Famous Men of The Middle Ages
John H. Haaren, LL.D. and A. B. Poland, Ph.D.
Part 3 out of 3
next day he would be wearing the crown, Edward told them that he
would himself be their king. Just then an English army marched
up. What could the nobles do but kneel at the feet of Edward and
promise to be his vassals? This they did; and so Scotland became
a part of Edward's kingdom and Baliol (Ba'-li-ol), one of the rivals
who claimed the Scottish throne, was made the vassal king.
Some time after this Edward ordered Baliol to raise an army and
help him fight the French. Baliol refused to do this, so Edward
marched with an army into Scotland and took him prisoner. He was
determined that the Scotch should have no more kings of their own.
So he carried away the sacred stone of Scone (scoon), on which all
kings of Scotland had to sit when they were crowned, and put it in
Westminster Abbey in London, and there it is to this day. [NOTE
FROM Brett Fishburne: As of 1994, the stone is in Edinburgh
Castle.] It is underneath the chair on which the sovereigns of
England always sit when the crown of England, Scotland, and Ireland
is placed upon their heads. It is said to have been the very
stone that Jacob used for a pillow on the night that he saw, in his
dream, angels ascending and descending on the ladder that reached
from earth to heaven.
Edward now supposed, as he had this sacred stone and had put King
Baliol in prison, that Scotland was conquered.
But the men whom he appointed to govern the Scotch ruled unwisely
and nearly all the people were discontented. Suddenly an army of
Scots was raised. It was led by Sir William Wallace, a knight who
was almost a giant in size. Wallace's men drove the English out
of the country and Wallace was made the "Guardian of the Realm."
Edward then led a great army against him. The Scottish soldiers were
nearly all on foot. Wallace arranged them in hollow squares--spearmen
on the outside, bowmen within. The English horsemen dashed vainly
against the walls of spear-points. But King Edward now brought
his archers to the front. Thousands of arrows flew from their bows
and thousands of Wallace's men fell dead. The spears were broken
and the Scotch were defeated. Wallace barely escaped with his life.
He was afterwards betrayed to Edward, who cruelly put him to death.
But the Scotch had learned what they could do and they still went
on fighting for freedom, under two leaders named Robert Bruce and
John Comyn. Edward marched against them with another large army.
He won a great victory, and the nobles once more swore to obey him.
But in spite of this oath, Bruce meant to free Scotland if he could,
and win the crown. He was privately crowned king of Scotland in
the Abbey of Scone in 1306.
He said to his wife, "Henceforth you are the queen and I am the
king of our country."
"I fear," said his wife, "that we are only playing at being king
and queen, like children in their games."
"Nay, I shall be king in earnest," said Bruce.
The news that Bruce had been crowned roused all Scotland and the
people took up arms to fight under him against the English. But
again King Edward defeated the Scotch and Bruce himself fled to
the Grampian Hills.
For two months he was closely pursued by the English who used
bloodhounds to track him. He and his followers had many narrow
escapes. Once he had to scramble barefoot up some steep rocks, and
another time all the party would have been captured had not Bruce
awakened just in time to hear the approach of the enemy. He and
his men lived by hunting and fishing.
However, many brave patriots joined them, until after a while Bruce
had a small army. Five times he attacked the English, and five
times he was beaten. After his last defeat he fled from Scotland
and took refuge in a wretched hut on an island off the north coast
of Ireland. Here he stayed all alone during one winter.
It is said that one day, while he was very down-hearted, he saw
a spider trying to spin a web between two beams of his hut. The
little creature tried to throw a thread from one beam to another,
but failed. Not discouraged, it tried four times more without
"Five times has the spider failed," said Bruce. "That is just the
number of times the English have defeated me. If the spider has
courage to try again, I also will try to free Scotland!"
He watched the spider. It rested for a while as if to gain strength,
and then threw its slender thread toward the beam. This time it
"I thank God!" exclaimed Bruce. "The spider has taught me a lesson.
No more will I be discouraged."
About this time Edward I died and his son, Edward II, succeeded
to the throne of England. For about two years the new king paid
little attention to Scotland.
Meantime Bruce captured nearly all the Scotch castles that were held
by the English, and the nobles and chiefs throughout the country
acknowledged him as their king.
At last Edward II marched into Scotland at the head of a hundred
thousand men. Bruce met him at Bannockburn on June 24, 1314, with
thirty thousand soldiers.
Before the battle began Bruce rode along the front of his army to
encourage his men. Suddenly an English knight, Henry de Bohun,
galloped across the field and tried to strike him down with
a spear. Bruce saw his danger in time and with a quick stroke of
his battle-axe cleft the knight's skull.
The Scotch army shouted again and again at this feat of their
commander, and they went into the battle feeling sure that the
victory would be theirs. They rushed upon the English with fury
and although outnumbered three to one, completely defeated them.
Thousands of the English were slain and a great number captured.
In spite of this terrible blow Edward never gave up his claim to
the Scottish crown. But his son Edward III, in 1328, recognized
Scotland's independence and acknowledged Bruce as her king.
Lived from 1254-1324
Some years before St. Louis led his last Crusade there was born in
Venice a boy named Marco Polo. His father was a wealthy merchant
who often went on trading journeys to distant lands.
In 1271, when Marco was seventeen years old, he accompanied his
father and uncle on a journey through the Holy Land, Persia and
Tartary, and at length to the Empire of China--then called Cathay
(Ca-thay'). It took the travelers three years to reach Cathay.
