Vassal of Christ put together this summary of the Hundred Years War through a series of articles posted in the previous publication, Demetrios Magazine. All the articles have been combined into one for The Hunting Call.
Part One: Background and Edwardian Phase (1314-1369)
The Hundred Years War was a 14th and 15th century dynastic struggle between the Plantagenet dynasty of the Kingdom of England and the Valois dynasty in the Kingdom of France, and many allies on both sides during the various stages. The war was fought over the succession of the French throne, as both dynasties believed to have a rightful claim on was ostensibly the largest and most powerful kingdom of Christendom. The backgrounds and effects of this war, of rather series of wars, are deep and complex. Many heroes and tragedies were prevalent at this time, and the war would have a vast impact beyond merely the scope of the two kingdoms. Warfare and social views would change, as, to a degree, would religion. Chivalry and feudalism would decline, and France would be put on the path to absolutism.
The French and English had been at odds for many years prior to the onset of the war. Certain petty squabbles certainly affected this rivalry, but more serious clashes did emerge. The Kingdom of England, as it was understood at this time, was established when, in 1066, William, Duke of Normandy, landed at Hastings and defeated the Saxon king Harald, asserting his claim to the vacancy left by St. Edward the Confessor. Harold himself had defeated Norwegian claim weeks earlier at Stamford Bridge, but William and the Normand forces wrested control of England from the Saxons who had paid in blood for the island against the Nordic Viking invaders. Interestingly enough, despite his new position as King of England, William the Conqueror was still the Duke of Normandy, and thus a vassal of the French king. This was odd not only because William and his line were not only peers in chivalric status to the French king in being the dynastic ruler of a kingdom, but William objectively commanded a more powerful force and had direct control of more land than the week French Capet dynasty.
The French kings and lords would occasionally chisel away at the English continental holdings, citing that the English king was a vassal of the French and would often punish perceived or actual missteps of the English with seizing territory, often while the English were distracted in securing their position in the British Isles, such as warring with Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Danes/Norwegians, or their own Northern Barons. Several key events occurred, none so infamous as that of the major French reclamation of territory during the reigns of Richard the Lionheart and then his brother John Lackland. Richard, back from the Third Crusade and ransomed from captivity, plundered his way through France both through French territory and those of his rebellious vassals. Richard was killed in these adventures, and his brother John assumed the crown. His mismanagement of England, troubles with both the Northern Barons and the Papacy, allowed France to seize nearly all English territory on the continent, soon leaving them with only Gascony. This duchy, too, was threatened constantly, especially with England’s continued conflicts with the Kingdom of Scotland, which was a valued ally of France.
In 1328, Charles IV of France died, and when his wife gave birth to a girl, the Capet dynasty became extinct in the male line. Twelve years prior, France determined that a woman could not hold the throne of France, and so the French had to look for the closest male relative to take the throne. This was a problem, as that happened to be Edward III of England. The French nobility and clergy decided that as this right of inheritance originated through a woman (Charles IV’s sister) was invalid, and so the nearest male heir could be Charles IV’s first cousin, Philip, the Count of Valois. He was crowned Philip VI of France, starting the Valois dynasty. In 1340, the Avignon papacy, notoriously pro-French, confirmed this decision. Edward III initially and reluctantly accepted this decision, and paid his due homage to the French king as his vassal, making concessions in Guyenne, but generally expected to be left alone as he prosecuted his war with the Kingdom of Scotland. Edward III also professed to reclaim and defend any territory unjustly seized from his holdings. Edward III was further put on edge when a Scottish and French fleet sailed into the Channel, after having abandoned a French plan to join on Crusade.
The French king soon found an excuse to take more lands from the King of England. An exile from France was an advisor in the English court, and so Philip VI seized English territory in Gascony in 1337. This marked the start of the Hundred Years War, in what was known as the Edwardian Period (1337-1360). Several other proxy wars would span this period, such as the War of Breton Succession (1341-1365), the Castilian Civil War (1351-1369), and the War of Two Peters (1356-1375). These proxy wars will be covered in part 2 of this series. The areas the French King seized were profitable in the claret trade, and significant to the English crown. The English relied on the local continental forces to hold out as they prepared to invade France, sending them neither money nor troops. The English forces, under Oliver Ingham, relied on their castles and defenses and held out valiantly, even convincing conflicted lords to join the English cause against the French.
The English were desperate for money and troops and began to borrow heavily. French raiders aided by Italian mercenaries raided along the English coast, sacking, capturing, and burning several towns and areas, notably Hastings and an attempted attack on Kent. Eventually the English demonstrated a show of force and sailed a fleet, which essentially scared the French back to the continent, and the Italian mercenaries, angry over a dispute with the French, returned to Italy. England was safe from the French on their island, for now. Edward was in need of something positive to show from his war, which was created as he ceased his homage to the French king as his vassal. In 1339, he assembled an army in the Low Countries, where he had allies, and besieged Cambrai. Edward failed to take the city, but ravaged the countryside loyal to the French and won allies in other territories. Several areas in Flanders rebelled against France, angry over their embargo of English goods. They remained neutral, but could trade with the English, which suited Edward perfectly fine. Ypres, Ghent, and Bruges proclaimed Edward King of France, and his war from 1340 onward would be an attempt to exercise his claim to the throne.
