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Hundred Years' War 1337-1453

1337-1360 English victories
French drive English back
More English victories
French drive English out (except Calais)

How the long wars between France & England started.

Hundred years War MAP 1328
MAP 1: Who ruled where in 1328:
English King Edward III held lands mainly in Aquiraine, the rich wine-growing province around Bordeaux in SW France.

Fighting started in the Hundred Years' War because the Kings of England - descendants of William the Conqueror who still spoke French -wanted to rule France as well. France was temptingly weak and divided.

It began with the English King already ruling a large part of France (see Map 1); it ended with him ruling hardly any, but with what is now Nord - Pas de Calais split off under foreign rule for several centuries.

The English claim
It began in 1328, when the French king died with no children. The English king Edward III actually had a good "claim" to inherit the French throne. Edward's claim was through his French mother, Eleanor, who was the dead French king's aunt . It was usual for medieval royal families to intermarry like this, always seeking to make alliances.

The French split
French nobles faced a choice: who would give them more power and independence in their own lands - a French King in Paris who they had helped into power, or a distant Englaih King ruling often from London?

The first faction rushed to crown a French cousin whose claim. was not as good as Edward's. With their new king, they attacked Edward's lands in SW France (Aquitaine) and in 1337, Edward III declared war.

The other faction allied with Edward. Counts of Flanders tended to take England's side against France in any conflict, because of links with England in the vital wool trade. Powerful lords in other outlying regions such as Brittanny and Normandy feared the ambitions of those who wanted a stronger centralised French kingdom. They allied with the English. to help keep their independence

The English "nutcracker"
Tactically Edward had a strong position, with the French caught in a "nutcracker" between Edward's lands held as Duke of Aquitaine in the south and his Flemish and other allies in the north.

battle of Sluys 1340
English win one of the first ever sea battles: the Battle of Sluys 1340
Hundred Years War - Battle of Crecy 1346
English slaughter French knights at the Battle of Crecy 1346

French disasters:
(1) losing control of the Channel
In 1340, the French king prepared the first blow: he assembled a great fleet, carrying an army to crush England's allies in Flanders before invading England itself. But the English attacked and destroyed the French fleet at sea off Sluys (east of Dunkerque, in modern Holland). Both sides anchored their ships and fought something like a land battle across the wooden decks.

Edward III now controlled the Channel and was free to invade and wage war over the enemy's lands - which proved catstrophic for the people of the North. The English army was a mixed force of infantry, archers, pikemen and light cavalry - battle-hardened after successfully fighting the Welsh and Scots, and made up of well-trained and organised English mercenaries, enthusiastic supporters of his cause and eager for plunder. They proved to be the most effective army Europe had seen since the Romans.

(2) losing their finest knights at Crecy
In 1346, the English invaders were weakened by sickness and retreating to the channel ports. They took a stand on a hill at Crecy.

As the heavily armoured French knights struggled up the muddy hillside in a traditional feudal cavalry charge. they were massacred by the English infantry and archers - a lesson they did not learn.

(3) losing Calais, which gave England a base in N.France
Edward III then besieged Calais. After a year, the inhabitants were starving - but under medieval tradition, they would expect to be killed if the attackers succeeded, because they had fought back. Six leading citizens offered their own lives if Edward III would spare the rest of the townsfolk.

His queen took pity on them, and asked if the brave burghers could also be spared if the town surrendered. The citizens of Calais were permitted to leave their town without further bloodshed; their homes were given to new English settlers, who made Calais into a fortified English stronghold - a base for military expeditions into France and the near-Continent for the next two centuries.

Edward III besieging a town Rodin's Six Burghers statue, Calais Hundred Years War: french try to recapture Calais 1349
The capture of Calais (L to R):
1. Edward III besieges the town in 1347
2. Calais Town Hall with its spectacular belfry, and the famous statue of the Six Burghers by Rodin.
3. In 1349, the French tried to retake Calais - despite sickness, the English defenders beat them off.

Misery and the Black Death

Hundred Years war - looting a captured town
Soldiers looting a captured town

The first half of the Hundred Years War proved as catastrophic for the North as well as the rest of France.

Destructive fighting disrupted the economy: there were appalling plagues (at least a third of the population of both England and France died in 1348 in the Black Death), and violent and bloody revolts in which peasants looted nobles' houses and castles.

