I had every day news from Rebours, informing me how matters went. This Rebours I have mentioned before to have been the object of my husband's passion, but she was now cast off, and, consequently, was no friend to Fosseuse, who had gained that place in his affection she had before held. She, therefore, strove all she could to circumvent her; and, indeed, she was fully qualified for such a purpose, as she was a cunning, deceitful young person. She gave me to understand that Fosseuse laboured to do me every ill office in her power; that she spoke of me with the greatest disrespect on all occasions, and expressed her expectations of marrying the King herself, in case she should be delivered of a son, when I was to be divorced. She had said, further, that when the King my husband returned to Baviere, he had resolved to go to Pau, and that I should go with him, whether I would or not.
This intelligence was far from being agreeable to me, and I knew not what to think of it. I trusted in the goodness of God, and I had a reliance on the generosity of the King my husband; yet I passed the time I waited for his return but uncomfortably, and often thought I shed more tears than they drank water. The Catholic nobility of the neighbourhood of Baviere used their utmost endeavours to divert my chagrin, for the month or five weeks that the King my husband and Fosseuse stayed at Aigues-Caudes.
On his return, a certain nobleman acquainted the King my husband with the concern I was under lest he should go to Pau, whereupon he did not press me on the subject, but only said he should have been glad if I had consented to go with him. Perceiving, by my tears and the expressions I made use of, that I should prefer even death to such a journey, he altered his intentions and we returned to Nerac.
The pregnancy of Fosseuse was now no longer a secret. The whole Court talked of it, and not only the Court, but all the country. I was willing to prevent the scandal from spreading, and accordingly resolved to talk to her on the subject. With this resolution, I took her into my closet, and spoke to her thus: "Though you have for some time estranged yourself from me, and, as it has been reported to me, striven to do me many ill offices with the King my husband, yet the regard I once had for you, and the esteem which I still entertain for those honourable persons to whose family you belong, do not admit of my neglecting to afford you all the assistance in my power in pour present unhappy situation. I beg you, therefore, not to conceal the truth, it being both for your interest and mine, under whose protection you are, to declare it. Tell me the truth, and I will act towards you as a mother. You know that a contagious disorder has broken out in the place, and, under pretence of avoiding it, I will go to Mas-d'Agenois, which is a house belonging to the King my husband, in a very retired situation. I will take you with me, and such other persons as you shall name. Whilst we are there, the King will take the diversion of hunting in some other part of the country, and I shall not stir thence before your delivery. By this means we shall put a stop to the scandalous reports which are now current, and which concern you more than myself."
So far from showing any contrition, or returning thanks for my kindness, she replied, with the utmost arrogance, that she would prove all those to be liars who had reported such things of her; that, for my part, I had ceased for a long time to show her any marks of regard, and she saw that I was determined upon her ruin. These words she delivered in as loud a tone as mine had been mildly expressed; and, leaving me abruptly, she flew in a rage to the King my husband, to relate to him what I had said to her. He was very angry upon the occasion, and declared he would make them all liars who had laid such things to her charge. From that moment until the hour of her delivery, which was a few months after, he never spoke to me.
She found the pains of labour come upon her about daybreak, whilst she was in bed in the chamber where the maids of honour slept. She sent for my physician, and begged him to go and acquaint the King my husband that she was taken ill. We slept in separate beds in the same chamber, and had done so for some time.
The physician delivered the message as he was directed, which greatly embarrassed my husband. What to do he did not know. On the one hand, he was fearful of a discovery; on the other, he foresaw that, without proper assistance, there was danger of losing one he so much loved. In this dilemma, he resolved to apply to me, confess all, and implore my aid and advice, well knowing that, notwithstanding what had passed, I should be ready to do him a pleasure. Having come to this resolution, he withdrew my curtains, and spoke to me thus: "My dear, I have concealed a matter from you which I now confess. I beg you to forgive me, and to think no more about what I have said to you on the subject. Will you oblige me so far as to rise and go to Fosseuse, who is taken very ill? I am well assured that, in her present situation, you will forget everything and resent nothing. You know how dearly I love her, and I hope you will comply with my request." I answered that I had too great a respect for him to be offended at anything he should do, and that I would go to her immediately, and do as much for her as if she were a child of my own. I advised him, in the meantime, to go out and hunt, by which means he would draw away all his people, and prevent tattling.
I removed Fosseuse, with all convenient haste, from the chamber in which the maids of honour were, to one in a more retired part of the palace, got a physician and some women about her, and saw that she wanted for nothing that was proper in her situation. It pleased God that she should bring forth a daughter, since dead. As soon as she was delivered I ordered her to be taken back to the chamber from which she had been brought. Notwithstanding these precautions, it was not possible to prevent the story from circulating through the palace. When the King my husband returned from hunting he paid her a visit, according to custom. She begged that I might come and see her, as was usual with me when any one of my maids of honour was taken ill. By this means she expected to put a stop to stories to her prejudice. The King my husband came from her into my bedchamber, and found me in bed, as I was fatigued and required rest, after having been called up so early.
He begged me to get up and pay her a visit. I told him I went according to his desire before, when she stood in need of assistance, but now she wanted no help; that to visit her at this time would be only exposing her more, and cause myself to be pointed at by all the world. He seemed to be greatly displeased at what I said, which vexed me the more as I thought I did not deserve such treatment after what I had done at his request in the morning; she likewise contributed all in her power to aggravate matters betwixt him and me.
In the meantime, the King my brother, always well informed of what is passing in the families of the nobility of his kingdom, was not ignorant of the transactions of our Court. He was particularly curious to learn everything that happened with us, and knew every minute circumstance that I have now related. Thinking this a favourable occasion to wreak his vengeance on me for having been the means of my brother acquiring so much reputation by the peace he had brought about, he made use of the accident that happened in our Court to withdraw me from the King my husband, and thereby reduce me to the state of misery he wished to plunge me in. To this purpose he prevailed on the Queen my mother to write to me, and express her anxious desire to see me after an absence of five or six years. She added that a journey of this sort to Court would be serviceable to the affairs of the King my husband as well as my own; that the King my brother himself was desirous of seeing me, and that if I wanted money for the journey he would send it me. The King wrote to the same purpose, and despatched Manique, the steward of his household, with instructions to use every persuasion with me to undertake the journey. The length of time I had been absent in Gascony, and the unkind usage I received on account of Fosseuse, contributed to induce me to listen to the proposal made me.
The King and the Queen both wrote to me. I received three letters, in quick succession; and, that I might have no pretence for staying, I had the sum of fifteen hundred crowns paid me to defray the expenses of my journey. The Queen my mother wrote that she would give me the meeting in Saintonge, and that, if the King my husband would accompany me so far, she would treat with him there, and give him every satisfaction with respect to the King. But the King and she were desirous to have him at their Court, as he had been before with my brother; and the Marechal de Matignon had pressed the matter with the King, that he might have no one to interfere with him in Gascony. I had had too long experience of what was to be expected at their Court to hope much from all the fine promises that were made to me. I had resolved, however, to avail myself of the opportunity of an absence of a few months, thinking it might prove the means of setting matters to rights. Besides which, I thought that, as I should take Fosseuse with me, it was possible that the King's passion for her might cool when she was no longer in his sight, or he might attach himself to some other that was less inclined to do me mischief.
It was with some difficulty that the King my husband would consent to a removal, so unwilling was he to leave his Fosseuse. He paid more attention to me, in hopes that I should refuse to set out on this journey to France; but, as I had given my word in my letters to the King and the Queen my mother that I would go, and as I had even received money for the purpose, I could not do otherwise.
And herein my ill-fortune prevailed over the reluctance I had to leave the King my husband, after the instances of renewed love and regard which he had begun to show me.
HISTORY OF THE HOUSE OF VALOIS.
CHARLES, COMTE DE VALOIS, was the younger brother of Philip the Fair, and therefore uncle of the three sovereigns lately dead. His eldest son Philip had been appointed guardian to the Queen of Charles IV.; and when it appeared that she had given birth to a daughter, and not a son, the barons, joining with the notables of Paris and the good towns, met to decide who was by right the heir to the throne, "for the twelve peers of France said and say that the Crown of France is of such noble estate that by no succession can it come to a woman nor to a woman's son," as Froissart tells us. This being their view, the baby daughter of Charles IV. was at once set aside; and the claim of Edward III. of England, if, indeed, he ever made it, rested on Isabella of France, his mother, sister of the three sovereigns. And if succession through a female had been possible, then the daughters of those three kings had rights to be reserved. It was, however, clear that the throne must go to a man, and the crown was given to Philip of Valois, founder of a new house of sovereigns.
