Joan of Arc
- Painting, c. 1485. An artist’s interpretation, since the only known direct portrait has not survived. (Centre Historique des Archives Nationales, Paris, AE II 2490) (Photo and caption credit: Wikipedia)
Allow me to reflect on the One Hundred Years’ War (1337-1353) that opposed France and England and their various allies and, at the same time, also to reflect on the Black Death, a pandemics that occurred eleven years after the war began.
The One Hundred Years’ War
- The One Hundred Years’ War was a series of wars. There were periods of peace. Still, between 1337 and 1453, men were killing one another as France fought to oust the English.
The French did oust the English, despite England’s victory at Agincourt, the victory out of which emerged a poet, Charles, Duke of Orléans, and other English victories. But consider the price.
A Pyrrhic Victory
It was a Pyrrhic victory. During part of the years Charles d’Orléans was detained in England, a brave young woman, named Joan of Arc (ca. 1412 – 30 May 1431), without whom Charles VII (22 February 1403 – 22 July 1461) would not have been crowned King of France, in 1429, was betrayed, sold to England by the Burgundians and burned at the stake on May 30, 1431. She has been pronounced a martyr, beatified (1909), and canonized. But recognition did not give her back her most precious possession: her life. Life, short as it is and harsh as it may be.
The Triumph of Death, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, ca. 1562 (Museo del Prado) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Black Death: The Plage
The French did oust the English. However, during the One Hundred Years’ War, half the population of France died. Between 1348 and 1350, the Black Death ravaged a large part of Europe. But, if one combines war, famine and the plague, France’s losses were enormous.
Pandemics can be more devastating than wars as they are likely to resurface as epidemics. If you have read my post on the Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, you may remember that, in 1416, the Limbourg brothers died of the plague, as did Jean de France who had commissioned his extraordinary Book of Hours in 1410. When they died, the brothers had nearly but not completely carried out their assignment. The Très Riches Heures were completed by Barthélemy van Eyck and Jean Colombe.
The plague killed mercilessly. In some regions of Europe, it snuffed two out of three lives in the space of four days, and the only possible salvation was immediate flight before contamination. There were epidemics of the plague from about the time of the Crusades until the late eighteenth century.
But we need not look back that far, i.e. as far as 1348-1350. The so-called “Spanish Flu” of 1918 killed more individuals than all the battles of World War I combined. I was told that a woman lost three grown sons in the space of twenty-four hours.
We are at the mercy of Lady Fortune who is not always generous. Yet, we lend her a hand. People are still killing one another, regardless of the cost: loss of life, trauma, impoverishment. In fact, let us turn the other cheek, so to speak.
Gustav Mahler (7 July 1860 – 18 May 1911)
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© Micheline Walker
February 19, 2012
February 23, 2014
Kermis / The Peasant Dance, ca. 1568
Pieter Bruegel the Elder (Netherlandish, ca. 1525/30–1569)