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Kingdom of France: Hundred Years' War (1337-1453)

Last modified: 2021-03-18 by ivan sache
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Historical background

The Hundred Years' War (Guerre de Cent Ans) is the generic name given to a succession of Anglo-French conflicts. The troubles started when Edward III of England, grand-son of King of France Philip IV the Handsome, claimed the throne of France.
Edward III attacked France and defeated Philip VI of Valois in Crécy (1346), and seized Calais (1347). Philippe VI's successor, Jean II the Good, was defeated and captured in Poitiers (1356), and had to sign the treaty of Brétigny (1360), by which a quarter of the Kingdom of France was annexed by England.
During the second half of the 14th century, King of France Charles V and Constable Du Guesclin expelled the English from most of France. In 1380, only Guyenne and Calais were still under English control.

Under the reign of Charles VI, the civil war between the House of Orléans and the Duke of Burgundy, as well as Charles VI's insanity, helped the English to reconquer the lost territories. After the battle of Agincourt (1415), the treaty of Troyes imposed the deposition of Charles VI and the regency of King of England (1420).
In 1429, Joan of Arc seized Orléans and crowned King Charles VII in Reims. She was caught in Compiègne and burnt at the stake in Rouen in 1431. However, the English were defeated in Formigny (1450) and Castillon (1453), and expelled from France. They only kept Calais, which was given back to France in 1558 only.

Ivan Sache, 22 December 2001

The banner of Joan of Arc

Jeanne d'Arc was not canonised until 1920, so there is no question of her flag being associated with sainthood, at least not officially. The white cross and fleurs-de-lis of France are attributed to her and Charles VII. She approached the King with her vision and plan for liberating France from the English, and thereafter led her troops in battle with a personal heraldic standard. She carried it personally and did not actually fight. After relieving the siege of Orléans in May 1429, she carried her standard at the coronation of King Charles at Reims. She was apparently carrying it when she was wounded at the St. Honoré gate of Paris in September 1429.
I am not sure how much of this is legend, or if anybody really knows what the standard looked like. (I have seen representations that were almost all white, and others that contained a lot of colour.) It allegedly contained the words Jesus, Maria and fleurs-de-lis, and perhaps other religious motifs like angels. The white cross (whether or not it was included on her standard) was intended to be a contradiction of the English red cross, meaning that England was subject to France and not vice versa, and the multiple fleurs-de-lis represented the unity of the disparate parts of France.

You can see three renditions of Joan's banner here. The text strikes me as a somewhat crude religious apologetic and historically unreliable. It states that no contemporary likeness of Joan drawn from life exists. Anyway, the line drawing shown on that page was drawn in 1429 by Clément de Fauquebergue, scribe of the Parliament of Paris, as a margin doodle in his entry in the chronicle for the siege of Orléans. It is the only portrait of Joan from her lifetime, but Clement never met her and did it from his imagination.

At her trial in 1431, Joan described the banner in her own words:

I had a banner of which the field was sprinkled with lilies; the world was painted there, with an angel at each side; it was white of the white cloth called boccassin; there was written above it, I believe, JHESUS MARIA; it was fringed with silk.

I don't think any other reliable evidence of the banner survives, so it is pretty much up to artistic interpretation. Some of her relics were allegedly preserved, but what purported to be her banner was burned during the French Revolution.

"Mrs. Oliphant" in Jeanne d'Arc (1926) interestingly writes (p. 62):

A repetition of this banner, which must have been copied from age to age, is to be seen now at Tours.

I have found no more recent corroboration that such a banner existed, nor a description of it as it allegedly existed in 1926.

Mary Milbank Brown in The Secret History of Jeanne d'Arc (1962) depicts the crest from the coat of arms of Charles du Lys (1612), which shows a waist-up figure of Joan on the helm with a sword in one hand, and her banner in the other. The banner is very different from other depictions in that it is a true vexillum - with at the top a seated Virgin Mary flanked by two angels, two fleurs-de-lis above the angels, and three fleurs de lys in the field below this scene.
Brown claims that the King granted arms to Joan's brothers and ennobled them with the name "du Lys". She writes about the 1612 crest (p. 441):

This armorial design ... is important because on it is preserved what may be regarded as the authentic standard of the Maid, all others having been legendized to misrepresent her true matriarchical convictions. In this vexillum the figure of the Great Matriarch, Isis-Maria, sits supremely alone on the throne, holding in her left hand the vesicular representation of her organ of generation, and in her right hand the symbol of the fleur-de-lis which in ancient times was ever the bird. The two fleurs-de-lis at the top of her standard represent figuratively the two breasts; primitively the ideograph for breast was merely the sign of the Greek cross as tetradic footprint of the dove or pigeon, placed over each mammary protuberance. Immediately below, the two fleurs-de-lis are preserved in their ornithic significance as 'angels', that is, birds in human winged form, kneeling in adoration to the Queen of Heaven. The three fleurs-de-lis in the lower half of the standard, omitted in the other du Lysian coats of arms, represent the kingdom of the Ile-de-France. The two sections of the banner symbolize (1) the Church of Gaul of Virgin Mary-worship in superior position to (2) the Kingdom of the Ile-de-France in subservient station, but with both the ecclesial and thronal halves as one kingdom politically. The later legendized standards of her proselytizing show God the Father seated upon the throne supported by two masculine saints replacing Goddess the Mother and her two angels.

