Social and Economic Tendencies 2. The Religious Movement II. THE HUNDRED YEARS’ WAR
As a matter of fact, this great conflict spread far beyond the frontiers of Western Europe. The two States immediately concerned were so powerful that it was impossible that their quarrel should involve only themselves. As a matter of fact, all the princes were dragged into it, and by virtue of the alliances which it provoked among them, or the extent to which it influenced their conduct, it assumed a European importance. In a Europe whose equilibrium had been upset by the political preponderance of the Papacy it was, for good or for ill, a centre of attraction, or at any rate, the cardinal event, which impressed a few common motives and tendencies on the restless confusion of the period which it dominated. A war so long and so bitterly contested was possible only between France and England. They alone had governments disposing of sufficient resources, and peoples endowed with a sufficient national unity, to endure such an ordeal without perishing. But it is appalling to compare the vast expenditure of effort with the futility of the results obtained. Fundamentally, this conflict between France and England was like that of the Popes and the Councils: it was essentially abortive. After all the shedding of blood, after all the misery and devastation, the two adversaries found themselves still more or less at the point of departure, so that the Hundred Years’ War had been merely a futile and terrible calamity. It is only too easy to say, after the event, that it could not have been anything else. It is perfectly obvious that the kings of England could not possibly have conquered the Crown of France. And yet this was precisely the end which they had proposed to themselves. Apart from this, they had no urgent motive for going to war. Above all, the English people had no motive for going to war. For France was not threatening or even incommoding England. Neither England nor France had as yet become a maritime nation. Nowhere did their merchants come into contact as rivals, as they were to do later, or as the merchants of Genoa or Venice had done, in the ports of the Levant, since the 13th century. Guyenne, still the Continental possession of the kings of England, meant no more to the English people than the Kingdom of Hanover was to mean in the 18th century. It is quite comprehensible that France might have attacked England in order to recover this province, the last remnant of the Angevin possessions, which was still an obstacle to the unity of the kingdom-but it was not France, it was
England that provoked the war. One issue in the war was Edward III’s claim to the crown of the Capets. But one cannot see that this interested England as a nation; indeed, it was against the national interest. The alliance between France and Scotland affords no better explanation of the origin of the conflict. It is, in fact, only too clear that by complicating the conquest of Scotland with a war in France, this conquest was rendered infinitely more difficult, and even impossible. In short, from whatever point of view we regard it, the Hundred Years’ War is seen to have been a useless war, a needless war, in the sense that it was not provoked by any vital necessity. As a matter of fact, it must be regarded merely as a war of prestige. And this, precisely, explains the passion with which the English people followed its kings into this war.