The name the Hundred Years’ War has been used by historians since the beginning of the nineteenth century to describe the long conflict that pitted the kings and kingdoms of France and England against each other from 1337 to 1453. Two factors lay at the origin of the conflict: first, the status of the duchy of Guyenne (or Aquitaine)-though it belonged to the kings of England, it remained a fief of the French crown, and the kings of England wanted independent possession; second, as the closest relatives of the last direct Capetian king (Charles IV, who had died in 1328), the kings of England from 1337 claimed the crown of France.
Theoretically, the French kings, possessing the financial and military resources of the most populous and powerful state in western Europe, held the advantage over the smaller, more sparsely populated English kingdom. However, the expeditionary English army, well disciplined and successfully using their longbows to stop cavalry charges, proved repeatedly victorious over much larger French forces: significant victories occurred by sea at Sluys (1340), and by land at Crecy (1346) and Poitiers (1356). In 1360, King John of France, in order to save his title, was forced to accept the Treaty of Calais, which granted complete independence to the duchy of Guyenne, now considerably enlarged to include almost a third of France. However, his son Charles V, with the help of his commander in chief Bertrand du Guesclin, by 1380 had succeeded in reconquering almost all the ceded territory, notably by a series of sieges.
After a hiatus, Henry V of England renewed the war and proved victorious at Agincourt (1415), conquered Normandy (1417-1418), and then attempted to have himself crowned as the future king of France by the Treaty of Troyes (1420). But his military successes were not matched by political successes: although allied with the dukes of Burgundy, the majority of the French refused English domination. Thanks to Joan of Arc, the siege of Orleans was lifted (1429). Then Paris and the lle-de-France were liberated (1436-1441), and after the French army had been reorganized and reformed (1445-1448), Charles VII recaptured the duchy of Normandy (the Battle of Formigny, 1450), and then seized Guyenne (the Battle of Castillon, 1453). The end of the conflict was never marked by a peace treaty but died out because the English recognized that the French troops were too strong to be directly confronted.
English territory in France, which had been extensive since 1066 (see Hastings, Battle of) now remained confined to the Channel port of Calais (lost in 1558). France, at last free of the English invaders, resumed its place as the dominant state of western Europe.
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The Reader’s Companion to Military History. Edited by Robert Cowley and Geoffrey Parker. Copyright © 1996 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.