Hundred Years’ War

The Hundred Years’ War, a series of military conflicts between France and England, resulted in France’s ultimate victory at the Battle of Castillon in 1453, a rise in nationalism in a more unified France, and England’s emergence—despite its withdrawal from France—as a preeminent naval power.

Summary of Event

The Hundred Years’ War was actually waged for 116 years, from 1337 until 1453, although periods of peace occurred within that time span. The convoluted history of this drawn-out conflict, which extended through the reigns of five English and five French kings, began in 1066, when William William the Conqueror , duke of Normandy, invaded and conquered England, thereby becoming king of England. Following the Norman Conquest, French became the language of the English court. Strong French influences were evident in the lives of the English. King Edward III Edward III was thought to speak no English, only French. [kw]Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453)
[kw]War, Hundred Years’ (1337-1453)
Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453)
France;1337-1453: Hundred Years’ War[2780]
Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;1337-1453: Hundred Years’ War[2780]
Expansion and land acquisition;1337-1453: Hundred Years’ War[2780]
Edward III
Richard II
Henry IV (1366-1413)
Henry V (1387-1422)
Henry VI (1421-1471)
Philip VI
John II (1319-1364)
Charles V (1337-1380)
Charles VI (1368-1422)
Charles VII (1403-1461)
Joan of Arc

Under the feudal Feudalism;Europe system prevalent in Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire in 476, the nobility granted land to people below them in rank to reward their military service in defense of the noble making the grant. This system, persisting into the fourteenth century, created a society where there was no strong central government. The populace felt greater loyalty to provinces or to sections within provinces than to the country as a whole.

In 1308, King Edward II Edward II married Isabella of France Isabella of France , daughter of King Philip and sister of Louis X, Philip, and Charles IV, each of whom died after brief reigns as kings of France. Isabella plotted the overthrow of her husband, anticipating that she could rule England through her young son, Edward III, who was next in the English line of succession.

At age twelve, Edward III went to France to represent his father in the court of his uncle, Charles IV, accompanied by Isabella and her lover, Roger Mortimer Mortimer, Roger . A shocked Charles IV banished Isabella from court because of her adultery. Once Edward III had fulfilled his official obligations in the court of Charles IV Charles IV (king of France) , he, Isabella, and Mortimer went to Hainault in what is now Belgium. There Edward met and fell in love with Philippa of Hainaut Philippa of Hainaut , who was the same age as he. They married two years later and produced five children in the first ten years of their marriage.

The following year, 1327, after Isabella and Mortimer toppled Edward II from the throne, Edward III, in whose veins coursed royal blood from both England and France, became king of England. Edward II was subsequently murdered, and in 1330, Edward III, resisting his mother’s attempts to dominate him and through him to rule England, had Mortimer hanged and his mother confined to remote castles where her influence could not compromise his reign.

Meanwhile, Charles IV died in 1328, leaving no male heir to succeed him. He was the last of the line of Hugh Capet Capetian Dynasty , who ruled three hundred years earlier. It was argued that Edward III, grandson of King Philip of France, had the rightful claim to France’s throne. The French, however, refused to acknowledge fifteen-year-old Edward as king, selecting instead the thirty-five-year-old Philip Valois, nephew of King Philip.

Two major factors precipitated the Hundred Years’ War. In 1332, attempting to impose English rule on the Scots with whom the French were in league, Edward III led attacks on Scotland Scotland;English invasion of and eventually prevailed. The French supported the Scots because they were dependent on Scottish wool for a flourishing Flemish textile industry. At this time, with a population of thirteen million, three times that of England, France was clearly the strongest nation in Europe. England was viewed as a backward, impoverished place. France had a strong but limited central monarchy that did not include all of France, much of which was still ruled by feudal lords. Brittany, Burgundy, Flanders, and Guienne were beyond the control of French kings.

In 1337, Edward III, to whom Philip VI Philip VI (king of France) had promised to return part of Guienne to England, wrote a defiant letter to King Philip, who had not honored his pledge. This letter began the open conflict that stretched out for more than a century. In September, 1340, Edward, who had invested practically everything he and his country owned preparing for war, led an army from Flanders into France, practicing the scorched-earth policy that had worked well for Edward in Scotland a few years earlier. His troops marched to the south, laying waste to fields, ravaging dwellings, and slaughtering peasants and livestock.

The English at Calais in 1347.

(F. R. Niglutsch)

The French confronted the English near Saint-Quentin, where King Philip said that he would fight the English only if they chose a place not fortified with trees and bogs. This, however, appeared to be a deception because when the two forces were about to meet in the designated location, Philip withdrew his forces, apparently unwilling to risk a humiliating defeat at the hands of the English.

After Edward III declared himself king of France, he engaged in minor land battles against the French, but his most important victory occurred in 1340 when the English overcame the French fleet in the Battle of Sluis Sluis, Battle of (1340) (or Sluys). Two years later, Edward led a successful assault on Brittany, and in 1346, his forces defeated the French in the Battle of Crécy Crécy, Battle of (1346) . The following year, English forces captured Calais. Following that victory, there was a considerable hiatus in the war because the Black Death Black Death (the bubonic plague) swept through Europe, killing hundreds of thousands of people and leaving the survivors too weak and dispirited to fight. In 1350, King Philip, having already lost a daughter to the plague, died himself and was succeeded by John II John II (king of France) .

In 1356, the English defeated the French in the Battle of Poitiers, Poitiers, Battle of (1356) where they captured King John II, who was transported to England and held prisoner there until 1360 when the Treaty of Brétigny Brétigny, Treaty of (1360) was negotiated, giving England Calais and nearly the whole of Aquitaine. The English also received a hefty ransom for the release of King John, who died in 1364. Charles V Charles V (king of France) succeeded him.

