You are on page 1of 7

HIS 344


English domination during the Hundred Years War

By: Tyler Hisaw

The Hundred Years war started in 1337 and lasted until around 1453. During this the
English was against the French and was not a constant warfare. The reason of it starting dates
back a few hundred years but rather wanting to discuss is the outcome of the battles between the
two countries and why they had that outcome. In the Hundred Years War, the English Army
always seemed to destroy the French Army when they seemingly did not have the upper hand.
Even when the English were outnumbered, which was most of the time and on the foreign soil of
France, the English dominated the battlefield. Was the reason better fire power, the strategy in
which they placed their troops or was it because the English was introducing a new way to attain
and keep an army that is loyal only to the crown?

HIS 344
During the Hundred Years War there was not much difference in weapons used in the
French and English Armies. The only real difference was that of the archers. The English used
long bowmen while the French had hired mercenaries using crossbows. One of the first
applications of this in France was at Morlaix in 1342. The earl of Northampton was supporting
the Montfort candidate to the duchy. After initial successes in Montfortian areas he bit off more
than he could chew by besieging Morlaix. Charles of Biois, the French candidate, led a much
larger force (perhaps 3,000 men-at-arms and 1,500 Genoese mercenaries) against him.
Northampton fell back to a defensive position a few miles north. He had a wood at his back, into
which he put his baggage and horses, and a stream on one flank, adding a concealed ditch to his
front. Charles attacked in three battles, one after the other. First cane native Bretons, on foot
and probably quite lightly armored. They were shot down and hurled back onto the men-atarms. The second battle charged on horseback, but fell into the ditch. The few who managed to
get through were captured. After a delay a third French attack was launched but Northampton
had already drawn back his forces by now running out of arrows into the wood. Hampered
by the desertion of their Genoese Crossbowmen the French were unable to break into the thickets
and drew off. Northamptons men were short of food (and endured a siege of uncertain duration,
perhaps for several days) before they charged out and broke through the encircled French lines
(Hughes, Armies, 5). This example helps to show how the difference of the kind of archery
made the battlefield. Another better example of this is the battle at Crecy in 1346. Edward III
was in Normandy attempting to bring the French king to battle. Edward III had failed two times

HIS 344
before to get Phillip, King of France, into getting him to fight in Flanders nearly twelve years
earlier. The French chased down the English to a strong hilltop position at Crecy in Ponthieu.
The French outnumbered the English almost three to one. Again the English had the long
bowmen while the French had the Genoese mercenaries with crossbows. At this battle the long
bowmen won the battle for English for a few reasons. The crossbow men had heavy shields to
protect them in battle but while they chased the English they placed them on the baggage train
since they were so heavy. So during battle they had nothing to protect them while they would
reload. They were sitting ducks to the English archers. Also the crossbow has a longer range but
takes a longer time to reload while the longbow has a shorter distance but can be reloaded
several times faster than the crossbow.
Another possible reason why the English dominated the battlefield during the
Hundred Years war was the strategy the English placed their troops against the French armed
troops. This topic and its arguments are sometimes much debated on how the English spaced
and set their troops. One of the arguments goes as follows, Almost a century ago the pages of
the English Historical Review were filled with debate on this subject. Froissarts description of
the English at Crecy laid out a maniere d une herce has caused much controversy as to what he
actually meant. It could be interpreted as referring to the branches of a candlestick, a harrow
(the most popular choice) or possibly, by reference to herrisson a spiky fence (like a
hedgehog). The one which has found most favor is that the archers were deployed on the flanks
of each battle of men-at-arms and sloping slightly forward in order to provide a crossfire in front

HIS 344
of the main battle line. This has been elaborated by Burne into a formation with projecting
teeth of hollow wedges where two battles joined. There is a problem idea as it actually
produces weak points in the English line, where, if contacted by heavily equipped men-at-arms,
the archers would have been hard-pressed to defend themselves. In answer to this criticism
proponent of Burnes idea suggest that the impact of the English archery would be to drive off
attackers and funnel them into positions opposite their own men-at-arms against whom, for
reasons of social status opposing the men-at-arms preferred to fight (Hughes, Armies, 7).
Another argument to this is that on almost all occasions, the English would take care to protect
their front with ditches and potholes. This suggests that they did not trust for the archers to
solely hold off the enemy by just firepower alone, until they learned to use portable stakes as an
obstacle. The strategy most accepted is that the English would deploy archers on the flanks of
the main force, but protect them by men-at-arms placed on each end of these so-called wings.
This in return caused a crossfire at the front of the battlefield. The English used this strategy
and large amounts of discipline to become one of the most feared fighting forces in Europe. The
reason this worked so effective to the French army was their lack of coordination and discipline
(Hughes, Armies, 7-8). The reason that the French army was always poor coordinated and lowly
disciplined was because of the use of mercenaries. These are soldiers for hire. This usually
means that they are at war for the money alone and when the battle gets rough they no longer
want a part of it since it is not their fight to begin with.

HIS 344
The final possible reason for the English domination during the Hundred Years
War was the English was introducing a new way to attain and keep an army that is loyal only to
the crown. At the heart of Englands rise as a front rank military power in the middle decades
of the fourteenth century were changes in military organization, in the composition of armies and
in the conduct of war: changes which, when taken as a whole, amount to a major overhaul of the
military machine at the disposal of the English crown (Hughes, Armies, 22). Several historians
have called this the Edwardian military revolution. In this Edwardian military revolution, there
are changes in recruitment and forms of remuneration. This means the emergence of paid and
contract armies or standing armies that is completely loyal to the King. Before what became
known as the Edwardian military revolution, the King of England and France would get their
army by calling on each of their nobles to gather men to fight. This method often was inefficient
due to that a lot of the men called into the army were enslaved serfs, but also these independent
armies would be more loyal to their noble than to the King. Also these noble, after gathering
their army, would often only do what would help them the most whether it be to gain land or
As you can see, each of these reasons stated the related quotes from the book
confirms that they all played a vital role in the reason for English domination during the Hundred
Years War against the French army. Fire power was a game changer in battles when it came to
the Frenchs crossbow and the Englishs longbow. During this time of warfare the most
important key was not the pure power and range the weapon had but more importantly how fast

HIS 344
the weapon could be reloaded and fired and the maneuverability of the people using the weapon.
The crossbowmen had to use heavy shields to protect them while they reloaded and when they
did not have them they were decimated by English Archers. Time and time again there is
evidence of the way the English set their troops up against the French that it could hardly be
overcame no matter how many waves were sent and no matter how many more men the French
had against the English. And finally the way the English started recruiting men for the army and
how they paid them to constantly stay and serve was a military revolution when it comes to
defending an empire or attaching others. It was more discipline, cohesive and coordinated that it
became a fearfully good fighting force. So to the question, was the reason better fire power, the
strategy in which they placed their troops or was it because the English was introducing a new
way to attain and keep an army that is loyal only to the crown that made the English dominate
the battlefield during the Hundred Years War? The answer that is most accepted is that all three
of these reasons went hand in hand that one strengthened the other in such a way that they
allowed the English to dominate the French army even though they were outnumbered and on
foreign soil.

HIS 344

Hughes, Curry. Arms, Armies And Fortifications In The Hundred Years War. Rochester: The
Boydell Press, 1999.