His position strengthened, Edward III returned to England to deal with a deteriorating political situation and to arrange for a better prosecution of the war. With the war with France unfolding on the continent, Scotland reclaimed significant portions of territory from the English, including Edinburgh. In 1340, the French once again assembled a fleet and attempted to threaten England. Edward responded in kind with a fleet of converted merchant ships. At the Battle of Sluys, the French fleet, bolstered with Castilian and Genoese ships, assumed a defensive formation. The English tricked the French into believing they were withdrawing, but wheeled and attacked with the wind and sun at their backs. The French were in too tight of formation and the elements were against you, and the English soon routed the French, and controlled the Channel for the rest of the war.
Despite this setback, Philip VI of France continued with his plans to continue war with what he viewed to be a rebellious vassal, and one who claimed the right to his own crown, no less. Philip VI assembled his army and attempted to smash England’s allies in the Low Countries. England sent a pair of armies into the area to harass the French, but with one of these armies being almost totally destroyed, Edward III was the sole English force in the field. Sieging one of the largest cities in France, Tournai (now in Belgium), Edward was rebuffed and failed to take the city before Philip arrived. Philip refused to meet the English in the field, opting instead to harass and shadow. The sides soon agreed to a truce, and Edward again returned to England. Edward was hounded by vast debts that had far-reaching effects in Christendom, affecting many banks and towns when he defaulted on his debts. He was also facing outrage as almost all of Scotland was back under Scottish rule and no longer under English control.
This truce lasted less than a year, and in 1341, the War of Bretton Succession reignited hostilities. As previously stated, the nuances of that particular war will be discussed in another segment. Suffice to say, another conflict arose about the inheritance of the Duke of Brittany, and the English and French backed the rival factions, causing the fighting between the two kingdoms to resume. This would last for another two years, until cardinals from Avignon created a truce between the kingdoms for a further two years. Despite this, the English would continue to support their side in Brittany, eventually resulting in a victory for their side. In 1345 the war resumed in earnest and the respite from war being necessary but brief.
In July of 1345 Edward III sailed again for France with an army, this time with his son, also Edward, known as the “Black Prince” of Wales. Philip VI again assembled a large army to face Edward and his son. The English marched towards the Low Countries once more, through did not hold any territory, merely pillaging as they went. Caen was ravaged and other victories were one, such as Blanchetaque. This plundering and victories gave Edward wealth, and sapped Philip of prestige. Edward could not outmaneuver Philip forever. Eventually Edward found a ford to the Somme, and plundered the lands beyond. Philip and his mighty host finally caught him at Crecy. Edward’s army was made mostly of English and Welsh footmen and archers, with a comparatively small cavalry contingent. The English force did have knights from the Holy Roman Empire, but the French held a far larger contingent of armored knights.
The French host was far larger than the English one, but the English had the advantage of terrain. Edward may have been the invader, but his plunder had forced Philip to take action against him. Edward’s position was anchored to the west and east by towns, and by rivers. He held a slopped position, which would hamper French cavalry. The English men-at-arms and much of their mounted troops were ordered to fight on foot, and bolstered the spear line in front of the vast longbow host. The English also dug ditches, spread caltropes, and otherwise fortified their positions. The battle would take place in the summer of 1336.
The French began their attack by ordering their Genoese crossbows to advance on the English and thin their ranks. The Genoese were fatigued and their weapons were generally inferior to the longbow. As arrows rained around them, and the primitive English cannons thundered, the mercenaries panicked and began to retreat. The French nobility was disgusted by this turn, and charged into the Genoese, hacking them down as they fled. A French count reportedly quipped, “This is what one gets by employing such scoundrels, who fail when there is any need for them.” This distraction and massing of forces provided an ample target for the longbowmen, and the casualties of French mounted. Successive charges were repulsed by the hail of arrows and the fresh English troops who held strong positions. The blind John of Bohemia, an ally of Philip, demanded to engage the English. His bodyguard knights tied themselves to his saddle and went with him, expecting to make a brief engagement and return to the French lines. John did not, however, and the force fought their way deep into the lines of the Black Prince. Declining to send his son help, Edward stated, “let the boy win his spurs.” Win them he did, and the French were repelled once more. After the battle, the Black Prince observed with sorrow the body of John of Bohemia, still tethered to his loyal and noble knights who stayed with him to the end; all dead. It was a shining moment of chivalry in a battle that marked its decline.
