The End of Europe's Middle Ages
The Hundred Years' War was part of a rivalry between England and France that dated from the Norman conquest of England. It was actually several lengthy campaigns interrupted by periods of peace and truve. All the fighting took place on French soil, placing a heavy burden on the French population. Even when a truce was in effect, mercenary bands pillaged the countryside.
The outbreak of the Hundred Years' War can be attributed to several factors. One source of friction between the French and English was the Duchy of Gascony, where both nations claimed control. Gascony enjoyed a profitable trade relationship with England, doing a brisk business in Bordeaux wine and fine English cloth. The conflicting claims led to an inconclusive war between 1294 and 1303 and again led to conflicts in the Hundred Years' War.
A second source of friction also had a commercial foundation. Despite a long-standing claim by French monarchy to supreme authority over the Flemish, Flanders had established a strong trading alliance with the English in the wool trade. Since Flanders was the chief market for English wool and export taxes on wool comprised a large part of the English royal revenues, the English king took a great interest in Flemish affairs and resented French interference.
Another incentive for war developed when, in 1328, King Edward III (1327-1377) of England became a potential heir to the French throne with the death of Charles IV the Fair of France, the last Capetian. The French elected Charles IV's cousin, Philip VI of Valois (1328-1350), to the throne and, initially, Edward acknowledged Philip VI of Valois (1328-1350) as the French king. But when Philip VI confiscated Gascony in 1337, Edward responded by declaring war on France and assumed the title of King of France.
In the first phase of the war, the English achieved great success through a brilliant application of the new weapons and tactics that they had gained in recent wars with the Scots and the Welsh. Foremost among the new weaponry was the longbow, which debuted on the Continent with devastating efficiency at the Battle of Crécy in 1346 when English archers massacred successive waves of French troops as they attacked. A series of truces last until 1355.
The year 1355 saw two major invasions of French territory. In the following year, King John the Good of France (1350-1364) caught an English army, led by Edward, the Black Prince (1330-76), near Poitiers. The battle was a repeat of Crécy and the French loss was compouneded when the French king, John II the Good was captured by English forces.
The End of Europe's Middle Ages / Applied History Research Group / University of Calgary
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