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The Hundred Years War: England And France

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Published: Tue, 18 Apr 2017

The Hundred Years’ War was a series of wars between England and France that began in 1337 and ended in 1453.3 The war began when Edward III of England wrote a letter to Phillip IV of France, refusing to put the king of Scotland back on his throne and claiming he was the rightful heir to the French throne. This letter was written on October 7, 1337. The idea of England declaring war on France seemed insane. France was considered the richest and most powerful nation in Europe, whereas England was considered poor, small, and weak.2 Despite this fact, England won most of the major battles. They had decisive victories at the naval battle of Sluys in 1340, the Battle of Crecy in 1346, the Battle of Poitiers in 1356, and the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. In 1360, after the Battle of Poitiers, where French king John II was captured, France sued for peace, and the Treaty of Bretigny was signed by Edward III of England and France. After this, though war was not officially declared, France employed guerilla warfare and by the time Edward III’s death had reconquered all of England’s French territories with the exception of four ports.

The war between England and France was not renewed until the reign of Henry V (1413-1422), who claimed rights to the French throne and declared war in 1415.4 That same year, the English nearly wiped out the French army at the Battle of Agincourt. The French Burgundians and Henry V joined forces against Charles VI in 1419, forcing King Charles to sign the Treaty of Troyes the following year.4 This treaty made Henry V heir to the French throne. However, a problem arose-both Henry V and Charles VI died in 1422, leaving the infant Henry VI to inherit the French and English thrones.2 The duke of Gloucester in England and the duke of Bedford in France acted as regents for Henry VI. In 1428, the duke of Bedford decided to lay siege to the city of Orleans with England’s help, in order to make it a base from which he could end the war, but Joan of Arc stepped in and saved the day for France, forcing the siege to be lifted. This victory convinced the French that the English were, in fact, not invincible.1 Soon afterward, Joan of Arc was captured and the English burned her at the stake in 1431.2 The victory of Joan of Arc in 1429, marked a turn in the war.1 From here on out, the French slowly pushed the English out until their final defeat at the battle of Castillon in 1453. The only French territory that England held by then, was the port of Calais. The Hundred Years’ War was finally over.2

Many causes for the war are possible. One of the chief causes was the claim of Edward III to the French throne. On top of this, Edward III dethroned the Scottish king, with whom the French had had an alliance. This angered France and they threatened to take England’s French territories unless King Edward put the Scottish King back on his throne.2 England had had French territories since the Norman conquest in 1066. They loved these valuable pieces of land, so Edward III refused France’s request, and by doing so effectively declared war.2,4 Another factor may have been the wool trade between Flanders in France, and England, which supported England’s economy. England felt very vulnerable because of this.4 Also, war was simply a way of life for European nations at this time, and this mindset probably played a major role as to why the war lasted so long.

Both England and France had their advantages and disadvantages during the war. For example, France had a much larger army, but it was a short term army since each knight only had to serve his feudal duty of 40 days. England, on the other hand, had a smaller, but more stable and long-term army, since its members didn’t have a minimum amount of days they had to serve.2 Another huge advantage the English had over the French was the longbow. The English longbow was capable of shooting a three-foot arrow 200 yards and still piercing a knight’s armor.4 The French still used crossbows, which had a longer range and were more accurate. The problem for the French was that an Englishman could shoot five arrows with his longbow in the time it took a Frenchman to load his crossbow.2 The longbow was a major factor in England’s many victories. Near the end of the war, France realized her dilemma and poured money into the research and development of both guns and cannons. When France began to use firearms, the war turned in her favor.2 The use of the longbow and the development of guns and cannons certainly played major roles in the course and outcome of the Hundred Years’ War.

In the end, England won most of the major battles and yet lost the war. They lost practically all of their territories in France, except for the port of Calais.1 Interestingly enough, England’s general population was not directly affected by the war because it was all fought in France.4 France, on the other hand, retrieved all of the English territories, but they paid a heavy price. Their whole country was ravaged-towns were obliterated, cities destroyed, crops ruined, etc.2 Though they paid a high price, France did come out victorious!


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