History Of The Hundred Years War Between England And France

Medieval governments did not have complete control of their nations, especially when the transferring of power from one ruler to the new ruler was taking place. Rulers would rely on carefully negotiated alliances with a large number of less powerful governments. Leading into the Hundred Years War England and France held traditional feudal relationships by letting it be known that the lesser powers had sacred duties to higher powers, in this case England had duties toward France. Also making it known that noble vassals to the king owed their king unquestioning loyalty.

Throughout the life of these outdated relationships with France and England there was a growing sense of national consciousness with each of the countries respectively. This eventually led to what is called the Hundred Years War because the people of France and England were slowly becoming more aware of what was happening in their nations. The Hundred Years War began in May of 1337 because King Edward III (r. 1327-1377), the grandson of Philip the Fair of France (r. 1285-1314), tried to claim the French throne after the passing of King Charles IV (r. 1322-1328), the last surviving son of Philip the Fair, who died without a male heir to the throne. French barons chose not to put Edward, who was fifteen years old at the time, on the French throne. Instead they chose to put Philip VI of Valois (r. 1328-1350) on the throne because he was Charles IV’s first cousin which created a new French dynasty that would last into the sixteenth century. Another cause of the Hundred Years War was for control over French territories like Flanders which was a French area but was influenced by England because their main industry was manufacturing cloth and they depended on England to import wool.

France had to fight on their land throughout the Hundred Years War and was by far the richer of the two nations. However most of the battles before 1415 were won by the English which was astonishing considering the English had less of an army mass and was not as wealthy as France. A major reason for these French losses was that there was internal disunity brought on by social conflicts within the nation. France was still trying to find their national identity and become a centralized state instead of a group of small societies within a nation. To raise money for the war French kings relied heavily on borrowing from Italian bankers and the depreciation of their national currency. In 1355, the king turned to the Estates-General to secure funds for the war, but all this did was allow independent members to take advantage of the king’s difficulties to strengthen their regional sovereignty creating greater territorial divisions. The English also had a more disciplined army than the French and also mastered the longbow which was capable of firing six arrows a minute and can pierce through the armor of a knight at two hundred yards away. The last major weakness that the French had was how mediocre their rulers were compared to the stern rulers of England.

During the first part of the Hundred years war king Edward III officially banned English wool to Flanders which started a revolution by the merchants and trade guilds of Flanders. The revolution was led by one of the richest merchants of Flanders, Jacob van Artevelde, and in 1340 signed an alliance with England and recognized Edward as the true king of France. On June 23, 1340 the first large-scale battle took place where Edward’s fleet defeated the French fleet in the Bay of Sluys, but was unsuccessful in trying to invade France through Flanders. Edward’s attack on Normandy was in 1346 and on 26 August 1346 England had a major victory in the Battle of Crécy which led to the capture of the port of Calais. A year later the Black Death hit Europe and with both sides of the war completely exhausted as well France and England were forced to call a truce. In 1356, England had their greatest victory and gained their greatest asset when they defeated the French cavalry forcing them to retreat and bringing the French king back to England keeping him captive after a total breakdown of the political order in France. On May 9, 1360 England forced the Peace of Brétigny-Calais on the French which ended Edward’s submission to the king of France and agreed to his sovereignty over English territories in France. Even with the agreement the people of France and England both knew that things would not last and in 1377 the French forced the English back to their coastal territories in France.

England continued the war under king Henry V (r. 1413-1422) on October 25, 1415 when his army pushed the French to Agincourt. After the French were backed into Agincourt the Burgundians united with French forces to try and defeat the English, but their plan was foiled when the Duke of Burgundy was assassinated in September of 1419. Henry V seemingly had France at his fingertips and in 1420 the Treaty of Troyes was signed which disinherited the original heir to the French throne and made Henry V the successor to the French king, Charles VI. The treaty was short-lived after Henry and Charles died within months of each other in 1422 leaving king Henry VI of England, who was an infant at the time, was proclaimed king of both France and England in Paris. The reason the Treaty of Troyes was not going to work was that the rightful heir to the throne as King Charles VII who to most French people was the real king of France ignoring the treaty. Charles VII was unmotivated by the idea of taking back the throne until Joan of Arc came and gave Charles a major sense of nationalism he needed to rally his people behind him to take what was originally his.

Joan of Arc (1412-1431) was a peasant in Domrémy in Lorraine in eastern France who claimed to have seen visions from God to go to Charles VII and convince him to retake the throne and bring France together as one nation. Once Joan was able to speak to Charles she told him that God was speaking to her and told her to take back the city of Orléans from the English. Charles was hesitant at first from being in a retreat from what looked like a lost war for the French, but he was willing to take a risk to turn the tables on the English. The conditions were perfect for Joan because the English troops were exhausted from a six-month siege when she arrived in Orléans with fresh French troops with a new pride in their country. After the victory in Orléans the French army had a succession of victories led by Joan, but it was not because she had a great military mind. Joan gave the French troops a sense of pride in their country and gave them the motivation to take back what was rightfully theirs. A couple of months after the rescue of Orléans, Charles VII was finally able to receive his crown in Rheims, this effectively ended the Treaty of Troyes. In May 1430, Joan of Arc was captured by the Burgundians to diminish her reputation which they thought, in turn, would destroy King Charles VII’s reputation as well and discourage the French resistance. Charles VII did little to help Joan during this time and the Burgundians' plan did not go as planned so they brought her to the Inquisition in Rouen which was an English territory at the time. After a long ten-week trial the inquisitors finally broke Joan, who was defending herself during her trial, and charged her heresy, witchcraft and breaking divine law by dressing like a man and was executed on May 30, 1431. In 1456, Charles reopened her trial and the French state and the church declared her innocent of all the charges that were brought against her. Then in 1920, the Roman Catholic Church officially declared her a saint.

In 1435, the duke of Burgundy and King Charles VII made peace and allowed the French to force the English even further back toward the northern coast of France. By 1453, the war had ended and the English only held the coastal city of Calais. Throughout the Hundred Years War the French struggled to find their identity as people of France and to find faith in their King as well as their country. During the first stretch of the war the people of France became more divided than they ever have before because there was no sense of nationalism within them. Towards the later years of the war the French finally started believing in their country and wanted to take France back for themselves. Many of the thanks deserves to go to Joan of Arc who sparked a fire in King Charles VII to finally take back their country and the French throne. The end of the war finally brought the people of France together and gave them a sense of pride in their country and their ruler. 

16 December 2021
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