Only a few hundred English fell in the battle, compared to tens of thousands slain French forces, including a distressing amount of nobility; 2,200 heraldic coats were recovered by the English from the French dead. The battle marked a decline in chivalry as highly trained nobles devoted to the code were cut to pieces by commoners who were relatively lightly trained. The French royal standard, the Oriflamme, was captured, and Philip VI had two horses killed from under him and took an arrow to the jaw, wounding him. The French force was shattered, and the English could march on to capture Calais in 1337. The English forces in Scotland would also capture David II, the King of Scotland in the Battle of Neville’s Cross, and the threat and pressure to the English there was likewise relaxed. In 1348, the Black Plague put the war on hold, despite continued sporadic clashing in Brittany, such as the Battle of Thirty. Philip VI died in 1350, and was succeeded by his son, John II of France, or John the Good.
In 1355, however, the English forces were recovered from the plague enough to continue their campaigns against the French. The Black Prince conducted the typical English style of campaign, the chevauchée, which was to plunder what could be taken and destroy what could not, discrediting the French king and transferring his wealth to England. Edward was eventually cornered by John II. The Black Prince attempted to come to terms with John II, but John attacked on 19 September, 1356 at the Battle of Poitiers. The English removed their baggage train from the battle, and this caused the French to launch a hasty attack of about 300 knights, believing the English were fleeing. These men were nearly all killed. The longbowmen then began raining arrows on the French infantry in the Dauphin of France’s vanguard. Exhausted by a long march and the arrow assault, the Dauphin’s forces were repelled by two hours of combat. This retreat caused a reinforcing force from the Duke of Orleans to retreat as well, and these two forces fell in with the King’s advancing force. Thinking the battle won, the Black prince ordered his knights and men at arms to mount up and charge, sending a reserve force to hit the French in the flank and cut them off.
The French were not retreating anymore, but advancing en masse towards the English, and were thus alarmed and surprised when the English host crashed into them. English foot and archers soon joined the melee. The English flanking force completed the rout, and reached King John and his son, Philip the Bold. Unable to locate the Black Prince, John yielded his gauntlet to nearby English and exiled French knights, ending the battle with his captivity.
John II’s ransom was set at 2 million, but he demanded 4 million ecus, thinking he was worth more. The English were happy to agree. The Dauphin Charles had to quell revolts throughout France, as the people of France were financially exhausted from taxes, disgruntled by English raids, and leaderless by the death and capture of thousands of French nobility by the English. The French prisoners were given the chivalric freedom of movement during their assumed captivity, but when his son erred in his parole, John II was honor bound to return to captivity, which he did. Edward III attempted to seize Reims and Paris while France was in turmoil, but failed. As if intervention by Almighty God, a storm smashed part of the English fleet and hail killed thousands of English soldiers and horses, forcing Edward to the negotiating table with the desperate French. Edward agreed to renounce his claim to the French throne, in exchange for renewed sovereign rights to Calais and Aquitaine, reinstating the Angevin Empire. Thus ended the first period of the Hundred Years War, and despite not getting the French crown, the English had great territorial restorations, cementing them the victors in this stage.
Wars in the Interim and Proxy Wars (1341-1385)
War of Breton Succession (1341-1361): Arthur II, the Duke of Brittany, had children from two marriages, and a son named John from each. John III Duke of Brittany, and John, Count of Montfort. John III had no children, but hated his half-siblings, and sought to have them bastardized. He attempted to have his niece made his heir, and she had married Charles of Blois, the nephew of Philip VI of France. However, John III reconciled with John Montfort, but on his deathbed refused to settle the matter. Charles and John thus were in competition for the duchy. Charles had the support of the King and the nobility, but John acted quickly and seized Nantes, the seat of the duchy and most of the other cities.
As Philip backed Charles, John Montfort proclaimed Edward III as king of France. Despite how helpful this might have been, Edward III could not help John during truces, and during these Philip and Charles captured John after defeating him in battle. England eventually lent support to the cause, and France and England clashed in the duchy. However, in the fear that Edward would invade elsewhere in France, Philip withdrew the French army. Charles succeeded without him, however, and Montfort support crumbled. England managed Montfort’s territories for him, as he was in prison and his wife was insane. His son, John, was named the heir to Brittany. England sent troops to aid the cause, and though initially successful, they encountered many shortcomings, and many withdrew to support Edward’s landings in Normandy.
Charles was unpopular due to his massacring of citizens of an English held town, and lost French support after their defeats at Crecy and Calais. Breton traders demanded strengthened ties to English merchants, and Charles was captured trying to retake an English controlled town in 1347, spending 5 years in the Tower of London. During this time, as the English and Montfort cause advanced, occurred the Battle of Thirty. Thirty knights of each side of the conflict agreed to a duel to settle a dispute between their respective territories. Those supporting Charles triumphed, killing 9 of their foes to 6 of their own losses. It is considered a shining example of chivalry and is highly romanticized.
