Hundred Years War
The causes of the war are various. Since William of Normandy seized the English throne in 1066 English kings had held large parts of France, creating tensions between the two kingdoms which regularly ripened into conflicts. Edward II was defeated in one such, subsequently deposed by the English nobility for his failure: thus a need to prosecute successful and lucrative wars in France or face the consequences overhung future kings. The English still clung to Gascony, desired by the French; the French had retaken Normandy, desired by the English.
But most significant of all in sparking the war was the question which arose in the early 14th century over the rightful succession to the French crown. A concatenation of Capetian kings dying without heirs and a ruling that only males could inherit the French throne culminated in the situation where by one interpretation Edward III should have been named king of France. He was the senior male heir, but via his mother, which the French nobility decided disqualified him resulting in the coronation of Philip of Valois as Philip VI in 1328.
After Edward III defeated French ally David II of Scotland in 1333 Philip had another justification for attacking his rival, though Gascony was his real goal. Philip and Edward had previously agreed to leave Gascony with Edward in return for the latter renouncing his claims to the French throne. Neither kept their word.
It is convenient to divide the war into three phases.
The first phase, the Edwardian War, lasted from 1337 to 1360, by which time England had made huge territorial gains. Initially campaigns in the Low Countries were costly and ineffective for Edward; the French ruled the waves too, until the Battle of Sluys in 1340, one of the turning points in our history – invasion of England by Philip had been probable before it. Instead it was Edward who invaded France in 1346. In August that year the English longbowmen won him the Battle of Crecy . The following year Calais fell, remaining in English hands until 1558. In 1356 Edward’s son, the Black Prince, scored an even more devastating victory at Poitiers: the French had not learned to respect the English bowmen (an error repeated at Agincourt in 1415); and Jean II of France was captured. By 1360 when the Treaty of Bretigny called a halt to the clash England had regained the economically vital Aquitaine, plus territory in Brittany, and various significant towns including Calais.
After a mere nine years of peace, however, Charles V of France, in part prompted by success in Spain, restarted the war in a second phase. His tactics were different from those of his predecessors: set-piece battles were avoided; English-held towns were picked off piecemeal; and with victory at sea in the battle of La Rochelle in 1372 his naval forces threatened the coherence of Edward III’s ‘empire’. With the deaths of the Black Prince in 1376 and his father Edward III the following year, potential instability at home directed England’s gaze elsewhere. When Charles V died in 1380 a generational change was complete. With Charles VI 11 in 1380 and Richard II just a couple of years older, neither side was capable of decisive action, though the war dragged on in a desultory fashion until a truce was arranged in 1389.
From 1389 until 1415 the peace held, largely because both sides were concerned with internal conflicts. In England Richard II was deposed and murdered; the usurper Henry IV dreamed of glory across the channel, but his premature death curbed his plans. Owain Glyndwr’s rebellion in Wales demanded attention; likewise Scottish incursions and the subsequent Percy uprising in Northumberland . In France the madness of Charles VI led to dynastic struggles that resulted in Henry V ’s support being sought in return for limited territorial gains; Henry in reply demanded the return of Aquitaine, Normandy, Anjou and all of Gascony, as once held by Henry II .
Henry V thus invaded in 1414, albeit with modest forces, launching the war's third phase. After minor encounters his army, weakened by disease and reduced by guerrilla action, was chased down by the French when making for the safety of Calais. Thanks again to the English bowmen, and idiotic generalship by the French, Henry won the apparently decisive Battle of Agincourt in October 1415. In 1420 Charles VI agreed Henry would be his heir, disinheriting the Dauphin. But when in 1422 Henry V died, followed shortly by Charles VI, the French rallied round the Dauphin, not the English child-king Henry VI .
In 1429 the tide turned for France with the emergence of Joan of Arc. Orleans was saved; a major French victory at Patay followed. Joan was betrayed by the Burgundians and executed in 1431 , but with English occupying forces stretched and French generalship improved, the slow but inevitable progress towards French victory continued town by town, the conflict interspersed with periods of truce until the English suffered defeat at Castillon in 1453, and effectively the Hundred Years War had been ended.
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