What triggered the Hundred Years’ War?

The Hundred Years’ War, a series of conflicts fought intermittently between England and France from 1337 to 1453, was not triggered by a singular event but by a combination of factors. These included dynastic disputes over succession, territorial conflicts, economic competition, and emerging national identities. This complex web of causes shaped medieval European politics and had long-lasting implications.

Dynastic Disputes and the Issue of Succession

The immediate trigger of the Hundred Years’ War was the question of succession to the French throne. Following the death of Charles IV of France in 1328, the last king of the direct Capetian line, the throne became contested.

According to the Salic law, which governed succession in France, females were excluded from inheriting the throne. This posed a problem as Charles IV had left no male heir.

The closest male relatives were Edward III of England, the son of Charles IV’s sister Isabella and King Edward II of England, and Philip VI, a cousin who was the closest male in the patrilineal line.

French nobles chose Philip VI, favoring a strict application of the Salic law to preserve the crown within French control, effectively sidelining Edward III. However, resentment over this decision lingered, providing Edward III with a pretext to assert his claim in 1337, marking the formal start of hostilities.

The dynastic claims to the French throne were the spark in a tinderbox of territorial, economic, and political tensions. Image: A 19th century painting entitled “Siege of Orléans” created by French artist Jules Eugène Lenepveu.

Territorial Ambitions

Beyond the dynastic claims, the conflict was also significantly fueled by territorial disputes. English monarchs had historically held lands in France, notably Aquitaine, which they were reluctant to relinquish.

These territories were a source of income and strategic advantage, but they also made English kings vassals to French monarchs, a relationship that was often contentious.

The tension was exacerbated when French kings sought to consolidate control over these regions, threatening English holdings. Philip VI’s confiscation of Aquitaine from Edward III in 1337 was another immediate cause of the war.

Economic Factors and Trade Disputes

Economic interests also played a crucial role in the conflict. Control over the wool trade, vital for the economies of both England and Flanders, was a significant factor.

Flanders, part of the French kingdom but economically dependent on English wool, was caught between the two powers. The Flemish sought greater independence from French control, and their uprising against French rule was supported by England, further straining Anglo-French relations.

Moreover, the control of lucrative trade routes and regions like Bordeaux, which was important for the wine trade, added layers to the conflict. Economic sanctions and maritime blockades were frequently used by both sides to weaken each other economically.

The Hundred Years’ War itself saw several phases, with periods of intense fighting followed by truces and peace treaties, none of which resolved the underlying issues until the war’s end in 1453. Image: A 14th century art work named “Battle of Agincourt”.

The Rise of National Identities

The prolongation of the war contributed to the emergence of stronger national identities in both England and France.

The conflict encouraged a sense of unity and distinctiveness that was relatively new to the medieval period.

In England, the war helped consolidate the use of the English language in government, moving away from French.

In France, the struggle against an external enemy fostered a sense of French national identity and strengthened the monarchy, which emerged as the protector of the realm.

The impact of the Hundred Years’ War was profound as it reshaped the political landscape of Western Europe. It also altered the course of medieval history and set the stage for modern nation-states in England and France.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *