The Hundred Years War: Overview
eHistory is in the process of creating a MultiMedia History for the Hundred Years War; in the meantime we've gathered most of the materials from the old site here until the new pages are ready. Readers might also be interested in our online translation of the Chronicles of Froissart which is considered a key primary source on the era, as well as our timeline of the Hundred Years War in our Timelines.
The Hundred Years War, lasting from 1337 until 1453, was a defining time for the history of both England and France. The war started in May 1337 when King Philip VI of France attempted to confiscate the English territories in the duchy of Aquitaine (located in Southwestern France). It ended in July 1453 when the French finally expelled the English from the continent (except for Calais). The Hundred Years War was a series of chevauchees (plundering raids), sieges and naval battles interspersed with truces and uneasy peace.
The background to the conflict can be found 400 years earlier, in 911, when Carolingian Charles the Simple allowed the Viking Rollo to settle in a part of his kingdom (a region known afterwards as "Normandy"). In 1066 the "Normans" were led by William the Conqueror (the Duke of Normandy) and conquered England, defeating the Anglo-Saxon leadership at the Battle of Hastings, installing a new Anglo-Norman power structure. It is important to note for future events that starting with Rollo, Norman leaders were vassals to the King of France, even after they also became kings in England.
Following a period of civil wars and unrest in England known as The Anarchy (1135-1154), the Anglo-Norman dynasty was succeeded by the Angevin Kings. At the height of power the Angevins controlled Normandy and England, along with Maine, Anjou, Touraine, Gascony, Saintonge and Aquitaine. Such assemblage of lands is sometimes known as the Angevin Empire. The king of England, who was still a vassal of the King of France, directly ruled more French territory than the King of France himself. This situation - where the Angevin kings owed vassalage to a ruler who was de facto much weaker - was a cause of continual conflict. The French resolved the situation somewhat in three decisive wars: the conquest of Normandy (1214), the Saintonge War (1242) and finally the War of Saint-Sardos (1324), thus reducing England's hold on the continent to a few small provinces in Gascony and the complete loss of the crown jewel of Normandy. By the early 14th century many in the English aristocracy could still remember a time when their grandparents and great-grandparents had control over wealthy continental regions, such as Normandy, which they also considered their ancestral homeland, and were motivated to regain possession of these territories.
Notably, the Hundred Years' War is seen by many scholars as a chapter in the seemingly perpetual conflict between the English and French nations, as disputes and open war were frequent, which continued as late as the Napoleonic era, and which extended well beyond Europe as the two battled for global empires. The significance of the Hundred Years' War in this context is the rise of nationalism it engendered, compared to earlier medieval conflicts.
One of the central causes of the Hundred Years War centered on the relationship between the Kings of France and England regarding the duchy of Aquitaine located in Southwestern France. In 1259, the Treaty of Paris designated that Henry III (1216 - 1270) held the duchy as a fief of the French king. As a vassal to the King of France Henry was required to pay liege homage to the king. (This meant that the King of England was required to do homage whenever the kingship of either England or France changed hands.) However, Henry was the King of England; how could a king be in turn a vassal?
Control over the French throne further complicated matters. In 1328, Charles IV, King of France, died without a male heir. Edward III, the King of England, held claim to the throne via his mother who was Charles' sister. The other important claimant was head of the Valois house (Philip VI) grandson of Philip III. Philip VI gained the throne and moved to confiscate Aquitaine in order to consolidate his power. Edward led a raid into French territory in 1338 to defend his claim and two years later declared himself the true king of France.
Summary of the War
From the beginning of the war (1337) until the battle of Orleans (1428-29), the English won many victories including the decisive battles of Crécy, Poitiers and Agincourt. The English employed a new method of warefare with great success that combined forces of longbowmen with dismounted men-at-arms.
In 1429, at the siege of Orleans the French eventually gained the upperhand. Joan of Arc led a relief force which successfully defeated the English. The next 25 years of engagements saw continued French victories and the English retreat from all of France save Calais.
[Timeline of the Hundred Years War (from Timelines)][Rulers during the Hundred Years War]
Hundred Years War Content Copyright ©2001 Larry Gormley with additional content from the eHistory staff 2007.