The Hundred Years' War: Background information when reading The Maid

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The Maid

A Novel of Joan of Arc

by Kimberly Cutter

The Maid by Kimberly Cutter
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2011, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2012, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Sacha Dollacker

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Beyond the Book:
The Hundred Years' War

Print Review

Joan of Arc's successes on the battlefield helped to end the series of battles known today as the Hundred Years' War (1337-1453). Essentially, the series of battles were dynastic conflicts between the Plantagenets in England and the Valois in France. In the 1330s, both Houses claimed rights to the vacant French throne, but these claims were preceded by a long, twisted relationship between England and France.

The Battle of Rochelle It all started when William the Conqueror claimed the English throne in 1066. Because he came from France and was a vassal of the French king, William technically owed allegiance to the French king. For one king to owe allegiance to another was tricky, but as the English grew more powerful than the French over subsequent decades, an initially sticky situation became the oft-used spark for major conflict.

In addition to the allegiance problem, the English King actually owned more land in France than the French King did. When Phillip II of France became king in 1180, he decided to correct some of these problems and wrested a large parcel of northern France back into French control through a series of battles with England's King John. By the 14th century, however, many English nobles remembered the glory days of their ancestors owning land in France, particularly in Normandy, and wanted those lands back.

Joan of Arc The Hundred Years' War began in 1337 and, though the name would suggest that the battles were contiguous, there were actually a number of periods of peace before the final resolution. The "Hundred Years' War" was a term applied later by historians to describe the series of conflicts, which can be divided into four phases: the Edwardian War (1337-1360), the Caroline War (1369-1389), the Lancastrian War (1415-1429), and the period of Plantagenet deterioration instigated by Joan of Arc (1412-1431).

The wars were primarily fought on French soil, and the average French person felt the impact of the war much more distinctly than did his English counterpart. In fact, the Plantagenets grew wealthier throughout the war as a result of their constant plundering of French towns and resources. By the time Joan of Arc petitioned the French Dauphin to fight the English, the majority of France was beleaguered and despondent, but her involvement helped to turn the tide in the favor of the French. The war ended in 1453 when the French were finally able to drive the English from their country.

The effect of the Hundred Years War on European society was significant. By the end of the period, both England and France felt a sense of national identity for the first time, and the concept of national borders came into being. Military tactics also changed substantially - mounted knights (and the code of chivalry) gave way to longbows and then to early firearms and cannons. This shift extended far beyond the military and affected society as a whole as no longer was it necessary to support an expensive retinue as a knight to achieve honor in battle. This, combined with the English civil wars known as the War of the Roses, which caused the deaths of many nobles, led to a stronger merchant class at the expense of weakened feudal power.

This article was originally published in November 2011, and has been updated for the October 2012 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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