The Hundred Years' War was fought between England and France between 1337 and 1453. This lesson explores what led to the conflict and some of the decisive battles of the war.
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.
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.
Battle of Poitiers
In 1356, the second major battle happened. This battle was called the Battle of Poitiers. This battle erupted after Edward's son raided France. When French soldiers met the English for this battle, the English soldiers tricked the French into thinking that they were retreating. The French soldiers charged and were met with masses of falling arrows from the longbowmen. Archers may have experienced difficulty in penetrating the armor of the French soldiers, so they aimed for their horses, breaking their strong cavalry line. As the soldiers met and fought in close combat, a hidden reserve of English soldiers that was waiting nearby encircled and attacked the French soldiers from the sides and behind. King John (now king of France) was defeated and captured. King John died in captivity, and his son Charles V took over.
Battle of Agincourt
In 1415, at the Battle of Agincourt, England defeated France. The battlefield was a strip of land that was situated between two wooded areas. This would have limited maneuvers to small-scale tactics. Longbow archers were again used against the French. They were positioned behind a line of stakes to prevent attacks on them. They shot at the French soldiers as they moved in on the English. The battlefield was overcrowded with soldiers and horses. The French wore heavy armor, making it difficult for them to move in the crowd. The land was muddied from rain. Because the archers only wore light armor, they were eventually ordered to attack the French with swords or axes. The French were defeated and lost thousands of soldiers.
Siege of Orleans
France experienced their first major victory in 1428 and 1429 at the Siege of Orleans. The victory was aided by Joan of Arc, who led French troops against the English. Joan was only a teenager when she joined the fight. She claimed to see visions of angels and saints that spoke to her. They instructed her to aid the French king in his war. She led French troops against the English in Orleans in 1429. She brought with her supplies needed by the French and inspired them to fight. With Joan's encouragement, the French defeated the English on May 8.
Battle of Castillon
The final battle of the Hundred Years' War was in 1453, at the Battle of Castillon. At this battle, England attacked a French force in Castillon. The English faced French soldiers that were using guns against them. The English couldn't compete with the firepower of the French in this battle. Fighting only lasted for a short amount of time and was ended when a large French cavalry arrived and attacked the English from the side. English survivors retreated and finally returned home.
The Hundred Years' War was fought from 1337 to 1453 between England and France. The major points of conflict for the two countries were the English claim to the French throne and to England's land holdings in France. England won most major battles, aided by longbowmen, but France ultimately defeated England and kept control over all of its land, save for a small territory.
Upon finishing this lesson, you should be able to:
- Recognize the cause of the Hundred Years' War between England and France
- Summarize the most important battles
- Discuss the ways in which technology affected the war's outcome