The Hundred Years War

by , 1999

England and France were both noticeably altered in the late middle ages by a conflict known as the Hundred Years War. The war was started when the English King Edward III claimed the French throne, each nation's desire for national identity, and strong economic rivalry between the states. At first, England's new weapon, the longbow, and its stronger, more centralized government were enough to overcome the larger but disorganized French population, but as France gained a national identity, the English began to suffer defeats.

In May 1337, conditions for a war between England and France were perfect; both nations were looking for national identity and were attempting to become stronger economically. This provided the fuel for the Hundred Years War that was sparked by Edward III's claim to the French throne. Charles IV succeeded his father Phillip IV the Fair to the French throne and died leaving no male heir. The then 15 year old English king, Edward III, grandson of Phillip the Fair claimed the throne as his own, but the French barons instead placed Charles IV's cousin, Phillip VI of Valois on the throne. This situation provided the start of the war, but was not the only reason behind it. England was strong in the wool industry but did not produce any finished products, instead shipped the wool to Flanders to be woven into cloth. The English claimed this land as their own, as did the French. In addition, the English people and the French people were both trying to create stronger nations and an independence from each other. There was great tension between the people of each nation, further fueling the fire of war. The Hundred Years War started because of Edward III's claim to the French throne, the economic rivalry between England and France and the people's dislike of each other and search for national identity.

The beginning of the Hundred Years War was dominated by the English because of their longbow, a government that was stronger and more centralized, support from Burgundy, and rebellions that were plaguing France. The first battle of the war resulted in an English victory at the Bay of Sluys in 1340, followed by the battle of Crécy that had the same result in 1346. The war lulled for a few years because of the Black Death. Upon its resumption in 1356, the English defeated the French in the Battle of Potiers and forced them to agree to the Peace of Brétingy in 1360, which declared an end to Edward III's vassalage to John II, secured his rule over English continental land holdings, and organized the ransom for the captured John II in exchange for Edward III's renounce of his claim to the French throne. In the same year, Edward III died and was succeeded by Richard II, a widely disliked man. The reign of Richard II brought England the same trouble with rebellions that France had faced earlier and marked the beginning of a turning point in the war.

The French dominated the later stages of the war as England faced peasant rebellions and France became unified behind a national hero, Joan of Arc, and gained the support of Burgundy. Burgundy briefly supported the French during this period, but sided with the English again in 1419 after the assassination of its duke. In 1429, Charles VII allowed a peasant girl name Joan of Arc who claimed to have seen heavenly visitors to lead his troops into the Battle of Orléans. Joan did not possess exceptional talent in the art of war, rather she provided the French with a figure of pride, something that would prove to be more valuable than military genius. What the Maid of Orléans had provided France with, a sense of national pride, was something that would last even after her execution in 1431. By October of 1453, France had pushed the English back to Calais.

The Hundred Years War, caused by the English king's claim to the French throne, a search for national identity and economic rivalry changed forever the emerging nations of England and France in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. In the beginning of the conflict, the English overpowered the French with better weaponry and a stronger government, but were later defeated as France gained a sense of national spirit behind its new hero, Joan of Arc.