Hundred Years War
The Hundred Years’ War was not actually fought for a hundred years. It actually lasted 116 years. The war was between England and France and ran from 1337 to 1453.
The Hundred Years’ War can actually be broken up into a number of different phases. It was not one long conflict but a number of conflicts with lulls in between each conflict.
The Beginning of the War
For a long time, the kings of England controlled land in France. The English kings were actually nobles of France and were vassals to the French crown. The kings of France did not like the fact that the English kings had control of French lands and began making moves to take over the land. The English kings were slowly losing control over this territory, and in 1337, King Philip VI of France confiscated the English territory of Aquitaine.
The English king, Edward III responded to this by claiming that he was the rightful king of France. Edward`s mother was the daughter of the French king, Philip IV. When Philip died, his son Charles became the new French king (Charles IV). When Charles IV died, he did not have any male heirs and Isabella (Edward`s mother) tried to claim the throne for Edward. Isabella`s claim was not accepted because the French claimed that since Isabella was not allowed to claim the throne, she could not pass that right on to someone else. Instead, the French installed Philip VI, who was the son of Philip IV`s brother.
England had accepted the new king but when Philip VI tried to take English territory in France, Edward III reasserted his claim to the French throne. Scholars believe he did this so he could put pressure on the French king.
The Hundred Years War is typically defined by three main phases: the Edwardian Era War, the Caroline War, and the Lancastrian War.
The Edwardian Era War: 1337–1360
The confiscation of English territory was not the only source of conflict between the two countries. Scotland had been at war with England for some time and the French began to support the Scots in their fight against England. In 1936, the French began attacking English ports and ships and then in 1937, Philip confiscated Aquitaine.
Edward landed forces in France and enjoyed a lot of initial success. The English won significant battles. The English focused on raids into French territory with the aim of damaging the French economy. The plan was that this would force the French to negotiate.
One of the most famous victories was the battle at Crecy in 1346. The English were outnumbered by the French but the English with their more modern army, including archers armed with longbows, were able to decisively defeat the French. After this victory, Edward III then laid siege to the city of Calais the following year in 1347. Edward III took control of Calais which gave the English access to an important port and a base of operations for further raids into France.
The Black Plague slowed the attacks but in 1355, King Edward III’s son (Edward, the Black Prince) began to conduct raids on France. The Black Prince was even more successful than his father, and in 1356, the Black Prince engaged the French at Poitiers. The French almost won the battle but were not able to withstand the Black Prince’s counterattack. The French army was devastated and the Black Prince was able to capture the French king (Jean II, King Philip’s successor) as well as around 2000 French noblemen. The English held the French king for ransom. The French were not able to organize an attack against the English for a number of years.
England’s successes forced the French to sign the Treaty of Bretigny in 1360. As a result of this treaty, England gained full control over all the land Edward III originally held as a vassal of France. In return, Edward III agreed to renounce his claim to the French throne and the French king was released after a payment of three million ecus (a French coin).
Jean II had to give a hostage to take his place when he was released by the English. Louis de Anjou was chosen to take the French king’s place but when Louis escaped, Jean II felt honour demanded that he return to England. He returned to England and died shortly after.
The Caroline War: 1369–1389
Charles V of France was crowned the new king in 1362 after the death of his father (Jean II). A few years later, in 1369, Charles V embarked on a campaign to recapture all the land that had been given to the English under the treaty of Bretigny.
Charles V, unlike the English kings, never actually went on campaign but did keep control over the fighting. He ordered his men to do hit-and-run raids without engaging the English in direct combat. The French forces focused on cutting off supplies and communications to the English and wearing down their morale. When the French did lay a siege, they offered money and good terms to the city’s inhabitants in return for their surrender. Charles V encouraged the populace of Aquitaine to rise up against the English through the use of bribes, threats, and persuasion.
Edward III and his son, The Black Prince, tried to fight against France’s encroachment into the territory they held in France but it was of little use. Edward III was getting old, and the Black Prince was very ill. Both were heavily in debt as was the entire country as they tried to finance the continuing war against France.
The Black Prince died in 1376 and a year later, in 1377, King Edward III also died. By this time, almost all the territory that had been gained in France had been lost and both sides were getting tired of the conflict.
The English attempted to push back against the French and had a fair amount of success but were unable to regain any territory they had lost to the French. The English were able to hold on to their few remaining territories.
The French king, Charles V, died in 1380 and both successors to the French and English throne were very young. The fighting continued even though the war was becoming very unpopular in both France and England given that both countries were heading towards bankruptcy trying to finance the war. Peace treaties were signed in 1389 giving the French the territory they had gained up to this point.
The Lancastrian War: 1415–1453
In 1415, the new king of England, King Henry V, decided to invade France once again in order to help him politically at home. Henry V needed to bolster his claim to the English throne and believed that by attacking France, he would be able to do this. He began the campaign by reviving the English claim to the French throne. At this time, the French were not very organized and the French king, Charles VI, was beginning to lose his mind.
Henry V had a number of successes, most notably at the battle of Agincourt. Henry V initially took the port town of Harfleur and as he was marching on Calais, he was intercepted by the French at Agincourt. This turned into a major defeat for the French when once again, the English longbow helped beat back the French attacks.
Henry V continued his success and soon captured a fair amount of territory in Normandy. The French forces were in disarray and the government was in the midst of a civil war. As a result, in 1420, Henry V was able to force the French king, Charles VI, to name Henry as Charles’s heir. Henry then married Catherine, Charles’s daughter. Charles VII was then declared to be illegitimate although he kept up the fight against the English.
Henry V died in 1422 but the war continued for a number of years. The English had a major setback at Orleans and this victory was the turning point for the French forces. The English laid siege to the city but with the help of Joan of Arc, the French were able to drive the English from the siege. This success as well as the image of Joan of Arc increased the morale of the French forces.
The French were able to continue their success and by the end of 1453, the English were driven out of all of France except for an area on the coast of Calais which they would hold until the mid-1500s.
The Hundred Years War was one of the defining moments in European history and although it was often referred to as one conflict, it was actually three conflicts with different goals.