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The importance of the Hundred Years War

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Published: Thu, 20 Apr 2017

The Hundred Years War was the last great medieval war. The Hundred Years War was very important because it was little wars, hundreds of battles, and sieges that went on for over a century during the 1337-1453. This war is important to history because 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.

The actual cause that precipitated the outbreak of the Hundred Years War was a dispute between France and England over the heir of the French kingdom. After the death of France’s Charles IV, both France and England claimed the crown because Charles had left no direct successor. England’s Edward III declared himself the rightful ruler because he was Charles IV mother’s son. But the French refused to accept an English King and in 1228 they placed Philip VI, a cousin of Charles IV, on the throne. Relations between the two countries eventually degenerated into war. The naval battle of Sluys in 1340 for control of the English Channel proved the first of many battles that would ensue in the long war. England emerged victorious in this instance and succeeded in establishing a sea-dominance that lasted throughout the following years. The next major battle occurred in 1346 at Crecy. In this battle, the differences between the English army and French army became clearly visible. In 1347, England won the city of Calais, “the door into France,” after a year-long siege. From 1348 to 1354 the outbreak of the Black Plague in England, a disease which decimated a huge portion of the population. In 1356, the French incurred yet another terrible defeat, the loss of the city of Poitiers. And this was worsened by the capture of their king, King John II. The difference between the countries’ armies were one of the greatest contrasts between France and England and also proved a forceful contributing factor in France’s drive away from feudalism. It was at this point that John II son, Charles, took over the French throne. Estates General met and created several new laws, entitled the Great Ordinance, without the permission or approval of the king. This incident proved key in the establishment of a strong monarchy in France and also a key turning point in the Hundred Year War because the violence and confusion caused the commoners to abandon the idea of constitutional government. When Charles’ death in 1380, only the cities of Calais and Bordeaux were still in English hands.

In 1381, England experienced a very similar situation within their country. Like the French, the English peasants were tired of the taxes imposed on them because of the war and were frustrated by the aristocracy restricting their opportunities. The peasants began a revolt led by Wat Tyler, but when Wat Tyler, the leader, was killed, the revolt was disbanded and the people’s demands ignored. One advantage for the French was the death of England’s king Edward III in 1377. His successor, Richard III focused little attention on the affairs in France during his reign, but instead attempted to weaken the authority of the English aristocracy. In response to this, in 1399 Parliament dethroned Richard and appointed Henry IV in his place. Henry the IV was preoccupied with certain situations in England, France was able to regain more territory in their own country. It was also near this time, by 1384, that Wycliffe completed his translation of the Latin Vulgate scriptures into English. This helped prepare the way for the reformation and also allowed for the printing of the Bible in English when the press was invented by Gutenberg just two years after the end of the Hundred Year War.

France experienced trouble once again upon the death of their king, Charles V. The tensions within the country between different houses allowed England’s King Henry V to begin regaining lost ground. The French loss at Agincourt was due to similar tactics that brought about their destruction by the English in the battles of Crecy and Poitiers. The English were far outnumbered, they wrought a startling defeat over the French. Their defeat caused Charles VI to sign the Treaty of Troyes with the English in 1420. It ensured that upon his death, the rule of France would be handed over to Henry V. Joan of Arc was also important person he inspired the French and stirred in them a feeling of nationalism. This rise in nationalism also contributed to the strengthening of the central monarchy in France. In July of 1453 the last battle of the Hundred Years War took place at Castillon, the same year that Constantinople finally fell to the Ottomans and the Byzantine Empire ended. England no longer held sway of any French territory except in the port town of Calais.

The war brought about dissimilar results for the French and the English. While both countries saw an increased effectiveness in their monarchial rule, it was due to different reasons. England’s holdings in France were too great of a burden to carry and still effectively rule. With its lands in France taken, the kingdom was much more manageable. Unlike France, over the course of the war England also experienced a strengthening of the parliament. France, on the other hand, witnessed an increase in monarchial authority due to the people’s recognition and complaint of the feudal system’s shortcomings, including its limitations in fighting and in protection of the serfs. The eventual expulsion of the English and the consolidation of the kingdom made France one of the greatest countries during this time period. But the Hundred Years War was at least partially responsible for more than just the decrease of feudalism and increase of centralized monarchy. The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries proved extremely difficult for the peoples of France and England. The Black Plague, war, famine, and death had ravaged the countries. People began searching for an explanation, and the current church could offer none. The Hundred Years War was a part of a series of events that shifted people’s thinking and paved the way for the period of Reformation that would follow.


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