The emperor of Cathay was a monarch named Kublai Khan (koo' bli-kän'),
who lived in Peking.
Marco's father and uncle had been in Cathay once before and had
entertained Kublai Khan by telling him about the manners and customs
So when the two Venetian merchants again appeared in Peking, Kublai
Khan was glad to see them. He was also greatly pleased with the
young Marco, whom he invited to the palace.
Important positions at the Chinese court were given to Marco's
father and uncle, and so they and Marco lived in the country for
some years. Marco studied the Chinese language, and it was not
very long before he could speak it.
When he was about twenty-one Kublai Khan sent him on very important
business to a distant part of China. He did the work well and from
that time was often employed as an envoy of the Chinese monarch. His
travels were sometimes in lands never before visited by Europeans
and he had many strange adventures among the almost unknown tribes
of Asia. Step by step he was promoted. For several years he was
governor of a great Chinese city.
Finally he and his father and uncle desired to return to Venice.
They had all served Kublai Khan faithfully and he had appreciated
it and given them rich rewards; but he did not wish to let them
While the matter was being talked over an embassy arrived in Peking
from the king of Persia. This monarch desired to marry the daughter
of Kublai Khan, the Princess Cocachin, and he had sent to ask her
father for her hand. Consent was given, and Kublai Khan fitted
out a fleet of fourteen ships to carry the wedding party to Persia.
The Princess Cocachin was a great friend of Marco Polo, and urged
her father to allow him to go with the party. Finally Kublai Khan
gave his consent. Marco's father and uncle were also allowed to
go, and the three Venetians left China.
The fleet with the wedding party on board sailed southward on the
China Sea. It was a long and perilous voyage. Stops were made at
Borneo, Sumatra, Ceylon and other places, until the ships entered
the Persian Gulf and the princess was safely landed. After
they reached the capital of Persia the party, including the three
Venetians, was entertained by the Persians for weeks in a magnificent
manner and costly presents were given to all.
At last the Venetians left their friends, went to the Black Sea
and took ship for Venice.
They had been away so long and were so much changed in appearance
that none of their relations and old friends knew them when they
arrived in Venice. As they were dressed in Tatar costume and
sometimes spoke the Chinese language to one another, they found it
hard to convince people that they were members of the Polo family.
At length, on order to show that they were the men that they declared
themselves to be, they gave a dinner to all their relations and
old friends. When the guests arrived they were greeted by the
travelers, arrayed in gorgeous Chinese robes of crimson satin.
After the first course they appeared in crimson damask; after the
second, they changed their costumes to crimson velvet; while at
the end of the dinner they appeared in the usual garb of wealthy
"Now, my friends," said Marco, "I will show you something that will
please you." He then brought into the room the rough Tatar coats
which he and his father and uncle had worn when they reached
Venice. Cutting open the seams, he took from inside the lining
packets filled with rubies, emeralds and diamonds. It was the
finest collection of jewels ever seen in Venice.
The guests were now persuaded that their hosts were indeed what
they claimed to be.
Eight hundred years before Marco Polo's birth, some of the people
of North Italy had fled before the Attila to the muddy islands of
the Adriatic and founded Venice upon them. Since then the little
settlement had become the most wealthy and powerful city of Europe.
Venice was the queen of the Adriatic and her merchants were princes.
They had vessels to bring the costly wares of the East to their
wharves; they had warships to protect their rich cargoes from the
pirates of the Mediterranean; they carried on wars. At the time
when Marco Polo returned from Cathay they were at war with Genoa
The two cities were fighting for the trade of the world. In a
great naval battle the Venetians were completely defeated. Marco
Polo was in the battle and with many of his countrymen was captured
by the enemy. For a year he was confined in a Genoese prison. One
of his fellow-prisoners was a skillful penman and Marco dictated
to him an account of his experiences in China, Japan, and other
Eastern countries. This account was carefully written out. Copies
of the manuscript exist to this day. One of these is in a library
in Paris. It was carried into France in the year 1307. Another
copy is preserved in the city of Berne. It is said that the book
was translated into many languages, so that people in all parts
of Europe learned about Marco's adventures. About a hundred and
seventy-five years after the book was written, the famous Genoese,
Christopher Columbus, planned his voyage across the Atlantic. It
is believed that he had read Marco's description of Java, Sumatra
and other East India Islands, which he thought he had reached when
he discovered Haiti (Hai'-ti) and Cuba. So Marco Polo may have
suggested to Columbus the voyage which led to the discovery of
Edward the Black Prince
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
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.
You remember that 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 (val-wah') 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
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
Then Edward raised an army of thirty thousand men, and with it
The Black Prince was now only about sixteen years of age, but he
had already shown himself brave in battle, and his father put him
in command of one of the divisions of the army.
Thousands of French troops led by King Philip were hurried from
Paris to meet the advance of the English; and on the 26th of August,
1346, the two armies fought a hard battle at the village of Crécy.
During the battle the division of the English army commanded by
the Black Prince had to bear the attack of the whole French force.
The prince fought so bravely and managed his men so well that King
Edward, who was overlooking the field of battle from a windmill on
the top of a hill, sent him words of praise for his gallant work.
Again and again the prince's men drove back the French in splendid
style. But at last they seemed about to give way before a very
fierce charge, and the earl of Warwick hastened to Edward to advise
him to send the prince aid.
"Is my son dead or unhorsed or so wounded that he cannot help
himself?" asked the king.
"No, Sire," was the reply; "but he is hard pressed."
