Hundred Years War

Article written by Sandy Petersen
Originally published on 05-12-1999 ; updated on 03-13-2017
Tags: General Info, Ask Sandyman, Interviews

This is just for the amusement of those who are interested in historical context. It's kind of hard to pick exactly how long the 100 Years War lasted, but one common measure is from 1337 to 1453. Note that there was not continuous fighting throughout the war, which was interrupted by truces, the Black Death, and other events. Several times everyone thought the war was over, then it broke out again.

Reasons Behind the War

REASON ONE: The kings of England were also dukes of Aquitaine and other French lands. This, technically, made them vassals of the French king. On the other hand, since they were also kings of England, they were, technically, independent.

This led to a volatile situation. The French feared the English kings would decide to annex their French holdings to England. The English kings hated being subordinate to the French, even if it was only a technicality.

REASON TWO: the French had a lot of influence in and sent a lot of support to Scotland, then an independent nation, and since the Scots were pretty much eternally at war with England this meant the French were good buddies with a detested foe. "The friend of my enemy is my enemy."

What Caused the War's Outbreak?

The King of France announced that he was going to annex all English fiefs south of the Loire, then invaded them. At almost the same time, there was a Flemish revolt against the French count of Flanders. The English landed in Flanders to support the Flemish rebels. In 1338, Edward, King of England, declared himself King of France, too.

The major events, battles, sieges, and campaigns of the war were:

Sluys (1340) - crushing English naval victory which didn't have any immediately useful results (after the victory, the English sieged Tournai, but they failed to capture it). After this, the two sides declared a truce. Most people thought the war would end now, just another feudal squabble. The truce only lasted 2 years.

King Edward sailed to France and the result was ...

Crecy (1346) - crushing English victory.

Calais (1347) - English victory, made possible by Crecy. Nonetheless, it took the English 11 months to capture Calais.

Then came the Black Death. Both sides were KOed by the plague from 1347-1354. It looked like the war might end. Then the Black Prince landed in France, resulting in:

Poitiers (1356) - crushing English victory. As usual, the English did not exploit their win, and the Black Prince seems to have been satisfied by returning to Bordeaux with his plunder. The French were pretty depressed after Poitiers, and mostly stayed in their castles.

Auray (1364) - English victory. The French tried to relieve the town of Auray, got beaten, and lost the town for their pains.

Now the war started to get wider. A civil war in Spain was partly fought by French vs. English, and mercenaries wandered randomly across the land, looting everyone impartially.

du Guesclin's conquests (1368-1396) - significant French victory. Bertrand du Guesclin was one of the great warriors of the Middle Ages. He led the French against the English for 30 years, and recaptured almost all of France from the English, who by the time du Guesclin died in 1396 only owned five port cities and hardly any land at all.

Limoges (1370) - English victory. Not one they can be proud of, though -- the Black Prince sacked the city and butchered the civilian population.

La Rochelle (1372) - French naval victory. With help from Spain, the French drove off the English fleet. In stark contrast to Sluys, the French victory meant something -- they were able to regain control of most of France's coast.

In 1396, the English & French declared a 30-year truce. England was to own only Calais and a little bit of Gascony. Everyone expected the truce to last forever, and that the war would now end.

However, the French kept poking at the English -- sending help to Scotland, raiding Plymouth, and even assisting Welsh rebels. Then, in 1407, a civil war broke out in France between Burgundy and the Valois. In 1411, BOTH sides asked the English to help them. By adroit negotiations, Henry V managed to get himself a pretty good claim to the French throne. Then, in 1413, he allied with the Burgundians, who declared themselves neutral in any fight between England & the Valois faction. In 1415, Henry V declared war and invaded France.

Siege of Harfleur (1415) - English victory. Took a month, and Henry's army was seriously weakened by his losses. So he decided to march to Calais. The French ambushed him en route. The result? Glad you asked ...

Agincourt (1415) - crushing English victory. This was one of the most lopsided wins of all history, and the English are rightly proud of their performance here. In time-honored English fashion, Henry V did not take advantage of his win, and simply returned to England.

