Hundred Years War

Despite its name, the Hundred Years’ War actually went on for over 100 years. It was fought from 1337 to 1453 between England, led by the House of Plantagenet, and France, led by the House of Valois. The fight was over who would rule France.

Hundred Years' War. Clockwise, from top left: La Rochelle, Agincourt, Patay, Orleans.

What started it 

In 1328, Charles IV of France died without a male heir or brothers. Since law forbade women from inheriting the throne, Isabella of France, mother of Edward III of England, moved to have the throne passed to her son. However, Frenchmen crowned Philip, Count of Valois, as king instead.

The English didn’t pursue their claim at this point. However, Philip and Edward would later come into a dispute. Philip later confiscated Edward’s lands in France. Enraged, Edward decided to revive his claim to the French throne.


Why it took so long

The war was not actually one long struggle, but three conflicts marked by periods of peace. These were the Edwardian War (1337–1360), the Caroline War (1369–1389), and the Lancastrian War (1415–1453).

Edwardian War

The Edwardian War was fought between Edward III and Philip, the Caroline War between Edward of Woodstock (Edward III’s son) and Charles V (Philip’s grandson), while the Lancastrian War was fought between King Henry V (Edward III’s great-grandson) and Charles VI (Philip’s great-grandson).

The Edwardian war actually went well for Edward III who captured the French king and held him for ransom. The truce of Bordeaux signed in 1357 ended that war. In 1369 trouble flared up again after Edward of Woodstock ignored Charles V’s summons to Paris to answer why he raised taxes in Aquitaine. Charles V declared war and won back a lot of territory lost in the Edwardian War. It was his son, Charles VI who made peace with Richard II (son of Edward of Woodstock), ending the Caroline War.

The final winner

The last phase of the war was decisive. War started again in 1415 when Henry V made his claim on the French throne. The war would go well for English until 1420, but from there France slowly gained ground and won. The final battle in the war was the Battle of Castillon in 1453, won by the French.

Interesting facts about the Hundred Years’ War

  • The French and English would remain technically still at war until 1475 when the Treaty of Picquigny was signed.
  • Between 1453 and 1475 both sides still actually wanted to fight but could not afford to be at war.
  • Other local conflicts erupted as a result of the Hundred Years’ War. These were the War of Breton Succession (1341–1365), the Castilian Civil War (1366–1369), the War of the Two Peters (1356–1369) in Aragon, and the Portugal crisis (1383–850).
  • Over the course of the war the English had the Welsh, the Burgundians, and the Portuguese as allies, while the French had the Scots, the Genoese, and the Bohemians.
  • English longbowmen would make English forces hard to defeat. During the Battle of Agincourt during the Lancastrian War, a smaller force of archers defeated a bigger force of French knights.
  • One of the most intriguing characters to come out of this era was St. Joan of Arc, who defeated English forces besieging Orleans in 1429.
  • By the end of the Hundred Years’ War, the English only had the city of Calais left in mainland Europe.
  • France established the first professional army in Europe after the war, realizing they are more reliable than peasants and mercenaries.

Why did they keep fighting over the French throne?

France was the biggest and most powerful kingdom in the Europe at the time.

Why weren’t women allowed to inherit the throne?

Women were barred from inheriting the throne under the Salic Law, the ancient Frankish civil code law complied in 500 CE.

Why did the French kings have authority over English kings?

At the time the English crown included titles and lands in France, which made English rulers vassals of the French king.

Do the English still claim the French throne?

The English would continue to make this claim up to 1801.

What eventually happened to the Plantagenet and Valois families?

The Plantagenet line would end with the death of Richard III in 1485. While the direct Valois line ended in 1498 with Charles VIII. However, it would continue in the Valois-Angoulême line.