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The Hundred Years' War:

NOTE: large sections of this text are adapted from http://www.ehistory.com. See it for more details.

What was it?

The Hundred Years' War was a long struggle between England and France over succession to the French throne. It lasted from 1337 to 1453, so it might more accurately be called the "116 Years' War." The war starts off with several stunning successes on Britain's part, and the English forces dominate France for decades. Then, the struggle see-saws back and forth. In the 1360s, the French are winning. From 1415-1422, the English are winning. After 1415, King Henry V of England revives the campaign and he conquers large portions of France, winning extraordinary political concessions. From 1422 onward, however, the French crown strikes back. The teenage girl Jeanne d'Arc (Joan of Arc), a remarkable young mystic, leads the French troops to reclaim their lands. Here's the brief outline of events, with major battles put in bold red color:

(1337-1360) King Edward the III of England, provoked by French attacks on lands he owns in France, decides upon a desparate gamble. He declares himself King of France, arguing that he can legally claim the French throne through line of descent via his mother, Isabella of France. In the French Salic law, possession and property can only be inherited through the paternal line. This means that only males descended from the sons on the king's side of the family can inherit the throne, land, or titles. However, under English law, possession and property can also descend to male children through the maternal bloodline. This means that males descended from the king's sons OR male children descended from the king's daughters have a claim to the throne. All that matters in English law is that the "the blood of kings" runs in the firstborn male child's veins, even if that blood does not come directly through the father's sons. (This tricky legal situation is what King Henry V and his counselors are talking about in Shakespeare's Henry V.)

(1340) The Battle of Sluys. The young King Edward personally "jousts" with Spanish ships allied to France. (He rams the enemy ships with his own). He successfully sinks several boats (including the one he is riding in), but he does win control of the waterways between France and England, opening up the opportunity for landing ships on the French coast.

(1346) The Battle of Crécy (the first major engagement of the Hundred Years' War): After the battle of Sluys, Edward III landed in Normandy in July 1346 with about 10,000 men. The French pursued. Edward III decided to halt near Crecy in Normandy and to prepare for battle the next day. However, the French vanguard made contact and started to attack without the benefit of a plan. The French made as many as 15 attacks and the English checked each one in turn mainly because of the English longbowmen. At the end, the French were decimated and the English had a decisive victory.

(1347) The Battle of Calais. After the victory at Crecy, the English forces marched to Calais and began a successful siege that was to last a year. The French army tried to relieve Calais but retreated after finding the English position too strong. The English turned Calais into a operations base for further forays into France. It remained in English hands until 1558.

(1348) The arrival of the Black Plague in Europe and England effectively puts a damper on hostile activities. England loses approximately one-third of its population; France loses approximately one-fourth of its population.

(1356) The Battle of Poitiers (the second major engagement of the Hundred Years' War): After a break of six years, warfare erupts again when Edward the Black Prince, son of King Edward III, raids France in 1356. King John II of France pursued Edward. Outside of Poiters the forces met and the French dismounted and attacked. The attack almost succeeded but Edward was able to counterattack and break the French line. It was a disastrous battle for France--the King of France (Jean II) is captured along with about 2,000 members of the French aristocracy during the initial stages of the battle, and taken back to England. The English demand an enormous ransom for his return--equivalent to about one third of France's GNP. France is paralyzed without a king, and cannot mount an adequate counter-offensive until the 1370s.

By 1360, Edward has won the naval victory of Sluys (1340) and both the early land battles at Crecy and Poitiers. France, overwhelmed, cedes a large part of its northern territories and shoreline to England in the Treaty of Brétigny (1360). In exchange, Edward gives up his claim to the French throne.

(1360-1396) The French gradually regain most of France after England loses its two best generals, King Edward III and his son Edward the Black Prince. The two sides sign a truce in 1389, and extend the treaty in 1396 for 28 years.

(1364) The Battle of Auray: The battle of Auray centered around control of the duchy of Brittany. English forces under John Chandos besieged the town or Auray. French troops were sent to break the siege. On September 29, 1364 the French counter-attacked. The attack was repulsed and the town surrendered. The leader of the French army, Bertrand du Guesclin, was captured and later ransomed.

After the French King Jean II dies in British captivity, his son Charles V, the Wise, becomes King of France. He rules to 1380. Under his command, France regains much of its lost territory.

(1372) French troops regain Poitou and Brittany.

(1372) Battle of La Rochelle. Fierce naval battle. The French regain control of the English Channel, making it impossible for England to ferry reinforcements to Calais.

(1382) The Scots, reinforced and equipped by the French, attack England.

(1389) The Scots sign a truce with England, preventing further French agitation in the north for several years.

(1392) Charles VI of France goes insane.

