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The Hundred Years’ War was conflict waged from 1337 to 1453 by the House of Plantagenet, English rulers, and the House of Valois, over the right to rule the Kingdom of France. Each side tried to find as many allies as possible into the war. It was one of the biggest wars of the Middle Ages, in which five generations fought for the French throne. The war marked the development of strong national identities in both countries.
The war originated in a dispute over the succession to the French throne, pitting the claimants of the Count of Valois, who were French, against those of the Count of Anjou, who were from the House of Plantagenet. The Valois had the superior claim since Charles II of Navarre, who would become king Charles V of France, was the senior agnatic descendant of Philip IV of France; the Plantagenets, on the other hand, were descended from Edmund Crouchback, the younger brother of Louis IX of France. The dispute initially began over the question of male-preference primogeniture, which would have given the French crown to Philip of Valois, the son of Charles of Valois, the current king’s brother; instead, the crown was offered to Edward III of England, the son of Philip IV’s son, Edward II.
The English king claimed that the French had violated the terms of the Treaty of Brétigny (1360), under which the English had renounced their claims to large swathes of France in return for a payment of 600,000 marks and the release of King John II, who had was at the Battle of Poitiers. Furthermore, he claimed that the French crown had become elective rather than hereditary and that the French nobility was using this to deny the rightful heir his throne. This dispute culminated in the declaration of war in 1337.
Initially, the English enjoyed considerable success, thanks in no small part to the strength of the longbow, which allowed them to win several notable victories, most notably at the Battles of Sluys (1340), Crécy (1346) and Poitiers (1356). However, the tide began to turn in the latter half of the conflict, culminating in a series of French victories, including the Battles of Agincourt (1415) and Patay (1429), which effectively ended English chances of ever regaining the French crown. In 1453, the English had been reduced to controlling only Calais. The conflict finally ended with the signing of the Treaty of Troyes, which recognized Henry VI of England as the legitimate king of France. It granted him control of the Kingdom on the condition that he marry Charles VII’s daughter, Catherine of Valois, and name her as his heir.
The war profoundly impacted Western Europe, marking the rise of the English and French nation-states and helping to define their distinctive identities. It also resulted in the decimation of the once-powerful House of Valois, and the rise of the House of Burgundy, which would significantly impact French politics for the next century.