The Hundred Years War The Hundred Years War The definition of the Golden Rule is that those with the gold make the rules. In other words, those with the gold have the power as well as those with the power have the gold. History books will discuss the general reasons for war such as freedom from adversity or freedom from religion. But the real issue for any war is the thirst for power and control; and the means to finance them are the economic issues. Nations will endure years of fighting for power and control. France and England fought each other for more than a hundred years to have control of the Channel trade routes. 1 This century of warring was known as The Hundred Years’ War and is the longest war in record history.
It began in 1337 when King Edward III invaded Normandy and ended in 1453 when France won the Battle of Bordeaux. However, it was not a hundred years of constant battle; there were periods of truces in between. 2 One cause for the Hundred Years’ War was the claim to the French throne. The conflict began when the direct line of succession died without a male heir and the nobles decided to pass the crown to a cousin, Philip of Valois. But this left two other male cousins equally deserving of the crown; Charles, King of Navarre and Edward III, King of England.
3 Edward III claimed that he himself was deserving of the throne because his mother was the sister of the late French king, while Philip VI was only a cousin. But according to French law, no women could inherit the throne, nor could the crown be inherited through a woman. 4 Philip of Valois chances of becoming King of France had been remote and he had not been brought up as the future lieutenant of God on Earth. Philip VI spent much of his resources on entertainment and finery with gay abandon. 5 This caused conflict with the king’s subjects.
Since the king was considered to be sacred and inviolable, neither cousin would challenge Philip VI. However, they would exploit the situation and King Edward III lost no time and invaded Normandy with an army of 10,000 men. 6 This leads to another cause for The Hundred Years’ War. The land along the Channel and Atlantic coasts was England’s first line of defense against an invasion. England held claim to this territory from the twelth century through the marriage of King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine.
King Edward III was determined to gain control of the French coastline while providing himself with a bridgehead for future expeditions into France. 7 But the major cause of The Hundred Years’ War was the economic interest – the revenues to be gotten from this rich territory. Wine was Gasgony’s largest export product and major source of income to the vassal. Wool was England’s largest export product and the source of its wealth. English pastures produced fleeces that were the envy of Europe which Flanders depended on for its wool and linen market.
8 English sheep growers sold their long fine wool to weavers in Flanders, across the English Channel. Flemish weavers as well as English sheep growers depended on this trade for their business. In 1336, Philip VI arrested all the English merchants in Flanders and took away all the privileges of the Flemish towns and the craft guilds. Resulting in the Flemings revolting against the French control and making an alliance with England. 9 Consequently, the flourishing market of the industrial cities of Ghent, Bruges, Antwerp and Ypres were naturally coveted by the Kings of France and England.
Moreover, the Bordeaux harbor was within the borders of English Gascony and was the center of the shipping and trading industry. Commodities such as grains, dairy products, dyes and salt would be shipped into Bordeaux via the Dordogne and Garonne Rivers and the merchants were charged a customs fee for these products. Also, Bordeaux would receive duties on wine, whether shipped-in or grown on Gascon soil. Consequently, the profits from the tolls and customs made Bordeaux the economic capital of Gascony. Furthermore, control of neighboring areas such as Guyenne and Calais were economically vital.
Their union with Bordeaux would ensure England with a monopoly of the shipping and trading industry from Spain, Portugal and Brittany. 10 France was the richest country in Europe and its army was much larger than England’s. In addition, France’s army consisted of hired mercenaries. Therefore, France should have quickly defeated England. But France’s army consisted of heavily armored knights who were less mobile against the agile English swordsmen.
The French military leaders soon realized the archer was the only effective when fighting a pitched battle. Consequently, France implemented a strategic plan which was to avoid active warfare and to utilize the technique of diplomacy and concessions. England could win battles, but France could avoid them. Pitched battles were accepted only when there was no alternative. Otherwise, France would raid unprotected towns and villages, take what they could, then burn them to the ground.
11 Meanwhile, England could depend on the loyalty of her subjects. The soldiers were happy to receive a salary and eager to fight on French soil. They could profit from the plundering while their homes didn’t suffer and damage. Moreover, England had superior military tactics. They had perfected the fighting technique of the longbow drawn by free swordsmen.
Even though the archers were below the knight on the social ladder, they were not ashamed to fight side by side. Subsequently, the archer could destroy the effectiveness of a French calvary charge. Also, King Edward III was very popular with his subjects. He would fight beside his troops as well as to the folks at home. As well, his sixteen year old son, the Black Prince, was a superb military leader. 12 He successfully continued to lead the English armies into battle against France.
As a result, England won most of the initial battles and kept the war in France. 13 One of the great English victories was the battle at Crecy. The English were outnumbered four to one by the French, led by Philip VI. The English occupied the side of a small hill, while the heavy number of French men-at-arms and hired Genoese crossbowmen were at the foot of the hill on a plain. The English were ready with their new longbows at hand.
The Genoese crossbowmen attacked the English, but were too tired due to the long day’s march and because of an earlier rainstorm, their crossbow strings were loose. The English’s longbow proved to be too much for the Genoese, so they dropped the crossbows and began to run. King Philip was so outraged at the Genoese actions, he had his men-at-arms kill many of them. At one point during this battle, the French came across a group of English knights led by the Black Prince, the son of Edward III, dismounted from their horses and not prepared for battle. As Edward III heard of his son’s misfortune, he ordered no aid be sent to him and his men.
This was to be his day. Slowly, pieces of t …