THE HUNDRED YEARS' WAR 1337-1453 The Hundred Years War was the last great medieval war. It was a war not just between Kings, but lesser nobles were also able to pursue their own personal agendas while participating in the larger conflict. Future wars saw far less factionalism, at least on the scale found in medieval conflicts. The Hundred Years War was actually dozens of little wars and hundreds of battles and sieges that went on for over a century until both sides were exhausted. While neither side won in any real sense, the end result was that while there were two kingdoms at the beginning of the war, there were two nations at the end of it. In 1337, most of the English nobility spoke French, although most knew enough English to deal with their subjects.
When Duke William of Normandy conquered England in 1066, he did so as a French noble. But since Duke William had conquered a kingdom, he had become king of England while remaining duke of Normandy. Duke William also replaced nearly all the Anglo-Saxon aristocracy with French nobles. During the next two centuries, the French speaking English kings acquired even more property in France. Finally, in the 13 th century, a particularly able French king took most of this land away from the English king.
But by the early 14 th century, two French provinces, Gascony and Guyenne, were still ruled by the English king, and in 1337 the French king Philip the 6 th demanded that these provinces be returned to French control. The English king, Edward the 3 rd, did not want to violate the feudal bonds that united all of Europe by defying Philip, his feudal overlord for those provinces. So Edward challenged Philip's claim to the French throne, asserting that his own claim (which did in fact exist) was superior. Thus the war began, with Philip the 6 th claiming the right to appoint French nobles as rulers of Gascony and Guyenne, and Edward the 3 rd claiming that he was the rightful king of France and England.
There were other issues involved. England had major financial interests in the wool industry in Flanders (then a part of France) and France supported the Scots in their wars against England. Moreover, England had better troops, a more efficient government and thousands of English soldiers were more than willing to campaign in France, and get rich in the process. For the first few years of the war there wasn't much happening except English raids into France and Flanders. Then, in the 1340 s, England and France took opposite sides in the long-running civil war over who should be the duke of Britanny.
In 1346 this resulted in a French invasion of Gascony and the shattering French defeat at Crecy. The English then rampaged through western France, until a truce was signed in 1354, brought on by the devastation of the Plague, which hit France heavily in 1347 to 1348. The truce didn't last. In 1355, the war began again. In 1356 another major battle was fought at Poitiers and the French king was captured. English raids continued until 1360, when another truce was signed.
In 1397, Charles the 6 th of France and Richard the 2 nd of England agreed to a 30 year truce. The English were still in France, the French still wanted them out, and bands of brigands were rampaging all over the countryside. Civil war was brewing in both England and France. Despite the truce, small French forces managed to land in Scotland, England, and Wales to raid and pillage. The English, with a smaller population, actually had a larger pool of higher quality troops available than the French. England also had a lock on long bowmen (yeomen), who were also excellent infantry and light cavalry.
Thus the English had mobility and quality advantages. Meanwhile, the French had to contend with poor generalship. For most of the war there were a larger number of good commanders who were English rather than French. As time passed, the French acquired some good commanders of their own and they fortified most of central France, making it more difficult for the English to live off the land (and provide enough pillage to attract large numbers of those still superior English men-at-arms and yeomen). The French wore the English down. Sort of the like Napoleon or the Germans going into Russia, only in slow motion.
In 1413, Henry the 5 th (the great-grandson of Edward the 3 rd) came to power in England. Henry allied himself with the Burgundian faction in the French civil war, defeated the French king Charles the 6 th at Agincourt in 1415 and forced a treaty favorable to the English. In 1421 Henry the 5 th was declared the heir to the French throne (Charles the 6 th disinherited his own son, the Dauphin) and Henry married Charles' daughter. The son of this marriage (Henry the 6 th) would be the king of France and England. It looked as though England had finally won.
But the disinherited Dauphin continued to resist. Henry the 5 th unexpectedly died in August 1422, followed in October by Charles the 6 th, with the nine month old Henry the 6 th not yet ready to receive the two crowns. Despite the efforts of Henry the 5 th's able brothers to hold things together. Joan of Arc came and went. The Burgundians turned on their English allies, and by 1453, the French, aided by these developments and the increasing professionalism of their army had driven the English from the Continent. This gave the English a few years to get ready for the War of the Roses, while the French took care of some internal problems and got ready for the first of many invasions of Italy.
Bibliography - Conta mine, Philippe, War in the Middle Ages (1984) - WWW. TheHundredYearsWarHistoryHomePage. Com.