The new monarch was a very formidable person. He had been a great feudal lord, hot and vehement, after feudal fashion; but he was now to show that he could be a severe master, a terrible king. He began his reign by subduing the revolted Flemings on behalf of his cousin Louis of Flanders, and having replaced him in his dignities, returned to Paris and there held high state as King. And he clearly was a great sovereign; the weakness of the late King had not seriously injured France; the new King was the elect of the great lords, and they believed that his would be a new feudal monarchy; they were in the glow of their revenge over the Flemings for the days of Courtrai; his cousins reigned in Hungary and Naples, his sisters were married to the greatest of the lords; the Queen of Navarre was his cousin; even the youthful King of England did him homage for Guienne and Ponthieu. The barons soon found out their mistake. Philip VI., supported by the lawyers, struck them whenever he gave them opening; he also dealt harshly with the traders, hampering them and all but ruining them, till the country was alarmed and discontented. On the other hand, young Edward of England had succeeded to a troubled inheritance, and at the beginning was far weaker than his rival; his own sagacity, and the advance of constitutional rights in England, soon enabled him to repair the breaches in his kingdom, and to gather fresh strength from the prosperity and good-will of a united people. While France followed a more restricted policy, England threw open her ports to all comers; trade grew in London as it waned in Paris; by his marriage with Philippa of Hainault, Edward secured a noble queen, and with her the happiness of his subjects and the all-important friendship of the Low Countries. In 1336 the followers of Philip VI. persuaded Louis of Flanders to arrest the English merchants then in Flanders; whereupon Edward retaliated by stopping the export of wool, and Jacquemart van Arteveldt of Ghent, then at the beginning of his power, persuaded the Flemish cities to throw off all allegiance to their French-loving Count, and to place themselves under the protection of Edward. In return Philip VI. put himself in communication with the Scots, the hereditary foes of England, and the great wars which were destined to last 116 years, and to exhaust the strength of two strong nations, were now about to begin. They brought brilliant and barren triumphs to England, and, like most wars, were a wasteful and terrible mistake, which, if crowned with ultimate success, might, by removing the centre of the kingdom into France, have marred the future welfare of England, for the happy constitutional development of the country could never have taken place with a sovereign living at Paris, and French interests becoming ever more powerful. Fortunately, therefore, while the war evoked by its brilliant successes the national pride of Englishmen, by its eventual failure it was prevented from inflicting permanent damage on England.
The war began in 1337 and ended in 1453; the epochs in it are the Treaty of Bretigny in 1360, the Treaty of Troyes in 1422, the final expulsion of the English in 1453.
The French King seems to have believed himself equal to the burdens of a great war, and able to carry out the most far-reaching plans. The Pope was entirely in his hands, and useful as a humble instrument to curb and harass the Emperor. Philip had proved himself master of the Flemish, and, with help of the King of Scotland, hoped so to embarrass Edward III. as to have no difficulty in eventually driving him to cede all his French possessions. While he thought it his interest to wear out his antagonist without any open fighting, it was Edward's interest to make vigorous and striking war. France therefore stood on the defensive; England was always the attacking party. On two sides, in Flanders and in Brittany, France had outposts which, if well defended, might long keep the English power away from her vitals. Unluckily for his side, Philip was harsh and raw, and threw these advantages away. In Flanders the repressive commercial policy of the Count, dictated from Paris, gave Edward the opportunity, in the end of 1337, of sending the Earl of Derby, with a strong fleet, to raise the blockade of Cadsand, and to open the Flemish markets by a brilliant action, in which the French chivalry was found powerless against the English yeoman-archers; and in 1338 Edward crossed over to Antwerp to see what forward movement could be made. The other frontier war was that of Brittany, which began a little later (1341). The openings of the war were gloomy and wasteful, without glory. Edward did not actually send defiance to Philip till 1339, when he proclaimed himself King of France, and quartered the lilies of France on the royal shield. The Flemish proved a very reed; and though the French army came up to meet the English in the Vermando country, no fighting took place, and the campaign of 1339 ended obscurely. Norman and Genoese ships threatened the southern shores of England, landing at Southampton and in the Isle of Wight unopposed. In 1340 Edward returned to Flanders; on his way he attacked the French fleet which lay at Sluys, and utterly destroyed it. The great victory of Sluys gave England for centuries the mastery of the British channel. But, important as it was, it gave no success to the land campaign. Edward wasted his strength on an unsuccessful siege of Tournia, and, ill-supported by his Flemish allies, could achieve nothing. The French King in this year seized on Guienne; and from Scotland tidings came that Edinburgh castle, the strongest place held by the English, had fallen into the hands of Douglas. Neither from Flanders nor from Guienne could Edward hope to reach the heart of the French power; a third inlet now presented itself in Brittany. On the death of John III. of Brittany, in 1341, Jean de Montfort, his youngest brother, claimed the great fief, against his niece Jeanne, daughter of his elder brother Guy, Comte de Penthievre. He urged that the Salic law, which had been recognised in the case of the crown, should also apply to this great duchy, so nearly an independent sovereignty. Jeanne had been married to Charles de Blois, whom John III. of Brittany had chosen as his heir; Charles was also nephew of King Philip, who gladly espoused his cause. Thereon Jean de Montfort appealed to Edward, and the two Kings met in border strife in Brittany. The Bretons sided with John against the influence of France. Both the claimants were made prisoners; the ladies carried on a chivalric warfare, Jeanne de Montfort against Jeanne de Blois, and all went favourably with the French party till Philip, with a barbarity as foolish as it was scandalous, tempted the chief Breton lords to Paris and beheaded them without trial. The war, suspended by a truce, broke out again, and the English raised large forces and supplies, meaning to attack on three sides at once,—from Flanders, Brittany, and Guienne. The Flemish expedition came to nothing; for the people of Ghent in 1345 murdered Jacques van Arteveldt as he was endeavouring to persuade them to receive the Prince of Wales as their count, and Edward, on learning this adverse news, returned to England. Thence, in July, 1346, he sailed for Normandy, and, landing at La Hogue, overran with ease the country up to Paris. He was not, however, strong enough to attack the capital, for Philip lay with a large army watching him at St. Denis. After a short hesitation Edward crossed the Seine at Poissy, and struck northwards, closely followed by Philip. He got across the Somme safely, and at Crecy in Ponthieu stood at bay to await the French. Though his numbers were far less than theirs, he had a good position, and his men were of good stuff; and when it came to battle, the defeat of the French was crushing. Philip had to fall back with his shattered army; Edward withdrew unmolested to Calais, which he took after a long siege in 1347. Philip had been obliged to call up his son John from the south, where he was observing the English under the Earl of Derby; thereupon the English overran all the south, taking Poitiers and finding no opposition. Queen Philippa of Hainault had also defeated and taken David of Scotland at Neville's Cross.
The campaign of 1346-1347 was on all hands disastrous to King Philip. He sued for and obtained a truce for ten months. These were the days of the "black death," which raged in France from 1347 to 1349, and completed the gloom of the country, vexed by an arbitrary and grasping monarch, by unsuccessful war, and now by the black cloud of pestilence. In 1350 King Philip died, leaving his crown to John of Normandy. He had added two districts and a title to France: he bought Montpellier from James of Aragon, and in 1349 also bought the territories of Humbert, Dauphin of Vienne, who resigned the world under influence of the revived religion of the time, a consequence of the plague, and became a Carmelite friar. The fief and the title of Dauphin were granted to Charles, the King's grandson, who was the first person who attached that title to the heir to the French throne. Apart from these small advantages, the kingdom of France had suffered terribly from the reign of the false and heartless Philip VI. Nor was France destined to enjoy better things under John "the Good," one of the worst sovereigns with whom she has been cursed. He took as his model and example the chivalric John of Bohemia, who had been one of the most extravagant and worthless of the princes of his time, and had perished in his old age at Crecy. The first act of the new King was to take from his kinsman, Charles "the Bad" of Navarre, Champagne and other lands; and Charles went over to the English King. King John was keen to fight; the States General gave him the means for carrying on war, by establishing the odious "gabelle" on salt, and other imposts. John hoped with his new army to drive the English completely out of the country. Petty war began again on all the frontiers,—an abortive attack on Calais, a guerilla warfare in Brittany, slight fighting also in Guienne. Edward in 1335 landed at Calais, but was recalled to pacify Scotland; Charles of Navarre and the Duke of Lancaster were on the Breton border; the Black Prince sailed for Bordeaux. In 1356 he rode northward with a small army to the Loire, and King John, hastily summoning all his nobles and fief-holders, set out to meet him. Hereon the Black Prince, whose forces were weak, began to retreat; but the French King outmarched and intercepted him near Poitiers. He had the English completely in his power, and with a little patience could have starved them into submission; instead, he deemed it his chivalric duty to avenge Crecy in arms, and the great battle of Poitiers was the result (19th September, 1356). The carnage and utter ruin of the French feudal army was quite incredible; the dead seemed more than the whole army of the Black Prince; the prisoners were too many to be held. The French army, bereft of leaders, melted away, and the Black Prince rode triumphantly back to Bordeaux with the captive King John and his brave little son in his train. A two years' truce ensued; King John was carried over to London, where he found a fellow in misfortune in David of Scotland, who had been for eleven years a captive in English hands. The utter degradation of the nobles, and the misery of the country, gave to the cities of France an opportunity which one great man, Etienne Marcel, provost of the traders at Paris, was not slow to grasp. He fortified the capital and armed the citizens; the civic clergy made common cause with him; and when the Dauphin Charles convoked the three Estates at Paris, it was soon seen that the nobles had become completely discredited and powerless. It was a moment in which a new life might have begun for France; in vain did the noble order clamour for war and taxes,—they to do the war, with what skill and success all men now knew, and the others to pay the taxes. Clergy, however, and burghers resisted. The Estates parted, leaving what power there was still in France in the hands of Etienne Marcel. He strove in vain to reconcile Charles the Dauphin with Charles of Navarre, who stood forward as a champion of the towns. Very reluctantly did Marcel entrust his fortunes to such hands. With help of Lecocq, Bishop of Laon, he called the Estates again together, and endeavoured to lay down sound principles of government, which Charles the Dauphin was compelled to accept. Paris, however, stood alone, and even there all were not agreed. Marcel and Bishop Lecocq, seeing the critical state of things, obtained the release of Charles of Navarre, then a prisoner. The result was that ere long the Dauphin-regent was at open war with Navarre and with Paris. The outbreak of the miserable peasantry, the Jacquerie, who fought partly for revenge against the nobles, partly to help Paris, darkened the time; they were repressed with savage bloodshed, and in 1358 the Dauphin's party in Paris assassinated the only great man France had seen for long. With Etienne Marcel's death all hope of a constitutional life died out from France; the Dauphin entered Paris and set his foot on the conquered liberties of his country. Paris had stood almost alone; civic strength is wanting in France; the towns but feebly supported Marcel; they compelled the movement to lose its popular and general character, and to become a first attempt to govern France from Paris alone. After some insincere negotiations, and a fear of desultory warfare, in which Edward III. traversed France without meeting with a single foe to fight, peace was at last agreed to, at Bretigny, in May, 1360. By this act Edward III. renounced the French throne and gave up all he claimed or held north of the Loire, while he was secured in the lordship of the south and west, as well as that part of Northern Picardy which included Calais, Guines, and Ponthieu. The treaty also fixed the ransom to be paid by King John.