Marina Warner in Joan of Arc (1981) implies that all this is nonsense, writing (p. 194):

In 1612, a certain Jean du Lys petitioned the king, then Louis XIII, that as the principal branch of the family of Joan of Arc had died out, he might take over their coat of arms, the lilies of France. He claimed that he bore the cadet branch's arms, a shield azure with a golden bow, set with three arrows. This is the first mention anywhere of any such armorial bearings, and when Louis allowed Jean du Lys to quarter them with lilies, he authenticated in retrospect a coat of arms that was entirely spurious. But then the claim itself was hollow, since no descendants of Joan of Arc's brothers have ever been traced by genealogists.

In other descriptions of the banner, it is said to include Jesus and Mary together, and Jesus alone holding in his hands the world.

In short, there does not seem to be a reliable reconstruction of Joan's banner even though her judges at her trial were obsessed with its possible heretical nature and alleged powers of witchcraft.

A rendition of the Ingres painting (XIXth century) of Joan at the coronation of Charles VII can be seen here. I don't know much about the painting, but I would guess that Ingres deliberately showed little detail of the banner rather than make a statement that could be interpreted as the definitive version.

T.F. Mills, 15 September 1998

Unidentified French banner

[Flag]by Ivan Sache

In the maedieval castle of La Roche-Guyon, located ca. 50 km west of Paris, are presented some illustrations of the eventful history of the place. La Roche-Guyon is located on the Seine river, close to the former border between the Kingdom of France and the Duchy of Normandy. It was the most important part of a fortification line built by the kings of France to protect Paris from invasions coming from the sea.

During the Anglo-French Hundred Years' War, the castle was disputed between the belligerents, but was never captured but by betrayal or negociation.
In 1449, the castle was given back by the English to its French owner Guy de la Roche. An illustration from Vigiles du feu roi Charles septième (Vigils of the late King Charles VII) shows the French garrison entering the castle, holding very long forked banners. The banners are horizontally divided green over red, and have a thin white Greek cross near the hoist. The cross is not exactly vertically centered, since its horizontal arms lies on the red stripe.
Green, white and red were the colours of the livery of Charles VII (1403-1461), a.k.a. the King of Bourges, who was King of France in 1449. Therefore, the banners seen on the plate might be related to Charles VII.

Ivan Sache, 19 August 2000

Flags in Froissart's Chronicles

Jean Froissart (1333 or 1337-c. 1405) was taught religion and moved to England in 1361, where he served Edward III's wife, Philippa of Hainaut. Back to Hainaut, he was protected by Duke Wenceslas of Brabant and appointed priest in Estinnes, near Mons/Bergen and later canon in Chimay. He was later hired by Gui of Blois and visited the courts of Béarn (then in Orthez), Avignon, and again England. The material gathered during his travels was used for the redaction of the Chroniques. A first draft of the Chronicles was presented to Robert de Namur; a second version, less favourable to England, was offered to Gui of Blois, relating the war between France and England (1325-1372, Premier Livre; 1372-1385, Deuxième Livre), the events Froissard had heard about in Béarn (Troisième Livre) and the further events until 1400 (Quatrième Livre).

However, the historical value of Froissart's Chronicles is much less than their literary merits: Froissart followed the traditions of the famous poet Guillaume de Machaut, and started his career as a courtly poet, writing allegories of love, consolations and novels for Wenceslas of Brabant.
In his Chronicles, Froissart's main goal was to highlight the courtly values of virtue and feat in the most picturesque style. Therefore, the Chronicles are considered today as a good image of the court life in the XIVth century, but their historical reliability is probably low.

Ivan Sache, 24 October 2004

The French National Library keeps a miniature captioned:

Battle of Cadsand: the English fight the Flemish (1337)
(BNF, FR 2643)
Jean Froissart, Chronicles
fol. 42v
Flandres, Bruges XVth Century
(85 x 90 mm)

Right at the beginning of the Hundred Years' War, English troops sacked Cadzand during a diversionary attack on the French. Local Flemish troops turned out to fight them, but lost. Shortly afterwards, however, the county of Flanders became a valuable ally of Edward III in his struggle for the French crown.

The miniature was made a century after the event. People, buildings, landscapes, etc. were largely symbolic and therefore stylized then. As usual, depiction of flags in sources of this kind does not prove they were actually used when the events took place.
The battle of Cadzand took place before Edward III's proclamation as King of France in Ghent but his combined flag (quarterly France Ancient and England) is already shown. As to the Flemish flag, a variation may have been used (if at all): this force was led by the Count's bastard brother.

The French National Library keeps another miniature captioned:

Flemish and English forces at the naval Battle of Bourgneuf (1371)
(BNF, FR 2643)
Jean Froissart, Chronicles
fol. 388v
Flandres, Bruges 15th Century
(100 x 90 mm)

This was a naval battle between Flemish and English on the French coast near Bourgneuf (in the neighbourhood of Saint-Nazaire). The battle was won by the English.

Jan Mertens, 4 December 2004