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May 13, 2023

How many wars have France and England fought against each other?

How many wars have France and England fought against each other?

We list every war between France and England (then Britain) and judge each whether it was a win, loss or tie for France.




            France and England have one of the world’s greatest historical rivalries. The two regularly warred against each other for 8 centuries and competed for control of Western Europe, then Europe at large, then the world. But how many wars have the two actually fought? Today’s episode is a list of every war that France and England, later Britain, fought; specifically, we’ll look at armed conflicts which were overseen by the central states of each country. Thus, the Norman Conquest does not count as Normandy was a part of France, not France itself. Likewise, the First Barons’ War 1215-1217 doesn’t count because the reigning king Philippe II told his son Louis VIII not to invade England but he did anyway. Kids, right? Because these two countries fought very many wars we’re going to briefly mention each one, why it happened, and whether it was a French victory, defeat or tie.

            The first war between France and England was the aptly-named Anglo-French War 1109–13. Previously Duke Guillaume I, known as ‘The Conqueror,’ had earned his name by conquering England. As such he was both Duke of Normandy and King of England, making him the French king’s vassal and his equal. This was an awkward situation and French kings ever after feared the power that the Norman dukes held.

            The Norman King of England Henri I seized the castle at Gisors, on the border between Normandy and the Crownlands. This enraged the King of France Louis VI, who had an arrangement with the Normans that the strategically-important castle would be held by a neutral lord. Louis VI raised a force and marched to Gisors where he met Henri I. When Henri I refused to back down Louis VI challenged him to single combat, which Henri I refused. Thereafter the two were in open conflict. Louis VI also encouraged revolt by Guillaume Cliton, a member of the Anglo-Norman ruling family who was not set to inherit either England or Normandy. By 1113, with no clear victor, the two agreed to a truce.

            The Anglo-French War 1116–19 was a continuation of unresolved issues as the French king and the Anglo-Normans battled for control of the north. Louis VI attempted to annex Maine and Brittany and initially won a number of victories. Then on 20 August 1119 Henri I decisively defeated Louis VI at the Battle of Brémule, bringing a swift end to the war.

The Anglo-French War 1123–1135 began after the White Ship tragedy. On 25 November 1120 a number of Anglo-Norman nobles sailed out from Normandy when the vessel struck a rock and everyone but a single butcher drowned. Many leading aristocrats died, including Guillaume Adelin, Henri I’s only legitimate heir. With the Anglo-Norman dynasty in jeopardy Louis VI encouraged rebellion in Maine, leading to on-and-off fighting. In 1128 Henri I’s daughter Matilde married the heir to the County of Anjou, Geoffroi Plantagenet, ‘Plantagenet’ in English pronunciation. The marriage gave Henri I an heir, albeit from a different house, and brought the Angevins to power in northern France and England. By 1135 the Angevins and Anglo-Normans secured Maine and could claim victory.

            By the 1150s Henri II was a remarkably powerful lord. He was King of England, Duke of Normandy and Count of Anjou. His personal holdings are known to history as the Angevin Empire. At the time these included the western half of France, England, much of Wales and the eastern half of Ireland. Unsurprisingly, King Louis VII felt threatened that his vassal was so much more powerful than him. What followed was the Anglo-French War 1158–1189. This was a period of infrequent fighting punctuated by large-scale violence.

Between 1173-1174 Louis VII scored a major victory when he convinced Eleanor of Aquitaine to push her sons into revolt against their father. Henri II defeated his children but the Angevins were at each others’ throats. In 1180 Louis VII died and was replaced by the energetic and capable Philippe II. Philippe II united with Henri II’s two sons Richard, known to history as Richard the Lionheart, and Jean, aka John Lackland. Henri II died in the campaign and Richard became the king of England. The new King of France won a significant victory over an old rival.

            The Anglo-French War 1193–1199 broke out when the truce between Philippe II and Richard I ended. Once their peasants had collected the harvest it was time to go to war again. Each side led their knights to pillage lands belonging to the other. After five years of fighting the Anglo-Normans won a decisive victory at the Battle of Gisors where Richard the Lionheart defeated Philippe II. The following year Richard was putting down a revolt when he was shot by a crossbow bolt. The wound became infected and he died. This ended hostilities between the French and Anglo-Normans though the latter had emerged from the conflict in a better position.

            The next war between France and England was the Angevin War of Succession 1199-1204. Richard the Lionheart’s death in 1199 led to a legal dilemma. Richard had no legitimate children and was himself the last legitimate son of Henri II. Two claimants to the territories of the Angevin Empire emerged: John, Richard’s half-brother and the illegitimate son of Henri II, and Arthur of Brittany, the legitimate grandson of Henri II. The Anglo-Normans supported John, whereas the western French supported Arthur. Open war broke out between the two sides and Philippe II supported Arthur in order to break up the empire.

            After a brief period of fighting Philippe II forced John to sign the Treaty of Le Goulet. Philippe II recognized John as King of England and Duke of Normandy. In exchange John recognized him as overlord of all territory in France except for Normandy. Moreover, John ceded a number of border territories to the French king. It was a heavy price to pay for Philippe II abandoning his support of Arthur and thus a French victory. But the war was not over as conflict flared up shortly thereafter.

