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Hundred Years' War (1337-1360)
The first part of the Hundred Years' War was from 1337 to 1360, from the outbreak of hostilities until the signing of the Treaty of Brétigny. This 23-year period was marked by the startling English victories over the French at the Battle of Crécy and Battle of Poitiers. In the latter battle, King John II, the French king, was captured, and in the following years France came close to descending into anarchy and civil war. As a result, France was forced to sign a humiliating peace treaty.
The Low Countries (1337–1341)
While France in the early 14th century had become increasingly centralized, the German states of the Holy Roman Empire had become more decentralized. This meant that the Low Countries were now de facto sovereign, with their princes feeling the enroaching power of the French king. In August 1337, the majority of them signed a treaty of alliance with England. In return for their services, Edward III promised to pay them heavy fees. The neighbouring County of Flanders had difficulties of its own. While a French fief, its large cloth making industry was wholly dependent on wool imports from England. This trade had been embargoed by the English government in 1336, and by December the situation had become so grave that the artisans revolted. The Count was forced out, and a new government was formed in Ghent, led by the merchant Jacob van Artevelde. Philip VI was forced to accept Flanders's neutrality.
Because of continued administrative and financial difficulties, Edward was not able to cross the Channel to Antwerp before July 1338. By then the English treasuries were empty. To pay the fees promised to his allies, Edward was forced to loan heavily from the great banking houses Bardi and Peruzzi and numerous local moneylenders. These efforts forced Edward to again delay his invasion of France.
With the threat of invasion temporarily gone, the French government could spend its resources elsewhere. While England lacked an organized fleet, and instead relied upon cumbersome merchantmen, the French had hired galleys from Genoa, and with these they were able to strike almost at will upon the English coast. Portsmouth was raided, Southampton sacked, and Guernsey captured. In December 1338 Gascony was invaded. The Seneschal of Gascony , Oliver Ingham was an able commander, but with almost no help received from England, he was forced to adopt a static defence. In April 1339, the important castle of Penne in the Agenais and the twin cities of Blaye and Bourg upon the Garonne fell to the French, opening up the Duchy for an attack from the north.
The French campaign at sea continued in the spring of 1339, but with much less success than the year before. On the English coast, the county levies had been mobilized at great cost, and the raiders were driven off before much damage could be done. In August, quarrelling over pay within the Genovese contingent resulted in a mutiny, and most of the galleys returned to Italy.
Although little real damage was done by the French raids, it drained English resources away from other frontiers, and the English situation in Scotland had become increasingly bad. In August, the Scots recaptured Perth, one of the last English strongholds north of the Firth of Forth. By now King Edward had all but exhausted his Italian bankers. Instead he took up huge loans from the merchant William Pole , the crown was mortgaged and several of his friends were held as hostages as security. Interest rates of 50% were not unheard of.
Threatened with the immediate collapse of his plans, Edward desperately needed some positive military results. In September he finally launched his invasion of France, accompanied by his wavering allies. The English scorched the Cambrésis and the Thiérache , but without capturing any place of value. Low on victuals, Edward III offered the French battle at La Chapelle 23 October 1339, but Philip VI, who led the French army in person, refused and the English-German army was allowed to retreat across the border.
During 1339, English-Flemish relations became increasingly friendlier as Jacob van Artevelde consolidated his position in Flanders. By December, the Flemings were ready to formally join the anti-French coalition. However, to the medieval mind, to rise in open rebellion against your lawful king was among the gravest of crimes. Thus, to secure his alliance with Flanders, and to remove the taint of rebellion from his war, on 26 January 1340 Edward proclaimed himself King of France in the market square of Ghent. Shortly thereafter, he left for England and a deeply worried Parliament.
In 1340 the situation at sea turned. In Genova, English diplomats convinced the shipmasters to receive money for staying in port, and in January, a small English fleet raided Boulogne and burned the French galley fleet in harbour. Thus deprived of her galleys, France had to fall back on requisitioned merchantmen. In preparation for the next invasion from England, the French fleet gathered off the coast of Flanders. On 24 June the two fleets met in the Battle of Sluys. The resulting English victory ended with the almost total destruction of the French fleet. As many as 18000 French may have fallen and 190 ships were captured. This was an especially hard blow for Normandy, which had supplied the majority of ships and sailors. After this, England was able to dominate the English Channel for the rest of the war, preventing French invasions.
The severely strained English defence of Gascony was also relieved for some time. Two of the three principal French noblemen in the south west, the Count of Armagnac and the Count of Foix had long been bitter enemies. Now the feud broke out into open warfare. The third, Bertrand-Aiz Albret, openly defected to the English, dragging with him his large network of friends, kinsmen and vassals. The uprising failed to secure any place of real importance, but the conflict now spilled into previous untouched provinces.
