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
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
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.
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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
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,
6. “Hundred Years’ War”
7. Barnie, John. War in Medieval English Society. Ithaca: Cornell University
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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,
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.