            No sooner had John signed the treaty did he make an all new mistake. John rebuked his first wife in favor of a southern French woman to secure his territories there. In the process he antagonized the local lords. As their king, Philippe II summoned John to court to answer for his indiscretions. When John refused, Philippe II declared he was in contempt of the treaty. Philippe II claimed that John had forfeited his rights to his French territory, which would all go to Arthur of Brittany, except for Normandy which would come under the direct control of the French king.

            Philippe II invaded Normandy in 1202 while Arthur took control of the west. John tried to fight against the two forces but was defeated and lost all of his French possessions except the Duchy of Aquitaine. The Angevin Empire was all but dead as Philippe II won a remarkable victory over his rivals.

            John did not want to go down in history as someone who lost an empire, though spoiler, John Lackland is remembered for just that. He launched the Anglo-French War 1213-14 when he formed an anti-French coalition that brought together the Holy Roman Empire and the Counties of Flanders and Boulogne. At first the war went well for the coalition as the English destroyed the French navy in Flanders. Then John harassed the French in the west while the Holy Roman Emperor was supposed to assault Paris but failed to do so. Philippe II and his son Louis VIII raced back and forth across the north, defeating their enemies one at a time.

On 27 July 1214 Philippe II met the Holy Roman Emperor and his Continental allies at Bouvines where he won a decisive victory. The Counts of Boulogne and Flanders were taken hostage while the Emperor fled back to Germany where he was overthrown. John admitted defeat and signed the Truce of Chinon, in which he gave up his claims to Brittany, Anjou and Poitou while paying a large indemnity. The war cemented Philippe II as one of France’s greatest kings. He destroyed the Angevin Empire and asserted monarchical power over the whole of the country.

The next war was the relatively minor Poitou War 1224. English forces asserted their rights to western France as part of their claims to the Angevin Empire. Louis VIII wanted to put an end to English presence on the Continent and invaded, taking La Rochelle on 3 August 1224, decisively winning the war.  

The English invasion of France 1230 was a strange affair to say the least. The English King Henry III tried to recreate the Angevin Empire, but he did not want to actually fight against the French king. He landed with a force in Brittany where some nobles accepted him as their lord while others opposed him. He avoided Louis IX’s army as best he could and made some inroads in Anjou before he left to return to England. Henry III failed to remake the empire and Louis IX reasserted French control.

Henry III must have recognized that you cannot win a war without fighting against your main opponent and in 1242 he launched another invasion of France. This is known as the Saintonge War 1242–1243 because it was primarily fought in that region of west-central France. Henry III probably should have gone with his instincts and avoided a fight with Louis IX because when he did meet him at the Battle of Taillebourg his forces were decimated. In the ensuing treaty Henry III admitted that he had no claims to the Angevin Empire save a handful of territories, which Louis IX conceded because he was busy with the Seventh Crusade and wanted to placate his English rival.

The next war was the Anglo-French War 1294–1303, otherwise known as the Guyenne War. The last English territory in France centered around the southwestern Duchy of Gascony. Fighting between Gascon and Norman fishing boats in the area escalated into entire naval battles. The Normans appealed to their lord, King Philippe IV, who used the opportunity to subjugate the Gascons. In response, the Duke of Gascony, King Edward I of England, supported his side. On 23 October 1295 France signed the Auld Alliance with Scotland, beginning a centuries’-long friendship over the two countries’ mutual hatred of England. Caught between the French and Scots, Edward I agreed to a peace favorable to the King of France.

Wars often start over the most trivial of circumstances, as was the case with the War of Saint-Sardos 1324. France and England were then at peace, with the English King Edward II also ruling as Duke of Aquitaine. Among his possessions was a small village known as Saint-Sardos. While Edward II ruled the village the Abbey of Sarlat won a legal exemption from his control in 1322. The following year a representative of the King of France arrived and began to construct fortifications. Neighboring villages worried that the rise of Saint-Sardos would deprive them of their own villagers and wealth. This led Raymond-Bernard, lord of Montpezat, to take the very rational decision of burning the rival village to the ground and executing the King’s representative. Given that Raymond-Bernard had met with the English official Ralph Basset just two days earlier French officials suspected that Basset had signed off on the raid.

Edward II wanted to avoid a war and personally apologized for the violence. But he refused to turn over either Raymond-Bernard or Basset to French authorities. Simultaneously, he ordered the two to resist French forces who arrived to seize their lands. The local crisis spiraled out of control and in August 1324 France invaded Aquitaine. In just under 3 months the French had conquered most of the duchy. Edward II was humiliated; not only had he lost most of his French possessions but his show of weakness soon cost him his crown and his life.

We’ve finally arrived at the Hundred Years' War, a series of conflicts that lasted 116 years between 1337–1453. In 1328 Charles IV of France died without an heir. His closest legitimate male relative was his nephew Edward III King of England. The French nobility did not want an English ruler and so they chose Philippe, Count of Valois, who became the first Valois monarch of the country following the dissolution of House Capet. Edward III was furious but for a long time did not act. In 1337 Philippe VI claimed Gascony for himself, leading to open warfare between the French and English thrones.

