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The Hundred Years' War was a 116-year-long armed conflict between the Kingdom of England and France, beginning in 1337 and ending in 1453. Although the Hundred Years' War spanned the reigns of five English and five French (Valois) kings, this period was not one of continuous warfare, but a series of campaigns separated by sometimes long periods of truce or low-intensity conflict, both in conflict abroad and internal strife at home. The war was primarily fought in France, and though in retrospect it has the feeling of a French civil war as much as an international conflict, the historian Philippe de Vries suggested that it had "taken place at a more or less provincial level." Fernand Braudel, quoting him, adds that "England acted as a province (or a group of provinces) within the Anglo-French unit" that was both battlefield and prize (Braudel 1984 p. 353).
The war was significant because of new weapons and tactics that ended the age of chivalry, the first standing armies in western Europe since the Roman Empire, changes in the roles of nobles and peasants, and overall key developments in the early growth of nations and new monarchies. It is often viewed as one of the most significant conflicts in medieval warfare.
Early origins: 911–1314
The background to the conflict can be found 400 years earlier when Frankish Carolingian ruler Charles the Simple allowed the Vikings of Rollo to settle in a part of his kingdom known as Normandy in 911. The Vikings, known as Normans (Northmen) and led by William the Conquerer invaded England around 150 years later in the Norman Conquest of 1066, defeating the Anglo-Saxon leadership and installing a new Anglo-Norman power structure as William took the English throne as William I of England.
The Anglo-Normans ruled both Normandy and England for over 150 years. However, in 1216, the Anglo-Normans lost their possessions to France. English nobles in the 14th century were recent descendants of the Anglo-Normans who still spoke a version of French, and could remember a time when their grandparents had owned Normandy. The nobles had never fully given up the dream of one day reconquering their homeland in Normandy; it was a very rich land and England stood to become very wealthy by retaking it. The war was both a "national" desire to re-take a former kingdom, and personal desires on the part of the nobility to gain wealth and increase prestige.
Immediate precursors: 1314–1337
The specific events that lead up to the war in the early 14th century began in France, where the Capetian dynasty had ruled for over 320 years, with one male heir after the next taking the throne (the oldest continuous dynasty in medieval European history). In 1314, the Capetian king Philip IV died, leaving three male heirs. The eldest son, Louis X, died in 1316, leaving only a daughter, Joan II, who in 1329 became the Queen of Navarre, who was married to Philip, count of Evreux, who became king consort Philip III of Navarre.
To secure his claim to the throne, Philip's second-oldest son (Louis X's younger brother and Joan II's uncle) Philip V obligated to buy her claims off (using also the rumor that Joan was a product of her mother's adultery and not a daughter of Louis X), but precedent for only male heirs had been set. When Philip V died in 1322, his daughters were put aside in favor of the last brother, Charles IV, without question.
In 1324, Charles IV and the English king Edward II fought the short War of Saint-Sardos in Gascony. The major event of the war was the brief siege of the English fortress of La Réole, on the Garonne river. The English forces, led by the Earl of Kent, were forced to surrender after a month of bombardment from the French cannons and after being promised reinforcements which never arrived. The war was a complete failure for England, and only Bordeaux and a narrow coastal strip now remained in English possession. The recovery of these lost lands became a major focus of English diplomacy. Another effect of the war was to galvanize opposition to Edward II among the English lords of Aquitaine, many of whom became sympathizers of Lord Wigmore, who would later invade England and dethrone Edward II.
Charles IV, King of France and Navarre, the youngest son of Philip IV, died in 1328, leaving only an infant daughter yet to be born. The senior line of Capetian dynasty had ended in tail male , creating a crisis on who would become the next king of France.
Meanwhile in England, Charles IV's sister Isabella had previously married King Edward II and was at the time effectively in control of the crown, having forced her politically weak husband to abdicate in favor of their teenage son, Edward III. The young Edward III, being the nephew of King Charles, was his closest living male relative and was the only surviving male descendant of the senior line of the Capetian dynasty through Philip IV (Philip the Fair). By feudal law, this made Edward III the next heir to the throne of France.
The French nobility, however, did not want a foreigner on the throne, in particular an English king. Citing ancient Salic Law, they claimed that royal inheritance could pass only through an unbroken male line, and not through a King's daughter (Isabella) to her son (Edward). They asserted that the royal inheritance should therefore pass to Philip of Valois (Philip VI), through the younger brother of Philip III, Charles. Both Edward and Philip had good legal cases for the right to the crown, and the force to back it up.
Joan of Navarre, daughter of Louis X (or at least the daughter of Louis' wife), also had a legal case to the French throne, but not the force to back it up. Navarre, which was accustomed to female rulers had no Salic impediment.
