The origins of the Hundred Years War
House of Anjou (Angevins) : a noble family of Frankish origin founded by Ingelger in the Carolingian Empire during the 9th century. Geoffrey Plantagenet, (1113 - 1151), eldest son of Fulk, count of Anjou, and father of Henry II of England who married Eleanor of Aquitaine. Geoffrey became Count of Anjou in 1129 upon Fulk's departure for Jerusalem. John Lackland succeeded to the throne after his brother Richard I, and in 1204 he lost much of the Angevin territory, along with Anjou itself, to the Capetians, after which the family became known as the house of Plantagenet.
House of Valois : a branch of the Capetian dynasty, succeeding as kings of France from 1328 to 1589. They based their claim on the Salic law in order to exclude from the succession to the French throne Jeanne II of Navarre, whose paternity in any case was in doubt and, above all, Edward III of England, through his mother Isabelle.
Roger Mortimer (1287 - 1330) : 1st Earl of March, an important and powerful English lord of the Welsh marches, with possessions in Ireland through marriage. Being too young at the death of his father in 1304, Mortimer was placed by Edward I under the guardianship of Gaveston, 1st Earl of Cornwall. Mortimer's adult life began in earnest in 1308, when he went to Ireland in person to enforce his authority, returning to England in 1318.
Piers Gaveston (1284 - 1312) : of Gascon origin. He made a good impression on Edward I and was assigned to the household of the king's son in 1298. But the prince's partiality for Gaveston was so extravagant that Edward I sent the favourite into exile. When Edward I died in 1307, the new king called Gaveston back to the court and made 1st Earl of Cornwall in 1307. Despite being exiled again in 1311 as a result of baronial opposition, he returned to England but was sought out and executed by the barons in 1312.
Edward II Plantagenet (1284-1327) : king of England (1307 - 1327), duke of Aquitaine, brother-in-law, cousin and vassal (as duke of Aquitaine for his territories in Gascony) of the Charles IV king of France. Deposed by his wife, Isabelle of France.
Isabelle of France (1295 - 1358) : daughter of Philippe IV le Bel of France and Jeanne of Navarre, sister of Charles IV of France, wife of Edward II king of England, sometimes known as the She-wolf of France.
Henry, third earl of Lancaster and Leicester : a leader of baronial opposition to his cousin Edward II. He pursued and captured Edward II in Neath and was responsible for his custody in Kenilworth castle. He became chief advisor to Edward III.
Hugh le Despenser ( 1326) : One of the few English barons to remain loyal to Edward II after Gaveston was executed in 1312, but his own corruption and unjust behaviour led to his being exiled along with his son Hugh le Despenser the younger in 1321. Edward found it difficult to manage without them, and recalled them to England a year later, an action which enraged the queen, Isabelle. Edward let them do as they pleased and left them unchecked. In 1326 Isabelle and Mortimer led their rebellion against her husband Edward and captured both Despensers. The elder Despenser was hanged immediately in his armor at Bristol on 27th October. His son was tried and found guilty by Isabelle and Mortimer and condemned to a horrible public execution.
Charles IV (1294 - 1328) : king of France (1322 to 1328), son of Philippe IV le Bel. Philippe IV le Bel (1268 – 1314), king of France (1285 – 1314), father of Isabelle of France.
Philippe VI de Valois (1293 – 1350) : king of France (1328 – 1350).
Edward III (1312 - 1377) : son of Edward II and Isabelle of France, king of England (1327 – 1377).
Robert III Artois (1287 - 1342) : son of Philip of Artois and Blanche of Brittany, both descended in male line from the Capetian dynasty. The death of Robert's father in 1298 led to a dispute over the succession to Artois. Robert was too young to contest his aunt's inheritance of the county of Artois which, on her death a year later, was put under the custody of Philippe VI of France. In 1331, Robert tried to claim his rights by resorting to forgery but was found out, and forced to flee the country in 1332. He joined the court of Edward III in 1334 or 1336, whom he urged to start a war to reclaim France, providing extensive information on the French court to the English king. This war of succession paved the way to the Hundred Years' War.
The salic law : an extension of masculine primogeniture used to eliminate female offspring, including the daughters of a sovereign, from succession to the French throne. For example, in 1316 the paternity of Louis X's daughter Jeanne was in doubt. The choice to apply the Salic law meant that she could be excluded in favour of Louis' brother Philippe V who was in turn succeeded by his brother Charles IV le Bel. In 1328 the Salic law was again applied to reject Edward III's claim, via the maternal line, to the French throne.
The bones of contention
When Eleanor, duchess of Aquitaine, parted company with king Louis VII of France in 1152 and married Henry Plantagenet, who became king of England two years later, the duchy of Aquitaine became part of a vast realm, later known as the Angevin empire.
The king of England, despite being an equal and sometimes an enemy of the king of France, was also the duke of Aquitaine, a vassal of the French king, owing him allegiance.
The Capetian dynasty exhausted its line of succession upon the death of Louis X in 1316. Edward III's claim to the crown, through his mother Isabella, the daughter of Philippe IV le Bel, could have united the Capetian and Angevin realms, and would have resolved the conundrum of Aquitaine. But Philip, Count of Poitou was preferred over the Plantagenet contender and in case of other claims of inheritance or a legal challenge by the church, the Valois knew they could confirm their choice by election. By reaching for the Salic law in order to exclude Edward, the House of Valois launched a new line of French kings who were doomed to a long struggle against the Plantagenets over their holdings in Aquitaine.
