100 Years War


100 Years War Essay, Research Paper

The definition of the Golden Rule is that those with the gold make the rules. In

other words, those with the gold have the power as well as those with the power have the

gold. History books will discuss the general reasons for war such as freedom from

adversity or freedom from religion. But the real issue for any war is the thirst for power

and control; and the means to finance them are the economic issues.

Nations will endure years of fighting for power and control. France and England

fought each other for more than a hundred years to have control of the Channel trade

routes. 1 This century of warring was known as The Hundred Years’ War and is the

longest war in record history. It began in 1337 when King Edward III invaded Normandy

and ended in 1453 when France won the Battle of Bordeaux. However, it was not a

hundred years of constant battle; there were periods of truces in between. 2

One cause for the Hundred Years’ War was the claim to the French throne. The

conflict began when the direct line of succession died without a male heir and the nobles

decided to pass the crown to a cousin, Philip of Valois. But this left two other male

cousins equally deserving of the crown; Charles, King of Navarre and Edward III, King of

England. 3 Edward III claimed that he himself was deserving of the throne because his

mother was the sister of the late French king, while Philip VI was only a cousin. But

according to French law, no women could inherit the throne, nor could the crown be

inherited through a woman. 4

“Philip of Valois chances of becoming King of France had been remote and he had

not been brought up as the future lieutenant of God on Earth. Philip VI spent much of his

resources on entertainment and finery with gay abandon.” 5 This caused conflict with the

king’s subjects. Since the king was considered to be sacred and inviolable, neither cousin

would challenge Philip VI. However, they would exploit the situation and King Edward

III lost no time and invaded Normandy with an army of 10,000

men. 6

This leads to another cause for The Hundred Years’ War. The land along the

Channel and Atlantic coasts was England’s first line of defense against an invasion.

England held claim to this territory from the twelth century through the marriage of King

Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. King Edward III was determined to gain control of

the French coastline while providing himself with a bridgehead for future expeditions into

France. 7

But the major cause of The Hundred Years’ War was the economic interest – the

revenues to be gotten from this rich territory. Wine was Gasgony’s largest export product

and major source of income to the vassal. Wool was England’s largest export product and

the source of its wealth. English pastures produced fleeces that were the envy of Europe

which Flanders depended on for its wool and linen market. 8 English sheep growers sold

their long fine wool to weavers in Flanders, across the English Channel. Flemish weavers

as well as English sheep growers depended on this trade for their business. In 1336, Philip

VI arrested all the English merchants in Flanders and took away all the privileges of the

Flemish towns and the craft guilds. Resulting in the Flemings revolting against the French

control and making an alliance with England. 9 Consequently, the flourishing market of

the industrial cities of Ghent, Bruges, Antwerp and Ypres were naturally coveted by the

Kings of France and England.

Moreover, the Bordeaux harbor was within the borders of English Gascony and

was the center of the shipping and trading industry. Commodities such as grains, dairy

products, dyes and salt would be shipped into Bordeaux via the Dordogne and Garonne

Rivers and the merchants were charged a customs fee for these products. Also, Bordeaux

would receive duties on wine, whether shipped-in or grown on Gascon soil.

Consequently, the profits from the tolls and customs made Bordeaux the economic capital

of Gascony. Furthermore, control of neighboring areas such as Guyenne and Calais were

economically vital. Their union with Bordeaux would ensure England with a monopoly of

the shipping and trading industry from Spain, Portugal and Brittany. 10

France was the richest country in Europe and its army was much larger than

England’s. In addition, France’s army consisted of hired mercenaries. Therefore, France

should have quickly defeated England. But France’s army consisted of heavily armored

knights who were less mobile against the agile English swordsmen. The French military

leaders soon realized the archer was the only effective when fighting a pitched battle.

