The Hundred Years War Historical Notes
by Al Nofi and Jim Dunnigan, with the help of the College of Heralds and several players. Special thanks to the "Duc de Lux" (Karen Hillyer) and the Dame de Chantonnay (Barbara Byro). Copyright, 1997, GSE Erudite Software
The Hundred Years War was the last great medieval war. It was a war not just between kings, but lesser nobles were also able to pursue their own personal agendas. Future wars saw far less factionalism, at least on the scale found in medieval wars. The Hundred Years War was actually dozens of little wars and hundreds of battles and sieges that went on for over a century (1337-1453) until both sides were exhausted. While neither side won in any real sense, the end result was that while there were two kingdoms at the begining of the war, there were two nations at the end of it. In 1337, most of the English nobility spoke French, although most knew enough English to deal with their subjects. When Duke William of Normandy conquered England in 1066, he did so as a French noble . But since Duke William had conquered a kingdom, he had become king of England while remaining Duke of Normandy (and a subject of the French king.) Duke William also replaced nearly all the Anglo-Saxon aristocracy with French nobles. During the next two centuries, the French speaking English kings acquired (mainly through marriage) even more property in France. Finally, in the 13th century, a particularly able French king (Philip the Strong) took most of it away from the English king. But by the early 14th century, two French provinces, Gascony and Guyenne, were still ruled by the English king, and in 1337 the French king Philip VI demanded that these provinces be returned to French control. The English king, Edward III, did not want to violate the feudal bonds that united all of Europe. So Edward III challenged Philip VIs claim to the French throne, asserting that Edward III's claim (which did in fact exist) was superior. Thus the war began, with Philip VI claiming the right to appoint French nobles as rulers of Gascony and Guyenne, and Edward III claiming that he was the rightful king of France and England.
There were other issues involved. England had major financial interests in Flanders (the wool trade) and France supported the Scots in their wars against England. Moreover, England had better troops, a more efficient government and thousands of English soldiers were more than willing to campaign in France, and get rich in the process.
For the first few years of the war there wasn't much happening except raids into France and Flanders. Then, in the 1340s, England and France took opposite sides in the long-running civil war over who should be the duke of Britanny. In 1346 this resulted in a French invasion of Gascony and the shattering French defeat at Crecy. The English then rampaged through western France, until a truce was signed in 1354 (brought on by the devastation of the Plague , which hit France heavily in 1347-48.)
The truce didn't last. In 1355, the war began again. In 1356 another major battle was fought at Poitiers and the French king was captured. English raids continued until 1360, when another truce was signed.
Between 1368 and 1396, the French won back much of what the English had taken by adopting "pillage and raid" tactics. These operations were led by Bertrand du Guesclin, Constable of France (he's in the game). At one point, the French even attempted to invade England. Various other campaigns occured in Spain, Italy and the Rhineland. During all this, Edward III died in 1377, the year after his heir, the Black Prince passed away, In 1397, Charles VI of France and Richard II of England agreed to a 30 year truce. The English were still in France, the French still wanted the English out, and bands of brigands were rampaging all over the countryside. Civil war was brewing in England and France. Small French forces managed to land in Scotland, England and Wales to raid and pillage.
The English, with a smaller population, actually had a larger pool of higher quality troops available than the French. England also had a lock on longbowmen (yeomen), who were also excellent infantry and light cavalry. Thus the Enlgish had mobility and quality advantages. Meanwhile, the French had to contend with poor generalship. The game starts with the historically larger number of good English commanders. Later on, the French got some good commanders and they fortified most of central France (at horrendous expense) making it more difficult for the English to live off the land (and provide enough pillage to attract large numbers of those still superior English men-at-arms and yeomen.) The French wore the English down. Sort of the like Napoleon or the Germans going into Russia, only in slow motion.
In 1413, Henry V (the great grandson of Edward III) came to power in England. Henry allied himself with the Burgundian faction in the French civil war, defeated the French king Charles VI at Agincourt in 1415 and forced a treaty favorable to the English. Henry V was declared the heir to the French throne (Charles VI disinherited his own son, the Dauphin) and Henry V married Charles VI's daughter. The son of this marriage (Henry VI) would be the king of France and England. It looked as though England had finally won. But the disinherited Dauphin continued to resist. Henry V unexpectedly died in August 1422, followed in October by Charles VI, with the nine month old Henry VI not yet ready to receive the two crowns. Despite the efforts of Henry V's able brothers to hold things together, the Burgundians turned on their English allies, Joan of Arc came and went, and by 1453, the French, aided by this and the increasing professionalism of their army (they were making extensive use of artillery and by now had a more or less standing army) had driven the English from the Continent. This gave the English a few years to get ready for the War of the Roses, while the French took care of some internal problems and got ready for the first of many invasions of Italy.
An interesting footnote to all this was the presence of the popes in the French town of Avignon, instead of Rome, during most of this period. This was caused initially by a dispute between the Colonna and Orsini families in Rome at the end of 13th century. These two families had, for some time, had one or another of their members elected pope (most of the dozen or so cardinals that could vote on the new pope were Italian.) In 1297, to break a deadlock, a pious monk (related to neither family) was elected. This Pope Celestine was completely out of his depth and soon abdicated. In the shuffle that followed, the next pope outmaneuvered both the Colonna and Orsinis, then got into an argument with the French king over Church taxation in France. The French king called on the services of the vengeful Colonnas and the pope lost. The French king then arranged for a Frenchman to be elected pope. This new pope promptly appointed a bunch of French cardinals, but was unable to set up shop in Rome because of the the angry Colonnas and Orsinis and Romans in general. The French king saw his chance and offered the Pope shelter in France. For most of the 14th century, the popes were French and stayed in Avignon. Finally, towards the end of the century, things got out of hand with more than one man claiming to be pope. Finally, a Spaniard was elected and, much to the dismay of the French, moved the papacy back to Rome. Shortly thereafter, Italians regained their monopoly on the papacy. But then came the Protestants, and that's yet another story.