This unfortunate expression, consecrated by habit, is common to text books in all languages
The Hundred Years' War; the generic name given to a succession of Anglo-French conflicts that took place between the years 1337 and 1453.
The Historical background and the Origins of the Conflict
The trouble began in the February of the year 1328 with the death of Charles IV, who proved to be the last of the Capetian Dynasty. Charles IV died childless, although his wife, Jeanne was pregnant at the time and so everyone had to wait until April to discover that the child was a daughter. Philip of Valois was officially the regent in the interim and was not crowned king until the 19th May.
Technically speaking Charles's closest living relative was none other than Edward III of England, grand-son of Philip IV but the French nobility preferred the claims of the above mentioned Philip of Valois who was duly crowned Philip VI of France.
Of course the kings of England were themselves French, or at least Norman by origin, and although they had lost control of Normandy in the early thirteenth century they still retained the dukedom of Guyenne or Aquitaine which had been obtained through the marriage of Henry II to Eleanor of Aquitaine.
This created the rather problematic situation of the king of England paying homage to the king of France. In 1329 Edward III agreed to do simple homage but not liege homage in respect of Aquitaine which seemed to settle matters for the time being. Within a few years however Philip VI became sufficiently aggravated to declare Aquitaine forfeit and make efforts to seize control of the region.
Various reasons are suggested for why Philip VI decided to pick a fight with Edward III;
- Edward III was giving refuge to one Robert d'Artois, who despite being both Philip VI’s cousin and brother-in-law, had been accused of murder and fled to England
- Edward III was refusing to agree to a treaty with the Scots, who were regarded by Philip VI as his friends and allies
- that Philip VI was eager to go on crusade and blamed Edward III for the collapse of the initiative
Or most likely simply because Philip VI disliked the idea of foreign king holding a large section of his country and fancied controlling it himself.
In any event, Edward's reaction was renounce all pledges of allegiance to the French king, make preparations for the invasion of France and declare himself to be rightful king of France.
The First War of the French Succession
In which Edward III makes a bold attempt to seize the French crown that almost succeeds.
The death of Charles IV the last of the Capetian Dynasty; and the succession of Philip of Valois as Philip VI the first of the House of Valois.
In May Philip VI of France formally declares Aquitaine forfeit and begins harassing the frontiers of Aquitaine.
Edward III campaigns in France takes Cambrai and raids a few French towns but fails to make much headway as Philip VI is reluctant to do battle.
On the 26th January Edward III declares himself 'king of England and France' and concludes a military alliance with the Flemish. On the 24th June the English navy defeats the French fleet at the battle of Sluys.
The death of John III, duke of Britanny; two rival candidates emerge to succeed him, Charles de Blois, who receives the support of the French, and John de Montfort who is backed by the English king. The War of the Breton Succession continues for the next twenty three years as a small sideshow to the conflict between France and England.
Edward III begins a wide ranging campaign across Normandy, Britanny and Aquitaine, in an attempt to establish by force his claim to the throne of France.
At the battle of Crécy on the 26th August the English trounce the French, but Edward III decides against conquering Normandy and concentrates his efforts on the port of Calais instead.
On the 4th August Calais finally surrenders to Edward III; papal intervention establishes a truce which holds until April 1351
A temporary pause in the conflict as the Black Death sweeps over both France and England.
In August the English defeat a Castilian fleet in the battle of Les-Espagnols-sur-Mer, off Winchelsea; Philip VI dies on the 22nd August and is succeeded by his son John II, known as 'the Good'.
Walter Bently leads the English forces in Britanny and wins a victory at the battle of Mauron but the following year is removed from command and arested on his return to England
The Black Prince raids the Languedoc whilst Edward III is in Calais raiding the surrounding region
The English win a decisive victory at the battle of Poitiers on the 19th September and capture the French king John II to boot, together with one archbishop, 13 counts, 5 viscounts, 21 barons and around 2,000 other sundry knights, squires and men-at-arms. Most of whom are released after swearing an oath to bring their ransom to Bordeaux before Christmas. John II is not released however, and the Charles V takes over the effective control of France now that his father the king is in English custody.
