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What Hundred Years War?

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By challenging the very idea of a continuous Anglo-French medieval war Ian Mortimer reveals the remarkable complexities of a series of distinct conflicts that began with a prophecy and ended with an English dynasty seeking the approval of God.

Everyone knows that the Hundred Years War was a protracted series of conflicts between England and France that took place in the 14th and 15th centuries. It was characterised by the claim of the kings of England also to be kings of France by right of inheritance through Isabella of France (c. 1296-1358), mother of Edward III (r. 1327-77) and the last surviving child of Philip the Fair (r. 1285-1314). But while such a description might suffice for an encyclopaedia, it is laden with problems. What did the protagonists seek? Who were the combatants? What did they have in common and what divided them? What gave the war as a whole its integrity? Is the idea of a single ‘war’ anything more than a historiographical myth?

The problems start to emerge when considering the possible dates for the start and end of the ‘war’. Some authors confidently assert that it began with the first battle at Cadsand in November 1337, when English forces attacked an undefended Flemish community near Sluys. Others, characterising the war as a struggle over control of the Duchy of Aquitaine, point to the French confiscation of the duchy earlier that same year. Others still, seeing the war’s principle motivation as the English claim to the throne of France, state that it began when Edward III assumed the French title in 1340. But, if the war is really to be characterised by Edward’s claim to the French throne, his first moves in this direction were made as early as 1328 on the death of his uncle, Charles the Fair. And as for disputes over Aquitaine, these began even earlier, in the two previous reigns.

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Historical dictionary: Hundred Years War

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