Precursors to the war
The marriage at Boulogne-sur-Mer in 1308 between Edward II and Isabelle of France, organised by Piers Gaveston, was a shambolic affair, humiliating for Isabelle and her entourage. Almost immediately after her marriage with Edward, Isabelle wrote to her father, Philippe IV le Bel, to complain about her husband's behaviour and his questionable relationship with Gaveston.
By 1320 there was growing opposition in England to the weak leadership of Edward II and the Despensers. Roger Mortimer, an important and powerful English lord of the Welsh marches, began conducting devastating raids against Despenser property in Wales and led an army against London, which he put under siege.
These acts of insurrection compelled the Lords Ordainers, led by Thomas, 2nd Earl of Lancaster, to order the king to banish the Despensers in August. Mortimer, in company with other Marcher Lords, led a rebellion against Edward at the end of the year.
In 1322, Mortimer was imprisoned by the king in the Tower of London for having led the revolt. However, he managed to escape and fled to France.
A dispute broke out between France and England when Edward II refused to pay homage to the king of France, Charles IV. After several aborted attempts to retake possession of his territories confiscated as a result of his refusal to pay homage, Edward finally sent his wife Isabelle to France to negotiate the terms of a peace treaty with the French king, her brother.
Overjoyed at the idea of leaving the English court to rejoin her homeland and her family, Isabelle arrived in France in March 1325. She was able at last to distance herself at last from her husband who she detested. Mortimer joined her and she became his mistress.
On 31st May 1325, Isabelle consented to a peace treaty favourable to France, which required Edward II, as duke of Aquitaine, to come to France to pay homage to Charles IV. But Edward decided to send his son, prince Edward, in his place, a monumental error of strategy which helped to precipitate his fall.
With the prince Edward and Mortimer beside her in France, the queen was able to declare that she would never return to England until the Despensers were removed. But the scandal of the liaison between Isabelle and Mortimer forced them to leave the French court and they found refuge in Flanders where they orchestrated their project to invade England and depose the king.
Landing at the river Orwell on 24th September 1326, they were accompanied by prince Edward and Henry, third earl of Lancaster and Leicester, who was a leader of baronial opposition and cousin of the king. The invasion was a great victory although their forces were small. London rose up in favour of the queen and the prince, and the king fled to the west, pursued by Isabelle and Mortimer. After several weeks in hiding in Wales, king Edward II was finally captured on 16th November and abdicated on 20th January 1327 in favour of his son Edward III who was crowned nine days later in Westminster Abbey in London, at the age of 14 years. Isabelle and Mortimer, believed by many to be responsible for the old king's death the following September, continued to run the country as regents.
The French succession
On the death of Charles IV in 1328, Edward III himself claimed the throne of France as the single living male descendant of his maternal grandfather Philippe IV le Bel. His claim was just, but lacked any political support from the house of Valois who invoked the Salic law, as in 1316 and denied Edward's claims by recognising Philippe VI of the house of Valois, as the true heir. The opportunity to bind the Plantagenet realms to the Capetian dynasty was irrevocably lost.
The news was not a surprise to England. Only Edward's mother, Isabelle, protested at the decision which excluded her son from the crown of France. She sent two bishops to Paris but they were not received.
The English parliament met in 1329 and declared that Edward had no claim to the French throne and should pay allegiance to the French king for Aquitaine. On 6th June 1329 at the cathedral of Amiens, Edward submitted and paid homage to Philippe VI. But Philippe declared that the lands of Agen, detached from the Duchy of Aquitaine by his father, were not part of the homage. Edward protested that he was not renouncing his claim to these lands.
Both kings then consulted experts and archives to determine under what terms the homage should be engaged, both of them wishing to gain time to better ensure their crowns. Philip gave Edward until July 30th 1330 to return to pay homage using the established protocol. In July 1330 they almost had an agreement but Edward never presented it to Parliament.
On 19th October 1330, shortly before his 18th birthday, Edward, with the help of a few trusted companions, staged a coup d'état at Nottingham Castle against his mother Isabella and Mortimer. On the night of 19 October 1330, they entered a secret tunnel and overpowered and arrested Mortimer, along with Isabella. Mortimer was sent to the Tower of London and hanged a month later at the gibbet at Tyburn. Isabella finished her days at Castle Rising Castle.
With this dramatic event, the personal reign of Edward began.
In an attempt to resolve the impasse over homage to the French king, Edward went to France, and secretly met Philip VI who refused to change his stance. However, assembled in Winchester in September 1331, the English Parliament would not countenance the loss of possessions in Aquitaine.
The final breach with England came when Edward offered refuge to Robert III of Artois, formerly one of Philip's trusted advisers. Robert barely escaped France with his life, and was hounded by Philip throughout Europe. Foolishly, Edward made him Earl of Richmond and honoured him. In retaliation, on the basis that Edward had refused to hand over Robert, an enemy of the crown of France, Philippe declared on 24 May 1337 that Edward had forfeited the Duchy of Aquitaine for rebellion and disobedience.
On All Saints Day 1337, the bishop of Lincoln, Henry Burghersh, carried a message from the king of England addressed to “Philippe de Valois who calls himself the king of France”. This was a breach of homage and a declaration of war. Edward declared himself king of England and France. He created a new personal crest, incorporating the lilies of France into his own English arms, marking his claim to two kingdoms. To enforce his rights, he entered into conflict with France, thus marking the beginning of the Hundred Years War.