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Hundred Years War

England and France battled with each other on French soil for just over a century. The century of war between England and France marked the end of medieval Europe’s society. In 1328, the king of France, Charles IV, died. Charles had no son to follow him as king. King Edward III England was Charles' nephew. Edward claimed that he should be the new king of France. The war that Edward III launched for that throne continued on and off from 1337 to 1453. It became known as the Hundred Years’ War. Victory passed back and forth between the two countries. Finally, between 1421 and 1453, the French rallied and drove the English out of France entirely, except for the port city of Calais. The Hundred Years’ War brought a change in the style of warfare in Europe. At this time some combatants were still operating under medieval ideals of chivalry. They looked with contempt on the common foot soldiers and archers who fought alongside them. This contempt would change as the longbow changed warfare. The English introduced the longbow and demonstrated its power in three significant battles. 

The longbow was cheap, easy to carry, and deadly. It was powerful enough to penetrate armor, thus reducing the impact of mounted cavalry. Bowmen could fire so fast that the longbow has been called the “machine gun of the Middle Ages.” The longbow was as tall as a man, or taller. A sixfoot-tall man might have a bow up to six and a half feet tall. English archers usually carried a case with extra bowstrings and a sheaf of 24 arrows. The arrows were about 27 inches long and balanced in flight by feathers. The arrows were absolutely fatal when shot within 100 yards. The average archer could fire 12 to 15 arrows per minute and hit a man at 200 yards away.

Joan of Arc

In 1420, the French and English signed a treaty stating that Henry V would inherit the French crown upon the death of the French king Charles VI. Then, in 1429, a teenage French peasant girl named Joan of Arc felt moved by God to rescue France from its English conquerors. When Joan was just 13 she began to have visions and hear what she believed were voices of the saints. They urged her to drive the English from France and give the French crown to France’s true king, Charles VII, son of Charles VI. On May 7, 1429, Joan led the French army into battle at a fort city near Orléans. The fort blocked the road to Orléans. It was a hard-fought battle for both sides. The French finally retreated in despair. Suddenly, Joan and a few soldiers charged back toward the fort. The entire French army stormed after her. The siege of Orléans was broken. Joan of Arc guided the French onto the path of victory. After that victory, Joan persuaded Charles to go with her to Reims. There he was crowned king on July 17, 1429. In 1430, the Burgundians, England’s allies, captured Joan in battle. They turned her over to the English. The English, in turn, handed her over to Church authorities to stand trial. Although the French king Charles VII owed his crown to Joan, he did nothing to rescue her. Condemned as a witch and a heretic because of her claim to hear voices, Joan was burned at the stake on May 30, 1431.

The Impact of the Hundred Years’ War

The long, exhausting war finally ended in 1453. Each side experienced major changes.

• A feeling of nationalism emerged in England and France. Now people thought of the king as a national leader, fighting for the glory of the country, not simply a feudal lord.

• The power and prestige of the French monarch increased.

• The English suffered a period of internal turmoil known as the War of the Roses, in which two noble houses fought for the throne.

Some historians consider the end of the Hundred Years’ War in 1453 as the end of the Middle Ages. The twin pillars of the medieval world, religious devotion and the code of chivalry, both crumbled. The Age of Faith died a slow death. This death was caused by the Great Schism, the scandalous display of wealth by the Church, and the discrediting of the Church during the bubonic plague. The Age of Chivalry died on the battlefields of Crécy, Poitiers, and Agincourt.

Looking Back

1. How did the war start?

2. What helped the English to win in the battles of the war?

3. Who was Joan of Arc? How did she help France?

4. How did the Hundred Years' War end?