A Brief History of the Hundred Years War : The English in France, 1337-1453, Paperback Book

A Brief History of the Hundred Years War : The English in France, 1337-1453 Paperback

Part of the Brief Histories series

4 out of 5 (2 ratings)


For over a hundred years England repeatedly invaded France on the pretext that her kings had a right to the French throne.

France was a large, unwieldy kingdom, England was small and poor, but for the most part she dominated the war, sacking towns and castles and winning battles - including such glorious victories as Crecy, Poitiers and Agincourt, but then the English run of success began to fail, and in four short years she lost Normandy and finally her last stronghold in Guyenne.

The protagonists of the Hundred Year War are among the most colourful in European history: for the English, Edward III, the Black Prince and Henry V, later immortalized by Shakespeare; for the French, the splendid but inept John II, who died a prisoner in London, Charles V, who very nearly overcame England and the enigmatic Charles VII, who did at last drive the English out.

Desmond Seward's account traces the changes that led to France's final victory and brings to life all the intrigue and colour of the last chivalric combats as they gave way to a more brutal modern warfare


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: British & Irish history
  • ISBN: 9781841196787

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For a hundred years, a less populated, but militarily and financially superior England takes on a larger but weaker France. Living in northern France in the - using Barbara Tuchman's phrase - calamitous 14th Century must have been the most miserable place on Earth. Successive waves of roving bands of marauding Englishmen terrorized the inhabitants. Lowly English knights amassed fortunes in France. Gentlemen in England abed enjoyed the extra cash flow into the country bleeding their neighbours dry. War was popular.And the English were good at it (Crécy, Agincourt). Militarily, the English combined arms (men-at-arms supporting bowmen) dominated the French knights. The problem lay in a muddled strategy: The English king wanted both to raid and to annex the country. The smaller English population ruled out large-scale colonisation (undertaken in Calais). Furthermore, raiding was necessary to pay for the troops undermining loyalty. Despite the bad English manners, their rule was accepted quite well by parts of France (Normandie, Brittany, Gascony). Although English rule lasted over a generation, the transition and acculturation from Frenchman to English never happened.On the French side, the main problem was disunity. The French king not only had to fight against the English but also against a range of contenders. Often, the English were seen as the lesser evil. The French king let them ravage parts of France to keep his French enemies in check. When the English allied themselves with the Duke of Burgundy, the most powerful contender to the French throne, they managed to conquer the whole of Northern France. Massively overextending their forces, the English provoked a French national movement with Joan of Arc as a figurehead that kicked the English out of the country. The French finally learned the effective use of artillery and managed to make their larger numbers count on the battlefield. The renewed military strength of France would be shown in the battle for Northern Italy in the 1500s.Edward III, the Black Prince, Bertrand du Guesclin, John Hawkwood, Henry V, John Falstof, Joan of Arc, ... The Hundred Years War suffers no lack of colourful characters and Desmond Seward is a master in creating vignettes. This people-centered approach sometimes neglects to present the bigger picture. Overall, an excellent read that has stood the test of time well.

Review by

A well-written, though necessarily brief, history of the conflicts known as the 'Hundred Years War'. Seward devotes enough attention to the well-known personalities involved without losing sight of the overall picture. The book is neither hagiographic nor revisionist, and presents the career of many luminaries (Henry V and Joan of Arc in particular) in an unromantic light. Some accounts of lesser-known engagements and other bridging passages can be hard to follow due to the number of named participants and the necessary truncation, but over all this is a valuable introduction to an engaging subject.

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