The Devastation of France

At the end of the battle of Crecy, Edward was finally able to greet the Black Prince’s son. “You are indeed my son. You have proved yourself worthy, to rule the land!” he said. In the Middle Ages, pillaging and mudering your way across Northern France was clearly considered an appropriate Father-Son bonding oppurtunity. Edward marched North to beseige the impregnable coastal fortress of Calais His captin, Walter Manny, escape French jail and joined the fight. Edward didn’t have the men to capture Paris and the French crown. But Calais, was a prize worth fighting for. For month, after month, Calais resisted. And hoped that King Phillip would come. They ran out of bread, so they ate the horses. They ran out of horses, so they ate the dogs. In desperation, they expelled 500 of the eldermen firm. And in line with the rules of Medival warfare, Edward would not let them come through his lines to escape, or feed them. And so there, inside of their own families, 500 men and women and children, starved to death. They ran out of dogs. When even the rats looked scrawny, Calais gave up hope. Now Edward didn’t want to slaughter the inhabitants of Calais. But they resisted his will. They defied him. So Edward prepared a piece of Theatre. He sat waiting in a fine pavillion as 6 leading townsmen, walked from the gates of Calais to beg for mercy. Gone were their fine clothes and jewlery. They were barefoot in rags, with ropes tied around their necks. They threw themselves at Edward’s feet and begged for their lives and the lives of their fellow citizens. But Edward would not be moved. All must die! But then his own queen, Philippa threw herself at her husband’s feet in tears and begged for their lives. And finally, Edward relented. Here was the role of the Medival Queen, To intervine so that the King should show mercy or generousity without losing face or appearing weak. England would keep Calais for 200 years and it would be described by the French as: “A dagger aimed at the heart of France” Edward went home, victorious to England, and proceeded tp party, big time! But while he party-ed, England recieved a tiny visitor. A bacterium called Yersinia Perstis which had travelled all the way from the Russian Steppes. Yersinia lived in the guts of the flea. A flea, lived on the black rat. The black rat, loved the thatch and wooden beams of medival houses, and travelled the seas in merchant ships. Yersinia was not friendly. In fact, Yersinia was utterly lethal. When an infected flea bit a human, Yersinia spread into the human’s lymph nodes and destroyed the immune system. As the body struggled to survive, obscene black bubous burst from under the skin, And so it would become known as ‘The Black Death’. It’s speed was horrific. You might feel fine in the morning, then peak at lunchtime, and be as dead as a nail by teatime. 45% of Englishmen and Englishwomen died. England’s population plummeted to 2,000,000. Europe’s population fell between 30-50%. The impact of the Black Death was profound and long-lived. Prices fell,suddenly there were no laborers around, so lowly wage-earning peasants had more power and freedom than they ever had. A lower population meant less men and materials for war. Medival man had no way to understand what had just happened to it. Either economically, or biologically. For them, this could only mean the will of God. Edward decided that it was his duty to carry on as before. Medival society was deeply conservative. It was the job of a King to protect his people, to make war, to enrich his followers and raise the reputation of his kingdom by celebrating his magnificence. Edward was good at glory. It was a personal talent. In 1352 He famously created the Knight of the Garter. A chilvaric order of 24 knights that still exist today. It’s patron saint was st. George And in time, the Saint and his red cross would be the patron saint of all England. Meanwhile in France, the war became almost private war. English captains raised companies of fighting men, archers, men-at-arms, pikemen, went to France to win their fortune. These companies are men who were called, ‘The Free Companies.’ France was swamped by the English ‘Free companies’. So when Phillip died and his son John became King, Optimism swept across France. Handsome and brave, the new king was called John Le Bel Surely he would crush the English, John even created his own order of Chilvalry. The Order of the Star To rival Edward’s ‘Order of the Garter’ A little more dignified than a piece of underwear. Edward’s son and heir, ‘The Black Prince’, had other ideas. In 1355 He set out on what became known to history as the ‘Great Chevauchee’. Early burning and pillaging through southern France seemingly willed, unstoppable, with utter brutality. Death and disease trailing in his wake. John Le Bell’s reputation already lay in ruins. And in the next campaign, he would have to fight. and so in 1356 The English planned a grand campaign. Heny of Lancaster would invade from the north of Frane and strike south. The Black Prince and the Captal De Buch would march from Gascany northwards to meet him. But this time, King John jumped them both. He appeared with an army that dwarved either Lancaster or the Black Prince, and cut them off from each other. Now at this point, the Black Prince made like Brave sir robin and bravely turned his tail and fled. But near the town of Poitiers out of food, out of water, he was caught. If John had just waited, the English met had to surrender. They were hungry, tired, and thristy, and miles from the nearest Pizza Delivery Area. But if it was arrogance that made Phillip fight at Crecy, John had no choice. For the future of his kingship, he needed to make these English bandits pay, and with double their numbers, a complete victory seemed assured. The French had learned lessons from Crecy. At Poitiers, their main attack was on foot. Hand-to-hand, the opposing knights hacked at each other. And slowly the smaller English army was forced back and they were in danger of annihilation. But the Black Prince was his father’s son. When all around was chaos, he found a small mounted horse under the captal de buch and sent them to swing wide ’round the battlefield and appear in John’s rear, and then over the screams and din of battle, he’d gather some men together, told them to mount, and cried, “Advance, in the name of God and St. George!” The French were shattered into pieces, to small isolated groups of men and the slaughter began. The slaughter was not the knights and nobles. No self-respecting solider in the Middle Ages would daft enough to kill a knight. The common soliders and archers, fine, no one cared about them, their job was to die! But killing a knight! was against the rules of chilvallry and good finance. Rather, you took the knight captive, the knight prmoised to honor any agreement to not to run away, you agreed a ransom, and then he was sent to collect it for you. Simple as that! Throughout the 100-years war, the French and English nobility remained friends. They took part in tournaments, exchanged gifts, shared poetry, and married. War was a game. A game in which the death of a noble was to be deeply regretted. And in the trushing chaos of Poitiers, there was one pair that everyone made sure not to kill. A knight in magnificent armor with his 14-year-old son at his side. The father was John Le Bel, king of France, the boy was Philip II, one day to be duke of Burgundy. And amazingly, the English had captured the King of France himself. Within a few months, the captured king was the guest of honor at a season of tournaments and pagents. in a London, decked with flags and color as England celebrated his humiliation. The following years ahead were some of the worst in French history. The medival state could harly fuction without the king, and France, collapsed. English-free companies descended like locusts on a corpse, and feasted. Burning, stealing, raping, Here is just one quote by a Frenchman: “The loss by fire of my village where I was born is to be wept for. The vines in the reigion were not pruned or kept from rotting. The fields were not sown or plowed. There were no cattle or fowl in the fields, no lambs or calves bleated after their mothers, the pleasent sound of bells was heard, not as a summons to define worship, but as a warning of hostile intentions. And so John agreed to a treaty, he had no choice. gave away most of southwestern France and a massive King’s ransom. France was on the edge. But that ransom was never paid, but John died in captivity in 1364 and the tide, was about to turn…

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