Throughout the Middle Ages England and France were locked in almost constant conflict. The Hundred Years War was the flash point as Edward III of England challenged his larger and more powerful neighbour to the South. Here are some of the key battles that shaped one of the longest and most drawn out wars in history.
1. The Battle of Crecy: 26 August 1346
In 1346 Edward invaded France through Normandy and took the French port of Caen. On hearing that King Phillip IV was raising an army to defeat him, he turned north and moved along the coast until he reached the small forest of Crecy. Here they decided to wait for the enemy.
The French outnumbered the English, but fell fowl of the English longbow. The ability to fire every five seconds gave them a huge advantage and as the French attacked again and again, they wreaked havoc among the knights. Eventually, a wounded Philip accepted defeat and retreated.
2. The Battle of Poitiers: 19 September 1356
In 1355 England’s heir Edward – known as the Black Prince – landed at Bordeaux, while the Duke of Lancaster landed with a second force in Normandy and began to push south. They were opposed by the new French King, John II, who forced Lancaster to withdraw towards the coast. He then set off in pursuit of the English and caught up with them at Poitiers.
Initially it seemed as if the odds were stacked against the Black Prince. His army was vastly outnumbered and he offered to return the loot he had plundered during his march. However, John was convinced the English did not stand any chance in battle and refused.
The battle was again won by the archers, many of whom were veterans of Crecy. King John was captured marking the end of the first episode in this war.
3. The Battle of Agincourt: 25 October 1415
With the French King Charles suffering mental health problems, Henry V decided to grab the chance to rekindle England’s old claims in France. He invaded Normandy and laid siege to Harfleur. However, he was held up long enough for the French to raise an army against him.
This vastly superior force seemed to have Henry where they wanted him at Agincourt. However a combination of poor leadership, a bit of luck and the power of the longbow combined to hand the English an unlikely victory and leave Henry in control of Normandy.
4. The Siege of Orleans: 12 October 1428 – 8 May 1429
One of the biggest French victories of the 100 Years War came courtesy of a teenage girl. Joan of Arc was convinced she had been ordained by God to defeat the English and more importantly so was the French prince Charles VII.
He gave her an army to lead against the English which she used to lift the siege of Orleans. This paved the way for the French prince to be crowned at Rheims. She, however, was later captured by the Burgundians and handed over to the English who had her executed.
5. The Battle of Castillon: 17 July 1453
Under Henry VI, England lost most of the gains of Henry V. A force attempted to regain them but was dealt a crushing defeat at Castillon. The battle goes down in history firstly as marking the end of the 100 Year’s War and secondly as the first European battle in which cannons played a decisive role.
For all their victories during the war at Crecy, Poitiers and Agincourt, the loss at Castillon saw England lose all their territories in France, except for Calais which remained in English hands until 1558.