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VICTORY OF POITIERS, 1356.-GREAT DEEDS OF THE BLACK PRINCE. -HIS DEATH, 1376.- DEATH OF THE KING, 1377.
(From 1356 to 1377.)
TEN years afterwards there was another great battle like that of Crecy; but this time the Black Prince was alone, King Edward was in England. The French king, Philip, was dead, and his son, John the Second, had succeeded him. King John marched against the prince at the head of sixty thousand men, amongst whom were all the royal princes and the bravest noblemen of France.
The Black Prince, with a little army of eight thousand men, was on the way to his father's own province of Gascony, when King John came up with him in the high grounds south of Poitiers. When the prince found he must encounter this great host with his little company, he was not at all intimidated; he only said, "God is my help; I must fight them as best I can.' He gained a wonderful victory, taking the King of France and a very great number of his men prisoners.
King John was greatly cast down at his defeat; but the prince, who was as modest and generous as he was brave, did everything he could to cheer him. He reminded him of the many brave deeds he had performed before he was taken prisoner. He would not sit down to table with him, but waited upon him with as much respect as if John had been his father; and when he returned to England, instead of trying to look like a conqueror, bringing his captive in
THE BLACK PRINCE.
triumph, he made the French king ride in the place of honour, mounted on a beautiful white charger, while he rode at his side on a little black pony. But he could not hide his noble deeds, and men valued them all the more because he seemed to think so little of them.
This war, however, in which such great victories were won, seems a very unjust one, when we think of it now. It began in this way. The three French kings who reigned before Philip the Sixth were King Edward's uncles; none of them left any sons, and when the last of the three died, Edward said that he ought to be King of France now. But the French chose Philip, who had a better right according to their laws, though he was not so nearly related to the royal family of France as Edward was.
Edward went to war-a war which lasted thirty years, and brought immense misery on the people of France, whose towns were ruined, and their lands laid waste with perpetual marching and countermarching of armies, sieges, and battles. As for the English, they thought their king was quite in the right, and were so proud of his victories, that they willingly gave him all the money he required for the expenses of the war, and joined eagerly in every scheme for conquering France.
The Black Prince did conquer a large portion of the country, and ruled in the south-west with kingly state, keeping his court at Bordeaux. Unhappily, he was prevailed on to assist a king of Castile, called Pedro the Cruel, who had been driven away by his own subjects. The prince marched into Spain, won another great victory, and replaced Pedro on the
throne; but the wicked king showed his gratitude by trying to poison his benefactor, and starving the English troops. The Black Prince never recovered from the fatigues and miseries of that campaign: wasted with sickness, he returned at length to his native land; but there were sad changes there.
The good Queen Philippa was dead, and Edward the Third was no longer honoured and beloved as he had been. He had given himself up to the guidance of bad men and women, who tried to make him act contrary to the laws, in order that they might gain all that they wished for. The prince fought one more battle for England-not in the field, but in Parliament. He was carried thither from his dying bed, that he might help to overthrow the wicked plans of his father's evil counsellors, and support the men who were upholding the laws. A few weeks afterwards, on the 8th June, 1376, he breathed his last; and the nation mourned for him as if every family had lost a son or a brother. He was gone who had been wisest in the council and bravest in the battle; and who could fill his place?
King Edward lived but one year after his son's death. He ended his days very sadly; none of his own family were near him, and the unworthy favourites in whom he trusted, robbed him of everything in his last moments, and left him to die alone; 21st June, 1377. He was sixty-four years old, and had reigned fifty years.
SIEGE OF CALAIS.
SOME OF THE MEMORABLE EVENTS AND GREAT MEN OF THE TIME OF EDWARD III.
THERE are several things to be remembered about the reign of Edward the Third besides those which have been mentioned already, and besides a number of battles and victories too long to be recounted here. One is the taking of Calais, which the English kept for more than two hundred years, and valued very highly, because it was like a key by which they could enter France when they chose.
Edward laid siege to Calais immediately after the battle of Crecy. The people defended themselves bravely as long as there was any food in the city; but at the end of eleven months, when all was gone, and they had eaten even the dogs and rats, and were ready to die with hunger, they were obliged to open their gates to the English troops.
The king was very angry that he had been kept so long before Calais, and declared that he would have no mercy on the inhabitants unless six of the chief citizens offered themselves to die for the rest. This terrible sentence filled the city with fear and lamentation, but soon the richest and most honourable of the townsmen, Eustace de St. Pierre, stood forward and bade them grieve no more. "I will die for you willingly," said he; and as soon as Eustace had done speaking, his own son, and four others of the chief men, said that they too would die with him. So these six men went out to the English camp, barefooted, with halters round their necks. Every one mourned for them; Edward's own officers entreated
him to spare them: but he would listen to no one till Queen Philippa came into the tent. She had just come from England to visit her husband; and now she knelt down before him, and besought so earnestly that he would not put these good men to death, that at last he said-"Dame, I can deny you nothing, but I wish you had not been here." Then he gave up the six men of Calais to her, to do what she pleased with them; and Philippa gave them food and presents, and sent them away in peace.
While Edward was besieging Calais, Queen Philippa gained a great victory over the Scots. The French had persuaded them to invade England, and they advanced as far as York. But the queen hastened to the north and sent an army against them, by which they were utterly routed at Neville's Cross, near Durham, and their King, David the Second, taken prisoner; October 12th, 1346.
A very few years after these events, one of the most dreadful plagues ever known ravaged England and all Europe. It was called the Black Death. Having first carried off many millions of people in Asia, it appeared, at the end of 1347, in the south of Italy, and from thence spread gradually northwards, destroying in its progress one quarter of the whole population of Europe.
Several of the noblest buildings in England were erected in the reign of Edward the Third, and in particular, Windsor Castle: it had been begun by Henry the Second, but was now completed with far greater splendour under the direction of William of Wykeham, who was both a great architect and the wise and good Bishop of Winchester.