Edward III. of Windsor—The Story of the Battle of Poitiers
NINE years passed and the quarrelling between France and England still went on, and in 1356 A.D. the English, under the Black Prince, gained another great victory over the French. Philip, the King of France, had died, and his son John now reigned. He came against the English with such a great army that the Black Prince, rather than fight, offered to set free all the prisoners he had made, to give up all the French towns which he had taken, and to promise not to fight against the French for seven years.
But that did not satisfy King John. He demanded that the Prince and the whole English army should give themselves up as prisoners.
The Black Prince refused even to think of such a thing. Then King John said that he would be satisfied if the Prince and one hundred of his best knights gave themselves up. Again the Black Prince refused, and he and his men prepared to fight, and to win or die.
"My men," said the Prince, "we are only a very small body compared with the army of the French. But numbers do not always bring victory. Therefore fight manfully, and, if it please God and St. George, you shall see me this day act like a true English knight."
The Prince posted his army very cleverly. Only narrow lanes led to the place he had chosen, behind the hedges of which his archers were hidden. As the French knights rode down the lanes, the English archers shot so fast and well that the knights knew not where to turn, and soon the lanes were filled with dead and dying men and horses.
The English shouted "St. George," the French "St. Denis," and fiercely the battle raged. But, in spite of their bravery and their numbers, the French lost the day, and both King John and his son were taken prisoner.
They were led before the Black Prince, who received them very kindly, and treated them as friends rather than as prisoners. When the evening came, and supper was served, the Prince made the French king and his son take the most honoured places at table, and, instead of sitting down to eat with them, he himself waited upon them.
King John begged the Black Prince to sit down to supper with him, but he would not. "It is honour enough for me," he said, "to serve so great a king and so brave a soldier."
After the battle of Poitiers, the Black Prince remained in France for some time, then he set out for England, taking King John with him.
When King Edward heard that they were coming, he gave orders to the people of London to make the city bright and beautiful in honour of the King of France. So the houses were decked with flags and wreaths of flowers, and the people, dressed in their holiday clothes, marched through the streets in gay crowds, cheering the King of France and their own brave Prince.
King John was mounted upon a beautiful white horse, and beside him rode the Black Prince on a little black pony. It seemed as if the Prince wanted to do everything in his power to make King John forget that he was a prisoner.
But, in spite of all the kindness shown to him by King Edward and the Black Prince, John found the months during which he was kept a prisoner and unable to go back to his own dear land long and weary. At last, after four years, Edward made peace with France for a time, and set King John free on condition that he paid a large sum of money.
King John returned to his own land, but as he could not find enough money with which to pay Edward, he came back to prison, like an honourable man, and died in England.
All these wars in France had cost a great deal of money. The English people were proud of their King and Prince, and glad that they should win so many battles, and make the name of England famous; but the people had to pay for these wars. They had to pay tax after tax, and their poverty and misery grew greater year by year.
It is true the King could no longer tax the people how and when he liked, for the power of Parliament grew stronger and stronger. It was only through Parliament that the King could now get the money he required, and whenever they gave it to him they made him promise something in return. In this way, as the power of Parliament grew, the power of the King became less, and the country became really more free. But the poor, who were robbed of nearly all their money, found it difficult to understand this. So many men had been killed in the wars that there were too few to do all the work of the land. There were still slaves in England at this time, and when these slaves saw that there were not enough people to do the work, they rebelled and refused to work without wages. Other people joined them, and so there was war between rich and poor.
Besides poverty, a terrible sickness called the Black Death fell upon the land. Thousands upon thousands died until there were not enough people left in the land to sow and reap and plough. The fields lay barren, no corn was grown, and the people starved. These were very unhappy times for England.
King Edward's wars still went on, and it became more and more difficult to find money for them and, instead of always winning battles, he now often lost them.
To the sorrow of every one the brave Black Prince died. His health had been broken by the terrible hardships of his long wars in France. At last he became so ill that he could no longer sit upon his horse, nor lead his soldiers in battle, and he came home to England to die. He was buried with great pomp in Canterbury Cathedral. There his tomb is still to be seen, and over it there still hangs the black armour which he used to wear, and from which he took his name of the Black Prince.
King Edward died shortly after his son, and his long reign, which had been so brilliant and glorious, ended in darkness and misery, for the people, instead of loving and admiring their King, had grown to hate him.