Needless to say a lot happened in those 116 years. Following the decisive Battle of Azincourt Henry V took control of most of France and was officially recognized as the heir to the French throne by French King Charles VI. Following this stupendous English victory and French disaster, Charles VII and Joan of Arc led a counter-offensive. After a series of remarkable successful sieges, battles and politicking the House of Valois retook all of France, save for a small territory in the north known as the Pale of Calais. The English monarchs ended the war with less territory than they had started with, and the French kings were more powerful than they had been in centuries. It was a long conflict but one which ultimately ended in a decisive French victory.

During the early phases of the Hundred Years’ War France and England were also involved in another war: the Castilian Civil War 1351–1369. The illegitimate prince Enrique was living in France when he appealed to its king and the king of Aragon to support his claim to the throne. He assembled an army at Montpellier and invaded Castille, successfully overthrowing King Pedro I. Pedro I fled to Bayonne in English-controlled Gascony. He promised to give lands to the English in exchange for support in retaking his kingdom. The English supplied Pedro I with arms and men and he returned to Castile in 1367 where he retook the throne, forcing Enrique II to flee to France. Pedro I then reneged on his promises to give land to the English, leading them to abandon their support. This gave France the opportunity to again support Enrique II who returned to Castile and executed Pedro I, ending the game of musical chairs that was the throne of Castile.

The Castilian Civil War was a minor theater for France and England, yet it clearly represented a French victory. France gained an ally while England had sacrificed men and resources for nothing.

The next conflict between the French and English monarchs took place during the Wars of the Roses 1455–1487. The Wars of the Roses were a series of civil wars in England fought between the ruling House of Lancaster, whose emblem was a red rose, and the House of York, which sported the white rose. At various points English nobles went into exile, as when Henry VI, his wife and son fled to France where they were received by Louis XI who tried to act as a mediator between the two sides. French involvement reached a high point when Charles VIII supplied the exiled Henry Tudor with thousands of French soldiers. The French king backed Henry because the reigning King of England, Richard III, was allied with the Duchy of Brittany against France. Henry sailed back to England and united this French force with English supporters. This army met King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field where Henry Tudor won a decisive victory. Shortly thereafter Henry became the first Tudor monarch of England. France had played a short, yet decisive role in the Wars of the Roses when they helped overthrow the reigning King of England in favor of their own candidate.

While France successfully intervened in the Wars of the Roses, the English failed in their role in the Mad War 1485–1488. The Mad War was a series of noble uprisings in the west and northwest of France, which were supported by the Holy Roman Empire, England and Castile. Foreign aid to the upstart aristocrats was limited and Charles VIII reasserted his authority across the kingdom. It was not a major setback for England, but for the purposes of this list this counts as a French victory given that England was on the losing side.

Henry Tudor thanked Charles VIII for helping make him King of England by supplying Charles VIII’s enemies in Brittany with thousands of troops during the French-Breton War 1487–1491. Henry Tudor, like all of France’s neighboring monarchs, worried about the country’s incredible power and supported Brittany’s right to independence. Charles VIII wanted to finally incorporate the autonomous province into the kingdom and invaded. Despite significant foreign support, Charles VIII succeeded in forcing Anne of Brittany to marry him. The marital union accompanied the political incorporation of the northwest into the royal domain, which was a major victory for France and a defeat for England which lost a longtime ally on the Continent.

            The next war between the two Cross-Channel powers started due to events in Italy. The French monarchs had previously pressed their claims to northern Italy, bringing them into conflict with the Holy Roman Emperor. In 1507 Louis XII entered Milan with an army, prompting Emperor Maximilian I to ask the Imperial Diet to provide him with the troops necessary to challenge the French. The German nobility agreed to give him a large force but one he deemed insufficient to defeat Louis XII. Maximilian I instead attacked Venice. The Germans suffered multiple defeats and agreed to a truce. Afterwards Louis XII led a coalition known as the League of Cambrai, composed of France, Spain, the Papal States and the Duchy of Ferrara. These countries invaded Venetian territory, sparking the War of the League of Cambrai 1508–1516.

            While the war lasted 8 years The League of Cambrai only lasted two. By 1510 the Pope feared that the balance of power was shifting dangerously against him, left the league and allied with the Venetians. Spanish withdrawal left France and Ferrara fighting against the Papal States and Venice. By 1511 Pope Julius II formed The Holy League, which brought together the Papal States, Venice, the Holy Roman Empire, Spain, England and Switzerland against France, Navarre, Ferrara and Florence. Naturally, England joined what was in essence an anti-French coalition. On 10 August 1512 English sailors engaged the French navy at the Battle of Saint-Mathieu where they won a decisive victory. The following year King Henry VIII and Emperor Maximilian I surprised a French force at the Battle of the Spurs, which they utterly crushed.

If England was always ready to join an anti-French club, Scotland was always ready to join an anti-English club. On 9 September a massive Scottish army met the English at Branxton where they fought the Battle of Flodden Field. The battle was an absolute slaughter. Scottish King James IV was killed alongside many of the nobility and Scotland exited the war.