In spring 1340, Philip VI planned to smash the anti-French coalition by attacking Edward III’s allies. French forces invaded Hainault in May. But when news reached him about the disaster at Sluys, he turned his attention to counter the new threat. Edward III split his army in two. The first, led by Robert of Artois, a exiled French noble, invaded Artois. But in a battle with the garrison of Saint-Omer 26 June, most of this army was destroyed, and Robert was forced to retreat. On the same day Edward III appeared before the walls of Tournai, one of France’s largest cities. The siege dragged out, and in September, Philip VI arrived with the main French army. Philip VI again refused to meet the English in battle. With his allies on the brink of desertion, Edward could do little but negotiate. In the Truce of Esplechin , 25 September 1340, the parties agreed upon a nine month truce.
The truce marked the end of the grand anti-French alliance. The German princes all backed out, only the burghers of Flanders remained. In return for enormous amounts of money, Edward III had achieved nothing of military value, in England; the opinion was turning against him and most of Scotland had been lost. Essentially bankrupt, Edward was forced to cut his losses. Those whose support he could not afford to lose were repaid, others were not. The great banks of Bardi and Peruzzi were among those who had their loans repudiated. As a result the Peruzzi went bankrupt in 1343 and the Peruzzi in 1346. They had been faithful financiers of the English Crown since the reign of Edward II.
30 April, 1341 John III, Duke of Brittany died childless, leading to the Breton War of Succession. The succession was contested between John of Montfort and Charles of Blois, with most of the nobility supporting Charles of Blois. John of Montfort, dependant upon swift action, quickly took possession of the ducal capital Nantes and then sized the ducal treasury at Limoges. By the middle of August, John of Montfort was in possession of most of the duchy, including the three principal cities, Nantes, Rennes and Vannes. Up to this point, the succession crisis had been a purely internal affair, but then rumours reached Philip VI of France that John of Montfort had received agents from England. Charles of Blois became the official French candidate. Whatever had been his original intentions, John of Montfort was now forced to support Edward III.
The truce had been extended until June 1342, until then Edward III was prevented from taking any offensive action in France. Nothing in it hindered France from subduing rebellious vassals. In November, after a short siege, John of Montfort was forced to surrender at Nantes by the citizens. He was offered safe conduct to negotiate a settlement with Charles of Blois, but when this led nowhere he was thrown in prison.
It now fell upon John’s wife, Joanna of Flanders to lead the Montfortist cause. Deeming her possessions in the east undefendable, she set up headquarters at Hennebont in western Brittany. In Paris it was feared that Edward III would land at Calais once the truce ran out. The major part of the French army was therefore withdrawn, and Charles of Blois left to pursue his claim on his own. Charles soon proved himself as an able soldier, Rennes and Vannes were taken and many of the Montfortist captains defected.
In Gascony the war had become a convenient cause for the numerous Gascon nobility in their equally numerous private wars. Thus while formally at truce in 1341, the fighting never ceased. The most flagrant breach was the English recapture of Bourg . In spring 1342, the French succeeded in mopping up several English enclaves, only to see most of them back in English hands by autumn.
In late November, Edward III arrived with his army at Brest. He almost at once marched against Vannes. The siege dragged on and a French army was assembled to meet him, but 19 January 1343, before any major engagements could be fought, the two kings agreed upon a new truce. The new truce was to last until September 1346. Vannes was taken into papal custody. With John of Montfort in prison, his son an infant, and his wife recently gone mad, the places under Montfortist control in practise to be administrated from London, with a large permanent English garrison at Brest.
The official reason for such a long truce was to allow time for a peace conference and the negotiation of a lasting peace, but both countries also suffered from war exhaustion. In England the tax burden had been heavy and in addition the wool trade had been heavily manipulated. Edward III spent the next years slowly paying off his immense debt.
In France, Philip VI had financial difficulties of his own. France had no central institution with the authority to grant taxes for the whole country. Instead the Crown had to negotiate with the various provincial assemblies. In accordance with the ancient feudal customs, most of them refused to pay taxes while at truce. Instead Philip VI had to resort to manipulation of the coinage and other unpopular measures. Also the French nobility was not impressed by how the war had been fought. In their eyes, Edward III had behaved like a true king by boldly marching forth, while Philip VI had cowardly avoided battle. Many had bankrupted themselves on expensive war equipment. In a defensive war there would be no plunder, without battles there could be no ransoms either.
In 1343 Oliver Ingham was recalled to England and Nicholas Beche was appointed Seneschal of Gascony in his stead. He upheld the truce as best he could. No major campaigns were fought, but he failed to restore the civil peace. The Gascon nobility considered private war an old privilege, and as the French financial situation deteriorated, the war merged with outright banditry. The first bands of routiers began to appear at this time. These were large, organized bands of soldiers only nominally under English control. Typically, they would seize by surprise a town or castle of local strategic importance. From this base they would plunder the surrounding areas until nothing of value remained, and then move on to places more ripe. Not only did this utterly devastate the country where they had passed, it also made the local populace concentrate their resources on local defence and thus further drain revenue away from the central administration at Paris.