The dauphin Charles faces conflict with the Estates General who demand reform in return for their support
In Paris rebels under the leadership of one Etienne Marcel seize control of the city forcing the Charles V, who was forced to flee the city. On the 28th May the jacquerie begins when a group of peasants at St Leu start killing the local nobility; the revolt soon spreads, but by the end of June has been brutally supressed
John II signs the Treaty of London agreeing to cede large portions of France to Edward III and pay a significant ransom. Edward III conducts yet another campaign in France but fails to take Paris.
On the 13th April, the so called 'Black Monday', the English army suffers from a severe hailstorm while camped outside Chartres. This is taken as a sign of divine displeasure and Edward agrees to negotiate. In the resulting Peace of Bretigny; Edward III agrees to relinquish his claim to the French throne in return for recognition of his sovereignty over Aquitaine and Calais and ends up with around a third of France. John II is finally released from captivity in December. Edward III announces the creation of the Sovereign Principality of Aquitaine to be ruled by his son, Edward better known as the 'Black Prince'.
Finding that the dauphin and the Royal Council have rejected the Peace of Bretigny John II decides as a matter of honour to surrender himself into English custody.
The two warring parties in Britanny agree to the Truce of Evran but Charles de Blois ultimately rejects its terms and vows to continue fighting
John II finally dies in April and was succeeded by his son Charles V, known as 'the Wise' On the 29th September French and English forces clash at the battle of Auray, Charles de Blois is killed leaving the way clear for John de Montfort's son to become John IV, duke of Britanny.
John IV agrees terms with the French king and under the Treaty of Guerande agrees to formally pay homage to Charles V, thereby bringing the War of the Breton Succession to an end.
The Wars of Aquitaine
The Peace of Bretigny at least guaranteed a pause in the conflict until 1369. However, Charles V had never been happy with the terms of the peace agreed in 1360 and made preparations for war, raising a new fleet and ensuring he had enough money in the treasury to finance the conflict. He also recruited some new generals, in particular, one Bertrand du Guesclin who on the 2nd October 1370 was appointed constable of France.
du Guesclin learnt from the disasters at Crecy and Poitiers, and on the whole decided to avoid open-field battles and concentrate on guerilla tactics of ambushes and raids to harrass the English forces in France.
In May Charles V declares the Peace of Bretigny null and void, announces the confiscation of Aquitaine and launches an invasion under the command of Bertrand du Guesclin; several towns fall to the French.
The French have also been active through bribery and threats in formenting revolts against the English; the Black Prince, reacts by sacking Limoges on the 19th September
Du Guesclin defeats an English force at the battle of Pontvallain.
The Black Prince returns to England leaving Aquitaine under the control of his brother, John of Gaunt
Not a good year for the English as Bertrand du Guesclin takes more towns in the south, entering Poitiers in August and recovering La Rochelle in October
Peace talks begins at Bruges but eventually abandoned in 1377 after a failure to agree on precise matters of sovereignity.
Edward III dies on the 21st June and is succeeded by the eleven year old Richard II
The French have continued to claw back territory and by now only Aquitaine and Calais remain under English control. Bertrand du Guesclin dies on the 13th July and Charles V on the 16th September to be succeeded by his eleven year old son Charles VI.
A pause in the succession of wars
Richard II found that he had other matters to deal with, in particular the Peasant's Rebellion led by Wat Tyler but more importantly Parliament simply refused to grant any money to finance a war with France.
The French attempted to take advantage of this lack of enthusiasm for foreign adventures by promoting revolt within Britain, supporting both the Scots and the Welsh against the English and even contemplating an invasion of their own. But the increasing insanity of the French king Charles VI led to internal conflict within France.
In Novemeber the battle of Roosebeke, the French defeated a Flemish uprising led by Philippe van Artevelde.
The French make preparations for an invasion of England, but eventually abandon the idea.
The Truce of Leulinghen is agreed which is renewed over the following years
Charles VI suffers his first bout of insanity; trigerring the beginning of the conflict between the Armagnac and Burgundian factions for control of the French government.
Richard II marries Isabella, the daughter of the French king Charles VI; a formal peace treaty proves too difficult to conclude but twenty-eight year truce is agreed.
Richard II is deposed by Henry Bolingbroke, the son of John of Gaunt who takes the throne as Henry IV, the first of the House of Lancaster.
