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  More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)
Hundred Years' War

The name given by historians to a prolonged but intermittent struggle between England and France. Rivalries between such powerful neighbours were inevitable, but they were also fuelled by the complex territorial claims arising from marriages between princely families in England and France (marriages which had in the 12C brought *Anjou and *Aquitaine under English control).

The immediate cause was the death in 1328 of *Charles IV, the king of France, without a male heir. The throne passed to his first cousin, *Philip VI. In 1337 Philip confiscated large areas of southwestern France, round Gascony, which belonged by inheritance to the English crown (see *Eleanor of Aquitaine). The king of England, *Edward III, responded by pressing his own claim to the throne of France, being a closer relation of the late king (a nephew rather than a cousin), albeit through the female line. The *Salic law was not then formally established in France, and did not apply in England.

Long periods of inactivity separated the English campaigns in France. A famous victory by *Edward III at *Crécy in 1346 led to no great advantage; the king merely returned to England after besieging and capturing Calais. A campaign by his son, *Edward the Black Prince, brought another victory at *Poitiers in 1356; the French king, *John II, was captured and held hostage for four years until a large ransom and major territorial concessions were agreed (the agreement was soon revoked).

The most energetic English campaign was undertaken by *Henry V and included the victory of *Agincourt in 1415. It ended with his marriage to Catherine, the daughter of the king of France, and his being accepted as heir to the French throne. But he died two months before his father-in-law, and the English successes were soon reversed by the most striking figure of the entire saga. A French peasant girl in her late teens, *Joan of Arc, inspired the French to a series of victories beginning with the recapture of Orléans in 1429. She was herself eventually captured, was tried for heresy and in 1431 was burnt at the stake by the English. But the tide had turned.

The war petered out after some final engagements in 1453. An invasion of France in 1475 by a large English army was bought off by the French. No treaty was ever signed. As things were left, the English retained only *Calais out of all their French possessions. Even so, English kings continued until 1801 to describe themselves also as kings of France.

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