The Effects of the Hundred Years Warby Rit Nosotro
Analyze how the Hundred Years War effected the establishment of strong central monarchies in France and England.
The Hundred Years War began in 1337 and lasted until 1453. The fighting, however, was not continual. Instead it was a cycle of battles, peace treaties, and breaches of these peace treaties. At the start of the war in 1337, though serfdom was still in practice, England had already been largely successful in establishing a capable, central monarchy. The monarch, however, was kept in check by the English parliament that had been born during the thirteenth century. It was also limited by its territories in France because the size of the kingdom made it difficult to maintain. France, on the contrary, was somewhat in disarray. States within the country proved divisive because people depended more upon their local ruler than the king. Feudalism was still a strong force and caused the people's allegiance to reside with their particular lord.1 In addition, the country's fighting techniques were outdated. Because of the development of new weapons, the feudal traditions of knights and chivalry became largely ineffective in war, and this greatly contributed to the initial defeats of the French. But the Hundred Years War brought a change to these things. In England, the Hundred Years War solidified the central monarchy that was already in place and brought about a further decline in feudalistic practices, but it also saw a rise in the importance and power of parliament. France, on the other hand, greatly reduced feudalism within the country and returned more power to the monarch. The same war brought about two different results.
The actual cause that precipitated the outbreak of the Hundred Years War was a dispute between France and England over the heir of the French kingdom. After the death of France's Charles IV, both France and England claimed the crown because Charles had left no direct successor. England's Edward III declared himself the rightful ruler because he was Charles IV mother's son.2 But the French refused to accept an English King and in 1228 they placed Philip VI, a cousin of Charles IV, on the throne. Relations between the two countries eventually degenerated into war.
The naval battle of Sluys in 1340 for control of the English Channel proved the first of many battles that would ensue in the long war. England emerged victorious in this instance and succeeded in establishing a sea-dominance that lasted throughout the following years. The next major battle occurred in 1346 at Crecy. In this battle, the differences between the English army and French army became clearly visible. The English army consisted of trained and professional mercenaries, swift on foot and deadly with the powerful, newly-developed longbow. The feudal armies of France greatly contrasted those of England. France proved no match for England, even though the English troops were outnumbered three to one;3 the English delivered a crushing blow to the French in this battle. The French's traditional cavalry and feudal knights proved enormously inadequate, and the French suffered a stunning defeat at the hands of the English. This was the first of a series of battles in which the English, though outnumbered, inflicted defeat upon the French because of the French's out-dated army. In 1347, England won the city of Calais, "the door into France," after a year-long siege.4 From 1348 to 1354 a pause in hostilities commenced because of the outbreak of the Black Plague in England, a disease which decimated a huge portion of the population. In 1356, the French incurred yet another terrible defeat, the loss of the city of Poitiers. And this was worsened by the capture of their king, King John II. The defeat was again attributed to the English longbow.5 The difference between the countries' armies were one of the greatest contrasts between France and England and also proved a forceful contributing factor in France's drive away from feudalism.
It was at this point that John II's son, Charles, took over the French throne. But in 1358, in the midst of the war, France experienced an internal, peasant revolt called the "Jacquerie." The peasants had become fed up with the war. Their farms had been ravaged by the English armies and famine was rampant. But their dissatisfaction rested with the French nobility as well. The lords were not protecting them as feudalism was supposed to insure, and in addition, taxes had been raised in order to provide the ransom for the captive King John II. Business leaders had grown dissatisfied as well and desired some sort of "representational government." This culminated in the revolt of the peasants and a simultaneous revolt of the Estates General, a group similar to England's parliament but holding little or no real power. Under the leadership of Etienne Marcel the Estates General met and created several new laws, entitled the Great Ordinance, without the permission or approval of the king. The Great Ordinance redirected authority of many areas of power to the Estates General. But this revolution in 1358 lasted only two weeks, being quickly squashed, without regard to the quantity of blood spilled, by the nobility. This incident proved key in the establishment of a strong monarchy in France and also a key turning point in the Hundred Year War because the violence and confusion caused the commoners to abandon the idea of constitutional government. With the kingship restored to Charles V of France, France's fortunes changed in the war. Charles V proved an extremely capable monarch, and by organizing and training a professional army instead of using the knights of the feudal system, he succeeded in pushing the English almost completely out of France. They adapted to guerilla tactics, a method they found particularly successful against the English army.6 By Charles' death in 1380, only the cities of Calais and Bordeaux were still in English hands.