The Scots with the support of French troops try to take advantage of the situation and invade England but are decisively defeated at the battle of Homildon Hill.
The French continue to raid the English coast whilst Henry IV is occupied with domestic revolts. At the battle of Shrewsbury; the rebellion of the Percys is finally crushed.
The French send an expedition to England to assist Owain Glyn Dwr's revolt in Wales against king Henry IV, but finding that the expected support from England does not materialise they decide to go home.
The French attack English possessions in France.
Civil war breaks out in France; Louis, the duke of Orléans and brother of the king Charles VI is killed by John the Fearless, duke of Burgundy, the smouldering anatagonism between the Burgundian and Armagnac or Orléanist faction breaks out into open warfare.
Both the Armagnacs and Burgundians request help from Henry IV.
The Second War of the French Succession
With Charles VI suffering bouts of insanity and France gripped by civil war between the rival Armagnac and Burgundian factions, Henry V saw an opportunity to pursue English ambitions in France.
The year 1420 marked the high point of Henry V's French adventure, with Charles VI quite mad, there was a very real prospect that Henry would indeed become the recognised king of France. However within two years Henry V unexpectedly died, the French rallied and the opportunity disappeared.
Henry V becomes king, on the death of his father Henry IV. In France the Armagnac faction gains control of Paris in September and expells its opponents with some violence . The youngest son of the French king, also named Charles is betrothed to the daughter of the duke of Anjou; this later becomes an important factor as it guarantees Angevin support for Charles. In May, John the Fearless allies Burgundy with Henry V.
Assured of the support of the Burgundian faction Henry V launches an invasion of France, capturing Harfleur on the 23rd September and defeating a much larger French force at the battle of Agincourt on 25th October. Louis , the son of Charles dies in December whilst in Burgundian custody.
Henry begins his second campaign in France. The French suffer defeats on land at the battle of Valmont in March and afloat in an engagment on the Seine in August. Henry V concludes an alliance with the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund of Luxembourg, establishing the latter's neutrality.
As Henry V begins his conquest of Normandy, France remains bitterly divided; whilst the Armagnacs maintain their control of Paris the duke of Burgundy establishes a rival government at Troyes. On the 5th April Jean, the second son of Charles VI dies, leaving third son also named Charles as the sole surviving son and heir.
John the Fearless takes control of Paris and massacres those Armagnacs he can lay his hands on. The dauphin Charles escapes however, and establishes a rival government at Bourges in the south of France. Back in Normandy Henry V is busy laying siege to Rouen.
In January Rouen surrenders; placing Henry V in control of Normandy. On the 10th September John the Fearless and the dauphin Charles arrange a meeting at Montereau, John the Fearless is killed. Philipp the Good succeeds his father as duke of Burgundy, and continues the alliance with Henry V of England.
On the 21st May the Treaty of Troyes is signed between Henry V and Charles VI. Henry V becomes regent of France and is to marry Catherine, the daughter of Charles VI, with the promise that he will become king of France on the death of his father-in-law. On the 1st September Henry V and Charles VI make a ceremonial entry into Paris; the Treaty of Troyes is ratified by the Estates-General, who declare the dauphin Charles unfit for the throne. The dauphin Charles with the support of his Angevin relations ignores this and continues to pursue his own ambitions.
With Scottish support, the dauphin Charles defeats an English force at the battle of Baugé on the 22nd March, in which Henry V's brother, Thomas, Duke of Clarence is killed. The French are however defeated by a Burgundian force at the battle of Mons-en-Vimeu on the 31st August.
On the 31st August Henry V dies, followed by his father-in-law Charles VI on the 21st October. Henry V's brother, John, Duke of Bedford becomes the English regent of France and tries to establish Henry's ten-month old son on the French throne. In support of this Bedford begins a campaign to expand English holdings in France, and wins control of Maine. The dauphin Charles continues to seek to establish himself as king.
English forces defeated the dauphin's forces at the battle of Cravant on the 31st July.
English forces again defeat the dauphin's forces at the battle of Verneuil on the 17th August, where the constable, the Scottish Earl of Buchan is killed.
Arthur de Richemont, the position of constable (7 March).
