The first European Community (failed)

Edward III / fanpop.cpm

Edward III / fanpop.cpm

The EEC as we know it today bears no resemblance to this first attempt, but at least enough initiative was shown by its inventors to make it last for a few years, changing the name occasionally. The basic idea is sound, but the firm proposition thought up by the German and the French is now out of control, divided into Commissions, Committees, Parliament, Court of Justice etc. which lead of course to chaos and desperate over-spending.

In 1337 Edward III of England sent a special group to what was then called the Low Countries. The group’s aim was to make friends with the Counts of Flanders and Hainault, along with many other European princes of the blood, in order to be prepared for yet another impending war with France, but Edward’s diplomatic strategy (he preferred battles) was only faintly discernible. In fact the embassy was a disaster, humiliating Edward before his own courtiers as well as his enemies, and leaving him with a near-bankrupt England. The King was semi-reluctantly drawn into his favourite strategy – war. He was very good at that. A lot of wars then took place, which rescued him from his worst mistake in a long reign.

We will try to explain: in the fourteenth century the Holy Roman Empire (q.v.) spread from Brussels in the Low Countries down to Rome; it included most of the Netherlands and all Germany between the Rhine and the Polish frontier, and included Switzerland, Austria and northern Italy. The Holy Roman Emperor did not have much power, but his prestige was vast. Because the title was elective not hereditary, there was a permanent struggle to get hold of it, involving enough unscrupulous manoeuvring to keep the historians busy for centuries.

Emperor Louis IV of Bavaria, for instance, spent most of his reign trying to overcome the problems brought about by a disputed election. He killed a rival, made most powerful German princes hate him, and to cap it all was proclaimed heretic by three successive popes. Then the political, social and religious controversies raging in Europe produced the Hundred Years War (q.v.) which concentrated the minds of European kings in dramatic fashion.

Back in England, Edward did not wish to become involved but his relations with Philip VI of France were so bad that he was forced to become aware of the need to form a confederation of friendly states across Europe. England had historic and commercial links with the Low Countries just across the cold North Sea. These links had recently been strengthened by the marriage of Edward himself to Philippa of Hainault. The embassy sent by Edward stayed in Hainault at Valenciennes, and set about trying to persuade the rest of Europe to renounce allegiance with France using bribery. Large sums were offered to Hainault, Guelders, Brabant, Jülich, Cleves, Berg etc., as well as the count palatine of the Rhine and the Duke of Brandenburg. These last two offered faint-hearted support.

These confederations, coalitions and commissions hardly ever work however, and Edward soon found himself in debt (1338) to the German princes. The English treasury did not have the necessary cash. Edward organised an attack against France leaving from Brabant, but the German princes were waiting for their money and took little part in the expedition. The English were driven off by the French and Edward was forced to hand over some of his noblemen as hostages, before returning to England in 1340. His plan had failed.

Eight years later a group of European princes who disliked Philip’s successor Charles IV offered to elect Edward as the new Emperor. He declined, infinitely preferring to make good honest war to becoming Holy Roman Emperor, which, as we have said in a previous post, was neither holy, Roman, nor an empire. The world needed several centuries to pass before twenty-seven European states scrambled themselves together forming the EEC. If you listen carefully you may hear derisive laughter from Paradise; fear not! It is Edward and Philip enjoying the joke together.

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