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The Hundred Years' War: The Bloody Conflict of Five Generations

Andrew Roberts, Jessica Elam Miller
  • Author
    Andrew Roberts

    Andrew Roberts is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, where they earned a bachelor's in journalism. They have spent the past two years working as a freelance journalist, as well as a substitute teacher in Houston.

  • Instructor
    Jessica Elam Miller

    Jessica has taught college History and has a Master of Arts in History

Explore the Hundred Years' War of England and France. Learn more about the origin of the conflict, the result of this war, and its significance up to now. Updated: 01/19/2022

Hundred Years' War

The history of the English crown has been built on a foundation of blood and conquest, and no conflict embodies this better than the Hundred Years' War. The Hundred Years' War was a long series of conflicts between England and France over control of the French crown. Despite its name, the war actually lasted for 116 years, between 1337 and 1453. In this period, the two powers saw the reign and deaths of several kings, changing borders of land, and fields littered with the bodies of the dead.

To fully understand the conflict at the heart of the Hundred Years' War, we must first go back nearly 300 years before it even began. In 1066, William, Duke of Normandy (a French province) invaded England with his eyes set on conquest. At the Battle of Hastings, William's army crushed the Anglo-Saxon forces and William crowned himself as William I, king of England. This created an unusual situation of a monarch being simultaneously the ruler of England and a vassal of the king of France. In other words, the kings of England retained their right to the dukedom of Normandy.

This remained true for future monarchs of England until the reign of King John when in 1205 he lost all of the English's holding in France to the French king, Phillip II Augustus. Some of these lands included William I's homeland of Normandy, as well as Anjou, Aquitaine, Gascony, Poitou, and Maine. This loss forever damaged John's reputation (earning him the nickname Lackland) and instilled him and his descendants with an insatiable drive to reclaim their French lands. Many future English kings would try desperately to reclaim their lands through war, including John's son Henry III, but all attempts would fail.


Edward III of England

Portrait of Edward III from 1587


This would continue well into the beginning of the 14th century when Edward of Windsor would be crowned Edward III of England. But unlike his ancestors, Edward would not only try to claim the crown of France by conquest but also through inheritance, as his mother was Isabella of France, a princess and the daughter of King Phillip IV.

How Did the Hundred Years' War Start?

In 1328, King Charles IV of France died without sons or brothers to inherit his crown. His closest living relative was his nephew, King Edward III of England. However, this posed a problem since, under the French principle of Salic law, the crown of the kingdom of France could only be passed down through the male line. This made Edward III ineligible to inherit the crown of France because his claim came from his mother, Isabella. Therefore, the crown went not to him, but instead to Charles IV's cousin, Phillip of Valois.

The last straw for Edward would arrive in 1337 when Phillip confiscated the English-held duchy of Guyenne, one of the last areas of France controlled by the English. This led Edward to declare war later in 1337. In this first phase of the war, the English enjoyed many significant victories over France, including battles at Sluys (1340), Crecy (1346), and Poitiers (1356). This was partially due to England's more advanced weapons, including the English longbows that were used to mow down French cavalry charges.

The first phase of the Hundred Years' War would come to a temporary stop in 1360 with the Treaty of Calais. With this treaty, King John II of France, who had been captured and held hostage by the English, agreed to grant complete independence to the duchy of Guyenne, which now occupied almost a third of France. So, by the end of the first phase of the war, Edward III controlled a large portion of his inheritance and would enjoy it until his death in 1377. Following his death, Edward's grandson was crowned Richard II of England. He would try in vain to retain Guyenne; however, he failed and the land was recaptured by the new French king, Charles V in 1380. Subsequent English and French kings would try to reignite the conflict, but the war wouldn't really resume until 1415 with the rise of a new English king, Henry V.

What Was the Result of the Hundred Years' War?

The result of the Hundred Years' War was a continuous "back-and-forth" struggle between the French and the English over control of the French crown, with each side for a time having victory over the other. The biggest result for England after the first phase of the war was the rise of a new royal dynasty.

Edward III had had many legitimate children to inherit his kingdom, and upon his death his grandson Richard was crowned Richard II. Richard II would prove to be an incompetent king and his cruelty and inability to reignite the prolonged war would lead to the start of the English Wars of the Roses, a series of civil wars that would see the children and grandchildren of Edward III vying for control of England. After Edward III was deposed, his cousin Henry Bolingbroke of Lancaster was crowned Henry IV, ushering England into a new era of Lancastrian rule.


Henry V of England

Portrait of King Henry V from the 16th C.


Following Henry IV's death, his son was crowned Henry V. Henry V would reignite the Hundred Years' War to a scale never before seen in history.

Why Did England and France Go to War?

The Hundred Years' War was a war between England and France. England and France fought over who would be the king of France. The war lasted from 1337 to 1453.

To understand the beginnings of this war, we can look all the way back to William the Conqueror, who became king of England in 1066. He united England with Normandy in France, and he ruled over both areas. Under a new king, Henry II, the lands that belonged to England and France expanded. By 1327, when England was under the rule of Edward III, England had lost control of most of their French lands. When the French king, Charles IV, died in 1328, he had no male heirs to the kingship. Charles' sister was Isabella, who was the mother of Edward III. Edward thought he should be king of France. However, Charles also had a cousin named Philip who thought he should be king.

