England and France have had strained relations over the years, but the Hundred Years' War took those hostilities to another level. The 14th- and 15th-century war gave rise to countless heroes on both sides, including Henry V, Joan of Arc, and Charles VII. And it produced some of the most famous battles ever recorded in history, such as the Battle of Agincourt. But it also exposed a complicated political system that led to infighting, political marriages, backstabbing, and large reversals of fortune that would engulf Western Europe for more than a century.
Myriad movies and theatrical productions have covered some of these stories, but no single work of art can truly capture what went on between the two great powers of England and France. What was the result of such an epic struggle? The true events of the Hundred Years' War were quite complicated.
Though the name “Hundred Years’ War” has been used since the 19th century to describe the conflict, it isn’t entirely accurate. The war between England and France lasted from about 1337 to 1453, a total of 116 years.
Some historians claim the intermittent fighting even dated back to the 12th century.
The beginning of the war traces back to feudalism, the mainstream political system of Western Europe’s medieval period. Because territories were so vast, heads of nations appointed regional governors, called feudal lords, to reign over certain areas and enforce the Crown’s interest in that region. The territory a lord ruled over was called a fiefdom.
The system became problematic in Guyenne - also called Aquitaine - a territory that historically belonged to England but was a fief of the French crown. The English wanted it back, but the French weren’t keen on the idea.
During the 1200s, England experienced a cultural shift. Instead of drinking beer, the upper class demanded wine. Grapes, however, could not be grown in England, which meant the only way to procure the beverage was to import it.
A trade circle eventually started with England trading wool to the Flemish, who in turn traded cloth for wine with France. Thus, England got its French wine without ever having to deal with France itself.
After Flanders grew rich from their cloth trade, the French wanted to gain control of the region and appropriate its wealth. But the English saw France's rise to power as detrimental to their own power. So when a civil war broke out in Flanders, both England and France supported differing sides of the conflict.
After the French moved in on Guyenne, the English were at a disadvantage. They were separated from their desired territory by a water barrier, while the French had land access. Fortunately for English King Edward III, he had a potential claim to the French throne through his mother.
In 1337, Edward called King Philip VI of France out for being a pretender to the French throne. This gave the English a leg up in all negotiations. All Edward had to do to gain more territorial concessions was to offer to give up his claim to the French throne.