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King John Loses Crown Jewels

William Wallace is captured by the English

First English Parliament Held

Edward II killed at Berkeley Castle

Scotland and France form their 'Auld Alliance'

Medieval Britain

Peering back through the claret stained annals of history, was it not always so that England was at war with the French? Napoleonic expansionism in a post-Revolution France expelled plenty of energy, killing thousands whilst bringing British sovereignty under genuine threat.
But this Anglo-French rivalry dates back centuries, to the days when Britain, as a unified nation, was yet to exist. In medieval times, back when an imperilled Scottish nation reached out to the French as King Edward I came thumping on the door, and in the decades following David II ’s exile from Scotland, war with France was a more protracted affair. The Hundred Years War – the clue is in the name – was a mammoth series of cross-Channel conflicts which helped define the sovereignties of both England and France, fought over the most complex of dynastic and feudal motives. The contretemps occurred roughly between 1337 and 1453, with sporadic moments of peace cooling the antipathy for a while before tempers would boil over into old-fashioned conflict. But this was no old-fashioned conflict: this was one where chivalry was cast aside with the gauntlet, and weapons like the English longbow would change the dynamic on an increasingly fraught battlefield. Over the course of the Hundred Years War, which in fact was a succession of wars and battles, the French population would be devastated, English shores threatened, fragile alliances toing and froing amidst the political maelstrom. Like all good wars of this time, a crisis of succession set the two nations at loggerheads.
From 987AD to 1328AD, the House Of Capet ruled France. But the dynasty was snuffed out when King Philip IV’s three sons failed to produce a legitimate heir to the throne. The ensuing vacuum piqued the interest of England under Edward III . He had a claim to the French throne through marriage. He had lands in south-western France. Gascony was his, and what a fantastic corner of the world it was, with wine and mineral wealth. The only cloud on the horizon was the French King, Philip VI of Valois. For Edward III, paying homage to a foreign king was a real bugbear. But necessary; after all, Edward III’s swathes of land in Gascony was on French land. His allies in the Lowlands to the north, eager to maintain trade links, would offer support, and this perhaps persuaded the English king that he was at a strategic advantage. Gascony in the south-west, Flanders to the north, and naval support open hostilities with the French.
Sporadic French raids were launched on the south of England and the Channel Isles. Edward III financed his war effort with loans Italian financiers. By January 1340, he was bullish enough to proclaim himself as king of France. A bit premature – besides, this was in the heartland of his Lowland allies. The summer of 1340 saw the French fleet destroyed during the Battle Of Sluys. This was devastating for the French. For the English, it removed the threat of French boots on English soil. Victory was tempered by the fact that all was not well in Edward III’s court. A financial collapse in Italy and Scotland’s stout defence were testing his courtiers’ patience.
1346 brought the English their first victory of genuine substance. The Battle Of Crécy , fought by Crécy-en-Ponthieu in Picardy, saw an over confident army under King Philip VI routed by an English army. French knights were slain by peasants. English longbows were merciless. Here chivalry was said to have died. But more than that, Edward III and his sixteen-year-old son, Edward, The Black Prince, had sent a warning that with correct tactics and application, numerical advantage need not suggest victory. Ten years later at the Battle Of Poiters, England repeated the trick, with thousands of French falling. King John II was taken prisoner before being released back to his people. Not free, his task was in raising a ransom to secure his freedom. France was prone. With much of its territories under English control and a nobility riven with rivalry, a peasant uprising ensured England’s bargaining position was formidable.
In 1360, the Treaty Of Brétigny was brokered with the Dauphin Charles. Peace was very much on English terms. By 1369, it was over. War in Castille changed the dynamic of power in the region. Under King Charles V, France reclaimed some territory. At what cost? Success was tempered by their king’s death in 1380. While peace was still the buzzword on both sides of the English Channel, the fierce rivalry between the houses of Orléans and Burgundy began to simmer into open hostility. When Louis Of Orléans was assassinated in 1407 civil war devoured a beleaguered French nation. All at a time when England’s King Richard was overthrown by Henry Bolingbroke : the Lancastrian dynasty had begun. By 1413, Bolingbroke’s son, King Henry V , took the first steps on the road to Agincourt. Characterised by a number of raids (chevauchées) on French territories, its cities and villages, the Hundred Years War saw the earth scorch in France.
Entering France via Normandy in 1415, Henry V’s crowning victory came in Picardy at the Battle Of Agincourt , 25th October 1415. Normandy was under English control, wrenched from French hands, once again with the longbow. France, a country divided, was falling. Henry V pressed for territory. Roeun fell into English hands. The French had to rally – and to a degree they did. The old hatred between Orléans and Burgundy resurfaced the murder of John, Duke Of Burgundy. Where would France find a saviour amidst such turmoil? Burgundy’s son, Philip, allied with the English. By 1420, the Treaty Of Troyes was thrashed out: Henry V would marry Catherine, heir to the French throne, and act as regent to Charles VI.
Troyes was never accepted in the South. When Henry V died, leaving his nine-month-old son as king, with John, Duke Of Bedford, as regent, the Armagnacs stood by dauphin Charles. Bedford led an English army south, to claim their support by force. Dauphin Charles’ army was destroyed. Orléans was under siege, its saviour came from an unlikely source: Joan Of Arc. She inspired and raised an army, relieving Orléans in 1429. With the English in a reverse of sorts, the dauphin was crowned King Charles VII at Reims. The Maid Of New Orleans was burnt at the stake for her efforts, but she died a martyr, to be canonized in 1920. She may well have saved France.
One time English ally, Philip, Duke Of Burgundy, swore fealty to the new French king. Between 1435 and 1444, there were peace negotiations played out over a backdrop of violence. After one English incursion too many, Charles VII’s army began to drive the English out. Normandy fell back into French control. John Talbot led an English army to victory at Bordeaux, but this was swimming against a French tide. At Castillon, Talbot’s men were defeated. He fell on his sword. France drew breath. When the fighting ceased, the English had been removed from all but the northern port of Calais.

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I venture to say no war can be long carried on against the will of the people. - Edmund Burke
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On this day:
The Second Battle of Lincoln - 1217, Shakespeare’s Sonnets Published - 1609, Battle of Wakefield - 1643, The Great Bexhill Waterspout and Tornado - 1729, The Last English Duel - 1845
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