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Modern Europe was born on the battlefield The Hundred Years War is our chronicle and crucible

God for Harry, England and St. George. (Credit: The Hollow Crown/BBC)

God for Harry, England and St. George. (Credit: The Hollow Crown/BBC)


August 23, 2023   8 mins

Why write about the Hundred Years War? This succession of destructive wars, separated by tense intervals of truce and by dishonest treaties of peace, was one of the seminal events in the history of England and France, as well as in that of their neighbours who were successively drawn into it: Scotland, Germany, Italy, Spain and Holland. It laid the foundations of France’s national consciousness, while destroying the prosperity and political pre-eminence which she had once enjoyed. In England, it brought intense effort and suffering, a powerful tide of patriotism, great fortune followed by bankruptcy, disintegration and utter defeat.

Writing my history of the wars, with the final volume out next week, has occupied 43 years of my life. So what have I learned in the course of my long Odyssey through the chronicles and archives of this remote period? More important, what might others learn? No historian writes entirely for their own satisfaction. They have an imaginary reader in mind whose pleasure is the ultimate test of their work.

The Late Middle Ages was a time of extraordinary contrasts. It was a period in which men, and occasionally women, created works of lasting beauty: buildings, sculpture, jewellery, paintings, novels and histories. It was the age of Chaucer and Gower, of Froissart and Christine de Pisan, of the exquisite miniatures commissioned from the Limbourg brothers by the great Duke of Berry, of the emotionally overpowering sculpture created by Klaus Sluter for the Dukes of Burgundy a generation before Donatello, of the dramatic churches of Mont-Saint-Michel and St. George’s Windsor. The image of decline that hangs over the whole period could not be further from the truth.

Yet the age which created these things was also an age of cruelty and destruction unparalleled in any earlier period and few later ones. Many of its finest buildings were left in flames by passing armies. Paintings and illustrated manuscripts were dispersed, sculptures vandalised,  the work of jewellers and goldsmiths dismantled and melted down to contribute to the costs of war. It has been estimated that France lost about a third of its population, most of them non-combatants, on top of the terrible toll exacted by periodic outbreaks of famine and epidemic disease. It was a time of morbid pessimism and anxiety, when human life was cheap and men and women contemplated the imminent end of the world.

The history of the 14th and 15th centuries is dominated by outsize personalities. The great captains take pride of place, many of them immortalised by Shakespeare: Mauny, Chandos, the Black Prince, Du Guesclin, Salisbury, Fastolf, Talbot and Dunois. We know a great deal more about them than we do about the heroes of earlier ages, not least because the records of government survive more plentifully than for any previous period. But the war’s chroniclers, waspish and prejudiced forerunners of today’s tabloid papers, are supplemented for the first time by contemporary sources of a more personal kind: intimate poetry, biographies, memoirs and personal letters.

Some of the great figures of the time, like Edward III and Henry V have come down to us as cardboard cut-outs, their personalities half hidden behind the mask of government and the clouds of incense in which their contemporaries enveloped them. Others conformed to no established pattern. In an age when power was a prerogative of great noblemen, others broke the mould. Bertrand du Guesclin, the most famous French paladin of the period, came from an obscure gentry family in Brittany. Sir Robert Knollys, the terror of 14th-century Burgundy, probably begun his career as an archer. The same was true of Sir John Hawkwood, the crude English thug who ended up as one of Italy’s most successful soldiers of fortune. His painted monument by Paolo Uccello, an official commission of the Florentine Republic, still dominates the nave of Florence cathedral.

The war made these men. Geoffrey Chaucer, known to most people only as the author of The Canterbury Tales, was also a soldier and diplomat, a polyglot who read widely in Latin, French and Italian. Charles, Duke of Orléans, was captured at the battle of Agincourt and passed the best years of his life in various English prisons, a pawn in the diplomacy of the period. Yet he was also a fine poet, pouring out his frustration in nostalgic ballads, some of them in English. At the other end of the social scale, Joan of Arc was an illiterate peasant when she turned the course of the war at the age of seventeen. She was only two years older when she defended herself with consummate skill at the trial which led to her execution. These extraordinary individuals would be worth meeting in any age.

There was, however, more to the Hundred Years War than exotic heroes and picturesque incidents, more than ever occurred to Froissart or Shakespeare. Until quite recently, war was the main collective activity of mankind. The origin of the modern state lies in the immense feat of organisation required to deploy a community’s resources for war. Most English soldiers were archers, which meant that armies were recruited across a wide social spectrum and in every part of the country. In Scotland, an extraordinarily high proportion of the manpower of the Lowlands fought in Scottish armies on the French side.

But, except in the most primitive societies, wars are not just fought by soldiers. They also depend on countless officials high and low, on recruiting officers and tax collectors, on shipbuilders and seamen, on armourers and metal-founders, on the men who read out proclamations in market squares or built bonfires on coastal hills to warn of invasion. These activities brought the war home to entire populations. A web of rumour united disparate communities. The state was omnipresent. It made people conscious of the state’s ambitions, but also of its failings. They were brought together by the triumphs of Edward III, the Black Prince and Henry V, but also by common grievances, many of which arose from the hardships of war and the bitterness of ultimate defeat. The Hundred Years War was not a total war in the sense that the world wars of the 20th century were total wars. But it came closer to the 20th-century model than any previous wars, perhaps closer than any later one before the age of Napoleon.

England and France responded to these challenges in different ways, with very different consequences. William Pitt the Younger once remarked that the prime material of war was money. Already in medieval Europe, the critical test of the power of the state was its ability to levy taxes. Following a widely accepted maxim of Roman law, most lawyers and philosophers of the time accepted that taxes required the consent of the community that had to pay them. In England, this was a reality. In France it was not. The English Parliament was niggardly in agreeing to war taxes, but at least it generally acknowledged an obligation to support the King’s wars, and its consent bound the whole nation. As a result the financial dependence of the English kings on Parliament was firmly established as a principle. With control of the purse, came political authority. The prominent role of the English Parliament intensified political activity in the communities represented there: the gentry of the shires, royal officials, clients and councillors of the nobility and the oligarchies of the towns. It dispersed political power among a large and coherent political community, forcing a more consensual style of government on the monarchy.

In France events took a different turn. The national and provincial estates were notoriously reluctant to authorise taxation, and when they did their authority was not always recognised by the communities from which they came. In the end, the kings lost patience and levied taxes by royal command, backed up by force. Before the wars, the political institutions of France and England had developed on very similar lines. But writing in the 1460s, Sir John Fortescue, a former chief justice and the author of one of the earliest treatises on the English constitution, distinguished between the “political” monarchy of England and the absolute monarchy of France. Fortescue overstated the power of the French kings, but he was right in a broader sense. The origins of the absolute monarchy of 17th- and 18th-century France lay in the methods needed to defeat the English in the Hundred Years War. France became a military state with a standing army and an aggressive foreign policy. England had only very small permanent forces, and did not become a major player in European politics again until the 18th century.

The English have always rejoiced in their insular status. As early as the 13th century, an English chronicler described it as “set at the end of the world, the sea girding it around”. It was the sentiment which Shakespeare put into the mouth of the dying John of Gaunt. “This precious stone set in the silver sea, which serves it in the office of a wall, or as a moat defensive to a house, against the envy of less happier lands.” It is part of the classic canon of English patriotism. Yet it was a myth. Politically, England was not an island until defeat in the Hundred Years War made it one. It had been part of a European polity.

Its fortunes were closely intertwined with those of France and the Low Countries. Its kings were peers of France, ruling a large part of western France by hereditary right. They conceived vast continental ambitions. Henry III measured himself against his great contemporary Louis IX of France, once trying to make himself King of Sicily. Edward III claimed the Crown of France as his own. He planned to make one of his sons count of Flanders and another Duke of Milan. A third son claimed the Crown of Castile and tried to make good his claim by armed invasion. Henry V’s errant brother Humphrey had ambitions to rule Hainault and Holland. It was the Hundred Years War that deprived the English kings of their continental dominions, encouraging an insularity that persisted for centuries.