(1396) Richard II marries the seven-year old Princess Isabella of France as part of peace treaty.

(1405) French soldiers land in Wales to support the Welsh warlord Owain Glendwr's claim to the Princedom of Wales. They are initially successful.

(1412) Jeanne d'Arc born.

(1415-1422) Henry V again takes up Edward III's claim, and asserts that he is rightful king of France. The French are under the rule of the partly mad ruler King Charles VI and seem ripe for the picking under his disorganized regime. In a swift campaign, he takes Harfleur and various coastal regions, and defeats a French army several times his army's size. He forces King Charles VI to make him his heir. Henry marries Charles' daughter Catherine. Henry V dies in 1422, leaving a baby as heir to the English throne.

(1415) Battle of Harfleur: Henry V landed in France with about 10,000 men in the summer of 1415. His first objective was Harfleur, a port town on northwestern France. The siege lasted for about a month and Henry marched into the town victorious but with his army severly depleted--mainly from illness. His next stop was to be Calais, but the French army intercepted him at Agincourt.

(1415) Battle of Agincourt. After the successful siege at Harfleur, Henry marched his force of about 6000 knights, archers and men-at-arms towards Calais. During his march the French army of 20,000 was able to position itself between Henry and Calais. Henry used a narrow front channeled by woodland to give his heavily outnumbered force a chance. The French deployed in three lines. The first line of French knights attacked only to be repulsed by the English longbowmen. The second line attacked and was beaten back, their charge bogged down by the mud on the field. The third line moved to engage but lost heart when they crossed the field covered with French dead; they soon retreated. Henry was left with control of the battlefield and a decisive victory. He soon resumed his march to Calais.

(1421) Battle of Beauge: Beauge was one of the first defeats for the English during the Hundred Years War. French and Scottish forces combine to raid the English possessions in Normandy. Thomas, the duke of Clarence, (Henry V's brother) attempted to intercept the allied forces. During the interception Thomas' cavalry outdistanced his infantry. The French and Scottish forces decimated the English and Thomas was killed.

(1424) Battle of Verneuil: In one last attempt to dislodge the English from Normandy, about 15,000 French and Scottish forces attacked the English army of 9,000 commanded by John, duke of Bedford. The attack took place at Verneuil, about 50 miles west of Paris. The French and Scottish forces charged, but the English longbowmen cut them down quickly. About half the of the French/Scottish army were lost; the rest retreated. The result of the battle was that the Scots were removed as a major aid to the French cause.

(1422-1453) War flares again. The English initially win numerous victories, but the peasant girl Jeanne d'Arc (Joan of Arc) appears, claiming to have had a vision from God. She puts new faith in the French armies and leads them to repeated victories against the English. By 1453, the coast of Calais is the only English possession left in France.

(1428-1429) Siege of Orleans The siege of Orleans was the turning point of the Hundred Years' War. After over 80 years of warfare the French finally gained the upper hand with the decisive victory at Orleans. Thomas de Montacute and 5,000 English troops begin the siege of Orleans, the largest fortified position held by Charles of France, on October 23, 1428. William de la Pole, duke of Suffolk, succeeded Montecute in November after he was slain by a cannon ball. The siege lasted months. At around this same time, Joan of Arc appears at the court of Charles. Charles allows Joan to lead a relief force in April. In May, Joan attacks the English in unison with a force from Orleans and she drives the English from their positions. The next day they abandon the siege; military advantage now lies with the French.

(early 1430) Jeanne d'Arc(Joan of Arc) attempts to lift the siege of Paris.

(late 1430) Burgundians (English sympathizers in Northern France) capture Jeanne d'Arc and deliver her to English courts.

(1431) Jeanne d'Arc burns as a witch at Rouen.

(late 1431) Henry VI of England crowned as king of France in Paris. Under his incompetent rule, France whittles away at English holdings in France.

(1450) Battle of Formigny: After French victory at Rouen in October 1449, Charles VII continues the French offensive and presses the English back into the town of Formigny. French artillary blasts away at most of the English army and the English are badly defeated losing more than 4,000 men out of a force of 5,000. Formigny marks the end of the fighting in northern France.

(1453) Battle of Castillon: Castillon is the final engagement of the Hundred Years War. After being driven out of Northern France the previous few years, Henry VI sends a new army to Bordeaux in Southwestern France He seeks to maintain at least some territory in France. In July 1453 the English forces attack a French force that was besieging the town of Castillon. The attacked is repulsed, the English are routed, and Shrewsbury is killed. Bordeaux becomes French territory and the final English survivors sail for home.

(late 1453) Henry VI goes insane. By 1453, the coast of Calais is the only English possession left in France. It will remain in English possession until the mid-1500s.

 

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