Hundred Years’ War, common name given to the series of armed conflicts, broken by a number of truces and peace treaties,
that were waged from 1337 to 1453 between the two great European powers at that time, England and France.
An immediate pretext for war was the claim of the kings of England to the French throne.
Edward III of England, a Plantagenet, claimed that he was the legal heir to the French throne through his mother, Isabella, sister to King Charles IV of France, who had died in 1328.
The French, however, said that the crown could not descend through the female line and gave the throne to Philip VI, cousin to the deceased king.
The origin of the dispute lay in the fact that successive kings of England, beginning with William I (the Conqueror), controlled large areas of France as feudal fiefs and thus posed a threat to the French monarchy.
During the 12th and 13th centuries the kings of France attempted, with growing success, to reimpose their authority over those territories.
Edward feared that the French monarch, who exercised much power over the feudal lords of France, would deprive him of the duchy of Guienne, which Edward held as a fief from Philip.
There had been a few earlier crises, but on May 24, 1337, the date generally held to mark the beginning of the Hundred Years’ War, Philip VI seized Guienne from the English.
Edward’s animosity toward Philip was intensified because France had helped Scotland in the wars waged by Edward and his father against the Scottish kings for the throne of Scotland.
An important economic cause of the Hundred
Years’ War was the rivalry between England and France for the trade of
The First Phases of the War (1337-1380)
In 1338 Edward III declared himself king of France and invaded France from the north.
Neither side won any decisive victory on land, but the English fleet defeated that of the French off the city of Sluis in the Netherlands in 1340, and for many years thereafter the English controlled the English Channel.
A three-year truce was signed between England and France in 1343, but in 1345 Edward again invaded France.
On August 26, 1346, he led his army in a great victory over the French at the Battle of Crecy, and in 1347 Edward took the city of Calais after a siege.
Another series of truces (1347-1355) was followed by the capture of Bordeaux in 1355 by Edward the Black Prince, son of Edward III.
Using Bordeaux as a base, the English raided and plundered most of southern France.
In September 1356 the English, led by the Black Prince, won their second great victory of the war, at Poitiers, in west-central France.
In this battle they captured King John II of France, who had succeeded Philip VI in 1350.
In 1360 the Peace of Bretigny ended this phase of the first period of the war.
The terms of the treaty were generally favorable to England, which was left in possession of great areas of French territory.
In 1369 Charles V of France, who had succeeded John II in 1364, renewed the war.
In 1372 the Castilians, allied with France, destroyed an English fleet in the Bay of Biscay.
The French forces, under the leadership of Bertrand Du Guesclin, avoided pitched battles with the English, harrying them and cutting off their supplies.
England fought under several disadvantages.
It lost the best English military leader with the death in 1376 of the Black Prince, and in 1377 Edward III himself died and was succeeded by his grandson, Richard II, who was a child.
The English war effort was so weakened by the loss of strong leadership that the guerrilla tactics of Du Guesclin won back for France most of the territory ceded to England by the Treaty of Brétigny.
The actual fighting in this first period of the war ended in 1386, but a truce was not signed until 1396.
The truce was intended to last 30 years.
In 1414, however, Henry V, then king of England, during the civil war raging in France at the time, reasserted the claim of the English monarchy to the French throne.
Henry V inaugurated this period of the war by invading France in 1415.
The French, weakened by the conflict between the houses of Burgundy and Orleans for control of the regency that ruled the country for Charles VI, were defeated at Harfleur and then at the decisive Battle of Agincourt.
Then, in alliance with the house of Burgundy, Henry V conquered all of France north of the Loire River, including Paris.
On May 20, 1420, the Treaty of Troyes was signed, by which Charles VI recognized Henry V as his heir and also as regent of France;
Charles VI also declared his son Charles, the dauphin (later Charles VII), to be illegitimate and repudiated him as his heir.
The dauphin, however, refused to be bound by the treaty and continued to fight the English, who drove his forces across the Loire and then invaded the south of France.
In 1422 both Henry V and Charles VI died.
On the death of his father, the dauphin proclaimed himself king of France, as Charles VII, but the English claimed the French throne for the infant Henry VI, king of England, whose affairs were being conducted by a regent, John of Lancaster.
Charles VII was generally recognized as king of France south of the Loire River, and Henry VI as king of France north of the river.
In the course of their invasion of the south of France, in 1428 the English laid siege to the last important stronghold of the French, the city of Orleans.
The turning point of the entire Hundred Years’ War came in 1429 when French forces under Joan of Arc raised the siege of Orléans, defeated the English at the Battle of Patay, drove them north, and had Charles crowned king at Reims.
Charles VII made his position as king of France stronger by making a separate peace with the Burgundians (Peace of Arras, 1435), the allies of the English up to this time; the following year Charles took Paris from the English.
From 1436 to 1449 no military action occurred. In 1449 the French attacked the English in Normandy and in Guienne, regaining Normandy in 1450 and Guienne in 1451.
Fighting finally ceased in 1453, by which time the English held only Calais and a small adjoining district; they retained these possessions until 1558.
No formal treaty was ever signed to end the war.
The Hundred Years’ War resulted in the loss of thousands of lives on both sides and also in great devastation of lands and destruction of property in France.
It had important political and social results in France: It helped to establish a sense of nationalism;
ended all English claims to French territory; and made possible the emergence of centralized governing institutions and an absolute monarchy.