In 1381, England experienced a very similar situation within their country. Like the French, the English peasants were tired of the taxes imposed on them because of the war and were frustrated by the aristocracy restricting their opportunities. The peasants began a revolt led by Wat Tyler. They demanded "the abolition of serfdom," the lowering of several taxes, and other specific rights. Unlike the French revolt, they also demanded reforms be wrought in the Catholic Church, reforms which included "the confiscation of all Church wealth and lands."7 Many of these ideas were influenced by a traveling preacher name John Ball who preached the equality of noble and peasant, king and servant. But when Wat Tyler, the leader, was killed, the revolt was disbanded and the people's demands ignored.
Between these two individual uprisings in 1358 and 1381, however, several other important events transpired. One advantage for the French was the death of England's king Edward III in 1377. His successor, Richard III focused little attention on the affairs in France during his reign, but instead attempted to weaken the authority of the English aristocracy. In response to this, in 1399 Parliament dethroned Richard and appointed Henry IV in his place. This act clearly demonstrated the growing influence of parliament in the country's affairs. As one author points out, "This incident demonstrates the power and limitations of Parliament during the late Middle Ages. Even though the Houses merely confirmed the wishes of the magnates, these great lords appreciated the importance of receiving parliamentary approval for their actions."8 Yet, because Henry the IV was preoccupied with certain situations in England, France was able to regain more territory in their own country. It was also near this time, by 1384, that Wycliffe completed his translation of the Latin Vulgate scriptures into English. This helped prepare the way for the reformation and also allowed for the printing of the Bible in English when the press was invented by Gutenberg just two years after the end of the Hundred Year War.
But France experienced trouble once again upon the death of their king, Charles V. His son who succeeded him, Charles VI (also called Charles VI the mad), was mentally ill. Tensions within the country between different houses allowed England's King Henry V to begin regaining lost ground. The defeat of the French at Agincourt in 1415 solidified his position. The French loss at Agincourt was due to similar tactics that brought about their destruction by the English in the battles of Crecy and Poitiers. The improvements that the French army had made during the reign of Charles V and thus, the subsequent similarities that had arisen between the two countries' armies, disappeared. Though the English were far outnumbered, they wrought a startling defeat over the French. Their defeat caused Charles VI to sign the Treaty of Troyes with the English in 1420. It ensured that upon his death, the rule of France would be handed over to Henry V. The treaty was complicated, however, when both Charles VI and Henry V died two years later. The kingship of both countries was given to Henry V's infant son. But Charles VI's son, who would have been the heir to France, was dissatisfied and led a resistance movement against England. His position looked hopeless until the astonishing happened. Aided by the French maiden Joan of Arc, France gained an amazing victory over the English at Orleans. Joan inspired the French and stirred in them a feeling of nationalism. This rise in nationalism also contributed to the strengthening of the central monarchy in France. In 1429, Charles VI's son was crowned Charles VII. He proceeded to consolidate the country and his power. In July of 1453 the last battle of the Hundred Years War took place at Castillon, the same year that Constantinople finally fell to the Ottomans and the Byzantine Empire ended. England no longer held sway of any French territory except in the port town of Calais.
The war brought about dissimilar results for the French and the English. While both countries saw an increased effectiveness in their monarchial rule, it was due to different reasons. England's holdings in France were too great of a burden to carry and still effectively rule. With its lands in France taken, the kingdom was much more manageable. Unlike France, over the course of the war England also experienced a strengthening of the parliament. France, on the other hand, witnessed an increase in monarchial authority due to the people's recognition and complaint of the feudal system's shortcomings, including its limitations in fighting and in protection of the serfs. The eventual expulsion of the English and the consolidation of the kingdom made France one of the greatest countries during this time period. But the Hundred Years War was at least partially responsible for more than just the decrease of feudalism and increase of centralized monarchy. The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries proved extremely difficult for the peoples of France and England. The Black Plague, war, famine, and death had ravaged the countries. People began searching for an explanation, and the current church could offer none. The Hundred Years War was a part of a series of events that shifted people's thinking and paved the way for the period of Reformation that would follow.
1Applied History Research Group, New Monarchies: France,http://www.ucalgary.ca/applied_history/tutor/endmiddle/monarchies3.html, February 18, 2005
8Applied History Research Group, New Monarchies: England, http://www.ucalgary.ca/applied_history/tutor/endmiddle/monarchies2.html, February 18, 2005
A Reformation Time Line, http://www.williamtyndale.com/0reformationtimeline.htm, February 18, 2005
Dr. E.L. Skip Knox, The Hundred Years' War, http://history.boisestate.edu/hy309/100YW/index.html, February 18, 2005
PageWise.,Inc, Information On The Hundred Years War, http://oh.essortment.com/informationont_rqct.htm,
February 18, 2005
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