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Hundreds 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 issues. 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. 18 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 University Press, 1974. Duby, Georges. France in the Middle Ages 987-1460. Paris: Blackwell, 1987. “Hundred Years’ War.” Compton’s Online Encyclopedia. 1995. Hutchinson, Harold F. King Henry V. New York: John Day Company, 1967. Palmer, J.J.N. England, France and Christendom. London: University of North Carolina Press, 1972. Vale, M.G.A. English Gascony 1399-1453. London: Oxford University Press, 1970.
— Notes
1. Palmer, J.J.N., England, France and Christendom. London: University of North Carolina Press, 23. 2. “Hundred Years’ War.” Compton’s Online Encyclopedia. 1995. 3. Palmer, 47. 4. “Hundred Years’ War” 5. Duby, Georges. France in the Middle Ages 987-1460. Paris: Blackwell, 1987, 274. 6. “Hundred Years’ War” 7. Barnie, John. War in Medieval English Society. Ithaca: Cornell 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.

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