And what if the English had won, as they so nearly did in the early 1420s? If Henry V and the Duke of Bedford had achieved their ambition of uniting France and England under the house of Lancaster, England’s subsequent history would have been very different. In an age when the state was not readily distinguished from the person of the monarch, the concept of the dual monarchy would sooner or later have broken down. England would of necessity have remained a continental power, but in a very particular sense. It would have become a subordinate part of a continental empire whose centre of gravity would inevitably have moved eastward towards its richer and more populous French territory, until the resulting tensions became intolerable. Defeat proved to be as decisive for the future of England as it was for that of France.

The passions generated by ancient wars eventually fade, but those provoked by the wars of the English in 15th-century France have proved to be surprisingly durable. England’s monarchs continued to call themselves Kings of France long after the title had lost any meaning. In 1797, in the midst of another war with France, when the House of Commons debated peace proposals which would have required George III to abandon the title, one member protested against Pitt the Younger’s description of the title as “a harmless feather”. It was, he said, “gallantly won in the same glorious wars by which we first asserted the claim of our monarchs to that harmless feather… A great nation can never safely be disgraced.”

In France, the memory of English conquests lived on. The foundations of scholarship on the Hundred Years War were laid by patriotic French historians of the 19th century, writing under the shadow of Waterloo and Sedan. The passage of time did nothing to soften their indignation about the fate of their country in the time of Edward III, Henry V and the Duke of Bedford. The extraordinary life and death of Joan of Arc defied historical objectivity until quite recently. For centuries, her story was the focus of powerful political passions: nationalism, Catholicism, royalism and intermittent Anglophobia. Such myths are powerful agents of national identity. The great French historian Marc Bloch subscribed to none of these “-isms”, but even he thought that no Frenchman could truly understand his country’s history unless he thrilled at the story of Charles VII’s coronation at Reims in 1429. Writing in the summer of 1940 in the aftermath of a terrible defeat, Bloch looked to an earlier recovery from the edge of disaster for reassurance about the survival of France.

We are no strangers to long-term conflicts. The struggle of Russia to dominate eastern Europe is three centuries old. The three wars which France and Germany fought between 1870 and 1945 can plausibly be regarded as one conflict finally settled only by the internal transformation of Germany. The Hundred Years War was a conflict of that order. It is a powerful story, a story of the emergence of the two great nation-states of medieval Europe, nations which once had much in common, but gradually grew apart in a tide of organised violence. It is above all a story of the impact of war on those who directed it, on those who fought it and on those whose lives were disrupted or destroyed by it. It happened six centuries ago, but the themes are timeless.


Jonathan Sumption is a former Justice of the Supreme Court, and a medieval historian.


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Susan Grabston
Susan Grabston
8 months ago

Sumption’s “way with words” anchored in a forensic mind never fail to impress. He was a light in the intellectual darkness of the Covid years. More of Lord Sumption please Unherd editirial team.

Susan Grabston
SG
Susan Grabston
8 months ago

Sumption’s “way with words” anchored in a forensic mind never fail to impress. He was a light in the intellectual darkness of the Covid years. More of Lord Sumption please Unherd editirial team.

Bernard Hill
Bernard Hill
8 months ago

A great nation can never safely be disgraced” is an observation which deserves sober reflection amongst current and putative members of NATO right now.

Andrew F
Andrew F
8 months ago
Reply to  Bernard Hill

Are you suggesting that we need to allow Russia to genocide Ukraine?
What might had been prevailing wisdom in 1797 is disgraceful notion in 2023.

Bernard Hill
BH
Bernard Hill
7 months ago
Reply to  Andrew F

…I’m not suggesting that The West should simply accept the resurgence of Russia’s imperial ambitions Andrew. But intervening towards a future where the Russian Federation is permanently dismantled, or Russia is evicted from substantial control of the Black Sea through Crimea, would be to revisit the follies of the 1850’s.

Last edited 7 months ago by Bernard Hill
Bernard Hill
Bernard Hill
7 months ago
Reply to  Andrew F

…I’m not suggesting that The West should simply accept the resurgence of Russia’s imperial ambitions Andrew. But intervening towards a future where the Russian Federation is permanently dismantled, or Russia is evicted from substantial control of the Black Sea through Crimea, would be to revisit the follies of the 1850’s.

Last edited 7 months ago by Bernard Hill
martin logan
ML
martin logan
7 months ago
Reply to  Bernard Hill

Er, ever hear of Nazi Germany?
Tojo’s Japan?

Last edited 7 months ago by martin logan
Bernard Hill
Bernard Hill
7 months ago
Reply to  martin logan

…two good examples on point Martin. In both cases, hostilities were immediately followed by respectful reconstruction and rehabilitation of the losers by the western European victors, who were much the wiser in 1945, than they had been in 2018. In contrast, the disgrace inflicted on Germany, and the disrespect shown towards Japan at Versailles in 1919, rather illustrate the worth of Pitt’s observation I would say.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
7 months ago
Reply to  Bernard Hill

The complete defeat of Germany was not in fact immediately followed by its reconstruction. The Morgenthau plan to dismember and de-industrialise Germany was a serious one (a united Germany being still only 75 years old at that time). It was mainly the onset of the Cold War which changed this, led to the Marshall Plan etc.

Last edited 7 months ago by Andrew Fisher
Bernard Hill
BH
Bernard Hill
7 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

…As I said the West respected reconstruction Andrew, and directly contributed to reconstruction both under the occupation period, and then through the Marshall Plan. The main point though, is that the West actively sort to avoid another round disgrace for the Germans.

Bernard Hill
Bernard Hill
7 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

…As I said the West respected reconstruction Andrew, and directly contributed to reconstruction both under the occupation period, and then through the Marshall Plan. The main point though, is that the West actively sort to avoid another round disgrace for the Germans.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
7 months ago
Reply to  Bernard Hill

The complete defeat of Germany was not in fact immediately followed by its reconstruction. The Morgenthau plan to dismember and de-industrialise Germany was a serious one (a united Germany being still only 75 years old at that time). It was mainly the onset of the Cold War which changed this, led to the Marshall Plan etc.

Last edited 7 months ago by Andrew Fisher
Bernard Hill
BH
Bernard Hill
7 months ago
Reply to  martin logan

…two good examples on point Martin. In both cases, hostilities were immediately followed by respectful reconstruction and rehabilitation of the losers by the western European victors, who were much the wiser in 1945, than they had been in 2018. In contrast, the disgrace inflicted on Germany, and the disrespect shown towards Japan at Versailles in 1919, rather illustrate the worth of Pitt’s observation I would say.

Andrew F
Andrew F
8 months ago
Reply to  Bernard Hill

Are you suggesting that we need to allow Russia to genocide Ukraine?
What might had been prevailing wisdom in 1797 is disgraceful notion in 2023.

martin logan
martin logan
7 months ago
Reply to  Bernard Hill

Er, ever hear of Nazi Germany?
Tojo’s Japan?

Last edited 7 months ago by martin logan
Bernard Hill
BH
Bernard Hill
8 months ago

A great nation can never safely be disgraced” is an observation which deserves sober reflection amongst current and putative members of NATO right now.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
8 months ago

Brilliant article but what about the race and transgender angle ?

Simon Neale
SN
Simon Neale
8 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

I’m sure someone could object to this bit if they were so minded:

The English Parliament was niggardly in agreeing to war taxes

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  Simon Neale

It would take too long on a Forum such as this.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
7 months ago
Reply to  Simon Neale

English or niggardly?

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  Simon Neale

It would take too long on a Forum such as this.

Andrew Fisher
AF
Andrew Fisher
7 months ago
Reply to  Simon Neale

English or niggardly?

