History for the Rest of Us

Henry V

Henry V

Dec 12, 2012

KING FROM 1413-1422 Of all the kings that England ever had Henry V was perhaps the greatest favorite among the people. They liked him because he was handsome and brave and, above all, because he conquered France. In his youth, Prince Hal, as the people called him, had a number of merry companions who sometimes got themselves into trouble by their pranks. Once one of them was arrested and brought before the chief justice of the kingdom. Prince Hal was not pleased because sentence was given against his companion and he drew his sword, threatening the judge. Upon this the judge bravely ordered the prince to be arrested and put into prison. Prince Hal submitted to his punishment with good grace and his father is reported to have said, “Happy is the monarch who has so just a judge, and a son so willing to obey the law.” One of Prince Hal’s companions was a fat old knight named Sir John Falstaff. Once Falstaff was boasting that he and three men had beaten and almost killed two men in buckram suits who had attacked and tried to rob them. The prince led him on and gave him a chance to brag as much as he wanted to, until finally Falstaff swore that there were at least a hundred robbers and that he himself fought with fifty. Then Prince Hal told their companions that only two men had attacked Falstaff and his friends, and that he and another man who was present were those two. And he said that Falstaff, instead of fighting, had run as fast as his legs could carry him. There was real goodness as well as merriment in Prince Hal. And so the people found; for when he became king on the death of his father he told his wild companions that the days of his wildness were over; and he advised them to lead better lives in future. As Henry V, Prince Hal made himself famous in English history by his war with France. Normandy…had belonged to Henry’s ancestor, William the Conqueror. It had been taken from King John of England by the French king, Philip Augustus, in 1203. Soon...

Edward the Black Prince

Edward the Black Prince

Nov 27, 2012

LIVED FROM 1330-1376 One of the most famous warriors of the Middle Ages was Edward the Black Prince. He was so called because he wore black armor in battle. The Black Prince was the son of Edward III who reigned over England from 1327 to 1377. He won his fame as a soldier in the wars which his father carried on against France. The early kings of England, from the time of William the Conqueror, had possessions in France. Henry II, William’s grandson, was the duke of Normandy and lord of Brittany and other provinces, and when he married Eleanor of Aquitaine she brought him that province also. Henry’s son John lost all the French possessions of the English crown except a part of Aquitaine, and Edward III inherited this. So when Philip of Valois became king of France, about a year after Edward had become king of England, Edward had to do homage to Philip. To be king of England and yet to do homage to the king of France—to bend the knee before Philip and kiss his foot—was something Edward did not like. He thought it was quite beneath his dignity, as his ancestor Rollo had thought when told that he must kiss the foot of King Charles. So Edward tried to persuade the nobles of France that he himself ought by right to be the king of France instead of being only a vassal. Philip of Valois was only a cousin of the late French King Charles IV. Edward was the son of his sister. But there was a curious old law in France, called the Salic Law, which forbade that daughters should inherit lands. This law barred the claim of Edward, because his claim came through his mother. Still he determined to win the French throne by force of arms. A chance came to quarrel with Philip. Another of Philip’s vassals rebelled against him, and Edward helped the rebel. He hoped by doing so to weaken Philip and more easily overpower him. Philip at once declared that Edward’s possessions in France were forfeited. Then Edward raised an army of thirty thousand men, and with it invaded France. The Black Prince...

Richard the Lionheart

Richard the Lionheart

Oct 16, 2012

Henry II’s eldest surviving son, Richard, was crowned at Westminster Abbey in 1190. He took the title of Richard I but is better known as “Cœur de Lion” (the lion-hearted), a name which was given him on account of his bravery. He had wonderful strength and his brave deeds were talked about all over the land. With such a man for their king, the English people became devoted to chivalry, and on every field of battle brave men vied with another in brave deeds. Knighthood was often the reward of valor. Then, as now, knighthood was usually conferred upon a man by his king or queen. A part of the ceremony consisted in the sovereign’s touching the kneeling subject’s soldier with the flat of a sword and saying, “Arise, Sir Knight.” This was called “the accolade.” Richard did not stay long in England after his coronation. In 1191 he went with Philip of France on a Crusade. The French and English Crusaders together numbered more than one hundred thousand men. They sailed to the Holy Land and joined an army of Christian soldiers encamped before the city of Acre. The besiegers had despaired of taking the city but when reinforced they gained fresh courage. Cœur de Lion now performed deeds of valor which gave him fame throughout Europe. He was the terror of the Saracens. In every attack on Acre he led the Christians and when the city was captured he planted his banner in triumph on its walls. So great was the terror inspired everywhere in the Holy Land by the name of Richard that Moslem mothers are said to have made their children quiet by threatening to send for the English king. Every night when the Crusaders encamped, the heralds blew their trumpets, and cried three times, “Save the Holy Sepulchre!” And the Crusaders knelt and said, “Amen!” The great leader of the Saracens was Saladin. He was a model of heroism and the two leaders, one the champion of the Christians and the other the champion of the Mohammedans, vied with each other in knightly deeds. Just before one battle Richard rode down the Saracen line and boldly called for any...

