On the strength of his claim to the French throne as a direct descendant of
Philip IV the Fair through his mother, Isabella of France, in 1337 Edward III of
England refused to do homage for Guienne to King Philip VI
, the first ruler of the Valois branch whose legitimacy Edward contested.
The hostilities that erupted shortly afterward between France and England would
continue, with periodic truces, until 1451, hence the name : The Hundred Years'
War. The early phase of the conflict was marked by crushing setbacks for the
French at the hands of their more mobile and aggressive adversary (the Battle of
Crécy in 1346 and the especially disastrous Battle of Poitiers in 1356, which
resulted in the capture of King John the Good by the Black Prince
). Before long, however, major military operations gave way to a war of
attrition under Charles V. In Bertrand du Guesclin, a future high constable,
Charles found an able leader who rid the kingdom of the marauding Free
Companies, bands of mercenaries who were pillaging the realm. By the time
Charles V died in 1380 the situation had stabilized, and the conciliatory
policies of England's Richard II , at century's end, fostered hopes for a
lasting peace. But the madness of Charles VI
and bitter feuding among the princes of the blood seriously weakened the
kingdom : in 1407 John the Fearless, duke of Burgundy, engineered the murder of
the king's brother, Louis of Orleans, leaving France torn between warring
Armagnacs and Burgundians. Henry V of England seized the opportunity in October
1415 to inflict a devastating defeat on France at Agincourt, abetted by the
active neutrality of John the Fearless. France emerged from the debacle divided
into three parts : master of Normandy, Henry secured Paris and had Charles VI
acknowledge him as the legitimate heir to the French throne ; John the Fearless
and his son, Philip the Good, defended the independence from France of the
powerful duchy of Burgundy and its Flemish dominions. The dauphin, Charles,
youngest son of Charles VI and Isabella of Bavaria, had retreated to Bourges,
where he held the provinces of central and southwestern France, save for Guienne.
From that base, supported by Yolande of Anjou and galvanized by Joan of Arc, the
future Charles VII gradually shifted the balance of power to his own advantage.
Crowned at Reims, he recaptured Paris, recovered Normandy in 1450, and took back
Guienne in 1453 after the victory of Castillon, the final military exploit of a
long and painful war that, among its many lasting consequences, forged the idea
of a nation. One of the best sources of information on the origins of the
Hundred Years' War, its evolution up to the end of the fourteenth century, and
its repercussions in Europe, is the chronicle written by Jean
Froissart of Valenciennes.