Game of Thrones


The desire to secure the French Crown was in the interest of French-speaking Anglo-Norman aristocracy who wished to protect their titles in France, especially in Gascony, Normandy and Aquitaine, as well as the English merchants who wished to continue to trade wool with Flandres, without disruptions. Since trade was major source of tax revenue, the interests of the City of London and the Crown were entwined. The City of London, the oldest local authority in England, was run by steadily emerging super-league of City guilds: the Mercers, Grocers, Drapers, Fishmongers, Goldsmiths, Skinners, Merchant Taylors, Haberdashers, Salters, Ironmongers, Vintners and Clothworkers. The senior members of these Companies wore distinctive clothing and regalia – or livery – and thus were known as Livery Companies. Unlike Antwerp or any other great commercial centres in Europe, the City of London was run by men who belonged to one of the livery companies. Only the member of a livery company could be given the status of 'Freeman of the City of London', which meant the same as citizen. In medieval times, freedom could only be found in the cities. Those situated at the trading routes, with Venice, Pisa and Genoa leading the way, were rivalled by the cities of Lombardy and of the Rhineland such as Cologne and by clusters of textile towns – Florence and Siena in Tuscany, Ypres, Bruges and Ghent in Flandres. Along the coast of Northern Europe, an alliance between the German cities of Lübeck and Hamburg transformed into confederation of merchant guilds – the Hanseatic League – the first common market of Europe. Most of these city-dwellers in Western Europe freed themselves from the feudal relations and instead pledged an allegiance to the profit. Freedom was no longer a personal privilege but a territorial one, inherent in the urban soil.34 In the late Middle Ages, the city men – the tradesmen and bankers - were steadily emerging as political force, capable to challenge the royal and religious authority, and influence events by financing wars of dynastic succession.

In England, king Edward II's controversial relationship with his favourite French knight Piers Gaveston, and his lost battle against the Scots at Bannockburn in 1314, made him very unpopular among the barons. In 1326, his French wife Isabella allied herself with an exiled baron Roger Mortimer and invaded England with a small army forcing king Edward II to renounce the throne in favour of his 14-year old son Edward. For three years, Mortimer was de facto ruler of England, acquiring noble estates and titles, and putting various constraints on the young king. Thus, when king Edward III reached eighteen he gathered trusted men around him and had Roger arrested and executed. After a successful campaign in Scotland, king Edward III declared himself a rightful heir to the French throne starting the four generations of plundering expeditions known as the Hundred Years' War with France. For the next one hundred years, from king Edward III to king Henry VI, Parliament after Parliament voted supplies for the war and the merchants of the City of London were assisting in the war effort. The real key to the success of the English warfare in France were the hiring of professional soldiers and mercenaries who were not feudal hosts or conscripted levies, like in France. Forming private 'companies', these warriors and mercenaries enlisted and paid by some nobles or knights, developed the tactics of raiding the countryside, pillaging unfortified villages and towns, destroying crops and houses, stealing livestock, generally terrorizing rural society. In the English victories in the field, the Welsh invention of longbow played an important part. Its special qualities were its accuracy and penetrating power over a long range, approximately 200 metres, and the ease of rapid discharge, which was much faster than the rate of fire of French crossbowmen. The English men also used ribauldequin, an early type of canon, departing from the chivalry code of conduct in the battle. These tactics brought them success at Crécy in 1346, Poitiers in 1356 and Agincourt in northern France in 1415. At Agincourt, the outnumbered English army massacred the French thanks to the support of the English longbow-men. “The English will never love or honour their king”, noted a medieval court historian, Jean Froissart, “unless he be victorious and a lover of arms and war against their neighbours and especially against such as are greater and richer than themselves. Their land is more fulfilled of riches and all manner of goods when they are at war than in times of peace.”35

During the Hundred Years War the English language and law were asserting its role in the English society. The English started to replace Latin and legal French in a political, administrative and ecclesiastical context. In this period, the law of trust and equity was becoming widespread as the nobles and lords were often absent from their lands and entrusted their land-holdings to friends or relatives. The medieval institution of trust was akin to modern tax-avoidance, as it helped the landlord to escape the payment of feudal relief on an inheritance. Thus, every noble, in order to manage his affairs, had to keep on his payroll not only archers but also lawyers and juryman. The aspiring lawyers from the Middle and Inner Temple, or other Inns of Court, which came into existence in the fourteen century like Grey's Inn or Lincoln's Inn, acted as kings' and nobles' advisors and some of the worst 'ambushes' were committed by royal judges and lawyers in high offices. It was the corruption and abuse of power surrounding the king's regime, combined with the imposition of high taxes that led to the peasants' revolt against the English government. The first major revolt took place in 1381, when a group of peasants from Kent and Essex led by Wat Tyler marched on London and ransacked City's buildings, setting fire to law books and buildings in the Temple, killing anyone associated with the royal government. Another revolt broke out in 1450, when a group of Kentish rebels led by Jack Cade tried to force reforms on the government of king Henry VI. When Jack Cade and his henchmen were looting London, they came upon Middle Temple which prompted future English writer, William Shakespeare, to come up with a famous line: 'the first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.'36 According to legend and Shakespeare, Richard, Duke of York, had then plucked a white rose, and Edmund Baufort, Duke of Somerset, a red rose, in battle of words during an encounter in the Temple Gardens, culminating in the conflict between the families of Lancaster and York that came to be known as the War of the Roses. The dynastic power struggle ignited around social and financial troubles following the lost battles in France combined with the weak rule of king Henry VI. Starting in 1429, the decisive French victories at Patay, Formigny and then Castillon, when the French used canon, were inflicting heavy losses on English cavalry. The turning point was the siege of Orleans where the English forces were struck by a relief force led by a peasant girl, Jeanne d'Arc, an act that incredibly boosted the French morale. England, financially and morally broken, fell into chaos. The return of garrisons and armies from France filled England with knights and archers, accustomed to war and fit for mischief. The Wars of Roses began only two years later, in the streets of St Albans, after the last of the English were driven out of France in 1453.

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34 Henri Pirenne, Economic and Social History of Mediaeval Europe (London, New York: Routledge, Reprint, 2006), p. 51 »

35 G.M. Trevelyan, A Shortened History of England, (New York, 1942), p. 181-182 »

36 William Shakespeare, Henry The Sixth, Part 2, Act 4, scene 2, 71-78 (1591) »