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TOWARDS the close of the fourteenth century, Charles V., son of Jean le Bon and grandson of Philip de Valois, healed those accumulated evils which the first representatives of the race of Valois had heaped upon France by their imprudence and obstinate conduct, and had thus succeeded in rendering the kingdom more flourishing than at any former period.
In regard to her exterior relations, France boasted several allies, and scarcely any enemies; while the English, who had been masters of half the French territory, found themselves not only confined to the ports of Bordeaux, Bayonne, and Calais, but reduced to watch over their own country, on account of the fleets of France which incessantly menaced the safety of the British coast. The gallant Edward the Black Prince, victor at Cressy and Poitiers, and conqueror of Jean le Bon, had ceased to exist; and his son, Richard II., then only a child of eleven years of age, filled the throne of the belligerent Edward III. ; while the reins of government were in the hands of the dukes of Lancaster, York, and Gloucester, princes divided in their political opinions, and more occupied in studying their private interests, than striving to exert themselves for the benefit of the state: in short, every thing appeared favourable to the French government, and to preclude all idea of invasion from beyond seas.
In the south, the house of Castile was indebted to France for the crown; and although gratitude cannot be ranked as a virtue appertaining to governments, yet, that degree of modesty which sometimes checks the too frequent and immoral proceedings of policy, seemed to promise that the inheritors of Henry Transtamare would not very speedily forget the eminent services performed by the great Duguesclin.
Italy and the East were not even in a state to menace France; for the grand schism in respect to the papacy had lulled the spiritual thunders to rest: Genoa wished to become subject to the French, an event that subsequently took place in 1395 : the queen of Naples claimed of France a successor, and the duke of Milan was fearful of losing his chance: the progress of the Turks, and the safeguard of its commerce, completely occupied the states of Venice: Savoy was too enfeebled to think of aggression : Switzerland, occupied in checking the efforts of Austria, and extending her confederation, served as a boulevard for France against Germany: Burgundy was in possession of a French prince of the blood royal, to whom also several provinces of the Low Countries had devolved : the prince of Lorraine sought for a son-in-law and an heir in another French house; and the whole power of Scotland was at the disposal of the French government: indeed, if the king of France had only sought, in a proper manner, to unite Brittany to his empire, the duke, satisfied with the recovery of his estates, would have tendered the monarch every facility for repairing his unjust and impolitic fault, without incurring dishonour.
In the interior of the kingdom, sedition and rebellion were at an end; a numerous and well disciplined army, experienced generals, a nobility replete with valour, a marine already equal to that of Castile, and superior to the maritime force of England, (which had so inuch fallen to decay since the death of Edward III., that the parliament complained aloud on that head in 1377, the first year of the reign of Richard II.,) all combined to ensure tranquillity abroad as well as at home. In addition to this, the revenues of France were prosperous, though taxation was moderate; her finances were well administered; the treasure was immense; the magistrates and public functionaries of every class were found by experience to do honour to their respective employments ; agriculture, freed from the hordes of adventurers who had formerly oppressed it, was pursued with redoubled energy; commerce and indusiry were encouraged; arts and sciences had awakened from the long dream of feudal oppression; the citizens, in short the whole population, became united in support of the government, whose benefits and whose services were duly appreciated, after twenty years of civil commotion, bloodshed, and plunder. Such proved the state of France about the year 1380.
This fortunate posture of affairs might, indeed, have increased, since Charles V., to whom it was due, still continued in the prime of life. — Alas! the prosperity of millions is frequently dependent on the life of one individual! The king died ; * the administration of public affairs devolved to a regent; + and almost immediately a series of evils deluged reviving France, during a longer period of time than that sedulously occupied by Charles in re-establishing her prosperity. The experience acquired from the last regencies to which France was subjected, rendered the then state of affairs so familiar to the public mind, that the idea of a regency is, even to the present day, obnoxious to a Frenchman's
* Charles V. was born on the 21st January, 1337; he ascended the throne on the 8th of April, 1364; and died on the 16th September, 1380. — See Laboureur, Introduction, page 3 and 4; Villaret, xi. 101; Thomassin, 86.
† Charles VI. at this period was only eleven years old, being born on the 3d December, 1368; and, from an ordinance issued in 1374, it appears that the king did not enter into his majority until the age of fourteen. — See Laboureur, Introduction, pages 4 and 5.