Jeffrey S. Hamilton

title.none: Curry, The Hundred Years War (Jeffrey S. Hamilton )

identifier.other: baj9928.0404.011 04.04.11

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Jeffrey S. Hamilton , Baylor University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: Curry, Anne. The Hundred Years War, 2nd edition. Series: British History in Perspective. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. Pp. xv, 168. ISBN: $25.00 0-333-92435-5.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.04.11

Curry, Anne. The Hundred Years War, 2nd edition. Series: British History in Perspective. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. Pp. xv, 168. ISBN: $25.00 0-333-92435-5.

Reviewed by:

Jeffrey S. Hamilton
Baylor University

A second edition of Anne Curry's The Hundred Years War is very welcome. In reviewing the first edition I wondered how accessible such a densely packed yet extremely concise work could be to an American undergraduate coming to the subject for the first time. In the interim I have been pleasantly surprised by the response of students, who instead of being overwhelmed by the detail in the book have instead used it as a skeleton upon which to build a broader model of the issues and events involved. Moreover, the decade that has passed since the publication of the first edition in 1993 has seen a steady stream of important new work on the Hundred Years War, making a basic introduction such as this, containing both a coherent narrative and a consistent interpretative focus, more useful than ever.

The basic arrangement of the work remains unchanged. After a very brief introduction in which Curry attempts to place the Hundred Years War into a broader chronological context of Anglo-French conflict, emphasizing the crucial importance of distinguishing between feudal and dynastic war, the first chapter of the book provides a very useful historiographical overview to approaches to the Hundred Years War stretching from contemporary writers to the present. Many students will find this to be an especially challenging portion of the book, and will need to have recourse to the notes--and further reference materials--in order to sort out who's who and exactly what historiographic tradition/tendency the various writers reflect. Nevertheless, the basic discussion of the types and uses of contemporary sources is particularly instructive for students new to the field.

The second chapter of the book--"Origins and Objectives"--is by far the longest and the most substantial section. It is not so much a recapitulation of events as an analytical framework through which those events can be understood. She begins by discussing the antecedent events that produced the multifaceted and interrelated--and, Curry would argue insuperable--problems that undermined the relationship between the kings of England and France. She points to the frequently overlooked treaty of Le Goulet in 1200, and the homage that John paid to Philip Augustus, who was recognized as John's feudal overlord, as particularly significant in establishing the French position. Le Goulet was, of course, overshadowed by subsequent events as John himself soon lost Normandy, while a generation later Poitou fell during the minority of Henry III. Against this background we come to the crucially important Treaty of Paris of 1259. Contemporaries on each side criticized both Henry III and Louis IX for entering into this compact, which returned an enlarged duchy of Aquitaine to the English king, but at the price of recognizing the obligation to perform liege homage to the French king for these holdings. How novel a departure this arrangement was has been a subject of debate for 650 years, and the answer one draws colors any individual's interpretation of the later conflicts known as the Hundred Years War. Although he himself may have disagreed with the basic premises of the agreement, Edward I's subsequent objection to the Treaty of Paris, as Curry demonstrates, was directed at the fact that the treaty itself had never been fully implemented. Throughout his reign and that of his son Edward II the principals elaborated in the Treaty of Paris, including the performance of liege homage for Gascony, were generally conceded, although the details of compliance continued to be a subject of intense controversy and negotiation.

With the death of Charles IV in 1328, a new dynastic element was introduced to the essentially feudal disputes of the kings. Through his mother Isabella, Edward III certainly had a legitimate claim to the French throne, but in 1328 he was a minor and the policies of his government were dictated by his mother and her lover, Roger Mortimer. In describing the half-hearted attempt of the English king to assert his rights to the French throne, Curry used the term "damp squib." Since in June of the following year Edward crossed to France and performed homage (perhaps simple rather than liege) to Philip VI, the first Valois king, the matter seems to be closed. Nothing more is said about Edward's claim to the French throne throughout the next decade. Curry argues strongly that the claim was only resurrected by the threat of war in 1337, rather than the claim itself being the cause of the war.