France had suffered numerous setbacks on the battlefield but it managed to form a political alliance with Venice that turned the tide of the war. The two powers agreed to divide up the north of Italy between themselves and successfully defeated the other powers in the region. Meanwhile they recognized Spanish control of Naples in exchange for them leaving the war. With the pope defeated only the Holy Roman Empire was left fighting the Franco-Venetian alliance. In December 1516 Maximilian I invaded the north before being defeated. In the ensuing treaties France took Milan and the northwest while Venice dominated the rest of the north. England had tried to weaken France and had won the major battles it had participated in, but the main theater of war was in northern Italy where France successfully expanded its power.

France and England ended up fighting each other in the Italian War of 1521–1526 for pretty much the same reason that they did in the previous war. France went to war with the Holy Roman Empire for control of northern Italy and England decided to get in on the fun and engage in its favorite pastime: harassing France. On 29 May 1522 England formerly declared war. Shortly thereafter troops from Calais raided the north. In September 1523 Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, led a significant force that came within 80 kilometers of Paris. However, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V was too busy to aid the English and the cautious Duke retreated with his loot.

            As in the previous war, the English faired well, mostly because the French were busy fighting more important enemies. As in the War of the League of Cambrai events in Italy decided the war. This time, however, the war resulted in French defeat. The French king François I lost the Battle of Pavia and was captured, granting the Holy Roman Empire more power in Italy and a technical victory for the English as part of the winning anti-French coalition.

Starting in 1542 France and England became involved in two separate wars: The Italian War of 1542–1546 and The Rough Wooing 1542–1551. The Italian War was a continuation of France and the Holy Roman Empire’s struggle for power which spilled over into a broader conflict. The resulting war was incredibly costly in terms of money and manpower, and resulted in a status quo antebellum.

By contrast, The Rough Wooing was a relatively limited war fought along the Anglo-Scottish border. King Henry VIII invaded Scotland to force its parliament to agree to a future marriage alliance between his young son Edward and the infant Mary Queen of Scots. The French supported their allies in Scotland, sending 10,000 soldiers to Leith in 1548. After eight years of fighting the English admitted defeat and retreated from Scotland, thus granting France and its ally a victory.

In the mid-16th century France was occupied with the Italian War of 1551-1559, the last of the Italian Wars. In April 1557 France supported a failed revolt against Queen Mary I. This prompted England to declare war against France and unite with the Holy Roman Empire. A combined Anglo-Spanish force won a decisive victory at the Battle of Saint-Quentin, then another at the Battle of Gravelines the following year. In response, King Henri II besieged Calais in 1558, taking the last English possession on the Continent. While the last Italian War produced mixed results for France overall, the French won a clear victory over England.

Five years later Elizabeth I was briefly involved in the French Wars of Religion. In early 1562 open violence by Catholics against Protestants spread across France, prompting the Protestants to seize and fortify cities. Louis, Prince of Condé, the leader of the religious minority, signed a treaty with Elizabeth I whereby the two would seize the Pale of Calais. The English invaded and seized Le Havre and Dieppe. Then, on the 19 March 1563 French Catholics and Protestants made peace under the Edict of Amboise, after which they united to expel the English. Elizabeth I’s surviving forces returned to England in defeat. The queen never trusted French Protestants again and later refused to support them when they begged for help.

After over 60 years of peace it was time for another war, specifically the Anglo-French War 1627–1629. Under Cardinal Richelieu France built up its navy, which disturbed the English who feared invasion. In 1626 Walter Montagu travelled to France to stir the Protestants to revolt. The plan was that an English fleet would sail to west-central France and link up with French Protestants. In September 1627 George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, besieged Saint-Martin-de-Ré. The French loyalist force held out until reinforcements arrived and the English left with heavy casualties. Next the English attacked La Rochelle and suffered devastating losses. The two sides signed a peace treaty which restored the status quo antebellum, though given that the English suffered such heavy casualties compared to their French counterparts it’s safe to say this was a French victory.

Another period of peace settled in between France and England, largely due to England being busy fighting a civil war. The next time the two powers fought was during the Second Anglo-Dutch War 1665–1667. The Anglo-Dutch War was a very rare instance wherein France was not looking to fight, though this was because King Louis XIV wanted to fight a different war. Louis XIV wanted to seize territory in the Spanish Netherlands and frankly couldn’t care if the English and Dutch fought over who controlled sea trade routes. Louis XIV did everything to avoid joining the war, though eventually he was forced to side with the Dutch Republic to honor treaty obligations. Even then, France did very little, though it came out as a victor due to the Dutch smashing the English navy.

            After the Second Anglo-Dutch War Louis XIV took significant territories from the Spanish Netherlands in the War of Devolution. But Louis XIV was never satisfied and he launched the Franco-Dutch War 1672-1678 to seize even more territory. That year Louis XIV invaded the Dutch Republic with support from England which was looking for revenge against its maritime rival. France nearly conquered the entire Netherlands when the desperate Dutch decided to flood their own country to prevent its subjugation.

French dominance terrified the rest of Europe. In 1673 the Holy Roman Empire, Spain, Brandenburg-Prussia and the Duchy of Lorraine agreed to support the Dutch Republic. The following year all of France’s allies concluded a peace with the Dutch, leaving France all alone against most of Western and Central Europe; that is until the Swedish Empire decided to join the winning team. In November 1677 the Stadtholder William of Orange married Mary of England. The marriage alliance led to a military alliance and in 1678 England joined the anti-French coalition. England only got involved near the end of the war and played a small role in the whole affair. As such, the war meant little to England. However, it ultimately was on the losing side. In contrast, France emerged victorious and expanded its territories, having successfully defeated most of the great powers of West and Central Europe almost single-handedly.