"Return to your post, and come not to me again for aid so long as
my son lives," said the king. "Let the boy prove himself a true
knight and win his spurs."
The earl went to the prince and told him what his father had said.
"I will prove myself a true knight," exclaimed the prince. "My
father is right. I need no aid. My men will hold their post as
long as they have strength to stand."
Then he rode where the battle was still furiously raging, and
encouraged his men. The king of France led his force a number of
times against the prince's line, but could not break it and was at
last compelled to retire.
The battle now went steadily against the French, although they
far outnumbered the English. Finally, forty thousand of Philip's
soldiers lay dead upon the field and nearly all the remainder of
his army was captured. Philip gave up the struggle and fled. Among
those who fought on the side of the French at Crécy was the blind
king of Bohemia, who always wore three white feathers in his helmet.
When the battle was at its height the blind king had his followers
lead him into the thick of the fight, and he dealt heavy blows upon
his unseen foes until he fell mortally wounded. The three white
feathers were taken from his helmet by the Black Prince, who ever
after wore them himself.
As soon as he could King Edward rode over the field to meet his
son. "Prince," he said, as he greeted him, "you are the conqueror
of the French." Turning to the soldiers, who had gathered around
him, the king shouted, "Cheer, cheer for the Black Prince! Cheer
for the hero of Crécy!"
What cheering then rose on the battle-field! The air rang with
the name of the Black Prince.
Soon after the battle of Crécy King Edward laid siege to Calais;
but the city resisted his attack for twelve months. During the
siege the Black Prince aided his father greatly.
After the capture of Calais, it was agreed to stop fighting for
seven years, and Edward's army embarked for England.
In 1355 Edward again declared war against the French. The Black
Prince invaded France with an army of sixty thousand men. He
captured rich towns and gathered a great deal of booty. While he
was preparing to move on Paris, the king of France raised a great
army and marched against him.
The Black Prince had lost so many men by sickness that he had only
about ten thousand when he reached the city of Poitiers. Suddenly,
near the city, he was met by the French force of about fifty-five
thousand, splendidly armed and commanded by the king himself.
"God help us!" exclaimed the prince, when he looked at the long
lines of the French as they marched on a plain before him.
Early on the morning of September 14, 1356, the battle began. The
English were few in number, but they were determined to contest
every inch of the ground and not surrender while a hundred of
them remained to fight. For hours they withstood the onset of the
French. At last a body of English horsemen charged furiously on
one part of the French line, while the Black Prince attacked another
This sudden movement caused confusion among the French. Many of
them fled from the field. When the Black Prince saw this he shouted
to his men, "Advance, English banners, in the name of God and St.
George!" His army rushed forward and the French were defeated.
Thousands of prisoners were taken, including the king of France
and many of his nobles.
The king was sent to England, where he was treated with the greatest
kindness. When, some time afterwards there was a splendid procession
in London to celebrate the victory of Poitiers, he was allowed to
ride in the procession on a beautiful white horse, while the Black
Prince rode on a pony at his side.
The Black Prince died in 1376. He was sincerely mourned by the
English people. They felt that they had lost a prince who would
have made a great and good king.
William Tell and Arnold von Winkelried
Far up among the Alps, in the very heart of Switzerland, are three
districts, or cantons, as they are called, which are known as the
Forest Cantons and are famous in the world's history. About two
thousand years ago the Romans found in these cantons a hardy race
of mountaineers, who, although poor, were free men and proud of
their independence. They became the friends and allies of Rome,
and the cantons were for many years a part of the Roman Empire, but
the people always had the right to elect their own officers and to
When Goths and the Vandals and the Huns from beyond the Rhine and
the Danube overran the Roman Empire, these three cantons were not
disturbed. The land was too poor and rocky to attract men who were
fighting for possession of the rich plains and valleys of Europe,
and so it happened that for century after century, the mountaineers
of these cantons lived on in their old, simple way, undisturbed by
the rest of the world.
In a canton in the valley of the Rhine lived the Hapsburg family,
whose leaders in time grew to be very rich and powerful. They
became dukes of Austria and some of them were elected emperors.
One of the Hapsburgs, Albert I, claimed that the land of the Forest
Cantons belonged to him. He sent a governor and a band of soldiers
to those cantons and made the people submit to his authority.
In one of the Forest Cantons at this time lived a famous mountaineer
named William Tell. He was tall and strong. In all Switzerland no
man had a foot so sure as his on the mountains or a hand so skilled
in the use of a bow. He was determined to resist the Austrians.
Secret meetings of the mountaineers were held and all took a solemn
oath to stand by each other and fight for their freedom; but they
had no arms and were simple shepherds who had never been trained
as soldiers. The first thing to be done was to get arms without
attracting the attention of the Austrians. It took nearly a year
to secure spears, swords, and battle-axes and distribute them among
the mountains. Finally this was done, and everything was ready.
All were waiting for a signal to rise.
The story tells us that just at this time Gessler, the Austrian
governor, who was a cruel tyrant, hung a cap on a high pole in the
market-place in the village of Altorf, and forced everyone who passed
to bow before it. Tell accompanied by his little son, happened to
pass through the marketplace. He refused to bow before the cap and
was arrested. Gessler offered to release him if he would shoot an
apple from the head of his son. The governor hated Tell and made
this offer hoping that the mountaineer's hand would tremble and
that he would kill his own son. It is said that Tell shot the apple
from his son's head but that Gessler still refused to release him.
