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The Hundred Years’ War, 1337 to 1453

                   Table of Contents
The Causes of the Hundred Years’ War
The Start of the Hundred Years’ War, 1337
English Victory at Crécy, August 26, 1346
English Victory at Poitiers, September 19, 1359
Treaty of Calais, October, 1360
Treaty of Bretigny, 1360
The Battle of Agincourt, 1415
English Conquest of Northern France, 1422
Victory of Joan of Arc at Orléans, 1429
Treaty of Arras, September 21, 1435
Reconquest of Normandy & Guyenne, 1450 - 1451
End of the Hundred Years’ War, 1453
Aftermath of the Hundred Years’ War

The Causes of the Hundred Years’ War

The precursors to the Hundred Years’ War came from both the French and the English.  The French kings attempted to assert control over the English-held province of Guyenne [located in southwest France and corresponding to the present day French département of Gironde and most of the départements of Aveyron, Dordogne, Lot and Lot-et-Garonne].  Guyenne, [also known as Guyenne-et-Gascogne] from the earliest Roman days, had been part of what is now known as the region of Aquitaine.  The 1259 Treaty of Paris, between Louis IX of France and Henry III of England, had made Henry III the vassal of Louis IX for both Guyenne and Gascony.  England had previously maintained dominance over both Aquitaine and Gascony as a result of Eleanor of Aquitaine’s 12th century marriage to Henry II of England. 

The English were not only irritated by French interests in Guyenne, but also by French support of the Scots against England and by French attempts to control Flanders and its wool trade with England.  

Provocation was not a one way street.  The English also angered the French by virtue of King Edward III’s formal claim to the French throne which was based on being the nephew of the last Capetian king, Charles IV, who died in 1328 without a male offspring.  The closest French male relative to Charles IV was the Count of Valois, the grandson of Philippe III.  Charles had been the third son of Philippe IV and the brother of Louis X

In 1328, Valois France was the most powerful kingdom in Europe both in terms of monetary means and in soldiers.  In France, only Aquitaine, Brittany, Burgundy and Flanders were not subservient to the Valois kings.  However, Valois France itself was still a collection of virtually independent provinces.  

The so-called Hundred Years’ War was, in reality, a series of wars between the French and the English kings.  These wars were interrupted, now-and-again, by numerous truces and treaties over a period of 116 years.  The wars had become the consuming interests of a series of five English and five French monarchs which had drained the treasuries of both countries.   

The Start of the Hundred Years’ War, 1337

In 1337, a French assembly was called to settle the dispute over which claimant should become the French king.  When Philippe VI, the Valois claimant was selected, Edward III, of England, appeared to accept the decision.  However, when Philippe then moved to confiscate Guyenne, Edward renewed his claim to the throne and unsuccessfully attempted to move an army into Flanders.   

Philippe VI Becomes King, 1340

In January, 1340, Philippe VI assumed the title king of France.  In June, that same year, Edward lead an English fleet that decimated the French navy off the Flemish city of Sluis.  However, running out of money, Edward was forced to seek a truce and return to England.  He then spent the next several years rebuilding Windsor Castle and in instituting the Order of the Garter that is today Britain’s highest order of knighthood. 

English Victory at Crécy, August 26, 1346

The first important land battle between the French and English took place at Crécy, in Ponthieu, on August 26, 1346.  There, Edward defeated the army that Philippe VI had sent to block his retreat to the northeast.  Edward then laid siege to the port of Calais during September, 1346.  The city surrendered in October of the same year and he deported most of its French occupants, colonizing the town with Englishmen so he could have a base for further invasions of France.  Again, running out of money, he made a new truce in September, 1347. 

In 1355, Edward broke the truce by leading large scale, but unsuccessful raids, against the French from Calais.  However, he was more successful in Scotland where, in 1356 he received a formal surrender of the Kingdom of Scotland. 

English Victory at Poitiers, September 19, 1359

While Edward was busy in Scotland, his son Edward [the Black Prince] won a stunning victory over the French at Poitiers on September 19, resulting in the capture of Jean II [the successor of Philippe VI in 1350].  This resulted in the French accepting Edward’s terms at the Treaty of London in 1359.  Under these terms, Jean II was compelled to surrender so much territory that he repudiated the agreement.  Edward then landed at Calais on October 28 and besieged Reims.   

Treaty of Calais, October, 1360

The citizens of Reims successfully resisted the siege.  Frustrated, Edward marched into Burgundy and ultimately towards Paris.  These unsuccessful campaigns lead to preliminary peace talks in Brittany on May 8, 1360.  The terms, of the truce, were finalized by the Treaty of Calais.  The treaty was ratified by both the French and English in October, 1360.  Under its terms, Edward renounced his claim to the French throne and France ceded the whole of Aquitaine to England. 

Treaty of Bretigny, 1360

With the death of Jean II, in English captivity, his son, Charles V refused to recognize the treaty and renewed the conflict.  A new treaty was entered into in 1360.  This Treaty of Bretigny resulted in a brief period of peace. 

