How long did the Hundred Years War actually last? What did Joan of Arc do?

How long did the Hundred Years War actually last? What did Joan of Arc do?

The answer is complicated, the Hundred Years War lasted both more and less than 100 years, depending on how you look at it. The Hundred Years War was an extraordinarily complicated conflict with far-reaching effects. Piecing together its history requires tracing the tangled genealogy of the royal houses of England and France, not to mention sorting out shifting allegiances, territorial rights, and interspersed civil wars.

The conflict name is a confusing misnomer. If you tally time from the day war was declared in 1337 to the date of the final treaty that ended in 1453, the War lasted 116 years. The actual conflict was not continuous, however. There were several periods of declared peace when there were years between active campaigns. If you add up the times of actual fighting, the War lasted only 81 years.

Want a brief explanation of the Hundred Years War? This time the two nations weren’t fighting over just territory. The prize was the throne of France itself. The last king who ruled France’s House of Capet died without a son, and two royal families vied for the open crown.

The House of Valois was a junior line of the royal Capets. It descended from the younger brother of King Philip IV. The House of Plantagenet, the ruling family of England, held its primary claim to the French throne through English King Edward II’s queen, Isabella of France, who was Philip IV’s only daughter.

When she married Edward, a clause in her marriage contract stated that her sons would be in line to inherit both the French and English crowns. When her last brother, Charles IV, died without a son, Isabella claimed France for her son, Edward III, by right of this contract. As Philip IV’s grandson, he was the only male directly descended from the House of Capet’s senior line.

The French were not keen on a foreign King, however, and they resisted, citing ancient Salic law, which prohibited women from inheriting the throne or anyone from inheriting the throne through a female. Instead of accepting Edward, they crowned Philip of Valois, Charles’ cousin through his father’s younger brother.

The first phase of the war was initiated in 1337 by England’s Edward III, who invaded after the French refused him the throne. Edward’s campaigns were interrupted several times by delays and the intervening Breton War of Succession, but they were able to deal the French several devastating defeats.

At Poitiers, the French King was captured and the country fell into chaos, but Edward was unable to take Paris and negotiated the Treaty of Bretigny in 1360.

Nine years later, France’s Charles V resumed hostilities. Over the next 20 years, the French managed to regain much of their lost territory before making peace with Richard II in 1389.

England was kept busy with civil strife until 1415, when Henry V invaded, determined to take the French crown. He was stunningly successful, especially at the Battle of Agincourt, and he forced a treaty that gained him significant territory and the French king’s daughter. Although they officially named their future sons as heirs to the French throne, Henry’s gains didn’t last long after his death.

France finally gained the upper hand in 1429, when Joan of Arc, following the word of God, led a relief force that helped the French defeat the English during the siege of Orleans.

Over the next 25 years, France continued to see victory after victory, until the English were finally forced to abandon all of France except for the region around Calais.

So what impact did the war have? It definitely advanced the concept of French and English nationality, and rivalry. New weapons and military tactics were introduced that changed the face of warfare, such as fixed defensive positions and the use of longbows. The need to employ standing armies forever altered the peasants’ role in society, and the declining use of heavy cavalry greatly decreased the role of knights.

Hundred Years War - Joan of Arc

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