England controlled Gascony in what is now southwest France, along the Atlantic coast. This territory was a remnant of the formerly large French territories inherited from the Anglo-Norman kings. Gascony produced vital shipments of salt and wine and were very profitable to the English nobility. Gascony was a separate fief held from the French crown, rather than a territory of England, and the homage for this possession was a matter more difficult to resolve. Philip VI wanted Edward's recognition as sovereign; Edward wanted the return of further lands lost by his father. A compromise homage in 1329 pleased neither side, but in 1331, facing serious problems at home, Edward accepted Philip as King of France and gave up his claims to the French throne. In effect, England kept Gascony in return for Edward giving up his claims to be the rightful king of France. In 1332, Joan, daughter of Louis X gave birth to a son, the future Charles II of Navarre. Edward III was now no longer Philip IV's male heir in primogeniture, although he remained Philip IV's male heir in proximity.
In 1333, Edward III went to war with King David II of Scotland, a French ally under the Auld Alliance, and began the Second War of Scottish Independence. Philip saw the opportunity to reclaim Gascony while England's attention was concentrated at home. However, the war was a quick success for England, and David was forced to flee to France after being defeated by King Edward and Edward Balliol at the Battle of Halidon Hill in July 1333.
In 1336, Philip made plans for an expedition to restore David to the Scottish throne, and to also seize Gascony. Open hostilities broke out as French ships began ravaging coastal settlements on the English Channel and in 1337 Philip reclaimed the Gascony fief, citing feudal law and saying that Edward had broken his oath (a felony) by not attending to the needs and demands of his lord. Edward III responded by saying he was in fact the rightful heir to the French throne, and on All Saint's Day 1337, Henry Burghersh, the Bishop of Lincoln arrived in Paris with the defiance of the King of England. War had been declared.
Beginning of the war: 1337–1360
Main article: Hundred Years' War (1337-1360)
The war can be divided loosely into four phases: a phase of English success under Edward III from 1337 to 1360; a phase from 1360 to 1400, where the French were successful in nearly driving out the English; a phase from 1400 to 1429, marked by great English victories under Henry V; and a final phase from 1429 to 1453, in which France was united under the Valois kings. When the war began, France had a population of 14 million, and believed, the best military in Europe; England had a population of only two million.
In the early years of the war, Edward III allied with the nobles of the Low Countries and the burghers of Flanders, but after two campaigns where nothing was achieved, the alliance fell apart in 1340. The payments of subsidies to the German princes and the costs of maintaining an army abroad dragged the English government into a bankruptcy with huge damages to Edward III’s prestige. At sea, France enjoyed supremacy for some time, and several towns on the English coast were sacked. But in 1340, in an attempt to hinder the English army from landing, the French fleet was almost completely destroyed in the Battle of Sluys. After this, England was able to dominate the English Channel for the rest of the war, preventing French invasions.
In 1341 conflict over the succession to the Duchy of Brittany began the Breton War of Succession, in which Edward backed John of Montfort and Philip backed Charles of Blois, who was initially successful. Action for the next few years focused around a back and forth struggle in Brittany, with the city of Vannes changing hands several times, and further campaigns in Gascony with mixed success for both sides.
In July 1346, Edward mounted a major invasion across the Channel, landing in the Cotentin peninsula of Normandy, and marching through Normandy. Philip gathered a large army to oppose him, and Edward chose to march northward toward the Low Countries, pillaging as he went, rather than attempt to take and hold territory. Finding himself unable to out manoeuvre Philip, Edward positioned his forces for battle, and Philip's army attacked him at the famous Battle of Crecy. The much larger French army made a series of piecemeal attacks against the expert English and Welsh longbowmen, and all of the attacks were dispersed with heavy losses until the French were forced to retreat. Crecy was a crushing defeat for the French.
Edward proceeded north unopposed and besieged the coastal city of Calais on the English Channel, capturing it in 1347. An English victory against Scotland in the Battle of Neville's Cross led to the capture of David II and greatly reduced the threat from Scotland.
In 1348, the Black Death began to sweep across Europe and in both England and France it would have huge consequences. This prevented England from financing and launching any major offenses. In France, Philip VI died in 1350 and was replaced by his son John II ("John the Good").
Sporadic conflicts in Brittany continued, including notable incidents of chivalry such as the Battle of the Thirty in 1351, during which 30 French knights from Chateau Josselin called out and defeated 30 English knights. In keeping with tradition, the French ransomed many of the defeated English, including knights such as Knollys (Canolles ) and Cavely , who would later continue to fight against France more successfully.
After the Black Death had passed and England was able to recover financially, Edward's son, Edward the Black Prince, invaded France from Gascony in 1356, winning a great victory in the Battle of Poitiers, where the English archers repeated the same tactics used at Crecy, and the Gascon noble Captal de Buch led a flanking movement that succeeded in capturing the new Valois king, John II of France, and many of his nobles. John signed a truce with Edward, and in his absence much of the government began to collapse. John's ransom was set to two million, but John believed he was worth more than that and insisted that his ransom be raised to four million ecus.
