Fought from 1337 to 1453, the historical event known as the Hundred Years War was a series of separate, consequential conflicts that occurred between the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of France, accompanied by their various allies. The motivations for the series of battles was to gain control of the French throne, which had become vacant in the mid 1300s as a result of the extinction of the senior Capetian line of French kings.
Though just a historical footnote in the distant past at this point in time, the Hundred Years War has been earmarked as a turning point for both Great Britain (England specifically) and France in terms of those respective nations growing and breeding a feeling of nationhood and national pride, a pride that is still very much present and tangible in today’s society, along with a muted but continued cultural grudge between the two countries. Regarded as the last great war of the medieval age, this essay aims to provide a brief summation and reasoning for way exactly the Hundred Years War was, and still is, so important.
Upon the death of French monarch Charles IV in February of 1328, both England and France put forward claims over possessing the next rightful heir to the French kingdom. Having left no direct successor, the English put forward half brother Edward III, but this claim was rejected by the French, instead preferring and installing cousin Philip VI on the throne. The tense relationship that this decision fostered eventually began what would be more than a century of individual but connected conflict, with the naval battles of Sluys in 1340 in which the English won control of the Channel sea, proving to be the first official battle of the Hundred Years War. This reaffirmed the notion that the English were superior in terms of their navy fleet and sea-dominance, something that remained true for the entirety of the war.
The next major battle occurred at Crecy in 1346, a battle in which the stark differences between the French and English armies became clear to see. The English were once again victorious in 1347, winning a year long siege of the city of Calais, but from 1348 to 1354 the English took a gargantuan hit with the rampant sweep of the Black Plague throughout the country. The disease decimated a massive percentage of the population, and this saw a decrease in involvement in the Hundred Years War during these years. In 1356, however, the French suffered another crushing defeat with the loss of the city of Poitiers along with the capturing of their proclaimed king, John II. Ultimately, the French and the English exchanged blows and victories for the entirety of the war period, and though in the end the Hundred Years War produced no definitive conclusion or ‘case closed’ kind of result for either country, what it can be said as being responsible for is defining the character of each country for the next five hundred years and beyond.
What happened over the course of the war torn century was a cultural and official increase in opinion and power of the respective monarchies, but for slightly different reasons. From an English perspective, the holdings and territories that had been hard fought and won across the Channel started to become too much of a burden to effectively rule and manage. England had the added benefit of experiencing a much stronger development in parliament over this time, and multiple sensible decisions were made by government and the monarchy that released certain French holdings in order to better look after and manage problems closer to home. This put the powers that be in good standing with the public of England.
In an opposite nature, the French public began to turn to their chosen monarchy because they became dissatisfied with the efforts and decisions of their own feudal system. After the English had given up many of their won French holdings, the French monarchy experienced some of its very best years as a global power.
In conclusion, it is clear to see that the Hundred Years War, by the end of the conflicts, did very little in terms of out and out status victories for its participating countries, but it remains an important milestone in history thanks to the lasting attitudes that it instilled in its respective populations. From war, to famine, to the the absolute ravaging effect of the Black Death not only in England but in mainland Europe too, the Hundred Years War was part of a time period that culminated in series of events that saw people losing some of their steadfast faith in the church, which lead to paving the way for a subsequent period of even more important reformation that was to follow.