English victories 1346–1351
On July 5, 1346, Edward set sail from Portsmouth with about 750 ships and 7,000-10,000 men, beginning a major invasion across the Channel. With him was his nearly 16-year-old son, Edward, the Black Prince (Edward of Woodstock), the recently created Prince of Wales. On July 12, Edward landed at Hague in the Cotentin peninsula of Normandy. Jean Froissart wrote in his Chronicles that:
- When the king of England arrived in the Hogue Saint-Vaast, the king issued out of his ship, and the first foot that he set on the ground, he fell so rudely, that the blood brast (burst) out of his nose [a ]. The knights that were about him took him up and said: "Sir, for God’s sake enter again into your ship, and come not aland this day, for this is but an evil sign for us." Then the king answered quickly and said: "Wherefore? [Why?] This is a good token for me, for the land desireth to have me.' Of the which answer all his men were right joyful. So that day and night the king lodged on the sands, and in the meantime discharged the ships of their horses and other baggages: there the king made two marshals of his host, the one the lord Godfrey of Harcourt and the other the Earl of Warwick, and the Earl of Arundel constable. And he ordained that the Earl of Huntingdon should keep the fleet of ships with a hundred men of arms and four hundred archers: and also he ordained three battles (battalions), one to go on his right hand, closing to the sea-side, and the other on his left hand, and the king himself in the midst, and every night to lodge all in one field.
They army marched through Normandy. Philip gathered a large army to oppose him, and Edward chose to march northward toward the Low Countries, pillaging as he went, rather than attempt to take and hold territory. Finding himself unable to out manoeuvre Philip, Edward positioned his forces for battle, and Philip's army attacked him at the famous Battle of Crecy. The much larger French army made a series of piecemeal attacks against the expert English and Welsh longbowmen, and all of the attacks were dispersed with heavy losses until the French were forced to retreat. Crecy was a crushing defeat for the French.
Edward proceeded north unopposed and besieged the coastal city of Calais on the English Channel, capturing it in 1347. An English victory against Scotland in the Battle of Neville's Cross led to the capture of David II and greatly reduced the threat from Scotland.
In 1348, the Black Death began to sweep across Europe and in both England and France it would have huge consequences. This prevented England from financing and launching any major offenses. In France, Philip VI died in 1350 and was replaced by his son John II ("John the Good").
Collapse of French government 1351–1360
Sporadic conflicts in Brittany continued, including notable incidents of chivalry such as the Battle of the Thirty in 1351, during which 30 French knights from Chateau Josselin called out and defeated 30 English knights. In keeping with tradition, the French ransomed many of the defeated English, including knights such as Knollys (Canolles ) and Cavely , who would later continue to fight against France more successfully.
After the Black Death had passed and England was able to recover financially, Edward's son, Edward the Black Prince, invaded France from Gascony in 1356, winning a great victory in the Battle of Poitiers, where the English archers repeated the same tactics used at Crecy, and the Gascon noble Captal de Buch led a flanking movement that succeeded in capturing the new Valois king, John II of France, and many of his nobles. John signed a truce with Edward, and in his absence much of the government began to collapse. John's ransom was set to two million, but John believed he was worth more than that and insisted that his ransom be raised to four million ecus.
Later that year (1356) the Second Treaty of London was signed in which the four million ecus ransom was guaranteed by having royal members of the Valois family come to London and surrender themselves as hostages while John returned to France to raise his ransom. As part of the treaty England gained possession of Normandy, Brittany, Anjou, Maine and all the coastline from Flanders to Spain, thus restoring the former Angevin Empire. As royal hostages they were given free reign to move about and once John had left for France, the hostages quickly escaped back to France. John, who was "Good" and chivalrous, was horrified that his word and honour had been broken and returned to England and turned himself in. John eventually died a prisoner in England in 1364 and was given a great chivalrous ceremony and honoured as a great man by the English.
In 1358, a peasant revolt in France called the Jacquerie took place. It was caused in part by the deprivations suffered by the country people during the war and their hatred of the local nobility. Led by Guillaume Kale (Carle or Cale), they joined forces with other villages, and beginning in the area of Beauvais, north of Paris, committed atrocities against the nobles and destroyed many chateaux in the area. All the rebellious groups were defeated later that summer and reprisals followed.
Edward invaded France, hoping to capitalize on the discontent and seize the throne, but although no French army stood against him in the field, he was unable to take Paris or Rheims from the dauphin Charles V, and he negotiated the Treaty of Brétigny, renouncing the French crown but greatly expanding his territory in Aquitaine and confirming his conquest of Calais.
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