By Theodore Chang
Quaestio, Vol.1 (2002)
Introduction: Warships landed in the harbor on a quiet Sunday morning in 1338 while most of the townspeople were attending mass. The sailors they carried proceeded to pillage and loot the town completely, killing many of the townspeople and raping the women and girls. After filling their ships with plunder, the raiders sailed out of the harbor towards home, leaving Southampton a devastated, smoldering hulk. Less than a decade later, disease made a less heralded visit upon that same town. Most of the townspeople were “struck as it were by a sudden death,” and those who survived long enough to be confined to their beds lasted no longer than “three days, or two days, or half a day.” Disease eventually moved inland, leaving the entire nation devastated in its wake with “ruins in every city, borough and village…all having died who dwelt there. The saga of Southampton is a story that was not uncommon to other port towns in southern and eastern England during the 14th century. War and disease were just two of the four apocalyptic horsemen that swept across Europe during the later medieval period. Although detached from the continent, England was not immune to the ravages that befell the rest of Europe. In fact, the close proximity of English ports to the European continent left them even more susceptible to the devastating effects of the Hundred Years War and the Black Plague.
The Hundred Years War began as a war of suzerainty and ended as a war of sovereignty. Philip IV, the last monarch of the French Capetian dynasty, died in 1328 without leaving a male heir. The French nobility promptly handed the throne to Philip IV’s nephew Philip of Valois. However, in 1338 Edward III of England mounted a claim to the French throne, citing that since his mother was a daughter of Phillip IV, he was the rightful ruler of France. War began in 1337 and would not end until 1446. Early on in the war, the English achieved a series of stunning victories at Crécy and Calais before they eventually succumbed to the resurgent French. One of the lasting effects of the war was to firmly establish England and France as the preeminent nation states in Western Europe during the late Middle Ages.