The Hundred Years War as a Siege War
Paper by Kelly DeVries
Given at the 48th International Congress on Medieval Studies (2013)
Medieval military historians have long focused on battles as the most crucial part of medieval warfare. For example, during the Hundred Years War most of the attention is paid to the major battles of Crecy, Poitiers and Agincourt.
In a paper given at the Studies in Medieval Military History in Honor of Bernard S. Bachrach session, Kelly DeVries aims to correct some of these misperceptions, and argues that war between England and France, fought from 1337 to 1453, was mostly a war of sieges.
According to his research, over 350 attacks took place on fortified castles or towns. Some years saw many sieges taking place, such as:
- 11 sieges in Brittany between 1341 and 1342
- 7 sieges in 1356, the year when the Battle of Poitiers was fought
- 10 sieges during the years 1423 and 1424
While Edward III only conducted four sieges during the Hundred Years War, two of which were successful, other notable commanders took part in many sieges. For example, John the Fearless began his war in 1411 with six sieges, most of which he won easily. Henry V was able to take 30 places by siege in between 1417 and 1419, many of which he took with no resistance (A favourite tactic of Henry’s was to surround a fortification, and then make a deal with the garrison – they would wait two weeks to get reinforcements. If no one came to relieve the castle by then, the defenders would surrender it and leave, only taking their personal goods with them). Joan of Arc also undertook several sieges in her short career as a military leader.
In examining why sieges were so prevalent during the Hundred Years War, DeVries notes that while the emergence of gunpowder weapons was one factor, it should not be overly emphasized – many castles and towns were captured without the use of cannons. Instead, one should look to how medieval military commanders recognized the effectiveness of sieges and being able to occupy land was to gaining overall victory in warfare. While battles could be a risky venture that often failed to produce a decisive result, a victorious siege would lead to immediate gains.