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The Hundred Years War, or Why We Have Borders

The 14th Century was a big, bad, cruel teacher. The sad thing is, those alive in that time didn’t learn too much from the experience. It’s us, the recipient of that information, who can learn from it.

Here are the events of the 14th century, along with the results:

Little Ice age = starvation

Templars arrested = tortured & burned at the stake

Plague = death of millions

A pope harassed and beaten = popes move to Avignon, many become political pawns

The 100 years war = battles and brigandage

Peasant uprisings, France = peasants slaughtered

More 100 years war = French king taken prisoner

Civil war in Castile = king murdered

Peasants revolt, England = Wat Tyler killed, revolt ends, business as usual

The 100 year war continues = until 1453, it lasts for 116 year total.

What a century! People love to compare it with the 20th century. Yes, it’s a good comparison, what with two world wars, and several other wars, and that pandemic at the beginning. The question is, will the 21st century be better or worse?

These questions are on my mind as I produce self-guided learning videos on these eras. I’m on the 14th century again. I say again, because this is the second time I’ve examined it. How did people live through all this? Well, many didn’t. When it ended, everyone felt the population depletion.

There’s nothing that can be done about nature’s lovely gifts (yes, read that with sarcasm) but human behavior? The 100 Year’s War is all about greed and ego, and ego and greed. The set up of that war had to do with the lack of real borders surrounding the land mass of France.

France wasn’t what it is today. Indeed, the English royalty “owned” a large chunk of the land mass. And that meant complicated relationships between the two sovereigns, and strange borders. See the map above. As I reread the material and perused the maps, I couldn’t help but think about borders.

Human beings are natural migrants. Humans migrated out of Africa thousands of years back. People keep migrating, for various reasons, from being nomadic to wanting a better deal somewhere else. Another habit human’s have is owning land. France and England’s whacky arrangement began back in 1066, when William the Bastard, duke of Normandy, became William the Conqueror. Normandy remained in the possession of the Kings of England for hundreds of years. Along with the Aquitaine and other large areas of France. That meant England a huge toehold in the French kingdom.

Philip IV, aka, the Fair, was a jerk. He was like most governments today. In debt. A large amount of his debt was owned by the Templars. Philip decided to renege on that debt by destroying the Templars. He had already caused the death of one pope, for not going along with a scheme to have the church pay for his wars. It’s way the popes ended up in Avignon. But that’s a story for another time. My point in bringing up the Templars and their demise, is that the head of the organization, Jacques de Molay, as he burned at the stake, cursed the king. No one really know the truth of that curse, if it happened at all, but the fact is, none of Philip’s heirs had a male child of their own. This ended that particular line of kings. The story is too complex for now, except to say, this brought about the Hundred Years war with many claimants to the throne of France, including Edward III of England, who was a grandson of Philip IV, through his mother.

And remember, Edward has much real estate in France. So Edward, in 1337, crosses the border into France to lay claim to what he thinks is his. Ego, yes?

So much for the sovereignty of France. For 116 years, this issue will be duked out, through several successor kings, on each side.

Seems like nonsense? Well, borders are not nonsense. The recognition of another country’s borders is not nonsense. To make light of it leads to this sort of constant conflict. The trouble being the conflict is usually in the way of a can that is kicked on down the time road to be picked up by a generation or two.

Like most wars, this one isn’t confined to a few parcels of land. And like many wars, there are side issues. Many, many side issues. That means when we talk about the hundred years war, we’re talking about the changing of France, and Spain, as well. We’re talking about the end of smaller governments and bigger ones looming ahead.

The bigger government scenario was inevitable, because the French would, naturally, want to consolidate their land mass. Which they had done before, back in the old, old days. However, when William the Bastard became William the Conqueror, that threw a monkey wrench into the mix. Until the French were able, a hundred and some years into the next century, throw the English out. But even there it is complex.

What is not complex is why nations have borders, and want to control those borders. Because it’s what a sovereign nation does. To not control borders invites in chaos. And war.

I will write more on the infamous 14th century. And there will be a class, a self-guided history course on the 14th century, later this year.

Stay tuned!