The Hundred Years’ War is a confusing era for many modern historians. Ultimately, the war involved four key battles, two treaties, and two monarchs. Edward III started the war, and Henry V would continue it fifty years later.
Edward III began the Hundred Years’ War for several reasons. First of all, the French king tried to subordinate Edward over the few lands he held in France. Secondly, the French had plans for Flanders which traded heavily with England so this jeopardized English trade routes. Thirdly, Edward was angry about all the piracy which was upsetting the wool trade on the English Channel. Lastly, Edward had claims to the French throne through his mother’s side, and he wanted to be king of France.
The first great battle was the Battle of Sluys in 1340. It was a naval battle fought in the English Channel. The ships were lashed together to create floating platforms which the men could then fight on. The English soundly defeated the French. Approximately 16,000 Frenchmen died and 190 French ships were captured by the English. The importance of the Battle of Sluys lies in the fact that because the English proved they ruled the seas all future battles were fought on French soil.
Next came the Battle of Crecy in 1346. Edward III developed a battle formation which would crush the French many times during the course of the war. Using the new secret weapon, the Welsh longbow, Edward established his archers at the top of a hill. Dismounted knights guarded the archers in front and kept their horses at the back of the line. Every time the French soldiers rushed forward, thousands were killed by the deadly rain of arrows. Eventually the English knights remounted and charged down into the confusion. The longbow won the day for the English.
The Battle of Poitiers in 1356 kept the same new battle tactics as Crecy. This time, the Black Prince led the English to victory. He captured the French king and sent him to England to be held for ransom. This battle ended the first phase of the Hundred Years’ War.
The Treaty of Bretigny in 1360 brought a relative peace for fifty years. Edward III agreed to drop his claims to the French throne in exchange for receiving the sovereignty of Aquitaine, Gascony, and Calais. France paid 700,000 pounds to the English for the safe return of their king who had been captured at Poitiers.
Henry V continued the Hundred Years’ War with the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, over fifty years after the Treaty of Bretigny. He also used Edward’s tactics and won through the use of the longbow. The French soldiers trapped themselves between two hills and were slaughtered by the English archers. The significance of Agincourt involved the first use of cannons. From that day forward, walled cities were no longer impregnable.
The Treaty of Troyes in 1420 brought an end to Henry V’s campaign. He was recognized as the heir to the French throne, and he married Catherine, the king’s daughter. The Treaty of Troyes was the last victory for the English.
By 1453, the French had regained all lands lost during the Hundred Years’ War, and the war was over. Ultimately the English lost because Henry V died young and left an infant on the throne of England. The nobles fought over royal control which eventually erupted in the Wars of the Roses. A divided England could not resist the patriotism which Joan of Arc would inspire in the French people. The English won all the battles, but lost the war due to their own inner turmoil on the home front.
– Hannah S. Bowers