The Hundred Years War was a conflict between England and France, lasting 116 years from 1337 to 1453. It was fought primarily over claims by the English kings to the French throne and was punctuated by several brief periods of peace and two lasting ones before it finally ended in the expulsion of the English from France,apart from Calais. Thus, the war was in fact a series of conflicts and is commonly divided into three or four phases: the Edwardian War (1337-1360), the Caroline War (1369-1389), the Lancastrian War (1415-1429), and the slow decline of English fortunes after the appearance of Joan of Arc. The term "Hundred Years' War" was given afterward.
The war owes its historical significance to a number of factors. Though primarily a dynastic conflict, the war gave impetus to ideas of both French and English nationality. Militarily, it saw the introduction of new weapons and tactics, which eroded the older system of feudal armies dominated by heavy cavalry. The first standing armies in Western Europe since the time of the Western Roman Empire were introduced for the war, thus changing the role of the peasantry. For all this, as well as for its long duration, it is often viewed as one of the most significant conflicts in the history of medieval warfare.
The Norman dynasty was replaced by the Angevin Kings (also called the Plantagenets) after The Anarchy. At the height of their power the Angevins controlled Normandy and England, along with Maine, Anjou, Touraine, Gascony, Saintonge and Aquitaine. Such assemblage of lands is sometimes known as the Angevin Empire although it had little in common with a real empire. At this moment the King of England therefore directly ruled more French territory than the king of France. This situation, where the Plantagenet kings owed vassalage to a ruler who was de facto much weaker - was the cause of constant conflict. The Capetian Kings successfully ended such situation by three consecutive wars: the Battle of Bouvines, the Saintonge War and finally the War of Saint-Sardos. The once mighting Angevin fiefdom was reduced to England and the coastal area of Gascony so the Hundred Years' War was the logical continuation of this conflict. Every king of England from Henry II to Edward II had engaged in warfare against Capetian kings on the continent. By 1214, the kings of England had lost a substantial portion of their lands in France, including Normandy and their homeland of "Greater Anjou".
The specific events leading up to the war took place in France, where an unbroken line of Capetian dynasty firstborn sons had succeeded each other for centuries. It was the longest continuous dynasty in medieval Europe. In 1314, the Capetian king Philip IV died, leaving three male heirs: Louis X, Philip V, and Charles IV. The eldest son and heir, Louis X, died in 1316, leaving only his posthumous son John I, who was born and died that same year, and a daughter Joan, who was married to Philip, Count of Évreux, and inherited Navarre unopposed.
In order to secure his claim to the throne through the Salic Law, which gave the inheritance to only the male line, Philip IV's second-eldest son, Philip V, was obliged to buy Joan off (using the rumour that Joan was a product of her mother's adultery). When Philip died in 1322, his daughters too were put aside in favour of the third son and heir of Philip IV, Charles IV.
In 1324, Charles IV of France and Edward II of England 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. The English forces, led by Edmund of Woodstock, 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 remained in English possession of the once great duchy of Aquitaine.
The recovery of these lost lands became a major focus of English diplomacy. The war also galvanised opposition to Edward II among the English nobility and led to his eventual assassination (1327), which in turn caused the succession of the young Edward III. Charles IV died in 1328, leaving only daughters, and an infant yet to be born. The senior line of the Capetian dynasty ended thus, creating a crisis over the French succession.
Meanwhile living in England, Charles IV's sister Isabella, widow of Edward II, was at the time effectively in control of the crown in the name of the young king. Edward III, being the nephew of Charles, was his closest living male relative, and was at that time the only surviving male descendant of the senior line of the Capetian dynasty descending through Philip IV. By the English interpretation of feudal law, this made Edward III the legitimate heir to the throne of France.
The French nobility, however, balked at the prospect of a foreign king, particularly one who was also king of England. They asserted, based on their interpretation of the ancient Salic Law, that the royal inheritance could not pass to a woman (as previously alleged) or through her to her offspring. Therefore, the nearest male relative in the greater Capetian family, Philip of Valois, who had taken regency after Charles IV's death, was the legitimate heir in the eyes of the French. Charles' unborn child, had it been male, would have become king. When it was instead a daughter, Philip was crowned as Philip VI, the first of the House of Valois, a cadet branch of the Capetian house.
Joan II of Navarre, the daughter of Louis X, also had a good legal case to the French throne, but lacked the power to back it up. The kingdom of Navarre was accustomed to female rulers, having no Salic impediment. In time this line would produce an additional claimant to the French throne, the son of Joan: Charles II of Navarre. Born in 1332, Charles replaced Edward III as Philip IV's male heir in primogeniture; although Edward remained the male heir in proximity.
