Hundred Years War

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The Hundred Years War, between England and France, lasted from 1337 AD to 1453 AD.[1] This war began when the last Capetian king died without leaving a successor, and English King Edward III claimed the French throne. The war went badly for the French, loosing every major battle fought: Battle of Crecy, the Battle of Poitiers and the Battle of Agincourt as portrayed in Shakespeare's Henry V. The English Longbow was too much of a tactical advantage.

By 1429 the French were largely defeated, but Joan of Arc rallied the French and gave them a sense of pride. Even her death couldn't shake that spirit. After a 5-year truce negotiated in 1444 expired, the English were basically defeated by political changes. The French civil war had ended and England with a population of 2 1/2 million could never hope to defeat a united France with 15 million. Furthermore, during that time the French developed a standing army and an upgrade in artillery tactics.

By 1453 the war was over, ending with the fall of the city of Bordeaux to French forces, leaving England with only the city of Calais in France. In truth, the French were really only victorious for 4 years, but that's all that mattered. Even though the war is called the Hundred Years' War, it was not ongoing. There were several brief times of peace, some brought on by the bubonic plague.


The war was basically a continuation of a struggle which began soon after the Norman conquest of England in 1066, over the great fiefs which the king of England held of the king of France. The struggle finally ended when the English lost all their continental possessions except Calais.

The immediate cause was the reassertion in 1337 by Edward III of England of his claim to the French throne as the son of Philip IV's daughter, Isabella. Philip's last son had died in 1327 without a male heir, and a council of French magnates had passed over Edward's claim on the ground that the royal power could not pass to or through a woman. Philip VI of Valois won the throne, and Edward accepted the decision. But there was constant friction between the two kings over the boundary of Aquitaine, and Philip actively supported the king of Scotland against the English. The French also established a control over Flanders, upon which England depended as a market for its wool, and in retaliation Edward built up an anti-French coalition and laid an embargo on the export of wool from England. Revolution broke out in Ghent in 1336, led by Jacob van Artevelde, which resulted in Flanders throwing off French control and signing a commercial and political alliance with the English. Edward III seized the opportunity to reassert his claim to the French throne.

Opening years

The war opened with an English and Flemish naval victory at Sluys in 1340. Edward then annually raided France with small forces. But in 1346, after Artevelde had been murdered, and Edward's position in Flanders was threatened, he landed in Normandy with an army of about 10,000 and marched towards the north. At Crécy, Aug. 26, 1346, his yeoman soldiery, armed with the longbow, gained a brilliant victory over the much larger army of French knights. The following year Edward took Calais, which was made into a military and commercial base.

Poitiers, 1356

After Crécy in 1346 the war degenerated into a series of plundering expeditions and skirmishes until the Black Prince, Edward's son, repeated the tactics of Crécy with similar results at Poitiers, Sept. 19, 1356. Thousands of French knights died on the field or were taken prisoner. The battle of Poitiers was one of the most important in European history. The capture of King Jean II of France inevitably, though not immediately, brought victory in the first stage of the Hundred Years War to England. Even more importantly and indirectly, the king's ransom demanded in the subsequent Treaty of Brétigny provided the impetus for a new tax structure that laid the foundations for the rise of a strong and relatively "absolutist" central French state. Coming near the end of a period that may have been the high-point of the chronicle genre, the battle was recorded with a richness of detail that only a few other medieval combats can match.

France was brought to the verge of ruin as the royal authority collapsed. The mercenary companies employed by both sides ravaged the land, the Black Death added its horrors, and a peasant revolt broke out. The Treaty of Brétigny, May 8, 1360, terminated this phase of the war. Edward gave up his claim to the French crown and to Normandy, but received Guyenne, Calais, and other lands in full sovereignty.

Charles V

John of France died in 1364 and was succeeded by Charles V (1338–1380), a statesman who restored the power of the French kingship. With the help of his constable, Bertrand du Guesclin, Charles reformed the French army, restored order throughout the land, and in the course of renewed hostilities with the English in Guyenne gradually forced them back. When Charles died in 1380, England was left only the three seaports of Calais, Bordeaux, and Bayonne.