Over the next decade France emerged as the great power of Europe. At this time 1 out of 5 people in Europe and 1 out of 25 people on Earth, were French. Given its incredible population it is no wonder that France was so dominant. With enormous reserves of manpower, resources, a well-trained army and a strong central government Louis XIV was unrivaled within the Continent, something of which every other power was firmly aware. Louis XIV’s strength, combined with his persecution of Protestants, convinced the countries of Western and Central Europe that they had to unite in mutual protection against France.

In September 1688 Louis XIV marched his forces across the Rhine River to force the Holy Roman Empire to accept his territorial annexations. The following year the Grand Alliance was formed of the Holy Roman Empire, the Spanish Empire, the Dutch Republic, England, Scotland and the Duchy of Savoy who all agreed to fight France. Thus began the Nine Years' War. The Nine Years’ War was a brutal conflict that ravaged Europe, resulting in hundreds of thousands of casualties. After all the fighting very little territory was gained by either side. France had taken on most of Western and Central Europe and had fought it to a standstill.

A longstanding and far less deadly conflict that occurred throughout the 17th century were the Beaver Wars. This on-and-off conflict was largely fought between Native Americans over control of the fur trade with Europeans. On the one side was the Iroquois League which was supported by England and the Dutch Republic. On the other side were a number of tribes allied with France. By the late 17th century French settlers took a more aggressive stance against their enemies, organizing raids with their Native American allies to massacre the English and Iroquois. The Treaty of Ryswick, which ended the Nine Years’ War in Europe, and the Great Peace of Montreal, which ended inter-Native American violence, brought an end to the wars. Ultimately, neither side could claim an outright victory. While French settlers killed many English the latter had far more settlers who replenished those numbers.

            The next war on our list is the War of Spanish Succession 1701-1715. Some historians argue that this was the first world war because even though most of the fighting took place in Europe there were battles on every continent except Australia and Antarctica. In 1700 Charles II of Spain died without an heir. Two possible candidates for the Spanish throne emerged: Philippe of Anjou, the grandson of Louis XIV, and Charles of Austria. As you can imagine, the prospect of France acquiring the Spanish Empire was a doomsday scenario for the rest of Europe. Negotiations between powers failed. Louis XIV refused to back down and launched Europe into war with an invasion of Spanish possessions in northern Italy.

            On one side was the Grand Alliance, composed of the Holy Roman Empire, Prussia, Portugal, the Dutch Republic, the Duchy of Savoy and England and Scotland, until in 1707 the latter two united to form Great Britain. On the other side was France. Well, France had a few allies in the first couple of years but for most of the war it was literally just France against the rest of Western and Central Europe.

            The War of Spanish Succession resulted in hundreds of thousands to over 1 million dead over 13 and a half years. At the end of it all not much had changed. There were some small territorial gains for France, Great Britain and Austria, largely at Spain’s expense. The major issue was the fate of the Spanish throne. Philippe of Anjou won the right to be King of Spain but had to renounce all claims to the French throne, ensuring that France and Spain would not unite. Ultimately, we’re going to call this war a tie between France and Britain because in the short term it was. However, France’s medieval credit system meant that it struggled to pay off debt even while Great Britain’s modern system could incur huge debts without risking economic collapse. While the War of the Spanish Succession was a nominal tie the increasingly-large debt France accumulated would weaken it in the long-term.

            Succession crises in European kingdoms have a tendency to cause problems well beyond the country they take place in. 25 years after the War of Spanish Succession ended the War of Austrian Succession 1740–1748 began. In 1740 the Austrian Emperor Charles VI died. Before passing on, Charles VI had issued an edict known as the Pragmatic Sanction which overturned the law that only men could inherit the throne. Thus, when Charles VI died his daughter Maria Theresa claimed the Austrian throne. Prussia was by then a rising power and had been preparing for Maria Theresa’s contested assumption. As she settled into power Prussian King Frederick II invaded from the north while its ally France entered the Austrian Netherlands. Prussia and France had hoped to take advantage of a weak monarch and seize territory for themselves but tensions spread and Europe split into two main camps with France, Prussia and Spain on one side and the Hapsburgs and Britain on the other, alongside on-and-off allies for each side.

            Europe experienced yet another brutal war where little actually changed. Prussia greatly expanded its territory while Spain made modest gains, both at the expense of the Austrians. Yet, the other belligerents had nothing to show for it and the pre-war borders remained in place. France and Britain warred for control of Europe and again the result was a tie.

            While France and Britain were more than happy to fight a European war they also competed with each other in smaller wars across the world. One such case was Father Le Loutre’s War 1749-1755 which took place in eastern Canada. The small population of French settlers and their indigenous allies occupied a number of towns across modern-day Cape Breton Island, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. Meanwhile, British settlers began to take control of what is today Nova Scotia. The local French were threatened by the English and launched guerilla strikes against their towns. French tactics were often brutal, as were British reprisals. However, since only a few thousand Europeans lived there this conflict did not garner much attention.