France was left smaller than she had been under Philip Augustus, yet she received this treaty with infinite thankfulness; worn out with war and weakness, any diminution of territory seemed better to her than a continuance of her unbearable misfortunes. Under Charles, first as Regent, then as King, she enjoyed an uneasy rest and peace for twenty years.
King John, after returning for a brief space to France, went back into his pleasant captivity in England, leaving his country to be ruled by the Regent the Dauphin. In 1364 he died, and Charles V., "the Wise," became King in name, as he had now been for some years in fact. This cold, prudent, sickly prince, a scholar who laid the foundations of the great library in Paris by placing 900 MSS. in three chambers in the Louvre, had nothing to dazzle the ordinary eye; to the timid spirits of that age he seemed to be a malevolent wizard, and his name of "Wise" had in it more of fear than of love. He also is notable for two things: he reformed the current coin, and recognised the real worth of Du Guesclin, the first great leader of mercenaries in France, a grim fighting-man, hostile to the show of feudal warfare, and herald of a new age of contests, in which the feudal levies would fall into the background. The invention of gunpowder in this century, the incapacity of the great lords, the rise of free lances and mercenary troops, all told that a new era had arrived. It was by the hand of Du Guesclin that Charles overcame his cousin and namesake, Charles of Navarre, and compelled him to peace. On the other hand, in the Breton war which followed just after, he was defeated by Sir John Chandos and the partisans of Jean de Montfort, who made him prisoner; the Treaty of Guerande, which followed, gave them the dukedom of Brittany; and Charles V., unable to resist, was fair to receive the new duke's homage, and to confirm him in the duchy. The King did not rest till he had ransomed Du Guesclin from the hands of Chandos; he then gave him commission to raise a paid army of freebooters, the scourge of France, and to march with them to support, against the Black Prince, the claims of Henry of Trastamare to the Crown of Castile. Successful at first by help of the King of Aragon, he was made Constable of Spain at the coronation of Henry at Burgos. Edward the Black Prince, however, intervened, and at the battle of Najara (1367) Du Guesclin was again a prisoner in English hands, and Henry lost his throne. Fever destroyed the victorious host, and the Black Prince, withdrawing into Gascony, carried with him the seeds of the disorder which shortened his days. Du Guesclin soon got his liberty again; and Charles V., seeing how much his great rival of England was weakened, determined at last on open war. He allied himself with Henry of Trastamare, listened to the grievances of the Aquitanians, summoned the Black Prince to appear and answer the complaints. In 1369, Henry defeated Pedro, took him prisoner, and murdered him in a brawl; thus perished the hopes of the English party in the south. About the same time Charles V. sent open defiance and declaration of war to England. Without delay, he surprised the English in the north, recovering all Ponthieu at once; the national pride was aroused; Philip, Duke of Burgundy, who had, through the prudent help of Charles, lately won as a bride the heiress of Flanders, was stationed at Rouen, to cover the western approach to Paris, with strict orders not to fight; the Aquitanians were more than half French at heart. The record of the war is as the smoke of a furnace. We see the reek of burnt and plundered towns; there were no brilliant feats of arms; the Black Prince, gloomy and sick, abandoned the struggle, and returned to England to die; the new governor, the Earl of Pembroke, did not even succeed in landing: he was attacked and defeated off Rochelle by Henry of Castile, his whole fleet, with all its treasure and stores, taken or sunk, and he himself was a prisoner in Henry's hands. Du Guesclin had already driven the English out of the west into Brittany; he now overran Poitou, which received him gladly; all the south seemed to be at his feet. The attempt of Edward III. to relieve the little that remained to him in France failed utterly, and by 1372 Poitou was finally lost to England. Charles set himself to reduce Brittany with considerable success; a diversion from Calais caused plentiful misery in the open country; but, as the French again refused to fight, it did nothing to restore the English cause. By 1375 England held nothing in France except Calais, Cherbourg, Bayonne, and Bordeaux. Edward III., utterly worn out with war, agreed to a truce, through intervention of the Pope; it was signed in 1375. In 1377, on its expiring, Charles, who in two years had sedulously improved the state of France, renewed the war. By sea and land the English were utterly overmatched, and by 1378 Charles was master of the situation on all hands. Now, however, he pushed his advantages too far; and the cold skill which had overthrown the English, was used in vain against the Bretons, whose duchy he desired to absorb. Languedoc and Flanders also revolted against him. France was heavily burdened with taxes, and the future was dark and threatening. In the midst of these things, death overtook the coldly calculating monarch in September, 1380.
Little had France to hope from the boy who was now called on to fill the throne. Charles VI. was not twelve years old, a light-wined, handsome boy, under the guardianship of the royal Dukes his uncles, who had no principles except that of their own interest to guide them in bringing up the King and ruling the people. Before Charles VI. had reached years of discretion, he was involved by the French nobles in war against the Flemish cities, which, under guidance of the great Philip van Arteveldt, had overthrown the authority of the Count of Flanders. The French cities showed ominous signs of being inclined to ally themselves with the civic movement in the north. The men of Ghent came out to meet their French foes, and at the battle of Roosebek (1382) were utterly defeated and crushed. Philip van Arteveldt himself was slain. It was a great triumph of the nobles over the cities; and Paris felt it when the King returned. All movement there and in the other northern cities of France was ruthlessly repressed; the noble reaction also overthrew the "new men" and the lawyers, by whose means the late King had chiefly governed. Two years later, the royal Dukes signed a truce with England, including Ghent in it; and Louis de Male, Count of Flanders, having perished at the same time, Marguerite his daughter, wife of Philip of Burgundy, succeeded to his inheritance (1384.) Thus began the high fortunes of the House of Burgundy, which at one time seemed to overshadow Emperor and King of France. In 1385, another of the brothers, Louis, Duc d'Anjou, died, with all his Italian ambitions unfulfilled. In 1386, Charles VI., under guidance of his uncles, declared war on England, and exhausted all France in preparations; the attempt proved the sorriest failure. The regency of the Dukes became daily more unpopular, until in 1388 Charles dismissed his two uncles, the Dukes of Burgundy and Berri, and began to rule. For a while all went much better; he recalled his father's friends and advisers, lightened the burdens of the people, allowed the new ministers free hand in making prudent government; and learning how bad had been the state of the south under the Duc de Berri, deprived him of that command in 1390. Men thought that the young King, if not good himself, was well content to allow good men to govern in his name; at any, rate, the rule of the selfish Dukes seemed to be over. Their bad influences, however, still surrounded him; an attempt to assassinate Olivier de Clisson, the Constable, was connected with their intrigues and those of the Duke of Brittany; and in setting forth to punish the attempt on his favourite the Constable, the unlucky young King, who had sapped his health by debauchery, suddenly became mad. The Dukes of Burgundy and Berri at once seized the reins and put aside his brother the young Duc d'Orleans. It was the beginning of that great civil discord between Burgundy and Orleans, the Burgundians and Armagnacs, which worked so much ill for France in the earlier part of the next century. The rule of the uncles was disastrous for France; no good government seemed even possible for that unhappy land.
An obscure strife went on until 1404, when Duke Philip of Burgundy died, leaving his vast inheritance to John the Fearless, the deadly foe of Louis d'Orleans. Paris was with him, as with his father before him; the Duke entered the capital in 1405, and issued a popular proclamation against the ill-government of the Queen-regent and Orleans. Much profession of a desire for better things was made, with small results. So things went on until 1407, when, after the Duc de Berri, who tried to play the part of a mediator, had brought the two Princes together, the Duc d'Orleans was foully assassinated by a Burgundian partisan. The Duke of Burgundy, though he at first withdrew from Paris, speedily returned, avowed the act, and was received with plaudits by the mob. For a few years the strife continued, obscure and bad; a great league of French princes and nobles was made to stem the success of the Burgundians; and it was about this time that the Armagnac name became common. Paris, however, dominated by the "Cabochians," the butchers' party, the party of the "marrowbones and cleavers," and entirely devoted to the Burgundians, enabled John the Fearless to hold his own in France; the King himself seemed favourable to the same party. In 1412 the princes were obliged to come to terms, and the Burgundian triumph seemed complete. In 1413 the wheel went round, and we find the Armagnacs in Paris, rudely sweeping away all the Cabochians with their professions of good civic rule. The Duc de Berri was made captain of Paris, and for a while all went against the Burgundians, until, in 1414, Duke John was fain to make the first Peace of Arras, and to confess himself worsted in the strife. The young Dauphin Louis took the nominal lead of the national party, and ruled supreme in Paris in great ease and self-indulgence.