That night as Tell was being carried across the lake to prison a
storm came up. In the midst of the storm he sprang from the boat
to an over-hanging rock and made his escape. It is said that he
killed the tyrant. Some people do not believe this story, but the
Swiss do, and if you go to Lake Lucerne some day they will show
you the very rock upon which Tell stepped when he sprang from the
That night the signal fires were lighted on every mountain and
by the dawn of day the village of Altorf was filled with hardy
mountaineers, armed and ready to fight for their liberty. A battle
followed and the Austrians were defeated and driven from Altorf.
This victory was followed by others.
A few years later, the duke himself came with a large army,
determined to conquer the mountaineers. He had to march through
a narrow pass, with mountains rising abruptly on either side. The
Swiss were expecting him and hid along the heights above the pass,
as soon as the Austrians appeared in the pass, rocks and trunks of
trees were hurled down upon them. Many were killed and wounded.
Their army was defeated, and the duke was forced to recognize the
independence of the Forest Cantons.
This was the beginning of the Republic of Switzerland. In time
five other cantons joined them in a compact for liberty.
About seventy years later the Austrians made another attempt to
conquer the patriots. They collected a splendid army and marched
into the mountains. The Swiss at once armed themselves and met
the Austrians at a place called Sempach. In those times powder
had not been invented, and men fought with spears, swords, and
battle-axes. The Austrian soldiers stood shoulder to shoulder,
each grasping a long spear whose point projected far in front of
him. The Swiss were armed with short swords and spears and it was
impossible for them to get to the Austrians. For a while their cause
looked hopeless, but among the ranks of the Swiss was a brave man
from one of the Forest Cantons. His name was Arnold von Winkelried
(Win'-kel-ried). As he looked upon the bristling points of the
Austrian spears, he saw that his comrades had no chance to win
unless an opening could be made in that line. He determined to
make such an opening even at the cost of his life. Extending his
arms as far as he could, he rushed toward the Austrian line and
gathered within his arms as many spears as he could grasp.
"Make way for liberty!" he cried-- Then ran, with arms extended
wide, As if his dearest friend to clasp; Ten spears he swept
within his grasp. "Make way for liberty!" he cried-- Their keen
points met from side to side. He bowed among them like a tree,
And thus made way for liberty.
Pierced through and through Winkelried fell dead, but he had made
a gap in the Austrian line, and into this gap rushed the Swiss
patriots. Victory was theirs and the Cantons were free.
Lived from 1333-1405
Tamerlane was the son of the chief of a Mongolian tribe in Central
Asia. His real name was Timour, but as he was lamed in battle
when a youth he was generally called Timour the Lame, and this name
was gradually changed to Tamerlane. He was born in 1333, so that
he lived in the time of the English king, Edward III, when the
Black Prince was winning his victories over the French. He was a
descendant of a celebrated Tatar soldier, Genghis (jen'-ghis) Khan,
who conquered Persia, China, and other countries of Asia. When
twenty-four years old Tamerlane became the head of his tribe, and
in a few years he made himself the leader of the whole Mongolian
He was a tall, stern-looking man, of great strength, and, although
lame in his right leg, could ride a spirited horse at full gallop
and do all the work of an active soldier. He was as brave as a
lion--and as cruel.
He chose the ancient city of Samarcand (Sa-mar-cand'), in Turkistan
(Tur-kis-tan'), for his capital; and here he built a beautiful
marble palace, where he lived in the greatest luxury.
After he had enjoyed for some time the honors which fell to him as
chief ruler of the Mongolians, he began to desire further conquests.
He determined to make himself master of all the countries of Central
"As there is but one God in heaven," he said, "there ought to be
but one ruler on the earth."
So he gathered an immense army from all parts of his dominion, and
for weeks his subjects were busy making preparations for war. At
length he started for Persia in command of a splendid army. After
gaining some brilliant victories he forced the Persian king to flee
from his capital.
All the rich country belonging to Persia, from the Tigris to the
Euphrates, submitted to the Mongolian conqueror.
Tamerlane celebrated his Persian conquest by magnificent festivities
which continued for a week. Then orders were given to march into
the great Tatar empire of the North. Here Tamerlane was victorious
over the principal chiefs and made them his vassals. In pursuing
the Tatars he entered Russia and sacked and burned some of the
Russian cities. He did not, however, continue his invasion of this
country, but turned in the direction of India.
At last his army stood before the city of Delhi, and after a fierce
assault forced it to surrender. Other cities of India were taken
and the authority of Tamerlane was established over a large extent
of the country.
Bajazet (baj-a-zet'), sultan of Turkey, now determined to stop
Tamerlane's eastward march.
News of this reached the conqueror's ears. Leaving India, he
marched to meet the sultan. Bajazet was a famous warrior. He was
so rapid in his movements in war that he was called "the lightning."
Tamerlane entered the sultan's dominions and devastated them. He
stormed Bagdad, and after capturing the place killed thousands of
At length the rivals and their armies faced each other. A great
battle followed. It raged four or five hours and then the Turks
were totally defeated. Bajazet was captured.
Tamerlane then ordered a great iron cage to be made and forced the
sultan to enter it. The prisoner was chained to the iron bars of
the cage and was thus exhibited to the Mongol soldiers, who taunted
him as he was carried along the lines.
As the army marched from place to place the sultan in his cage was
shown to the people. How long the fallen monarch had to bear this
humiliating punishment is not known.