Jimmy Snooks
Jimmy Snooks
8 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

Not only that. As a person of colour I have no truck with this subject as I do not see anyone who ‘looks like me’ in any of the pictorial representations of this conflict. The Hundred Year’s War is an irrelevance, as is all English history prior to Windrush. Professor Kehinde Andrews makes this claim, so it must be true.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  Jimmy Snooks

More tea Vicar?

Bernard Hill
BH
Bernard Hill
7 months ago

…perhaps a sherry?

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
7 months ago

I think he was being facetious……

Bernard Hill
Bernard Hill
7 months ago

…perhaps a sherry?

Andrew Fisher
AF
Andrew Fisher
7 months ago

I think he was being facetious……

Andrew F
AF
Andrew F
8 months ago
Reply to  Jimmy Snooks

How true.
Without Windrush UK would be nothing.
All the great science and culture they created.
Who needs Shakespeare or Newton?

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  Jimmy Snooks

More tea Vicar?

Andrew F
AF
Andrew F
8 months ago
Reply to  Jimmy Snooks

How true.
Without Windrush UK would be nothing.
All the great science and culture they created.
Who needs Shakespeare or Newton?

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

Indeed, what about it!

Andrew F
AF
Andrew F
8 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

Surely Joan D’Arc was transgender?
She liked men clothing.
Acted like men, unlike French in ww2.

Simon Neale
Simon Neale
8 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

I’m sure someone could object to this bit if they were so minded:

The English Parliament was niggardly in agreeing to war taxes

Jimmy Snooks
JS
Jimmy Snooks
8 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

Not only that. As a person of colour I have no truck with this subject as I do not see anyone who ‘looks like me’ in any of the pictorial representations of this conflict. The Hundred Year’s War is an irrelevance, as is all English history prior to Windrush. Professor Kehinde Andrews makes this claim, so it must be true.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

Indeed, what about it!

Andrew F
Andrew F
8 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

Surely Joan D’Arc was transgender?
She liked men clothing.
Acted like men, unlike French in ww2.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
8 months ago

Brilliant article but what about the race and transgender angle ?

J Bryant
J Bryant
8 months ago

A very interesting article about a subject I (an American) know almost nothing about. The author’s style is engaging which bodes well for reading the books. I must admit, though, I followed the link to the final volume in the series: it is volume 5 and runs to almost 1000 words. I am a little daunted.
A minor point: when the author writes “It is part of the classic cannon of English patriotism”, I suspect he meant “canon of English patriotism.”
I live in hope that one day Lord Sumption will write an article about the legal framework, in England, governing the ability of people who’ve been “cancelled” to bring suit against those who have deprived them of their livelihood.

Gordon Black
GB
Gordon Black
8 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

A minor point … 1000 pages.

Andrew F
Andrew F
8 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Yes, I wondered about it.
Who is so interested in 100 years war to read 5 volumes of about 1000 pages each, apart from professional historians.
I am interested in warfare but there are too many wars of interest, to devote months of your life to read about one.

Gordon Black
Gordon Black
8 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

A minor point … 1000 pages.

Andrew F
Andrew F
8 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Yes, I wondered about it.
Who is so interested in 100 years war to read 5 volumes of about 1000 pages each, apart from professional historians.
I am interested in warfare but there are too many wars of interest, to devote months of your life to read about one.

J Bryant
J Bryant
8 months ago

A very interesting article about a subject I (an American) know almost nothing about. The author’s style is engaging which bodes well for reading the books. I must admit, though, I followed the link to the final volume in the series: it is volume 5 and runs to almost 1000 words. I am a little daunted.
A minor point: when the author writes “It is part of the classic cannon of English patriotism”, I suspect he meant “canon of English patriotism.”
I live in hope that one day Lord Sumption will write an article about the legal framework, in England, governing the ability of people who’ve been “cancelled” to bring suit against those who have deprived them of their livelihood.

Steve Murray
LL
Steve Murray
8 months ago

What strikes me as most interesting in this essay is the underlying theme of the “appetite for war” of past ages; or perhaps not so “past” since it remains in our (European) midst. But more in general, what becomes of this appetite when the local horrors of war become too much to countenance? The nuclear threat aside, can modern populations envisage the laying to waste of towns, great cities, whole swathes of countryside in our post-modern world, even as we see an example set before us in Ukraine?

Is it possible that the appetite for conquest and destruction becomes internalised, resulting in the cultural ructions we’re witnessing; a kind of self-immolation brought about by no longer having a common external outlet for this appetite, or instinct? What, then, would this tell us about our humanity?

The overview provided here by Lord Sumption has value beyond historical record, and surely that’s the point of creating and remembering – to serve us in our present. The tendency to try to revise our history by cultural “warriors” might thus be seen as an exercise in self-denial, an unhealthy form of repression about ourselves and our true natures, the understanding of which is a prerequisite of progress, seen in its more truthful sense.

Last edited 8 months ago by Steve Murray
Steve Murray
Steve Murray
8 months ago

What strikes me as most interesting in this essay is the underlying theme of the “appetite for war” of past ages; or perhaps not so “past” since it remains in our (European) midst. But more in general, what becomes of this appetite when the local horrors of war become too much to countenance? The nuclear threat aside, can modern populations envisage the laying to waste of towns, great cities, whole swathes of countryside in our post-modern world, even as we see an example set before us in Ukraine?

Is it possible that the appetite for conquest and destruction becomes internalised, resulting in the cultural ructions we’re witnessing; a kind of self-immolation brought about by no longer having a common external outlet for this appetite, or instinct? What, then, would this tell us about our humanity?

The overview provided here by Lord Sumption has value beyond historical record, and surely that’s the point of creating and remembering – to serve us in our present. The tendency to try to revise our history by cultural “warriors” might thus be seen as an exercise in self-denial, an unhealthy form of repression about ourselves and our true natures, the understanding of which is a prerequisite of progress, seen in its more truthful sense.

Last edited 8 months ago by Steve Murray
Stephen Sheridan
Stephen Sheridan
8 months ago

I really enjoyed Sumption’s succinct and humorous book The Albigensian Crusade. I am saving up his Hundred Year’s War masterwork for a time with more leisure – but I have acquired the first 3 volumes in anticipation. Judging from this article, he may be a modern Thucydides.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago

Except that Thucydides was actually a participant in the Peloponnesian War.

Andrew F
AF
Andrew F
8 months ago

How do we know?
Any photographs or witnesses?

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  Andrew F

What a moronic question!

Charles Stanhope
CS
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  Andrew F

What a moronic question!

Andrew F
Andrew F
8 months ago

How do we know?
Any photographs or witnesses?

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago

Except that Thucydides was actually a participant in the Peloponnesian War.

Stephen Sheridan
SS
Stephen Sheridan
8 months ago

I really enjoyed Sumption’s succinct and humorous book The Albigensian Crusade. I am saving up his Hundred Year’s War masterwork for a time with more leisure – but I have acquired the first 3 volumes in anticipation. Judging from this article, he may be a modern Thucydides.

John Dellingby
JD
John Dellingby
8 months ago

A very interesting and engaging article. I do wonder if one reason why the Hundred Years War and its feats endures in both England and France is that the rivalry continued until either at least until Waterloo or even 1904 when the Entente Cordiale was signed? Some might say the rivalry never died and is still ongoing, despite the friendly official relations in this day and age. Even after this it’s hard to think of an occasion between 1453 and 1789 when England/GB and France were ever on the same side in a dispute or conflict. No doubt harking back to Agincourt, Crecy, Formigny or Orleans and invoking King Harry, the Black Prince or Joan of Arc also provided inspiration and patriotic fervour to all classes during this period and arguably still does today.

Charles Stanhope
CS
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  John Dellingby

We provided considerable support to Henry IV in his ultimately successful bid to grab the French Throne in the late 16th century. We were allied with France in the War of the Quadruple Alliance in 1718, which witnessed the humiliation of Bourbon Spain.
We were again with France in the Crimean War of 1854-55, where it must be said France did most of the ‘heavy lifting’!
The French were also at our side when we gave the Chinese ‘as damned good thrashing’ in 1860, capturing Peking*and burning the Summer Palace.
QED?

