Hundred Years' War, 1337–1453, a series of conflicts between England and France, fought on French soil. During periods of the struggle France almost fell into anarchy, but in the end the English were expelled. The war greatly increased national feeling among both the French and the English.
The English made brilliant use of archers armed with longbows and ended the dominance of mounted knights. Firearms appeared early in the war and artillery was used effectively in the closing years.
The underlying cause of the war was that the English kings since William the Conqueror had held large areas in France as feudal lords. They found it humiliating to do homage to the French kings. On the other side, the French kings sought to drive the English rulers completely out of France. A more immediate cause of the war was the threat that France might gain effective control of Flanders, the principal market for English wool. Tension was further increased by French aid to the Scots against England, and English aid to a faction in Brittany opposing the French king.
In 1328 Edward III of England, whose maternal grandfather was Philip IV of France, claimed the French throne. His claim was rejected and in 1329 Edward did homage to the new king, Philip VI. In 1337, however, Edward again claimed the throne and aided a pro-English party in Flanders that opposed French rule.
The English then invaded France, pillaged and plundered widely, won a great victory at Crécy (1346), and captured the port of Calais (1347). At Poitiers (1356), Edward the Black Prince (King Edward's eldest son) destroyed the French army and captured King John II, who was sent to England to be held for ransom. By the Treaty of Brétigny (1360) Edward gained complete sovereignty over much of southern France but gave up his claim to the throne.
France lay desolate and brigands roamed the land. Under Charles V, however, France recovered quickly. In 1369 he renewed the war. By 1380, his leading general, Bertrand du Guesclin, had recovered most of the lost territory. Fighting then died down until 1415, when Henry V led a new English invasion, crushing the French at Agincourt (1415). He was recognized as heir to Charles VI of France in 1420 and married Catherine. Charles's daughter. After Charles and Henry died in 1422, the Dauphin Charles was recognized as king in southern France, while Henry's infant son, Henry VI, was acknowledged in the north.
The English seemed to be on the way to mastery of all France when they besieged Orleans in 1428. Then, under Joan of Arc. French forces regained the initiative in the war. When the conflict ended in 1453, England held only Calais.