And he is bred out of that bloody strain
That haunted us in our familiar paths:
Witness our too much memorable shame
When Cressy battle fatally was struck,
And all our princes captiv’d by the hand
Of that black name, Edward, Black Prince of Wales
He rests at Canterbury, the hero of Crécy and Poiters, and Shakespeare has him inspiring the hero of Agincourt. This is hardly the place to detail all the action and characters of that chilly century where war took a pause only to allow the Black Death to have its way.
Or when war grew so poor and weary it rested, leaving bands of stranded soldiers, or unpaid mercenaries, to survive across the French countryside. There were maybe three wars in the Hundred Years War, but the lack of resolution in between the heroics made it truly one war. This sickly little guy gave everyone a rest from the Alpha Male antics:
But geeky Charles V of France – capable, decisive yet prudent – was the exception in this miserable era of heroes. His enormous successes can still do little to lift his name above that of the glorious bunglers or quickly extinguished meteors who marked the period.
And when one looks at that tower in Saugues, especially in dreary weather after a day trudging in cold rain, the thoughts go to that century.
The Tour des Anglais wasn’t built by English. It was a seigneurial possession. But it was captured by what they call routiers, who were maybe more Gascon than English, and were the real scourge of the times. Sometimes these stranded military companies enjoyed a kind of legitimacy, and their status was fully restored when organised re-invasion took place. Conan Doyle’s novel, The White Company, recounts the exploits of one such company and its impossibly chivalrous and violent leader, Sir Nigel. Those who find the novel silly should reflect that the times described were silly. Ambition and lust for wealth don’t explain the Hundred Years War. The chivalry element was very real.
But none of this helped a peasant living around Saugues. Or a pilgrim braving the colder weather of the fourteenth century.
France’s three recent catastrophes against Germany within an eighty year period have not brought the same deep ruefulness to the French psyche, even though the enemy was more identifiable, and the memory is fresh. For France and Germany have the ability to somehow get on between massacre and mayhem, to be complementary without compliments. Above all, they extend to each other the great courtesy of feeling inferior to each other.
No such undeclared entente exists between France and the Anglosphere. Those English speaking nations who wait for the great relenting of French opposition, to a recognition of the overwhelming common interest, will wait in vain.
So if you make a war, keep it short.