England agreed to free Charles to be duke as long as the duchy pledge to England. This was to be cemented with the marriage of John Montfort the Younger to Edward’s daughter Mary. This was to be overseen by a papal dispensation and the Constable of France. The latter was assassinated by Charles II of Navarre, an ally of England, who needed the war to keep his power. He then defected to France to gain territory, and voided the treaty. Charles was still free, and still duke. When 22, John returned to Brittany with the majority of the territory, though Charles had the title. He attempted to come to terms, but Charles attacked. John eventually triumphed and Charles was killed, ending with a Montfort victory. John the Younger, however, does not pledge to the English king who so aided him, but rather to the French throne.
Castilian Civil War and the War of Two Peters (1356-1369)
In 1350, King Alfonso XI died, and was succeeded by Peter, alternatively known as “the Just” and “the Cruel”. Alfonso’s illegitimate son Henry tried to claim the throne as well, and was supported by France, Aragon, and the Papacy. In the grand scheme of things, these wars were quite inconsequential to the Hundred Years War itself. Peter of Castile found allies in Edward, the Black Prince of England, and Henry of Castile and Peter of Aragon both found a stalwart ally in the Kingdom of France. Peter of Castile would not honor his promises to England, and so their backing would eventually be revoked. France would continue to support their allies, but ultimately the War of Two Peters would prove to be inconclusive as far as territory and gains. The Castilian Civil War, however, was more significant in its outcome.
Despite England’s continued victories over French and French-backed forces, the Black Prince could not capture or kill Henry, and when Peter of Castile betrayed him, he abandoned the campaign, leaving France to eventually prevail. Peter and Edward had surprised Henry’s army in 1367 at the battle of Najera, and slain most of them, capturing many nobles other than Henry, despite a ferocious and brave charge and delaying action by the French free-companies and Henry’s vanguard. Despite the crushing defeat, the battle proved Henry’s tenacity and resilience, and his supporters were ransomed to face Peter again. Peter would fail to honor his promises to Edward, who faced financial and logistical ruin for his campaigns. The battle essentially ended the Black Prince’s military career, and he would soon die in 1376.
Henry would kill Peter the Cruel, unloved by many and unsupported by England. In the year 1369, Henry’s forces stormed the holdings of Peter, with Henry killing Peter, crowning himself Henry II of Castile. He cemented his authority by formally allying with Charles V of France and expelling Jews from high office. France had once again triumphed in the proxy-wars, despite their utter failure in the Edwardian phase of the Hundred Years War. This conflict also is an interesting anecdote as to why the Reconquista dragged on for so many years; the Iberian Christian kingdoms continually fought one another rather than focusing on expelling Islam. However, the victories of France in these proxy wars were crucial in their survival, as the success of English allies on the continent would greatly threaten France, and the death of the Black Prince was a major relief to the beleaguered French.
Portuguese Civil War
This war, like the Castilian Civil War, is far more significant in explaining the length of the Reconquista rather than having genuine impact on the outcome of the Hundred Years War. Despite this, the war itself was a part of the Anglo-French conflict and thus must be noted in an examination of the conflict. Once again the French and English backed opposite sides in a matter of succession: the English backed John of Portugal, and the French backing John of Castile. The kingdom of Portugal would go to the crown of Castile due to political marriages of the late King of Portugal’s daughter and lack of true-born male heirs. This suited the French, but was something the English could not abide.
In late May of 1385, Castile had sent raiders into Portugal, who plundered and pillaged, aided by French cavalry. Their atrocities being unwelcome, Portugal sent a contingent to stop them, and did so, releasing their prisoners but recapturing the loot of the Castilians. Thwarted, John and Castile sent a much larger force to press his claim to Portugal, but was again defeated. The battle, in late 1385, known as Aljubarrota, was a blend of what had happened in the Hundred Years War, and what was to come. The Portuguese were outnumbered by over 5 to 1, but used terrain and pre-made defenses to their immense advantage, as the English had at Crecy, Poitiers, and would again at Agincourt. The English had a contingent of forces with the Portuguese, including some hundred longbowmen. The Castilians had a force of French cavalry as well, bolstering their forces.
The vast Castilian numbers had to squeeze together to face the Portuguese, as a pair of creeks guarded the Portuguese flanks. The French cavalry thundered forward to shock the Portuguese lines for the main assault, but as at Crecy, the pre-made defenses and archers shattered this attack, and many knights were taken prisoner and taken to the Portuguese rear before the Castilian main body could arrive. This attack was likewise hindered by terrain, defenses, and archers, but reached the Portuguese lines eventually, with their cavalry pressing the Portuguese flanks. With no troops that could be spared to guard them, John of Portugal ordered his prisoners to be executed, a foreshadowing of later events of the Hundred Years War. The battle going ill, it was exacerbated by the death of the royal Castilian standard bearer. Thinking their king dead, the already weary Castilians began to rout. They were slaughtered by the pursuing Portuguese, and some 5,000 would be killed by Portuguese locals alone. John of Castile had to flee for his life, leaving noble and commoner alike behind.