The lands owned by Edward in France came under attacks by the French. Edward decided to declare he had a right to the French throne because of his relation to Isabella. In England, inheritance could be gained through the mother or the father's bloodline, but in France, it could only be gained by the father's bloodline.

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England and France At War

After a long hiatus, the Hundred Years' War would resume in 1415 thanks to the ambitions of the new English king, Henry V. Henry quickly proved to be a powerful strategic leader in the war, easily gaining control in Normandy. His most important victory occurred at the Battle of Agincourt. Here, Henry used his superior archers with their longbows to destroy the French cavalry and sow panic among the opposing army.

After this battle, England gained a strong foothold in France once again. Following several other losses to the English, many French nobles began to consider surrendering. Henry V, more than any other English king, came close to realizing Edward III's dream of ruling both England and France. On May 21, 1420, the French agreed to the Treaty of Troyes, recognizing Henry V as heir to the French throne. This would allow him to marry Catherine, daughter of Charles V.

The English had effectively won the war; Henry V was at the height of his power and was set to be crowned king of both England and France. In addition, he would solidify the English claim to France with his new marriage and the birth of a new son (also named Henry). But this triumph would be short-lived. In 1422, Henry V died of dysentery at the age of 35. This would throw both kingdoms into turmoil, and the Hundred Years' War would continue for another 40 years.

Major Battles

France and England fought many battles. We will now learn a little about some of the most important battles.

Battle of Crecy

In 1346, the Battle of Crecy occurred near Normandy. Edward had come to France with thousands of soldiers, and the French pursued them. Edward stopped near Normandy, in Crecy, to fight against the French. The French attacked several times, but they were defeated by England - mostly because of English longbowmen.

The first attack from the French came from crossbowmen. They hoped the use of the crossbows would frighten the English soldiers. However, crossbows were slow to shoot. Crossbowmen could shoot only about one or two bolts each minute. Their crossbows were met with English longbowmen.

The use of the longbow was unpopular in most countries because it required so much training. In England, archery was a popular sport. In fact, England didn't allow any other sports to be practiced on Sundays. Often, tournaments were held to encourage people to build archery skills. At any time, the king would have a multitude of people skilled in archery to fight in his army. Longbowmen held an advantage over those using crossbows. Longbows had a longer range and could be loaded faster. The French were not expecting the devastating effect of this weapon.

The French group of crossbowmen was devastated by the longbow archers. As the French cavalry began to charge against the English, the archers continued their attack. Every wave of arrows caused a break in their line. Although the army was led by the French king's son, the king didn't send reinforcements. The prince was wounded but remained alive. He ordered a retreat, signaling an English victory.

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Video Transcript

Why Did England and France Go to War?

The Hundred Years' War was a war between England and France. England and France fought over who would be the king of France. The war lasted from 1337 to 1453.

To understand the beginnings of this war, we can look all the way back to William the Conqueror, who became king of England in 1066. He united England with Normandy in France, and he ruled over both areas. Under a new king, Henry II, the lands that belonged to England and France expanded. By 1327, when England was under the rule of Edward III, England had lost control of most of their French lands. When the French king, Charles IV, died in 1328, he had no male heirs to the kingship. Charles' sister was Isabella, who was the mother of Edward III. Edward thought he should be king of France. However, Charles also had a cousin named Philip who thought he should be king.

The lands owned by Edward in France came under attacks by the French. Edward decided to declare he had a right to the French throne because of his relation to Isabella. In England, inheritance could be gained through the mother or the father's bloodline, but in France, it could only be gained by the father's bloodline.

Major Battles

France and England fought many battles. We will now learn a little about some of the most important battles.

Battle of Crecy

In 1346, the Battle of Crecy occurred near Normandy. Edward had come to France with thousands of soldiers, and the French pursued them. Edward stopped near Normandy, in Crecy, to fight against the French. The French attacked several times, but they were defeated by England - mostly because of English longbowmen.

The first attack from the French came from crossbowmen. They hoped the use of the crossbows would frighten the English soldiers. However, crossbows were slow to shoot. Crossbowmen could shoot only about one or two bolts each minute. Their crossbows were met with English longbowmen.

The use of the longbow was unpopular in most countries because it required so much training. In England, archery was a popular sport. In fact, England didn't allow any other sports to be practiced on Sundays. Often, tournaments were held to encourage people to build archery skills. At any time, the king would have a multitude of people skilled in archery to fight in his army. Longbowmen held an advantage over those using crossbows. Longbows had a longer range and could be loaded faster. The French were not expecting the devastating effect of this weapon.

The French group of crossbowmen was devastated by the longbow archers. As the French cavalry began to charge against the English, the archers continued their attack. Every wave of arrows caused a break in their line. Although the army was led by the French king's son, the king didn't send reinforcements. The prince was wounded but remained alive. He ordered a retreat, signaling an English victory.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Who won the war between England and France?

The Hundred Years' War was a prolonged back and forth of victory between the English and French. The war was eventually won by the French at the Battle of Castillon in 1453. This was largely due to the French use of guns against the English.

Did the French win the Hundred Years' War?

Yes, the French eventually won the Hundred Years' War. Following their defeat at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, the French soon recovered and won several battles and finally fully defeated the English at the Battle of Castillon in 1453.

Why did England go to war with France?

The war was really a war over inheritance, as Edward III was the closest living relative of the dead French king, Charles IV, through his mother. However, French law at the time prioritized the male line of inheritance, so Edward was ruled out. When he was not given the crown, Edward declared war.

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