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1337-1453 - Hundred Years War

The Hundred Years War itself is a rather misleading phrase. War between the kings of France and England had been chronic since the Norman conquest, and this so-called Hundred Years War made no important change in the relations between the two lands until its close, when England lost its possessions on the Continent and turned subsequently to the upbuilding of a sea power. One might, therefore, better speak of a four hundred years war from the Norman conquest to the close of the Middle Ages.

The time of the Hundred Years War passes beyond the prime of medieval civilization and enters the later Middle Ages. "We pass, as it were, out of the light and truth of the thirteenth century, that wonderful, if troublous, seedtime of principles and realities, into the gorgeous, chivalrous, unreal, selfish, oppressive, and unprincipled fourteenth." There is a certain convenient coincidence in the dates and duration of reigns in the two lands at this time. During the fifty-year reign of Edward III of England there were three French kings, Philip VI, John II, and Charles V. Then the situation was reversed, and during the long reign of Charles VI in France there were three English monarchs, Richard II, Henry IV, and Henry V. Finally, the reigns of Charles VII of France and Henry VI of England, which close the Hundred Years War, covered exactly the same years, 1422 to 1461.

This so-called "Hundred Years War" was not exactly a century in duration, but covered the period from 1337 to 1453. On the other hand, the number of years of actual warfare were much less than a hundred, since in the course of this period there were numerous long truces and two treaties of peace intended to put a stop to hostilities entirely. But at the time usually accepted as the end of the war there was no treaty. Finally, the causes of the reopening of hostilities in 1337 between Edward III and Philip VI were not new, but the old problems of Guienne, Flanders, and Scotland over which Edward I and Philip IV had fought already.

In 1328 the direct male line of the Capetians expired and the French had to determine to whom of the royal family the French crown should go. Already in 1316, upon the succession death of the oldest son of Philip the Fair, it had been decided that his brother rather than his daughter should succeed him and that a woman should not hold the throne in France. Hence it was now logical to decide that Philip of Valois [the first king of the House of Valois], a son of Philip the Fair's brother, should become king rather than Edward III of England, whose mother was a daughter of Philip the Fair. Not only should women not succeed to the throne, but also the male descendants of a female line were excluded. Edward's mother accepted this decision, and the young King of England, who was not yet of age, did homage to the new French monarch for his fiefs on the Continent. But a few years later the inevitable quarrel with France over Guienne, and the Scottish and Flemish questions, led Edward III in 1337 to lay claim to the French crown and declare war.

The Flemish towns made an alliance with Edward III. The English king was also joined by many lords of the Netherlands and northwestern Germany who felt their independence menaced by the growing power of France. These last allies, however, proved of little assistance. The first important battle of the war was a naval one at Sluys off the Flemish coast, where the English fleet, aided at the last moment by the Flemish, decisively defeated the French and gained control of the sea for the next thirty years. Papal legates now arranged a truce which lasted until 1345.

In France under Philip VI the royal power continued to develop. Philip gave away a good deal of territory in appanages, it is true, but added to his dominions by Royal power purchase the city of Montpellier on the Mediterranean coast and the province of Dauphine east of the Rhone. As the oldest son of the King of England is called Prince of Wales, so from this time in France the crown prince was known as the "dauphin."

In 1346 direct war between the Kings of England and France was renewed in the famous campaign of Crecy, familiar, like so many other incidents of the war, from the chivalric pen of the fourteenth-century historian, Froissart. Edward III landed with a Cr small but well-trained army on the coast of Normandy at La Hogue, and marched through that province plundering. When the French overtook the English army, it was drawn up in a favorable position on rising ground at Crecy waiting for them. The French were hot, hungry, and thirsty, but so eager for battle that those behind kept pressing on instead of obeying the royal command to halt. The English archers had kept their long bows dry, and the destructive volleys of shafts which they poured in throughout the battle were probably the decisive factor. The French knights made many successive attacks upon the English position, but to no avail, and they were slaughtered in great numbers.

Edward did not follow up his victory by invading France again, but continued his march northward, and, after a long Capture of siege, took the important port of Calais, just Calais across the Channel from Dover. England would henceforth have a Continental port handy for landing armies to invade France. Edward III's eldest son, the Black Prince, so named because of the black armor which he wore to set off his fair complexion, had won his spurs at Crecy and now became the English commander in Gascony. From there he made a plundering raid into Toulouse as far as the Mediterranean, and then, after marching north and finding that he could not cross the Loire, retreated to Poitiers. There he defeated and captured King John in 1355, who spent the remainder of his reign in honorable captivity in London.

In 1360 peace was concluded in the Treaty of Bretigny, which gave Edward III a little territory near Calais and greatly enlarged his borders in southwestern France, where he received all Gascony, Guienne, and Poitou free from any feudal bond to the French king. In return he renounced his claim to the French throne. The terms of the Treaty of Bretigny are of slight importance, however, since it was soon broken and went by the board.

In 1369 an appeal from the inhabitants of southwestern France against the harsh rule of the Black Prince led Charles V to renew the war, which this time turned in favor of France. The Black Prince soon became broken in health and returned to England, where his father was still king, but now in his dotage. In 1372 the Castilian fleet in alliance with France defeated the English at La Rochelle, and by the close of the reign of Charles V, the English had little left on the Continent except such seaports as Calais, Bordeaux, and Bayonne. During the remainder of the century there was no fighting of importance.