After Philip's accession, the English still controlled Gascony. Gascony produced vital shipments of salt and wine, and was very profitable. It was a separate fief, held of the French crown, rather than a territory of England. The homage done for its possession was a bone of contention between the two kings. Philip VI demanded 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.
Open hostilities broke out as French ships began ravaging coastal settlements on the English Channel and in 1337 Philip reclaimed the Gascon 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 Saints' Day, Henry Burghersh, Bishop of Lincoln, arrived in Paris with the defiance of the king of England. War had been declared.
When the war began, France had a population of fourteen million, whereas England had a population of only two million. Moreover, France was generally considered to have the best-trained knights in the greatest number in Europe.
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 bankruptcy, with huge damages to Edward III’s prestige. At sea, France enjoyed supremacy for some time, through the use of Genoese ships and crews. Several towns on the English coast were sacked, some repeatedly. This was a cause of fear and disruption along the English coastline. There was a constant fear through this part of the war that the French would invade. France's sea power led to economic disruptions in England as it cut down on the wool trade to Flanders and the wine trade from Gascony. However, in 1340, while attempting 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. Action for the next few years focused around a back and forth struggle in Brittany, with the city of Vannes changing hands several times, as well as 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. 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 outmanoeuvre Philip, Edward positioned his forces for battle, and Philip's army attacked. This, the famous Battle of Crécy, was a complete disaster for the French and victory was largely creditable to the English longbowmen. Edward proceeded north unopposed and besieged the coastal city of Calais on the English Channel, capturing it in 1347. This became an important strategic location for the English. It allowed the English to keep troops in France safely. In the same year, 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 ravage Europe. In 1356, after it had passed and England was able to recover financially, Edward's son and namesake, the Prince of Wales, known as the Black Prince, invaded France from Gascony, winning a great victory in the Battle of Poitiers, where the English archers repeated the same tactics used at Crécy. The new French King, John II, was captured. John signed a truce with Edward, and in his absence much of the government began to collapse. Later that year, the Second Treaty of London was signed, by which England gained possession of Aquitaine and John was freed. John eventually had to return to England as the hostages placed on his behalf had returned to France.
The countryside of France at this point began to fall into complete chaos. Brigandage, the actions of the professional soldiery when fighting was at low ebb, was rampant. In 1358, the peasants rose in rebellion in what was called the Jacquerie. Edward invaded France, for the third and last time, hoping to capitalise 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, later King Charles V. He negotiated the Treaty of Brétigny which was signed in 1360. The English came out of this phase of the war with half of Brittany, Aquitaine (about a quarter of France), Calais, Ponthieu, and about half of France's vassal states as their allies, representing the clear advantage of a united England against a generally disunified kingdom of France.
The treaty made Edward renounce his claim to the French crown, but it greatly expanded his territory in Aquitaine and confirmed his conquest of Calais. In reality, Edward never renounced his claim to the French crown, and Charles made a point to retake Edward's new territory as soon as he ascended to the throne.
When his own son Louis I, Duc d'Anjou (one of the hostages) escaped from England in 1362, John II chivalrously gave himself up. He died in honorable captivity in 1364 and Charles V succeeded him as king of France. In 1369, on the pretext that Edward III had failed to observe the terms of the treaty of Brétigny, the king of France declared war once again.
The reign of Charles V saw the English steadily pushed back. Although the Breton war ended in their favour at the Battle of Auray, the dukes of Brittany eventually reconciled with the French throne. The Breton soldier Bertrand du Guesclin became one of the most successful French generals of the Hundred Years' War.
Simultaneously, the Black Prince was occupied with war in Spain from 1366 and due to illness was relieved of command in 1371, whilst Edward III was too elderly to fight; providing France with even more advantages. Pedro of Castile, whose daughters Constance and Isabella were married to the Black Prince's brothers John of Gaunt and Edmund of Langley, was deposed by Henry of Trastámara in 1370 with the support of Du Guesclin and the French. War erupted between Castile and France on one side and Portugal and England on the other.
With the death of John Chandos, seneschal of Poitou, in the field and the capture of the Captal de Buch, the English were deprived of some of their best generals in France. Du Guesclin, in a series of careful Fabian campaigns, avoiding major English field armies, captured many towns, including Poitiers in 1372 and Bergerac in 1377. The English response to Du Guesclin was to launch a series of destructive chevauchées. But Du Guesclin refused to be drawn in by them.
With the death of the Black Prince in 1376 and Edward III in 1377, the prince's underaged son Richard of Bordeaux succeeded to the English throne. Then, with Du Guesclin's death in 1380, the war inevitably wound down to a truce in 1389. The peace was extended many times before open war flared up again.