Consequently, France implemented a strategic plan which was to avoid active warfare and

to utilize the technique of diplomacy and concessions. England could win battles, but

France could avoid them. Pitched battles were accepted only when there was no

alternative. Otherwise, France would raid unprotected towns and villages, take what they

could, then burn them to the ground. 11

Meanwhile, England could depend on the loyalty of her subjects. The soldiers

were happy to receive a salary and eager to fight on French soil. They could profit from

the plundering while their homes didn’t suffer and damage. Moreover, England had

superior military tactics. They had perfected the fighting technique of the longbow drawn

by free swordsmen. Even though the archers were below the knight on the social ladder,

they were not ashamed to fight side by side. Subsequently, the archer could destroy the

effectiveness of a French calvary charge. Also, King Edward III was very popular with his

subjects. He would fight beside his troops as well as to the folks at home. As well, his

sixteen year old son, the Black Prince, was a superb military leader. 12 He successfully

continued to lead the English armies into battle against France. As a result, England won

most of the initial battles and kept the war in France. 13

One of the great English victories was the battle at Crecy. The English were

outnumbered four to one by the French, led by Philip VI. The English occupied the side

of a small hill, while the heavy number of French men-at-arms and hired Genoese

crossbowmen were at the foot of the hill on a plain. The English were ready with their

new longbows at hand.

The Genoese crossbowmen attacked the English, but were too tired due to the

long day’s march and because of an earlier rainstorm, their crossbow strings were loose.

The English’s longbow proved to be too much for the Genoese, so they dropped the

crossbows and began to run. King Philip was so outraged at the Genoese actions, he had

his men-at-arms kill many of them.

At one point during this battle, the French came across a group of English knights

led by the Black Prince, the son of Edward III, dismounted from their horses and not

prepared for battle. As Edward III heard of his son’s misfortune, he ordered no aid be sent

to him and his men. This was to be his day. Slowly, pieces of the French army began to

flee, while the English army stood strong.

England had won the first great land battle of the long war. They had already won

control of the English Channel and a few years later, the town of Calais surrendered to

them on September 28, 1347. For the next ten years, fighting was slowed. This was due

mainly to the Black Death which killed more than a third of the population. 14

Initially, England feared they would never be able to defend themselves against a

French invasion. France had enormous wealth, military prestige and a dominant position

in European politics. However, the Battles of Vrecy and Poiters were major victories for

England. In both battles, England was greatly outnumbered by France but, the English

archers were more effective than the armor-clad French knights. Therefore, the victories

were perceived to be granted by god because England was the rightful ruler of France. As

England continued to win the early battles and keep the in France, the military’s feelings of

inferiority and insecurity were replaced with self-confidence and optimism. The first phase

of The Hundred Years’ War went well for England.

Eventually the false sense of prosperity created by the pillaging of the French

towns and villages began to surface. Also, the commoners were becoming dissatisfied

with the high war expense. The war was a strain on England’s resources and it was

beginning to get difficult to pay the soldiers’ wages as well as maintain the garrisons. The

English subjects were taxed out and tired of the misappropriation of the war funds by the

corrupt royal officials and military commanders. Moreover, the military began to decline.

“King Richard II was not a good general. Most of Edward III’s captains were dead or in

captivity and the new generation of officers showed little aptitude for war.” 15 But King

Richard II had to fight France not only for glorious tradition but to save the wine trade

with Gascony and the wool trade with Flanders. These resources were needed to help

finance the war. However, his campaign ended in retreat.

The Gascons were opportunists. They did not adhere firmly to one lord. Even

though they did better under English rule, they were not resistant to the French.

Consequently, France gradually gained control of the Channel trade routes. Then King

Henry V renewed The Hundred Years’ War with a victory at Agincourt. He was a strong,

brilliant military leader and continued to win battles against the French, recapturing the

Gascon territory. 16 Also, with the marriage to Charles VI’s daughter, King Henry V

achieved the goal of French sovereignty. He became the French regent and upon Charles

VI’s death, the King of England would succeed to a dual monarchy. However, when

Charles VI died, the King of England was a child. 17

Henry VI was too young and inexperienced to supervise a kingdom and lead an

army. As a result, authority did not rest in any one person, but in all of the lords together.