Later that year (1356) the Second Treaty of London was signed in which the four million ecus ransom was guaranteed by having royal members of the Valois family come to London and surrender themselves as hostages while John returned to France to raise his ransom. As part of the treaty England gained possession Aquitaine, a large coastal area of southwestern France including the large towns of Poitiers and Bordeaux. As royal hostages they were given free reign to move about and once John had left for France, the hostages quickly escaped back to France. John, who was "Good" and chivalrous, was horrified that his word and honor had been broken and returned to England and turned himself in. John eventually died a prisoner in England in 1364 and was given a great chivalrous ceremony and honored as a great man by the English.
In 1358, a peasant revolt in France called the Jacquerie took place. It was caused in part by the deprivations suffered by the country people during the war and their hatred of the local nobility. Led by Guillaume Kale (Carle or Cale), they joined forces with other villages, and beginning in the area of Beauvais, north of Paris, committed atrocities against the nobles and destroyed many chateaux in the area. All the rebellious groups were defeated later that summer and reprisals followed.
Edward invaded France, hoping to capitalize on the discontent and seize the throne, but although no French army stood against him in the field, he was unable to take Paris or Rheims from the dauphin Charles V, and he negotiated the Treaty of Brétigny, renouncing the French crown but greatly expanding his territory in Aquitaine and confirming his conquest of Calais.
French victories under Charles V: 1360–1400
The reign of Charles V saw the English steadily pushed back. Although their claimant, John V of Brittany, defeated and killed Charles of Blois at the Battle of Auray, John and his heirs eventually reconciled with the French kings. Breton commander Bertrand du Guesclin, who went over to the Charles V, became one of his most successful generals.
A contemporaneous war in Spain occupied the Black Prince's efforts from 1366. Pedro the Cruel, whose daughters Constance and Isabella were married to the Black Prince's brothers John of Gaunt and Edmund of Langley, linking these royal houses, was deposed by Henry II of Castile in 1370 with the support of Du Guesclin and Henry II went to war against England and Portugal.
Just before New Year's Day 1370, the English Seneschal of Poitou, John Chandos, was defeated at the bridge at Chateau Lussac . The loss of this commander was a significant blow to the English. Captal de Buch was also captured and locked up by Charles V who, like the English, was not bound by outdated chivalry. Du Guesclin continued a series of careful campaigns, avoiding major English field forces, but capturing town after town, including Poitiers in 1372 and Bergerac in 1377, until his death in 1380.
In 1376, the Black Prince died, and upon the death of Edward III in 1377, the underaged Richard II became King of England. It was not until Richard had been deposed by his cousin Bolingbroke (Henry IV of England), that the English under the House of Lancaster would forcefully revive their claim to the French throne.
English victories under Henry V: 1400–1422
Henry IV made plans for campaigns in France, but was unable to complete them due to his short reign. In the meantime, though, the French King Charles VI was descending into madness, and an open conflict for power began between his cousin, John of Burgundy, and his brother, Louis of Orléans. After Louis's assassination, the Armagnac family took political power in opposition to John. By 1410, both sides were bidding for the help of English forces in a civil war.
The new English king, Henry V, turned down an Armagnac offer in 1414 to restore the 1369 frontiers in return for support, demanding a return to the full territories of Henry II. In August 1415 he landed with an army at Harfleur in Normandy, taking the city. Although tempted to march on Paris directly, he elected to make a raiding expedition across France toward English-occupied Calais. In a campaign reminiscent of Crecy, he found himself outmaneuvered and low on supplies, and had to make a stand against a much larger French army at the Battle of Agincourt north of the Somme. In spite of his disadvantages, his victory was near-total, and the French defeat was catastrophic, losing many of the Armagnac leaders.
In subsequent campaigns, Henry took much of Normandy, including Caen in 1417 and Rouen on January 19, 1419, placing Normandy under English rule after over 200 years of French control. He made formal alliance with the Burgundians, who had taken Paris, after the Armagnac execution of John of Burgundy in 1419. In 1420, Henry met with the mad king Charles VI, who signed the Treaty of Troyes, by which Henry would marry Charles' daughter Catherine of Valois and Henry's heirs would inherit the throne of France. The Dauphin, Charles VII, was declared illegitimate. Henry formally entered Paris later that year and the agreement was ratified by the French Estates-General.
After Henry's early death in 1422, almost simultaneously with that of his father-in-law, his baby son was crowned King Henry VI of England and also King of France, but the Armagnacs remained loyal to Charles VI's son, the dauphin Charles, and the war continued in central France.
