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27 Jul

Hundred Years’ War (1337 – 1453)

The Hundred Years’ War was fought between France and England with several intermissions from 1337 to 1453. Tensions between both countries arose already at the end of the 13th century when Philip IV of France tried to establish his influence over at the time English Duchy of Aquitaine and supported Scotland against England. The French and the English also came into conflict over Flanders which was officially a vassal county of the French king although its population politically supported England. The immediate cause for the outbreak of the Hundred Years’ War was the question of the French succession. The direct line of the Capetian dynasty died out with the death of the third son of Philip IV, Charles IV without a male heir. According to the Salic law the French nobility has chosen Philip VI from the House of Valois, a cadet branch of the Capetian dynasty as his successor. Edward III who was as Duke of Aquitaine a vassal of the French crown initially recognized Philip VI as French king but he asserted a claim to the French throne when he consolidated his power. Through his mother Isabella, daughter of Philip IV and sister of Charles IV of France, Edward III was Charles’ closest living relative and the only surviving male descendant of the senior line of the Capetian dynasty.

The Hundred Years’ War that was fought for 116 years started in the middle of diplomatic activities and military preparations without a formal declaration of war. The beginning of the Hundred Years’ War is traditionally dated to year 1337 when Philip VI confiscated Gascony that was at the time an integral part of the English Duchy of Aquitaine, while Edward refused to recognize Philip VI as King of France.

Edward III sent his forces across the English Channel (La Manche) in 1339. The English forces landed in Flanders from where they tried to invade France two times but both campaigns ended with failure resulting in English withdrawal from Flanders. Edward severely defeated the French fleet in the Battle of Sluis in 1340 and the English invasion of France became only a matter of time. However, Edward III failed to launch a decisive blow against France during the early years of the Hundred Years’ War, while his alliance with dukes and counts of Flanders and Low Countries turned out useless and fell apart by 1341. The English also were not able to take advantage of the rise of Jacob van Artevelde in Ghent (Flanders) although the initial expectations were high. Edward III gained better opportunity for military campaign in the French Kingdom after the outbreak of the Breton War of Succession in 1341 but he launched first larger campaign on July 11, 1346 when he landed in Normandy with 15,000 men.

Despite the size of his army (greater than any other sent to France during the Hundred Years’ War) Edward probably just planned to demonstrate his power and prestige. However, when the news of the size of Edward’s troops have reached Philip VI latter decided to sent his forces to stop the English advance. The armies confronted in the Battle of Crecy in 1346 and English forces heavily defeated the French despite being outnumbered. One year later Edward III captured Calais which was of great strategic importance for the English in later stages of the Hundred Years’ War. Despite the great victory in the Battle of Crecy and Siege of Calais Edward was not able to win the war. He went out of funds within the next eight years, while the English economy stagnated because of the Black Death. France was hit by the outbreak of the Bubonic plague in 1348 even severer and the estates of the realm were not wiling to provide funds to the French King for military purposes. Philip VI died in 1350 and was succeeded by his son John II who turned out to be incapable to repulse the English. The French were severely defeated in the Battle of Poitiers on September 19, 1356 by Edward’s son and namesake known as the Black Prince, while John has been captured and taken to the Tower of London.

A 15th century painting of Joan of Arc

Saint Joan of Arc

Imprisonment of John II and large amount of money necessary for his ransom had a devastating effect on authority of the Valois House in France. The estates of the realm criticized the French government, while the situation was further worsened by an alliance between Charles II of Navarre, Robert le Coq, Bishop of Laon and Etienne Marcel, a provost of the merchants of Paris. Simultaneously with the revolt led by Etienne Marcel broke out a peasant revolt known as the Jacquerie in Paris. However, Edward III did not take advantage of French inner crisis from 1356 to 1358. The French consolidated under the Dauphin (later Charles V), suppressed the Jacquerie and reestablished order, while Etienne Marcel has been killed in July in 1358. Thus Edward’s expedition to capture Paris or Rheims in October in 1359 failed. Despite that the first phase of Hundred Years’ War ended in English favor. Edward III negotiated the Treaty of Bretigny according to which England gained Aquitaine,Guienne, Calais, Ponthieu, Poitou and other territories, while the French also agreed to pay 3 million gold crown for John’s release from the English captivity.

Neither France nor England intended to fulfill the terms of the Treaty of Bretigny. Edward III never gave up his claim to the French throne, while the Dauphin planned to recapture the lost territories as soon as he ascended to the throne. Charles V was a poor soldier but he was an excellent statesman and diplomat, while his military commander Bertrand Du Guesclin recaptured much of French territory from the English by 1378. At the same time England became exhausted from the war, while both the Black Prince and Edward III died within a year, respectively, in 1376 and 1377. Edward III was succeeded by his minor nephew Richard II who had to deal with the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. He managed to suppress the revolt but failed to resolve the conflicts with the barons who forced him to abdicate in 1399 and chosen Henry III from the House of Lancaster as his successor.

France fell into an inner crisis after the prosperous reign of Charles V. His successor Charles VI became insane in 1392, while the rivalry between the Armagnacs, Dukes of Orleans and Dukes of Burgundy over the regency led to the outbreak of a civil war. The struggles between the Armagnacs and the Burgundians encouraged Henry V (1413-1422) to renew the Hundred Years’ War which was practically at standstill from 1377 to 1413. Henry invaded France in 1415 and won the Battle of Agincourt. After the assassination of John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy in 1419 his successor Philip the Good allied himself with England and by 1425 Charles VII (1422-1461) held only few castles in the Loire Valley.

The Hundred Years’ War reached a turning point with the emergence of Joan of Arc. She persuaded uncrowned Charles VII that she had had visions from God who told her to recover France from the English and to send her to Orleans that was besieged by the English. Joan of Arc relieved the Siege of Orleans in 1429 which greatly lifted the morality of the French forces that slowly advanced in the territory north of Loire, while Charles had a open way to Rheims to be crowned. She was captured by the Burgundians who handed her over to the English one year later. Joan of Arc was convicted of heresy and burned at the stake in 1431 but the French continued to fight with the same enthusiasm. Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy reconciled with Charles VII in 1435, while the French forces drove out the English by 1453. The Hundred Years’ War ended with the Battle of Castillon in 1453 and French victory although the English won all the major battles. The House of Valois retained the French throne, while England lost all its territories on the Continent except for Calais which was recaptured by France in 1558.

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