The Hundred Years War is by far one of the most aggressive, bloodiest and chaotic periods for both the English and French.
The Hundred Years War was fought in two separate periods, 1337 – 1377 and then 1415 – 1453. Despite its name, the Hundred Years War lasted for a total duration of 116 years, including the interim period.
Key Players in the Hundred Years War
Given the incredible duration of the Hundred Years War there were obviously a number of key players involved on both sides. The war was fought between a number of generations in both the English and French monarchies. There were also people that played crucial roles that were not direct royalty.
Some key players in the Hundred Years War for England included:
- King Edward III (1327 – 1377)
- King Richard II (1377 – 1399)
- King Henry IV (1399 – 1413)
- King Henry V (1413 – 1422)
- King Henry VI (1422 – 1461)
Some key players in the Hundred Years War for France included:
- King Philip VI the Fortunate (1328 – 1350)
- King Jean II the Good (1350 – 1364)
- King Charles V the Wise (1364 – 1380)
- King Charles VI the Well-Beloved/the Mad (1380 – 1422)
- Louis I of Anjou (1380 – 1382) – Regent of Charles VI
- King Charles VII the Victorious – (1422 – 1461)
- Phillip III, Duke of Burgundy
- Joan of Arc
The Hundred Years War May have been bloody and brutal, but it was also a period that saw a number of technological advancements. In particular, incredible developments in weaponry and warfare can be seen during this turbulent time.
This period of war saw the end of knights on horseback, and instead saw the rise of new siege weapons and the infamous English longbow. Both sides spent a vast amount of resources trying to beat their opponent, and both suffered considerable losses.
The Hundred Years War created struggle and strife in both countries which led to civil war in both England and France.
The Start of the Dispute
In 1327, Edward III took the English throne. His mother, Isabelle, was the sister to three French kings. None of these kings had left a son to directly inherit the French throne, although the throne was occupied King Charles IV. Edward III ruled over England for a total of 50 years, ruling the throne and country from 1327 to 1377.
In 1328, King Charles VI (king of France) passed away, leaving France without a direct heir and king. An assembly of French barons met to decide the fate of the French throne. The English king, Edward III, put in a claim to succeed the French heir through his mother’s heritage, but this was rejected.
Instead the French throne was awarded to Philippe de Valois, a cousin from the male bloodline. Philippe VI ruled from 1328 to 1350, and this began the rule of royal Valois dynasty.
Edward felt he had a genuine claim to the French throne and he was not impressed that the throne had instead been awarded to Philippe VI; however, he did pay homage to Philippe VI for the duchy of Guyenne and for the county of Ponthieu.
Economy was another huge factor behind the Hundred Years War. The French monarchy was keen to take taxes away from towns that were proving successful and profitable from English wool. The citizens of these towns favoured the English rather than the French, creating an opportunity for English forces to launch full and swift attacks.
The high costs of war led to a black market of mercenaries, who would work for the highest bidder, and an ongoing increase in taxes, to fund the payments needed to obtain and retain the mercenary army. Wealth, power and status were also contributing factors to the Hundred Years War.
This is the backdrop on which the Hundred Years War begins; a fragile agreement between two European kings.
First Period of War – 1337 – 1377
In 1337 King Philippe VI declared that Edward III had forfeited his claim to the duchy of Guyenne as he had harboured a wanted French criminal, Robert d’Artois. Edward sent back a letter of protest, which included some insults directed at King Philippe. This led to the first battle within the Hundred Years War, the battle of Cadsand.
In 1338 Edward III formed a commercial treaty with Jacob van Artevelde, who encouraged the king to take the throne of France.
In 1339 Edward III led a rather unsuccessful and somewhat costly preliminary campaign into France. Edward III decided to take this opportunity to return home and better prepare his English forces against the French.
In 1340 Edward III gave himself the title of ‘king of England and France’. Six months later and his ships successfully defeated the French fleet in the naval battle of Sluys.
This led to a temporary lull in the bigger battles, however, there were still ongoing arguments and disputes between these two rivals for territories and resources.
In 1345 the battles resumed for another 24 months, with a series of successful English campaigns which included:
- Battle of Auberoche (1345)
- Siege of Calais (1346)
- Battle of Crecy (1346)
- Battle of Saint-Pol-de-Leon (1346)
- Battle of La Roche-Derrien (1347)
However, from 1347 through to 1349 the bubonic plague, also known as the Black Death swept throughout Europe. The Black Death was both devastating and demoralising, and both sides struggled to mount together an army of any worth or value.
In 1350, one of the main key players in the start of this war, King Philippe VI, died. King Jean II the Good inherited the French throne. He reigned over France from 1350 to 1364.
