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The Hundred Years' War - 1337 to 1453


English Monarchs from the Houses of Lancaster and York





Long serving English King Edward III (1312 - 1327 - 1377 (65)) invaded France in 1337 to pursue his claim to the French throne, and was bankrolled by huge amounts of money from Florentine bankers, many of whom ended up being bankrupted as a result of later royal defaults. 





French was not replaced by English as the official language of the English law courts until 1362, after the 1348 black death and during the 50 year reign of King Edward III (1327 - 1377).  Edward's 1337 war (which ended up lasting over 100 years) was ironically (and unsuccessfully) aimed at making his good self the King of France, but it did successfully bankrupt the first generation of international Florentine bankers, as well as producing large bands of mercenaries who pillaged France then moved on to the northern Italian republics.



Tomb of the Black Prince, Canterbury Cathedral


Tomb of the Black Prince in Canterbury Cathedral.  The effigy, which dates to shortly after the Prince's death in 1376, is made from latten, an alloy of copper and zinc.  By the 1370s the adjacent door Shrine of Saint Thomas had been there for 150 years and this area would have been one of the most people trafficked in England.


The  first important battle, the battle of Crecy, in which Edward's forces (one third of whom were commanded by his eldest son the 16 year old Black Prince 1330 - 1376 (46)) beat those of Philip VI, took place in 1346.  It was the first time that the longbow had been used as a major weapon against the French cavalry, and this technology was so successful that battle strategies changed for ever. 


Map of the 100 Years' War


Shortly afterwards things quietened down for a bit when the Black Death of 1348 knocked off over half the population of Europe.  Edward returned to England where, amongst other things, he invented the Order of the Garter in 1350 and made the Roman Officer / Martyr Saint George the Patron Saint of England in place Saint Edward ("the Confessor") England's penultimate Saxon King and only Sainted one.  Middle Eastern Dragon Killer wins out over Anglo Saxon Confessor screamed the headlines ?


By 1356 Edward and his son were at it (fighting) again, this time winning the battle of Poitiers.  By Spring 1360 the English were besieging Paris and burning and laying waste to everything around.  Then, on April 13 ("Black Monday") the weather intervened.  Thunder, lightening, hail and freezing rain bucketed uncontrollably out of the sky.   Knights were electrocuted as lightening sought out their armour.  The entire transport system bogged to a halt.  Edward decided that God was telling him to go home, and the Treaty of Brétigny (which is near Chartres) was negotiated.



Mercenaries and a Condottiere


Edward's army was the first large mercenary (i.e. paid or even professional) army of medieval Europe.  Its members were paid by the day and in the loot they could plunder.  The army was ordered to "work" all the time for their money, not just at the set piece battles between soldiers that had formed the stuff of medieval history to date.  "Working" meant not just plunder and looting of everyone and everything in sight, but also a scorched earth policy of destroying, burning and laying waste - not to mention rape and murder.  It has been estimated that in just two months in 1355, the Black Prince managed to devastate 18,000 square miles of south west France.           


So Edward had in effect set up dozens of groups of armed thugs and given them free rein to create wealth for themselves in an atmosphere akin to a grizzly and lawless gold rush.  Small wonder then that when the King sailed back to England in 1360 with an enlarged Aquitaine under his belt, lots of his mercenaries decided that they would hang around and keep plundering France rather than returning to their dank English smallholdings. 


Like a gold rush, the news spread, and men from all over Europe came to join in.  Groups coalesced into larger groups or companies, and instituted rules for electing leaders and dividing spoils.  The so called Great Company which occupied Pont-Saint-Esprit at the end of 1360 was estimated at 12,000 men - bigger than any of the armies fielded by Kings in the entire 100 Years' War. 


One of these companies was commanded by Sir John Hawkwood (1320 - 1394 (74)).  Giovanni Acuto (the Italians could not pronounce (H)awkwood) plundered his way south east through northern Italy, and ended up by spending the years 1377 - 1394 as Florence's top soldier (or Condottiere).  His memorial, a huge equestrian portrait by Uccello, is still to be seen on the north wall inside the Florence Duomo.



Back with the 100 years' War, ten years after the Treaty of Brétigny the two countries were at it again, and this time the French were decisive winners with the English fleet beaten at La Rochelle (1372) and the French recovering Aquitaine.  Eleanor's Duchy, centrepiece of Plantagenet Europe,  was never again to have an English King.


By 1413, at a time when the good citizens of Florence were getting on with the Renaissance, a new English King, Henry V, was again claiming the French throne.  He (and the deadly English longbow men) won the Battle of Agincourt against huge numerical odds in 1415, then went on recapture Normandy with the help of an alliance with Burgundy, and was declared Regent of France.  


But Henry and the French King Charles VI both died in 1422, and the two countries again formed up to fight.  By 1429 Joan of Arc was raising the Siege of Orleans, followed by a messy phase in which Charles VII and Henry VI were both crowned kings of France in 1429 and 1430 respectively. 


But the English were definitely running out of puff, and suffered a series of defeats and the defection of Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy to the French King (a move which had the unintended consequence of destroying Burgundy as an independent power).  At the end of "the war" in 1453 they were left with only Calais, and some old Florentine banking names who had foolishly bankrolled Edward III had disappeared and been replaced by the new bankers of the Renaissance - particularly the Medici.


100 Years War Timeline


Wikipedia Page on the 100 Years War



The Hundred Years War, Desmond Seward


 Buy from Amazon USA



The Hundred Years War, Christopher Allmand


 Buy from Amazon USA










Jonathon Sumption

Trial by Battle

The Hundred Years War - 1



Trial by Fire, Jonathon Sumption






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