3.3.08

Hundred Years War Background part 2

In my last installment we left at the end of the Capitian Dynasty with the death of Charles IV.

With the death of Charles IV the French throne was left in turmoil. Living in England, Charles IV's sister Isabella, the widow of Edward II, was at the time effectively in control of the English crown in the name of her son. Edward III, being the nephew of Charles IV, was his closest living male relative, and was at that time the only surviving male descendant of the senior line of the Capetian dynasty descending through Philip VI. By the English interpretation of feudal law, this made Edward III the legitimate heir to the throne of France.

The French nobles, however, would not have a foreign king as their sovereign especially one who was the King of England. Basing their interpretation feudal law on the ancient Salic Law, royal inheritance could not pass to a woman or through a woman to her offspring. Therefore, the next male of the Capetian dynasty after Charles IV, Philip of Valois, the regent after Charles IV's death, was the legitimate heir of the French crown, and was allowed to take the throne after Charles' widow who was with child gave birth to a daughter. He was crowned as Philip VI. He was the first of the House of Valois.


After Philip's accession to the throne, the English were still in control of the region of Gascony. Gascony was a supplier of salt from the sea and wine. It was a separate fief, held of the French crown, rather than a territory of England. The homage done for its possession was a bone of contention between the two kings. Philip VI demanded Edward's recognition as sovereign; Edward wanted the return of further lands lost by his father. A "homage" in 1329 pleased neither side; but in 1331, facing serious problems with the Scots, Edward accepted Philip as King of France. Edward III gives up his claim to the French throne. In effect, England will keep Gascony, in return for Edward giving up his claims to be the rightful king of France.

In 1333, Edward III went to war with David II of Scotland, a French ally under the Auld Alliance, and began the Second War of Scottish Independence. Philip saw the opportunity to reclaim Gascony while England's attention was concentrated northwards. However, the war was, initially at least, a quick success for England, and David was forced to flee to France after being defeated by King Edward and Edward Balliol at the Battle of Halidon Hill in July. In 1336, Philip VI made plans for an expedition to restore David to the Scottish throne, and to also seize Gascony.

The Hundred Years War begins.

Open hostilities broke out as French ships began scouting coastal settlements on the English Channel and in 1337 Philip reclaimed the Gascon fief, citing feudal law and saying that Edward had broken his oath a visible sin, an incredible breach of chivalry and felony by not attending to the needs and demands of his lord, by homage. Edward III responded by saying he was in fact the rightful heir to the French throne (thought he had given up claim to it, and on All Saints' Day, Henry Burghersh, Bishop of Lincoln, arrived in Paris with the defiance of the king of England. War had been declared.

In the beginning Edward III found allies in the Low Countries and the burghers of Flanders, however after two campaigns where nothing was achieved, the alliance fell apart in 1340. Payments to the German princes and the cost of maintaining an army abroad dragged the English government into bankruptcy. This was a blow to Edward’s prestige.

At sea, France enjoyed supremacy for some time, through the use of Genoese ships and crews. Several towns on the English coast were sacked, some repeatedly. This caused fear and disruption along the English coast. There was a constant fear during this part of the war that the French would invade. France's sea power led to economic disruptions in England as it cut down on the wool trade to Flanders and the wine trade from Gascony.


The first major battle of the war, Sluys was a naval battle and determined who would control the English Channel. Medieval naval battles in the channel were rare, because the seas were too rough for oar driven galleys, and the square sailed cogs could not tack well. Therefore, one fleet or the other was usually confined to port, by thw wind. Without the use of oars, ramming and clipping enemy ships was impractical, so sea battles resembled land battles fought at sea. In such a battle, the English ships had a definite advantage, since the longbows of their soldiers provided rapid firepower to clear the french decks and allow the English to storm the French ships. As a result, the Battle of Sluys was decisively a victory for the English. The English now had the ability to raid France unmolested while securing their own ports from French raids.

In 1341, another conflict came to a head over the succession to the Duchy of Brittany. Thus began the Breton War of Succession, in which Edward backed John of Montfort and Philip backed Charles of Blois. Action for the next few years focused around a back and forth struggle in Brittany, with the city of Vannes changing hands several times, as well as further campaigns in Gascony with mixed success for both sides.

Next installement Crecy...

de Brantigny

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