IntroductionThe Hundred Years’ War changed history. Fought between England and France from 1337 to 1453, the war introduced new weapons and tactics that marked the end of medieval warfare and sounded the death knell for chivalry and the medieval knight. It also marked the beginning of French nationalism with the advent and death of Joan of Arc, who became a French icon. While the war actually lasted 116 years, the fighting was sporadic and is commonly split into three main phases: the Edwardian War (1340-1360), the Caroline War (1369-1389), and the Lancastrian War (1415-1435). The Battle of Agincourt, immortalized by Shakespeare in Henry V, took place during the Lancastrian War in 1415. Henry’s victory, however, was short lived: he died only seven years later, and the French eventually prevailed.
- The Hundred Years’ War saw the introduction of the English longbow into warfare. The longbow had several advantages over older-style bows. First, its shots were so strong that they could pierce armor, which meant that knights were no longer protected. Second, the longbow had more range than a crossbow. Finally, it was much easier and cheaper to train an archer than a knight; the availability of archers thus brought about the development of a paid and standing army.
- The English first tried their new longbow and the tactics it engendered at the Battle of Crecy in 1347, which was a disaster for the French. Surprisingly enough, the French fell to the same tactics two more times—once at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356 and again at Agincourt in 1415.
- The war had the unexpected effect of bringing madness into the English royal family. Charles VI of France suffered a mysterious illness that gave him periods of psychological breakdown. When Henry V married Charles’s daughter, Catherine of Valois, that madness entered his line. Henry VI, the son of Catherine and Henry V, spent a large part of his adult life suffering from the same illness. Henry VI’s inability to rule brought about the loss of the Hundred Years’ War as well as the onset of the English War of the Roses.
- Joan of Arc played a crucial role in the French victory. She lifted the siege of Orleans and led the French to other victories before her capture by the British. Her death at the stake by their hands galvanized the French, who expelled the English from the continent by 1453.
- The Hundred Years’ War was interrupted early in its course by a much more deadly threat: the Black Death struck Europe in 1348, stopping the war for eight years as Europeans dealt with the loss of one-third to one-half of their population.
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