Analysis of the Hundred Years War


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 
 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 
men. 6 
 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 France. 7 
 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. 
 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. 

Works Cited

Barnie, John. War in Medieval English Society. Ithaca: Cornell 
 Press, 1974.
Duby, Georges. France in the Middle Ages 987-1460. Paris: 
"Hundred Years' War." Compton's Online Encyclopedia. 1995.
Hutchinson, Harold F. King Henry V. New York: John Day Company,
Palmer, J.J.N. England, France and Christendom. London: University 
 North Carolina Press, 1972.
Vale, M.G.A. English Gascony 1399-1453. London: Oxford University
 Press, 1970.


 1. Palmer, J.J.N., England, France and Christendom. London: 
University of North Carolina Press, 23.
 2. "Hundred Years' War." Compton's Online Encyclopedia. 
 3. Palmer, 47.
 4. "Hundred Years' War"
 5. Duby, Georges. France in the Middle Ages 987-1460. 
Blackwell, 1987, 274.
 6. "Hundred Years' War"
 7. Barnie, John. War in Medieval English Society. Ithaca: 
University Press, 1974, 181. 
 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, 1967, 214.
 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.


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