Hundred Years War 1337–1453

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Hundred Years’ War (1337–1453)


a war between England and France. Its basic causes were France’s efforts to drive the English from Guyenne (given to the English in 1259 under the Treaty of Paris), England’s desire to end the French kings’ suzerainty over Guyenne and to reclaim Normandy, Anjou, and other lands lost under John Lackland, and the two countries’ struggle for domination over Flanders. The immediate cause was the English king Edward Ill’s claim to the French throne, as a maternal grandson of the French Capetian king Philip IV, after the death in 1328 of Charles IV, the last Capetian king, and the accession of Philip IV of the Valois dynasty.

In the autumn of 1337 the English invaded Picardy. At the outset of the war the English were victorious, thanks to their well-organized army of hired infantry (longbowmen) and mercenary knights. The backbone of the French Army was the feudal knightly militia, which was poorly adapted to infantry warfare. Edward III was supported by the Flemish towns and the separatist feudal lords and towns of southwestern France, all of whom benefited from trade with England. The English won the naval battle of Sluys (1340) and the battle of Crécy (1346) and captured Calais in 1347. In 1356, English troops under the command of the Black Prince routed the French knights at Poitiers and took King John II the Good captive. In the king’s absence France was ruled by the dauphin Charles. A plague epidemic in 1348–49 had carried off about a third of the population of France and decimated the French forces. Money was needed to carry on the war and to ransom John the Good. The defeat of the French troops, economic chaos, and increased taxes and levies angered the people and touched off the Paris Uprising of 1357–58 and the Jacquerie in 1358. The French government was forced to conclude the Treaty of Brétigny (1360) on terms unfavorable to France.

During the lull that followed, Charles V, who ruled from 1364 to 1380, reorganized the army, partly replacing the feudal militia with mercenaries and introducing artillery. The system of taxation was improved. When the French troops resumed military operations in 1369, a guerrilla movement in the regions ceded to England and the use of artillery contributed to their successes. By the late 1370’s only small areas remained in English hands.

During the reign of the insane Charles VI (1380–1422), France was weakened by the civil war between the Armagnacs and Bur-gundians. Pillaging by both feudal cliques and higher taxes provoked popular disturbances, such as those of the Maillotins, Tu-chins, and Cabochiens. Taking advantage of France’s weakness, the English resumed the war in 1415, defeating the French Army in October at Agincourt. After besieging and capturing Rouen (1418–19), the English, aided by their ally, the duke of Burgundy, conquered all of northern France and compelled the French government to sign the Treaty of Troyes (1420), by which the English king Henry V, the son-in-law of Charles VI, became regent of France and heir (along with his descendants) to the French throne. After the death of both Henry V and Charles VI in 1422, the English and the duke of Burgundy proclaimed the infant son of Henry V king of England and France (Henry VI) and made the duke of Bedford regent of France. The dauphin also proclaimed himself king as Charles VII. At this time a considerable part of French territory was held by the English and Burgundi-ans; only the lands south of the Loire were under the control of Charles VII.

The territories taken by the English were burdened with heavy taxes and tribute and ravaged by English troops. An incessant guerrilla war raged there. When the English and Burgundians, attempting to move further south, laid siege to Orléans in 1428, the entire French nation, led by Joan of Arc, rallied to fight the invaders. After Orléans was liberated in 1429, the French troops, headed by Joan of Arc, turned the tide of the war. The French Army won a series of victories, and in July 1429, Charles VII was crowned at Reims. The execution of Joan of Arc by the English in May 1431 did not alter the course of the war. In 1435 the duke of Burgundy concluded a treaty with Charles VII in Arras, recognizing Charles VII as the lawful ruler of France. The French king granted the duke land and towns along the Somme, although reserving for the monarchy the right to buy them back.

The English were driven out of Paris in 1436. Champagne was liberated in 1441, Maine and Normandy in 1450, and Guyenne in 1453. The Hundred Years’ War ended with the surrender of the English at Bordeaux on Oct. 19, 1453. The English lost all their continental possessions except Calais, which they retained until 1558.

The Hundred Years’ War cost the French people enormous losses, undermined the country’s economy, and to some extent retarded the centralization of the French state. In its final stage, however, the war contributed to the growth of national consciousness. In England the war temporarily strengthened the influence of the feudal aristocracy and knighthood, paving the way for a flare-up of feudal anarchy in the second half of the 15th century and slowing down centralization of the state.


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Contamine, P. Guerre, état et société à la fin du moyen age: Etudes sur les armées des rois de France, 1337–1494. Paris, 1972.
The Hundred Years’ War. (London-New York), 1971.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.