(* Now called Beijing apparently.)

Jonathan N
Jonathan N
8 months ago

I would say these examples rather make JD’s wider point. Although we have often been allied with the French, and have fought wars against the other European powers (notably Spain and the Dutch), the old enemy has always been France.

Last edited 8 months ago by Jonathan N
Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  Jonathan N

The ‘old enemy’ has always been France since their very successful invasions of 1066 & 1152.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
7 months ago

As you are something of a pedant (which I suppose is reasonable when you are talking about historical accuracy!), it should be pointed out that “France” or probably more accurately, the King of France, did not invade England in 1066. That was of course, the Duke of Normandy. That Dukedom was often in conflict rather than alliance with its nominal feudal overlord.

By his successful conquest of England, William and his successors became the equal in status to the King of France.

Charles Hedges
CH
Charles Hedges
7 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

Very good point.Also England was very wealthy.

Charles Hedges
CH
Charles Hedges
7 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

Very good point.Also England was very wealthy.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
7 months ago

As you are something of a pedant (which I suppose is reasonable when you are talking about historical accuracy!), it should be pointed out that “France” or probably more accurately, the King of France, did not invade England in 1066. That was of course, the Duke of Normandy. That Dukedom was often in conflict rather than alliance with its nominal feudal overlord.

By his successful conquest of England, William and his successors became the equal in status to the King of France.

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
8 months ago
Reply to  Jonathan N

Years ago I read a list of French military interventions in Europe. Sparked off by reading Goethe, and finding out that for decades his part of Germany was occupied by French soldiers.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  Anna Bramwell

France regarded it as almost a divine right to ravage the Holy Roman Empire (Germany) from 1552 onwards.
Ultimately this policy ended badly.

Andrew F
Andrew F
8 months ago

Surely it was Napoleon who finished off France as great power (population decline and all that).
Still it is German music and French paintings for me.
OK, I forgot Italy.
But they never start and finish war on the same side.
Treacherous or sensible?

Andrew F
Andrew F
8 months ago

Surely it was Napoleon who finished off France as great power (population decline and all that).
Still it is German music and French paintings for me.
OK, I forgot Italy.
But they never start and finish war on the same side.
Treacherous or sensible?

Andrew F
AF
Andrew F
8 months ago
Reply to  Anna Bramwell

What is wrong with that?
Occupying Germany permanently would saved millions of lives in Europe.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
7 months ago
Reply to  Andrew F

When? The post 1945 solution was better. Of course there were and are still NATO military forces there, but the idea that the British or even the Americans had the appetite or resources to hold down a potentially hostile population indefinitely (we found it hard to manage in Afghanistan!) is for the birds.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
7 months ago
Reply to  Andrew F

When? The post 1945 solution was better. Of course there were and are still NATO military forces there, but the idea that the British or even the Americans had the appetite or resources to hold down a potentially hostile population indefinitely (we found it hard to manage in Afghanistan!) is for the birds.

Charles Stanhope
CS
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  Anna Bramwell

France regarded it as almost a divine right to ravage the Holy Roman Empire (Germany) from 1552 onwards.
Ultimately this policy ended badly.

Andrew F
Andrew F
8 months ago
Reply to  Anna Bramwell

What is wrong with that?
Occupying Germany permanently would saved millions of lives in Europe.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  Jonathan N

The ‘old enemy’ has always been France since their very successful invasions of 1066 & 1152.

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
8 months ago
Reply to  Jonathan N

Years ago I read a list of French military interventions in Europe. Sparked off by reading Goethe, and finding out that for decades his part of Germany was occupied by French soldiers.

John Dellingby
John Dellingby
8 months ago

Between 1453 and 1789 I said in fairness. I honestly couldn’t remember who the Quadruple Alliance was against, but thought that might have been when we allied with France for a change.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  John Dellingby

Fair enough, I only sought to emphasise that we were NOT ‘eternal’ enemies as some seem to think.

Off course I failed to mention the despicable Third Dutch War, when the ‘traitor’ Charles II* took French gold and joined them in their ultimately futile attempt to destroy the Dutch Republic.

Incidentally the Royal Navy again performed badly, if not as appalling as in the previous Dutch War!

(*He of the Secret Treaty of Dover infamy.)

Charles Stanhope
CS
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  John Dellingby

Fair enough, I only sought to emphasise that we were NOT ‘eternal’ enemies as some seem to think.

Off course I failed to mention the despicable Third Dutch War, when the ‘traitor’ Charles II* took French gold and joined them in their ultimately futile attempt to destroy the Dutch Republic.

Incidentally the Royal Navy again performed badly, if not as appalling as in the previous Dutch War!

(*He of the Secret Treaty of Dover infamy.)

Andrew F
AF
Andrew F
8 months ago

All true but on another hundred occasions?

Jonathan N
Jonathan N
8 months ago

I would say these examples rather make JD’s wider point. Although we have often been allied with the French, and have fought wars against the other European powers (notably Spain and the Dutch), the old enemy has always been France.

Last edited 8 months ago by Jonathan N
John Dellingby
John Dellingby
8 months ago

Between 1453 and 1789 I said in fairness. I honestly couldn’t remember who the Quadruple Alliance was against, but thought that might have been when we allied with France for a change.

Andrew F
Andrew F
8 months ago

All true but on another hundred occasions?

Andrew F
Andrew F
8 months ago
Reply to  John Dellingby

Friendly official relations?
You have sense of humour.
Should we sent French ambassador back to France on a dinghy with illegal immigrants?
French navy can pick them up.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  John Dellingby

We provided considerable support to Henry IV in his ultimately successful bid to grab the French Throne in the late 16th century. We were allied with France in the War of the Quadruple Alliance in 1718, which witnessed the humiliation of Bourbon Spain.
We were again with France in the Crimean War of 1854-55, where it must be said France did most of the ‘heavy lifting’!
The French were also at our side when we gave the Chinese ‘as damned good thrashing’ in 1860, capturing Peking*and burning the Summer Palace.
QED?

(* Now called Beijing apparently.)

Andrew F
AF
Andrew F
8 months ago
Reply to  John Dellingby

Friendly official relations?
You have sense of humour.
Should we sent French ambassador back to France on a dinghy with illegal immigrants?
French navy can pick them up.

John Dellingby
JD
John Dellingby
8 months ago

A very interesting and engaging article. I do wonder if one reason why the Hundred Years War and its feats endures in both England and France is that the rivalry continued until either at least until Waterloo or even 1904 when the Entente Cordiale was signed? Some might say the rivalry never died and is still ongoing, despite the friendly official relations in this day and age. Even after this it’s hard to think of an occasion between 1453 and 1789 when England/GB and France were ever on the same side in a dispute or conflict. No doubt harking back to Agincourt, Crecy, Formigny or Orleans and invoking King Harry, the Black Prince or Joan of Arc also provided inspiration and patriotic fervour to all classes during this period and arguably still does today.

Charles Stanhope
CS
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago

An excellent essay, I thank you.
However “Yet the age which created these things was also an age of cruelty and destruction unparalleled in any earlier period and few later ones”, is surely an exaggeration?

Did the “unparalleled destruction” really exceed that of the destruction of the Roman Empire* by a myriad of Teutonic thugs and other miscreants, starting in the early sixth century? An event far more terrible in its long term consequences than the Hundred Years War could ever have been?

(* Mainly but not exclusively the Western Empire.)

Arthur G
Arthur G
8 months ago

The “barbarian” invasions that toppled the Empire didn’t really destroy Western Europe, it merely replaced one aristocracy with another. The Gothic kingdom of Italy was just as prosperous as Roman Italy until the Eastern Empire waged a long war of reconquest under Belisarius and Narses, that destroyed the peninsula. The decline of the West largely happened gradually, and under later assaults in the 7th and 8th century. Viking and Arab raiding did far more damage than the initial Gothic and Vandal takeovers.

