The Hundred Years’ War

Royal_Arms_of_EnglandThe Hundred Years’ War was a conflict between England and France that lasted from 1337-1453. It had its roots in the fact that England and France had been somewhat entangled since the year 1066 with the Norman conquest. When William the Conquerer (who was also Duke of Normandy) ascended the English throne in 1066 he linked England and France together because he held territories in France that would pass down to subsequent English rulers in the years to come. By 1204, however, France had managed to loose England’s control over these territories, leaving it with only the small region of Gascony in the southwest. With the death of Charles IV of France in 1328, the unbroken Capetian dynasty came to an end. Edward III of England then laid claim to the French throne, because his mother was the daughter of Philip IV of France. However, the son of Philip IV’s younger brother, Philip of Valois, was favored by the French nobility, and Edward accepted this decision. Nevertheless, in 1337 he restated his claims to the French throne, and initiated the Hundred Years’ War. In 1340, as a symbol of his supposed right to the French throne, Edward quartered the royal arms of France (gold fleur-de-lis on a blue field) with those of England (three gold lions on a red field) in the first and fourth quarters, which are symbolically the most important, as shown above. The English royal arms remained quartered with those of France until 1801.

In addition to the conflict over who was sovereign in France, there was the issue of Flanders, over which France had long claimed lordship. England had enjoyed a lucrative wool trade with Flanders, and was concerned with losing this profitable partner in trade. There was also the view among both Edward III and Philip of Valois that war was an extremely profitable venture, and neither side wanted to avoid it.

The English started strong, winning two major victories at Crécy in 1346 and Poitiers in 1356, and later on with the battle of Agincourt in 1415. After the battle of Poitiers, there was a treaty made (in which England got one-third of France) in 1360 that lasted until 1369. During this time and after, the French were able to push back against English holdings in France, and by Edward III’s death in 1377, English control was reduced to small outposts around Bordeaux. There was another treaty that lasted from 1389-1415. While all this was happening, in France there was a revolt of the peasants known as the jacquerie, which weakened the French government. England saw this as a golden opportunity to resume the war, so in 1415 Henry V of England launched an attack at Agincourt that was a great victory.

At this point it seems that France was doomed to lose the war. However, France had always had the advantage, and it was really social and political disorganization on the part of France that allowed all of these English victories to happen. With the help of Joan of Arc, the French defeated the English besiegers at the siege of Orléans in 1429. This boosted French morale, and the French had many other victories in the ensuing decades, including the battle of Formigny in 1450, and the battle of Castillion in 1453, which brought an end to the devastating Hundred Years’ War. The English territories in France were all recaptured, except for Calais.

The Hundred Years’ War was not a continuous conflict spanning an entire century. It was a series of conflicts, separated by periodic treaties. England never really had the resources to defeat France, and the confusion within France itself was why it suffered so many embarrassing defeats early on. What the Hundred Years’ War accomplished was the total disentanglement of France and England, which had been linked since the Norman conquest.