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The Hundred Years' War: An Overview

Introduction to the Hundred Years' War

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Fought 1337-1453, the Hundred Years' War saw England and France battle for the French throne.  Beginning as a dynastic war in which Edward III of England attempted to assert his claim to the French throne, the Hundred Years' War also saw English forces attempt to regain lost territories on the Continent.  Though initially successful, English victories and gains were slowly undone as French resolve stiffened.  The Hundred Years' War saw the rise of the longbow and the decline of the mounted knight.  Helping to launch the concepts of English and French nationalism, the war also saw the erosion of the feudal system.   

Hundred Years' War: Causes

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The principal cause of the Hundred Years' War was a dynastic struggle for the French throne.  Following the death of Philip IV and his sons, Louis X, Philip V, and Charles IV, the Capetian Dynasty came to an end.  As no direct male heir existed, Edward III of England, Philip IV's grandson by his daughter Isabella, asserted his claim to the throne.  This was rejected by the French nobility who preferred Philip IV's nephew, Philip of Valois.  Crowned Philip VI in 1328, he desired Edward to do homage to him for the valuable fief of Gascony.  Though resistant to this, Edward relented and recognized Philip as King of France in 1331 in exchange for continued control over Gascony.  In doing so, he forfeited his rightful claim to the throne.   

Hundred Years' War: The Edwardian War

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In 1337, Philip VI revoked Edward III's ownership of Gascony and began raiding the English coast.  In response, Edward reasserted his claims to the French throne and began forming alliances with the nobles of Flanders and the Low Countries.  In 1340, he won a decisive naval victory at Sluys which gave England control of the Channel for the duration of the war.  Six years later, Edward landed on the Cotentin Peninsula with an army and captured Caen.  Advancing north, he crushed the French at the Battle of Crécy and captured Calais.  With the passing of the Black Death, England resumed the offensive in 1356 and defeated the French at Poitiers.  Fighting ended with the Treaty of Brétigny in 1360 which saw Edward gain substantial territory.   

Hundred Years' War: The Caroline War

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Assuming the throne in 1364, Charles V worked to rebuild the French military and renewed the conflict five years later.  French fortunes began to improve as Edward and his son, The Black Prince, were increasingly unable to lead campaigns due to illness.  This coincided with the rise of Bertrand du Guesclin who began to oversee the new French campaigns.  Utilizing Fabian tactics, he recovered large amounts of territory while avoiding pitched battles with the English.   In 1377, Edward opened peace negotiations, but died before they were concluded.  He was followed by Charles in 1380.  As both were replaced by underage rulers in Richard II and Charles VI, England and France agreed to peace in 1389 through the Treaty of Leulinghem.  

Hundred Years' War: The Lancastrian War

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The years after the peace saw turmoil in both countries as Richard II was deposed by Henry IV in 1399 and Charles VI was plagued by mental illness.  While Henry desired to mount campaigns in France, issues with Scotland and Wales prevented him from moving forward.  The war was renewed by his son Henry V in 1415 when an English army landed and captured Harfleur.  As it was too late in the year to march on Paris, he moved towards Calais and won crushing victory at the Battle of Agincourt.  Over the next four years, he captured Normandy and much of northern France.  Meeting with Charles in 1420, Henry agreed to the Treaty of Troyes by which he agreed to marry the French king's daughter and have his heirs inherit the French throne.   

Hundred Years' War: The Tide Turns

Photograph Courtesy of the Centre Historique des Archives Nationales, Paris, AE II 2490

Though ratified by the Estates-General, the treaty was rebuffed by a faction of nobles known as the Armagnacs who supported Charles VI's son, Charles VII, and continued the war.  In 1428, Henry VI, who had taken throne on his father's death six years earlier, directed his forces to lay siege to Orléans.  Though the English were gaining the upper hand in the siege, they were defeated in 1429 after the arrival of Joan of Arc.  Claiming to be chosen by God to lead the French, she led forces to a series of victories in the Loire Valley including at Patay.  Joan's efforts allowed Charles VII to be crowned at Reims in July.  After her capture and execution the following year, the French advance slowed.      

Hundred Years' War: The French Triumph

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Gradually pushing the English back, the French captured Rouen in 1449 and a year later defeated them at Formigny.  English efforts to sustain the war were hampered by Henry VI's bouts of insanity along with a power struggle between the Duke of York and Earl of Somerset.  In 1451, Charles VII captured Bordeaux and Bayonne.  Forced to act, Henry dispatched an army to the region but it was defeated at Castillon in 1453.  With this defeat, Henry was compelled to abandon the war in order to deal with issues in England which would ultimately result in the Wars of the Roses.  The Hundred Years' War saw English territory on the Continent reduced to the Pale of Calais, while France moved toward being a united and centralized state. 

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