An Alternative History of Britain, The Hundred Years War


In this new book, the author has considered how the Hundred Years War could have produced a very different result. Although English history has recorded this period of conflict with France, the first alternative may be that the Hundred Years War was just a series of campaigns in a much longer war between France and England, continuing through British history and surviving to the present day with only a few unusual and very brief periods of peace or truce, and even rarer occasions of alliance.



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NAME: An Alternative History of Britain, The Hundred Years War
FILE: R1819
DATE: 090313
AUTHOR: Timothy Venning
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword
BINDING: hard back
PAGES: 228
PRICE: £19.99
GENRE: Non Fiction
ISBN: 1-78159-126-1
IMAGE: B1819.jpg
DESCRIPTION: The author has been developing a series of alternative histories that are plausible and thought provoking. Through history, the records are often distorted by the winners’ needs to show themselves in a way they wish to be seen. What is described, as a great and overwhelming victory, may have been a close run thing, where the seizure of a tiny opportunity, or an unnecessary mistake by an opponent, changes the course of a battle, or of a war. The author has shown how some minor changes in fate or the grasping of fleeting opportunity could have dramatically changed history.

In this new book, the author has considered how the Hundred Years War could have produced a very different result. Although English history has recorded this period of conflict with France, the first alternative may be that the Hundred Years War was just a series of campaigns in a much longer war between France and England, continuing through British history and surviving to the present day with only a few unusual and very brief periods of peace or truce, and even rarer occasions of alliance.

Through British history, there have been successive waves of migration from Scandinavia, Germany and France. The people of Normandy and Brittany share a close affinity with the people along the English South Coast. Little recognized in French or British history is the alliance of corsairs on either side of the Channel in fighting Spain during the Tudor period. That cannot be explained as religious alliance because although the French Huguenots along the Channel and Atlantic coasts of France may have had common religious cause with the English Protestants, the people of Brittany and Normandy remained loyal to the Roman Church. It demonstrated that there was no a clear national policy on either side of the Channel at all levels. As the Huguenots were ruthlessly persecuted, and France became more clearly a nation that we might recognize today, there continued to be collusion between sailors on both sides of the Channel even though the corsair tradition became a key element of Elizabeth Tudor’s England that sought to open new trade and opportunity away from mainland Europe and prospered greatly. Perhaps the one consistent stain on British history is that involvement in Europe is generally disadvantageous to Britain and a distraction from true British interests. Certainly, recent Twentieth Century history has shown just how disastrous involvement in Europe has been, when two World Wars were fought to assist Europe in defending against German aggression, and membership of the Franco German Federal environment has caused Britain and the rest of the world significant loss.

What has never been fully recognised is how the people of the British Isles have looked outward in all directions as a trading crossroads. This pre-dates the Roman invasion and shows Britons as a trading and maritime people. Whatever his faults, French General De Gaulle recognised that Britain would pose a threat to French ambitions in Europe and always seek the open seas over the European mainland. He also recognised that the Hundred Years War was just a part of a continuing conflict between France and Britain.

What makes the historical view of Franco-British relations difficult to see, through the fog of propaganda in historical records, is the Norman Conquest. Today it is viewed in a more modern Franco-British environment. At the time of the Conquest, the people of what is now Western France had long links and affiliations with the people on the British coast facing them. Whether the British migrated to Brittany, or the people of Brittany migrated to the British Isles, is not relevant. What is significant is that the two groups of people shared heritage and language long before the Roman expansion Westward and Northward. Further North in Britain, the people shared kinship with the people of Scandinavia and Germany. That dated back before the inundation of the land bridge that had connected Europe to what became the British Isles after the land bridge was submerged. People migrated back and forth, initially as hunter gatherers following the seasons and re-occupying the lands exposed by the receding Ice Age. Then, as the Romans retreated back to Italy, more waves of migrants sailed across to the British East Coast from Germany and Scandinavia. As the Anglo Saxons flourished, other German and Scandinavian immigrants moved South into what is today France. The final wave of these immigrants during the Viking expansion made Normandy a bridgehead. The result of all of these migrations is that France is really composed of two racial regions that came together at the end of the Hundred Years War, and where the Western French coast was populated with people who had more in common with the British than with their South Eastern neighbours.