The year before, Henry V. had succeeded to the throne of England,—a bright and vigorous young man, eager to be stirring in the world, brave and fearless, with a stern grasp of things beneath all,—a very sheet-anchor of firmness and determined character. Almost at the very opening of his reign, the moment he had secured his throne, he began a negotiation with France which boded no good. He offered to marry Catharine, the King's third daughter, and therewith to renew the old Treaty of Bretigny, if her dower were Normandy, Maine, Anjou, not without a good sum of money. The French Court, on the other hand, offered him her hand with Aquitaine and the money, an offer rejected instantly; and Henry made ready for a rough wooing in arms. In 1415 he crossed to Harfleur, and while parties still fought in France, after a long and exhausting siege, took the place; thence he rode northward for Calais, feeling his army too much reduced to attempt more. The Armagnacs, who had gathered at Rouen, also pushed fast to the north, and having choice of passage over the Somme, Amiens being in their hands, got before King Henry, while he had to make a long round before he could get across that stream. Consequently, when, on his way, he reached Azincourt, he found the whole chivalry of France arrayed against him in his path. The great battle of Azincourt followed, with frightful ruin and carnage of the French. With a huge crowd of prisoners the young King passed on to Calais, and thence to England. The Armagnacs' party lay buried in the hasty graves of Azincourt; never had there been such slaughter of nobles. Still, for three years they made head against their foes; till in 1418 the Duke of Burgundy's friends opened Paris's gates to his soldiers, and for the time the Armagnacs seemed to be completely defeated; only the Dauphin Charles made feeble war from Poitiers. Henry V. with a fresh army had already made another descent on the Normandy coast; the Dukes of Anjou, Brittany, and Burgundy made several and independent treaties with him; and it seemed as though France had completely fallen in pieces. Henry took Rouen, and although the common peril had somewhat silenced the strife of faction, no steps were taken to meet him or check his course; on the contrary, matters were made even more hopeless by the murder of John, Duke of Burgundy, in 1419, even as he was kneeling and offering reconciliation at the young Dauphin's feet. The young Duke, Philip, now drew at once towards Henry, whom his father had apparently wished with sincerity to check; Paris, too, was weary of the Armagnac struggle, and desired to welcome Henry of England; the Queen of France also went over to the Anglo-Burgundian side. The end of it was that on May 21,1420, was signed the famous Treaty of Troyes, which secured the Crown of France to Henry, by the exclusion of the Dauphin Charles, whenever poor mad Charles VI., should cease to live. Meanwhile, Henry was made Regent of France, promising to maintain all rights and privileges of the Parliament and nobles, and to crush the Dauphin with his Armagnac friends, in token whereof he was at once wedded to Catharine of France, and set forth to quell the opposition of the provinces. By Christmas all France north of the Loire was in English hands. All the lands to the south of the river remained firmly fixed in their allegiance to the Dauphin and the Armagnacs, and these began to feel themselves to be the true French party, as opposed to the foreign rule of the English. For barely two years that rule was carried on by Henry V. with inflexible justice, and Northern France saw with amazement the presence of a real king, and an orderly government. In 1422 King Henry died; a few weeks later Charles VI. died also, and the face of affairs began to change, although, at the first, Charles VII. the "Well-served," the lazy, listless prince, seemed to have little heart for the perils and efforts of his position. He was proclaimed King at Mehun, in Berri, for the true France for the time lay on that side of the Loire, and the Regent Bedford, who took the reins at Paris, was a vigorous and powerful prince, who was not likely to give way to an idle dreamer. At the outset Charles suffered two defeats, at Crevant in 1423, and at Verneuil in 1424, and things seemed to be come to their worst. Yet he was prudent, conciliatory, and willing to wait; and as the English power in France—that triangle of which the base was the sea-line from Harfleur to Calais, and the apex Paris—was unnatural and far from being really strong; and as the relations between Bedford and Burgundy might not always be friendly, the man who could wait had many chances in his favour. Before long, things began to mend; Charles wedded Marie d'Anjou, and won over that great house to the French side; more and more was he regarded as the nation's King; symptoms of a wish for reconciliation with Burgundy appeared; the most vehement Armagnacs were sent away from Court. Causes of disagreement also shook the friendship between Burgundy and England.
Feeling the evils of inaction most, Bedford in 1428 decided on a forward movement, and sent the Earl of Salisbury to the south. He first secured his position on the north of the Loire, then, crossing that river, laid siege to Orleans, the key to the south, and the last bulwark of the national party. All efforts to vex or dislodge him failed; and the attempt early in 1429 to stop the English supplies was completely defeated at Bouvray; from the salt fish captured, the battle has taken the name of "the Day of the Herrings." Dunois, Bastard of Orleans, was, wounded; the Scots, the King's body-guard, on whom fell ever the grimmest of the fighting, suffered terribly, and their leader was killed. All went well for Bedford till it suited the Duke of Burgundy to withdraw from his side, carrying with him a large part of the fighting power of the besiegers. Things were already looking rather gloomy in the English camp, when a new and unexpected rumour struck all hearts cold with fear. A virgin, an Amazon, had been raised up as a deliverer for France, and would soon be on them, armed with mysterious powers.
A young peasant girl, one Jeanne d'Arc, had been brought up in the village of Domremy, hard by the Lorraine border. The district, always French in feeling, had lately suffered much from Burgundian raids; and this young damsel, brooding over the treatment of her village and her country, and filled with that strange vision-power which is no rare phenomenon in itself with young girls, came at last to believe with warm and active faith in heavenly appearances and messages, all urging her to deliver France and her King. From faith to action the bridge is short; and ere long the young dreamer of seventeen set forth to work her miracle. Her history is quite unique in the world; and though probably France would ere many years have shaken off the English yoke, for its strength was rapidly going, still to her is the credit of having proved its weakness, and of having asserted the triumphant power of a great belief. All gave way before her; Charles VII., persuaded doubtless by his mother-in-law, Yolande of Aragon, who warmly espoused her cause, listened readily to the maiden's voice; and as that voice urged only what was noble and pure, she carried conviction as she went. In the end she received the King's commission to undertake the relief of Orleans. Her coming was fresh blood to the defence; a new spirit seemed to be poured out on all her followers, and in like manner a deep dejection settled down on the English. The blockade was forced, and, in eight days the besiegers raised the siege and marched away. They withdrew to Jargeau, where they were attacked and routed with great loss. A little later Talbot himself, who had marched to help them, was also defeated and taken. Then, compelling Charles to come out from his in glorious ease, she carried him triumphantly with her to Rheims, where he was duly crowned King, the Maid of Orldans standing by, and holding aloft the royal standard. She would gladly have gone home to Domremy now, her mission being accomplished; for she was entirely free from all ambitious or secondary aims. But she was too great a power to be spared. Northern France was still in English hands, and till the English were cast out her work was not complete; so they made her stay, sweet child, to do the work which, had there been any manliness in them, they ought to have found it easy to achieve for themselves. The dread of her went before her,—a pillar of cloud and darkness to the English, but light and hope to her countrymen. Men believed that she was called of God to regenerate the world, to destroy the Saracen at last, to bring in the millennial age. Her statue was set up in the churches, and crowds prayed before her image as before a popular saint.
The incapacity and ill-faith of those round the King gave the English some time to recover themselves; Bedford and Burgundy drew together again, and steps were taken to secure Paris. When, however, Jeanne, weary of courtly delays, marched, contemptuous of the King, as far as St. Denis, friends sprang up on every side. In Normandy, on the English line of communications, four strong places were surprised; and Bedford, made timid as to his supplies, fell back to Rouen, leaving only a small garrison in Paris. Jeanne, ill-supported by the royal troops, failed in her attack on the city walls, and was made prisoner by the Burgundians; they handed her over to the English, and she was, after previous indignities, and such treatment as chivalry alone could have dealt her, condemned as a witch, and burnt as a relapsed heretic at Rouen in 1431. Betrayed by the French Court, sold by the Burgundians, murdered by the English, unrescued by the people of France which she so much loved, Jeanne d'Arc died the martyr's death, a pious, simple soul, a heroine of the purest metal. She saved her country, for the English power never recovered from the shock. The churchmen who burnt her, the Frenchmen of the unpatriotic party, would have been amazed could they have foreseen that nearly 450 years afterwards, churchmen again would glorify her name as the saint of the Church, in opposition to both the religious liberties and the national feelings of her country.
The war, after having greatly weakened the noblesse, and having caused infinite sufferings to France, now drew towards a close; the Duke of Burgundy at last agreed to abandon his English allies, and at a great congress at Arras, in 1435, signed a treaty with Charles VII. by which he solemnly came over to the French side. On condition that he should get Auxerre and Macon, as well as the towns on and near the river Somme, he was willing to recognise Charles as King of France. His price was high, yet it was worth all that was given; for, after all, he was of the French blood royal, and not a foreigner. The death of Bedford, which took place about the same time, was almost a more terrible blow to the fortunes of the English. Paris opened her gates to her King in April, 1436; the long war kept on with slight movements now and then for several years.
