The Hundred Years' War was a period in European history that can take a near lifetime to fully understand. Spanning more than a century (116 years to be exact), the battle between England and France seems a work of fiction with its kings, knights, and epic battles, like Crécy and Agincourt. Indeed, many of William Shakespeare’s great works were based on this time period. For those wishing for a briefer version of the Hundred Years' War narrative, Anne Curry, the former president of the Historical Association in London and Emeritus Professor of Medieval History at the University of Southampton, has provided a wonderful piece entitled “The Hundred Years War: 1337–1453.”
Discussed With Clarity
The book, published by Osprey Publishing, moves along very quickly from before the official start of the century-plus-long conflict and the geopolitical results that came after it ended. There is much to cover in the small book, but Ms. Curry, known for her many other works on the period, does so with ease and clarity. Starting with the war of 1294-1298 between England’s Edward I and France’s Philip IV, the author discusses the conflict between the French and English monarchs, arising from land disputes to the humbling experience of the English crown paying homage to the French crown. These disputes are hardly one-offs and become consistent reasons for war.
Although the period is a time of monarchs and subjects, Ms. Curry is certain to point out the slight difference between the two kingdoms. This difference is exemplified when the Magna Carta, one of the most important documents created in the course of democratic efforts, was reissued after Edward I ordered a tax for the war against France without the “common consent of the whole kingdom and for the common benefit of the kingdom.” The reissue was a moment of reckoning for the king that nearly rivals the creation of the charter itself, for the moment proved its authority against monarchy.
No Time for Details
Though Ms. Curry spends little time with the details of treaty debates, the blood and iron of battle, or the intrigue of political power struggles (there truly is not enough time for it), she does hint at the pivotal moments in this long history that ensured the struggle for land and power continued. Some of these moments include English Queen Isabella’s treaty arrangement with France only to return to England and depose her husband, Edward II; her claim that her son was the rightful king of France; the alliance between the Scottish and the French against the English; and the capture of John II by Edward III's son at the Battle of Poitiers, which resulted in half of France being ceded to England.
The author also discusses the plight of the French subjects who were caught in between these two rival armies. Starvation, destitution, the cutting off of trade with neighboring villages and cities, the massive rise of inflation due to goods shortages, and the inevitability of being a direct casualty of war.
For readers who have taken an extensive interest in the Hundred Years' War, there may be statements made in the book that may conflict with some views. Ms. Curry does a fine job of proffering the most accepted versions of what happened at certain places and times, and does not get caught up in debating the various contemporary or post-contemporary accounts. Those issues are discussed and can be read elsewhere, including some of her own previous works which are mentioned, among many others, in the Further Reading section at the end of the book.
Along the bloody route that extends a hundred-plus years, Osprey Publishing has provided maps and graphics that describe the military campaign movements of the French and English; maps that lay out the borders of lands belonging to the French and English crowns, as well as the duchies; and, rather importantly, a chart of the French and English Royal Families (a who’s who and who-married-who chart). The book is also full of images, including the paintings of monarchs, photos of castles and fortresses, and contemporary works of art pertaining to certain battles and political events.
A Great Source
Ms. Curry has taken her expert grasp of the Hundred Years' War and summarized it in a work that is very easy to follow. The book does move quickly, so it is best to read the work slowly. For readers looking for an introduction to this significant era in European history, or for those who know the history, but would like an accessible source for a knowledge refresher, this is a necessary source.