The reigns of Richard II of England and Charles VI of France were somewhat alike. Both opened with minorities Richard II during which the kings were in tutelage and aLFcharles affairs came largely into the hands of their uncles, VI of France whose rule in both cases was bad. The first few years of both reigns were also marked by popular revolts, as we have seen. Both kings then declared themselves of age and ruled well for a few years. In 1396 Richard married Charles's daughter and peace prevailed between the two realms. From 1392 Charles was insane most of the time, and some have thought that Richard's reason became affected also.

When Charles VI became insane, there ensued a struggle for the control of the central government between two parties, one led by his brother, Louis of Orleans, the other by the Duke of Burgundy. In the reign of John II the old feudal dynasty in that duchy in France had died out and the fief had escheated to the French Crown. But John had promptly granted it again to his younger son, Philip. This Philip presently married the daughter of the Count of Flanders, and when her father died in 1384 they inherited not only Flanders, but also the counties of Burgundy, Nevers, Rethel, and Artois. In 1410 various nobles formed a league against Burgundy in which the leading spirit was the Count of Armagnac. Henceforth, therefore, the civil strife is spoken of as between the Burgundians and Armagnacs. The dauphin sided first with one party and then with the other.

This divided state of France gave the brilliant and ambitious King of England, Henry V, an opportunity to carry the war once more into French territory. He opened negotiations with the Burgundian party and in 1415 conducted a campaign similar to that which had led to the battle of Crecy in 1346. Like Edward III, he landed on the coast of Normandy, but north of the Seine. where he besieged and took Harfleur. He then marched north and had difficulty in crossing the Somme, just as had Edward III, and finally won, over a much larger French army, a victory at Agincourt, nor far from Crecy, and by similar tactics to those employed at that battle.

In 1418 Paris opened its gates to the Burgundians and the Count of Armagnac was murdered. But soon the English successes and exorbitant terms of peace named by Henry V caused Duke John of Burgundy to seek a reconciliation with the dauphin. By this time the death of his older brothers had made dauphin the youngest son of the insane king. As the Duke of Burgundy knelt before this sixteen-year-old prince, he was attacked and slain, paying the penalty for his murder of Orleans fifteen years before.

The new Duke of Burgundy, Philip the Good, held the dauphin responsible for his father's murder and came over wholly to the English side. He agreed to the The Treaty Treaty of Troyes in 1420, by which Henry V of Troyes married the French Princess Catherine and was to become King of France upon the death of the insane Charles VI. Henry was making good his claim by further conquests at the dauphin's expense, when death overtook him in 1422 at the age of only thirty-five. Charles VI died a little later in the same year. Henry VI, son of Henry V, was not yet a year old; but his uncle, the Duke of Bedford, tried to procure the French throne for him and continued the military successes of the English for some years.

The situation by 1429 was as follows: Charles VII, who was but nineteen at his father's death, whose face was unprepossessing in appearance, and whose short, knock-kneed legs moved with an undignified gait, of 0rleans had so far remained inactive south of the Loire. He appeared to have no money and to be controlled by unworthy favorites, and was derisively known as "the King of Bourges," from the cathedral town where he most often held his court. The English and Burgundians held everything north of the Loire and some territory on the southwestern coast.

An illiterate peasant girl now turned the tide of victory in favor of France. Saintly voices and visions, Jeanne d'Arc, or Joan of Arc, believed, bade her leave her home on the Jeanne border of Lorraine and go to the help of her king and her country. Strange to say, she persuaded Charles to give her a few troops and let her try to save Orleans. But many other soldiers joined her as she marched through Blois toward Orleans. She brought provisions into the starving town by boats on the river, and then, by capturing one English fortification after another, forced the English within a few days to abandon the siege. Joan's marvelous success was due chiefly to the fact that all the French needed at this time to defeat and drive out the English was confidence and leadership. Joan supplied both. The idea of one France, in contrast to feudal states and local interests, had now come into being.

Joan was captured and tried at Rouen, the English headquarters in France. She was condemned as a heretic and burned at the stake only two years after her relief of Orleans. After their execution of Joan, the English won no more victories. In 1435 the Duke of Bedford died, and thereafter there was dissension and lack of capable military leadership among Henry VI's advisers and generals. In 1435, too, the Duke of Burgundy abandoned the English alliance and made the Treaty of Arras with Charles VII, from whom he received territorial and other concessions. The next year the French king reentered Paris. There was a truce from 1444 to 1449, but in 1450 the English lost Normandy and in 1453 their possessions in southern France. Calais alone was left to them.

No definite treaty was signed relinquishing their claims, but none was needed; they were not to recover the lost ground. However, it was some time before English monarchs wholly gave up the idea of invading France. Edward IV came in 1475 with the largest army that England had yet sent across the Channel, but he went home without having fought an engagement. Henry VII came again, but also allowed himself to be bought off with money. Henry VIII was possessed in his youth with the notion of winning glory in French campaigns, but was soon turned from this policy by the wiser head of his minister, Wolsey.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:00:17 ZULU