Henry II – King of England

Henry II – King of England

Oct 15, 2012

King from 1154-1189 In 1154, while Barbarossa was reigning in Germany, Henry II, one of England’s greatest monarchs, came to the throne. Henry was the son of Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou in France, and Matilda, daughter of King Henry I and granddaughter of William the Conqueror. Count Geoffrey used to wear in his hat a sprig of the broom plant, which is called in Latin planta genista. From this he adopted the name Plantagenet, and the kings who descended from him and ruled England for more than three hundred years are called the Plantagenets. Henry II inherited a vast domain in France and managing this in addition England kept him very busy. One who knew him well said, “He never sits down; he is on his feet from morning till night.” His chief assistant in the management of public affairs was Thomas Becket, whom he made chancellor of the kingdom. Becket was fond of pomp and luxury, and lived in a more magnificent manner than even the king himself. The clergy had at this time become almost independent of the king. To bring them under his authority Henry made Becket Archbishop of Canterbury, thus putting him at the head of the Church in England. The king expected that Becket would carry out all his wishes. Becket, however, refused to do that which the king most desired and a quarrel arose between them. At last, to escape the king’s anger, Becket fled to France and remained there for six years. At the end of this time Henry invited him to come back to England. Not long after, however, the old quarrel began again. One day while Henry was sojourning in France, he cried out in a moment of passion, while surrounded by a group of knights, “Is there no one who will rid me of this turbulent priest?” Four knights who heard him understood from this angry speech that he desired the death of Becket, and they went to England to murder the Archbishop. When they met Becket they first demanded that he should do as the king wished, but he firmly refused. At dusk that same day they entered Canterbury Cathedral, again seeking...

William the Conqueror

William the Conqueror

Oct 1, 2012

1027-1087 William I., King of England, surnamed the Conqueror, was born in 1027 or 1028. He was the son of Robert, Duke of Normandy and Herleva, daughter of Fulbert, a tanner of Falaise. When he was about seven years old, his father, intending to go on pilgrimage and having no legitimate sons, proposed him as his heir. The great men of the duchy did homage to the child, and a year later (1035) his father’s death left him to make good his claim. Anarchy was the natural result of a minority. William’s life was on more than one occasion in danger, and several of his guardians perished in his service. At the earliest possible age he received knighthood from the hands of Henry I. of France, and speedily began to show signs of his capacity for government. In 1042 he insisted that the “truce of God” should be proclaimed and observed in Normandy. When he was about twenty years old his authority was threatened by a general conspiracy, which spread through the western half of his duchy. An attempt was made to seize him at Valognes, and he only escaped by riding hard all night to his own castle at Falaise. Bessin and Cotentin, the most Norman parts of Normandy, rose in rebellion. William sought and obtained aid from King Henry, and completely defeated the rebels at Val-es-Dunes near Caen (1047). The battle was but a combat of horse, but it decided the fate of the war and left William master of his duchy. The debt which he owed to Henry was repaid next year. War broke out between Geoffrey, Count of Anjou, and Henry (1048), and William came to his suzerain’s assistance. Alençon, one of the chief border fortresses between Normandy and Maine, which had received an Angevin garrison, was captured by the duke. The inhabitants had taunted him with his birth, and William, who had dealt leniently with the rebels after Val-es-Dunes, took a cruel revenge. Soon afterward Domfront, another important border fortress, fell into his hands. In 1051 William visited England. Two years later he married Matilda, daughter of Baldwin, Earl of Flanders, and a descendant of Alfred. The marriage had...

Edward the Confessor

Edward the Confessor

Sep 19, 2012

KING FROM 1042-1066 The Danish kings who followed Canute were not like him. They were cruel, unjust rulers and all the people of England hated them. When in the year 1042 the last of them died, Edward, the son of the Saxon Ethelred, was elected king. He is known in history as Edward the Confessor. He was a man of holy life and after his death was made a saint by the Church, with the title of “the Confessor.” Though born in England, he passed the greater part of his life in Normandy as an exile from his native land. He was thirty-eight years old when he returned from Normandy to become king. As he had lived so long in Normandy he always seemed more like a Norman than one of English birth. He generally spoke the French language and he chose Normans to fill many of the highest offices in his kingdom. For the first eight years of his reign there was perfect peace in his kingdom, except in the counties of Kent and Essex, where pirates from the North Sea made occasional attacks. These pirates were mostly Norwegians, whose leader was a barbarian named Kerdric. They would come sweeping down upon the Kentish coast in many ships, make a landing where there were no soldiers, and fall upon the towns and plunder them. Then, as swiftly and suddenly as they had come, they would sail away homeward, before they could be captured. One day Kerdic’s fleet arrived off the coast, and as no opposing force was visible, the pirates landed and started toward the nearest town to plunder it. By a quick march a body of English soldiers reached the town before the pirates, and when the latter arrived they found a strong force drawn up to give them battle. A short struggle took place. More than half of the pirates were slain and the remainder were taken prisoners. After the prisoners had been secured the English ships that were stationed on the coast attacked the pirate fleet and destroyed it. Edward took part in the events upon which Shakespeare, five hundred years later, founded his famous tragedy of “Macbeth.” There lived...