Despite French ferocity and indigenous aid, the British won the conflict through sheer numbers. France was a large and agriculturally-rich country and few left to settle in the New World. In contrast, Britain was less agriculturally-productive, its people were generally poorer and there was more investment in colonization. For all of these reasons hundreds of thousands of British people left to colonize North America in the 18th century whereas far fewer French thought it was worth it to leave their homes for a new continent. The local French under their leader, Father Jean-Louis Le Loutre, failed to stop the British from settling in Nova Scotia and expanding their power over eastern Canada.

            And we’re back to major wars; this time, the Seven Years' War 1756–1763. The Seven Years’ War is commonly known as ‘the first world war’ among historians. While the War of Spanish Succession mainly occurred in Europe with small engagements on four other continents, the Seven Years’ War had significant fighting across the world. This was a truly global war, where European forces fought for dominance of their own Continent, the Americas, the wealthy Caribbean islands, and significant territories in Africa and Asia.

            By 1756 tensions in Europe were running high. France and Austria formed an alliance against Prussia. In response, Prussia allied with Britain. That year Prussia invaded Saxony in a preemptive strike. This prompted Austria to lead the Holy Roman Empire against Prussia. France joined the Austrians due to their alliance while Spain joined them due to its familial alliance with France. With much of Europe teaming up against Prussia, Britain joined the Prussians as part of its ongoing quest to curtail French power. When Russia joined the war it meant that every major European power was now part of the conflict.

            Britain and Prussia eventually won the war for three major reasons: (1) Prussia’s world-class army led by the military genius Frederick the Great (2) British naval superiority, and (3) Britain’s credit system which meant that it could fund its own forces and support its allies. While the European map remained the same, Britain seized Canada and all American territory east of the Mississippi from France, while taking Florida from Spain. Additionally, Britain gained a number of wealthy islands in the Caribbean at French expense. The war was a remarkable twist of fortunes in European and world-power politics. For centuries, France was the great power of Europe while England was a secondary power. Yet, the unified Britain with its modern financial system, expansive colonies and legendary navy had bested France and established it as a first-rate power, possibly even THE first-rate power in Europe. While France still had the strongest army, Britain’s navy was the undisputed master of the seas.

            Okay, another break from the major wars. Between 1721 and 1763 Britain and France fought the Chickasaw Wars along the Mississippi Delta. The wars primarily involved the indigenous American tribe the Chickasaw, which was allied with Britain, who fought for supremacy against the Choctaw and Illinois Confederation, both allied with France. In 1721 the governor of Louisiana, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, convinced the Choctaw to attack the Chickasaw. This led to conflict between indigenous Americans who bought weapons from their respective European allies and went to war with each other. In the 1730s French colonists fought alongside their allies against the Chickasaw but failed to expel them from the area. Outright violence trailed off afterwards and the conflict formally ended in 1763 when Britain took control of the territory, effectively winning a war due to greater events abroad.

            Much of England, later Britain’s, military strategy can best be summarized as, “ally with anyone fighting France.” By the late 18th century Britain was the dominant power and it was France that was looking for an opportunity to strike back. France got its chance when the American colonists declared their independence in 1776, transforming a series of local rebellions into a full-scale war. For two years France sat on the sidelines. King Louis XVI knew his country was struggling to pay its debts and he held no particular love for the Americans and their anti-monarchical stance. However, the French people largely supported the Americans, in no small part due to the heroic adventures of the young Marquis de Lafayette and his fellows. In late 1776 general George Washington won the Battle of Trenton. Early the next year he won the Battle of Princeton. In late 1777 Horatio Gates led the Americans to victory at the Battle of Saratoga, a large-scale fight involving roughly 20,000 soldiers. Saratoga convinced the French that the Americans could actually defeat significant British armies in pitched combat. The following year France officially joined the conflict.

            When France declared war on Britain the American Revolutionary War turned into a global war. With France constantly threatening Britain the British could never bring their full might against the Americans. On 3 September 1783 the war formally ended with the Peace of Paris. Britain lost its colonies which soon formed the United States of America. It also ceded the Caribbean island of Tobago and the African island of Gorée to France. France did not acquire much from the expensive war, especially as the Americans resumed trading relations with their former mother country, rather than France. However, France certainly won the war if only because it achieved its main aim: hurting Britain, which it absolutely succeeded in doing. 

            It turns out you cannot base your entire state policy on annoying Britain, as good as that feels. All the wars France had fought during the 18th century took their toll. Unlike Britain, which had adopted the Dutch modern finance system and could incur large debts without it becoming a problem, France had horrible credit. Despite having less than 1/3rd of Britain’s debt in 1788, France was in an economic crisis because financiers would not lend the French state money, or when they did they charged exorbitantly high interest rates. France’s debt-to-gross national income ratio was 55.6%, meaning that its total debt amounted to one-half of a year’s worth of income. By contrast, Britain’s debt-to-GNI was over 180%. But every bank was willing to loan to Britain because it always paid its debts. Britain could take out loans at low interest so its debt was always a long-term problem, unlike France whose high-interest loans meant that even small debt was an immediate problem.