Charles Stanhope
CS
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  Arthur G

I did qualify my remark by saying “starting in the early sixth century”, and off course I did mention the “other miscreants “, although I felt in unnecessary to name them all individually. Thank you for going to the trouble of naming them.

However soon enough the world of the centrally heated Villa, the Amphitheater, Theatre, Odeon, Cathedral sized Bath Houses (Thermae), sophisticated Law Courts, Aqueducts, a Professional standing Army and Civil Service and so forth had gone forever, or so it must have seemed. A far greater catastrophe than the albeit impressive devastation of the Hundred Years War.

If you haven’t read “The Fall of Rome” by Bryan Ward-Perkins you may well enjoy it.

Arthur G
Arthur G
8 months ago

I think everyone over-rates the strength, stability, and benefits of Roman rule. Rome averaged a civil war about every 5 years. The population and economy must have been in massive decline by the 3rd century, otherwise they wouldn’t have needed to rely on barbarians to man their army.
The fact that the loss of 15,000 troops at Adrianople was catastrophic, when the Republic lost more than 100,000 to Hannibal’s invasion and still prevailed, show that the Empire had collapsed long before the barbarians invaded. The local population also offered no real resistance to the invaders, which I think is the clearest indication that there was no value to Roman rule anymore.
Much like British rule in India, Rome may have brought infrastructure, but they usually destroyed the local economy to pillage its wealth. The population of Gaul probably never recovered from Caesar conquest until after Rome was long gone.

Last edited 8 months ago by Arthur G
Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
8 months ago
Reply to  Arthur G

A Toynbee points to the massive slave estates making it uneconomic to farm fro the Plebians who provided the infantry. The Plebians migrated to the cities. The Equites and Patricians stopped sending sons to fight on the frontiers, hence increase in Barbarians in the army. The massive increase in bureaucracy led to raised taxes. Once the Praetorian Guard became dominated by foreigners and removed Emperors, there was instability in leadership.
The ultimate cause of movement were The Huns who caused other groups to flee from them. The Goths requested to enter The Roman Empire for protection from the Huns and this was denied but they entered anyway which showed Roman weakness.
I would say loss of fighting spirit, over taxation and spending on non essential items and making the wrong decision at crucial moments, led to Rome’s collapse.
The population of India went from about 200M in 1870s to 400M in 1940s. Increase in population sign of increased food consumption and hence propsperity.

Charles Stanhope
CS
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Toynbee was a Marxist toad, and his scholarship feeble at best.

Andrew F
Andrew F
8 months ago

Yes but like Starkey comments about supposed black genocide, if India population grows so much in 70 years then natives conditions were not desperate.
Let’s not forget that there was no Indian state as it is now.
British replaced Mugal rulers and discontinued some terrible custom, as you know.
Still people with caste system complain about white people racism.

Andrew F
Andrew F
8 months ago

Yes but like Starkey comments about supposed black genocide, if India population grows so much in 70 years then natives conditions were not desperate.
Let’s not forget that there was no Indian state as it is now.
British replaced Mugal rulers and discontinued some terrible custom, as you know.
Still people with caste system complain about white people racism.

Charles Stanhope
CS
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Toynbee was a Marxist toad, and his scholarship feeble at best.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  Arthur G

Rome was certainly ravaged by civil wars from the mid third century, but you seem to ignore the two centuries of the incredible ‘Pax Romana’ from about 30BC -180AD, a period of unparalleled peace and prosperity for nearly everyone.
You also seem to unaware of the two dreadful plagues that ravaged the Empire*, the first being the Antonine Plague of about 170-180 AD, to be followed a century later by the Plague of Cyprian around 270 AD. These undoubtedly reduced the population substantially, but by how much is a source of some dispute.
By the end crushing taxation and bureaucracy also played a major part as did the astonishing cost of completely parasitical Church, a ‘luxury’ they definitely couldn’t afford. It is little wonder that the civil population gave up!
As to Gaul not recovering from Caesar’s conquest (50BC) that is highly unlikely and against all the currently available archeological evidence.

(*Many times worse than the recent COVID nonsense.)

ps.Oh dear have I offended some christian Covid freak?
.

Last edited 8 months ago by Charles Stanhope
Andrew F
Andrew F
8 months ago

I am lapsed Catholic but I am a bit puzzled by your comments about Christianity.
Recognising Christianity as state religion was done as unifying measure.
I am not sure that eventual escape from dark ages and stopping Muslim invasion of Europe would happen without it.

Andrew F
Andrew F
8 months ago

I am lapsed Catholic but I am a bit puzzled by your comments about Christianity.
Recognising Christianity as state religion was done as unifying measure.
I am not sure that eventual escape from dark ages and stopping Muslim invasion of Europe would happen without it.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
8 months ago
Reply to  Arthur G

A Toynbee points to the massive slave estates making it uneconomic to farm fro the Plebians who provided the infantry. The Plebians migrated to the cities. The Equites and Patricians stopped sending sons to fight on the frontiers, hence increase in Barbarians in the army. The massive increase in bureaucracy led to raised taxes. Once the Praetorian Guard became dominated by foreigners and removed Emperors, there was instability in leadership.
The ultimate cause of movement were The Huns who caused other groups to flee from them. The Goths requested to enter The Roman Empire for protection from the Huns and this was denied but they entered anyway which showed Roman weakness.
I would say loss of fighting spirit, over taxation and spending on non essential items and making the wrong decision at crucial moments, led to Rome’s collapse.
The population of India went from about 200M in 1870s to 400M in 1940s. Increase in population sign of increased food consumption and hence propsperity.

Charles Stanhope
CS
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  Arthur G

Rome was certainly ravaged by civil wars from the mid third century, but you seem to ignore the two centuries of the incredible ‘Pax Romana’ from about 30BC -180AD, a period of unparalleled peace and prosperity for nearly everyone.
You also seem to unaware of the two dreadful plagues that ravaged the Empire*, the first being the Antonine Plague of about 170-180 AD, to be followed a century later by the Plague of Cyprian around 270 AD. These undoubtedly reduced the population substantially, but by how much is a source of some dispute.
By the end crushing taxation and bureaucracy also played a major part as did the astonishing cost of completely parasitical Church, a ‘luxury’ they definitely couldn’t afford. It is little wonder that the civil population gave up!
As to Gaul not recovering from Caesar’s conquest (50BC) that is highly unlikely and against all the currently available archeological evidence.

(*Many times worse than the recent COVID nonsense.)

ps.Oh dear have I offended some christian Covid freak?
.

Last edited 8 months ago by Charles Stanhope
David Ryan
David Ryan
8 months ago

“the world of the centrally heated Villa, the Amphitheater, Theatre, Odeon, Cathedral sized Bath Houses (Thermae), sophisticated Law Courts, Aqueducts, a Professional standing Army and Civil Service and so forth had gone forever”… I understand your point, but where would the Roman world have ended up, ultimately, had it not suffered destruction? In today’s society we possess pretty much everything on that list: central heating, theatres, bath houses, law courts, standing armies, civil service…. We also have wokeism, cancel culture, critical race theory, identity politics etc.

Charles Stanhope
CS
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  David Ryan

It would have ultimately destroyed itself.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  David Ryan

It would have ultimately destroyed itself.

Arthur G
Arthur G
8 months ago

I think everyone over-rates the strength, stability, and benefits of Roman rule. Rome averaged a civil war about every 5 years. The population and economy must have been in massive decline by the 3rd century, otherwise they wouldn’t have needed to rely on barbarians to man their army.
The fact that the loss of 15,000 troops at Adrianople was catastrophic, when the Republic lost more than 100,000 to Hannibal’s invasion and still prevailed, show that the Empire had collapsed long before the barbarians invaded. The local population also offered no real resistance to the invaders, which I think is the clearest indication that there was no value to Roman rule anymore.
Much like British rule in India, Rome may have brought infrastructure, but they usually destroyed the local economy to pillage its wealth. The population of Gaul probably never recovered from Caesar conquest until after Rome was long gone.