Although Henry IV planned campaigns in France, he was unable to put them into effect 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 final flurry of warmaking which engulfed France between 1415 and 1435 is the most famous phase of the Hundred Year's War. Plans had been laid for the declaration of war since the rise to the throne of Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Lancaster, in 1399. However, it was his son, Henry V, who was finally given the opportunity. In 1414, Henry turned down an Armagnac offer to restore the Brétigny frontiers in return for his support. Instead, he demanded a return to the territorial status during the reign of Henry II. In August 1415, he landed with an army at Harfleur and took it. 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 Crécy, 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, with the loss of many of the Armagnac leaders.
Henry continued his progress through France, but died at Meaux in 1422. Soon, Charles too had died. Henry's infant son, Henry VI, was immediately crowned king of England and France, but the Armagnacs remained loyal to Charles' son and the war continued in central France.
The English continued the victory streak until 1429. In that year, a Franco-Scottish army isolated a supply convoy led by John Fastolf. By circling his supply wagons (largely filled with herring) around his archers, he repelled the much larger army in what was to be one of the last English successes won on the backs of their outstanding longbowmen: the Battle of the Herrings. Later that year, however, a French saviour appeared in the form of a peasant woman from Lorraine named Joan of Arc.
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. Inspired by Joan, the French took several English strongpoints on the Loire. Shortly afterwards a French army some 8000 strong broke through English archers at Patay with heavy cavalry, defeating a 3000 strong army commanded by John Fastolf and John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury. The first major French land victory of the wars, this opened 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 III 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.
Generally, though, the tactical superiority of English forces remained a potent factor; John Talbot, for instance, who specialised in fast attacks, routed French forces at Ry and Avranches in Normandy in 1436 and 1439 respectively. Talbot, one of the most daring warriors of the age, was the victor in 40 battles and skirmishes. This was one of the main reasons the war was so prolonged. The biographer of the Constable Richemont put it plainly when he wrote that, "The English and their captains, above all Talbot, had a well established reputation for superiority, Richemont knew them better than anyone".
But a repetition of Du Guesclin's battle avoidance strategy paid dividends and the French were able to recover town after town.
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, the English army having been attacked from the flank and rear by Richemont's force just as they were on the verge of beating Clermont's army. The French proceeded to capture Cherbourg on July 6 and Bordeaux and Bayonne in 1451. The attempt by Talbot to retake Gascony, though initially welcomed by the locals, was crushed by Jean Bureau and his cannon at the Battle of Castillon in 1453 where Talbot had led a small Anglo-Gascon force in a frontal attack on an entrenched camp. This is considered the last battle of the Hundred Years' War.
The Hundred Years' War was a time of military evolution. Weapons, tactics, army structure, and the societal meaning of war all changed, partly in response to the demands of the war, partly through advancement in technology, and partly through lessons that warfare taught.
England was what might be considered a more modern state than France. It had a centralized authority—Parliament—with the authority to tax. As the military writer Colonel Alfred Burne notes, England had revolutionized its recruitment system, substituting a paid army for one drawn from feudal obligation. Professional captains were appointed who recruited troops for a specified (theoretically short) period. This "modern army", to some extent a necessity—many barons refused to go on a foreign campaign, as feudal service was supposed to be for protection of the realm
—also gave England a military advantage early on.
Before the Hundred Years' War, heavy cavalry was considered the most powerful unit in an army, but by the war's end this belief had definitely shifted. The heavy horse was increasingly negated by the use of the longbow and fixed defensive positions of men-at-arms, tactics which helped lead to English victories at Crécy and Agincourt. Learning from the Scots, the English began using lightly armored, mounted troops, who would dismount in order to fight battles. By the end of the Hundred Years War this meant a fading of the expensively outfitted, highly trained heavy cavalry.
Although they had a tactical advantage, a major problem the English faced as the military writer General Fuller pointed out was: "nevertheless the size of France prohibited lengthy, let alone permanent, occupation."
An insoluble problem for English commanders was that in an age of siege warfare the more territory that was occupied, the greater the requirements for garrisons. This lessened the striking power of English armies as time went on. Salisbury's army at Orleans only consisted of 5000 men, insufficient not only to invest the city but also numerically inferior to French forces within and without the city. The French only needed to recover some part of their shattered confidence, the result of many years of defeat, for the outcome to become inevitable. At Orleans they were assisted by the death of Salisbury through a fluke cannon shot and by the inspiration of Joan of Arc.
Further the ending of the Burgundian alliance spelt the end of English efforts in France, despite the campaigns of the aggressive John, Lord Talbot and his forces to stay the inevitable.
The war also stimulated nationalistic sentiment. It devastated France as a land, but it also awakened French nationalism. The Hundred Years' War accelerated the process of transforming France from a feudal monarchy to a centralized state. The conflict became not one of just English and French kings but one between English and French people. There were constant rumors in England that the French meant to invade and destroy the English language. National feeling emerged out of rumors like these that unified both France and England further.
