The Hundred Years’ War originated in 1328 after the death of King Charles IV of France. Since the king died without a male heir, the Capetian dynasty ended with him. In response, a French assembly had to decide who would succeed Charles. Under French Salic law, a female couldn’t inherit the throne. Therefore, the assembly’s decision narrowed down to Philip of Valois and Edward III of England.
Philip of Valois was the paternal cousin of Charles IV. Edward III was the deceased king’s nephew by his sister, Isabella. Fearing English rule, the French chose Philip. After his accession as Philip VI, the king established the Valois dynasty. Although he initially accepted the assembly’s decision, Edward would later change his mind.
During Philip VI’s early reign, the two kings had a peaceful relationship. However, both men eventually came into conflict over Edward III’s duchy of Guyenne. After Philip confiscated Guyenne, Edward responded by claiming the French throne. As a result, war erupted between both kingdoms in 1337.
Edwardian Phase (1337 – 1360)
At the beginning of the Hundred Years’ War, France held the advantage. Compared to England, France was a wealthy and more powerful kingdom. The French also had more military resources at their disposal. However, the English had a well-disciplined army equipped with deadly longbows. As the fighting commenced, England dominated France on both land and sea. The English won notable battles at Sluys (1340), Crecy (1346), and Poitiers (1356). As a consequence, France lost its naval fleet and many influential noblemen.
By 1360, Philip VI’s successor, John II, had been captured by the English. During his captivity, Edward III forced the French king to accept the Treaty of Calais. As part of the agreement, Guyenne was declared independent from France. The duchy was enlarged to include a third of the kingdom. Edward also allowed the French to ransom John but at a steep price.
Caroline Phase (1369 – 1389)
By 1369, John II’s son, Charles V, had succeeded to the throne. Although a sickly man, Charles possessed a sharp mind. Recognizing England’s military might, the king sought to avoid direct combat. Under the command of his competent general, Bertrand du Guesclin, the French army began to win. As France’s victories increased, the English gradually lost control of their conquered territory. During 1377, Edward III died and was succeeded by his 10-year-old grandson, Richard II.
In September 1380, Charles V succumbed to an illness and died. Upon his death, the 11-year-old Charles VI succeeded his father. Since both kingdom’s rulers were children, a hiatus occurred. The prolonged fighting had taken its toll. Both kingdoms had depleted their wealth, manpower, and resources in the war. On top of that, the Black Death plague had swept through Europe, killing many in the process.
Lancastrian Phase (1415 – 1453)
In September 1399, Richard II was overthrown by his cousin, Henry IV. Establishing the house of Lancaster as England’s new rulers, Henry wanted to resume the war with France. However, the king had to focus on securing his throne instead. In France, Charles VI suffered from periodic bouts of insanity. Due to his madness, the French government’s stability collapsed. In turn, the kingdom descended into a civil war between the king’s relatives over the regency.
Upon Henry IV’s death in 1413, his son, Henry V, became king. His father had left a secure kingdom to him. As a result, Henry could focus his attention elsewhere. Seeing France’s instability, the king resumed the Hundred Years’ War in 1415. Henry’s victory at the Battle of Agincourt devastated the French army. Building upon his success, the English conquered Normandy in 1417.
By 1420, Henry V forced Charles VI to agree to the Treaty of Troyes. Per the agreement, Charles made Henry his heir and allowed him to marry his daughter, Catherine. At the height of his power, the English king became afflicted with dysentery. On August 31, 1422, Henry died from the disease in France. Upon his death, the infant Henry VI inherited the English throne. Two months later, Charles passed away.
Joan of Arc
In 1429, a French peasant girl named Joan of Arc rose to prominence. Claiming to have received a divine vision, Joan set out to rid France of the English. After convincing Charles VI’s disinherited son, Charles, of her intent, the prince provided her with military aid. Due to Joan’s inspirational effect, the French army began winning once again. The French would lift the siege of Orleans and liberate Paris. Although Joan died in 1430, the newly crowned Charles VII continued her work.
During the 1440s, Charles VII reformed and strengthened the French army. Although a peace treaty was concluded in 1444, fighting resumed after the marriage of Charles’ niece, Margaret, to Henry VI. In 1450, the French captured Normandy and took Guyenne. By 1453, France had regained all of its lost territories, except for the small port of Calais. Recognizing their losses, the English ceased fighting. Although defeated, a formal peace treaty was never concluded between England and France.
At the end of the Hundred Years’ War, England had failed to gain the French throne. Decades of resources had been used but produced nothing substantial. Frustrated by the war’s financial and political issues, the English turned their anger towards the monarchy. The ensuing power struggle over the government evolved into a civil war (the War of the Roses) in 1455.
In France, the kingdom gradually healed from the devastating effects of the war. As towns and the countryside recovered, the government became more centralized. Due to this, a standing army also became the norm in France. Although this wasn’t the last time France fought against England, neither country would ever again engage in such a destructive conflict.
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2020, March 05). Hundred Years’ War. Retrieved August 11, 2020, from https://www.britannica.com/event/Hundred-Years-War
History.com Editors. (2009, November 09). Hundred Years’ War. Retrieved August 11, 2020, from https://www.history.com/topics/middle-ages/hundred-years-war