Thursday, 14 April 2016

The end of the Hundred Years War, 1453

The conflict between England and France that is generally called the Hundred Years War finally came to an end on 17th July 1453 when France defeated England at the Battle of Castillon.

There are two main misconceptions about the war, one of which is that it lasted for a hundred years. If it is reckoned to have begun when King Edward III laid claim to the throne of France in 1337, then the actual length was 116 years.

The other problem is that the term ‘Hundred Years War’ was an invention of later historians – it was not the case that Edward III declared war on France in 1337 and Henry VI signed a peace treaty in 1453. What actually happened was that invasions were made and battles were fought at various times, but there were also long periods during which there were no hostilities at all.

The War was notable for the battles of Crecy (1346) and Agincourt (1415) and the resistance offered by Joan of Arc (burned at the stake in 1431). Another important development was that of the English longbow which proved to be the dominant weapon of the time, especially during the early battles.

However, by the end of the war all the gains made by England had been lost, with Calais left as England’s sole possession in mainland France.

Unfortunately for England, the end of hostilities did not usher in a period of prolonged peace. England was already involved in a series of internal dynastic conflicts that were also given a later title, namely ‘The Wars of the Roses’.  Indeed, the struggle between Henry VI and his distant cousin Edward, who was to rule as Edward IV, was about to enter a violent phase.

Just to confuse matters even further, in 1475 Edward IV revived the old claim to France and launched another invasion, only withdrawing when he was bought off by the French king. So did the Hundred Years War really last even longer than 116 years?

© John Welford