Henry V

The war languished until the accession to the English throne in 1413 of the young Henry V (1387–1422), who was ambitious for military glory. In France the incompetent and intermittently insane Charles VI was on the throne, and civil war had broken out between the Orleanist and the Burgundian factions. Henry V revived the English claim to the throne of France. He invaded Normandy with an army of about 10,000 and won a great victory at Agincourt, Oct. 25, 1415, repeating the tactics of Crécy and Poitiers against a large army of French knights who had learned nothing from the past. Henry then completed the conquest of Normandy, and the French cause seemed hopeless. On May 21, 1420, after the murder of John, Duke of Burgundy, by the Armagnacs, the new Duke Philip, aided by the queen, secured the signing of the Treaty of Troyes between Henry and Charles VI. Henry married the princess Catherine, secured the regency of France, and was declared heir to the French throne. But in 1422 both kings died, and the infant son of Henry and Catherine was proclaimed king of France and England. His uncles, the dukes of Gloucester and Bedford, were installed as regents. The Duke of Bedford, with Burgundian cooperation, was able to complete the conquest of France north of the Loire River.

Joan of Arc

In 1428, while Bedford was besieging Orléans, the apathetic Dauphin and his despairing army were galvanized into action by Joan of Arc (1412–31), and the siege was broken by the French in the following year.

Charles was crowned as Charles VII at Reims in 1429, and in 1435 at Arras he was able to buy a separate peace with Philip of Burgundy. Bedford died the same year, and the English cause was lost. A series of truces followed, until hostilities broke out about the middle of the century. The restored French army advanced steadily. Normandy was soon regained, then Guyenne was invaded. Bordeaux fell to the French in 1453, and the war ended with Calais alone remaining in the hands of the English.

Memory and impact

Lowe (1997) argues opposition to the war helped to shape England's early modern political culture. Although 1anti-war and pro-peace spokesmen generally failed to influence outcomes at the time, they had a long-term impact. England showed decreasing enthusiasm for a conflict deemed not in the national interest, yielding only losses in return for the economic burdens it imposed. In comparing this English cost-benefit analysis with French attitudes, given that both countries suffered from weak leaders and licentious soldiers, Lowe notes that the French understood that warfare was necessary to expel the foreigners occupying their homeland. Of course, Joan of Arc had a higher and more durable charisma quotient than Henry V. Furthermore, French kings found alternative ways to finance the war - sales taxes, debasing the coinage - and were less dependent than the English on tax levies passed by national legislatures. English anti-war critics thus had more to work with than the French.[2]


  • Allmand, Christopher. The Hundred Years War: England and France at War c.1300-c.1450 (1988) excerpt and text search
  • Crane, Susan. The Performance of Self: Ritual, Clothing, and Identity During the Hundred Years War (2002) excerpt and text search
  • Curry, Anne. The Hundred Years War (2nd ed. 2003)
  • Green, David. The Battle of Poitiers, 1356 (2002). ISBN 0-7524-1989-7.
  • Keegan, John. The Face of Battle (1976), covers the battle of Agincourt, comparing it to modern battles
  • Nicolle, David, and Angus McBride. French Armies of the Hundred Years War: 1328-1429 (2000) Men-At-Arms Series, 337 excerpt and text search
  • Neillands, Robin. The Hundred Years War, (1990) online edition
  • Rogers, Clifford J. "The Military Revolutions of the Hundred Years War," The Journal of Military History 57 (1993): 241–78. in Project Muse
  • Seward, Desmond. The Hundred Years War: The English in France 1337-1453 (1999) excerpt and text search
  • Stone, John. "Technology, Society, and the Infantry Revolution of the Fourteenth Century," The Journal of Military History 68.2 (2004) 361–380 in Project Muse
  • Villalon, L. J. Andrew, and Donald J. Kagay, eds. The Hundred Years War: A Wider Focus (2005) online edition; also excerpt and text search
  • Wagner, John A. Encyclopedia of the Hundred Years War (2006)

External links


  1. There is no apostrophe after Years. In 1821 the French historian Charles O. Desmichels labelled the war "the Hundred Years War." The term was first used by English historians in 1870. The "Second Hundred Years War" was the warfare between Britain and France from 1689 to 1815.
  2. Ben Lowe, Imagining Peace: A History of Early English Pacifist Ideas, 1340-1560 (1997)