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The Hundred Years War: England's Quest for the French Throne
Tuesday, September 10, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.
Joan of Arc in an illustration from a 1504 manuscript called the Lives of Famous Women by Antoine Dufour (Dobree Museum)
English rulers spent over a century (1337–1453) fighting, ultimately unsuccessfully, to establish their claim to France. Mary Tudor was traumatized by the loss of the town of Calais, England’s last toehold on French soil, and said during her final illness that after her death, “you shall find Calais lying in my heart.” The English did not formally renounce their right to the French throne until the Age of Napoleon. Why did this struggle mean so much to the English, and what did the French gain by defeating them?
Historian Jennifer Paxton examines how an apparently minor trade dispute escalated into a seemingly endless war that forced all of Europe, including the papacy, to take sides. The Hundred Years War helped shape both England and France into powerful nation-states and changed the face of warfare forever, as the French responded to the deadly English longbow by developing some of the first widely used artillery in the West. Along the way, great heroes arose who still hold a prominent place in the national mythology of both countries. Henry V of England inspired one of Shakespeare’s greatest characters, and Joan of Arc came to represent the spirit of France.
Paxton traces how bloody dynastic disputes within both the English and French ruling families helped prolong the course of the war. Along the way, both countries suffered major peasant uprisings, as the common people revolted over the failure of the ruling classes to shelter them from the worst effects of the conflict. Both countries were forced to create more effective political institutions in order to cope with the challenges of war. Ultimately, the Hundred Years War led to the birth of modern France and England.
Paxton teaches British and Irish history at The Catholic University of America, where she is a clinical assistant professor of history and director of the university honors program.
S. Dillon Ripley Center
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Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)