Though the war would not officially end until 1411, the matter was decided after Aljubarrota. The English had prevailed in preventing the French from greatly strengthening an ally, and the Treaty of Windsor created the oldest still active military alliance, one between England and Portugal. Portugal’s independence was greatly celebrated and commemorated, and their dynastic successors would earn fame, such as Prince Henry the Navigator, the royal prince who sponsored expeditions to Africa and sparking the Age of Exploration and catapulting Portugal as a global power in trade and colonies.
Caroline Phase (1369-1389)
This phase of the Hundred Years War is arguably the most straightforward and simple of all the phases, and is the shortest. After the failure of the French monarchy during the Edwardian phase of the Hundred Years War, the Treaty of Brétigny was negotiated and the English renounced their claim to the French throne, and the French returned English continental territories to sovereignty under the English crown. In the truce period of the war, the English and French continued to prosecute action in their proxy conflicts in Brittany and Iberia. Following the failure of Peter of Castile to remunerate the Black Prince for his aid in the Castilian Civil War and the War of Two Peters, the Black Prince withdrew, financially ruined and logistically exhausted, and personally ill. Needing money, he drastically increased taxes on his continental holdings, especially Aquitaine. Enraged, they appealed to the King of France as their ultimate liege-lord.
Charles V at first felt there was nothing he could do about the situation, the Treaty of Brétigny having ties his hands. However, upon reflection, Charles V determined that the renunciation of the French crown by Edward III was imperfect, nullifying the treaty, and so Charles V realized he did in fact have authority over Aquitaine. In realizing this, he summoned the Black Prince of Wales to Paris to answer the complaints of his vassals. Due to both being ill and unwilling to agree with the French interpretation of the treaty, Edward, the Black Prince refused the summons. This was all Charles V, known as “the Wise,” needed, and he resumed France’s war against England.
Charles V’s secret weapon in this war was the great Bretton commander, Bertrand du Guesclin. Du Guesclin had fought for Charles of Blois in the Brittany conflict, and had been ransomed by the French king after his daring feats of chivalry and service to the crown. With Brittany pledged to France after the war, du Guesclin could serve the king. He served well in Castile for Charles V, aiding Henry and avenging Charles V’s sister-in-law, whom Peter of Castile had poisoned. Despite being captured again by the Black Prince, Charles V ransomed him again, thinking him too valuable an asset. Besides, du Guesclin had done his job well, and bloodied the English enough that they withdrew, leading to eventual French victory. Du Guesclin pretended to accept a bribe from Peter to escape, but was promised more by Henry, leading to a duel between the two, at Henry’s behest. At first not indicating who he served, when Pedro gained an advantage, du Guesclin quipped “I neither put nor remove a King, but I help my Master,” and turned Pedro over, allowing Henry to stab him to death. His reward of land and title sealed a Castilian-French alliance. In 1370, Charles V recalled him and named du Guesclin Constable of France.
Charles V angered many nobles by his choice to make du Guesclin the Constable, as he was seen as “too low born” for the position, but he soon proved himself to be a capable and excellent commander, particularly when using Fabian tactics. Constable du Guesclin avoided the English in open battle whenever possible, but managed to capture town after town, and English commander after English commander. Charles V, unlike du Guesclin, considered chivalry “outdated”, and was content to leave the English leaders in prison rather than ransom or parole them. The English were short on commanders, as the Black Prince and Edward both perished soon after the war began, and were physically unable to participate due to age or illness to begin with. In December 1370, du Guesclin met the English in a pitched battle at Pontvallain. Du Guesclin executed several forced marches, and surprised the English forces, killing them almost to a man. Other English forces who had taken refuge in chateaus were likewise killed or captured.
The English situation was greatly exacerbated by the decisive Battle of La Rochelle in 1373, a naval battle in the Bay of Biscay, where a French and Castilian fleet met the English fleet and wiped them out. Many of the English drowned or were burned alive during the combat, though a great many knights and common soldiers were captured. A large sum of money was captured for the allied combatants, at the expense of the English. The English trade routes were greatly affected, and they continued to lose territory on the continent. Du Guesclin defeated another English army in the same year at Chiset, and the English situation was dire, their holdings on the continent severely lessened. Even the English hero, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, had failed to win victories in France, and his armies were greatly ambushed and defeated. The English were more than willing to come to the negotiating table under appeal of the Pope in 1375. The negotiations were hampered by the Prince of Wales’ death in 1376 and his father, the King of England’s death the following year. Again, negotiations broke down over sovereignty of Aquitaine, and so no truce was met and war resumed in 1377. In 1378, the French support of the Avignon Papacy led to a Great Schism that would not be resolved for half a century. The Papacy could not be counted on to end the war.