The Black Prince died in 1376, leaving his 10 year old son as the heir to the English throne with all the power in the Regent, John of Gaunt.  The son, Richard II, succeeded as king in 1377. 

Hostilities renewed again in 1380 when the French took the initiative.  The death of Charles V, that same year, arrested French progress in recovering the lost territory.  In 1381, the English were also distracted by a peasants’ revolt lead by Wat Tyler.  The revolt was put down by Richard II’s forces. 

Richard II spent the 1390’s trying to undermine Parliament’s power.  This incited the citizenry against him and in 1399 he was forced to abdicate.  His rival, the Duke of Lancaster [another grandson of Edward III], was chosen to succeed him as Henry IV.  His son, Henry V became king following the death of Henry IV.  Henry V had popular support for resuming the Hundred Years’ War.  

Meanwhile, in France, Charles VI suffered bouts of insanity.  One of his uncles, Philippe the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, died in 1404.  His son, Jean the Fearless, had his cousin, Louis, Duke d’Orléans, assassinated in 1407 and civil war broke out between the supporters of Orléans, the Armagnacs and the Burgundians who were the supporters of the Dauphin, Charles. 

In 1413, Henry V decided to take advantage of the French situation and to assert the English claims on the French throne.  Upon the assassination of Jean the Fearless, by the Armagnacs, Henry made an alliance with Jean’s son, Philippe the Good. 

The Battle of Agincourt, 1415

In northern France, in 1415, an English army of 6000 troops overwhelmed a vastly superior French army of some 20 to 30 thousand at the battle of Agincourt by cunning use of English longbow archers supported by cavalry.  The battle marked England’s third great Hundred Years’ War victory. 

The English longbow was a technological leap forward in warfare.  The bow, measuring 6 feet, was probably of Welsh origin.  It shot yard long arrows some 200 yards, which proved to be an indefensible force when correctly used.   

English Conquest of Northern France, 1422

With their longbows, the English went on to conquer Normandy in 1420.  Following this, Henry V married the daughter of Charles VI and forced Charles to declare him the heir to the French throne.  Before Henry’s death, in 1422, he and his ally, the Duke of Burgundy, had conquered the entire northern half of France. 

Henry’s son, Henry VI, was only an infant when Henry V died.  Consequently, he failed to preserve the English gains in France.  This failure ultimately lead to his overthrow in 1461.  

Several weeks following Henry V’s death, the incapacitated Charles VI died.  His son, Charles VII, became the king of France. 

Victory of Joan of Arc at Orléans, 1429

In 1428, the English laid siege to Orléans, but were forced, in 1429, to raise the siege when a French relief force, organized by Joan of Arc, saved the city.  She was subsequently taken prisoner by the Burgundians who sold her to the English.  They, in turn, tried and executed her for heresy. 

Treaty of Arras, September 21, 1435

In 1435, Philippe the Good switched his allegiance, having became convinced that the English could never impose their will on the conquered areas of France.  At the Treaty of Arras, September 21, 1435, Philippe the Good supported Charles VII’s claim to the French throne and confirmed the French claim to the territories previously ceded to the English.  Within a year, the remaining support for the English, in the region of Île-de-France, collapsed and French soldiers entered Paris

In 1444, the Truce of Tours provided for a marriage between Henry VI and the niece of Queen Mary of France.  The marriage between Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou took place in 1445.   

Reconquest of Normandy & Guyenne, 1450 - 1451

In 1449 the war flared up again when the English intervened against the duke of Brittany who had done homage to Charles VII.  The next year, in 1450, the people of Kent rebelled against Henry VI due to the corruptness of his ministers and his incompetent handling of the war.  The French mounted a vigorous campaign that quickly resulted in the reconquest of Normandy and, in 1451, of most of Guyenne.  By 1453, the English had lost all of their holdings in France with the exception of Calais. 

End of the Hundred Years’ War, 1453

Finally, Henry made peace with France in 1453 and the Hundred Years’ War came to an official end.  This event, coupled with English discontentment and the insanity of Henry, lead to the so-called English War of the Roses [the symbol of both sides being a rose – the House of York using the white rose and the House of Lancaster using a red one].  In 1558, the French took Calais. 

Aftermath of the Hundred Years’ War

In 1469, Louis XI gave his brother, Charles de France, Duke de Berry, the Duchy of Guyenne.  

Following the War, Louis XI regained most of the power that had been lost to the French nobles during the Hundred Years’ War.  His greatest rival was now Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy.  In 1477, Charles died while trying to conquer the city of Nancy.  Louis then seized most of his vast lands. 

The wars’ outcome had the ultimate consequence of turning the English kings’ interests inward to deal with England’s internal problems.  It also caused the French Valois kings to work at converting their country from a number of independent fiefdoms into a unified, powerful realm.  The wars could even be considered as a watershed for the outcropping of nationalism throughout western Europe.



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