Last edited 8 months ago by Arthur G
David Ryan
DR
David Ryan
8 months ago

“the world of the centrally heated Villa, the Amphitheater, Theatre, Odeon, Cathedral sized Bath Houses (Thermae), sophisticated Law Courts, Aqueducts, a Professional standing Army and Civil Service and so forth had gone forever”… I understand your point, but where would the Roman world have ended up, ultimately, had it not suffered destruction? In today’s society we possess pretty much everything on that list: central heating, theatres, bath houses, law courts, standing armies, civil service…. We also have wokeism, cancel culture, critical race theory, identity politics etc.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  Arthur G

I did qualify my remark by saying “starting in the early sixth century”, and off course I did mention the “other miscreants “, although I felt in unnecessary to name them all individually. Thank you for going to the trouble of naming them.

However soon enough the world of the centrally heated Villa, the Amphitheater, Theatre, Odeon, Cathedral sized Bath Houses (Thermae), sophisticated Law Courts, Aqueducts, a Professional standing Army and Civil Service and so forth had gone forever, or so it must have seemed. A far greater catastrophe than the albeit impressive devastation of the Hundred Years War.

If you haven’t read “The Fall of Rome” by Bryan Ward-Perkins you may well enjoy it.

Arthur G
AG
Arthur G
8 months ago

The “barbarian” invasions that toppled the Empire didn’t really destroy Western Europe, it merely replaced one aristocracy with another. The Gothic kingdom of Italy was just as prosperous as Roman Italy until the Eastern Empire waged a long war of reconquest under Belisarius and Narses, that destroyed the peninsula. The decline of the West largely happened gradually, and under later assaults in the 7th and 8th century. Viking and Arab raiding did far more damage than the initial Gothic and Vandal takeovers.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago

An excellent essay, I thank you.
However “Yet the age which created these things was also an age of cruelty and destruction unparalleled in any earlier period and few later ones”, is surely an exaggeration?

Did the “unparalleled destruction” really exceed that of the destruction of the Roman Empire* by a myriad of Teutonic thugs and other miscreants, starting in the early sixth century? An event far more terrible in its long term consequences than the Hundred Years War could ever have been?

(* Mainly but not exclusively the Western Empire.)

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
8 months ago

Although it is true that modern Europe was born on the battlefield, it is also true that virtually every other region of the world was born on the battlefield, and it has been going on since time began. A perusal of the old Testament would confirm this fact.

Warren Trees
WT
Warren Trees
8 months ago

Although it is true that modern Europe was born on the battlefield, it is also true that virtually every other region of the world was born on the battlefield, and it has been going on since time began. A perusal of the old Testament would confirm this fact.

Rachel Taylor
RT
Rachel Taylor
8 months ago

Wonderful essay, every word.

Rachel Taylor
Rachel Taylor
8 months ago

Wonderful essay, every word.

John Riordan
JR
John Riordan
8 months ago

I enjoyed this article a lot. Coming from someone like me who can still recall the almost painful boredom I experienced at school when treated to the same facts, that’s saying something.

John Riordan
JR
John Riordan
8 months ago

I enjoyed this article a lot. Coming from someone like me who can still recall the almost painful boredom I experienced at school when treated to the same facts, that’s saying something.

Dick Barrett
Dick Barrett
8 months ago

A mention of the superlative composer Guilliaume de Machaut would have been a nice addition to this writer’s list of the luminaries of that time.

Dick Barrett
Dick Barrett
8 months ago

A mention of the superlative composer Guilliaume de Machaut would have been a nice addition to this writer’s list of the luminaries of that time.

Simon Neale
Simon Neale
8 months ago

she defended herself with consummate skill at the trial which led to her execution

I guess there’s a big difference between “consummate” and “effective” which those who hang around trials don’t really get.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
8 months ago
Reply to  Simon Neale

The outcome of the trial was predetermined and only ever going to end one way, although due to her skill in defending herself there were delays before those in “judgement” could find the means to justify their verdict.

Steve Murray
LL
Steve Murray
8 months ago
Reply to  Simon Neale

The outcome of the trial was predetermined and only ever going to end one way, although due to her skill in defending herself there were delays before those in “judgement” could find the means to justify their verdict.

Simon Neale
SN
Simon Neale
8 months ago

she defended herself with consummate skill at the trial which led to her execution

I guess there’s a big difference between “consummate” and “effective” which those who hang around trials don’t really get.

Jürg Gassmann
Jürg Gassmann
8 months ago

Was the title provided by Jonathan Sumption himself? It does not fit with the text, and voices a conceit that is at odds with the tone of his writing, both in his profession as well as a historian.

Jürg Gassmann
JG
Jürg Gassmann
8 months ago

Was the title provided by Jonathan Sumption himself? It does not fit with the text, and voices a conceit that is at odds with the tone of his writing, both in his profession as well as a historian.

R S Foster
R S Foster
8 months ago

…a small shout-out for the importance of the English Longbowman…it is very difficult to oppress men who can kill you at hundred yards, and quite possibly lethal to the oppressor…and that was exactly the population that we in England created, in order to prosecute our relentless wars against our neighbours…
…pretty much guaranteed to modify class relationships in ways that remained unknown in much of Europe for many centuries…

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  R S Foster

.

Last edited 8 months ago by Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  R S Foster

‘We’ also used the Longbow very effectively against the wretched Sc*tch over the same period, and with the same result.

WHO seriously denies this?

Last edited 8 months ago by Charles Stanhope
Tony Price
Tony Price
8 months ago
Reply to  R S Foster

Without checking, so feel free to correct, I think you will find that the Welsh longbowmen were just as important! I have also read that that the longbow had a greater rate of fire, effective range and accuracy than the musket, and was only actually bettered by the invention of the breech-loading rifle in the mid-19th century. The reason for its swift decline around 1500 was that it was far, far easier to train a man to shoot a musket, and gunpowder and shot were much easier and cheaper to produce in quantity than arrows.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
8 months ago
Reply to  Tony Price

The English war bow was adopted from the Welsh during Edward I time from about 1270s and practice was made compulsory. Draw weight was up to 212 lb, archer could fire 24 shafts per miniute( equivalent to lifting 5058 lbs 39 inches off the ground ), could penetrate 4 inches of oak at 100 yds, kill a knight at 250 yds and butts were at least 440 yds long. Arrow length 39 inches. Boys started pracctice at 5 years, expected to draw 95 lb bow by fourteen years and at sixteen, kill a squirrel at 100 yds. There were armour piercing arrows. Pay was 2d per day if just had bow and arrows, 4d if helmet, sword and dagger and 6 d if horse as well. Labourer earned 1d per day. An archer volunteered and signed on for at least 6 months. Money was tax free plus any loot.
What made the English different was tax raised was agreed by House of Commons from 1295 AD and infantry was English whereas the French employed mercenaries .In France there were hardly any freemen, most were serfs, who were not armed. England was unusual in having free men from towns and a large class of freemen, husbandmen, yeoman and at end of Middle ages, Franklins.
Orwell in his essay says ” You and the atom bomb ” whereas when the dominant weapon is cheap and simple , the common people have a chance “. When an archer could kill a knight wearing armour with a modern day value of £1M.
The creation of a well discplined light infantry composed of volunteer archers was only possible because England was a more free society; there was greater ownership of land by a middle class, there was more meat to eat( needed to develop the muscles to draw the war bow) and archers fought alongside dismounted knights so there was greater respect between the classes. The speech by The Black Prince before Poitiers to the archers may have influenced that written by Shakespeare for Henry V in the play. It was said that after Potiers there was hardly a woman in England who did not own a piece of jewellery.The Peasants Revolt was largely because the Feudal system was not breaking down quickly enough and knights such as Sir Robert Knollys asked for clemency.
By 1500 angled steel plate could not be penetrated unless arrow was made of steel and fired at 50- 100yds or so.
What England gained from The Hundred Years War was a affluent, armed, land owning middle class, respect between the classes and a patriotic indentity based upon upon being able to defeat much larger enemy forces. The Yeoman is unqiue to England and is respected for being sturdy, staunch and being workmanlike; there is nothing servile about him. As a consequence of a lack of class hatred, the Peasants Revolt does not produce the cruelty of the Jaquerie Revolt of France. In fact the Peasants Revolt mainly focuses on killing lawyers and destroying records of serfdom. I would suggest there is great similarity between Hoplites of Greece, Plebians who supplied Roman Infantry and English Archers. An infantry composed of volunteer free fit farmers undergoing prolonged rigorous training will be better soldiers than conscripts, especially if they are servile.
I would suggest the middle class is the back bone of a nation and for it to prosper it needs to be strong, elastic and supple, like a war bow not weak and brittle.

