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The Hundred Years Wars: Not One but Many

The Hundred Years War (Part II)  Different VistasThe Hundred Years Wars: Not One but Many

Kelly DeVries, (Loyola College)

The Hundred Years War Part II: Different Vistas, edited by L.J. Andrew Villalon and Donald J. Kagay (Brill, 2008)

When the English King Edward III (1327-1377) launched his major invasions of France in 1339 and again in 1340, it was ostensibly to recover his crown as king of France, a crown which had been legalistically “stolen” from him in 1328 when, despite being the closest heir to the dead king, Charles IV (1322-1328), he was declared ineligible to receive it because this royal descent was gained through a woman. The throne instead was given to a cousin, Philip of Valois, who was then crowned as King Philip VI of France (1328-1350). This action is recognized by most historians as the first blow struck in what would become known as “The Hundred Years War.” The initial military action taken by Edward would lead in 1339 to a geographically-extensive, but ultimately-impotent campaign fought across the northern French counties of Cambrai, Vermandois, and Thiérarche. There followed in 1340 a major English naval victory at Sluys, counterbalanced by the unsuccessful siege of Tournai.

The idea that two nations could fight a war lasting more than a century, as France and England did in the last two centuries of the Middle Ages, seems to most modern military historians to be the very definition of the words “medieval warfare.” And yet, in defining the Hundred Years War in this manner, these same historians have misconstrued the conflict by narrow-mindedly focusing upon the fighting between those two kingdoms. They have all too often ignored or at least downplayed as an integral part of the conflict the fact that each of these major combatants was also conducting military activity against third parties and that these parties engaged in conflict between themselves without direct French or English involvement.

In fact, the Hundred Years War was not fought only during the period 1337-1453, the most commonly given dates, nor was it fought only by England and France. Its origins can be traced at least to the late-thirteenth century with the establishment of the “Auld Alliance” between Scotland and France (1295-1296) followed by William Wallace’s rebellion of 1297-1298. Its roots also extend back to the earlyfourteenth century revolt of the townspeople of the county of Flanders (1302) against their French overlords. Nor is the date usually given for its conclusion—1453—all that precise. Some of the issues involved in the Hundred Years War were not solved until 1477, when Charles the Bold (1467-1477), last Valois duke of Burgundy, died on the field of Nancy, thus ending the Swiss-Burgundian-German-Lorraine Wars; or even 1485, when the defeat and death of King Richard III of England (1483-1485) at the battle of Bosworth Field, terminated the Wars of Roses (1455-1485). Most importantly, other conflicts were fought along the way which directly involved not only France and England but also the Low Countries, Burgundy, Switzerland, the Holy Roman Empire, the various Spanish Kingdoms, Portugal, and Scotland.

Click here to read this article from Loyola University of Maryland

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