Bloodshed makes for entertaining history, and military historian Corrigan (The Second World War: A Military History, 2009, etc.) takes full advantage.
Charles IV of France died in 1328, leaving no children but a sister, Isabella. No law forbade her succession, but French leaders mostly opposed her, especially since she was married to the king of England, Edward II. Britons were not inclined to fight for a foreign queen but changed their minds when Edward and Isabella’s pugnacious son, Edward III (1312-1377), declared himself France’s rightful ruler in 1337. That year launched the Hundred Years’ War, brilliantly recounted here by Corrigan. A series of painful experiences in Scotland and Ireland taught that charges by armored knights, the usual medieval tactic for battle, didn’t work unless the enemy did the same, so England’s increasingly professional (i.e., paid) soldiers fought on foot, men at arms in the center flanked by archers wielding the famous longbow, the arrows of which could penetrate armor. The result was smashing victories at Crécy (1346), Poitiers (1356) and Agincourt (1415), but superior power has its limits—a lesson that is still applicable today. The tide turned after the battle at Agincourt. Joan of Arc deserves some credit, but France’s weak feudal monarchy finally transformed into a centralized state with a professional army that adopted new technology, especially the use of the cannon. When fighting ended in 1453, only the city of Calais remained in British hands. Good things followed—e.g., the Renaissance, a united France—but these hardly required vicious, exhausting campaigns over a dismal century during which the bubonic plague also figured prominently.
Corrigan matches fascinating battle descriptions with accounts of how wars were financed and fought, as well as the Byzantine politics and mostly unpleasant personalities that conducted them.