The Battle of Sluys
and Jean Froissart
THE HUNDRED YEARS’ WAR BEGINS 1339 (E3)
xxxxxBy the beginning of the 13th century, England’s only sizeable territory on the continent was Aquitaine in the south-
xxxxxYou may remember that through inheritance and marriage, Henry II (1154-
xxxxxThe first conflict was a naval one in which Edward himself took part. In 1340 at the great Battle of Sluys off the Flemish coast, the French fleet was all but destroyed, but due to shortage of funds -
xxxxxThe next onslaught came in 1355 when yet more money had been accumulated. While Edward mounted another expedition to Scotland, his son, now known as the Black Prince, returned to France and won the sensational Battle of Poitiers in 1356. Once again the French were routed, and this time the French king, John II, was himself captured. He was brought to England where, living in regal comfort, he agreed to terms that were so favourable to England that they were rejected out of hand by his nobles. Eventually, a more modest settlement was agreed at the Peace of Brétigny and the Treaty of Calais in 1360 by which Edward renounced his claim to the French throne but acquired the sovereignty of all of Aquitaine.
xxxxxAll seemed amicably settled, but it was not to be. In 1364 the new French king, Charles V, renounced the agreement. Once again an army was sent to France, under the command of Prince Edward, the Black Prince (illustrated) and his brother, John of Gaunt. This time the expedition ended in failure, not triumph. Aquitaine was gradually lost and the terrible sack of Limoges in October 1370 did much to discredit Prince Edward. The following year he fell ill and was forced to return home. He died five years later. Eventually a truce was arranged at the Treaty of Bruges in 1375 and this managed to keep the peace to the end of Edward’s reign. By then, despite the early victories, the king had little to show for his efforts. His only possessions of any importance on the continent were Calais, Brest, Bayonne and Bordeaux, and of these only Calais was to stay in English hands for any appreciable time. But, as we shall see, the battles of this reign were but the opening shots in a long, drawn-
xxxxxAn account of the early part of the Hundred Years’ War was written by the French historian Jean Froissart (1338-
xxxxxAn excellent albeit chivalrous account of the Hundred Years’ War -
xxxxxHis account of the earlier part of this period is drawn almost entirely from the chronicles of Jean le Bel (c1290-
xxxxxFroissart’s own coverage begins with the Battle of Poitiers in 1356, and from then onwards most of the material is drawn from his own experience or from accounts of eyewitnesses. Detailed and colourful though these recordings were, he was always at pains to emphasise the chivalry that must be associated with the fight, as in his description of the Black Prince waiting at table upon the captive king of France after the Battle of Poitiers.
xxxxxA reliable and lively work, it provides one of the most important sources of information about the Hundred Years’ War, and it also covers other events in parts of Western Europe (such as Spain, Scotland and the Low Countries), including the Black Death. Despite being a Frenchman, it must be said that the chronicles appear to be unbiased, though he did revise the first book -
xxxxxFroissart was also a poet, and in 1368 was in Milan at the same time as the English poet Geoffrey Chaucer and the Italian poet Frances Petrarch. His only works of note were his long verse romance entitled Méliador, and his poem of courtly love, L’Horloge amoureux. Later in life he entered the church and in 1385 was appointed a canon at Chimay in today’s Belgium. He died there in 1401 but, despite his fame, his tomb has never been discovered. As we shall see, among the events he described later in his work were the Jacquerie Uprising in France in 1358, and the Peasants’ Revolt which broke out in England in 1381 (R2).
Crécy: artist unknown, c1415 – Grand Chronicles of France, British Library, London. Battle of Sluys: artist unknown, 15th century – Grand Chronicles of France, National Library of France, Paris. Black Prince: image from The Illustrated History of England by the English writer and publisher John Cassell (1817-