Friday, December 12, 2014

David Green's "The Hundred Years War"

David Green is Senior Lecturer in British Studies and History, Harlaxton College, and a regular speaker on medieval history at conferences and seminars in the UK, Ireland, and the US. He is the author of Edward the Black Prince: Power in Medieval Europe.

Green applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Hundred Years War: A People's History, and reported the following:
From page 99:
The citizens of London constructed giant figures on London Bridge: one, a man who:

…held like a champion, a great axe in his right hand and, like a warder, the keys of the city hanging from a baton in his left. At his side stood a figure of a woman . . . wearing a scarlet mantle . . . and they were like a man and his wife who . . . were bent upon seeing the eagerly awaited face of their lord . . . And all around them, projecting from the ramparts, staffs bearing the royal arms and trumpets, clarions, and horns ringing out in multiple harmony embellished the tower [on the bridge], and the face of it bore this choice and appropriate legend inscribed on the war: Civitas Regis Iustice.

There were turrets bearing heraldic emblems and insignias, statues of St George, tapestries, choirboys dressed as angels, a company of older men dressed as the Apostles, and others as prophets; flocks of small birds were released as the king passed by. Maidens sang to the returning king as if he were David returning from the slaying of Goliath. Later, in 1419, there was dancing in the streets of London when news arrived of the successful capture of Rouen. Henry V’s victories and the Burgundian alliance led to the treaty of Troyes in 1420 and the chance of a permanent resolution.

However, like previous agreements, the treaty only led to further conflict. Indeed, it did not result in any period of peace at all. The treaty of Troyes was far more ambitious than the Brétigny settlement of 1360. It did not seek merely to transfer various French territories to English sovereign control. Rather King Henry sought to gain sovereignty over all France and seize the French throne. Through his marriage to Charles VI’s daughter Katherine he would change the line of succession, thereby avoiding a conflict with Salic law. Henry became Charles’s son and heir: the aging, deluded king retained his title but with Henry serving as regent: on Charles’s death he would take the Crown.
This page begins with a description of the fantastic and fabulous celebrations held to honour the King Henry V of England on his return after the victory at Agincourt in 1415. A subsequent campaign saw the king conquer (or perhaps from an English perspective reconquer) the duchy of Normandy and the political momentum he gained from this, allied with a catastrophic civil war in France, allowed Henry to enforce the treaty of Troyes in 1420 – this proved to be the most significant peace settlement of the Hundred Years War.

The war had been fought by the English, at least in part, to regain sovereign authority over their ancestral lands in France – the territories of the former Angevin Empire. Anglo-French hostilities had also intensified following the death of the last Capetian king of France in 1328 and the establishment of the new Valois dynasty in the face of counter-claim from the Plantagenet rulers of England. With the treaty of Troyes, Henry V appeared to have resolved both these issues and brought the conflict to an end. It proved, however, to be a false dawn.

The political dimensions of the Hundred Years War are important in this book, I am, however, much more interested in exploring the impact of the war on those who prosecuted it and were persecuted by it – on the soldiery, the peasantry, the churchmen and women who were caught up in the struggle; by those who were captured and held for ransom, as well as the monarchs and members of the military aristocracy whose roles and responsibilities were reshaped by more than a century of endemic conflict. As this extract from page 99 also shows the war engendered a new sense of national identity on both sides of the Channel. This was not the nationalism of the modern age but there is no question that France and England were fundamentally re-forged through the Hundred Years War. In that sense this book is about peoples as well as people.
Learn more about The Hundred Years War: A People's History at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue