UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


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.

The people of Paris summoned Charles of Navarre, who had been released from prison, against the Dauphin. This ambitious, clever, and eloquent prince made himself the orator of the populace, and solemnly harangued or “preached "to a large concourse of people, promising to defend the country, and mentioning the fact that he had some claim to the crown of France himself. The Dauphin hoped to counterbalance this new influence by the same means. And as if by a stroke of magic, Paris was suddenly, in the midst of the Middle Ages, adorned with two forums. In fact, the farther it advanced, the more did this revolution lose its general character; the ardor of the deputies from the provinces, far removed from their constituents, became chilled, while the commune of Paris, always in the midst of things, without even leaving its own hearth, retained its numbers, its zeal, and its popularity.

A more frightful spectacle had never been seen : the peasants, ruined by the English, by the freebooters, and by their own lords whose ransoms they were obliged to pay, assembled and marched about in bands, under the name of Jacques [Jacques Bonhomme was the name contemptuously applied to the French peasant class. From it comes the name “ Jacquerie " for the insurrection]. Led by a king of their own making, William Callet by name,in Champagne in Picardy there were more than 100,000 of them. They were animated with a bitter hatred of the nobles, and considered themselves called upon to destroy them utterly. They pillaged the castles, killed the nobles, and outraged ladies of the highest rank. They were finally attacked on all sides, and 7000 were killed at Meaux. This great peasant insurrection was drowned in blood.

Edward III. immediately took up arms again and landed at Calais with a large army, followed by an enormous train. He hoped to have a chance to fight, but none was given him. The Dau. phin stayed at Paris, and after six months of marches and of fruitless provocations Edward arrived at Chartres with an army which was decimated by famine. A violent storm made their plight even worse, and the King of England, stretching out his arms toward the cathedral, vowed to God and to the Holy Virgin that he would no longer oppose a peace. 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. The first ducal house of Burgundy became extinct in 1361, and this great fief fell to the crown. John showed as little wisdom in his peace as in his war policy, and imme. diately bestowed Burgundy on his fourth son, Philip the Bold, who had fought bravely at Poitiers. This Philip was the founder of the second house of Burgundy, which twice almost ruined France.

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.

John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, was then in Spain trying vainly to enforce his claims to the crown of Castile, to which he pretended to have a right : the other two, the dukes of York and Gloucester, and especially the latter, who was very popular, put themselves at the head of the formidable opposition formed against the two favorites of the king, Robert de Vere, Duke of Ireland, and Michael de la Pole, the chancellor.

In 1389 Richard II dismissed his council, declaring that he no longer needed any guardians, and by flattering the Duke of Lancaster was able to restrain the turbulent Duke of Gloucester. But his foolish prodigalities and his violence revived the spirit of faction and the legitimate fears of England. He could no longer borrow any money. The city of London had refused him a loan of a thousand pounds sterling. He obtained the money he used for his pleasures from gratuitous or really forced gifts. A contemporary says of him : “ There was not a single lord, prelate, gentleman, or rich citizen who had not been forced to lend the king some money, which they well knew he would neither wish nor be able to repay." Surrounded by a guard of 10,000 archers, he ruled without a thought of the laws of the kingdom.

For several years matters went on in this way, and in 1397 Richard thought himself strong enough to get rid of Gloucester. He sought him out on one of his estates, invited him to accompany him to London on some pressing business, and had him kidnapped on the way thither, thrown into a vessel and carried to Calais, where one night he was smothered between two mattresses. It was given out that he had died suddenly. The Earl of Arundel was executed, the Earl of Warwick exiled to the Isle of Man, and the Archbishop of Canterbury condemned to banishment.