Both du Guesclin and Charles V died in 1380, leaving Charles VI “the Beloved” (and later, “the Mad”), as King of France, though only 11. This was not a significant turn of events, as England was now being “ruled” by the young Richard II. Both countries essentially were ruled by advisors, for the time being. France had some internal struggles due to taxation, but was gradually worked out. The two young kings eventually worked a truce in 1389, ending this stage of the Hundred Years War, with a decisive French victory. The French dominated this stage from beginning to end; their people were more motivated, their resources were greater, their commanders were more skilled, and their technology had improved- the French armor was more effective now against the longbow, and allowed the French to ride down English in battle. The French sat confident in their victory, but peace would not last in Charles VI’s lifetime. Only Richard II would not see the war resume: he would be killed and usurped before.
Lancastrian Phase (1415-1453)
Richard II had other matters to attend to than to assault French land to reclaim the English empire. He had to stop a brief uprising of lords in England, and fight campaigns in Ireland. Interestingly, one participant in this rebellion was a cousin, Henry, the son of John of Gaunt. Henry eventually decided to join the Teutonic Knights in crusade against the pagan Lithuanians, and met moderate success. He also vowed to free Jerusalem, but never got the chance. Henry was denied the automatic inheritance of John of Gaunt’s land and title upon his death, and so returned to England while Richard was on expedition in Ireland. He quickly gained enough power to be proclaimed king, having seized lands from his rivals. Richard II was imprisoned, and later died, his son being ignored as heir. Henry IV was now King of England, starting the Lancaster Dynasty. Henry received assistance from the Church, and so backed them wherever he could. This included the proclamation against the Lollards and the decree to burn them at the stake. Despite his relatively close relationship with Parliament, he steadfastly refused to consider their idea to take Church lands, and they begged the king to forget the request.
Despite other remarkable notes of Henry IV’s reign, such as the only visit from a Byzantine emperor, he died as a result of a plethora of ailments. He died not in Jerusalem on crusade as allegedly foretold and intended, but in the Jerusalem chamber of an abbey. Henry V succeeded his father, and was soon to revive the claim of England to the French throne. Demanding money from the outstanding ransom of the late John II, he also demanded recognition of Normandy as English. He promised to renounce the claims to France’s throne, provided he marry Charles VI’s daughter and receive a dowry of 2 million crowns. The demand of 3.6 million total crowns was outrageous, and the French politely countered, simply offering a dowry of 600,000 crowns, but nothing else besides the marriage. Henry felt insulted and mocked. He landed in Normandy in 1415 and besieged the city of Harfluer. A lengthy siege saw the English triumphant, but they were exhausted and ravaged by disease. Henry V decided to withdraw from the campaign to reorganize, but was hounded by the French. Henry V was distraught by this, having vowed to avenge the town of Soissons, an English held town that had been massacred and raped by the “liberating” French. Soissons had been dedicated to the saints Crispin and Crispinian. His distress aside, the French caught up with King Harry and his force. The day was 25 October 1415. It was the feast day of Saints Crispin and Crispinian.
Any fan of Shakespeare might recall from the play Henry V, the famous speeches of the titular character at Harfleur and the battle site on St. Crispin’s Day. Though dramatized, there is accounts of Henry V addressing the English before the battle. Henry V gave orders to the English to spend the night in silence, threatening to take an ear if there was sound. The English confessed before the battle, and Henry noted he would rather die than be captured and ransomed, a privilege afforded to him by his status. Some accounts suggest Henry told his archers, which accounted for around 7,000 of his 9,000 men, that their capture would result in their index and middle fingers being cut off, so that they could not shoot again. Though this may have occurred, it is unlikely that the French would have stopped there, as there would be no point in leaving a common soldier alive; there would be no ransom to gain and were usually executed.
The English forces drew up between two woods, chiefly Agincourt. The English held a defensible position that was reinforced by their work. The French had a vastly superior force, numerically speaking. The estimates reach as many as 50,000 men, and the armor of the French being so significant that the French no longer even considered the longbowman to be much of a threat. The pride of the French was their ultimate undoing. They neglected to deploy their own archers or crossbowmen to engage the English, and the nobles and men-at-arms insisted at being in the vanguard in order to win captives and ransoms. Despite this, the French waited. Reinforcements were on the way, and they hoped to encircle and trap the English. Henry, thinking this was the case, advanced his line to provoke combat. The archers moved their stakes, moved forward, redeployed, then fired a volley to start the battle.
The French could have shattered the English line as they moved, in theory, but the French were in no rush to give battle. Some even suggest that they believed the English were attacking their lines, and others state that the French cavalry were tending to their horses and so were not ready to charge. When the charge did come, it was delayed and not at full strength, and was hampered by the muddy ground. The longbows played their key role at this point of the battle. At this point of technological development, it is widely agreed that a well-made suit of armor was essentially invulnerable to arrows, except perhaps at extremely close range and in non-fatal areas. The French knights occasioned to not even carry shields, so complete was their protection with their armor. The longbow could perhaps penetrate with a lucky shot or a cheap or poorly made suit of armor, but it was no longer the devastating weapon it had been at Crecy. Instead, the archers killed or mutilated the French horses, which prevented the shock charge from reaching the English line, and killing French in horse falls or trampling from the retreating and panicked horses.