The war that broke out in 1337 had many causes. Curry points to the continuing friction over appeals from Gascony, renewed Anglo-Scottish warfare, the diplomatic circumstances arising from the crusading initiative of Benedict XII, and finally the sanctuary given to Robert of Artois in England, which resulted in the confiscation of Aquitaine in May 1337. By that point war was inevitable, but Curry argues that Edward's early war aims were uncertain and inconsistent, and it is out of this uncertainty that we must view his claim to the French throne made in Ghent in January 1340. In charting the course of events from 1340 to 1369 Curry maintains her focus on the nature and meaning of Edward's claim to the French throne, both in England and abroad. The victories at Crecy and Poitiers may have made the realization of Edward's claim seem possible, but Curry, following Rogers, suggests that dismemberment of France and the acquisition of enlarged territorial holdings in full sovereignty was Edward's more modest ambition. The unsuccessful Reims campaign of 1359 (which may have been a final, genuine, attempt to claim the throne) nonetheless led to the Treaty of Bretigny and a renunciation of Edward's claim. Curry sees Bretigny, which gave the English king sovereign authority in Aquitaine, Poitou and several smaller territories, as a victory for Edward III, and she argues convincingly that its implementation was the cornerstone of the English policy well into the fifteenth century. The renewal of war by Charles V in 1369 was over the terms of Bretigny, not over English claims to the French throne.

Chapter 3 addresses in its title, "New Wars or Old," one of the crucial questions that must be asked about the Hundred Years War. Is it fundamentally a single conflict with a single underlying set of causes and objectives, or is it a series of independent conflicts united merely by the fact of common adversaries? The usurpation of the English throne by Henry IV in 1399 led to considerable confusion as to the legitimacy of the English claim to the French throne. When it came to Calais and Gascony, however, Henry was in no doubt of his sovereign rights as established in the Treaty of Bretigny. This position was reiterated in the Treaty of Bourges in 1412, by which Henry IV was to have Aquitaine "as his by hereditary right." Similarly, in 1414 Henry V was willing to drop any claim to the French throne in return for a territorial settlement. The victory at Agincourt changed the dynamic of Anglo-French relations, expanding English ambitions while hardening French resolve not to negotiate a settlement. Henry V pursued the conquest and occupation of Normandy with a single-mindedness of purpose not seen from the English in half a century. Prior to the murder of the duke of Burgundy in September 1419, Henry V does not appear to have sought the throne, but he seized the opportunity presented, and in the Treaty of Troyes (1420) his path to the throne was clearly established. Nevertheless, the Treaty of Troyes once and for all ended the English claim to the French throne established by Edward III, since by becoming Regent and heir to Charles VI, Henry V necessarily recognized the legitimacy of the Valois right to the throne once and for all. The treaty essentially transformed a national war into a civil war, as now it became Henry's responsibility, as Regent, to crush the resistance of Charles VI's disinherited son, "the so-called Dauphin." The inability of Henry V and his lieutenants to achieve this, coupled with a general dismissal of treaty by the European community led to the inevitable French victory in the final phase of the war (or the final war?).

In chapter 4 Curry examines what she calls the "wider context" of the Hundred Years War. Most obviously, the Anglo-French conflict was the engine that drove the foreign policy of each kingdom as they sought--and paid for--allies and troops. This is more true of the earlier stages of the war, during which more alliances were undertaken and the theaters of war were both more numerous and more far-flung geographically. Curry argues that this foreign policy was more often reactive than planned, pointing in particular to the impact of the emergence of an independent Burgundian state. For England, the claim to the French throne was a significant new factor in international diplomacy. The amount of diplomatic activity occasioned by the war, and the various claims justifying its conduct, resulted in an entirely new level of specialization and sophistication among diplomats, generally lawyers, and witnessed the development of international conventions of diplomatic conduct. Nevertheless, it continued to be pursued on an ad hoc basis, and may have been seen as an aspect of war, not of peace. The need for diplomatic discourse, Curry notes, emphasized the diminishing stature of the papacy as an international arbitrator, first through residence in Avignon, and more obviously during the period of the schism. Indeed, Curry suggests that the schism can itself be viewed as one aspect of the Hundred Years War.

In discussing the "wider context" of the war, Curry suggests that the most significant impact of all may have been felt in Scotland. The crucial issue in the Anglo-Scottish conflict was sovereignty, just as it was in the Gascon conflict between England and France. Of course, Anglo-Scottish conflict both predates the Hundred Years War, and it also extends well beyond the fall of Bordeaux in 1453. Nevertheless, Curry argues that the Hundred Years War and the distractions and possibilities occasioned by English involvement in France "confirmed the survival, and indeed the development, of Scotland as an independent nation.

In the brief conclusion Curry clearly restates her view that the Hundred Years War, while having a certain integrity as a whole, is better seen as three distinct phases of conflict driven by the treaties that preceded each. She argues that the initial stage of the conflict from 1337 to 1360 should be described as "the wars of the Treaty of Paris of 1259," the phase from 1360 to 1420 as "the wars of the Treaty of Bretigny," and the final phase of the war from 1420 to 1453 as "the wars of the Treaty of Troyes." Whether or not students agree with this analytical framework, they will be forced to engage with it, and will inevitably come away from this book with a more sophisticated understanding of Anglo-French relations in the later Middle Ages.