This lesson focuses on France at the end of The Hundred Years War. It will examine the changes to France in the areas of military tactics, feudalism, and its monarchies. It will also highlight the French monarchs of the time period.
Introduction to the Hundred Years War
Edward III was the half-brother of Charles IV.
The American Revolution lasted about eight years and brought about the United States of America. The Wars of the Roses lasted longer, about 30 years, and birthed the Tudor Dynasty of England. And then there's the Hundred Years War, which lasted 116 years and increased the power of the House of Valois, France's ruling force from 1363 to 1589. Today we'll be discussing this house and the country of France at the end of the Hundred Years War.
Before we get to France at the close of the war, let's take a look at how the whole thing started. The Hundred Years War began in 1337 as a dispute between England and France over the crown of France. When King Charles IV of France died without a male heir, Edward III of England declared himself King of France.
No matter how he was related to the French crown, the people of France refused to recognize any English king as their ruler. This dispute soon disintegrated into a 116-year war fought on French soil. This war devastated the French lands to the point that history has called it 'Hiroshima in Normandy.' However, in the end, France was left standing. In fact, many historians would say France was even changed for the better in the areas of weaponry, freedom from feudalism, and a rejuvenated Valois monarchy.
Military and Feudalism
France was divided into several feudal regions before the war.
To begin, weaponry and military tactics changed drastically during the Hundred Years War. Prior to the war, knight-filled cavalries were the most powerful part of the French army. However, the Hundred Years War saw the introduction of the longbow and foot soldiers to the battlefield. Although these changes first took place on the English side, France was soon to follow.
By the end of the Hundred Years War, the need for the noble knighthood had declined, since any able-bodied man could be armed with longbows or even firearms. This also changed the makeup of armies, going from being dominated by noble lords to common men being paid to fight. This leads up to our second change in France, the freedom from feudalism. Feudalism, a system of government in which land owners held power over their serfs or workers, dominated France before the Hundred Years War. Because feudal lords held such power over their serfs, France was, in many ways, a divided kingdom. Common people depended on and gave their allegiance to their feudal lord rather than their king.
This all changed when military tactics gave the commoners the ability to fight and even get paid for doing so. Many chose to give up their lives on the manor for the life of a mercenary, or a soldier for hire. By the end of the war, these new forces developed into standing armies. Not only could these armies defend their lands from invaders, they could also protect their kings from the internal threat of powerful lords.
As the war waged, the nobility of both countries, but especially France, found their power being turned over to the King. This brings us to the greatest change felt by France after the Hundred Years War, the rejuvenation of the Valois monarchy.
Charles VII issued the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges.
Before the war, France was much more divided than England. Feudal lords dominated regions, and the power of the monarchy in these areas was almost nonexistent. However, as the war progressed, the French monarchy gained power. For example, in 1438 King Charles VII unveiled the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges. This move strengthened the monarchy by giving them charge over the French church.
After Charles VII, Louis XI, known as the 'Universal Spider,' took the throne. He was a master at establishing and manipulating alliances, using any means necessary to gain control. He confiscated noble lands and executed those who challenged him. Despite his hunger for power, Louis XI promoted the growth of trade and commerce, helping the French economy to flourish. Because of his hunger for power, France was also well on its way to royal absolutism, the system of government in which the monarch has absolute authority over those governed and is not bound by law or constitution.
Furthermore, centralized taxation had been sporadic before the war. After the war, it became regular and established. This gave the monarchs funds to continue their standing armies, increasing both their royal power and their royal revenue.
Louis XI's reign saw the end of the Hundred Years War in 1453. Although no real winner was ever announced, the English were driven home, allowing the French monarchy to claim a victory. With this, a great sense of patriotism and national identity was born in France. Although the war devastated France as a land, it awakened the pride of the French people.
The Hundred Years War ended during the reign of Louis XI.
To summarize, the Hundred Years War was a conflict over the right to the French throne. This conflict, being fought on French soil, devastated the lands of France. Despite this, France emerged from the conflict as a strong centralized land.
The end of the war brought with it an advanced military, freedom from feudalism, and a rejuvenated Valois monarchy. Again, it took 116 years, and many lost lives, but France emerged from the ashes with a strong centralized government and a citizenry proud to call themselves French.
After watching this lesson, you should be able to:
- Understand why the Hundred Years War began
- Summarize the effects that the Hundred Years War had on France, including military, feudalism, and monarch changes