English Channel naval strife (1416) - English victory. The enemy fleet (actually Italian, but allied with the French) was driven from the English Channel.

Henry's campaigns (1419) - Henry then returned and took Normandy.

Paris (1418) - English victory. The Burgundians decided to take open sides in the war and attacked Paris. They captured it, and massacred all the Valois they could catch (the dauphin got away). Later, they handed Paris over to the English.

Siege of Meaux (1422) - English victory. Henry's goal was to unite all northern France under his rule. This victory was one step in the plan, but then Henry got sick and died soon after. The Burgundians then started to lose interest in fighting for the English. They didn't turn against them, exactly, they just realized that capturing land and giving it away to the English wasn't necessarily the best way to advance their own goals.

Cravant (1423) - English victory. An Anglo-Burgundian army beat a Franco-Scottish army. A cool idea for a fight -- think about it.

Verneuil (1424) - English victory. Another English victory like unto Crecy, Poitiers, Agincourt etc. The hapless French seemed to have learned nothing.

St. James (1426) - English victory. Brittany submitted to English rule because of this battle.

Now England starts moving to take on the rest of France. They send an army to siege Orleans.

Rouvray (1429) - English victory. Sir John Fastolf (the original for Shakespeare's John Falstaff) defended a supply convoy from the French. This battle is better-known as the Battle of the Herrings, because the rations in the carts were mostly salt herring. It was Lent, you see, and so eating meat wasn't permitted.

So far, there have been 18 major events. The English won 16 of them. France's only victories were during du Guesclin's time. Then Joan of Arc arrives on the scene. Watch the timeline carefully:

Orleans (1429) - crushing French victory. Joan relieves Orleans. The English have to pull back.

Patay (1429) - French victory. Sir John Fastolf is beaten and the French recover the Loire.

Joan's other campaigns (1429) - crushing French victory. In her other moves, she captured a series of important cities, including Rheims, where the dauphin finally got coronated. Intrigue at the French court now lead to a loss of support for her, though the common folk & knights still love her. In 1430 she is captured by Burgundy who offer to ransom her to the highest bidder. The ungrateful dauphin doesn't even make a bid and she goes to the English, who hold a kangaroo court & burn her. But it is too late for them by now. The French resurgence is no longer just the invention of Joan, and cannot be held back even by the dauphin's perfidy and inaction.

In 1435, the Burgundians, sensing what's in the wind, declare peace with the Valois, and this ends the Burgundy/English alliance.

Paris (1436) - French victory. Paris has been held by the English or their stooges for 18 years. Even the English are starting to figure out that things are no longer going their way. They negotiate a 5-year truce with the French. The English (but not the French) are now hoping the war ends while they still own much of northern France.

Rouen (1449) - French victory. The French march into Normandy and capture most of it.

Formigny (1450) - crushing French victory. The English line up in exactly the same way they did at Poitiers, Crecy, etc., and clearly expected the French to act the same way. Instead, the French brought up cannons and bombarded the English longbows from afar. The archers freaked and charged the cannons, actually capturing them. French infantry then counter-charged, slaughtered the archers and then French knights hit the main English flank. Almost all the English were killed -- it was a defeat as big as Crecy had been, but the other way round.

Caen (1450) - French victory.

Cherbourg (1450) - French victory. This finalized the reconquest of Normandy.

Guyenne campaign (1451) - French victory. Two English-held towns were taken, largely due to the efficient French siege train.

The English were now burning for vengeance. They landed a big army and marched to raise the siege of Castillon. They clearly expected another Crecy. Instead, they got ...

Castillon (1453) - crushing French victory. The English launched a bold attack, right into the fire of the massed French handgunners. The attack was stopped cold. When the French counterattacked, the English broke and routed from the field.

Bordeaux (1453) - French victory. This was kind of an anticlimax. While a little bit of random raiding kept going on for four more years, the Hundred Years War was now pretty much at an end. England now owned only Calais, which she kept until 1558.

Note the total absence of English victories after Rouvray...