French defeat and creation of the Franc
Peace was declared in 1360. The English won a massive victory at Poitiers (1356), tcapturing the French King Jean le Bon. He was released for a ransom paid in gold coins called "franc-or" - "free gold".* He agreed to end the fighting, and to leave the English in control of large areas in western France - as well as Calais.

* Francs became the official national money of France at the French Revolution 1789, until the euro (2002).

Reverses for the English
The peace allowed the French King to establish more control. In 1369 the Count of Flanders died, and the French king, Charles V, had - for the time being - driven the English from their early conquests in the north of France. He broke the Anglo-Flemish alliance, by forcing the Count's only child, Marguerite of Flanders, to marry his brother Philippe, Duke of Burgundy. The marriage joined the Low Countries in the north with Burgundy in the east. After a few skirmishes, Flanders acquiesced.

The dying English king Edward III had hoped to strengthen the Anglo-Flemish alliance by marrying the sought-after heiress to his fifth son - instead his ally was now controlled by France. As the English grew weaker, Philippe brought the whole area of Falnders firmly under his control. It remained Burgundian for four reigns of French kings.

Oeasants Revolt  and Richard II-1381
1381 Peasants' Revolt in England: Richard II meets the Kentish rebels led by Wat Tyler
 Hundred years War MAP 1382
MAP 2: By 1382, Richard II has lost most of the French lands won by his grandfather Edward III

English Peasants Revolt 1381
Young Richard II faced an English Peasants' Revolt in 1381. - fuelled by bitter resentment of the unfair Poll Tax raised to pay for the costly French wars.

The French took advantage of English weakness. Having driven the English out of all but Calais and a few other strongholds in France (see Map 2), the French struck across the Channel, helped by Spanish warships based in Rouen.

Savage French raids
In savage raids in the 1380s, the French briefly captured the Isle of Wight, and burned south coast towns like Sandwich, Winchelsea and Gravesend. In Kent, Canterbury and Dover hurriedly build town walls. Bodiam Castle was built to protect Sussex. The English knew the French had gathered a big fleet; and expected an invasion in 1386.
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...then Burgundy splits with the French crown
French success did not last! In 1380 the French king Charles V was succeeded by his son, Charles VI, who sadly became insane. He had no children, and a feud developed over who shuld take over.

In 1407 the French royal family divided into two camps - the Armagnacs (Maison d'Orleans) and the Burgundians. Their feud plunged France into civil war. The powerful Duke of Burgundy failed to win the French crown, but decided to set up his own empire instead.

Hundred years War MAP 1430
MAP 3: 1430 - the height of English power in France. The Duke of Burgundy, allied with the English has captured Joan of Arc.

1415 Azincourt - the height of English power
The English took advantage of French divisions to invade Normandy again. In 1415 Henry V, king of England, was returning towaeds Calais when the French army, superior in number, caught up with hom at Azincourt. This resultied in another annihilation like Crecy, English archers wiped out the flower of the French nobility.

After this victory, Henry V conquered the north and west of France (see Map 3) - very nearly succeeding in achieving his grandfather Edward III's ambitions.

Burgundy expands in the North...
Allied again with England, the Duke of Burgundy conquered the county of Boulogne, then Hainaut and the bishopric of the Cambrésis.

...and Henry V prepares his coronation in Paris
While the weak French king cowered south of Paris in the small remaining part of his kingdom.In1420 he signed the Treaty of Troyes with Henry V., agreeing to English rule over N France, and that Henry would inherit the crown of France on his death - to run the two countries as a dual kingdom.

Joan of Arc in Hundred Years War
Jeanne d'Arc - a peasant girl inspired by "voices of angels" rouses the demoralised french trrops and saves Orléans from an English siege

Joan of Arc - the French fight back
In 1429, Joan of Arc began her quest to unite the French behind the future Charles VII and drive the English out of France. She relieved siege of Orleans, and led the Dauphin to be crowned at Rheims in 1429.

But Joan was captured by Burgundian troops and handed over to the English. They burnt her as a witch (for wearing men's clothes), at English-held Rouen in 1431. English Henry VI was crowned king of France in Paris.

However Joan had inspired a French revival.With a well-organised disciplined army, the French king Charles VII now had the war-weary English on the run.
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In 1435 Charles VII bribed Philippe le Bon, Duke of Burgundy, to break the alliance with the English in exchange for Ponthieu. Only fours years later, though, he re-established the important wool trade relations with England and the Flemish economy took off again.