Andrew F
AF
Andrew F
8 months ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Great description of English society and it merits.
I am not sure about your claims as to efficacy of longbow.
There are many sources on Internet where they actually tested longbows and arrows against armour using replica of material available at the time.
Most arrows could not penetrate armour at all.
Most kills were through slits in visors and most havoc was caused by killing horses.

Charles Hedges
CH
Charles Hedges
8 months ago
Reply to  Andrew F

Thank you. Mary Rose long bows had pull weights of up to 212lb. Until they were tested people did not believe the power because most modern men , especially academics too weak to draw them. How many men can lift 112lb with single hand 24 times in 2 minutes.
Depended upon whether arrow was steel or iron. There appears to be plenty of poor quality iron arrows.
By early 15th century wealthier knights were wearing sloping plate armour which varied enormously; the Milanese was the best.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
8 months ago
Reply to  Andrew F

Thank you. Mary Rose long bows had pull weights of up to 212lb. Until they were tested people did not believe the power because most modern men , especially academics too weak to draw them. How many men can lift 112lb with single hand 24 times in 2 minutes.
Depended upon whether arrow was steel or iron. There appears to be plenty of poor quality iron arrows.
By early 15th century wealthier knights were wearing sloping plate armour which varied enormously; the Milanese was the best.

Andrew F
Andrew F
8 months ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Great description of English society and it merits.
I am not sure about your claims as to efficacy of longbow.
There are many sources on Internet where they actually tested longbows and arrows against armour using replica of material available at the time.
Most arrows could not penetrate armour at all.
Most kills were through slits in visors and most havoc was caused by killing horses.

Andrew F
AF
Andrew F
8 months ago
Reply to  Tony Price

I remember watching documentary about longbow.
If I recall, after invention of hardened Milanese armour the arrows were ineffective and longbowmen were slaughtered in some battle in Italy, thus disappearing from battlefield in early 16th century.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
8 months ago
Reply to  Tony Price

The English war bow was adopted from the Welsh during Edward I time from about 1270s and practice was made compulsory. Draw weight was up to 212 lb, archer could fire 24 shafts per miniute( equivalent to lifting 5058 lbs 39 inches off the ground ), could penetrate 4 inches of oak at 100 yds, kill a knight at 250 yds and butts were at least 440 yds long. Arrow length 39 inches. Boys started pracctice at 5 years, expected to draw 95 lb bow by fourteen years and at sixteen, kill a squirrel at 100 yds. There were armour piercing arrows. Pay was 2d per day if just had bow and arrows, 4d if helmet, sword and dagger and 6 d if horse as well. Labourer earned 1d per day. An archer volunteered and signed on for at least 6 months. Money was tax free plus any loot.
What made the English different was tax raised was agreed by House of Commons from 1295 AD and infantry was English whereas the French employed mercenaries .In France there were hardly any freemen, most were serfs, who were not armed. England was unusual in having free men from towns and a large class of freemen, husbandmen, yeoman and at end of Middle ages, Franklins.
Orwell in his essay says ” You and the atom bomb ” whereas when the dominant weapon is cheap and simple , the common people have a chance “. When an archer could kill a knight wearing armour with a modern day value of £1M.
The creation of a well discplined light infantry composed of volunteer archers was only possible because England was a more free society; there was greater ownership of land by a middle class, there was more meat to eat( needed to develop the muscles to draw the war bow) and archers fought alongside dismounted knights so there was greater respect between the classes. The speech by The Black Prince before Poitiers to the archers may have influenced that written by Shakespeare for Henry V in the play. It was said that after Potiers there was hardly a woman in England who did not own a piece of jewellery.The Peasants Revolt was largely because the Feudal system was not breaking down quickly enough and knights such as Sir Robert Knollys asked for clemency.
By 1500 angled steel plate could not be penetrated unless arrow was made of steel and fired at 50- 100yds or so.
What England gained from The Hundred Years War was a affluent, armed, land owning middle class, respect between the classes and a patriotic indentity based upon upon being able to defeat much larger enemy forces. The Yeoman is unqiue to England and is respected for being sturdy, staunch and being workmanlike; there is nothing servile about him. As a consequence of a lack of class hatred, the Peasants Revolt does not produce the cruelty of the Jaquerie Revolt of France. In fact the Peasants Revolt mainly focuses on killing lawyers and destroying records of serfdom. I would suggest there is great similarity between Hoplites of Greece, Plebians who supplied Roman Infantry and English Archers. An infantry composed of volunteer free fit farmers undergoing prolonged rigorous training will be better soldiers than conscripts, especially if they are servile.
I would suggest the middle class is the back bone of a nation and for it to prosper it needs to be strong, elastic and supple, like a war bow not weak and brittle.

Andrew F
AF
Andrew F
8 months ago
Reply to  Tony Price

I remember watching documentary about longbow.
If I recall, after invention of hardened Milanese armour the arrows were ineffective and longbowmen were slaughtered in some battle in Italy, thus disappearing from battlefield in early 16th century.

Jürg Gassmann
Jürg Gassmann
7 months ago
Reply to  R S Foster

I’m sorry, historically speaking, this is nonsense. Militarily, there is no denying the effectiveness of expert longbowmen, but at a combat distance closer to 30 yards and only within a thought-through combined-arms application. Bear in mind, the English thumpingly lost the 100 Years’ War.
Politically, the statement is parochial and ignorant of the situation among the city-states of Northern Italy, the Swiss Confederation, the interplay between Crown and municipalities in Castile, Scotland, or various polities in eastern Europe such as the Hussites, etc.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
7 months ago
Reply to  Jürg Gassmann

The 100 Years creates a united England. There is a substantial body of skilled land owning combat experienced armed free men not justb serfs. The Model Parliament of 1295 means taxes are levied on wool with Member of Parliaments Consent. There are approximately 270 knights representing counties and burgesses representing townspeople out of a population of 4M, a ration of 1:`14,900. Though most cannot vote , people can have their say at the hustings ,so they have a voice.
There is a break down of the feudal system producing a far more meritocratic society. It is true Florence, Genoa and Venice are wealthy but yoeman archer standing next to a knight in the battle line is unique in Europe. Before Poitiers the Black Prince speaks to the archers,
You make it plain you are worthy sons and kinsmen of those for whom under the leadership of my father and ancestors, the Kings of England, no labour was too great, , no place invincible , no mountain inaccessible , no tower impregnable, no host too formidable.. If victory shall see us allive we shall always continue in form friendship togther, being of one heart and mind. If envious fortune should decree, which God forbid , that in this present labour we must follow the final path of all flesh, your names will not be be sullied with infamy, and I and my comrdaes will drink the same cup with you.
Name any other heir to a throne in 1356 spoke with such affection to the infantry? The English were outnumbered five to one.
What the Hundred Years War did was not make a king dependent upon the fighting spirit and skill of free ordinary men and the agreement of Members of Parliament to levy taxes to pay for war. The English King ruled through consulation and consent: no other ruler in Europe did. The English King did not employ mercenaries.
What the 100 Years war produces is a large body of land owning, non- aristocratic, armed , skilled combat experience archers who can and will defend their libertes and vote for or at least express their opinion to the King, which which is almost unique in Europe. Though people may of different rank, the English were one people.
England never has a peasants revolt like the Jaquerie or German Peasants War or French Revolution becase the aristocracy and monarch never has such contempt for the ordinary person and the feudal system breaks down far quicker: from 1100 AD there is a decline.
German Peasants’ War – Wikipedia
The yeoman archer is a figure of respect by monarch and aristocrat.

