4.0 100 Years War: Introduction

In 1066, the armies of William the Duke of Normandy invaded England. William subsequently defeated English King Harold II at the Battle of Hastings. He then had himself crowned as king of England. Although William was now a king, he remained the Duke of Normandy was therefore a vassal of the French king.

Feudalism worked smoothly when lords and vassals had respect for one another. Things got complicated when a vassal became more powerful than his lord. This is the case with William. Nonetheless, the way feudalism was structured the kings of England felt humiliated by having to swear loyalty to the king of France. French kings likewise found it intolerable that a "foreign" king like William and his descendants possessed lands in France. This tense situation eventually led to armed conflict between the lords of England and France in what later became known as the Hundred Years’ War.

Not unlike in Scotland where Alexander III died leaving no male heir, the same thing happened in France. The king of France, Charles IV, had a daughter instead of a son. According to French tradition, daughters could not inherit the throne; therefore, the closest male relatives of Charles IV made competing claims to the throne of France. This competition led to a dynastic struggle between William of Normandy's relatives and Charles IV's relatives.

William's family was the House of Plantegenet. Charles' family was known as the House of Valois. The royal houses of Plantegenet and Valois struggled for a hundred some odd years over control of France.

How did the Hundred Years' War get its name? After the entire conflict was over historians looked back and lumped the four phases together into a single conflict. In many respects, each of the four phases of this conflict should be treated and understood separately from one another. Nonetheless, all the phases are connected by a single struggle between French and English lords over who should become king of France.

The Hundred Years' War is typically organized into four phases. The first phase is called the Edwardian War lasting from 1338 to 1360 AD. This period is named after the English king—Edward III (who we met briefly in the previous unit)—who claimed he deserved to inherit the French throne. Edward III claimed the throne in part because he was the grandson of Philip VI of France. Edward was also the son of Isabella. Isabella was the wife of the next French king, Charles IV. When Charles IV died without leaving a male heir, Edward III made a strong claim for the throne; however, the French nobles rejected Edward's claim because according to something called Salic Law you could not inherit the crown through a female.

The second phase is commonly referred to as the Caroline Phase (1369-1389). This phase takes its name from King Charles V of France. Although Charles V was technically the king, his English vassals didn't recognize him as such. According to the feudal contract, Charles V was the liege lord of England's King Edward IV. Charles summoned Edward before him to swear allegiance. Edward (wisely) refused to swear allegiance and Charles used this as an excuse to renew war with England. Charles.

The third phase is typically called the Lancastrian Phase (1415-1429). This phase opened with England's invasion of Normandy by the armies of Henry V of England. Henry belonged to the House of Lancaster. The Lancasters and Plantegenets were united through marriage. England enjoyed its greatest military success during this phase.

The final phase lasted from 1429 until 1453 AD.  During the final phase an important figure named Joan of Arc helped unite France's armies against the English. England was finally defeated and France was unified under a single king at last.