12 Pages

The Burden of the War

I T must, however, be admitted that so terrible a weapon in so rough an age was only too dangerous. When Edward III. found that his cousin of France not only meant to deal treacherously with him in Aquitaine, but had also allied himself with our deadly enemies of Scotland, he found a very colourable excuse for retaliation by raising a claim to the throne of France. But for the Salic law, which forbade inheritance through a female, Edward would undoubtedly be, if not the rightful heir, at least nearer than Philippe de Valois, who now sat on that throne. The Biblical colour which he gave to his claim by pleading the precedent of " J udee " was of course the after-thought of some ingenious theologian; the real strength of Edward's claim lay in his army. To appreciate the strength of Edward's temptations here, we must imagine modern Germany adding to her other armaments a navy capable of commanding the seas, a Kaiser fettered by even less constitutional checks than at present, and sharing with his people even greater incitements to cupidity. Beyond the prospect, always dazzling enough to a statesman, of an enormous indemnity and a substantial

increase of territory, medieval warfare offered even to the meanest English soldier only too probable hopes of riot and booty. Froissart, though he seldom feels very deeply for the mere people, describes our first march through the defenceless districts of Normandy in words which make us understand why this unhappy, unprepared country could only mark time for the next hundred years, while we, in spite of all our faults and follies, went on slowly from strength to strength. England, with her own four or five millions and a little help from Aquitaine, rode roughshod again and again over the disorganized ten millions north of the Loire; while the French-even during those thirty years of union which elapsed between the recovery of Guienne and the murder of the Duke of Orleans-frequently enough burned our southern seaports, but never penetrated more than a few miles inland in the face of our shire-levies.