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EDWARD III

In 1327, Parliament declared Edward II deposed, and his son became Edward III. Edward II was murdered nine months later.

In 1333, Edward III invaded Scotland on Edward Balliol's behalf and defeated the Scots.

In 1348, he established the Order of the Garter. It is likely that he made St George patron saint of England at this time. The Order was an emblem of chivalry, which flourished at Edward's court. It is said that he picked up a garter dropped by the Countess of Salisbury and wore it himself, saying 'Honi soit qui mal y pense' - 'Shame on him who thinks evil of it. Companions of the Order of the Garter wear a blue garter bearing the same slogan.

In 1328, Charles IV of France died without a direct heir. French barons gave the throne to his cousin, Philip VI, but Edward, being Charles's nephew, challenged him. When Philip declared that Edward's French lands were confiscated, in 1337, war broke out and Edward III declared himself king of France. Historians call it the "Hundred Years War", but there were long periods of peace, and it lasted until 1453 - longer than a century. There was immense suffering. English armies raided the French countryside, burning and looting homes. Peasants in both countries rioted against the huge taxes that paid for the war. Battles were rare, but armies fought long sieges, surrounding enemy towns and cutting off supplies. This was a new kind of war fought with new weapons. When it began, mounted knights in armour followed strict rules, called chivalry. Foot soldiers with powerful longbows ended this polite tradition forever. It was also the first war fought with cannons. Treated like toys at the beginning, they ended the war with a bang.

To ferry troops to France, England's king, Edward III, needed to control the English Channel. On midsummer's day 1340, the English attacked French ships anchored off Sluys (now in the Netherlands). The French ships were tightly packed, and the fighting was more like a land battle than a naval one. English archers rained arrows on their foe, and the French fleet was destroyed.

Edward's first great land victory came at Crécy on the River Seine. The English troops were moving north, but halted to face the French, who were chasing them. When French knights attacked on horseback, English longbow men fired so quickly that "it seemed as if it snowed" arrows. English longbowmen could fire an arrow every five seconds. The archers they faced had crossbows, which fired only one arrow a minute. The French lost 11 princes, 1,200 knights and 30,000 common soldiers. Fewer than 100 Englishmen died.

Nine days after Crécy, the English besieged Calais, cutting off its supplies. When food ran out, its people ate dogs, rats, and babies. They expected to be slaughtered when the town fell. The English spared them after five burghers (wealthy citizens) offered their lives in exchange for those of the townspeople. The burghers of Calais took the keys of the city to the English. As a sign of surrender, they wore only their underwear, and each draped a hangman's noose around his neck.

After Calais, the English conquest slowed down. But in 1356 the English king sent his son, the Black Prince, to lead raids in central France. Weighed down by booty, the English met a large French army near Poitiers. English arrows killed 2,000 mounted knights. The remainder advanced on foot, but they too were easily defeated. The English then captured the French king, John the Good. In exchange for his return, the Black Prince demanded south-west France, Calais, and a huge ransom. The French agreed, and the resulting Treaty of Brétigny brought temporary peace.

The peace established after the Battle of Poitiers lasted until 1369. When war broke out again, the French, led by King Charles the Wise, won back much of their land. There was peace until Henry V ruled England and Charles the Mad wore the French crown. Henry saw that Charles was losing his power. In 1413, Henry claimed the French crown and two years later invaded France, first capturing the seaside town of Harfleur. Heading north towards Calais, he had to travel inland to cross the river Somme. His tired soldiers were ambushed by the French at Agincourt. Even though there were four French for each English soldier, Henry won a bloody and unexpected victory. Over the next seven years he conquered northern France with help from allies in Burgundy, to the southeast.

England's allies in Burgundy declared Henry V king of France in 1420. But southern France remained loyal to Charles the Mad's son, the dauphin (heir). Orléans, on the River Loire, was the largest loyal town. The English besieged it in 1429. With her cropped hair and soldier's armour, the young Joan of Arc led troops loyal to the dauphin, and won a miraculous victory over the English.

Following the victory against the English at Orléans, Joan met the dauphin and told him that he must travel to Reims and be crowned King Charles VII of France. The coronation took place in Reims cathedral on 17 July 1429.

Joan continued to lead the people after Charles' coronation, but England's allies in Burgundy captured her and sold her to the English. She was found guilty of heresy (opposing the church's teachings) because she claimed to hear voices from God. As punishment, the English burnt her at the stake at Rouen. A monk comforted Joan by holding a crucifix in front of her. Her heart did not burn, so her killers, believing this to be a sign that she was a saint, threw it into the River Seine. Nearly five centuries later the Pope declared her Saint Joan.

Four years after the English burnt Joan of Arc, they lost the support of their Burgundian allies, whose leader Philip the Good changed sides and backed the French king, Charles VII. Gradually Charles drove out the English, who had plundered his country for a century. The final battle was at Castillon, 41 km (26 miles) from Bordeaux. French forces besieged the English-held town, and turned their canons on the English reinforcements when they arrived. When the town surrendered, the long war ended - although England held Calais for another century. Calais was all England had left of its continental possessions.

Edward III died in 1377.



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