Tamerlane's dominions now embraced a large part of Asia. He
retired to his palace at Samarcand and for several weeks indulged
He could not, however, long be content away from the field of
battle. So he made up his mind to invade the Empire of China. At
the head of a great army of two hundred thousand soldiers he marched
from the city of Samarcand towards China. He had gone about three
hundred miles on the way when, in February, 1405, he was taken
sick and died. His army was disbanded and all thought of invading
China was given up.
Thus passed away one of the greatest conquerors of the Middle Ages.
He was a soldier of genius but he cannot be called a truly great
man. His vast empire speedily fell to pieces after his death. Since
his day there has been no leader like him in that part of Asia.
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
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, you remember, 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 after his coronation Henry sent a demand to the French king
that Normandy should be restored, and he made the claim which his
great-grandfather, Edward III, had made that he was by right the
king of France.
Of course, the king of France would not acknowledge this. Henry
therefore raised an army of thirty thousand men and invaded France.
Before he began to attack the French he gave strict orders to his
men that they were to harm no one who was not a soldier and to
take nothing from the houses or farms of any persons who were not
Sickness broke out among Henry's troops after they landed, so
that their number was reduced to about fifteen thousand. Fifty or
sixty thousand Frenchmen were encamped on the field of Agincourt
(äzh-an-koor') to oppose this little army.
The odds were greatly against Henry. The night before the battle
one of his officers said he wished that the many thousand brave
soldiers who were quietly sleeping in their beds in England were
with the king.
"I would not have a single man more," said Henry. "If god give
us victory, it will be plain we owe it to His grace. If not, the
fewer we are the less loss for England."
The men drew courage from their king. The English archers poured
arrows into the ranks of their opponents; and although the French
fought bravely, they were completely routed. Eleven thousand
Frenchmen fell. Among the slain were more than a hundred of the
nobles of the land.
Agincourt was not the last of Henry's victories. He brought a
second army of forty thousand men over to France. Town after town
was captured, and at last Henry and his victorious troops laid siege
to Rouen, which was then the largest and richest city in France.
The fortifications were so strong that Henry could not storm them,
so he determined to take the place by starving the garrison. He
said, "War has three handmaidens--fire, blood, and famine. I have
chosen the meekest of the three."
He had trenches dug round the town and placed soldiers in them to
prevent citizens from going out of the city for supplies, and to
prevent the country people from taking provisions in.
A great number of the country people had left their homes when
they heard that the English army was marching towards Rouen, and
had taken refuge within the city walls. After the siege had gone
on for six months there was so little food left in the place that
the commander of the garrison ordered these poor people to go back
to their homes.
Twelve thousand were put outside the gates, but Henry would not
allow them to pass through his lines; so they starved to death
between the walls of the French and the trenches of the English.
As winter came on the suffering of the citizens was terrible. At
last they determined to set fire to the city, open their gates,
and make a last desperate attack on the English.
Henry wished to preserve the city and offered such generous terms
of surrender that the people accepted them. Not only Rouen but
the whole of Normandy, which the French had held for two hundred
years, was now forced to submit to Henry.
The war continued for about two years more, and the English gained
possession of such a large part of France that at Christmas Henry
entered Paris itself in triumph.
But, strange to say, the king against whom he had been fighting
and over whom he was triumphing sat by his side as he rode through
the streets. What did this mean? It meant that the French were
so terrified by the many victories of Henry that all--king and
people--were willing to give him whatever he asked. A treaty was
made that as the king was feeble Henry should be regent of the
kingdom and that when the king died Henry should succeed him as
king of France.
In the treaty the French king also agreed to give to Henry his
daughter, the Princess Katherine, in marriage. She became the
mother of the English King, Henry VI.
The arrangement that an English sovereign should be king of France
was never put into effect; for in less than two years after the
treaty was signed the reign of the great conqueror came to an end.
In the reign of his son all his work in gaining French territory
was undone. By the time that Henry VI was twenty years old England,
as you will read in the story of Joan of Arc, had nothing left of
all that had been won by so many years of war except the single
town of Calais.
Joan of Arc
Lived from 1412-1431
In the long wars between the French and English not even the Black
Prince or King Henry V gained such fame as did a young French
peasant girl, Joan of Arc.
She was born in the little village of Domrémy (dom-re-me'). Her
father had often told her of the sad condition of France--how the
country was largely in the possession of England, and how the French
king did not dare to be crowned.
And so the thought came to be ever in her mind, "How I pity my
country!" She brooded over the matter so much that by and by she
began to have visions of angels and heard strange voices, which
said to her, "Joan, you can deliver the land from the English. go
to the relief of King Charles."
At last these strange visions and voices made the young girl believe
that she had a mission from God, and she determined to try to save
When she told her father and mother of her purpose, they tried to
persuade her that the visions of angels and the voices telling her
of the divine mission were but dreams. "I tell thee, Joan," said
her father, "it is thy fancy. Thou hadst better have a kind husband
to take care of thee, and do some work to employ thy mind."
"Father, I must do what God has willed, for this is no work of my
choosing," she replied. "Mother, I would far rather sit and spin
by your side than take part in war. My mission is no dream. I
know that I have been chosen by the Lord to fulfill His purpose and
nothing can prevent me from going where He purposes to send me."
The village priest, her young companions, even the governor of the
town, all tried to stop her, but it was in vain.
To the governor she said, "I must do the work my Lord has laid out
Little by little people began to believe in her mission. At last
all stopped trying to discourage her and some who were wealthy
helped her to make the journey to the town of Chinon (she-non'),
where the French king, Charles the Seventh, was living.
When Joan arrived at Chinon, a force of French soldiers was preparing
to go to the south of France to relieve the city of Orleans which
the English were besieging.
King Charles received Joan kindly and listened to what she had to
say with deep attention. The girl spoke modestly, but with a calm
belief that she was right.
"Gracious King," she said, "my name is Joan. God has sent me to
deliver France from her enemies. You shall shortly be crowned in
the cathedral of Rheims (remz). I am to lead the soldiers you are
about to send for the relief of Orleans. So God has directed and
under my guidance victory will be theirs."
The king and his nobles talked the matter over and finally it was
decided to allow Joan to lead an army of about five thousand men
against the English at Orleans.
When she left Chinon at the head of her soldiers, in April, 1429,
she was in her eighteenth year. Mounted on a fine war-horse and
clad in white armor from head to foot, she rode along past the
cheering multitude, "seeming rather," it has been said, "of heaven
than earth." In one hand she carried an ancient sword that she
had found near the tomb of a saint, and in the other a white banner
embroidered with lilies.
The rough soldiers who were near her left off their oaths and coarse
manners, and carefully guarded her. She inspired the whole army
with courage and faith as she talked about her visions.
When she arrived at the besieged city of Orleans she fearlessly
rode round its walls, while the English soldiers looked on in
astonishment. She was able to enter Orleans, despite the efforts
of the besiegers to prevent her.
She aroused the city by her cheerful, confident words and then led
her soldiers forth to give battle to the English. Their success
was amazing. One after another the English forts were taken.
When only the strongest remained and Joan was leading the attacking
force, she received a slight wound and was carried out of the
battle to be attended by a surgeon. Her soldiers began to retreat.
"Wait," she commanded, "eat and drink and rest; for as soon as I
recover I will touch the walls with my banner and you shall enter
the fort." In a few minutes she mounted her horse again and riding
rapidly up to the fort, touched it with her banner. Her soldier
almost instantly carried it. The very next day the enemy's troops
were forced to withdraw from before the city and the siege was at
The French soldiers were jubilant at the victory and called Joan
the "Maid of Orleans." By this name she is known in history.
Her fame spread everywhere, and the English as well as the French
thought she had more than human power.
She led the French in several other battles, and again and again
her troops were victorious.
At last the English were driven far to the north of France. Then
Charles, urged by Joan, went to Rheims with twelve thousand soldiers,
and there, with splendid ceremonies, was crowned king. Joan holding
her white banner, stood near Charles during the coronation.
When the ceremony was finished, she knelt at his feet and said, "O
King, the will of God is done and my mission is over! Let me now
go home to my parents."
But the king urged her to stay a while longer, as France was not
entirely freed from the English. Joan consented, but she said, "I
hear the heavenly voices no more and I am afraid."
However she took part in an attack upon the army of the Duke of
Burgundy, but was taken prisoner by him. For a large sum of money
the duke delivered her into the hands of the English, who put her
in prison in Rouen. She lay in prison for a year, and finally
was charged with sorcery and brought to trial. It was said that
she was under the influence of the Evil One. She declared to her
judges her innocence of the charge and said, "God has always been
my guide in all that I have done. The devil has never had power
Her trial was long and tiresome. At its close she was doomed to
be burned at the stake.
So in the market-place at Rouen the English soldiers fastened her
to a stake surrounded by a great pile of fagots.
A soldier put into her hands a rough cross, which he had made from
a stick that he held. She thanked him and pressed it to her bosom.
Then a good priest, standing near the stake, read to her the prayers
for the dying, and another mounted the fagots and held towards her
a crucifix, which she clasped with both hands and kissed. When
the cruel flames burst out around her, the noble girl uttered the
word "Jesus," and expired.
A statue of her now stands on the spot where she suffered.
Among all the men of her time none did nobler work than Joan. And
hence it is that we put the story of her life among the stories
of the lives of the great MEN of the Middle Ages, although she was
only a simple peasant girl.
Lived from 1400-1468
While Joan of Arc was busy rescuing France from the English, another
wonderful worker was busy in Germany. This was John Gutenberg,
who was born in Mainz.
The Germans--and most other people--think that he was the inventor
of the art of printing with movable types. And so in the cities of
Dresden and Mainz his countrymen have put up statues in his memory.
Gutenberg's father was a man of good family. Very likely the boy
was taught to read. But the books from which he learned were not
like ours; they were written by hand. A better name for them than
books is "manuscripts," which means "hand-writings."
While Gutenberg was growing up a new way of making books came into
use, which was a great deal better than copying by hand. It was
what is called block-printing. The printer first cut a block of
hard wood the size of the page that he was going to print. Then he
cut out every word of the written page upon the smooth face of his
block. This had to be very carefully done. When it was finished
the printer had to cut away the wood from the sides of every
letter. This left the letters raised, as the letters are in books
now printed for the blind.
The block was now ready to be used. The letters were inked, paper
was laid upon them and pressed down.
With blocks the printer could make copies of a book a great deal
faster than a man could write them by hand. But the making of the
blocks took a long time, and each block would print only one page.
Gutenberg enjoyed reading the manuscripts and block books that his
parents and their wealthy friends had; and he often said it was a
pity that only rich people could own books. Finally he determined
to contrive some easy and quick way of printing.
He did a great deal of his work in secret, for he thought it was
much better that his neighbors should know nothing of what he was
So he looked for a workshop where no one would be likely to find
him. He was now living in Strasburg, and there was in that city a
ruined old building where, long before his time, a number of monks
had lived. There was one room of the building which needed only a
little repairing to make it fit to be used. So Gutenberg got the
right to repair that room and use it as his workshop.
All his neighbors wondered what became of him when he left home in
the early morning, and where he had been when they saw him coming
back late in the twilight. Some felt sure that he must be a wizard,
and that he had meetings somewhere with the devil, and that the
devil was helping him to do some strange business.
Gutenberg did not care much what people had to say, and in his
quiet room he patiently tried one experiment after another, often
feeling very sad and discouraged day after day because his experiments
did not succeed.
At last the time came when he had no money left. He went back to
his old home, Mainz, and there met a rich goldsmith named Fust (or
Gutenberg told him how hard he had tried in Strasburg to find some
way of making books cheaply, and how he had now no more money to
carry on his experiments. Fust became greatly interested and gave
Gutenberg what money he needed. But as the experiments did not
at first succeed Fust lost patience. He quarreled with Gutenberg
and said that he was doing nothing but spending money. At last he
brought suit against him in the court, and the judge decided in
favor of Fust. So everything in the world that Gutenberg had, even
the tools with which he worked, came into Fust's possession.
But though he had lost his tools, Gutenberg had not lost his courage.
And he had not lost all his friends. One of them had money, and he
bought Gutenberg a new set of tools and hired a workshop for him.
And now at last Gutenberg's hopes were fulfilled. First of all it
is thought that he made types of hard wood. Each type was a little
block with a single letter at one end. Such types were a great
deal better than block letters. The block letters were fixed.
They could not be taken out of the words of which they were parts.
The new types were movable so they could be set up to print one
page, then taken apart and set up again and again to print any
number of pages.
But type made of wood did not always print the letters clearly and
distinctly, so Gutenberg gave up wood types and tried metal types.
Soon a Latin Bible was printed. It was in two volumes, each of
which had three hundred pages, while each of the pages had forty-two
lines. The letters were sharp and clear. They had been printed
from movable types of metal.
The Dutch claim that Lorenz Coster, a native of Harlem, in the
Netherlands, was the first person who printed with movable type.
They say that Coster was one day taking a walk in a beech forest
not far from Harlem, and that he cut bark from one of the trees
and shaped it with his knife into letters.
Not long after this the Dutch say Coster had made movable types
and was printing and selling books in Harlem.
The news that books were being printed in Mainz by Gutenberg went
all over Europe, and before he died printing-presses like his were
at work making books in all the great cities of the continent.
About twenty years after his death, when Venice was the richest of
European cities, a man named Aldus (Al'-dus) Manutius (Ma-nu'-tius)
established there the most famous printing house of that time.
He was at work printing books two years before Columbus sailed on
his first voyage. The descendents of Aldus continued the business
after his death for about one hundred years. The books published
by them were called "Aldine," from Aldus. They were the most
beautiful that had ever come from the press. They are admired and
valued to this day.
Warwick the Kingmaker
Lived from 1428-1471
The earl of Warwick, known as the "kingmaker," was the most famous
man in England for many years after the death of Henry V. He lived
in a great castle with two towers higher than most church spires.
It is one of the handsomest dwellings in the world and is visited
every year by thousands of people. The kingmaker had a guard of
six hundred men. At his house in London meals were served to so
many people that six fat oxen were eaten at breakfast alone. He
had a hundred and ten estates in different parts of England and
no less than 30,000 persons were fed daily at his board. He owned
the whole city of Worcester, and besides this and three islands,
Jersey, Guernsey and Alderney, so famed in our time for their
cattle, belonged to him.
He had a cousin of whom he was as fond as if he were a brother.
This was Richard, duke of York, who was also own cousin to King
Henry VI, the son of Henry V.
One evening as the sun was setting, and the warders were going to
close the gates of the city of York for the night, a loud blast of
a horn was heard. It was made by the sentry on the wall near the
southern gate. An armed troop was approaching. When they drew
near the gate their scarlet coats embroidered with the figure of
a boar proved them to be the men of the earl of Warwick. The earl
himself was behind them. The gate was opened.
Passing through it and on to the castle, the earl and his company
were soon within its strong stone walls.
"Cousin," said the earl of Warwick to the duke of York as they sat
talking before a huge log fire in the great room of the castle,
"England will not long endure the misrule of a king who is half
the time out of his mind."
The earl spoke the truth. Every now and then Henry VI lost his
reason, and the duke of York, or some other nobleman, had to govern
the kingdom for him.
The earl of Warwick added: "You are the rightful heir to the
throne. The claim of Henry VI comes through Lancaster, the fourth
son of Edward III--yours through Lionel, the second. His claim
comes through his father only--yours through both your father and
mother. It is a better claim and it is a double claim."
"That is true, my cousin of Warwick," replied the duke of York,
"but we must not plunge England into war."
"Surely not if we can help it," replied the earl. "Let us first
ask for reform. If the king heeds our petition, well and good.
If not I am determined, cousin of York, that you shall sit on the
throne of England instead of our insane sovereign."
A petition was soon drawn up and signed and presented to Henry.
It asked that Henry would do something which would make the people
The king paid no attention to it. Then a war began. It was the
longest and most terrible that ever took place in England. It
lasted for thirty years.
Those who fought on the king's side were called Lancastrians, because
Henry's ancestor, John of Gaunt, was the duke of Lancaster. The
friends of Richard were called Yorkists, because he was duke of York.
The Lancastrians took a red rose for their badge; the Yorkists a
white one. For this reason the long struggle has always been called
the "War of the Roses."
