphin should reduce the heavy taxes which King John had laid on the people.
Charles paid no attention to Marcel's demands, so the magistrate, with a band of armed men, forced his way into the dauphin's presence as the prince talked with his two chief advisers, the Counts of Champagne and Normandy.
The armed men wore caps of red and blue, which colours were worn by the rebellious citizens.
Marcel no sooner saw Charles than he boldly demanded that the taxes should be reduced. The Counts dared to interrupt the magistrate, whereupon Marcel turned to his fellows with the red and blue caps, saying sternly, "Do that for which ye are come."
In a moment the rough citizens had seized the Counts of Champagne and Normandy, and slain them in the presence of the dauphin. He, thinking that he also would be slain, fell at Marcel's feet, miserably begging for mercy.
"Take no heed, lord duke," said the magistrate, "you have nought to fear," and he placed his own red-and-blue cap on the dauphin's head.
But though Marcel saved the dauphin's life, Charles never forgave him for the death of the counts.
Some time later the citizens of Paris grew jealous of Marcel's power. They asked the dauphin, who had fled from Paris, to return. But he refused to do so while Marcel was alive in the city.
Marcel, knowing that his influence over the citizens was fast passing away, turned to Charles of Navarre, promising him the keys of the capital if he would come to his help against the dauphin and the people of Paris.
Charles would gladly be master of Paris. His ambition whispered to him that it was but a step from being master of Paris to becoming King of France, and he accepted Marcel's offer with eagerness. On a certain night, therefore, he came with his followers to one of the gates of Paris to receive from Marcel's hands the keys of the city.
But there was a traitor among Marcel's friends The citizens learned what the magistrate had promised to do and as he went at midnight, with a few of his followers; to seize the gates and open them to Charles of Navarre a troop of citizens fell upon him and put him to death. They then sent for the dauphin, who came back in triumph to the city.
King John all this time was still a prisoner in England. The French now wished to set their king free, but King Edward's terms were so hard that the dauphin refused to agree to them.
Edward therefore determined again to make war on France, and win in battle the towns the dauphin refused to give to him as the price of this father's freedom. Early in 1360 he landed at Calais with a large army, and marched through France, burning and plundering the country, which was already miserable enough with its own quarrels and rebellions.
At length King Edward encamped before Paris, where Charles the Dauphin, or the Regent as he had now been called for some time, was watching his progress.
But the English army was not strong enough to attack the city, and the Regent had no intention of leaving the safety of its walls to risk a battle.
So King Edward, finding it difficult to provide food for his army, withdrew from Paris, and in May 1360 agreed to make peace with France.
By the Peace of Bretigny, Edward iii. gave up his claim to the French throne, keeping however many of his French provinces. King John was also set free, his son, Louis of Anjou, promising to remain at Calais as hostage until the king's heavy ransom was paid.
The people of France rejoiced when the Treaty of Bretigny became known, for they were tired of the cruel war, and longed for peace.
And King John returned gladly to his own country, his long captivity at an end. But before a year had passed, Louis of Anjou, who had promised to stay in Calais as hostage until his father's ransom was paid, broke his word, and escaped from the city.
King John, who in spite of his many faults would not have broken his plighted word, upbraided his son, saying that, "If good faith were banished from the world, it ought to find an asylum in the hearts of kings."
The king showed that his displeasure was real, for he himself went back to England to "make the excuses of his son, the Duke of Anjou, who had returned to France."
For a short time King John was once again a prisoner, but three months after his return to England he took ill, and died in April 1364.