France united: 1422–1453
By 1424, the uncles of Henry VI had begun to quarrel over the infant's regency, and one, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, married Jacqueline, Countess of Hainaut, and invaded Holland to regain her former dominions, bringing him into direct conflict with Philip III, Duke of Burgundy.
By 1428, the English were ready to pursue the war again, laying siege to Orléans. Their force was insufficient to fully invest the city, but larger French forces remained passive. In 1429, Joan of Arc convinced the Dauphin to send her to the siege, saying she had received visions from God telling her to drive out the English. She raised the morale of the local troops and they attacked the English redoubts, forcing the English to lift the siege. Joan proceeded to win several battles against the English, opening the way for the Dauphin to march to Reims for his coronation as Charles VII.
After Joan was captured by the Burgundians in 1430 and later sold to the English and executed, the French advance stalled in negotiations. But, in 1435, the Burgundians under Philip the Good switched sides, signing the Treaty of Arras and returning Paris to the King of France. Burgundy's allegiance remained fickle, but their focus on expanding their domains into the Low Countries left them little energy to intervene in France. The long truces that marked the war also gave Charles time to reorganize his army and government, replacing his feudal levies with a more modern professional army that could put its superior numbers to good use, and centralizing the French state.
By 1449, the French had retaken Rouen, and in 1450 the count of Clermont and Arthur de Richemont, Earl of Richmond, of the Montfort family (the future Arthur III, Duke of Brittany) caught an English army attempting to relieve Caen at the Battle of Formigny and defeated it, using cannon to break up the archers. The French proceeded to capture Cherbourg on July 6 and Bordeaux and Bayonne in 1451. The attempt by John Talbot (the 1st Earl of Shrewsbury) to retake Gascony, though initially welcomed by the locals, was crushed by Jean Bureau and his cannon at the Battle of Castillon in 1453, which is considered the last battle of the Hundred Years' War.
Warfare changed tremendously during the Hundred Years War. From type of weapons, to tactics to the very notion of what war meant, it would disrupt the long established order of Medieval society.
There were a number of new weapons introduced. Most famous is the Welsh (or English) longbow and while not a new weapon, it was used in new ways. Gunpowder and firearms and cannons played a significant role used as early as 1375. The last battle of the war, the Battle of Castillon, was the first battle in European history where artillery was the deciding factor.
War and Society
The consequences of these new weapons meant that the nobility was no longer the deciding factor in battle, peasants armed with longbows or firearms could gain access to the power, rewards and prestige once reserved only for knights who bore arms. The composition of armies changed, from feudal lords who may or may not show up when called by their lord, to paid mercenaries. By the end of the war, both France and England were able to raise enough money through taxation to create standing armies, the first time since the fall of the Roman Empire that there were standing armies in Europe. Standing armies represented an entirely new form of power for kings, not only could they defend from invaders, armies could protect the King from internal threats and also keep the population in check; it was a major step in early developments towards new monarchies and nations and entirely broke down the Medieval 3 orders.
At the first major battle of the war, at the Battle of Crecy, it is said the age of chivalry came to an end. Ironically during this time there had been a Chivalric revival, and it was deemed of highest importance to fight, and to die, in the most chivalric way possible. The English even apologized for fighting non-Chivalric, saying they had no choice since they were so unfairly outnumbered, leaving the dirty business to the Welsh (non-English or French speakers). It was a lesson the French would take a long time to learn and at great cost, before they also began to fight in less chivalric ways. The notion of chivalry was strongly influenced by the Romantic epics of the 12th century and knights literally imagined themselves re-enacting the stories on the field of battle. Someone like Bertrand Du Guesclin was said to have gone in to battle with one eye closed, declaring "I will not open my eye for the honor of my lady until I have killed three Englishmen". The Black Prince was called the Black Prince because he always dressed in black in honor of his ladies. Other knights carried the colors of their ladies in to battle.
The continuing English claim to the French throne
- Main article: English claims to the French throne
After the end of the Hundred Years' War, which started over Englands claim to the French throne, England continued to make claims on the French throne for years afterwards until the Act of Union in 1801. Here the title of King of France was omitted from the new royal style.
Sources and further reading
- Allmand, Christopher, The Hundred Years War: England and France at War, c.1300-c.1450, Cambridge University Press, 1988, ISBN 0521319234
- Seward, Desmond, The Hundred Years War. The English in France 1337-1453, Penguin Books, 1999, ISBN 0140283617
- Sumption, Jonathan, The Hundred Years War, vol. 1: Trial by Battle, London 1990; vol. 2: Trial by Fire, University of Pennsylvania, 1999, ISBN 0812218019
- Dunnigan, James F., and Albert A. Nofi. Medieval Life & The Hundred Years War, online book.
References and external links
Braudel, Fernand, The Perspective of the World, vol III of Civilization and Capitalism 1984 (in French 1979).
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