The Wars with France
In 1337, Edward III laid claim to the French crown. He believed that his mother (sister to three previous French Kings) had been wrongly disinherited by her cousin. Edward's determination to receive the crown of France was to begin a battle between the two countries that would last a hundred years - The Hundred Years War.(photo)
It became very important, to both countries, that they should control the Channel. In 1338, Portsmouth and Southampton were raided by the French and Dover and Folkestone fell prey to invaders in the following year. In 1340, Edward III retaliated by attacking the enemy fleet as it lay at anchor in the French port of Sluys, giving England control of the Channel for the next few years.
The years 1346 and 1347 brought further victory to the English, serving under Edward III when the army invaded Normandy and Paris. Edward III had strong followers and his Longbowmen defeated the impressive force of the French Cvalry under Philip VI at Crecy. After a year of battles and sieges Edward's men captured Calais 1347.
The two years that followed brought misery and death to both France and England. The Black Death attacked both countries without mercy and left them weak, but the war continued. Edward III continued his efforts to capture the French Crown, keeping hold of Calais, but losing the support of Flanders. In his efforts to renew the war after its two years of sickened retirement, Edward appointed his eldest son, the Black Prince, to Lieutenant in Gascony. The Black Prince left England with a small army in 1355. During a campaign of devastation and destruction that tore across Central and North-West France, the Black Prince captured King John (Philip VI's son - now King of France).
Edward III saw his chance to finish the war, but, in the winter of 1359-60, things began to go wrong. He lost the support of Navarre and then the control of Burgandy. The French were gaining strength in the Channel and Rye was invaided.
King John was still being held captive by Edward III, though, and they negotiated a truce in 1360. This meant that Edward III would no longer seek the French Crown and would release the parts of France of which he did not have control to freedom. Edward III would, however, maintain control of Aquitaine, Calais and several other important provinces.
The next few years became known as the era of the 'Free Companies'. These were small, individual armies, who, by name, were under the control of the King, but in actual fact were under the control of whoever would pay them the most.
Sir Robert Knollys was one of the most famous 'Free Company' leaders. His army was feared and dreaded by those who heard his name. He lead a campaign of fierce looting, destroying the villages he attacked. However, the rewards for such savagery were great; in 1358 it is believed that Knollys made 100,000 gold crowns (an immense sum of money in those days).
So, although Edward III had renounced his claim to the throne of France, the fighting between the two countries continued for several years in the form of small battles lead by the 'Free Companies'. In 1369 Edward III decided to renew his claim on the French crown and England gathered its armies once more. However, the French were strong and began reclaiming much of what they had previously lost, they burned Portsmouth and gradual control of the Channel went to France.
In 1375 a new truce was agreed upon called the Treaty of Bruges. Edward III was left only with Calais and a small strip of French coastline. The French maintained control of the Channel for the next fifteen years.
In 1376, the Black Prince, now very ill, returned to England and died. The following year there was a new King as Edward III also died and his grandson Richard II succeeded to the throne. The Treaty of Bruges ran out and, once again, the French attacks on the English coast were resumed. Rye and Hastings were burnt and the Isle of Wight attacked only days after Edward III's death and it became clear that the defence along the South of England had to be improved.
In 1385, 1200 large French ships threatened to cross the Channel to attack England, throwing the South coast into panic. Luckily the Duke of Burgandy became ill and the fleet did not sail, but the threat was enough for licences to be agreed for many manor houses (including Bodiam) to be fortified and converted into castles.