Hundred Years' War


Hundred Years' War
   Series of wars between France and England that began with the decision of King Edward III of England to invade France in 1337 and lasted sporadically until 1453, when the French finally drove the English armies from French soil. The war fell into three main periods: a period of active fighting from 1337 down to a truce signed in 1360, a period of relatively little military action, interrupted only by occasional raids, from 1360 to 1415, and a final determined effort of the English under King Henry V to either conquer all of France or divide it with their ally the duke of Burgundy, a phase in which France was pushed to the very brink of defeat. This war is conventionally defined as part of medieval rather than Renaissance history, but its course coincided with the rise of Renaissance civilization in Italy.
   The causes that produced war were essentially medieval: the awkward feudal relationship between the kings of England (who held many feudal principalities, including all of the great duchy of Guienne, as fiefs under the suzerainty of the king of France) and the kings of France, who longed to end the anomalous situation in which the English king controlled more French territory than did the French king himself. Because of frequent intermarriages between royal families, Edward III regarded himself rather than Philip VI as the rightful heir to the French throne. Although Edward's claim to the French throne was useful mainly as a device to attract allies among dissident French nobles, this dynastic issue was another product of medieval conditions, and in the final phase of the war, Henry V (unlike Edward III) seems to have intended to enforce his right to the French throne and to have had a systematic military plan to conquer northern and central France city by city and establish himself as king.
   The war was fought with the military organization and methods typical of the later Middle Ages, and while the use of artillery during the siege of cities in the final phase of the war does represent the beginning of a shift toward modern military technology, the many English victories resulted mainly from their effective use of archery and their adoption of tactics suited to exploit the use of archers in the face of the traditional French reliance on heavy cavalry.
   The war affected Renaissance Italy most decisively near its beginning, when the inability of Edward III to repay the enormous loans he had received from Italian banking firms to finance his war precipitated a severe financial crisis in the commercial cities of northern and central Italy (see Depression, Economic).
   France suffered terrible losses of life and property during all periods of active fighting and even during times of truce, since discharged mercenary soldiers continued to ravage the countryside as brigands. England, which held the military upper hand in the opening phases of the conflict, eventually also suffered financial and political exhaustion. In terms of Renaissance culture, the damage inflicted on France seems to have retarded a growing interest in ancient classical civilization that was evident during the early 14th century. Only after the invaders had been ejected in 1453 was France able to resume these interests. Thus the timing of the spread of Renaissance culture into France was affected by the war.

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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