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A brief outline of the hundred years war

King Phillip IV of France had one daughter (Isabella, who married Edward II of England ) and three sons who, after his death, reigned in rapid succession from 1314 to 1328,none of which produced a heir. This meant that the only living descendant was Edward III of England , the French Kings grandson. However, in France woman were not allowed to inherit landed property so the French crown passed to Phillip de Valois. Edward argued the law might prevent a woman from succeeding to the throne but it in no way prevented the inheritance passing through a woman to the male heir.

 

Animosity between England and France had existed for many years and worsened when Phillip de Valois, instructed his Flemish subjects to cease trading with the English. England s sheep were recognized as the best in Europe and this trading ban threatened the wool industry the Flemish had built their economy on. So, when Edward III embarked upon the war in 1338 for the French throne, he was not just supported by the English nobles but also strongly supported by England s sheep farmers and Flemish merchants and artisans who had an investment in an English victory.

 

The first great battle of the war was fought at sea, the battle of Sluys, where 200 English ships commanded by Edward III defeated 400 French, Castillian and Gascon ships removing the threat of French invasion and opening the way for an English invasion of France.

 

In July 1346, the English landed in France and after a quick victory at Caan, launched a chevauchee (extended raid) of 8000 men. The French retaliated with an army of 20,000 men and the two forces met at Crecy .

 

Taking up a defensive position, the English, due mainly to their large number of archers with longbows, slaughtered the attacking French. 4000 French knights, including 1500 nobles were amongst the slain.

 

The contest of arms continued and in 1356 Prince Edward (the black prince) led a chevauchee of 6,000 8,000 men through western France . King Jean of France (who succeeded to the throne in 1350) moved to intercept him with a force of around 18,000 men, the result, the battle of Poitiers ! The battle finished with the total defeat of the French. The French losses including their King, constable and marshals, one archbishop, 13 counts, 5 viscounts, 21 barons and bannerettes and 2,000 men at arms.

 

The Black Prince made his reputation as a great military commander at Poitiers and subsequent battles in Spain but died early of disease in 1376.

 

Many of the English free companies that served in France and Spain stayed on and fought as mercenaries throughout Europe and particularly in Italy . These free companies were made up of archers, sergants and men at arms and often banded together to create small armies.

 

The war between England and France dragged on with dozens of English victories but they were to discover, much like the U.S. did 600 years later in Vietnam , that they could win the battles but found it difficult to control the country.

 

Eventually the French, inspired by Joan of Arc and trying new tactics, chiefly avoiding the English when they were waiting for them and using cannon, took back most of the English possessions. With civil war looming in England the English nobles were reluctant to commit troops to France and the war petered out in the 1450s.