England and France were rarely far from the brink of conflict, and the ‘confiscation’ of Aquitaine by the French king, Philip IV, was more than enough for King Edward III of England. He claimed the French throne, and devastated rural France with massed cavalry raids: ‘chevauchées’. French attempts to confront the invaders met with crushing defeat at Crécy (1346) and Poitiers (1356). With the French king a prisoner, the Treaty of Bretigny (1360) punished France, but peace was brief. In the next phase of conflict, France fared better, recapturing most of Aquitaine, until the accession of the Charles VI (1380–1422) to the French throne. Insane (amongst other delusions, he believed he was made of glass), Charles presided over near anarchy – and Henry V took advantage with the epic triumph at Agincourt (1415). Made Charles’s heir, Henry then died, and the English army was miraculously repulsed at Orléans by Joan of Arc. A final French victory at Castillon (1453) ended the war: England was left with just Calais.
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