Story of Europe - H. E. Marshall

France: The Captivity of the Popes—The Beginning of the Hundred Years' War

Under Philip Augustus, France began to take a great place among the nations of Europe (see Chapter XXI). It was another Philip—Philip IV—who broke the power of the pope.

The Hohenstaufen dynasty had been brought to utter ruin through its constant and fierce struggles with the popes. The popes had triumphed. But they had not come forth from the battle altogether unwounded, and in time the papacy declined even as its great rival the Empire declined.

The power of the Hohenstaufens had fallen before the power of the papacy because it had no solid foundation. It was not rooted in nationality. But when the papacy came in contact with the strong and growing nationality of France it fell beneath the yoke.

During the first half of the thirteenth century under Innocent III and his immediate successors the papal power was at its highest. Then the pope acted not merely as the spiritual head of all Christendom but as the overlord of every temporal ruler and as the supreme potentate in Italy. Innocent interfered with the temporal affairs of Europe from Norway to Spain, from England to Hungary. Weak King John of England cowered beneath his wrath, and even Philip Augustus of France, the strongest ruler in Europe at the time, had to bow to his will.

Merely by the force of his tremendous claims, aided by the visionary authority which still surrounded the name of Rome, the pope compelled the submission of mighty kings and princes, without drawing a sword, with indeed no army to back him.

Boniface VIII and Philip IV

But among the growing nationalities of Europe a desire for political independence of the papacy began gradually to make itself felt. When, however, Boniface VIII came to the papal throne he was blind to this fact. He was formed rather to be an emperor than a priest. No pope ever made greater claims to power, and with all the arrogance of his predecessors he plunged into strife with Philip the Fair of France. It began nominally over a question of money.

As the king's power increased, as his activities multiplied, he became always more and more in need of money. But financial science was slow in developing. Indeed, the whole business of government, the best and most equitable means of ruling a people, and binding it together in common interests, had still to be learned. There was no regular system of taxation, and when a king wanted money he raised it how he could, often enough using vile and despotic means.

Now Philip IV, in want of money, laid a tax upon the clergy. This seemed to the pope a usurpation of his rights, and he issued a bull forbidding the clergy to pay any tax to a temporal ruler without his consent. But Philip was not to be thus browbeaten, and he replied by forbidding the export of gold from France, thereby cutting off the pope's revenues from French clergy.

At this the pope, proud although he was, gave way, and for a time peace between the two arrogant rulers was patched up. But the quarrel soon broke out again, this time the pope threatening Philip with excommunication. Philip, however, was no German emperor. He publicly burned the pope's bull, sent him an insulting reply, and called the States General together.

This was a great step towards freedom for the people of France. Ever since the advent of the Capetians parliaments had been held. But they were little more than courts of justice, and to them only the nobles and clergy had been called. Now Philip called to his parliament not only nobles and clergy but the third estate also, that is, burghers, and deputies from the large towns and cities.

Philip was the most absolute monarch who had ruled over France up to this time, and it is possible that in calling the third estate to his parliament he had no thought but of showing his own power. He would show the pope that he could do as he liked within his own kingdom, and that his people were with him.

So he called representatives from the towns to "hear, receive, approve, and do what should be commanded them by the king." He felt that for the moment the support of the people was needed to save him from the fate which had overtaken the German emperors who, without their people's support, had been crushed under the power of the pope. He did not foresee that beneath the power of the people, whose help he now invoked, the French monarchy would one day go down in the dust.

Babylonish Captivity

The support which Philip expected from the people he received. Strong in their strength his defiance of the pope continued, and he even went so far as to make him a prisoner. And when overcome with wrath and shame the aged Boniface VIII died, Philip found means to have a Frenchman set upon the papal throne. This pope of Philip's choosing was Clement V. He was entirely under Philip's influence, and that he should remain so Philip made him take up his residence at Avignon instead of at Rome.

Avignon was a possession of the pope. It was, however, surrounded by French territory, and during the seventy years that Avignon remained the abode of the popes the policy of the Holy See was directed by Frenchmen. This time came to be known as the Babylonish Captivity of the popes, and the fact that such a captivity was possible decreased to an enormous extent the power of the papacy over the nations of Europe.

From this time the glory of the papacy was at an end. It was a shock to the world to find that the great pontiff, who claimed jurisdiction over all princes, could be made the servant of one. A pope living almost in France lost the prestige and the glamour borrowed from the name of Rome. Nation after nation began to realize its capability for independence, and became disinclined to recognize any power beyond the limits of its nationality. The chief European powers, after long struggles, had at last won some unity and solidarity. Factions were disappearing, kings were becoming more powerful, and all classes were growing more obedient to them.

Being able to command obedience from their own subjects, kings and princes cared the less for the mandates of the pope. They obeyed him just as far as they wanted and no farther. Thus with the birth of nationality the power of the pope in secular matters was bound to decrease. In spiritual matters, however, the whole world still acknowledged the pope as supreme.

Throughout his reign Philip not only combated the power of the pope, but also the power of the feudal nobles, and with terrible cruelty he broke up the order of the Knights Templars. But he supported the burgher classes. He was a hard, unlovable man, but his reign was a great one for France.

The Later Capetians

Philip was succeeded by his son Louis X, who after a short reign of eighteen months died, leaving only a daughter to succeed him. Many of the French thought that if this daughter were allowed to reign she would inevitably be sought in marriage by the king of some neighbouring state, and by such a marriage a foreigner would become king of France. The French people were already too much awake to suffer this.

So the States General was called together, and an old law of the Salian Franks which decreed that no woman might inherit land was brought to light. This old law had really nothing to do with the succession to the crown, but it served the purpose. It was decided that because of this law no woman might sit upon the throne of France, and because it was supposed to date from the days of the Salian Franks it was called the Salic Law.

By right of this law then, Philip V succeeded his brother Louis X, and as both he and a third brother, Charles IV, died without male heirs the Capetian dynasty in direct succession died out.

During the three hundred and fifty years that the Capets had ruled they had done much for France. Out of a mass of warring feudal states they had made a compact kingdom. All the great fiefs except Flanders, Brittany, Burgundy, and Guienne had been absorbed by the crown, and with this absorption the power of the feudal nobility was practically put an end to.

The capital, after being moved from place to place, was finally fixed at Paris, and a real, if elementary, system of government was established.

Upon the death of Charles IV, in accordance with the newly adopted Salic Law, the crown devolved upon Philip of Valois, nephew of Philip IV, and cousin of the last three kings. But these three kings, Louis, Philip, and Charles, had a sister Isabella, who had married Edward II, king of England. Her son, Edward III, now claimed the throne of France, on the ground that even if his mother Isabella could not herself be queen of France, she could transmit the title to a male heir. Therefore, he as grandson of Philip IV, claimed to have a better right to the throne than Philip of Valois, who was merely a nephew.

The Hundred Years' War

Out of this claim there arose what is known as the Hundred Years' War. As a matter of fact, although not altogether continuous, the Hundred Years' War covered a period of a hundred and seventeen years. Its effect, both on England and on France, was so great and enduring that it ranks as one of the great events in the history of the end of the Middle Ages. It continued throughout the reigns of five French and five English kings.

Edward III's claim to the French throne was, however, not the sole cause of the war, it only served as an excuse. So far as the English were concerned the war was not simply a barons' war waged in the interests of regal power. It was for them linked with commerce and the business life of the people.

Flanders was one of the French fiefs which was still outside the French king's influence. Indeed, the Flemish, grown rich by their own industry, had bought large liberties, and many of the towns of Flanders were practically republics. And in trying to amalgamate Flanders with the rest of his kingdom the king of France was forced into war with the haughty and freedom-loving weavers and wool merchants of these communes.

The Flemish resisted the French king's efforts to incorporate them with France because they had no common interests. The interests and fortunes of Flanders and of England were, on the other hand, closely bound together. For it was English wool which kept the Flemish looms busy, and English wool-growers depended for their livelihood almost entirely on the Flemish markets.

The French king's victory over the Flemish merchants would constitute a menace to English trade. For the English, therefore, this war appeared not merely a struggle for kingly power but one with which the interests of the people were bound up. And the memorable victories gained by the English were victories of the people and not of the nobles.

Edward's army was, it may also be noticed, mainly composed not of feudal vassals but of paid soldiers drawn from the lower classes. This was, no doubt, partly from necessity. For a vassal was only bound to serve his lord during a stated number of days. He was often not bound to serve him at all beyond the seas. And as, wearied by his long wars, Edward saw more and more of his nobles turn homeward, he was obliged to fill their places by paid foot soldiers, either volunteers or forced levies.

Added to this, English leaders had already, through their frequent wars with Scotland, begun to learn the value of archers and foot soldiers, and they became actually desirous of having them in their army. But these English-Scottish wars, which had taught the English so much, were of a local character. Little was known of them on the Continent. The French knights knew nothing of the value of archers, and to them Edward's force, deficient as it was in knightly splendour, must have seemed a contemptible little army.

Flemish trade was as much in the balance as English trade. But at first the Flemish communes declared themselves neutral. When, however, the position of armed neutrality became untenable they flung the last vestige of loyalty to the French king to the winds and openly declared their alliance with Edward. This alliance was of great advantage to the English, as it threw the Flemish ports open to them and made the landing of an army much easier that it would otherwise have been.

[Illustration] from The Story of Europe by H. E. Marshall