Hundred Years' War

Hundred Years' War
Part of the Anglo-French Wars
Hundred years war collage.jpg
Clockwise, from top left: The Battle of La Rochelle,
The Battle of Agincourt,
The Battle of Patay,
Joan of Arc at the Siege of Orléans
Date24 May 1337 – 19 October 1453[c]
(116 years, 4 months, 3 weeks and 4 days)
Location
Result
Territorial
changes
England permanently loses all of its previous continental possessions but gains the Pale of Calais.
Belligerents
Commanders and leaders

The Hundred Years' War was a series of conflicts waged from 1337 to 1453 by the House of Plantagenet, rulers of the Kingdom of England, against the French House of Valois, over the right to rule the Kingdom of France. Each side drew many allies into the war. It was one of the most notable conflicts of the Middle Ages, in which five generations of kings from two rival dynasties fought for the throne of the largest kingdom in Western Europe. The war marked both the height of chivalry and its subsequent decline, and the development of strong national identities in both countries.

Tensions between the crowns of France and England can be traced back to the origins of the English royal family itself, which was French (Norman, and later, Angevin) in origin. For this reason, English monarchs had historically held not only the English crown, but also titles and lands within France, the possession of which made them vassals to the kings of France. The status of the English king's French fiefs was a major source of conflict between the two monarchies throughout the Middle Ages. French monarchs systematically sought to check the growth of English power, stripping away lands as the opportunity arose, particularly whenever England was at war with Scotland, an ally of France. Over the centuries, English holdings in France had varied in size, at some points dwarfing even the French royal domain; by 1337, however, only Gascony was left to the English.

In 1316, a principle was established denying women succession to the French throne (later retroactively attributed to the ancient Salic law). In 1328, Charles IV of France died without sons or brothers. His closest male relative was his nephew Edward III of England, whose mother, Isabella of France, was sister of the deceased king. Isabella claimed the throne of France for her son, but the French rejected it, maintaining that Isabella could not transmit a right she did not possess. Furthermore, political sentiment favoured a Frenchman for the crown rather than a foreign prince. The throne passed instead to Philip, Count of Valois, a patrilineal cousin of Charles IV, who would become Philip VI of France, the first king of the House of Valois. The English had not expected their claim to meet with success, and did not press the matter when it was denied. However, disagreements between Philip and Edward induced the former to confiscate the latter's lands in France, and in turn prompted Edward III to reassert his claim to the French throne.

Several overwhelming English victories in the war—especially at Crécy, Poitiers, and Agincourt—raised the prospects of an ultimate English triumph, and persuaded the English to continue pouring money and manpower into the war over many decades. However, the greater resources of the French monarchy prevented the English kings from ever completing the conquest of France. Starting in 1429, decisive French victories at Orléans, Patay, Formigny, and Castillon concluded the war in favour of the House of Valois, with England permanently losing most of its possessions on the continent.

Historians commonly divide the war into three phases separated by truces: the Edwardian War (1337–1360), the Caroline War (1369–1389), and the Lancastrian War (1415–1453). Local conflicts in neighbouring areas, which were contemporarily related to the war, including the War of the Breton Succession (1341–1365), the Castilian Civil War (1366–1369), the War of the Two Peters (1356–1369) in Aragon, and the 1383–85 crisis in Portugal, were availed of by the parties to advance their agendas. Later historians adopted the term "Hundred Years' War" as a historiographical periodisation to encompass all of these events, thus constructing the longest military conflict in European history.

The war owes its historical significance to multiple factors. By its end, feudal armies had been largely replaced by professional troops, and aristocratic dominance had yielded to a democratisation of the manpower and weapons of armies. Although primarily a dynastic conflict, the war gave impetus to ideas of French and English nationalism. The wider introduction of weapons and tactics supplanted the feudal armies where heavy cavalry had dominated, and artillery became important. The war precipitated the creation of the first standing armies in Western Europe since the time of the Western Roman Empire, thus helping to change their role in warfare. With respect to the belligerents, in France, civil wars, deadly epidemics, famines, and bandit free-companies of mercenaries reduced the population drastically. In England, political forces over time came to oppose the costly venture. The dissatisfaction of English nobles, resulting from the loss of their continental landholdings, as well as the general shock at losing a war in which investment had been so great, became factors leading to the Wars of the Roses (1455–1487).