This longer history provides great scope for drawing alternative histories, both of Britain and of France. The other factor that marks the Hundred Years War as having a potential for alternative histories, is military technology.

Edward III had a natural interest in regaining and expanding British territories on the mainland. From William, Duke of Normandy, the Norman Monarchs of England had inherited valuable territory from Calais, South to what is now the Spanish border. Developing those pockets of land and joining them together as part of the English Kingdom was very attractive and the initial holdings contributed more to the English King than the shires of England that had been wracked by civil war. These Continental lands were also detached from the Eastern districts of France and immediate neighbours were more inclined to support an English King than a French King who was based in the South East.

In political and social terms, Britain would have been a very different place, with a very different future, had it comprehensively held France in the North and West, and different again if it has achieved total victory and annexed all French territory. Britain would then have looked East and to the Mediterranean, remained Roman Catholic and left the Americas and Africa to the Iberians. The feudal system would have remained and much of British creativity would never have existed. It can be argued that loss of all territories in France by the early years of the long and prosperous reign of Elizabeth Tudor was a liberating experience that gave Britain its great future and expansion of influence around the world.

That huge potential alternative for British history rested on military technology. The Hundred Years War shocked the French, both in defeating them on the field of battle and in overturning the concepts of knightly chivalry. Prior to that time, the armoured knight on his armoured warhorse was king of the battlefield, supported by men at arms, but primarily a noble army with the knight as the champion of the Monarch. The peasantry that provided men at arms and the supply train were almost incidental on the battlefield. The aristocrats who were the armoured knights had a highly developed set of rules, including the concepts of giving quarter, or taking hostages, and holding or vacating the field of battle. Edward III turned all of that on its head by introducing a new military formation. His army saw knights fighting primarily on foot in the centre, flanked by archers and men at arms. This new formation allowed the fearsome Long Bow to take on the French knights long before they were close enough to engage English knights in hand to hand combat. A relatively small English army that was mainly composed of archers and men at arms, the peasantry, could destroy a considerably larger French army that was built and deployed around the mounted knight. As Crecy and Agincourt demonstrated, the battle winning nature of the Long Bow and the new English battle formation was nothing short of revolutionary. That English advantage was replaced by the French adoption of the gun. Towards the closing years of the Hundred Years War, the French had adopted enthusiastically the use of guns, manned by people who were also not of the knightly class. That included guns capable of bringing down fortifications, essentially powerful new siege weapons, and early machine guns (perhaps more accurately, multi-barrel ripple fire weapons), essentially anti-personnel weapons. Between those two groups of gun, were carriage mounted guns with single barrels and shot from half an inch upwards, and handheld guns that could be fired from rests or by mounted warriors. It was not that the English were slow to adopt guns, but they failed to develop a corps of artillery, as the French did, to replace the corps of archers on which the Hundred Years War started.

The author has concentrated particularly on the alternative history that would have resulted from changes in the fate of Monarchs. If the Black Prince not died prematurely, the 10 year old Richard would have inherited the English crown. That would probably have altered the way that England viewed and responded to French Kings. If Henry V had recovered from dysentery at the age of 35, English fortunes would have remained strong. Perhaps the greatest ‘what if’ related to Joan of Arc. She galvanized French resistance and changed the nature of the French King. Without that, the French might not have developed guns into a battle-winning weapon system that removed the English advantage of the Long Bow.

Of course the fascinating aspect of ‘what if’ is that one small change could create a major change in fortune, but it would have also triggered a series of other changes that could give back a lost advantage. The author has provided much food for thought. This is a book that all enthusiasts of Medieval Europe should read, but it also applies to students of later history and consideration of the future of Britain in relation to Europe, demonstrating how the loss of the Hundred Years War, and divorce from Europe, created a much greater future for Britons.

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