The next year was marked by the meeting of the States General, and the establishment, in principle at least, of a standing army. The Estates petitioned the willing King that the system of finance in the realm should be remodelled, and a permanent tax established for the support of an army. Thus, it was thought, solidity would be given to the royal power, and the long-standing curse of the freebooters and brigands cleared away. No sooner was this done than the nobles began to chafe under it; they scented in the air the coming troubles; they, took as their head, poor innocents, the young Dauphin Louis, who was willing enough to resist the concentration of power in royal hands. Their champion of 1439, the leader of the "Praguerie," as this new league was called, in imitation, it is said, of the Hussite movement at Prague, the enthusiastic defender of noble privilege against the royal power, was the man who afterwards, as Louis XI., was the destroyer of the noblesse on behalf of royalty. Some of the nobles stood firmly by the King, and, aided by them and by an army of paid soldiers serving under the new conditions, Charles VII., no contemptible antagonist when once aroused, attacked and overthrew the Praguerie; the cities and the country people would have none of it; they preferred peace under a king's strong hand. Louis was sent down to the east to govern Dauphiny; the lessons of the civil war were not lost on Charles; he crushed the freebooters of Champagne, drove the English out of Pontois in 1441, moved actively up and down France, reducing anarchy, restoring order, resisting English attacks. In the last he was loyally supported by the Dauphin, who was glad to find a field for his restless temper. He repulsed the English at Dieppe, and put down the Comte d'Armagnac in the south. During the two years' truce with England which now followed, Charles VII. and Louis drew off their free-lances eastward, and the Dauphin came into rude collision with the Swiss not far from Basel, in 1444. Some sixteen hundred mountaineers long and heroically withstood at St. Jacob the attack of several thousand Frenchmen, fighting stubbornly till they all perished.
The King and Dauphin returned to Paris, having defended their border-lands with credit, and having much reduced the numbers of the lawless free-lances. The Dauphin, discontented again, was obliged once more to withdraw into Dauphiny, where he governed prudently and with activity. In 1449, the last scene of the Anglo-French war began. In that year English adventurers landed on the Breton coast; the Duke called the French King to his aid. Charles did not tarry this time; he broke the truce with England; he sent Dunois into Normandy, and himself soon followed. In both duchies, Brittany and Normandy, the French were welcomed with delight: no love for England lingered in the west. Somerset and Talbot failed to defend Rouen, and were driven from point to point, till every stronghold was lost to them. Dunois then passed into Guienne, and in a few-months Bayonne, the last stronghold of the English, fell into his hands (1451). When Talbot was sent over to Bordeaux with five thousand men to recover the south, the old English feeling revived, for England was their best customer, and they had little in common with France. It was, however, but a last flicker of the flame; in July, 1453, at the siege of Castillon, the aged Talbot was slain and the war at once came to an end; the south passed finally into the kingdom of France. Normandy and Guienne were assimilated to France in taxation and army organisation; and all that remained to England across the Channel was Calais, with Havre and Guines Castle. Her foreign ambitions and struggles over, England was left to consume herself in civil strife, while France might rest and recover from the terrible sufferings she had undergone. The state of the country had become utterly wretched.
With the end of the English wars new life began to gleam out on France; the people grew more tranquil, finding that toil and thrift bore again their wholesome fruits; Charles VII. did not fail in his duty, and took his part in restoring quiet, order, and justice in the land.
The French Crown, though it had beaten back the English, was still closely girt in with rival neighbours, the great dukes on every frontier. All round the east and north lay the lands of Philip of Burgundy; to the west was the Duke of Brittany, cherishing a jealous independence; the royal Dukes, Berri, Bourbon, Anjou, are all so many potential sources of danger and difficulty to the Crown. The conditions of the nobility are altogether changed; the old barons have sunk into insignificance; the struggle of the future will lie between the King's cousins and himself, rather than with the older lords. A few non-royal princes, such as Armagnac, or Saint-Pol, or Brittany, remain and will go down with the others; the "new men" of the day, the bastard Dunois or the Constables Du Guesclin and Clisson, grow to greater prominence; it is clear that the old feudalism is giving place to a newer order, in which the aristocracy, from the King's brothers downwards, will group themselves around the throne, and begin the process which reaches its unhappy perfection under Louis XIV.
Directly after the expulsion of the English, troubles began between King Charles VII. and the Dauphin Louis; the latter could not brook a quiet life in Dauphiny, and the King refused him that larger sphere in the government of Normandy which he coveted. Against his father's will, Louis married Charlotte of Savoy, daughter of his strongest neighbour in Dauphiny; suspicion and bad feeling grew strong between father and son; Louis was specially afraid of his father's counsellors; the King was specially afraid of his son's craftiness and ambition. It came to an open rupture, and Louis, in 1456, fled to the Court of Duke Philip of Burgundy. There he lived at refuge at Geneppe, meddling a good deal in Burgundian politics, and already opposing himself to his great rival, Charles of Charolais, afterwards Charles the Bold, the last Duke of Burgundy. Bickerings, under his bad influence, took place between King and Duke; they never burst out into flame. So things went on uncomfortably enough, till Charles VII. died in 1461 and the reign of Louis XI. began.
Between father and son what contrast could be greater? Charles VII., "the Well-served," so easygoing, so open and free from guile; Louis XI., so shy of counsellors, so energetic and untiring, so close and guileful. History does but apologise for Charles, and even when she fears and dislikes Louis, she cannot forbear to wonder and admire. And yet Louis enslaved his country, while Charles had seen it rescued from foreign rule; Charles restored something of its prosperity, while Louis spent his life in crushing its institutions and in destroying its elements of independence. A great and terrible prince, Louis XI. failed in having little or no constructive power; he was strong to throw down the older society, he built little in its room. Most serious of all was his action with respect to the district of the River Somme, at that time the northern frontier of France. The towns there had been handed over to Philip of Burgundy by the Treaty of Arras, with a stipulation that the Crown might ransom them at any time, and this Louis succeeded in doing in 1463. The act was quite blameless and patriotic in itself, yet it was exceedingly unwise, for it thoroughly alienated Charles the Bold, and led to the wars of the earlier period of the reign. Lastly, as if he had not done enough to offend the nobles, Louis in 1464 attacked their hunting rights, touching them in their tenderest part. No wonder that this year saw the formation of a great league against him, and the outbreak of a dangerous civil war. The "League of the Public Weal" was nominally headed by his own brother Charles, heir to the throne; it was joined by Charles of Charolais, who had completely taken the command of affairs in the Burgundian territories, his father the old duke being too feeble to withstand him; the Dukes of Brittany, Nemours, Bourbon, John of Anjou, Duke of Calabria, the Comte d'Armagnac, the aged Dunois, and a host of other princes and nobles flocked in; and the King had scarcely any forces at his back with which to withstand them. His plans for the campaign against the league were admirable, though they were frustrated by the bad faith of his captains, who mostly sympathised with this outbreak of the feudal nobility. Louis himself marched southward to quell the Duc de Bourbon and his friends, and returning from that task, only half done for lack of time, he found that Charles of Charolais had passed by Paris, which was faithful to the King, and was coming down southwards, intending to join the Dukes of Berri and Brittany, who were on their way towards the capital. The hostile armies met at Montleheri on the Orleans road; and after a strange battle—minutely described by Commines—a battle in which both sides ran away, and neither ventured at first to claim a victory, the King withdrew to Corbeil, and then marched into Paris (1465). There the armies of the league closed in on him; and after a siege of several weeks, Louis, feeling disaffection all around him, and doubtful how long Paris herself would bear for him the burdens of blockade, signed the Peace of Conflans, which, to all appearances, secured the complete victory to the noblesse, "each man carrying off his piece." Instantly the contented princes broke up their half-starved armies and went home, leaving Louis behind to plot and contrive against them, a far wiser man, thanks to the lesson they had taught him. They did not let him wait long for a chance. The Treaty of Conflans had given the duchy of Normandy to the King's brother Charles; he speedily quarrelled with his neighbour, the Duke of Brittany, and Louis came down at once into Normandy, which threw itself into his arms, and the whole work of the league was broken up. The Comte de Charolais, occupied with revolts at Dinan and Liege, could not interfere, and presently his father, the old Duke Philip, died (1467), leaving to him the vast lordships of the House of Burgundy.
And now the "imperial dreamer," Charles the Bold, was brought into immediate rivalry with that royal trickster, the "universal spider," Louis XI. Charles was by far the nobler spirit of the two: his vigour and intelligence, his industry and wish to raise all around him to a higher cultivation, his wise reforms at home, and attempts to render his father's dissolute and careless rule into a well-ordered lordship, all these things marked him out as the leading spirit of the time. His territories were partly held under France, partly under the empire: the Artois district, which also may be taken to include the Somme towns, the county of Rhetel, the duchy of Bar, the duchy of Burgundy, with Auxerre and Nevers, were feudally in France; the rest of his lands under the empire. He had, therefore, interests and means of interference on either hand; and it is clear that Charles set before himself two different lines of policy, according as he looked one way or the other.
