Posts Tagged ‘Hundred Years War’

Desperate Housewives: 1314

Posted in General, On This Day on February 1st, 2012 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

February 1, 1328:  Charles IV Ends the Family Curse…

His death was the end of the Capetian dynasty and the likely start of a Dan Brown novel.  (The family was said to be cursed by the Grandmaster of the Templars–while he was being burned alive; the man was entitled to be vindictive.)  Charles was the last of three brothers, whose reigns were a total of 13 years.  Between the three–Louis X, Philip V and the aforementioned Charles–they had been married six times.  Yet, they left no living sons.  There were five healthy daughters but they didn’t count–at least in the royal succession.  That was the result of a law in 1316 and a scandal two years earlier.

At the time, Louis had yet to become the Tenth; but he was already known as “The Quarrelsome.”  His wife Margaret obviously was unhappy but not exactly resigned.  There was a good looking Norman lord at court, and a convenient rendez-vous at the Tour de Nesle.  The Paris palais may have been discreet but Margaret wasn’t.  She told her sister-in-law Blanche, the bored wife of Charles, about the therapeutic locale and also recommended a Norman boy toy.  It is possible that the third sister-in-law Jeanne knew about the activities.  If so, she shared the dirty joke without becoming one.  Since I am telling you (and I am not a Norman stud), the secret evidently got out.  The informant was Isabelle, the sister of the cuckolded brothers.  She was married to the King of England, but she was the lesser queen of the two.  Now, if she had to endure a marital travesty, she was not going to let her sisters-in-law enjoy themselves.  Isabelle informed her father, King Philip IV, of the scandal.

The two Norman lovers were arrested, tortured into confessions and then publicly vivisected.  Margaret, Blanche and Jeanne were all accused of adultery; but since adultery requires at least two people, Jeanne had to be acquitted.  Margaret and Blanche did not have that defense.  They were condemned to life in convents.  The scandal as well as 14th century medicine probably hastened the death of King Philip.  Louis the Quarrelsome became king and he was impatient for an annulment.  By a remarkable coincidence, Margaret died the next year.  Louis was probably more surprised when he died in 1316.  The diagnosis was that the 27 year-old caught pleurisy playing tennis, although some sources think that Duchess Jeanne had served wine after the game.  But Jeanne was not Queen yet.  Louis’ new wife and newer widow was pregnant, and she did give birth to a son.  The infant king lived for only five days.  Some sources think that Duchess Jeanne handled the christening robes.

But Jeanne’s husband was still not the certain successor.  Louis ostensibly and his first wife definitely had a daughter.  The four-year had a better claim to the throne–if she was the daughter of Louis.  Her mother was guilty of adultery in 1314, but there was no evidence of any indiscretion two years prior to that.  Since the child was inconveniently legitimate, the only way to disinherit her was to change the law.  Although it was the 14th century, the aspiring Philip V decided that fifth century German law was the correct arbiter of royal succession.  And according to that law, the royal succession was limited to men and only through male descent.  So the princess could grow up and have sons (she did), but they still would be ineligible for the French throne.

Philip was now the rightful king, but with appropriate irony he and Jeanne had only daughters.  So his successor was brother Charles.  He understandably had his first marriage annulled, then married two more times and had a daughter to survive him.  The throne passed to his first cousin, the direct and purely testosterone-linked grandson of Philip III.  But there was still one male descendant of Philip IV, albeit through a daughter.  Edward III of England was the son of Isabelle, the termagent who tattled on her sisters-in-law, and he claimed the throne of France.  He and his descendants would spend the next hundred years in a brutal form of probate.

The French crown never bothered to change its convoluted succession.  Daughters and nieces were disqualified, as were their sons.  In 1589, when Henry III died without an heir, his cousin Henry de Bourbon rightfully claimed the throne because of his uninterrupted male descent from Louis IX, who died in 1270.  But after all that effort to disinherit the daughter of Louis X…Henry IV was also directly descended from her.




