Hundred Years' War, 1337-1453

Click here for a Timeline of the Hundred Years' War

A.) The Character of the War

Already the name of the event commonly known as the Hundred Years' War (in French : Guerre de Cent Ans) is problematic, for it lasted 116 years and rather comprises of a series of wars. The core is the conflict between the Plantagenet and the Valois Dynasties, rather than - as historical literature usually states - between England and France. In 1337, it began as a conflict between Edward III., as Duke of Aquitaine, and the King of France; only in 1340 did Edward III., at the request of the burghers of the Flemish city of Gent, permit himself to be proclaimed King of France, a claim upheld throughout most of the war. The Plantagenet vassals in Aquitaine, and in other areas the Plantagenet dynasty temporarily held in France, were often loyal to his cause and feature, in contemporary sources as well as in modern historical literature, as "English". In this context it may be pointed out, that Edward III., as a descendant of the Norman conquerors of England, spoke French.
The war freqently was interrupted by periods of truce, the longest from 1347-1355 and from 1396 (the marriage of King Richard II. and French princess Isabel) to 1413. These periods of truce were violated occasionally.
The war(s) were not merely an affair between the Plantagenet / English and the Valois / French. From 1417 to 1435, the Burgundian sideline of the Valois sided with the Plantagenet / English; after 1439, they withdrew from the war. The description of affair as a war between the Plantagenet and the Valois does not fit for periods, when the monarchs of France respectively England were unable to rule, due to insanity or minority, and regents governed for them (France : 1380-1388, 1392-1429; England : 1422-1437).
Both sides had allies - Valois France was allied with Scotland, Castile and with Emperor Charles IV. of the Luxemburg Dynasty; England was, temporarily, allied with Brabant, Navarra, and with Emperor Ludwig the Bavarian, of the Wittelsbach Dynasty. Thus, Anglo-Scottish wars were a feature of the Hundred Years War, and they feature in Froissart's Chronicles. The Wars of Castile - the Civil War 1366-1369, the Luso-Castilian War of 1384-1397, the Expedition of John of Gaunt to Castile 1386-1389, similarly have to be regarded as facets of the entire affair.
As both the head of the Plantagenet and Valois families claimed to be King of France, French nobles were technically free to choose a lord; Jean de Montfort, claimant of the Duchy of Bretagne, and Charles the Bad, King of Navarre and holder of a number of fiefs in France, chose King Edward, the Feuds over Bretagne (1341-1353) and over the Navarrese fiefs in Normandy (1353-1364) thus were facets of the Hundred Years War, as were the rebellions of the Flemish cities against their counts (1338-1345, 1379-1385).
Finally, peasant revolts such as the Jacquerie in France 1358, Wat Tyler's Revolt in England in 1385, the Lollard Revolt of 1414, the Kent Peasant Revolt of 1450 formed another facet of the Hundred Years' War, as they were caused by the tax burden which was caused by the war.

B.) Military Aspects

The battles of Crecy, Poitiers and Azincourt (in English sources often spelled Agincourt) feature prominently in books on medieval warfare. In all three battles a small, disciplined English force took up a defensive position and was attacked by a French force vastly superior in numbers. The French cavalry was showered with arrows, killing men or horse. Within the French army, the cavalry was still composed of knights who took pride in the code of chivalry; they wanted to fight other knights in close combat. The code of chivalry ruled out the use of long-distance weapons such as bow and arrow - the English won the battles because they used Welsh archers; the French refused to use archers, because they regarded that cheating. Battles were one-day affairs. A dozen or so major battles made up episodic flashes in a war lasting 116 years.
Of greater importance was siege warfare; the control of battlefields was momentary, the control of cities (rather than of castles) was more permanent. In 1429, Orleans and, in 1430, Paris held out under siege; only in the 1450es did cannon technology provide the French with the means to break the resistance of the defenders of cities in a short period of time.
A number of naval battles were fought - at a time when neither side in the war had an organized navy; commercial ships were reequipped with arms and used as warships.
Military campaigns in the Hundred Years' War often ravaged the country, in an attempt to economically weaken the enemy (and, perhaps, to enrich the raiding side without much of a risk).

C.) Economic Aspects

Warfare was costly; the maintenance of a fighting force over many years, keeping garrisons of mercenaries in French cities supplied, siege machinery required vast sums of money. England had an efficient state administration; yet the monetary revenues did not suffice to finance such an undertaking, and additional taxation had to be introduced. France, in the course of the war, had to modernize her administration, and also to rely on additional taxation. Increased taxation, combined with inflation or/and currency devaluation were the causes of peasant revolts such as the Jacquerie of 1358.
For knights fighting in the war, there was an opportunity to make a fortune; if one took captive a prisoner of rank and wealth, an appropriate ransom sum could be fixed, and collected.

The Hundred Years' War, from Electric Renaissance at Boise State
The Hundred Years' War Webpage, the Final Phase 1422-1453
The Hundred Years' War, from Wikipedia
DOCUMENTS The Hundred Years War In The High Court Of Parlement, from Medieval Sourcebook
Royal English and French Coinage of the Hundred Years War, posted by Tom Oberhofer
REFERENCE Jean Froissart, Chronicles, London : Penguins (1968) 1978, [G]

Robin Neillands, The Hundred Years' War, London : Routledge 1990 [G]
Joseph Calmette, The Golden Age of Burgundy, (1949), London : Phoenix Press 2001

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on April 17th 2004, last revised on November 17th 2004

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