At the time of Duke Philip's death a new league had been formed against Louis, embracing the King of England, Edward IV., the Dukes of Burgundy and Brittany, and the Kings of Aragon and Castile. Louis strained every nerve, he conciliated Paris, struck hard at disaffected partisans, and in 1468 convoked the States General at Tours. The three Estates were asked to give an opinion as to the power of the Crown to alienate Normandy, the step insisted upon by the Duke of Burgundy. Their reply was to the effect that the nation forbids the Crown to dismember the realm; they supported their opinion by liberal promises of help. Thus fortified by the sympathy of his people, Louis began to break up the coalition. He made terms with the Duc de Bourbon and the House of Anjou; his brother Charles was a cipher; the King of England was paralysed by the antagonism of Warwick; he attacked and reduced Brittany; Burgundy, the most formidable, alone remained to be dealt with. How should he meet him?—by war or by negotiation? His Court was divided in opinion; the King decided for himself in favour of the way of negotiation, and came to the astonishing conclusion that he would go and meet the Duke and win him over to friendship. He miscalculated both his own powers of persuasion and the force of his antagonist's temper. The interview of Peronne followed; Charles held his visitor as a captive, and in the end compelled him to sign a treaty, of peace, on the basis of that of Conflans, which had closed the War of the Public Weal. And as if this were not sufficient humiliation, Charles made the King accompany him on his expedition to punish the men of Liege, who, trusting to the help of Louis, had again revolted (1469). This done, he allowed the degraded monarch to return home to Paris. An assembly of notables of Tours speedily declared the Treaty of Perrone null, and the King made some small frontier war on the Duke, which was ended by a truce at Amiens, in 1471. The truce was spent in preparation for a fresh struggle, which Louis, to whom time was everything, succeeded in deferring from point to point, till the death of his brother Charles, now Duc de Guienne, in 1472, broke up the formidable combination. Charles the Bold at once broke truce and made war on the King, marching into northern France, sacking towns and ravaging the country, till he reached Beauvais. There the despair of the citizens and the bravery of the women saved the town. Charles raised the siege and marched on Rouen, hoping to meet the Duke of Brittany; but that Prince had his hands full, for Louis had overrun his territories, and had reduced him to terms. The Duke of Burgundy saw that the coalition had completely failed; he too made fresh truce with Louis at Senlis (1472), and only, deferred, he no doubt thought, the direct attack on his dangerous rival. Henceforth Charles the Bold turned his attention mainly to the east, and Louis gladly saw him go forth to spend his strength on distant ventures; saw the interview at Treves with the Emperor Frederick III., at which the Duke's plans were foiled by the suspicions of the Germans and the King's intrigues; saw the long siege of the Neusz wearing out his power; bought off the hostility of Edward IV. of England, who had undertaken to march on Paris; saw Charles embark on his Swiss enterprise; saw the subjugation of Lorraine and capture of Nancy (1475), the battle of Granson, the still more fatal defeat of Morat (1476), and lastly the final struggle of Nancy, and the Duke's death on the field (January, 1477).
While Duke Charles had thus been running on his fate, Louis XI. had actively attacked the larger nobles of France, and had either reduced them to submission or had destroyed them.
As Duke Charles had left no male heir, the King at once resumed the duchy of Burgundy, as a male fief of the kingdom; he also took possession of Franche Comte at the same time; the King's armies recovered all Picardy, and even entered Flanders. Then Mary of Burgundy, hoping to raise up a barrier against this dangerous neighbour, offered her hand, with all her great territories, to young Maximilian of Austria, and married him within six months after her father's death. To this wedding is due the rise to real greatness of the House of Austria; it begins the era of the larger politics of modern times.
After a little hesitation Louis determined to continue the struggle against the Burgundian power. He secured Franche Comte, and on his northern frontier retook Arras, that troublesome border city, the "bonny Carlisle" of those days; and advancing to relieve Therouenne, then besieged by Maximilian, fought and lost the battle of Guinegate (1479). The war was languid after this; a truce followed in 1480, and a time of quiet for France. Charles the Dauphin was engaged to marry the little Margaret, Maximilian's daughter, and as her dower she was to bring Franche Comte and sundry places on the border line disputed between the two princes. In these last days Louis XI. shut himself up in gloomy seclusion in his castle of Plessis near Tours, and there he died in 1483. A great king and a terrible one, he has left an indellible mark on the history of France, for he was the founder of France in its later form, as an absolute monarchy ruled with little regard to its own true welfare. He had crushed all resistance; he had enlarged the borders of France, till the kingdom took nearly its modern dimensions; he had organised its army and administration. The danger was lest in the hands of a feeble boy these great results should be squandered away, and the old anarchy once more raise its head.
For Charles VIII., who now succeeded, was but thirteen years old, a weak boy whom his father had entirely neglected, the training of his son not appearing to be an essential part of his work in life. The young Prince had amused himself with romances, but had learnt nothing useful. A head, however, was found for him in the person of his eldest sister Anne, whom Louis XI. had married to Peter II., Lord of Beaujeu and Duc de Bourbon. To her the dying King entrusted the guardianship of his son; and for more than nine years Anne of France was virtual King. For those years all went well.
With her disappearance from the scene, the controlling hand is lost, and France begins the age of her Italian expeditions.
When the House of Anjou came to an end in 1481, and Anjou and Maine fell in to the Crown, there fell in also a far less valuable piece of property, the claim of that house descended from Charles, the youngest brother of Saint Louis, on the kingdom of Naples and Sicily. There was much to tempt an ambitious prince in the state of Italy. Savoy, which held the passage into the peninsula, was then thoroughly French in sympathy; Milan, under Lodovico Sforza, "il Moro," was in alliance with Charles; Genoa preferred the French to the Aragonese claimants for influence over Italy; the popular feeling in the cities, especially in Florence, was opposed to the despotism of the Medici, and turned to France for deliverance; the misrule of the Spanish Kings of Naples had made Naples thoroughly discontented; Venice was, as of old, the friend of France. Tempted by these reasons, in 1494 Charles VIII. set forth for Italy with a splendid host. He displayed before the eyes of Europe the first example of a modern army, in its three well-balanced branches of infantry, cavalry, and artillery. There was nothing in Italy to withstand his onslaught; he swept through the land in triumph; Charles believed himself to be a great conqueror giving law to admiring subject-lands; he entered Pisa, Florence, Rome itself. Wherever he went his heedless ignorance, and the gross misconduct of his followers, left behind implacable hostility, and turned all friendship into bitterness. At last he entered Naples, and seemed to have asserted to the full the French claim to be supreme in Italy, whereas at that very time his position had become completely untenable. A league of Italian States was formed behind his back; Lodovico il Moro, Ferdinand of Naples, the Emperor, Pope Alexander VI., Ferdinand and Isabella, who were now welding Spain into a great and united monarchy, all combined against France; and in presence of this formidable confederacy Charles VIII. had to cut his way home as promptly as he could. At Fornovo, north of the Apennines, he defeated the allies in July, 1495; and by November the main French army had got safely out of Italy. The forces left behind in Naples were worn out by war and pestilence, and the poor remnant of these, too, bringing with them the seeds of horrible contagious diseases, forced their way back to France in 1496. It was the last effort of the King. His health was ruined by debauchery in Italy, repeated in France; and yet, towards the end of his reign, he not merely introduced Italian arts, but attempted to reform the State, to rule prudently, to solace the poor; wherefore, when he died in 1498, the people lamented him greatly, for he had been kindly and affable, brave also on the battle-field; and much is forgiven to a king.
His children died before him, so that Louis d'Orleans, his cousin, was nearest heir to the throne, and succeeded as Louis XII. By his accession in 1498 he reunited the fief of Orleans County to the Crown; by marrying Anne of Brittany, his predecessor's widow, he secured also the great duchy of Brittany. The dispensation of Pope Alexander VI., which enabled him to put away his wife Jeanne, second daughter of Louis XI., was brought into France by Caesar Borgia, who gained thereby his title of Duke of Valentinois, a large sum of money, a French bride, and promises of support in his great schemes in Italy.
His ministers were men of real ability. Georges d'Amboise, Archbishop of Rouen, the chief of them, was a prudent and a sagacious ruler, who, however, unfortunately wanted to be Pope, and urged the King in the direction of Italian politics, which he would have done much better to have left alone. Louis XII. was lazy and of small intelligence; Georges d'Amboise and Caesar Borgia, with their Italian ambitions, easily made him take up a spirited foreign policy which was disastrous at home.
Utterly as the last Italian expedition had failed, the French people were not yet weary of the adventure, and preparations for a new war began at once. In 1499 the King crossed the Alps into the Milanese, and carried all before him for a while. The duchy at first accepted him with enthusiasm; but in 1500 it had had enough of the French and recalled Lodovico, who returned in triumph to Milan. The Swiss mercenaries, however, betrayed him at Novara into the hands of Louis XII., who carried him off to France. The triumph of the French in 1500 was also the highest point of the fortunes of their ally, Caesar Borgia, who seemed for a while to be completely successful. In this year Louis made a treaty at Granada, by which he and Ferdinand the Catholic agreed to despoil Frederick of Naples; and in 1501 Louis made a second expedition into Italy. Again all seemed easy at the outset, and he seized the kingdom of Naples without difficulty; falling out, however, with his partner in the bad bargain, Ferdinand the Catholic, he was speedily swept completely out of the peninsula, with terrible loss of honour, men, and wealth.
