The Hundred Years

’ War Essay, Research Paper

The Hundred Years War was a long, complicated war with

it?s roots in political struggles, the want of Kings and the people of

their nations to expand territory, and to take territory that they believe

is theirs. This war lasted more than a century, from 1337-1453, and

was a actually a series of wars broken only temporarily by treaties

doomed to fail.

The English king controlled much of France, particularly in

the fertile South. These lands had come under control of the English

when Eleanor of Aquitaine, heiress to the region, married King Henry

II of England in the mid-12th century. There was constant bickering

along the French-English frontier, and the French kings always had to

fear an English invasion from the South. Between Flanders in the North

and the English in the South, they were caught in between the two

English colonies.

The French responded by doing the same to the English.

They allied with the Scots in an arrangement that persisted well into the

18th century. Thus the English faced the French from the south and the

Scots from the north.

The French trap would only work if the French could invade

England across the English Channel. Besides, England could support

their Flemish allies only if they could send aid across the North Sea,

and, moreover, English trade was dependent upon the free flow of

naval traffic through the Channel. Consequently, the French continually

tried to gain the upper hand at sea, and the English constantly resisted

them. Both sides commissioned what would have been pirates if they

had not been operating with royal permission to prey upon each other’s

shipping, and there were frequent naval clashes in those constricted


The last son of King Philip IV, the fair, died in 1328, and the

direct male line of the Capetians finally ended after almost 350 years.

Philip had had a daughter, however. This daughter, Isabelle, had

married King Edward II of England, but her and a group of barons had

murdered him, because they thought he was incompetent. So, Edward

III their son was declared king of England. He was therefore Philip’s

grandson and successor in a direct line through Philip’s daughter. The

French could not tolerate the idea that Edward might become King of

France, and French lawyers brought up some old Salic Laws, which

stated that property, including the throne, could not descend through a

female. The French then gave the crown to Philip of Valois, a nephew

of Philip IV. Nevertheless, Edward III had a valid claim to the throne

of France if he wished to pursue it.

Although France was the most populous country in Western

Europe and also the wealthiest, England had a strong central

government, many veterans of hard fighting on England’s Welsh and

Scottish borders, as well as in Ireland, a thriving economy, and a

popular king. Edward was disposed to fight France, and his subjects

were more than ready to support their young king who was only 18

years old at the time . Also many went to ?loot and pillage the fair and

plenteous land of France.?1

The war truly started in 1340. The French had assembled a

great fleet to support an army with which they intended to crush all

resistance in Flanders. When the ships had anchored in a dense pack at

Sluys in modern Netherlands, the English attacked and destroyed it

with fire ships and victory in a battle fought across the anchored ships,

almost like a land battle on a wooden battlefield. The English now had

control of the Channel and North Sea. They were safe from French

invasion, could attack France at will, and could expect that the war

would be fought on French soil and thus at French expense. ?A three

year truce was signed by England and France in 1343, but in 1345

Edward again invaded northern France1.? The Black Death had

arrived, and his army was weakened by sickness. As the English force

tried to make its way safely to fortified Channel port, the French

attempted to force them into a battle. The English were finally pinned

against the coast by a much superior French army at a place called

Crecy. Edward’s army was a combined force: archers, pikemen, light

infantry, and cavalry; the French, by contrast, clung to their

old-fashioned feudal cavalry and used the powerful, but slow firing

crossbow. The English had archers using the longbow, a weapon with

great penetrating power that could sometimes kill armored knights, and

often the horses on which they rode. Also, the longbow could fire three

of its arrows to the crossbow?s one in the same amount of time. As a

result the French knights were unhorsed by a blinding shower of

arrows. The battle was a disaster for the French. The English took up

position on the crest of a hill, and the French cavalry tried to ride up

the slope to get at their opponents. The long climb up soggy ground

tired and slowed the French horses, giving the English archers and foot

soldiers ample opportunity to wreak havoc in the French ranks. Those

few French who reached the crest of the hill found themselves faced

with rude, but effective, barriers, and, as they tried to withdraw, they

were attacked by the small but fresh English force of mounted knights.

Another interesting thing about this battle, was that for the first time the

cannon was used. Thus introducing artillery to war in the west.9+

As the war dragged on, the English were slowly forced back.

They had less French land to support their war effort as they did so,

and the war became more expensive for them. This caused conflicts at

home, such as the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 and the beginning of civil

wars. Nevertheless, in the reign of Henry V, the English took the

offensive once again. At Agincourt, not far from Crecy, the French

relapsed into their old tactics of feudal warfare once again, and were

again disastrously defeated in 1415 at the Battle of Agincourt. Durring

this battle ?French casualties totaled about 5000 men. English loses

numbered fewer than 200 men.1? The English recovered much of the

ground they had lost, and a new peace was based upon Henry’s

marriage to the French princess Katherine.

In the following years, the French developed a sense of

national identity, as illustrated by Joan of Arc, a peasant girl who is

said to have played a major part in the English withdrawing from their

siege on Orleans, and ten days later, Charles VII being crowned king at

Reims. These two things were the true tuning points in the war. The

French now had a greater unity, and the French king was able to field

massive armies on much the same model as the British. In addition,

however, the French government began to appreciate the “modern”

style of warfare, and new military commanders, such as Bertran du

Guesclin, began to use guerilla and “small war” tactics of fighting.

This war marked the end of English attempts to control

continental territory and the beginning of its emphasis upon maritime

supremacy. By Henry V’s marriage into the House of Valois, an

hereditary strain of mental disorder was introduced into the English

royal family. There were great advances in military technology and

science during the period, and the military value of the feudal knight

was thoroughly discredited. The order of knighthood went down

fighting, however, in a wave of civil wars that racked the countries of

Western Europe. The European countries began to establish

professional standing armies and to develop the modern state necessary

to maintain such forces.

In both of these countries the idea of Nationalism, which is a

feeling of unity and identity that binds together a people who speak the

same language, have common ancestry and customs, and live in the

same area, spread durring the war. ?By the late middle ages , a vague

loyaltyto a particular dynasty might have been created, and in a sense,

derived from the Hundred Years? War of being differeent from other


There was no true winner of this war. Both sides suffered

severe losses. Even for England when none of the war was fought in

England. The cost for them was an amazing amount of more than five

million pounds. The price, although not as much in dollars, may have

been even greater. The English had laid waste to hundreds of

thousands of acres of rich farm land, leaving the rural economy, and

many parts of Franch in shambles.

Price, Roger, A Concise History of France, Cambridge

Concise Histories, New York, New York, 1993.

Schama, Simon, Citizens, Alfred A. Knopf Inc., New York,

New York, 1989

Schom, Alan, One Hundred Days, Maxwell Macmillan

International, New York, New York, 1992

Barnie, J., War in Medieval English Society: Socail Values and

the Hundred Years? War, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New

York, 1974


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