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From Two Kingdoms to Two Nations

Technically, France won the war, but only because they effectively rid themselves of the English. Practically speaking, both sides suffered tremendous losses, and both were economically devastated by the war effort. A hundred years of war was unimaginably exhaustive for both national economies. France suffered even greater economic hardship because the majority of the fighting took place on French soil— not on large battlefields but on farms and estates and in towns and villages. The English raid-and-pillage tactics wrought total destruction, and soldiers often carried off whatever they didn’t destroy.

Both England and France suffered socially as a result of the war, too. It goes without saying that more than a hundred years of warfare resulted in tremendous loss of life and depopulation for both sides. There probably didn’t exist a family in England or France that remained unaffected by the war either from losing loved ones or from seeing loved ones return home as changed men. Soldiers returning home had a difficult time peacefully assimilating back into society. Veterans often acted out violently or became aimless thieves and vagabonds. Many veterans chose not to return to a normal life and traveled to other parts of Europe seeking work as mercenaries.

Politically, England and France took different paths after the war. England’s nobles, tired of endless taxation to pay for the war effort, began to explore a parliamentary form of government in which much political power lay in the hands of a national assembly. In France, though, neither the king nor the nation’s provincial assemblies wanted to give up such power to a national assembly. These trends would continue for centuries in each nation.

Perhaps the most significant and long-lasting effect of the Hundred Years’ War for England and France was the rise of nationalism or the development of the nationstate. In 1337, when England and France entered into the conflict, the feud lay not between the people of England and France but between the kings of England and France. At that time, England and France were feudal kingdoms. Each king required his vassals to raise an army; those vassals called upon their vassals, and so on, until an army was raised. Each man who fought did so out of a sense of duty and loyalty to his feudal lord.

Seeds of dislike between England and France had been planted even before the war began. However, this dislike intensified, and, as the war dragged on, an “us versus them” mentality developed on each side of the English Channel. Each government used propaganda to help develop and perpetuate this mentality. By the end of the war, the fighting was no longer between the king of England and the king of France—it was between the English and the French. Thus began a long history of deep-rooted animosity between the two peoples that remained for centuries. The spirit of nationalism, a collective sense of loyalty to one’s nation instead of one’s king, became a permanent fixture not only in England and in France but eventually in other lands throughout Europe.

Define Your Terms

Nationalism is a sense among a population of being a nation, a unified state; it is similar to patriotism. Nationalism is fostered and enhanced by such things as a common history, common geography, a common language, common culture, and a common enemy.

 

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