It now became necessary to arrange for the future of France. Louis XII. had only a daughter, Claude, and it was proposed that she should be affianced to Charles of Austria, the future statesman and emperor. This scheme formed the basis of the three treaties of Blois (1504). In 1500, by the Treaty of Granada, Louis had in fact handed Naples over to Spain; now by the three treaties he alienated his best friends, the Venetians and the papacy, while he in fact also handed Milan over to the Austrian House, together with territories considered to be integral parts of France. The marriage with Charles came to nothing; the good sense of some, the popular feeling in the country, the open expressions of the States General of Tours, in 1506, worked against the marriage, which had no strong advocate except Queen Anne. Claude, on intercession of the Estates, was affianced to Frangois d'Angouleme, her distant cousin, the heir presumptive to the throne.
In 1507 Louis made war on Venice; and in the following year the famous Treaty of Cambrai was signed by Georges d'Amboise and Margaret of Austria. It was an agreement for a partition of the Venetian territories,—one of the most shameless public deeds in history. The Pope, the King of Aragon, Maximilian, Louis XII., were each to have a share. The war was pushed on with great vigour: the battle of Agnadello (14th May, 1509) cleared the King's way towards Venice; Louis was received with open arms by the North Italian towns, and pushed forward to within eight of Venice. The other Princes came up on every side; the proud "Queen of the Adriatic" was compelled to shrink within her walls, and wait till time dissolved the league. This was not long. The Pope, Julius II., had no wish to hand Northern Italy over to France; he had joined in the shameless league of Cambrai because he wanted to wrest the Romagna cities from Venice, and because he hoped to entirely destroy the ancient friendship between Venice and France. Successful in both aims, he now withdrew from the league, made peace with the Venetians, and stood forward as the head of a new Italian combination, with the Swiss for his fighting men. The strife was close and hot between Pope and King; Louis XII. lost his chief adviser and friend, Georges d'Amboise, the splendid churchman of the age, the French Wolsey; he thought no weapon better than the dangerous one of a council, with claims opposed to those of the papacy; first a National Council at Tours, then an attempted General Council at Pisa, were called on to resist the papal claims. In reply Julius II. created the Holy League of 1511, with Ferdinand of Aragon, Henry VIII. of England, and the Venetians as its chief members, against the French. Louis XII. showed vigour; he sent his nephew Gaston de Foix to subdue the Romagna and threaten the Venetian territories. At the battle of Ravenna, in 1512, Gaston won a brilliant victory and lost his life. From that moment disaster dogged the footsteps of the French in Italy, and before winter they had been driven completely out of the peninsula; the succession of the Medicean Pope, Leo X., to Julius II., seemed to promise the continuance of a policy hostile to France in Italy. Another attempt on Northern Italy proved but another failure, although now Louis XII., taught by his mishaps, had secured the alliance of Venice; the disastrous defeat of La Tremoille, near Novara (1513), compelled the French once more to withdraw beyond the Alps. In this same year an army under the Duc de Longueville, endeavouring to relieve Therouenne, besieged by the English and Maximilian, the Emperor-elect, was caught and crushed at Guinegate. A diversion in favour of Louis XII., made by James IV. of Scotland, failed completely; the Scottish King was defeated and slain at Flodden Field. While his northern frontier was thus exposed, Louis found equal danger threatening him on the east; on this aide, however, he managed to buy off the Swiss, who had attacked the duchy of Burgundy. He was also reconciled with the papacy and the House of Austria. Early in 1514 the death of Anne of Brittany, his spouse, a lady of high ambitions, strong artistic tastes, and humane feelings towards her Bretons, but a bad Queen for France, cleared the way for changes. Claude, the King's eldest daughter, was now definitely married to Francois d'Angouleme, and invested with the duchy of Brittany; and the King himself, still hoping for a male heir to succeed him, married again, wedding Mary Tudor, the lovely young sister of Henry VIII. This marriage was probably the chief cause of his death, which followed on New Year's day, 1515. His was, in foreign policy, an inglorious and disastrous reign; at home, a time of comfort and material prosperity. Agriculture flourished, the arts of Italy came in, though (save in architecture) France could claim little artistic glory of her own; the organisation of justice and administration was carried out; in letters and learning France still lagged behind her neighbours.
The heir to the crown was Francois d'Angouleme, great-grandson of that Louis d'Orleans who had been assassinated in the bad days of the strife between Burgundians and Armagnacs, in 1407, and great-great-grandson of Charles V. of France. He was still very young, very eager to be king, very full of far-reaching schemes. Few things in history are more striking than the sudden change, at this moment, from the rule of middle-aged men or (as men of fifty were then often called) old men, to the rule of youths,—from sagacious, worldly-prudent monarchs—to impulsive boys,—from Henry VII. to Henry VIII., from Louis XII. to Frangois I, from Ferdinand to Charles.
On the whole, Frangois I. was the least worthy of the three. He was brilliant, "the king of culture," apt scholar in Renaissance art and immorality; brave, also, and chivalrous, so long as the chivalry involved no self-denial, for he was also thoroughly selfish, and his personal aims and ideas were mean. His reign was to be a reaction from that of Louis XII.
From the beginning, Francois chose his chief officers unwisely. In Antoine du Prat, his new chancellor, he had a violent and lawless adviser; in Charles de Bourbon, his new constable, an untrustworthy commander. Forthwith he plunged into Italian politics, being determined to make good his claim both to Naples and to Milan; he made most friendly arrangements with the Archduke Charles, his future rival, promising to help him in securing, when the time came, the vast inheritances of his two grandfathers, Maximilian, the Emperor-elect, and Ferdinand of Aragon; never was a less wise agreement entered upon. This done, the Italian war began; Francois descended into Italy, and won the brilliant battle of Marignano, in which the French chivalry crushed the Swiss burghers and peasant mercenaries. The French then overran the north of Italy, and, in conjunction with the Venetians, carried all before them. But the triumphs of the sword were speedily wrested from him by the adroitness of the politician; in an interview with Leo X. at Bologna, Francois bartered the liberties of the Gallican Church for shadowy advantages in Italy. The 'Pragmatic Sanction of Bourgea', which now for nearly a century had secured to the Church of France independence in the choice of her chief officers, was replaced by a concordat, whereby the King allowed the papacy once more to drain the wealth of the Church of France, while the Pope allowed the King almost autocratic power over it. He was to appoint to all benefices, with exception of a few privileged offices; the Pope was no longer to be threatened with general councils, while he should receive again the annates of the Church.
The years which followed this brilliantly disastrous opening brought little good to France. In 1516 the death of Ferdinand the Catholic placed Charles on the throne of Spain; in 1519 the death of Maximilian threw open to the young Princes the most dazzling prize of human ambition,—the headship of the Holy Roman Empire. Francois I., Charles, and Henry VIII. were all candidates for the votes of the seven electors, though the last never seriously entered the lists. The struggle lay between Francois, the brilliant young Prince, who seemed to represent the new opinions in literature and art, and Charles of Austria and Spain, who was as yet unknown and despised, and, from his education under the virtuous and scholastic Adrian of Utrecht, was thought likely to represent the older and reactionary opinions of the clergy. After a long and sharp competition, the great prize fell to Charles, henceforth known to history as that great monarch and emperor, Charles V.
The rivalry between the Princes could not cease there. Charles, as representative of the House of Burgundy, claimed all that had been lost when Charles the Bold fell; and in 1521 the war broke out between him and Francois, the first of a series of struggles between the two rivals. While the King wasted the resources of his country on these wars, his proud and unwise mother, Louise of Savoy, guided by Antoine du Prat, ruled, to the sorrow of all, at home. The war brought no glory with it: on the Flemish frontier a place or two was taken; in Biscay Fontarabia fell before the arms of France; in Italy Francois had to meet a new league of Pope and Emperor, and his troops were swept completely out of the Milanese. In the midst of all came the defection of that great prince, the Constable de Bourbon, head of the younger branch of the Bourbon House, the most powerful feudal lord in France. Louise of Savoy had enraged and offended him, or he her; the King slighted him, and in 1523 the Constable made a secret treaty with Charles V. and Henry VIII., and, taking flight into Italy, joined the Spaniards under Lannoy. The French, who had again invaded the Milanese, were again driven out in 1524; on the other hand, the incursions of the imperialists into Picardy, Provence, and the southeast were all complete failures. Encouraged by the repulse of Bourbon from Marseilles, Francois I. once more crossed the Alps, and overran a great part of the valley of the Po; at the siege of Pavia he was attacked by Pescara and Bourbon, utterly defeated and taken prisoner (24th February, 1525); the broken remnants of the French were swept out of Italy at once, and Francois I. was carried into Spain, a captive at Madrid. His mother, best in adversity, behaved with high pride and spirit; she overawed disaffection, made preparations for resistance, looked out for friends on every side. Had Francois been in truth a hero, he might, even as a prisoner, have held his own; but he was unable to bear the monotony of confinement, and longed for the pleasures of France. On this mean nature Charles V. easily worked, and made the captive monarch sign the Treaty of Madrid (January 14, 1526), a compact which Francois meant to break as soon as he could, for he knew neither heroism nor good faith. The treaty stipulated that Francois should give up the duchy of Burgundy to Charles, and marry Eleanor of Portugal, Charles's sister; that Francois should also abandon his claims on Flanders, Milan, and Naples, and should place two sons in the Emperor's hands as hostages. Following the precedent of Louis XI. in the case of Normandy, he summoned an assembly of nobles and the Parliament of Paris to Cognac, where they declared the cession of Burgundy to be impossible. He refused to return to Spain, and made alliances wherever he could, with the Pope, with Venice, Milan, and England. The next year saw the ruin of this league in the discomfiture of Clement VII., and the sack of Rome by the German mercenaries under Bourbon, who was killed in the assault. The war went on till 1529, when Francois, having lost two armies in it, and gained nothing but loss and harm, was willing for peace; Charles V., alarmed at the progress of the Turks, was not less willing; and in August, 1529, the famous Treaty, of Cambrai, "the Ladies' Peace," was agreed to by Margaret of Austria and Louise of Savoy. Though Charles V. gave up all claim on the duchy of Burgundy, he had secured to himself Flanders and Artois, and had entirely cleared French influences out of Italy, which now became firmly fixed under the imperial hand, as a connecting link between his Spanish and German possessions. Francois lost ground and credit by these successive treaties, conceived in bad faith, and not honestly carried out.