Origin of the conflict

The root causes of the conflict can be found in the demographic, economic and political crises of 14th-century Europe. The outbreak of war was motivated by a gradual rise in tension between the kings of France and England about Gascony, Flanders and Scotland. The dynastic question, which arose due to an interruption of the direct male line of the Capetians, was the official pretext.

Dynastic turmoil in France: 1316–1328

The question of female succession to the French throne was raised after the death of Louis X in 1316. Louis X left only a daughter, and his posthumous son John I lived only a few days. Furthermore, the paternity of his daughter was in question, as her mother, Margaret of Burgundy, had been exposed as an adulterer in the Tour de Nesle affair. Philip, Count of Poitiers, brother of Louis X, positioned himself to take the crown, advancing the stance that women should be ineligible to succeed to the French throne. Through his political sagacity he won over his adversaries and succeeded to the French throne as Philip V. By the same law that he procured, his daughters were denied the succession, which passed to his younger brother, Charles IV, in 1322.[1]

Philip III
Blason pays fr FranceAncien.svg King of France
1270–1285
Louis, Count of Évreux
(1276–1319)
Philip IV
Blason pays fr FranceAncien.svg King of France
1285–1314
Charles, Count of Valois
(1270–1325)
Louis X
Blason pays fr FranceAncien.svg King of France
1314–1316
Philip V
Blason pays fr FranceAncien.svg King of France
1316–1322
Charles IV
Blason pays fr FranceAncien.svg King of France
1322–1328
IsabellaEdward II
Royal Arms of England.svg King of England
Philip VI
Blason pays fr FranceAncien.svg King of France
1328–1350
Philip, Count of ÉvreuxJoan II of NavarreJoan of Burgundy
(born 1308)
Edward III
Royal Arms of England.svg King of England
(born 1312)
Charles II
Royal Arms of Navarre (1328-1425).svg King of Navarre
(born 1332)
Philip of Burgundy
(born 1323)

Charles IV died in 1328, leaving a daughter and a pregnant wife. If the unborn child was male, he would become king; if not, Charles left the choice of his successor to the nobles. A girl ended up being born, therefore rendering the main male line of the House of Capet extinct.

By proximity of blood, the nearest male relative of Charles IV was his nephew, Edward III of England. Edward was the son of Isabella, the sister of the dead Charles IV, but the question arose whether she should be able to transmit a right to inherit that she did not herself possess. The French nobility, moreover, balked at the prospect of being ruled by Isabelle and her lover Roger Mortimer, who were widely suspected of having murdered the previous English king, Edward II. The assemblies of the French barons and prelates and the University of Paris decided that males who derive their right to inheritance through their mother should be excluded. Thus the nearest heir through male ancestry was Charles IV's first cousin, Philip, Count of Valois, and it was decided that he should be crowned Philip VI. In 1340 the Avignon papacy confirmed that under Salic law males should not be able to inherit through their mothers.[1][2]

Eventually, Edward III reluctantly recognized Philip VI and paid him homage for his French fiefs. He made concessions in Guyenne, but reserved the right to reclaim territories arbitrarily confiscated. After that, he expected to be left undisturbed while he made war on Scotland.

The dispute over Guyenne: a problem of sovereignty

Homage of Edward I of England (kneeling) to Philip IV of France (seated), 1286. As Duke of Aquitaine, Edward was also a vassal to the French King. Illumination by Jean Fouquet from the Grandes Chroniques de France in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris.

Tensions between the French and English monarchies can be traced back to the 1066 Norman conquest of England, in which the English throne was seized by the Duke of Normandy, a vassal of the King of France. As a result, the crown of England was held by a succession of nobles who already owned lands in France, which put them among the most powerful subjects of the French King, as they could now draw upon the economic power of England to enforce their interests in the mainland. To the kings of France, this dangerously threatened their royal authority, and so they would constantly try to undermine English rule in France, while the English monarchs would struggle to protect and expand their lands. This clash of interests was the root cause of much of the conflict between the French and English monarchies throughout the medieval era.

