Introduction to the Hundred Years’ War (1337–1453)

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Introduction to the Hundred Years’ War (1337–1453)

Fought between England and France from 1337 to 1453 ce , the Hundred Years’ War was essentially a series of raids, sieges, and diplomatic maneuvers punctuated by occasional pitched battles. What started as English attempts to win back lands lost to France in the thirteenth century evolved into a struggle for the future of the Kingdom of France itself, and very nearly saw the thrones of the two monarchies united under one crown.

Because of the length of the war as well as the military innovations that emerged over the course of the century, the Hundred Years’ War is considered the most important of medieval conflicts. The English, with their deadly longbows, consistently proved the superiority of massed archery, while the French, whose armored knights were thought to be invincible, were defeated time and again in pitched battle.

Nonetheless, the English were unable to translate their victories on the battlefield into long-term gains, and in the end, inspired by the legendary Joan of Arc, the French rallied and drove the English almost entirely out of their country, giving birth in the process to a new sense of French nationalism and strengthening the monarchy.

Starting with William, Duke of Normandy’s conquest in 1066, England amassed a continental empire, at one time controlling half the lands in France. From this zenith of power, England quickly ebbed, losing almost all of its French possessions by the mid-fourteenth century. The loss of all this territory, coupled with dynastic turmoil in France, prompted England’s Edward III to make a case for war, which was formally declared in 1337.

The first phase of the war was dominated by the English under Edward III and his son Edward “The Black Prince.” Winning stunning victories at Crécy and Poitiers, the English regained most of their lost territories and even managed to capture the French king in battle.

Despite these gains, the French were able to push the English back over the last half of the fourteenth century. Richard II of England was finally forced to sign a peace treaty in 1389, bringing a lull to the fighting for twenty-six years.

The peace was shattered by an English invasion in 1415 led by Henry V. Henry met the French in battle at Agincourt. Despite being vastly outnumbered, at the end of the day Henry held the field. Henry was determined to press his advantage and returned in 1417, taking first Normandy and then Paris itself. Henry arranged a treaty that guaranteed him the crown of France as soon as the ailing French king died. But it was not to be—Henry died first. By 1453, with the French victory at Castillon, the war was over.

This rapid decline in English fortunes is owed almost entirely to the inspirational figure of Joan of Arc, a teenaged girl who personally led the effort to drive back the resurgent invaders at Orléans. She was later convicted of witchcraft and burned at the stake, but her death only made her a martyr to the cause that eventually resulted in total French victory.

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Introduction to the Hundred Years’ War (1337–1453)

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Introduction to the Hundred Years’ War (1337–1453)