The French would have to advance on foot. However, the mud hampered them once again, and the French advance floundered in the mud. The arrows that rained down were more psychological and hindering than deadly, but the archers were not without benefit. Despite being far more nimble than modern concepts suggest, the added weight of the armor, around 60 pounds, caused the French to sink into the mud during their advance. Many became stuck in the slow advance, some even drowned in the mud during the battle, and all became fatigued. The majority of French dead did not come from arrows, but from the English footmen and archers using melee weapons. The trapped and exhausted French heavy infantry were hacked to death by the English, who were much more lightly armored. The French were soon pressed on the sides by the archers, who had fired at point blank range, exhausted their arrows, and charged. The French behind surged in, and in the close pressing, hindered their comrades from using their weapons, and, by some accounts, caused some in the middle to suffocate in their armor.
A local French knight of Agincourt led a small number of soldiers and commoners in an attack on the English baggage train, capturing wealth, treasure, and one of Henry’s crowns. Thinking himself outflanked, Henry ordered the execution of all but a select handful of more noble French prisoners. His knights protested, whether out of chivalry or desire for wealth of ransom, or both. At any rate, it was a bloody affair, Henry V threatening to hang any man who disobeyed him. the losses were catastrophic for the French, and hundreds of nobles were captured or killed, with thousands of troops slain. The English losses, though not insignificant given the size of their army, were far less than the French.
A French contingent that was not present at the battle was the Burgundians, as the Duke of Burgundy was a rival to the French throne and had been allied with England before. While negotiating with the Dauphin and the French, the Duke of Burgundy was assassinated, and his son, Phillip, allied with Henry V of England and seized Paris. They then forced Charles VI, the madman who had attacked and killed several of his own men and thought he was made of glass, to sign the Treaty of Troyes, which married Henry to Charles VI’s daughter and made their heirs the heirs of France and England. The soon to be Charles VII was then declared illegitimate, and Henry V declared legitimate by the French Estates-General. To further add to England’s triumph, a Franco-Scottish force was scattered with a loss of 3,000 men and the Scottish treasury at Fresnay. This all occurred between 1419 and 1420.
In 1421, battle was joined again with the English and the Franco-Scottish alliance. The Duke of Clarence, Henry V’s brother, was killed in the Battle of Bauge, where he rashly charged the enemy, resulting in his own death (though it was disputed who killed him precisely, but one John Carmichael unhorsed him), and the death or capture of all fifteen hundred men he deployed. The King of England (and nominally France) soon died in 1422, and the King of France soon joined his son-in-law in earthly slumber. On his deathbed, Henry V stressed that the Burgundian alliance must last, key prisoners must be kept, and there should be no treaty until Normandy was English and Troyes was recognized. The French refused to acknowledge the infant Henry VI of England (Henry II of France), instead rallying behind Charles VII. War continued. English forces under the Earl of Salisbury won a victory over the Franco-Scottish alliance in 1423, only to have the alliance defeat the English in battle soon after. It was Bedford who shattered the alliance, killing the Scots on the field to a man, their commanders included, and the French taking similarly heavy losses, though the English were not sparred from the slaughter. The English were at the height of their power at this time under Henry VI, from Brittany to Burgundy, and the Channel to Loire with notable exceptions.
Hope was not lost for the Eldest Daughter of the Church. The English were pressing their advantage and moved to besiege Orleans. The situation was desperate, and the Dauphin Charles VII was at a loss of what to do. Luckily for Charles, several events were about to develop by the Grace of God to benefit France. First, the Earl of Salisbury, the English commander, was killed by the cannons of Orleans defenses. Second, and more importantly, an answer to the vague mutterings and prophecies around France had arrived. Joan of Arc had convinced a local lord to give her an armed escort to the Dauphin by informing him of the disaster of the Battle of the Herrings well in advance of the news. Joan arrived before the royal court in 1429 and made a dramatic impression on the Dauphin and his court. Impressed, he was hesitant to trust the visions of this girl, who claimed that St. Michael the Archangel, St. Catherine, and St. Margaret all appeared to her and told her to save France. Unverified, it would be easy to counter-claim that Charles VII was winning back his kingdom with the help of a heretic or sorceress, but Joan’s fervor and orthodoxy and piety were all confirmed by royal and Church investigations. Nonetheless, Charles decided a test would be needed, and he had little to lose trying her claims at Orleans. As was stated, “To doubt or abandon her without suspicion of evil would be to repudiate the Holy Spirit and to become unworthy of God’s aid.”