The latter stages of the war saw the emergence of the dukes of Burgundy as important players on the political field, and it encouraged the English, in response to the seesawing alliance of the southern Netherlands (now Belgium, a very important textile hub at the time) throughout the conflict, to develop their own clothing industry and foreign markets.
The most famous weapon was the Welsh (or English) longbow of the yeoman archer; while not a new weapon at the time, it played a significant role in the strategic advantage it gave the English. The French mainly counted on crossbows, many times manned by Genoese men. The crossbow was used because it took little training or skill to operate. It however was slow to reload, prone to damage (rain could easily damage it), and lacked the accuracy of the longbow. The longbow was a weapon of skill and required a lifetime to be proficient at it. It also required tremendous strength to use requiring tension rates of around one hundred pounds to draw. It was the wide spread use of it in the British Isles that gave the English the ability to use it as a weapon. It was the tactical developments that brought it to prominence. The English in their battles with the Scots had learned through defeat what dismounted bowmen in fixed positions could do to heavy horse. Since the arrows shot from a longbow could kill or incapacitate plate armored knights a charge could be dissipated before it ever reached an army's lines. The longbow enabled an often-outnumbered English army to pick battle locations, fortify, and destroy opposing armies. For some reason as the Hundred Years' War came to a close the number of able longbow men began to drop off and therefore the longbow as a weapon became less viable as there were not the men to wield them.
A number of new weapons were introduced during the Hundred Years' War as well. Gunpowder, firearms and cannons played significant roles 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. The early phase of the war triggered the development and rising popularity of the longsword, and the longbow success triggered transformations in armour (e.g. plate armour).
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 Western Roman Empire that there were standing armies in Western or Central Europe. Standing armies represented an entirely new form of power for kings. Not only could they defend their kingdoms from invaders, but standing armies could also 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 orders.
At the first major battle of the war, the Battle of Crécy, it is said that the age of chivalry came to an end. Ironically, there had been a revival of chivalry during this time, and it was deemed to be of the highest importance to fight, and to die, in the most chivalrous way possible. The English even apologized for fighting non-chivalrously, 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 chivalrous 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." Knights often carried the colors of their ladies in to battle.
In France during the captivity of King John II, the Estates General attempted to arrogate power from the king. The Estates General was a body of representatives from the three groups who traditionally had rights in France: the clergy, the nobles, and the townspeople. First called together under Philip IV “the Fair”, the Estates had the right to confirm or disagree with the “levée”, the principal tax by which the kings of France raised money. Under the leadership of a merchant named Etienne Marcel, the Estates General attempted to force the monarchy to accept a sort of agreement called the Great Ordinance. Like the English Magna Carta, the Great Ordinance held that the Estates should supervise the collection and spending of the levy, meet at regular intervals independent of the king’s call, exercise certain judicial powers, and generally play a greater role in government. The nobles took this power to excess, however, causing in 1358 a peasant rebellion known as the Jacquerie. Swarms of peasant furious over the nobles’ high taxes and forced labor policies, killed and burned in the north of France. One of their victims proved to be Etienne Marcel, and without his leadership they divided
The effects of the Hundred Years’ War in England also raised some questions about the extent of royal authority. Like the French, the English experienced a serious rebellion against the king during a gap in the succession caused by the death of Edward III when his grandson had not yet reached maturity. Called the Peasants' Revolt and also Wat Tyler’s Rebellion, the 1381 uprising threatened saw some 100,000 peasants march on London to protest the payment of high war taxes and efforts by the nobility to reduce English peasants to serfdom. The mob murdered and burned the houses of government officials and tax collectors. The young king-to-be, Richard II, met the peasants outside his castle, defusing their violence by promising to meet their demands. At the same time, agents of the throne murdered Wat Tyler, a key leader of the revolt, and Richard II sent the peasants back to their homes in the countryside. After they left, however, he reneged on his promises and kept taxes high.
142122 MarchBattle of Bauge The French and Scottish forces of Charles VII commanded by the Earl of Buchan defeat an outmanoeuvered English force commanded by the Duke of Clarence, the first English loss in a land battle of the Wars.
142812 October - 8 May1429Siege of Orléans English forces commanded by the Earl of Salisbury, the Earl of Suffolk, and Talbot (Earl of Shrewsbury) lay siege to Orleans, and are forced to withdraw after a relief army accompanied by Joan of Arc arrives at the city.
142917 JulyBattle of Patay A French army under La Hire, Richemont, Joan of Arc, and other commanders break through English archers under Lord Talbot and then pursue and mop up the other sections of the English army, killing or capturing about half (2,200) of their troops. The Earl of Shrewsbury (Talbot) and Hungerford are captured.
After the end of the Hundred Years' War, 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.