Brief Overview of The Hundred Years War
How long did the Hundred Years War last? The answer is actually a surprising 116 years. The Hundred Years war is the name given to the series of on and off warfare fought between the kings of England and France, from 1337 to 1453. The war consisted of sieges, raids, sea and land battles, and long periods truce ("Hundred Years War", 222). The war shaped the way the time period ended and the way western Europe looks today. The events of the Hundred Years War created a framework for the way we look at the Middle Ages.
A major cause of this outbreak of battle was the battle over Flanders, an industrial center of northern Europe. The counts of Flanders were vassals to the king of France, but the English saw Flanders as their major center of foreign trade due to its cloth manufacture. This caused fighting between the two countries to begin. The English also controlled southern France after Eleanor of Aquitaine married King Henry II in the mid-12th century. Therefore, the French allied the Scots to control a northern stronghold, called the "Auld Alliance". The two countries also fought over control of the English Channel and the North Sea. All of these forces caused the long war to begin (Nelson).
The Hundred Years War is broken up into three stages or phases. The first lasted until the signature of the Treaty of Bretigny in 1360 (1337-1360). The second phase lasted from 1360-1413 when Henry V became king, and the third phase lasted from 1413-1453. The first phase was marked by English victories in France and alliances with French feudal lords. The second phase was marked by English inactivity and French raids keeping the English on the defensive. The third phase began with major and dramatic English victories but ended in defeat and England's nearly complete withdrawal from France ("Hundred Years War", 223).
In 1337, King Philip VI of France moved his troops to the English control of Aquitaine. In 1340, the English won a major naval victory at Sluys. Afterward, English King Edward III declared himself King of France. In 1346, the English forces defeated the French at Crecy, and then in 1347, the English captured Calais. In 1350, John II became King of France after Philip VI died. In 1356, in the English victory at Poitiers, King John II was captured. He died in 1364. In 1360, the Treaty of Bretigny was signed, giving the English complete control of Aquitaine and ending the first phase of the long war (Hundred Years War: Timeline).
At Poitiers, Edward, the Black Prince, son of King Edward III, commanded the English. Unfortunately he died before his father and was never king. Richard II became king in 1377. As the war dragged on, the English lost land and money causing the English peasants to revolt in 1381. King Henry V invaded the French in the beginning of the war's third phase, winning major victories at Harfleur and Agincourt in 1415. After the Treaty of Troyes in 1420, King Henry V was recognized as heir to the French throne (Rosenwein 153, Hundred Years War: Timeline). After both Henry V and Charles V died in 1427, Henry VI was heir to the throne, despite being an infant.
In 1428, the siege of Orleans, the turning point of the war, began. The English were turned away however, as in 1429, the French under command of Joan of Arc defeated the English attackers. She was captured in 1430, and died a year later. In 1450, the French won at Formigny to recapture Normandy, and in 1453, the French won at Castillon, the English lost control of Bordeaux and the war ended without a treaty (Nelson).
After the war, the English lost focus on controlling continental territory and began to strengthen its maritime supremacy. The order of knighthood went down after a wave of civil wars hit western Europe. European countries began to establish standing armies. The most significant result was that the nobility and secular leaders were busy fighting each other at a time when western Europe desperately needed leadership (Rosenwein, 176).
In the actual war, only a small amount of time, money, and men was taken up by actual combat. Battles lasted less than a day and involved fewer than 3000 troops aside. Sieges were more common, tedious affairs lasting for years. In sieges, the opposing army would surround a town and attempt to take it over. Henry V was a master of siege warfare, allowing for major English victories in the early 1400's. Towns were encircled by protective forts. Attack methods included blockades, digging tunnels, and catapults used to hurl rocks, flaming arrows, and filth into the town. The siege cannon, used after 1400, led to the end of the castle and fort. Sea battles involved 20-50 castle-like ships. Generally, the English held the upper hand at sea ("Hundred Years War", 223-24).
During the war, the culture of chivalry and knighthood thrived. The war inspired
poems, patriotic songs, tournaments, and scholarly/historical writings about war, royal power, pacifism, and individual liberties. Raids continued in France during periods of formal truce that devastated the country economically. Warfare between England and France lasted for about 800 years from the 11th to the 19th century ("Hundred Years War", 224).
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