            Economic woes combined with social unrest and in 1789 the educated commoners assumed a much larger role in the government. This was the beginning of the French Revolution, a political movement to abolish the privileges of the Old Regime and empower the common citizenry. Many aristocrats did not like the idea of losing their special status and fled the country where they pressured other European powers to help them overthrow the government in Paris and reimpose Louis XVI’s power. The émigrés were particularly strong in the neighboring Austrian Netherlands, leading the French government to declare war on 20 April 1792. Since Prussia was allied to Austria it joined the war against France.

            On 21 September 1792 the Parisian government abolished the monarchy and chopped off the king’s head. The emergence of the regicidal First French Republic terrified the monarchies of Europe. Thus began the War of the First Coalition, in which Austria, Prussia, the Holy Roman Empire, the Dutch Republic, numerous Italian states and Britain allied against France.

            The First Republic reinvigorated the great power of Europe. Its levée en masse meant that it fielded over a million troops who enthusiastically fought for an idealistic new country. French forces defeated the British at the Siege of Dunkirk 1793 despite being outnumbered 3-to-1. France also resisted a British naval attack at Toulon. During the siege a young artillery officer, captain Napoleon Bonaparte, proved his worth and was promoted to the role of brigadier general. The war went so well for France that the country even sent 1,400 soldiers to Wales to stir up rebellion. The Battle of Fishguard was a rare French failure. Mainland Britain was secure even while it was losing constantly in Europe proper.

            The War of the First Coalition was a stunning success for France. The First Republic had not just survived, it expanded its power, taking the Austrian Netherlands and German border territories. It set up the puppet state the Batavian Republic, among others. Finally, in the ensuing treaties it gained the island of Santo Domingo. In 1797 Europe was at peace with France, except for Britain who remained alone in a state of war.

            Every good film deserves a sequel. French leaders recognized they were wildly successful and pressed their advantage in Europe. They supported the overthrow of the Swiss government by Republicans who founded the Helvetic Republic, which allied with France. France further claimed Austrian territories beyond what was negotiated in the treaties ending the War of the First Coalition.

            While there were a number of underlying factors that made war more likely the casus belli for the conflict was Napoleon Bonaparte. Nappy invaded Ottoman-held Egypt in summer 1798. Along the way he got involved in a diplomatic crisis in Malta that really pissed off the Tsar of Russia. French aggression convinced the leaders of Britain, Russia, the Ottoman Empire, the Holy Roman Empire, Portugal and a number of Italian states to unite in the Second Coalition against France and its puppet states.

            Britain and the Ottomans defeated the French in Egypt and in the Ionian islands. Yet, the French routed the British on the Continent, as they did with every major power they encountered. Moreover, British mistreatment of Russian sailors led Russia to abandon the war. When the war ended in 1802 the British did gain some territory, including Trinidad and Malta. However, it had failed in its main aim of weakening France. The First Republic gained recognition of its conquests, further increased its territory and set up more puppet states.

            From 1791-1804 France was involved in another major war outside of Europe: the Haitian Revolution. The Haitian Revolution was a complex series of interrelated political movements as black slaves led an uprising to secure their freedom, the Big Whites sought to keep slavery and the Little Whites and Coloreds fluctuated between different political allegiances.

The early governments of the First Republic were divided on the issue of slavery. France was caught up in a wave of idealism, declaring the equality of men and the end of bondage. On the other hand, slavery was incredibly profitable and France needed cash. The government went back and forth on the issue but increasingly opposed slavery. By 1793 the Big Whites who ran the colony of Saint-Domingue realized that Paris was going to abolish slavery. As a preemptive measure they asked Britain to take control of the country. Given how wealthy the sugar trade was, the British agreed. In September British forces took control of a number of important port cities and set about reimposing slavery. French idealism combined with political necessity and the French government abolished slavery in its territories. French loyalists encouraged blacks to fight alongside them for freedom against Britain and the Big Whites who aimed to reimpose slavery.

The British had a bad time in Haiti where disease devastated their forces. Meanwhile

they also had to fight against black freedom fighters and French forces. The Haitian Revolution proved disastrous for the British who lost tens of thousands of men. However, they were not the only losers. French forces were similarly ravaged by disease and worn down by fights against the revolutionary Haitians. As far as our count goes this war was a tie, as both France and Britain were defeated by Mother Nature and the Haitians. Britain failed in its attempt to seize control of the country while France lost its richest colony. With both countries losing in the Caribbean it was time for another European war.

            The War of the Third Coalition was a short and glorious victory for the new emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. French aggression in Italy and the Germanic states convinced other European powers to join Britain. In 1805 Britain, Russia, the Holy Roman Empire, Sweden, Sicily and Naples united against France and its client states. Napoleon absolutely crushed his opposition, culminating with his greatest victory at the Battle of Austerlitz, in which he smashed a combined Russian and Holy Roman force.

            While France was the undisputed master of land warfare, Britain proved its dominance of the waves. On 21 October 1805 Horatio Nelson led a British fleet to destroy a Franco-Spanish fleet. The victory was crucial to the country’s survival as Napoleon had been planning an invasion of Britain. Napoleon believed, with good reason, that the French army could easily crush the British army. The problem was breaking through the Royal Navy and landing on the English coasts. Nelson’s victory, which cost him his life, killed Napoleon’s planned invasion.

