Tag Archives: The Hundred Years’ War

The Hundred Years’ War: Greatest Hits, Part II

J.A.D. Ingres, "Joan of  Arc at the Coronation of King Charles VII in Reims Cathedral" (1854) -- The Louvre, Paris

J.A.D. Ingres, “Joan of Arc at the Coronation of King Charles VII in Reims Cathedral” (1854) —
The Louvre, Paris

It looked like the long-running war was going to get capped at 85 years, but in 1422, Henry V of England and Charles VI of France both died.  That pushed the restart button.

Henry was succeeded as King of England by his nine-month-old son Henry VI, whose royal proclamations included things like “na-na-na-na” and “goo-goo”.  He was advised (if that’s the right word) by two uncles who happened to be scheming against each other.

The situation in France wasn’t much better.  You’ll recall that King Charles VI had disavowed his own heirs and, under the terms of the Treaty of Troyes (1420) acknowledged Henry V as his successor.  The rumor was that Charles’s legitimate heir was, well, illegitimate, the result of an affair the queen had with her brother-in-law.

That all seemed pretty harsh to the Dauphin (the title given to the heir-apparent of the French throne).  He aspired to become Charles VII, but got chased out of Paris while civil war raged in France.  The Dauphin, who was a teenager, set up his palace in a two-bedroom condo south of the Loire Valley; his “kingdom” extended approximately from his garage down to the liquor store at the corner.

Into this mess stepped the most remarkable figure of the entire Hundred Years’ War:  Joan of Arc.  A peasant girl, she talked her way into an audience with the Dauphin and informed him that through visions, God had instructed her to lead the French army to victory and get the Dauphin crowned king.

Joan must have been incredibly charismatic.  Think about it:  If you were in the Dauphin’s position and a 17-year-old girl tells you that fantastic story, would you be inclined to say, “Great!  Go for it!”  It could be argued that at that point, the Dauphin Charles didn’t have much left to lose, so why not give her a shot.

Anyway, he let Joan lead a small army; they headed off to Orléans, which had been besieged by the English for several months.  Within a few days of their arrival in April, 1429, Joan and her troops defeated the English, lifting the Siege of Orléans.  That victory got the French fired up again, and is now considered the turning point in the Hundred Years’ War.

Jeanne d’Arc, as she is known in France, then led her soldiers to victory in other battles and was present in Reims when the Dauphin was crowned Charles VII.  Thanks to “the Maid of Orléans”, the French army was energized and eager to win back territory held by the English.

Unfortunately for Joan, in May of 1430 she was captured by troops loyal to the Duke of Burgundy, who eventually sold her to the English.  When the subject of ransoming this unusual prisoner of war came up, Charles VII (who wouldn’t have been king without her help) was apparently hiding under the bed.  Joan was alone, on her own.  The English gave her a show trial before burning her at the stake on May 30, 1431.

The war went on for another couple of decades, basically ending after the Battle of Castillon on July 17, 1453.  This enabled the English to turn their full attention to fighting each other again, notably in the War of the Roses (1455-1485).  No official treaty between the French and the English was ever signed.

The English had their king; the French had theirs.  The English did continue to hold Calais until 1558 — which means that when it was finally over, things were left pretty much as they had been at the outset of the Hundred Years’ War.

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The Hundred Years’ War: Greatest Hits, Part I

Edward III of England:He started it.

Edward III of England:
He started it.

When the Hundred Years’ War finally ended in 1453, the weary combatants looked at each other and said, “Where has the time gone? The Middle Ages are almost over.” Or, more likely, they said, “What was that about?”

Later generations of historians have examined the factors that contributed to all that combat, but then they pretend not to notice that the Hundred Years’ War actually lasted more than 100 years; it began in 1337.

Since we lack the space (and enthusiasm) to review the entire war, let’s just take a look at some colorful characters and events that made the highlight reel, so to speak.

In a nutshell, the Hundred Years’ War was really a series of wars fought between the English and the French. Mostly it was about who the rightful king was, and there were lots of applicants for that job. That’s why the long-running war between England and France was sometimes interrupted by wars between countrymen: Two English armies fighting each other, for instance, to win the chance for their leader to claim he was King of France.

Anyway, the guy who started it all was Edward III of England.  He had become the British monarch when his mother Isabella, sometimes known as “the she-wolf of France”, led an invasion against her own husband, Edward II of England — it was a troubled marriage, apparently.

Because of his mother’s French ancestry, Edward III thought he was entitled to be King of France, even though the French already had a guy with a crown.  His name was Philip VI, and naturally he took offense when Edward III sent armies into northwest France to stake his claim.

Edward began the offensive in 1337, capturing Brittany and Normandy.  His troops won a number of important battles, including one in 1346 at Crécy.  The English introduced longbows to the battlefield, sending a lethal rain of arrows at the French infantrymen, whose armor was fashionable but not particularly arrow-resistant.  Philip VI lost a lot of relatives and soldiers that day.

Pressing on, Edward III  had control of about 25% of France by the mid-1300s.  His holdings began to wane, however, when the so-called Black Death (Bubonic Plague) hit Europe.  It’s hard to imagine the devastation it caused — estimates of those who died in the years from 1347-1351 range from 30-50% of the population.  Obviously, that hindered army recruitment efforts.

Edward III made a strategic blunder by dying (not of plague) in 1377.  He left several heirs who all seemed to think they were qualifed to be King of England.  They fought with each other for the next few decades, until Henry V won the title.  Henry was the subject of one of Shakespeare’s historical plays, and either looked like Sir Laurence Olivier or Kenneth Branagh, depending on which movie you saw.

The army of Henry V won a big one at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.  That resulted in the French king Charles VI (a.k.a. Charles the Mad) disinheriting his own kids and designating Henry V to be his successor.  That might have resolved the whole mess, except that in August of 1422, Henry died of dysentery at the age of 35.  Charles VI died that October.  So if Henry had lived two months longer, he would have been the king of France, fulfilling the dream that had begun with his great-grandfather Edward III.

Instead, the Hundred Years’ War continued… and in the next blog post, this topic will, too.