The start of the Hundred Years’ War
The Causes of the Hundred Years’ War
- England held lands in France since William the Conqueror’s invasion in 1066, which led to tensions between the two kingdoms.
- Edward III of England claimed the French throne in 1337, sparking the start of the Hundred Years’ War.
- Edward was the nephew of Charles IV of France and believed his claim was legitimate, as Charles had died without a male heir.
- The French nobles, however, preferred Philip of Valois, and he took the throne as Philip VI.
- Edward initially accepted this, but was angered by Philip’s attempts to confiscate his lands in France.
- Philip VI’s decision to seize Gascony, a region in southwest France where the English had significant territorial and economic interests, was the major trigger for the warfare.
The Course of the Hundred Years’ War: Early Stages
- The war was not a constant fight but made up of intermittent periods of conflict separated by long truces.
- The English used a strategy of chevauchée - destructive raids aimed at weakening the enemy’s economy and morale.
- Two early English victories, Creçy (1346) and Poitiers (1356), were attributed to their superior longbowmen and their use of defensive tactics, creating devastating losses for the French cavalry.
- Edward’s son, the Black Prince, played a key role in the English success.
- The Battle of Poitiers ended with the capture of the French King, John II, which crippled the French leadership.
Impact of the Early Stage of War
- In the Treaty of Brétigny (1360), King John was released in exchange for a hefty ransom and territorial concessions to England.
- England gained control over much of western France, making Edward III one of the most successful Plantagenet kings in securing French lands.
- However, the peaceful period following the treaty was short-lived.
- In 1369, the French restarted the war under Charles V and his respected military leader, Bertrand du Guesclin.
- The death of the Black Prince in 1376 and Edward III in 1377 signaled a downturn in England’s fortunes in the war.