Joan was given equipment from the crown and headed the relief column. She was intent on immediately taking the fight to the English, but through maneuvering, trickery, and convincing, the French convinced her to resupply the city first, where she miraculously aided the French ships in carrying supplies undetected to the city of Orleans. She entered the city to much rejoicing. Her threats and deadlines to the English were met with jeers and accusations of witchcraft. They soon knew that Joan was not idle in her assertions, nor was she a witch. Joan inspired the systematic capture of the English strongholds on the southern side of Orleans. During these assaults, her piety and mercy inspired the French and humbled the English, and victory was hers, securing Orleans for France. The English, though beaten and bloodied, still held the surrounding area and thus determined that with reinforcements and resupply, they could besiege Orleans again soon.
This was not lost on the French, but Joan apparently did not realize the gravity of the situation. She was eventually convinced to campaign in the surrounding area instead of driving to Rheims. Volunteers swarmed to serve with Joan, and a series of battles and sieges left Loire in the hands of the French. An English force under John Fastolf and John Talbot was sent to relieve the English in the Loir region, but failed, and were intercepted at Patay The French were led by La Hire, a ferocious and skilled warrior, and companion of Joan of Arc. Attempting to operate as they had at Crecy and Agincourt, the English were caught before they could deploy their troops, and were routed. It was a major victory for the French; it shattered the English myth of invincibility in pitched battle. This also essentially crushed the English army’s ability to meet the French in the field, and were spread too thin with their garrisons and had too few experienced commanders to resist the French, who marched to Rheims and Charles VII was officially crowned king there in 1429.
Joan of Arc had seen Orleans liberated and the king crowned, and France was nearly saved. However, in an attempt to liberate more territories, Joan was captured by the English and Burgundians. The English brought many charges against Joan, though many did not have any evidence, and those that did were falsified, or should have been granted exception by Church teaching. For example, the English said that her cross-dressing was proof of heresy and witchcraft, but St. Thomas in the Summa Theologia notes that this teaching should be overlooked in special circumstances, such as in order to avoid molestation and rape, or protection in battle; both of these circumstances applied to Joan. Furthermore, English, not Church, guards and prisons were used, and the bishop that tried Joan was loyal to England and had no authority over Joan in the matter. An appeal to the Pope and to proper Church authorities was denied, and Joan was burned as a witch and heretic. A Church investigation and inquiry would overrule this decision, and Joan would be declared a martyr and was canonized St. Joan of Arc, a patron of France.
France had lost a hero, but not yet the war. Far from it: in 1435, Bedford of England died, and his heir, Gloucester, was not liked by the Burgundians. The Burgundians abandoned the English, and returned Paris to France. This was a disastrous blow to the English situation, made all the worse that La Hire continued to defeat the English in the field of battle, and territory was being chiseled away from the English as more and more towns and castles returned to the rule of France. One such territory was Normandy itself in 1350. After launching a counter-attack on the French forces attacking them at Formigny, the English soon found themselves away from their defenses and vulnerable, pursuing the French and capturing their guns. However, Arthur III of Brittany arrived and his cavalry flanked the English, and Clermont, the French commander, rallied his troops, and obliterated the English army, capturing their commander. Normandy was French once more.
Calais, the Channel Islands and Bordeaux were the only English possessions left disputed by France. Bordeaux considered themselves English after 300 years of English rule, but the French captured it in 1451. The English, with John Talbot to lead, retook the area with popular support. However, in 1453, the French moved to take it back and met Talbot in battle. Jean Bureau, the French ordnance officer, fortified the French camp, and Talbot, unaware of the French strength and position moved to attack. What happened next at Castillon was described as Crecy in reverse. The English kept pouring men and reinforcements into the battle, but they were scythed down by French artillery and cavalry. Talbot and his son were both killed. This broke English power in Bordeaux, and it was returned to France. In hindsight, this marked the end of the Hundred Years War.
That was not as apparent to the sides then as it is now, for minor skirmishing continued for some time. Calais was English for over one hundred more years, though France took control of it eventually in 1558. England retains control of the Channel Islands to this day, though the exchange in territory greatly favored France. Chivalry diminished, as the new advents of gunpowder weapons and the triumph of infantry over the course of the war had marginalized noble knights’ efficiency and effectiveness in combat. Professional armies, created to combat the rouge free company mercenaries by employing them, began to grow. With the death of so much nobility, added to the concept of national defense, nationalism grew at the expense of feudalism. The devotion and power of the crown grew, and in France, an absolute monarchy would soon emerge. In England, the crown would be in turmoil. Exhausted and embarrassed by their loss, they would never again pursue claims in France, or indeed make landing on the continent when not supported by a large coalition. Henry VI lost his mind, and the War of the Roses erupted in England two years after the end of the Hundred Years War, determining England’s rulers for years to come. Despite the disastrous start and the humiliating defeats throughout the war, France had triumphed as Eldest Daughter of the Church, and England would fall to heresy under Henry VIII, and condemnation by the Holy Father the Pope.