It is difficult, indeed, to imagine any concatenation of affairs which could reduce a country now to the condition in which France was in the beginning of the fifteenth century. A strong and splendid kingdom, to which in early ages one great man had given the force and supremacy of a united nation, had fallen into a disintegration which seems almost incredible when regarded in the light of that warm flame of nationality which now illumines, almost above all others, the French nation. But Frenchmen were not Frenchmen, they were Burgundians, Armagnacs, Bretons, Provencaux five hundred years ago. The interests of one part of the kingdom were not those of the other. Unity had no existence. Princes of the same family were more furious enemies to each other, at the head of their respective fiefs and provinces, than the traditional foes of their race; and instead of meeting an invader with a united force of patriotic resistance, one or more of these subordinate rulers was sure to side with the invader and to execute greater atrocities against his own flesh and blood than anything the alien could do.
When Charles VII. of France began, nominally, his reign, his uncles and cousins, his nearest kinsmen, were as determinedly his opponents, as was Henry V. of England, whose frank object was to take the crown from his head. The country was torn in pieces with different causes and cries. The English were but little farther off from the Parisian than was the Burgundian, and the English king was only a trifle less French than were the members of the royal family of France. These circumstances are little taken into consideration in face of the general history, in which a careless reader sees nothing but the two nations pitted against each other as they might be now, the French united in one strong and distinct nationality, the three kingdoms of Great Britain all welded into one. In the beginning of the fifteenth century the Scots fought on the French side, against their intimate enemy of England, and if there had been any unity in Ireland, the Irish would have done the same. The advantages and disadvantages of subdivision were in full play. The Scots fought furiously against the English—and when the latter won, as was usually the case, the Scots contingent, whatever bounty might be shown to the French, was always exterminated. On the other side the Burgundians, the Armagnacs, and Royalists met each other almost more fiercely than the latter encountered the English. Each country was convulsed by struggles of its own, and fiercely sought its kindred foes in the ranks of its more honest and natural enemy.