The Very Arch of Triumph

Posted in General, On This Day on July 19th, 2010 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment


July 17, 1453:  The Last Battle of the Hundred Years’ War

Joan of Arc did not win the Hundred Years War.  She simply broke England’s winning streak.  The psychotic, transvestite peasant  (1412-1431) saved Orleans and the Loire Valley; but half of France–including Paris–remained the eastern shires of Britain.  You know that her winning streak didn’t last either, and the war would continue for another 22 years.  Yet Joan left a legacy that would lead her country to victory:  “Don’t be chivalrous; be French!”

For the first 90 years or so of the War–at Crecy, Poitiers and Agincourt–the French army demonstrated all the dramatic valor and magnificent etiquette demanded in chivalry.  If the English dared you to a make full-frontal assault, uphill, how could a true knight refuse?  War was just a very large duel.  However, as the French never seemed to learn, a duel between their armor and English arrows had a very predictable outcome.  The French lost battles and most of their country, but not their sense of propriety.

Of course, Joan couldn’t understand such sensitive refinement.  Her conduct toward the English would be rude and underhanded: in short, instinctively French.  The peasant had no regard for English convenience.  If the English invited a frontal assault, she had neither the honor or courtesy to oblige them.

(In the first half of the Hundred Years War, France’s only successful commander also displayed such an appalling breech of chivalry.  Bertrand du Guesclin (1320-1380)  had the excuse of being Breton rather than real French.  Resorting to ambushes and surprise attacks, du Guesclin was practically a brigand.  He also regained northern France.  Early in his career he had tried the French form of warfare, which explains how he was captured twice by the English.  Since he wasn’t a French noble, he did learn from his mistakes.)

At the battle of Patay, Joan’s culminating triumph in the Loire Valley, the French attacked before the English were ready.  Beyond this shameless breach of etiquette was the further humiliation that a smaller French force had triumphed over a larger English army.  Now it was the English commander, the Earl of Shrewsbury, being held for ransom and of course the French overcharged for him.

While Joan ended up the victim of French gratitude (the English might have exchanged her for the Earl of Shrewsbury), she remained a model for military conduct.  Province by province, the French harassed, cheated and annoyed the English out of France.  Paris was regained in 1435.  Northern France was liberated by 1450, and the Earl of Shrewsbury was captured again.  Normandy was won when an English army was caught while crossing a river; try working a longbow while standing waist-deep in water.  By 1451, the French had conquered Gascony, the southwestern province that the English had held since Eleanor of Aquitaine.  The war seemed to be over, with the English only retaining the token enclave of Calais.

But the English could not believe that they had really lost.  Hadn’t they won all the really prestigious battles?  (All those lost skirmishes hardly counted.)  Furthermore, even if they had no right to the Loire Valley, and only a distant claim to Normandy, the English felt that Gascony was rightfully theirs.  Ironically, the Gascons agreed.  After three centuries of English rule, they felt loyalty to London and the Plantagenets, not to Paris and the Valois.  So, when an English army landed at Bordeaux in 1452, Gascony rose against the French and welcomed their British liberators.

The English commander was–can you believe it–the Earl of Shrewsbury.  He had regained his freedom with another ransom and with the added vow that he would never wear armor to fight France.  The French might have assumed his permanent pacifism; however, the Earl had become as conniving as the French.  He could still fight the French; he just couldn’t wear armor.  Shrewsbury had 6000 men and Gascon sympathy to hold the province against the full force of France.  The French response began with a 10,000 man siege of  the Gascon town of Castillon.  Shrewsbury rushed to the town’s defense.  Believing that he had caught the French by surprise, he attacked even without waiting for all his troops to arrive.  Leading only his advance guard, Shrewsbury was outnumbered six to one, but didn’t he have the element of surprise?    Not really, since the French had assembled their artillery and archers behind a fortified encampment to meet the English charge.  The rest of the English army arrived in time to be overrun by the French cavalry.  More than half of the English force was either killed or captured, and Shrewsbury learned a fatal disadvantage in fighting without armor.

Castillon was the last battle of the Hundred Years War, and Gascony learned to become French.