No sooner had Jean II inherited the French throne did he have to defend against more of the English campaigns. Between 1350 and 1356 Jean II had to defend against a number of English campaigns, including:
- Battle of Saintes (1351)
- Battle of Ardres (1351)
- Battle of Mauron (1352)
- Battle of Poitiers (1356)
During the battle of Poitiers in 1356 King Jean II was captured by the invading English forces. Without a king to rule, France began experiencing a number of turbulent times, which included murder, rebels and peasant revolts.
In 1360 Charles III hoped to gain leverage from France’s instability and he made one last attempt to have himself crowned as king of France through his last great campaign. However, his attempt to take the throne was unsuccessful.
A temporary treaty was drafted and at the end of the year the English forces released King Jean II.
In 1364 King Jean II passed away while visiting London during a tenuous and tentative visit. A new king, Charles V the Wise, inherited both the throne and the battle, and he reigned as the French king until 1380.
Between 1364 and 1373 a number of battles occurred, including:
- Battle of Auray (1364) – English victory
- Battle of Navarrette (1367) – English victory
- Battle of Montiel (1369) – French victory
- Battle of Chiset (1373) – French victory
During the interim period a number of key events took place, and the bloody nature of the ongoing war became increasingly more evident when two children, one English and one French, each inherited the throne, both aged just eleven years old.
On the 21 June 1377 Edward III died. Richard II inherited the throne and became a king at the tender age of eleven.
Three years later, on 16 September 1380, Charles V died, and Charles VI took over the French throne, again aged just eleven years old.
Richard II remained on the English throne until 1399. Charles VI remained on the throne for a much longer period, and he remained King of France until 1422.
These two children had little lust for war compared to their forefathers, and as such an interim period began, where both parties saw a time of relative peace.
In 1396, three years before he left the throne, King Richard II married Isabella of France, who was the daughter of King Charles VI. This union served to strengthen the truce between the English and the French, but eventually the old arguments and disputes erupted once again, and the once two peaceful nations once again broke out into war, creating the second period of war within the Hundred Years War.
During the takeover of both thrones a number of events occurred:
- The Great Schism began in 1378 and continued until 1417.
- Chaucer began writing The Canterbury Tales.
- The Peasants Revolt began in England in 1381.
- In 1382 the Bible was translated into English.
In 1399, King Henry IV took the reign from King Richard II, launching the start of what would be the Lancastrian dynasty.
Fourteen years later, in 1413, Henry V took control of the throne following the death of his father Henry IV. Two years into his reign that the next key battle in the Hundred Years War occurred.
During this interim period the French also underwent some changes to the monarchy, and assassinations and changes of allegiance gave rise to an increasingly tense situation, out of which more war was born.
Second Period of War – Timeline 1415 – 1453
In 1415 Henry V invaded France, taking Harfleur during his siege. This English victory was followed by another in quick succession by another at Agincourt. The two battles led to a huge loss of life and a number of French nobles were captured by the English.
In 1416 a number of smaller successful skirmishes took place for Henry and his soldiers, including battles at Valmont in March that year and a victory at sea in August.
1417 and 1418 were both particularly bloody for the French
- Siege of Rouen (1418-1419) – English victory
In 1421 the Treaty of Troyes was drafted in an attempt to end the war. The French King Charles VI was suffering from a mental illness, and the treaty called for Henry V to marry Charles VI’s daughter, Catherine, and to take the French throne on his passing.
However, in August 1422 Henry V died, and two months later the French King Charles VI also died. In less than 90 days both the English and French thrones were ripe for the taking.
Charles the VI had three sons, but the elder two had been killed in earlier years. This left Charles VII to take up the French throne. However, Henry V’s brother, duke John of Bedford attempted to establish his brother’s son, who was not even 1 year old, as heir to the French throne.
The war between the French and the English continued in a number of battles that spanned over the next 7 years, until 1429.
1429 was a turning point for both parties, with both the English and the French gaining some notable victories over one another. These include:
- Battle of the Herrings (February 1429)
- Siege of Orleans (April and May 1429)
- Battle of Jargeau (June 1429)
- Battle of Beaugency (June 1429)
- Battle of Patay (June 1429)
- Battle of Paris (August 1429)
The Siege of Orleans was a critical turning point that was supported by Joan of Arc. However, she was fatally wounded in the Battle of Paris in August and later captured. After being captured, she was sent to trial and later executed.
Charles VII was crowned King of France in July 1429, and he spent the next twenty five years claiming back the territories that had once been lost to invasions of the English, using both military offences and tactical alliances to win back the land and resources that the French had lost during the century of war.
The English, however, had a new war on their hands; the Wars of the Roses. This war was a civil war that was threatening to destroy the country from within. The English could no longer afford to spend resources and supply troops trying to fight wars with other countries. It needed to get its house in order and establish a strong and stable monarchy.