There was a time when England and France were deeply at war: Hundred Years War (1337-1453)

Note: This is a funny [probably] summary of my research paper “The investigation and comparison of the Campaigns of Crécy and Agincourt in the Hundred Years War from English side by understanding the military culture and socio-political language of the Middle Ages” for HIST 48R (Warfare in the Middle Ages) by Georgios Theotokis. In this piece of paper, I removed the academic structure to be read and understood better. For readers, it is essential to grasp the spirit of the Hundred Years’ War before implementing and saving academic rules. 

I have to add some details about other actors and factors like the Great Plague, Charles V, VI, VII (French kings and there was no similarity among them except their names) or Jeanne d’Arc (an incredible woman hero or a religious saint). I published my article with references and details by preserving its academic structure. 

The investigation of two battles in the Hundred Years War by understanding the military culture and socio-political language of the Medieval Age

What do you think of the Middle Ages? Durable castles, armored cavalry, the feudal structure where the feudal lords hold the summit, and the oppressed peasants, as well as the dominance of the pope’s scholastic thought, can be piled on your head. In the midst of this concept confusion, a throne fight between England and France changed the fate of both countries for centuries. Yes, when we say the Hundred Years’ War, we will describe the series of battles between England and France. And in the footsteps of these wars, we will understand how the two countries that share the same culture form enemy identities over time.

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The battle of Crecy (1346) from Froissart’s Chronicles: The first English land victory over France could not provide to get the French throne back and did not terminate battles.

Let’s turn our eyes to the 13th century and look at the map of Western Europe. The Plantagenet Dynasty led by Henry II in England and the Capet Dynasty led by Louis VII in France. Eleanor of Aquitaine, the queen of France, divorces her husband and marries Henry. Henry thus claimed land right over France because of his new wife. Britain, which attacked France after that, succeeded in a short time but lost much of its earnings due to the Crusades. Henry’s son Richard the Lionheart collided with Saladin, while his other son John the Homeless gave wide rights to the barons by declaring Magna Carta. While the rights of the British kings were restricted by the lords, France fought with Philippe II in the Crusades, side by side with the British but in their home country.

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Edward III was the king of England for 50 years (1327-1377).

Although these battles continued intermittently over the years, the major collision would begin in 1337. With the death of King Charles IV of France in 1328 without his heir, there was a vacuum in the French throne. King Edward III of England, through his mother, Charles IV’s sister, declared the Kingdom of France as his right. But the aristocrats in France had not said the last word. The French kingdom law declared that the throne could not be passed on to a female descendant. Instead, the nobles declared Philippe, Charles’ cousin, instead of Edward, the legitimate king of France. Edward III, at first, pledged allegiance to Philippe VI, but France’s support for the Scots towards Britain was the last straw. That was the beginning of the war.

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Philippe VI (1328-1350) convinced French nobility about his right to be the King.

The French population was four times higher than that of England, the British had no strong cannons to destroy French castles, and the difficulties the British had in finding financial income to raise the army pointed out that the clock worked in favor of the French. The first clashes in the south of France in the region of Gasconia was closed with the defeat of the British. However, some factors that cannot be calculated beyond the calculations can change the course of wars. At the end of the three years, in the English Channel, the French experienced a heavy defeat. The battle, known as Sluys Naval War (1340), provided Edward with the motivation he sought. In 1346, Edward crossed over to destroy Northern France. The French destroyed the bridges along the river in order to prevent the British army from coming to Paris. Edward III, who used the propaganda very well, achieved unity in his country and was able to get his right to be accepted by the feudal lords. So the soldiers worked hard and repaired the roads and stepped northward. The two armies nowadays confronted near Crecy near the city of Somme. The French knights did not listen to Philippe’s warning but gave a significant opportunity to the British, who were tired of the road but were less likely to attack the war before other reinforcements arrived. Not enough, Philippe VI’s army was organized irregularly and undisciplined. For example, it was not even possible to talk about the division of armies. The troops were intertwined, making even the mechanisms of movement difficult. In addition, the advantageous position the British chose in the field and the long archers they had quickly declined French troops. The pre-war torrential rain determined the outcome of the battle by imprisoning French knights with heavy armor in the mud. The only solution for Philippe VI was to flee to Paris at dusk.

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Black Prince Edward: Even though he did not take the throne due to his early death, he led English armies in France, Scotland, and the Iberian Peninsula.
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Jean II (1350-1364): A slave and unsuccessful ruler in the Tower of London.

The war is not over yet, for there was “Black Plague” at the gate. Half of the European population melted in a few months, and both sides put their swords to sheathe for at least some time.