Driving the English out of France

1450 Siege of English-held Cherbourg 0 end of Hundred years War
1450 - French king captures Cherbourg, England's last stronghold in Normandy - ending the link from 1066

One by one, Charles VII besieged and captured the remaining English strongholds.

With the capture of Bordeaux (1453), the English had lost all their French all their French lands except Calais.(see Map 4)

That was really the end of the One Hundred Years war so far as England was concerned , though a formal treaty to end the war between England and France was only signed in 1475. 

Charles VII's son, Louis XI (1461-1483) now fought to assert his power over the mighty nobles - especially the Duke of Burgundy....

The Aftermath: France v. Burgundy

Hundred Years War MAP 1470
MAP 4: By 1470, the English have lost everything except Calais; Henry XI turns all his forces on the Duke of Burgundy...

In 1461 Louis XI confronted Charles the Foolhardy, the last duke of Burgundy, who ruled a huge and very rich state stretching from the North Sea to the Alps (see Map 4)

The frontier lands between them, Artois and Picardy, were ravaged once again by bitter fighting.

1464: Louis XI meets Charles Duke of Burgundy
1464: young French King Louis XI (centre, left) fails to agree peace terms with Charles, Duke of Burgundy (centre, right). They fight for the next 13 years.

How Nord-Pas de Calais came under foreign rule
In 1477 Charles the Foolhardy was killed in a siege of Nancy, near what is now Switzerland. Louis XI quickly took advantage, conquered much of the North, and permanently siezed Burgundy itself.

Before the dead Duke's inheritance had completely fallen to Louis XI, Marie, his heir and the new Duchess of Burgundy, married a Hapsburg, the future Emperor, Maximilian of Austria.

It took Maximilian 20 years to re-establish control over the lands of his predecessor. Louis XI continued fighting on this distant frontier, reluctant to leave the North in foreign hands. But by 1493, Maximilian as Duke of Burgundy once again ruled Arras and the Artois region as well Flanders.

Fpr the next 150 years, France fought to keep hold of the region around Montreuil and Boulogne. Four isolated French strongholds also remained in Burgundian territory , including Therouanne and Hesdin.

France fought to control Montreuil and the Artois region

Field of the Cloth of Gold 1520
Henry VIII and François I met in a grandiose summit outside the English stronghold at Calais - but failed to agree an alliance.

Maximilian's grandson, Charles V, became Emperor in 1519. To limit his territorial ambitions and to get help in regaining Artois, François I sought an alliance with England. In 1520 they met at the Field of the Cloth of Gold , but failed to agree. Henry VIII went off to Gravelines to join forces with Charles V instead.

1529 - the Treaty of Madrid-Cambrai restored the Artois region to the Charles V as Duke of Burgundy. For a century, Montreuil became the frontier fortress of France.

1537 - Charles V besieged and captured Montreuil with English help. they pillaged and largely destroyed the town.

1544 - Henry VIII besieged and captured Boulogne, but handed it back to France in 1550 for a considerable sum. Montreuil held out against another Anglo-Spanish siege.

1553  - The French continued their bloody incursions into Imperial territory from their Artois strongholds. An infuriated Charles V ordered their total annihilation: Thérouanne and Hesdin were razed to the ground and the soil rendered sterile with salt.

1558 - The French finally won Calais back from the English. In the 16th century, and until reconquest by the French, blood origins remain of vital importance : under Spanish rule, you were only allowed to work for the local administration if you were born in Flanders, Artois or Hesdin.

1567 - Meanwhile, the French king built a strong Citadelle at Montreuil. It was again attacked by the Spanish in 1594 - they realised the gateway was a weak point, so the town walls were strengthened with only two gateways in and out. In 1604, Henri IV visited Montreuil and declared it "Fidelissima Picardorum Natio."

1659 - Louis XIV's Treaty of the Pyrénées rejoined the Artois region to France, leaving Montreuil safely well behind the frontier.


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Places to visit:
Azincourt Medieval Centre - new exhibition centre on the site of the battle
Calais fortifications - remains of the English stronghold
Douai- belfry: built as a watch-tower during the 100 Years' War.
Fressin Castle - ruins of a Burgundian castle near Fruges
Montreuil - walk round the town walls

Related background information
Medieval bell-towers
Relations with the English




A-Z © Copyright 2003 Invicta Media Last updated 6th November 2003