No sooner had the Treaty of Cambrai been effectual in bringing his sons back to France, than Francois began to look out for new pretexts and means for war. Affairs were not unpromising. His mother's death in 1531 left him in possession of a huge fortune, which she had wrung from defenceless France; the powers which were jealous of Austria, the Turk, the English King, the members of the Smalkald league, all looked to Francois as their leader; Clement VII., though his misfortunes had thrown him into the Emperor's hands, was not unwilling to treat with France; and in 1533 by the compact of Marseilles the Pope broke up the friendship between Francois and Henry VIII., while he married his niece Catherine de' Medici to Henri, the second son of Francois. This compact was a real disaster to France; the promised dowry of Catherine—certain Italian cities—was never paid, and the death of Clement VII. in 1534 made the political alliance with the papacy a failure. The influence of Catherine affected and corrupted French history for half a century. Preparations for war went on; Francois made a new scheme for a national army, though in practice he preferred the tyrant's arm, the foreign mercenary. From his day till the Revolution the French army was largely composed of bodies of men tempted out of other countries, chiefly from Switzerland or Germany.
While the Emperor strove to appease the Protestant Princes of Germany by the Peace of Kadan (1534), Francois strengthened himself with a definite alliance with Soliman; and when, on the death of Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan, who left no heirs, Charles seized the duchy as its overlord, Francois, after some bootless negotiation, declared war on his great rival (1536). His usual fortunes prevailed so long as he was the attacking party: his forces were soon swept out of Piedmont, and the Emperor carried the war over the frontier into Provence. That also failed, and Charles was fain to withdraw after great losses into Italy. The defence of Provence—a defence which took the form of a ruthless destruction of all its resources—had been entrusted to Anne de Montmorency, who henceforward became Constable of France, and exerted great influence over Francois I. Though these two campaigns, the French in Italy and the imperialist in Provence, had equally failed in 1536, peace did not follow till 1538, when, after the terrible defeat of Ferdinand of Austria by the Turks, Charles was anxious to have free hand in Germany. Under the mediation of Paul III. the agreement of Nice was come to, which included a ten years' truce and the abandonment by Francois of all his foreign allies and aims. He seemed a while to have fallen completely under the influence of the sagacious Emperor. He gave way entirely to the Church party of the time, a party headed by gloomy Henri, now Dauphin, who never lost the impress of his Spanish captivity, and by the Constable Anne de Montmorency; for a time the artistic or Renaissance party, represented by Anne, Duchesse d'Etampes, and Catherine de' Medici, fell into disfavour. The Emperor even ventured to pass through France, on his way from Spain to the Netherlands. All this friendship, however, fell to dust, when it was found that Charles refused to invest the Duc d'Orleans, the second son of Francois, with the duchy of Milan, and when the Emperor's second expedition against the sea-power of the Turks had proved a complete failure, and Charles had returned to Spain with loss of all his fleet and army. Then Francois hesitated no longer, and declared war against him (1541). The shock the Emperor had suffered inspirited all his foes; the Sultan and the Protestant German Princes were all eager for war; the influence of Anne de Montmorency had to give way before that of the House of Guise, that frontier family, half French, half German, which was destined to play a large part in the troubled history of the coming half-century. Claude, Duc de Guise, a veteran of the earliest days of Francois, was vehemently opposed to Charles and the Austro-Spanish power, and ruled in the King's councils. This last war was as mischievous as its predecessors no great battles were fought; in the frontier affairs the combatants were about equally fortunate; the battle of Cerisolles, won by the French under Enghien (1544), was the only considerable success they had, and even that was almost barren of results, for the danger to Northern France was imminent; there a combined invasion had been planned and partly executed by Charles and Henry VIII., and the country, almost undefended, was at their mercy. The two monarchs, however, distrusted one another; and Charles V., anxious about Germany, sent to Francois proposals for peace from Crespy Couvrant, near Laon, where he had halted his army; Francois, almost in despair, gladly made terms with him. The King gave up his claims on Flanders and Artois, the Emperor his on the duchy of Burgundy; the King abandoned his old Neapolitan ambition, and Charles promised one of the Princesses of the House of Austria, with Milan as her dower, to the Duc d'Orleans, second son of Francois. The Duke dying next year, this portion of the agreement was not carried out. The Peace of Crespy, which ended the wars between the two great rivals, was signed in autumn, 1544, and, like the wars which led to it, was indecisive and lame.
Charles learnt that with all his great power he could not strike a fatal blow at France; France ought to have learnt that she was very weak for foreign conquest, and that her true business was to consolidate and develop her power at home. Henry VIII. deemed himself wronged by this independent action on the part of Charles, who also had his grievances with the English monarch; he stood out till 1546, and then made peace with Francois, with the aim of forming a fresh combination against Charles. In the midst of new projects and much activity, the marrer of man's plots came on the scene, and carried off in the same year, 1547, the English King and Francois I., leaving Charles V. undisputed arbiter of the affairs of Europe. In this same year he also crushed the Protestant Princes at the battle of Muhlberg.
In the reign of Francois I. the Court looked not unkindly on the Reformers, more particularly in the earlier years.
Henri II., who succeeded in 1547, "had all the faults of his father, with a weaker mind;" and as strength of mind was not one of the characteristics of Francois I., we may imagine how little firmness there was in the gloomy King who now reigned. Party spirit ruled at Court. Henri II., with his ancient mistress, Diane de Poitiers, were at the head of one party, that of the strict Catholics, and were supported by old Anne de Montmorency, most unlucky of soldiers, most fanatical of Catholics, and by the Guises, who chafed a good deal under the stern rule of the Constable. This party had almost extinguished its antagonists; in the struggle of the mistresses, the pious and learned Anne d'Etampes had to give place to imperious Diane, Catherine, the Queen, was content to bide her time, watching with Italian coolness the game as it went on; of no account beside her rival, and yet quite sure to have her day, and ready to play parties against one another. Meanwhile, she brought to her royal husband ten sickly children, most of whom died young, and three wore the crown. Of the many bad things she did for France, that was perhaps among the worst.
On the accession of Henri II. the duchy of Brittany finally lost even nominal independence; he next got the hand of Mary, Queen of Scots, then but five years old, for the Dauphin Francois; she was carried over to France; and being by birth half a Guise, by education and interests of her married life she became entirely French. It was a great triumph for Henri, for the Protector Somerset had laid his plans to secure her for young Edward VI.; it was even more a triumph for the Guises, who saw opened out a broad and clear field for their ambition.
At first Henri II. showed no desire for war, and seemed to shrink from rivalry or collision with Charles V. He would not listen to Paul III., who, in his anxiety after the fall of the Protestant power in Germany in 1547, urged him to resist the Emperor's triumphant advance; he seemed to show a dread of war, even among his neighbours. After he had won his advantage over Edward VI., he escaped the war which seemed almost inevitable, recovered Boulogne from the English by a money payment, and smoothed the way for peace between England and Scotland. He took much interest in the religious question, and treated the Calvinists with great severity; he was also occupied by troubles in the south and west of France. Meanwhile, a new Pope, Julius III., was the weak dependent of the Emperor, and there seemed to be no head left for any movement against the universal domination of Charles V. His career from 1547 to 1552 was, to all appearance, a triumphal march of unbroken success. Yet Germany was far from acquiescence; the Princes were still discontented and watchful; even Ferdinand of Austria, his brother, was offended by the Emperor's anxiety to secure everything, even the imperial crown for his son Philip; Maurice of Saxony, that great problem of the age, was preparing for a second treachery, or, it may be, for a patriotic effort. These German malcontents now appealed to Henri for aid; and at last Henri seemed inclined to come. He had lately made alliance with England, and in 1552 formed a league at Chambord with the German Princes; the old connection with the Turk was also talked of. The Germans agreed to allow' him to hold (as imperial vicar, not as King of France) the "three bishoprics," Metz, Verdun, and Toul; he also assumed a protectorate over the spiritual princes, those great bishops and electors of the Rhine, whose stake in the Empire was so important. The general lines of French foreign politics are all here clearly marked; in this Henri II. is the forerunner of Henri IV. and of Louis XIV.; the imperial politics of Napoleon start from much the same lines; the proclamations of Napoleon III. before the Franco-German war seemed like thin echoes of the same.