The Hundred Years War was a series of wars between England and France. The background of the Hundred Years War went as far back as to the reign of William the Conqueror. When William the Conqueror became king in 1066 after his victory at the Battle of Hastings, he united England with Normandy in France. William ruled both as his own.
Under Henry II, the lands owned by England in France became even larger and the kings who followed Henry found the land they owned in France too large and difficult to control. By 1327, when Edward III became king, England only controlled two areas of France – Gascony in the south and Ponthieu in the north.
In 1328, Charles IV of France died. Charles did not have any sons to take over his land and all his brothers were dead. He did have a sister called Isabella. She was the mother of Edward III and Edward believed that because of this, he should be king of France. However, the French decided that a cousin of Charles, Philip, should be crowned king.
Edward was furious but he was not in a position to do anything in the late 1320’s. By 1337 he was ready to fight for what he believed was his and he declared war on Philip. Edward was not only willing to fight for what he believed was his – the crown of France – but also he feared that Philip was a threat to his possessions in France – Gascony and Ponthieu.
Edward now had to raise an army. There were men who looked forward to fighting abroad in an army as it gave them the opportunity to plunder treasure and bring things back to England which could make them rich. However, many men were not keen on fighting as they were usually more concerned about farming. A war in the autumn could be a disaster as this was harvest time.
The feudal system meant that knights had to provide the king with soldiers when the king demanded them. However, war had moved on from the time of the Battle of Hastings and the longbow was now the most feared of weapons and not the knight on horseback. The king’s officials went around England looking for skilled archers. All young men in medieval villages were expected to practice archery so there were many skilled archers to be found. It was left to a village to decide who would actually go to fight but the village as a whole would have to look after the family or families affected by someone leaving. Those who went were paid three pence a day.
Armies were very expensive. Fighting abroad made them even more expensive to run. This problem could be got around by making a local area in France, which was under your control, pay a ‘tribune’ to you. This would keep your costs down. In return for paying a tribune, the area concerned was given a promise that the troops there would behave themselves and would not damage homes, steal crops and kill animals. In this sense, paying a tribune was similar to buying protection.