The capture of King John at Poitiers in 1356.

(F. R. Niglutsch)

A strained peace prevailed until 1369, when Charles V, besieged by noblemen complaining about the excessive taxation they were suffering under the English, crossed swords with Edward III over this excessive taxation and, once more, over the forfeiture of Guienne. Charles V resumed the war that had been more or less suspended for nearly a decade. By 1374, England had lost all its land in France except Calais and Guienne.

Another period of relative peace prevailed for the next quarter century, interrupted only by occasional assaults from France. In 1377, the year in which Edward III died and was succeeded by Richard II Richard II , French and Castilian ships attacked the southern coast of England, but the invasion England feared did not occur. This assault, however, emphasized to the English that they must strengthen their defenses. The English Parliament imposed head taxes on all its citizenry to pay for increased defensive measures. Everyone, regardless of financial status, paid the same tax. The poor, therefore, paid a much greater tax than the rich proportionately. This inequality led to the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 Peasants’ Revolt (England, 1381) .

In 1380, Charles V died and was succeeded as king of France by Charles VI Charles VI (king of France) , a boy of twelve quite unable to assume the responsibilities of kingship. Charles VI went insane in 1392, but in 1394, quite significantly, King Richard II of England married Isabella, daughter of Charles VI. Richard II was deposed in 1399 and replaced by King Henry IV Henry IV (king of England) .

All was not well in France as the king’s mental and emotional deterioration progressed, but Charles VI continued to reign for thirty years after the first signs of his insanity appeared. With France in disarray, the Armagnacs of Orléans and the Burgundians vied for power. In 1407, followers of John the Fearless, a Burgundian, murdered the duke of Orléans in Paris. Four years later, King Henry IV deployed troops to France to help John the Fearless fight the Armagnacs.

With the death of King Henry IV in 1413, Henry V Henry V (king of England) became king of England. In 1415, he invaded France and conquered the French at the Battle of Agincourt Agincourt, Battle of (1415) . The year after the murder of John the Fearless by the Armagnacs in 1419, the English occupied Paris and signed the Treaty of Troyes Troyes, Treaty of (1420) . Within two years, both Henry V and Charles VI were dead. Henry was succeeded by Henry VI Henry VI (king of England and France) , who was also recognized north of the Loire River as King Henry II of France.

In 1423, the English defeated the dauphins, heirs to the French throne, at Cravant Cravant, Battle of (1423) and, in the following year, at Verneuil Verneuil, Battle of (1424) . After the English attacked and isolated Orléans in 1428, Joan of Arc Joan of Arc emerged as both a military and spiritual leader as she forced the withdrawal of the English from Orléans in 1429. Charles VII Charles VII (king of France) became king in 1422, but was crowned in 1429. The following year, the Burgundians captured Joan and sold her to the English. She was charged as a witch and heretic and then tried. In 1431, the nineteen-year-old heroine was burned at the stake, an act that mobilized the French against the English.

In 1436, the year after Charles VII and Duke Philip of Burgundy signed the Treaty of Arras, Arras, Treaty of (1436) the French regained Paris from the English. Eight years later, the Truce of Tours Tours, Truce of (1444) was enacted between France and England. King Henry VI of England married the French Margaret of Anjou in 1445. England surrendered Le Maine to France in 1448, and the next year Charles VII attacked the English at Normandy, which in 1450 became French after the English were defeated in the Battle of Formigny Formigny, Battle of (1450) .

Guienne fell to the French in 1451 but was retaken by the English in an invasion led by Sir John Talbot in 1452. Talbot was overcome the following year, however, and was killed in the Battle of Castillon, Castillon, Battle of (1453) whereupon the English left Guienne and the Hundred Years’ War ended.


The Hundred Years’ War marked the beginning of the end for the English in France. It also marked the end of the feudalism Feudalism;Europe that had prevailed in Europe for nearly a millennium. It also resulted in a stronger central government in France, where an air of nationalism replaced much of the regionalism that had preceded it. England lost all of its French land holdings save for Calais, which it retained until 1558, and some of the Channel Islands, which it still holds. This conflict eliminated England as a continental power but led to its emergence as a major naval power.

William Shakespeare’s major plays, such as Henry VI, Part I (1589-1590, pr. 1592) and Henry V (pr. c. 1598-1599), reflect the significant effects of the war on subsequent literature and the arts. The plays were based on historical occurrences from the war, showing Shakespeare’s familiarity with the conflicts of this period. Although he took liberties in dealing with the period’s history, his facts are reasonably accurate historically.

Further Reading

  • Baker, Denise N. Inscribing the Hundred Years’ War in French and English Cultures. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000. This volume’s eleven essays focus largely on literary accounts and the literary climate in France and England during this extended war.
  • Curry, Anne. The Hundred Years’ War. 2d ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. A brief, reliable account of the causes and results of this conflict. Illustrations, maps, and genealogical tables.
  • Holmes, George. Europe, Hierarchy and Revolt, 1320-1450. 2d ed. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2000. A fine overview of the Hundred Years’ War. Captures the climate of the time and France’s shift from regionalism to nationalism. Solid bibliography.
  • Lace, William W. The Hundred Years’ War. San Diego, Calif.: Lucent Books, 1994. This contribution to Lucent’s World History series is directed at teen readers. The presentation is direct and accurate and is well illustrated with useful genealogical tables and maps.
  • Neillands, Robin. The Hundred Years’ War. Rev. ed. New York: Routledge, 2001. A detailed account of the factors precipitating the war, of the major battles of the war, and of their outcomes. Well illustrated with genealogical tables.
  • Seward, Desmond. A Brief History of the Hundred Years’ War: The English in France, 1337-1453. London: Robinson, 2003. Historical overview of the war, with illustrations, including maps.