The best books to understand the Hundred Years' War

Gordon Corrigan Author Of A Great and Glorious Adventure: A Military History of the Hundred Years War
By Gordon Corrigan

Who am I?

I decided to write this book because while there are many works on the Hundred Years War, they tend to dwell on the political and diplomatic, rather than the military aspects. I considered that this period marked a real revolution in military affairs, led by England. It was England that had the world’s only professional army since the collapse of the Roman Empire in the west in the 5th Century, that used technology (the longbow) as a force multiplier, and while moving on horseback did its fighting on foot. It was these three legs of the revolution that allowed tiny English armies to defeat far larger French feudal ones.

I wrote...

A Great and Glorious Adventure: A Military History of the Hundred Years War

By Gordon Corrigan,

Book cover of A Great and Glorious Adventure: A Military History of the Hundred Years War

What is my book about?

France and England, and then Britain, are traditional enemies. Since the Norman conquest in 1066 English, and then British, soldiers have fought all over the world, but far more time has been spent fighting France than any other enemy. Even today that resentment persists, and one of the reasons for Britain leaving the European Union was French domination of that organisation.

This book is about one of the longest periods of Anglo-French enmity, which later came to be known as the Hundred Years War. The war lasted for rather more than a hundred years, but was not one of continuous fighting.  Rather it was a series of campaigns punctuated by truces, one lasting sixteen years, but in that English aims remained the same throughout the period it is reasonable to consider it as one war. It is an important period in British and European history in that the war turned Anglo-Normans into Englishmen and citizens of semi-autonomous duchies into Frenchmen. While not ignoring the politics, I have concentrated on the military aspects of the various episodes of the war, as many other accounts do not always understand how medieval armies operated.

The books I picked & why

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The Hundred Years War, Volume 1

By Jonathan Sumption,

Book cover of The Hundred Years War, Volume 1: Trial by Battle

Why this book?

Quite simply the seminal work on the war. It describes the twists and turns of politics and diplomacy in fascinating detail. Not a read on the train but a magisterial study and an essential work for those interested in the subject.


By Alison Weir,

Book cover of Isabella: She-Wolf of France, Queen of England

Why this book?

Phillip IV of France ‘The Fair’ died in 1314. His three sons ruled after him in turn, and none provided a legitimate heir, so when the youngest son, Charles IV, died in 1328, the Capetian dynasty, which had ruled France for over 300 years, came to an end. But Phillip IV had a daughter, Isabella, who had married Edward II of England, and so their son, the future Edward III, was the nearest male relative to the deceased Charles IV.  Isabella was adamant that her son was the legitimate heir to the French throne, and it was this claim that was pursued throughout the Hundred Years War and which was only relinquished in 1802. Isabella has not had good press. Derided as ‘the she-wolf of France’ she was an adulteress, waged war against her husband, and was probably complicit in his murder. In fairness, she had much to contend with.  Edward II was a weak and vicious ruler, a homosexual who lavished more attention on his catamites than on his wife. This book is an excellent biography of a woman whose impact on history was dramatic and far-reaching.  

The Battle of Crécy, 1346

By Andrew Ayton, Sir Philip Preston,

Book cover of The Battle of Crécy, 1346

Why this book?

There are lots of books about Crecy, the first major land battle of the war, but here the authors examine and compare all the original sources. Medieval historians were not necessarily interested in the things that modern historians are, so there are many gaps in the various accounts. Similarly, many academics, through no fault of their own, do not understand the mechanics of organising, deploying, and administering an army, or how it actually fought. Here the authors do examine points such as what formation the English armies would have taken up, where exactly the archers would have been placed, and suchlike. While I, with my own military experience, might not agree with all the Authors’ conclusions, they do an admirable job of comparing, contrasting, and shining light into dark corners.

The Chronica Maiora of Thomas Walsingham [1376-1422]

By James G. Clark, David Preest,

Book cover of The Chronica Maiora of Thomas Walsingham [1376-1422]

Why this book?

Thomas of Walsingham was a monk in the abbey of St Albans, then the equivalent of the National Archives where all official documents were deposited. Based on the reports, letters, charters, and reports of parliamentary debates that Thomas was able to access, he wrote a history from 1376 until the year that he died, 1422, so the work is an account of the war as it appeared to an educated contemporary. 


By Ian Mortimer,

Book cover of 1415: Henry V's Year of Glory

Why this book?

Henry of Monmouth, Henry V, was the second king of the disputed Lancastrian dynasty, and in my opinion the greatest Englishman who ever lived. King at 25, slaughterer of the nobility of France at 27, regent and acknowledged heir to the French throne at 32, and dead at 34.  Had he lived, the history of Europe might be very different. He was a man who shaped English history and who still affects Anglo-French relations to this day. This book, by Ian Mortimer, one of the very best authors of the period, looks at the year 1415, the year when the young Henry led a sick, exhausted, and starving English army to a stunning victory over a far larger French force at Agincourt, in an example of leadership and military professionalism of the highest order.  

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