A History of Great Britain by Robert Balmain Mowat - CHAPTER XII - The Hundred Years' War - Part II

August 31 2018

CHAPTER XII - The Hundred Years’ War - Part II

The 15th century shows a marked decline in English history. No great literature is being written, clergy are now more statesmen than scholars and due to the fruitless war with France, commerce is slow.

Until the end of Richard II.’s reign, England had enjoyed steady progress, but now, governing lies in the hands of a few noble families who are battling among themselves to be the ruling party.

Richard II. has been disposed of in favour of Henry IV.; Henry has been elected and thus, has to rule by the advice of ministers and Parliament. This type of rule was named the “Lancastrian experiment in constitutional government” by later scholars.

It will prove to be inhibiting and Henry IV. is plagued by rebels throughout his reign.

At age 26, Henry V. succeeds his father to the throne. He is wildly popular; a serious king with a sense of duty.

His seriousness leads to the assumption that he is the rightful king of France - furthermore, a combining of the English and French forces would make him strong enough against is true enemy, the Lollards, followers of Catholic critic, John Wycliffe.

In 1415, he attempts to take back all of France and resurges the Hundred Year’s War.

He picked a good time; Charles VI. of France is weakened by mental illness and the French princes are quarreling for the regency.

He takes his 15000 men to the small town of Harfleur - unexpectedly, the town holds out for months and the English soldiers are hard-hit by dysentery. He is left with some 7000 men.

Is late October 1415, Henry is making his way to Agincourt when the French forces interrupt him. Battle swiftly follows.

Land-wars were fought in groups, those were called ‘battles’. Both the English and the French use three battles each. While the French lines their battles up in three rows, the English march theirs in a single line.

At the end of each battle, Henry’s forces have placed archers, they make up the highest number of soldiers. The French instead, are heavy in men-at-arms with lances and armoured knights.

The English attack first, with a quick counterattack by the French. Henry halts his forces and orders the archers to fix wooden stakes into the ground.

The French advance with their cavalry front-line, followed by their men-at-arms - both are shot down by the bowmen of on the English side and when both battles fall, the English soldiers climb on the dead French to go get the living with hatchets.

The third French battle flees and the English have won victoriously.

Due to the unlikely odds, the Battle of Agincourt will become legendary.

France is crippled and in 1419, Henry V. finally takes Normandy and is given assurance that he would be king of France in 1420.

Despite his success, Henry will return to the battlefield once more after his brother is killed.

The bad food and constant exposure, lead to Henry contracting dysentery and a stomach ulcer, which will kill him in his mid-thirties, in 1422. He will never become king of the French.

His one year old son, Henry VI. ascends the throne and the country is governed by Henry V.’s uncle, the Duke of Bedford.

The English-French struggle continues further, but there now is a lack of enthusiasm.

Meanwhile, in France, a 17 year old farmer’s daughter, makes her way to the court of Charles VII. in Chinon. Her story is fascinating. She wants to help Charles back on the throne and out of the English shackles - because god has told her to.

Charles is intrigued and sends her to relieve Orléans in 1429.

Her presence seems to have emboldened her countrymen and the English retreat from Orléans the next day. She continues her crusade with a success in Jargean and by July, Charles VII. has her attend his coronation.

Ever more convinced of her mission, the ventures out once more, this time almost by herself.

She is captured by Burgundian forces seeking to ransom her to Charles, but he refuses. She is given to the English, tried by a French court and burned alive on 29. May 1431 as a heretic.

In September 1435, the Duke of Bedford dies. It is on the Duke of Suffolk to make a truce with France in 1444 - he will lose his head over this but Charles VII. marries his cousin, Margaret of Anjou to Henry VI. and by 1450, the last English stronghold in Normandy is captured.

English kings would style themselves “King of France” until the 1800’s; this purely ceremonial title is all that these conflicts have yielded.