Richard believed that he had now avenged his long years of humiliation, and had succeeded in assuming his power. One man, however, still caused him some anxiety ; Henry of Bolingbroke, son of the Duke of Lancaster, and him he banished. On the death of his father (1399) he did not allow the son to receive his inheritance, and appropriated the lands of this wealthy house. But Henry, on being banished and despoiled, did not remain inactive. He formed a conspiracy at Paris, and acted in concert with the principal peers of England. Three frail vessels carried him and his men to Ravenspur, near the mouth of the Humber. Here he was joined by his uncle, the Duke of York, and by the earls of Westmoreland and Northumberland, and succeeded in entering London and occupying almost the whole country before Richard, who was then suppressing a rebellion in Ireland, had even heard of his arrival. Richard II was successfully quelled and he died, as it was believed, assassinated in his prison (1400).

Henry IV usurped the crown, and after a very disturbed reign, realized that great foreign expeditions would be the only means of assuaging the spirit of revolt of the barons, and that great victories alone could command their respect. Shakespeare represents him on his death-bed as advising his son, in noble words, to resume the war with France in order to renew the laurels of Crécy and Poitiers to the glory of the house of Lancaster. He was worthy of this homage of the king of English poets, from his own and his father's friendship for the first great poet of England, Geoffrey Chaucer.

The son to whom Henry IV bequeathed the task of making these conquests was a singular kind of prince. At twenty-five years of age he was no better than the worst subject of the kingdom he was going to govern. His intimate friends were a few dissipated nobles who were deeply in debt - Falstaff is a remarkable type of them — and he even associated with highway robbers and passed his life in debauchery and brigandage. The stories of the youthful dissipations of Henry V are pure legend. When his father died he changed completely; the frequenter of taverns and the breaker of doors became a wise, grave, severe, and devout king.

The 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. Of all eras of the history of France - this one is the saddest and most wretched. At other times there has been as much and more bloodshed, but never this extraordinary and memorable spectacle of a madman upon the throne. The four selfish and greedy uncles of the king, the dukes of Anjou, Berry, Burgundy, and Bourbon (the latter a maternal uncle), wrangled over the public treasury and the taxes, not in order to use them for the good of the state but for their own personal ambitions. To account for this confusion and disorder in the affairs of the kingdom one would naturally assume that the king must have been mad, and this was the case. He had lost his reason, and during thirty years had only rare intervals of lucidity.

While France was occupied and torn by civil contests, Henry V had succeeded to the throne of England : his youthful ardor prompted him to emulate the third Edward and the Black Prince; and in the year 1415 he embarked with an army at Southampton, and landed at the mouth of the Seine. He sat down before Harfleur, and took it after a month's siege. The season was already too far advanced for any serious enterprise, and Henry contented himself with the project of marching from Harfleur to Calais. He 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.

The French had suspended their quarrels in the presence of a foreign enemy. The king himself fixed his quarters at Rouen, and summoned thither his knights and nobles, who thronged in numbers sufficient to treble the English army. Henry endeavoured to cross the Somme, but every ford and passage was guarded, and he was obliged to ascend the river nearly to St. Quentin ere he was able to ford. During the delay caused by this march the French had ample time to throw their whole force between the English and Calais. They had challenged Henry to fix a day and a field of action ; he replied with sarcasm, that he did not skulk within walls or towns, but held his way and pitched his camp in the open field; and that they might choose any post between him and Calais ;-if impeded, he would force his way.

The French, under the constable D'Albret, followed Henry's suggestion, and posted themselves on the road which the English monarch must pursue, between the villages of Agincourt and Framecourt: they were 50,000 strong. Except the king, the dukes of Berri and Bure gundy, all the princes of the blood were present. There were, however, but few Burgundians; and a corps of 6000 burgesses that Paris offered to furnish was rejected with contempt. On the 24 October 1415 the English ariny approached; its strength is estimated by Lefebvre St. Remi, who fought in the action, at 1000 men at arms and 10,000 soldiers.

The Saxon arrows again had a fine field in the masses of horses which could hardly move. When the confusion was sufficient the archers advanced, knife in hand, and set to work to kill the horsemen who had been unhorsed and were encumbered by their armor. The field, which had been lately sown, was soaked with rain ; trampling had converted it into deep mud, and it was with difficulty that the horses, bearing men in heavy armor, could extricate themselves or perform aught like a charge. The English archers were defended by stakes which each man stuck before him. The French could not force them. Their horses, galled and maddened by the arrows, rushed back on the main body of the French and threw it into confusion. The English advanced ; the archers with hatchets and leaden mallets, leaping into the trenches of the line, commenced the massacre. Fixed in the mud, without room to wield their arms, or discipline to hold together and afford mutual aid, the French knights were either slain, or, by uncovering their heads, made themselves known and surrendered. Some 10,000 Frenchmen perished, most of them gentlemen, among them 120 great nobles and 7 princes. The English lost only about 1600 dead. The nobility had never before been weakened by such a terrible wound.

The English dared not to pursue. They were outnumbered and surrounded by their prisoners and vanquished enemies; and a body of them having presented a show of resistance, Henry felt obliged to give orders that each man should kill his prisoners. This was refused; and he commanded 200 archers especially to execute this odious task. Thus, many of the French were massacred in cold blood, until Henry, seeing that his fears were not founded, put a stop to the slaughter. At Agincourt the French certainly showed a want of manhood. Caution was observed in every movement. Though five times more numerous than the English army, they still kept on the defensive, and, when attacked, they surrendered in a panic. This was a third and decisive condemnation of the feudal armies, which were good in a former age, but which henceforth were powerless.

The disaster of Agincourt discredited the government of the Armagnacs, who, were only able to maintain themselves in Paris by violent means. In 1418 a conspiracy opened the gates of Paris to the Burgundians; with them the butchers returned, and with the butchers, massacres. The slaughter of the Armagnacs deluged Paris in blood. 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. From this time Charles was no longer the same man. The indolence of his younger years gave way to activity, prudence, and to boldness in enterprise. While he finished reconquering France, he also was busy in healing her other ills. 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.

When the truce with the English had expired, Charles VII hastened to renew the war with great energy and success. Normandy was reconquered by Dunois and Richemond, who gained the battle of Formigny (1450). Guienne shared the same fate in spite of the friendship of the Gascons for the English. The victory of Castillon, in which Talbot was killed, and which was due to the French artillery, permanently restored this province to France. The English retained only Calais on the continent. This was the end of the Hundred Years War, a war which, by giving rise to the lasting antagonism between France and England, made their separate nationalities much more distinct. France especially gained unity from it, and the south and north drew closer together, while her people, who are only moved by violent and continuous action, were initiated into a national life and acquired a sentiment for it.

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. Thus ended, in 1453, the very year which saw Constantinople fall before the Turks, the Hundred Years' War.

During the Hundred Years War, France and England tended in opposite directions. The French royal power, though weak at first, had kept up Parliament's grogress in continuous growth, while the English, which had been very strong under the first Norman kings, declined under their successors. The Hundred Years War favored both these movements. In order to carry on the war, the kings of England were constantly obliged to ask parliament for subsidies, which by this means held the crown in a sort of dependent position, while France, which was thrown into confusion by the foreign war, was incapable of a steady development of the germs of free institutions, which had sprung up under Philip the Fair, and had only explosions, so to speak, of liberty, as transient as they were violent.

It was precisely at this time, the time of the Hundred Years War, that England gradually reached the parliamentary form of government, the organic form of liberty. In the reign of Edward III, who was the most victorious of England's kings, but who was obliged by the need of money to convoke parliament every year and even several times a year, three essential principles of constitutional right were established : first, the illegality of taxes imposed without the consent of parliament ; second, the necessity of the concurrence of both houses for a change in the law ; third, the recognized right of the commons to inquire into abuses and to impeach the councillors of the king.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 06-12-2021 10:05:11 ZULU