The Hundred Years’ War was a territorial conflict fought between England and France in the late Middle Ages. It was waged between 1337-1453, so the title ‘Hundred Years’ War’ isn’t quite accurate: the war actually lasted 116 years.
The basis of the drawn-out series of wars originated from disputed claims to the French throne from the royal families of England’s House of Plantagenet and its rival, the French royal House of Valois.
The effects of the war, which involved 5 generations of kings, not only brought about innovations in military weaponry but also created stronger national identities for both England and France with their distinctive languages and culture. At the end of the war, England became known as a nation-state and with English, rather than French, defining its sovereign language spoken by both the court and aristocracy.
To date, the Hundred Years’ War is the longest military conflict in Europe. Here are 10 key figures from the lengthy conflict.
1. Philip VI of France (1293 – 1350)
Known as the ‘Fortunate’, Philip VI was the first king of France from the House of Valois. His position as king came about due to the consequences of a succession dispute after Charles IV of France died in 1328.
Instead of Charles’ nephew, England’s King Edward III, being made king of France, the throne went to Charles’ paternal cousin Philip. The appointment caused a series of disagreements that evolved into the beginning of the Hundred Years’ War.
2. Edward III of England (1312 – 1377)
Associated with what became known as the Edwardian War – one of the three phases of dynastic conflict between France and England during the 100 Years War – Edward transformed England from being a vassal of French kings and nobles into a military power that led to English victories against the French at Crecy and Poitiers.
The Battle of Crecy on 26 August 1346 saw the English army facing King Philip VI’s forces and winning due to the superiority of English longbowmen against Philip’s crossbowmen.
3. Edward of Woodstock, the Black Prince (1330 – 1376)
The eldest son of King Edward III of England, the Black Prince was one of the most successful military commanders during the conflicts of the Hundred Years’ War. As the eldest son of King Edward III, he was heir apparent to the English throne.
The Black Prince took part in King Edward’s expedition to Calais during the Hundred Years’ War. After the English victory there, he negotiated the Treaty of Bretigny, which ratified the terms of agreement between King Edward III and King John II of France.
4. Sir James Audley (1318 – 1369)
James Audley was one of the first knights of the original Order of the Garter, the order of chivalry founded by Edward III of England in 1348. He fought at the Battle of Crecy (1346) and at the Battle of Poitiers (1356), two major victories for the English against French forces during the Hundred Years’ War.
It was at Poitiers that Audley was severely wounded and carried from the battle scene. Edward of Woodstock greatly admired Audley’s courage and rewarded him with an annuity of 600 marks. He later became governor of Aquitaine.
5. Charles V of France (1338 – 1380)
Known as the ‘philosopher king’, Charles V was the grandson of Philip VI. He was seen as the redeemer of France despite inheriting a sickly France crippled by war, plague and insurrection: he managed to turn the tide of the Hundred Years’ War and reinvigorated the cultural institutions of the kingdom.
By the end of his reign, Charles reconquered almost all the territories lost to England after humiliating defeats. Under his brilliant military campaigner, Bertrand du Guesclin, given the moniker the ‘Black Dog of Broceliande’, France defeated the English battle after battle.
Despite Charles’ successes as a military leader and reviving France on the brink of collapse, he was also hated for raising taxes which bled the people dry, even though such taxes stabilised the country.
6. Henry V of England (1386 – 1422)
Famous for his battle speech in Shakespeare’s play Henry V, the young king of England who died at just 35 is regarded as one of England’s greatest heroes.
Sometimes referred to as Henry of Monmouth, he is associated with the Battle of Agincourt (1415), where he trounced the French army led by Charles VI’s commander Constable Charles d’Albret in bloody hand-to-hand combat. It is a battle noted for the superiority of the English longbow against the French crossbow.
Months after the victory, Henry and Charles VI took part in protracted negotiations where eventually the Treaty of Troyes (1420) was signed between the two countries. Henry married Charles’ daughter Katherine of Valois, cementing what appeared to be a strong alliance between England and France. Tragically, Henry died two years later and was succeeded by his infant son Henry VI.
7. Charles VI of France (1368 – 1422)
One of the most troubled French kings, Charles, often nicknamed the Mad, suffered from psychosis and mental health issues and throughout his life alternated between madness and lucidity. He experienced an attack of delirium while on a military campaign against the English in 1392 and attacked his own men, killing a knight.
At one stage he suffered from ‘glass delusion’, believing he was made of glass. Charles is famously associated with the Battle of Agincourt against the triumphant Henry V of England, after which he was forced to sign the Treaty of Troyes which disinherited French royals in favour of England’s Henry V as King of France.
8. Anne of Burgundy (1404 – 1432)
Anne was the daughter of John the Fearless, a scion of the French royal family. Anne’s role in the Hundred Years’ War was a matrimonial alliance, meant to cement relations between England and France.
Her marriage to the English prince, John of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Bedford was made under the agreement of the Treaty of Amiens (1423) and was seen as vital to secure English success in France and with the Duke of Burgundy, who was Anne’s brother. Unlike the hostile relationships between English and French royals, Anne and John’s marriage was a happy one, although childless.
9. Joan of Arc (1412 – 1431)
Joan of Arc, a teenager who claimed to have holy visions, was allowed to lead the French armies against England. In 1429 Joan led the Dauphin’s forces to victory at Orleans, which led to him being crowned as King Charles VII of France and able to restore the French line.
Captured by France’s political enemy the Burgundians, Joan was sold to the English and tried as a witch. She was burned at the stake in 1431. She was recognised as a saint in 1920.
10. John Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel (1408 – 1435)
An English nobleman and military commander who fought during the latter period of the Hundred Years’ War, Arundel was noted for his bravery while fighting and recovering fortresses lost to the French, as well as suppressing local rebellions.
His promising military career came to a brutal end at the age of 27 when during the Battle of Gerbevoy in 1435 he was shot in the foot and captured by the enemy. After his leg was amputated, Arundel suffered a fatal infection of the wound and died shortly afterwards.