THE war between England and Scotland, which ended with the Battle of Bannockburn, would not have lasted so long if the French had not feared the growing strength of England. They had done a great deal to help Scotland, and this did not make the English feel very friendly toward them. Moreover, Edward III., King of England, claimed the French crown, because of his relationship to the late king of France. The result was a struggle which lasted more than a century, and which is, therefore, called the Hundred Years' War. It was in the early part of this war that the famous battles of Crécy and Poitiers were fought, which showed the English yeomen—that is, the sturdy common people—that they could defend themselves with their bows and arrows, and could stand up in battle without protection from the knights. At the battle of Crécy, King Edward shared the command with his son, called the Black Prince from the colour of his armour. In the course of the battle, a messenger came galloping up to the king and told him that his son was in great danger. "If the Frenchmen increase, your son will have too much to do," he said. The king asked, "Is my son dead, unhorsed, or so badly wounded that he cannot support himself?" "No, sire," answered the messenger, "but he is in so hot an engagement that he has great need of your help." The king must have longed to go to his son, but he replied firmly, "Tell those that sent you not to send again for me so long as my son has life; and say I command them to let the boy win his spurs; for I am determined, if it please God, that all the glory and honour of this day shall be given to him and to those to whose care I have entrusted him." The brave prince did win his spurs, that is, he performed deeds which proved him worthy of knighthood; and when the battle was over the king kissed him and said, "You are worthy to be a sovereign."
(FROM A WALL PAINTING IN WESTMINSTER ABBEY)
After this battle, the English pressed on to besiege Calais. One whole year the French refused to yield, and they would not give up the town until they were starving. Edward was so angry at the long resistance that he told the people of Calais there was only one way in which they could look for any mercy from him. If six of their principal men would come to him in their shirts, bareheaded, barefooted, and with ropes about their necks, he would be merciful to the others. The richest man in town offered himself first, and five others followed. "Take them away and hang them," commanded King Edward; but his wife Philippa fell upon her knees and said, "Since I crossed the sea with great danger to see you, I have never asked you one favour. Now I most humbly ask for the sake of the Son of the Blessed Mary, and for your love to me that you will be merciful to these six men." The king replied, "Ah, lady, I wish you had been anywhere else than here, but I cannot refuse you. Do as you please with them." The queen feasted them, and gave them new clothes and sent them back safely to their homes. This story was told by Queen Philippa's secretary, a man named Froissart, who wrote a famous history of the time, which is known as Froissart's Chronicles.
Froissart tells another story about the courtesy and modesty of the Black Prince after the French king had been taken prisoner at the battle of Poitiers. Here it is just as the old chronicler told it:—
QUEEN PHILIPPA PLEADING FOR THE MEN OF CALAIS
"The Prince of Wales gave a supper in his pavilion to the king of France and to the greater part of the princes and barons who were prisoners. The prince seated the king of France and his son, the Lord Philip, at an elevated and well-covered table. With them were Sir James de Bour'bon, the Lord John d'Artois, the earls of Tancarville, of Estampes, of Dammartin, of Granville, and the lord of Partenay. The other knights and squires were placed at different tables. The prince himself served the king's table as well as the others with every mark of humility, and would not sit down at it, in spite of all his entreaties for him so to do, saying that he was not worthy of such an honour, nor did it appertain to him to seat himself at the table of so great a king, or of so valiant a man as he had shown himself by his actions that day. He added, also, with a noble air, `Dear sir, do not make a poor meal because the Almighty God has not gratified your wishes in the event of this day; for be assured that my lord and father will show you every honour and friendship in his power, and will arrange your ransom so reasonably that you will henceforward always remain friends. In my opinion, you have cause to be glad that the success of this battle did not turn out as you desired; for you have this day acquired such high renown for prowess that you have surpassed all the best knights on your side. I do not, dear sir, say this to flatter you, for all those of our side who have seen and observed the actions of each party have unanimously allowed this to be your due, and decree you the prize and garland for it.' At the end of this speech there were murmurs of praise heard from every one. And the French said the prince had spoken nobly and truly; and that he would be one of the most gallant princes in Christendom if God should grant him life to pursue his career of glory."
TOMB OF THE BLACK PRINCE, IN CANTERBURY CATHEDRAL
(HIS HELMET, SHIELD, AND SHIRT OF MAIL ARE SHOWN ABOVE)
The Black Prince never came to the throne, for he died one year before his father. If he had lived, his courage and gentleness and kindly tact might have prevented some of the troubles that England had to meet.