In the first great battle the Red Rose party was defeated and the
king himself was taken prisoner.
The victors now thought that the duke of York ought to be made king
at once. However, a parliament was called to decide the question,
and it was agreed that Henry should be king as long as he lived,
but that at his death the crown should pass to the duke of York.
Most people though this was a wise arrangement; but Queen Margaret,
Henry's wife, did not like it at all, because it took from her
son the right to reign after his father's death. So she went to
Scotland and the North of England, where she had many friends, and
raised an army.
She was a brave woman and led her men in a battle in which she
gained the victory. The duke of York was killed, and the queen
ordered some of her men to cut off his head, put upon it a paper
crown in mockery, and fix it over one of the gates of the city of
Warwick attacked the queen again as soon as he could; but again
she was victorious and captured from Warwick her husband, the king,
whom the earl had held prisoner for some time past.
This was a great triumph for Margaret, for Henry became king once
But the people were still discontented. The York party was determined
that Edward, the son of the old duke of York, should be made king.
So thousands flocked to the White Rose standard and Warwick marched
to London at their head.
The queen saw that her only safety was in flight. She left London
and the kingmaker entered the city in triumph.
The citizens had been very fond of the old duke of York, and when
his party proclaimed his handsome young son King Edward IV, the
city resounded with the cry "God save King Edward."
Brave Queen Margaret was completey defeated in another battle.
The story is told that after this she fled into a forest with her
young son. A robber met them, but Margaret, with wonderful courage,
said to him, "I am your queen and this is your prince. I entrust
him to your care."
The man was pleased with the confidence that she showed. He took
her and the young prince to a safe hiding place, and helped them
to escape from England in a sailing vessel.
Edward IV now seemed to be seated securely upon the throne. But
trouble was near. Warwick wished him to follow his advice. Edward
thought he could manage without any advice. Then the king and the
kingmaker quarreled, and at last became open enemies and fought
one another on the field of battle. The end of it was that Warwick
was defeated, and driven out of the country. He sailed across the
channel and sought refuge in France.
There whom should he meet but his old enemy, Queen Margaret. She
had beaten him in battle, and had beheaded his cousin Richard,
duke of York; he had beaten her and driven her from her kingdom;
and twice he had made her husband prisoner and taken from him his
crown. In spite of all this the two now became fast friends, and
the kingmaker agreed to make war upon Edward and restore Henry to
He asked assistance from Louis XI, king of France, who supplied
him with men and money. So with an army of Frenchmen the kingmaker
landed on the shores of England. Thousands of Englishmen who were
tired of Edward flocked to Warwick's standard, and when he reached
London he had an army of sixty thousand men.
Edward fled without waiting for a battle and escaped to the
Netherlands in a sailing-vessel. The kingmaker had now no one to
resist him. The gates of London were opened to him, and the citizens
heartily welcomed him. Marching to the Tower, he brought out the
old king and placed him once more upon the throne.
But though Edward had fled, he was not discouraged. He followed
the example of the kingmaker and asked aid from foreign friends.
The duke of Burgundy supplied him with money and soldiers, and he
was soon back in England.
His army grew larger and larger every day. People had been very
much dissatisfied with Edward and had rejoiced to get rid of him
and have Henry for king, because if Henry was not clever he was
good. But in a short time they had found out that England needed
a king who was not only good but capable.
So when Edward and his French soldiers landed most people in England
welcomed them. The kingmaker was now on the wrong side.
Edward met him in battle at a place called Barnet, and completely
defeated him. Warwick was killed and Henry once more became
In another battle both Margaret and her son were made prisoners.
The son was brutally murdered in the presence of King Edward.
Margaret was placed in the Tower, and King Henry, who died soon
after the battle of Tewksbury, was probably poisoned by order of
In 1438, after a reign of twenty-two years, Edward died, leaving
two sons. Both were boys, so Edward's brother, Richard, duke of
Gloucester, was made regent until young Edward V, the older of the
two, should come of age.
But Richard was determined to make himself king. So he put both
the young princes in the Tower. He than hired ruffians to murder
them. One night, when the little princes were asleep, the murderers
smothered them with pillows and buried their bodies at the foot of
a stairway in the Tower, and there, after many years, their bones
After Richard had murdered his two nephews, he was crowned king,
as Richard III, much pleased that his plans had succeeded so well.
He thought that now nobody could lay claim to the throne. But he
was mistaken. One person did claim it. This was Henry Tudor, earl
Henry's father, Edmund Tudor, was only a Welsh gentleman, but was
the half-brother of Henry VI through their mother Queen Katherine.
Henry's mother was descended from John of Gaunt, fourth son of
Edward III, and thus through his mother he was of royal blood and
When Richard III by his wickedness and cruelty had made all England
hate him, the Red Rose party gathered about Henry Tudor, raised an
army, and fought against the king in the battle of Bosworth.
Richard was a bad man, but he was brave, and he fought like a
lion. However, it was all in vain. He was defeated and killed.
His body was thrown on the back of a horse, carried to a church
near the field of battle and buried.
The battered crown which Richard had worn was picked up and placed
on Henry's head and the whole Lancastrian army shouted, "Long live
Parliament now voted that Henry Tudor and his heirs should be
kings of England. Not long afterwards Henry married the heiress of
the house of York, and thus both the Red Roses and the White were
satisfied, as the king was a Lancastrian and the queen a Yorkist.
So the long and terrible Wars of the Roses came to an end.
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