The Anglo-Norman dynasty that had ruled England since the Norman conquest of 1066 was brought to an end when Henry, the son of Geoffrey of Anjou and Empress Matilda and great-grandson of William the Conqueror, became the first of the Angevin kings of England in 1154 as Henry II.[3] The Angevin kings directly ruled over more French territory than the kings of France. However, they still owed homage for these territories to the French king. From the 11th century onward, the Angevins had autonomy within their French domains, effectively neutralising the issue.[4]

King John of England inherited the Angevin domains from his brother Richard I. However, Philip II of France acted decisively to exploit the weaknesses of John, both legally and militarily, and by 1204 had succeeded in taking control of much of the Angevin continental possessions. Following John's reign, the Battle of Bouvines (1214), the Saintonge War (1242), and finally the War of Saint-Sardos (1324), the English king's holdings on the continent, as Duke of Aquitaine (Guyenne), were limited roughly to provinces in Gascony.[5]

The dispute over Guyenne is even more important than the dynastic question in explaining the outbreak of the war. Guyenne posed a significant problem to the kings of France and England: Edward III was a vassal of Philip VI of France because of his French possessions and was required to recognise the suzerainty of the King of France over them. In practical terms, a judgment in Guyenne might be subject to an appeal to the French royal court. The King of France had the power to revoke all legal decisions made by the King of England in Aquitaine, which was unacceptable to the English. Therefore, sovereignty over Guyenne was a latent conflict between the two monarchies for several generations.

During the War of Saint-Sardos, Charles of Valois, father of Philip VI, invaded Aquitaine on behalf of Charles IV and conquered the duchy after a local insurrection, which the French believed had been incited by Edward II of England. Charles IV grudgingly agreed to return this territory in 1325. To recover his duchy, Edward II had to compromise: he sent his son, the future Edward III, to pay homage.

The King of France agreed to restore Guyenne, minus Agen. But the French delayed the return of the lands, which helped Philip VI. On 6 June 1329, Edward III finally paid homage to the King of France. However, at the ceremony, Philip VI had it recorded that the homage was not due to the fiefs detached from the duchy of Guyenne by Charles IV (especially Agen). For Edward, the homage did not imply the renunciation of his claim to the extorted lands.

Gascony under the King of England

France in 1330.
  France before 1214
  French acquisitions until 1330
  England and Guyenne/Gascony as of 1330

In the 11th century, Gascony in southwest France had been incorporated into Aquitaine (also known as Guyenne or Guienne) and formed with it the province of Guyenne and Gascony (French: Guyenne-et-Gascogne). The Angevin kings of England became Dukes of Aquitaine after Henry II married the former Queen of France, Eleanor of Aquitaine, in 1152, from which point the lands were held in vassalage to the French Crown. By the 13th century the terms Aquitaine, Guyenne and Gascony were virtually synonymous.[6][7] At the beginning of Edward III's reign on 1 February 1327, the only part of Aquitaine that remained in his hands was the Duchy of Gascony. The term Gascony came to be used for the territory held by the Angevin (Plantagenet) Kings of England in south-west France, although they still used the title Duke of Aquitaine.[7][8]

For the first 10 years of Edward III's reign, Gascony had been a major point of friction. The English argued that, as Charles IV had not acted in a proper way towards his tenant, Edward should be able to hold the duchy free of any French suzerainty. This argument was rejected by the French, so in 1329, the 17-year-old Edward III paid homage to Philip VI. Tradition demanded that vassals approach their liege unarmed with heads bare. Edward protested by attending the ceremony wearing his crown and sword.[9] Even after this pledge of homage, the French continued to pressure the English administration.[10]

Gascony was not the only sore point. One of Edward's influential advisers was Robert III of Artois. Robert was an exile from the French court, having fallen out with Philip VI over an inheritance claim. He urged Edward to start a war to reclaim France, and was able to provide extensive intelligence on the French court.[11]

Franco-Scot alliance

France was an ally of the Kingdom of Scotland as English kings had for some time tried to subjugate the area. In 1295, a treaty was signed between France and Scotland during the reign of Philip the Fair. Charles IV formally renewed the treaty in 1326, promising Scotland that France would support the Scots if England invaded their country. Similarly, France would have Scotland's support if its own kingdom were attacked. Edward could not succeed in his plans for Scotland if the Scots could count on French support.[12]

Philip VI had assembled a large naval fleet off Marseilles as part of an ambitious plan for a crusade to the Holy Land. However, the plan was abandoned and the fleet, including elements of the Scottish navy, moved to the English Channel off Normandy in 1336, threatening England.[11] To deal with this crisis, Edward proposed that the English raise two armies, one to deal with the Scots "at a suitable time", the other to proceed at once to Gascony. At the same time, ambassadors were to be sent to France with a proposed treaty for the French king.[13]

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