Post-classical history




An if I live until I be a man,
I’ll win our ancient right in France again,
Or die a soldier, as I liv’d a king.

King Richard III

to the intent that the honourable and noble adventures of feats of arms, done and achieved by the wars of France and England, should notably be enregistered and put in perpetual memory.

Lord Berners’s translation of Froissart

In the end the Hundred Years War bankrupted the English government and fatally discredited the Lancastrian dynasty, though England herself may well have been richer from a century of ‘spoils won in France’. In August 1453 Henry VI went mad and six months later the Duke of York became Protector. When Henry recovered in 1455 and re-instated the Beauforts, that long and murderous conflict known as the Wars of the Roses broke out, veterans using the combat skills they had learnt in France on each other. English noblemen had become accustomed to fighting as a way of life and the men-at-arms and archers in their retinues desperately needed employment. York and Somerset fell in battle, Kyriell and Rivers died on the scaffold, Scales was lynched by a Yorkist mob, and many of the men who were killed at St Albans and Towton or even at Barnet and Tewkesbury had fought under Old Talbot. The rise of the House of York and the Wars of the Roses cannot be understood without some knowledge of the Hundred Years War.

At first the English regarded their expulsion from Normandy and Guyenne as purely temporary. At Bordeaux and Bayonne the French had to build citadels to cow the Guyennois, and in 1457 Charles VII wrote apprehensively to the King of Scots how he ‘had to watch the coast daily’. In 1475 Edward IV (son of a Lieutenant General of France, and born at Rouen) at last marched out from Calais towards the Somme ; however, at Picquigny he signed a seven-year truce with Louis XI, agreeing to withdraw for an indemnity of 75,000 crowns and an annual pension of 60,000. But no proper peace treaty was ever signed, and as late as 1487 Henry VII hoped to recover Guyenne ; he intervened in Brittany the following year and invaded France in 1492. Henry VIII also took an army across the Channel, defeating the French at the Battle of the Spurs in 1513 and capturing Thérouanne and Tournai—the first French towns gained by English arms since the days of Bedford and Old Talbot. In 1523 he signed a secret treaty with the Duke of Bourbon and the Emperor Charles V, which would have given him the French crown together with Paris and the north-western provinces of France and would have restored the Lancastrian dual monarchy. This came to nothing, though in 1544 he took Boulogne. Even after the loss in 1558 of Calais, their last foothold, English monarchs continued to call themselves Kings or Queens of France until the Treaty of Amiens in 1802.

The only English memorials of the Hundred Years War are Lord Berners’s majestic rendering of Froissart, and Shakespeare’s historical plays. For the French it is a different story. France suffered horribly when England escaped unharmed—every local historian in northern and western France will show the tourist a chateau or a church which was sacked by the English. There is a strong case for maintaining that the origin of the uneasy relationship between the two peoples can be found in the battles, sieges and thechevauchées, the ransoming and the looting, the pâtis, the burning and the killing by the English in France during the Hundred Years War.




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