John of Bedford defeats an army led by Arthur de Richemont at the battle of St-Jacques on the 6th March; this persuades John V the duke of Britanny to sign a treaty with Henry V.
Some relief for the French as they defeat an English army led by Warwick at the battle of Montargis in September.
The English lay siege to Orléans in February
An English convoy en route to Orléans beats off a French attack at the battle of the Herrings on the 12th February near Rouvray-Saint-Denis, but the Burgundian forces supporting the siege are withdrawn in April. One Jeanne d'Arc or Joan of Arc inspires French resistance and leads an army that relieves Orléans on the 8th May and the following month takes both Jargeau and Beaugency. At battle of Patay on the 18th June, the army of Joan of Arc and the Arthur de Richemont defeats the English and capture its commander John Talbot. The dauphin is finally crowned as Charles VII, king of France at Rheims on the 17th July. On the 16th August Joan tries to take Paris, but the attack fails and she is wounded in the attempt.
Joan of Arc is captured by Burgundians at Compiégne on the 23rd May
Henry VI is crowned king of France in Paris; whilst on the 30th May Joan of Arc is burned at the stake as a witch in Rouen.
In February the duke of Britanny and Charles VII come to terms. In August, the French win victory at the battle of Lagny-sur-Marne
John of Bedford the English regent in France, dies on the 14th September. A peace conference is held at Arras, where the English refuse to compromise and no agreement can be reached. But France and Burgundy reach agreement; on the 10th December Charles VII and Philip the Good of Burgundy sign the Treaty of Arras.
The Wars of French Unification
Charles VII having come to terms with both Britanny and Burgundy now concentrated on the business of expelling the English from France.
Without Burgundian support, the English hold on French territory is in doubt. Charles VII captures Paris on the 13th April but English forces continue to resist attacks fron their former ally Burgundy on Calais and towns in Normandy and Maine.
Charles VII enters Paris on the 12th November. John Talbot continues to counter French attacks in Normandy, and recovering other towns.
Charles VII issues the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges.
In February the Praguerie revolt led by Charles the duke of Bourbon, breaks out against Charles VII. The revolt is surpressed by July but in the meantime the English defence of Normandy continues and Harfleur is recaptured.
The French capture both Creil and Conflans and take Pontoise in October after a long siege
Charles VII launched a major campaign in Aquitaine, capturing a number of towns.
Under the Truce of Tours hostilities between France and England are halted. The English agree to surrender Maine and Henry VI is to marry to Margaret of Anjou.
The English break the Truce of Tours by attacking the fortress of Fougères in Britanny; the French counter by launching an invasion of Normandy in July, Rouen surrenders on the 10th November.
The French invasion of Normandy continues as they lay siege to Caen in March. At the battle of Formigny on the 15th April the English are comprehensively defeated; the English longbow is no match for the French gunpowder weapons. Caen falls to the French on the 24th June and Cherbourg follows on the 12th August; Normandy is now under the control of Charles VII.
The French now turn their attention to Aquitaine; a French force under the Comte de Dunois, rapidly captures a number of towns, Bordeaux itself surrenders on the 30 June.
John Talbot arrives in France, and takes control of Bordeaux.
Charles VII sends an army under Jean Bureau to lay siege to the key stronghold of Castillion in Aquitaine. The English relief force is comprehensively defeated at the battle of Castillion on the 17th July resulting in the death of John Talbot; Bordeaux surrenders to Charles VII on the 19th October.
With the death of John Talbot and the final fall of Bordeaux, the war effectively comes to an end. Henry VI is now clearly insane and the duke of York takes over the reins of power but is opposed by the Lancastrian party led by queen Margaret: The Wars of the Roses are about to begin and English attentions will be focused on domestic matters.
Despite being effectively expelled from France in 1453, it took a long time for the English to completly relinquish the idea of claiming the French crown. They retained Calais until 1558 and the various kings and queens of England continued to style themselves as monarchs of France right until the Treaty of Amiens in 1802. By which time of course, the French had dispensed with the monarchy and thus the whole question was somewhat academic.
Charles Arnold Baker The Companion to British History (Longcross Press, 1996)
- from which the leading quotation is drawn
Various chronologies of the 100 Years war at:-