In 1356, Edward’s son, Edward the Black Prince (he was not a pirate or rebellious, he had this name because his coat of arms was black and he usually preferred black clothes) met with the French army in Poitiers. It was an important place in history. For example, the advance of the Islamic armies was stopped here centuries ago. Time brought Edward into the sickbed, and Philippe VI fell into darkness. The Black Prince turned the inexperience of the new king Jean II into an opportunity and captured the backbone of the French aristocracy, including the king. In 1360, headless France, where thefts, poverty, and corruption were widespread, bowed to all its desires except for one of England’s wills. It was Edward’s renunciation of the French throne. This waiver meant that a large part of southern France was left to England by the Treaty of Bretigny.

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Charles V (1364-1380): He turned fortune into French side. The fortification was the main factor behind his success.

This temporary peace ended in nine years. Because Charles V who succeeded the throne after Jean II, as a very strong leader put an end to the unrest in France. He reinforced fortresses against possible British raids and carried out a number of reforms in the army. The strategy of General Du Guesclin, drawn into the fortresses of the castles, was crowned by an alliance with the Spanish Kingdom of Castile. As a result, the French Navy reappeared in the waters of London. The consecutive deaths of the Black Prince and his father Edward turned the hand of the compass completely against England. The extraordinary taxes imposed on the war led the peasants to march into London and intimidate the new king, Richard II. The juvenile king punished the rebels but gave up the extraordinary taxes. At the same time, Du Guesclin and Charles V died and the tired sides made peace in 1389. One of the articles of the peace treaty was the promise of a joint crusade against the Turks, but this never happened.

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The battle of Agincourt (1415) demonstrated that the French army did not get lessons from Crecy after nearly 70 years. An undisciplined army with competitions and intrigues between French nobility lead to their defeat in addition to their heavy cavalry on the muddy battlefield.
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Henry V

The fact that the new King of France, Charles VI, was literally a “madman ver, gave the British the opportunity to be sought again, and the truce of 26 years broke down in 1415. The English King Henry V, like Edward III, was a powerful ruler in his propaganda. The only thing missing was a war he had to win. Following Edward’s footsteps, he entered France, declaring himself King of France. Despite the mad kings, the French took advantage of their population and gathered more troops in front of the British in Agincourt. The Battle of Agincourt, epitomized by Shakespeare, dealt a heavy blow to the French. Taking advantage of the surrounding woodland, the British long arrows were on stage again and more equipped. The traditions of the French cavalry fighting off their horses as a chivalry tradition were an important opportunity in favor of the British army. Moreover, in the Battle of Nicopolis (Nigbolu), the Ottomans stake the French people who remembered that the stakes blow to the French cavalry stakes piles. This tactic was successful and the British tried to destroy the French against the rules of chivalry. The short-range of French archers did not work, and the competition among the aristocrats interrupted the common decision-making mechanism. Not only did the French lose the war, but they also had to leave Northern France to England with the 1420 Troyes Treaty.

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Jeanne d’Arc

In 1429, a young French peasant girl, Jeanne d’Arc (Jan Dark), who proclaimed that she had received God’s command, initiated the resurrection of the French in Orleans. In addition, the new king of France, Charles VII, armed with the army in the wars to retire British rule. After Jan Dark was taken prisoner by the British and executed by crucifixion, it provoked French opposition to the British. Charles VII, nicknamed “Victorious” took Gasconia and destroyed British territory in 1453, except for a few castles in the north. No treaty was signed to end the Hundred Years’ War, which ended simultaneously with the conquest of Istanbul. Because until the French Revolution, the British kings continued to claim the French throne.

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Charles VII

As a historical significance, these conflicts facilitated the formation of national identities. Until then, the dominant language in the British palaces was completely abolished between French 1362-1385. At the same time as the first regular armies emerged in France, the British made major changes in ammunition, tactics, army structure and cultural and social meanings of war. Heavy cavalry was replaced by light infantry and the foundations of modern artillery were laid. The innovations of war were described by historians as the “greatest militarist revolution. Cultural propaganda developed around the kings, strengthening the king’s personality, and this new mentality prepared the end of the aristocratic feudality.

The kings reinforced their authority by using the new military system to attack the feudal lords. In short, the Hundred Years’ War destroyed the predecessor world and took the first step on the long path to Modernity. And, of course, if the Ottomans took advantage of these wars and rushed easily in the Balkans, we would not be wrong.

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Sources

Allmand, Cristopher. The Hundred Years War: England and France at War (Cambridge Medieval Textbooks). Cambridge University Press. New York. 2001.

Ramirez, Janina. Chivalry and Betrayal: The Hundred Years War. Documentary. DVD. Directed by Janina Ramirez. London: BBC, 2013.

Seward, Desmond. The Hundred Years War: The English in France (1337-1453). Penguin Books. London. 1999.

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