Charles Hedges
CH
Charles Hedges
7 months ago
Reply to  Jürg Gassmann

The 100 Years creates a united England. There is a substantial body of skilled land owning combat experienced armed free men not justb serfs. The Model Parliament of 1295 means taxes are levied on wool with Member of Parliaments Consent. There are approximately 270 knights representing counties and burgesses representing townspeople out of a population of 4M, a ration of 1:`14,900. Though most cannot vote , people can have their say at the hustings ,so they have a voice.
There is a break down of the feudal system producing a far more meritocratic society. It is true Florence, Genoa and Venice are wealthy but yoeman archer standing next to a knight in the battle line is unique in Europe. Before Poitiers the Black Prince speaks to the archers,
You make it plain you are worthy sons and kinsmen of those for whom under the leadership of my father and ancestors, the Kings of England, no labour was too great, , no place invincible , no mountain inaccessible , no tower impregnable, no host too formidable.. If victory shall see us allive we shall always continue in form friendship togther, being of one heart and mind. If envious fortune should decree, which God forbid , that in this present labour we must follow the final path of all flesh, your names will not be be sullied with infamy, and I and my comrdaes will drink the same cup with you.
Name any other heir to a throne in 1356 spoke with such affection to the infantry? The English were outnumbered five to one.
What the Hundred Years War did was not make a king dependent upon the fighting spirit and skill of free ordinary men and the agreement of Members of Parliament to levy taxes to pay for war. The English King ruled through consulation and consent: no other ruler in Europe did. The English King did not employ mercenaries.
What the 100 Years war produces is a large body of land owning, non- aristocratic, armed , skilled combat experience archers who can and will defend their libertes and vote for or at least express their opinion to the King, which which is almost unique in Europe. Though people may of different rank, the English were one people.
England never has a peasants revolt like the Jaquerie or German Peasants War or French Revolution becase the aristocracy and monarch never has such contempt for the ordinary person and the feudal system breaks down far quicker: from 1100 AD there is a decline.
German Peasants’ War – Wikipedia
The yeoman archer is a figure of respect by monarch and aristocrat.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  R S Foster

.

Last edited 8 months ago by Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  R S Foster

‘We’ also used the Longbow very effectively against the wretched Sc*tch over the same period, and with the same result.

WHO seriously denies this?

Last edited 8 months ago by Charles Stanhope
Tony Price
Tony Price
8 months ago
Reply to  R S Foster

Without checking, so feel free to correct, I think you will find that the Welsh longbowmen were just as important! I have also read that that the longbow had a greater rate of fire, effective range and accuracy than the musket, and was only actually bettered by the invention of the breech-loading rifle in the mid-19th century. The reason for its swift decline around 1500 was that it was far, far easier to train a man to shoot a musket, and gunpowder and shot were much easier and cheaper to produce in quantity than arrows.

Jürg Gassmann
Jürg Gassmann
7 months ago
Reply to  R S Foster

I’m sorry, historically speaking, this is nonsense. Militarily, there is no denying the effectiveness of expert longbowmen, but at a combat distance closer to 30 yards and only within a thought-through combined-arms application. Bear in mind, the English thumpingly lost the 100 Years’ War.
Politically, the statement is parochial and ignorant of the situation among the city-states of Northern Italy, the Swiss Confederation, the interplay between Crown and municipalities in Castile, Scotland, or various polities in eastern Europe such as the Hussites, etc.

R S Foster
R S Foster
8 months ago

…a small shout-out for the importance of the English Longbowman…it is very difficult to oppress men who can kill you at hundred yards, and quite possibly lethal to the oppressor…and that was exactly the population that we in England created, in order to prosecute our relentless wars against our neighbours…
…pretty much guaranteed to modify class relationships in ways that remained unknown in much of Europe for many centuries…

William Reynolds
William Reynolds
8 months ago

‘Sir Robert Knollys …. probably begun his career as an archer.’ It seems we can wave goodbye to the English past tense. RIP.

William Reynolds
WR
William Reynolds
8 months ago

‘Sir Robert Knollys …. probably begun his career as an archer.’ It seems we can wave goodbye to the English past tense. RIP.

martin logan
martin logan
7 months ago

Although Lord Sumption seems to place war in the past, I fear our nice 30-year long holiday from war in Europe (at least most of it) is at an end.
It may not actually touch places like France and Britain directly.
But war certainly is very interested in all European nations just now.

Jürg Gassmann
Jürg Gassmann
7 months ago
Reply to  martin logan

“30-year long holiday from war in Europe”? We seem to have forgotten NATO’s unprovoked and lies-motivated 1999 attack on Serbia.

Jürg Gassmann
Jürg Gassmann
7 months ago
Reply to  martin logan

“30-year long holiday from war in Europe”? We seem to have forgotten NATO’s unprovoked and lies-motivated 1999 attack on Serbia.

martin logan
martin logan
7 months ago

Although Lord Sumption seems to place war in the past, I fear our nice 30-year long holiday from war in Europe (at least most of it) is at an end.
It may not actually touch places like France and Britain directly.
But war certainly is very interested in all European nations just now.

Arkadian X
AA
Arkadian X
8 months ago

Thank you!

Arkadian X
Arkadian X
8 months ago

Thank you!

Jeremy Van Dyke
Jeremy Van Dyke
8 months ago

If I remember, from my reading W. Churchill’s history, the wars of this age, between England and France, were an inheritance of William the Conqueror (a French speaking viking).
If I’m not mistaken, were not the kings of England, in fact, French and seen as legitimate claimants to the French throne through William?
So, while the wars appear as English aggression, it was at the time, more of internal French struggle between rival claimants where English troops were fodder for one side.
I may have this wrong. I’m digging deep in my memory here…

Last edited 8 months ago by Jeremy Van Dyke
Jeremy Van Dyke
Jeremy Van Dyke
8 months ago

If I remember, from my reading W. Churchill’s history, the wars of this age, between England and France, were an inheritance of William the Conqueror (a French speaking viking).
If I’m not mistaken, were not the kings of England, in fact, French and seen as legitimate claimants to the French throne through William?
So, while the wars appear as English aggression, it was at the time, more of internal French struggle between rival claimants where English troops were fodder for one side.
I may have this wrong. I’m digging deep in my memory here…

Last edited 8 months ago by Jeremy Van Dyke
Andrew F
Andrew F
8 months ago

Great article, as always, by Lord Sumption.
Just one issue.
Surely 30 years war was much wider and more brutal contest that 100 years war?
Well before Napoleon’s wars.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
8 months ago
Reply to  Andrew F

Good point. Someone said the trauma was so great that the German people would always support anyone who would prevent chaos and provide order.

Jürg Gassmann
JG
Jürg Gassmann
7 months ago
Reply to  Andrew F

I agree – and I don’t think Jonathan Sumption makes anywhere as sweeping a judgement as the title to the piece (which was probably devised as clickbait by a subeditor) implies.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
8 months ago
Reply to  Andrew F

Good point. Someone said the trauma was so great that the German people would always support anyone who would prevent chaos and provide order.

Jürg Gassmann
Jürg Gassmann
7 months ago
Reply to  Andrew F

I agree – and I don’t think Jonathan Sumption makes anywhere as sweeping a judgement as the title to the piece (which was probably devised as clickbait by a subeditor) implies.

Andrew F
AF
Andrew F
8 months ago

Great article, as always, by Lord Sumption.
Just one issue.
Surely 30 years war was much wider and more brutal contest that 100 years war?
Well before Napoleon’s wars.