Gateway to the Classics: Display Item
Helene A. Guerber

The Beginning of the Hundred Years' War

AS we have seen, by the Salic Law the crown finally came to the third and last of Philip IV.'s sons, Charles IV., who is also known by the surname of the Handsome. He reigned only six years, but during that time showed great interest in learning, and in the revival of poetry. In fact, he is said to have established poetical tournaments in the south where—as all the prizes offered were garlands of fresh flowers—they became famous as "Floral Games," and were patronized by knights, fair ladies, poets, and painters for many years.

Charles IV. died in 1328, leaving only a daughter to claim the succession, and thus for the third time in fourteen years the Salic Law was called into play. But this time the crown of France had to pass out of the direct Capetian line to a cousin of the king, the son of Philip IV.'s brother. Because this prince belongs to the Valois (va-lwa') branch of the Capetian family, he and his six successors are often called the Valois Kings." They come immediately after the fifteen direct Capetian rulers, who, as we have seen, governed France from 987 to 1328.

But the new king, Philip VI., did not come tot he throne unchallenged, for the crown was also claimed by Edward III., King of England, whose mother, Isabella, was a sister of the late kings. He said that even if a woman could not inherit in France, there was no reason why she could not transmit the crown to her son. A third claimant of the crown, the husband of Louis X.'s daughter, also appeared, boasting, moreover, of being himself a descendant of Philip III. As the claims of two of these candidates were derived, in part at least, from women, they were soon set aside, and the throne definitely assigned to Philip VI., the next in the line of males. It was also decided that the crown should always remain in the hands of a Frenchman, and never by marriage, or otherwise, pass into the possession of a foreigner.

The two other candidates were sorely disappointed. Edward III., still a minor, submitted, but with ill grace, while the other candidate had to be bribed by the gift of the kingdom of Navarre (na-var'), to renounce all rights tot he Franch crown and tot he provinces which he claimed in that country in his wife's name.

Ever since the Norman conquest (1066), there had been great rivalry between France and England, and many times already war had broken out. This rivalry now became more marked than ever, as we enter the period which is known in history as "the Hundred Years' War," although it really covers one hundred and sixteen years (1337-1453).

The Flemings had submitted reluctantly to French rule, and they hastened to take advantage of a change of dynasty to rebel, being upheld in this bad conduct by the English. But as the new French king was a brave and energetic man, he immediately set forth, and, by winning a battle (Cassel, 1328), compelled the Flemish to obey him.

All the advantage won by this victory was, however, lost by an unwise decree, in which he forbade these people to purchase wool from the English. Now, as the Flemish lived mostly by weaving, and depended on England for their supply of raw material, this decree threatened to ruin them, so they rose up again in 1336, led by James van Ar'teveld. This leader not only begged Edward III. on England to come to his aid, but also advised him to assume the title of King of France, and assert his claim to the throne, arms in hand.

Edward III., whose pride had been hurt because he had been compelled to do homage to Philip VI for his French estates, and who, besides, owed a grudge to France for helping the Scots, was just hesitating whether to follow this welcome advice or not, when a French knight, who had taken refuge at his court, brought matters to a climax.

This knight, it seems, had tried to win a French estate by fraud, had been found guilty, and had avoided death only by a clever escape from prison. Being bitter and outspoken enemy of Philip VI.,—who had prosecuted him,—he soon made friends at the English court. There, at a banquet one day, he had a heron publicly served tot he king. At that time, such a proceeding was considered equivalent to a charge of cowardice, so every one watched eagerly to see what effect the taunt would produce. Springing to his feet, Edward III—who was anything but timid—stretched out his right hand over the symbolic bird, and then and there took a solemn oath to begin war against France.

The first serious encounter in the Hundred Years' War was the naval battle of Sluis (slios, 1340), where the French fleet was destroyed; but as neither country was then ready to continue hostilities, a truce was soon made. It is said that no one at first dared to announce this terrible defeat to the French king, and that the court fool broke the news by remarking, "Well! The English are great cowards!" When Philip asked why, the man rejoined, "Because they did not dare jump boldly into the sea, at Sluis, like our brave French and Normans!"