This led to English disputes and disunity. Also, the subjects believed this was the king’s

war and the king should not finance the war through taxation but from his own income

from Gascony. The maintenance of a dual kingdom was a financial strain and England

was far in debt on military wages. In addition, Gascony was very difficult to defend and

the unstable economic conditions made it difficult to meet military crises as they arose.

Consequently, the English army in Gascony disbanded. 18

When it seemed as if there was no hope for France, a new light appeared for them.

She was Joan of Arc, the Maid of Orleans. Joan of Arc and Charles VII were able to

organize France. They invaded Gascony with an overwhelming force and began to

capture the English towns along the Norman border without being drawn into a pitched

battle. Even after Joan of Arc’s capture and execution by the English and Burgundians,

her spirit seemed to inspire the French. As a result, the French offensive spirit was

rekindled. Again, the French outnumbered the English. But this time the French army did

not rest, instead they sped aggressively to the next battle. Moreover, the French

implemented the use of the cannon-ball. 19

Again, “the allegiance of the noble families to England or France was determined

by the economic and judicial privileges of their lordships.” 20 But their land and goods

were confiscated during Charles VII’s invasion. Consequently, the nobles defected to

France. As England continued to lose its control of the South-West, France’s ability to

allure the nobility away from England increased. “In the past many had mocked the

sovereignty of France. But in the political conditions of 1442-53 they were seldom able to

resist the bribes, threats, and sanctions employed by a stronger and wealthier monarchy.”

21 He who controls the Channel controls, controls the gold. Subsequently, the high rate

of the nobility defection to France severely weakened England and ultimately caused its

collapse of territory control.

It took over a hundred years and five English kings to win the sovereignty of the

French crown and thirty years and one king to loose it. Success in warfare depends on the

combination of a king who is a competent military leader, an enthusiastic ruling class

prepared to fight and command the armies, and people willing to bear the cost through

taxation. For almost a hundred years England had this combination while France did not.

The English hated the French and always feared an invasion. Also, the high demand for

English would exports created a substantial treasury for King Edward to pay for the war.

However, the pendulum swung the other way. As a result, England may have won the

battle, but France won the war.

Barnie, John. War in Medieval English Society. Ithaca: Cornell University Press,


Duby, Georges. France in the Middle Ages 987-1460. Paris: Blackwell, 1987.

“Hundred Years’ War.” Compton’s Online Encyclopedia. 1995.

Hutchinson, Harold F. King Henry V. New York: John Day Company, 1967.

Palmer, J.J.N. England, France and Christendom. London: University of North Carolina

Press, 1972.

Vale, M.G.A. English Gascony 1399-1453. London: Oxford University Press, 1970.

The Hundred Years’ War

England vs. France


1. Palmer, J.J.N., England, France and Christendom. London: University of

North Carolina Press, 23.

2. “Hundred Years’ War.” Compton’s Online Encyclopedia. 1995.

3. Palmer, 47.

4. “Hundred Years’ War”

5. Duby, Georges. France in the Middle Ages 987-1460. Paris: Blackwell,

1987, 274.

6. “Hundred Years’ War”

7. Barnie, John. War in Medieval English Society. Ithaca: Cornell University

Press, 1974, 181.

8. Palmer, 120.

9. “Hundred Years’ War”

10. Barnie, 219.

11. Duby, 233.

12. “Hundred Years’ War”

13. Palmer, 161.

14. “Hundred Years’ War”

15. Barnie, 25.

16. Hutchinson, Harold F. King Henry V. New York: John Day Company,

1967, 214.

17. Hutchinson, 214.

18. Barnie, 245.

19. “Hundred Years’ War”

20. Vale, M.G.A. English Gascony 1399-1453. London: Oxford University

Press, 1970, 165.

21. Vale, 215.

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