            Britain had survived the War of the Third Coalition but Napoleon had emerged as the undisputed master of Europe west of Russia. He dissolved the Holy Roman Empire and set up the Confederation of the Rhine as a French puppet. The First Empire cemented its control over Italy and central Europe.

            Britain remained in a state of war even after the Third Coalition failed. There was hardly a peace between the War of the Third Coalition and the War of the Fourth Coalition, which began when Prussia decided it needed to join Britain before it was engulfed by France. Thus, Britain, Russia, Prussia, Sweden, Sicily and Saxony united against the First Empire and its puppet states. Britain had a limited role in this war, which was primarily fought between France, Prussia and Russia. It turns out, Prussia should not have declared war against Napoleon in his prime. Despite being outnumbered Napoleon won an incredible victory at the twin battles of Jena–Auerstedt. Prussia was crushed and lost half of its territory in the ensuing peace. On 14 June 1807 Napoleon won the Battle of Friedland, devastating a Russian force, effectively ending the war. France had won four separate wars against coalitions of the other major European powers.

            Europe wasn’t done ganging up on France and in 1809 fought the War of the Fifth Coalition. This was primarily fought between France and Austria, with funding from Britain. In July Britain invaded the Kingdom of Holland to distract Napoleon but the attempt failed. However, Britain was more successful at sea, and harassed the French navy. While British forces had mixed success, Austria got absolutely pummeled. Napoleon had won again.

            In 1812 Napoleon made the disastrous decision of invading Russia. A harsh winter combined with scorched earth tactics devastated the Grand Army. With France reeling from such a disastrous campaign, a Sixth Coalition emerged. The Sixth Coalition included virtually every power in Europe against France. By this point Britain’s role was primarily: harassing France at sea, supporting the Spanish revolt and bankrolling the great land powers. Meanwhile, the Austrians, Prussians and Russians invaded France, forcing Napoleon to abdicate and go into exile at Elba. The sixth time was the charm and the European powers finally defeated Napoleon.

            Between 1808-1814 there was one long outstanding war between France and Britain: the Peninsular War. The Peninsular War began when Napoleon seized Spain for his brother. By this point the French had proven undefeatable in open warfare, so the Spanish resorted to hit-and-run tactics. In fact, it is from this war that we get the term guerilla, which is Spanish for ‘little war.’ The constant low-level fighting proved to be Napoleon’s ‘bleeding ulcer’ as French troops were consistently bogged down and picked off by Spanish rebels. British commanders recognized that this was exactly the kind of campaign they needed to support. Britain sent thousands of troops to aid the guerrillas, and it was during this conflict that Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, rose to prominence.

The Peninsular War ended in 1814 due to the success of the Sixth Coalition. Napoleon’s downfall and French decline meant that Spain once again became an independent country. However, the Peninsular War was more than just a theater of greater conflicts. It was a constant drain on French forces and a major reason why Napoleon decided to attack Russia. Napoleon felt like he needed a major victory against a large force even as his enemies tried to bleed him dry with insurgency. It turned out that Spain was not the only country that had adapted to Napoleonic warfare as the Russians developed their own way of defeating the superior French armies, scorched earth tactics.

            The final war fought between France and Britain was the Hundred Days. In early 1815 Napoleon escaped from his exile and returned to France where he was hailed as emperor. The rest of Europe agreed that he could not return to power and combined their forces to defeat him. This time the British committed to fighting on land. Their triumph came at Waterloo where the Duke of Wellington led a coalition of forces against Napoleon’s army. Napoleon had the upper hand for most of the day but before he could achieve victory Prussian general Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher arrived with a massive force. Napoleon was defeated and exiled for a final time.

            After Napoleon’s final defeat France and Britain never fought another war against each other. Essentially, French policymakers decided to switch their foreign policy tactics. Since the 18th century Britain’s geostrategic goal was to keep Europe contained so that it could expand its global empire. French strategy was to dominate Europe. French leaders recognized that these two goals need not be mutually exclusive. Rather than fighting Britain, French leaders decided to let Britain continue its empire-building across the world while it asserted its power in Europe. This strategy worked until the Franco-Prussian War, which resulted in the creation of the German Empire. France was suddenly on the backfoot as for the first time in centuries it was no longer the great land power. However, this change in European politics only reaffirmed Franco-British military interests as Britain increasingly feared German dominance on the Continent. British worries were well-placed, as Germany launched two World Wars. Franco-British unity during the World Wars cemented their friendship which carried over into the later 20th century.

            By our count the central states of France and England, later Britain,, fought 41 wars against each other between the first Anglo-French War in 1109 and the Hundred Days in 1815. On average that’s a war every 17.3 years. In total France won 24 wars, England/Britain won 11 and 6 were a tie.

These figures are unsurprising given that France was one of the most dominant countries in Europe going back to the 6th century while England only became a great power in the 18th century. Historians estimate that in the year 1000 the population of France was over 7,000,000, compared to over 1,000,000 in England. In 1700 France’s population was 20,000,000 compared to 5,000,000 in Britain. France is a large, agriculturally-rich country capable of supporting a substantial population. The abundance of French people meant that from its earliest days until the present it has been one of the great powers of Europe. By contrast, the island of Great Britain is smaller and less agriculturally-rich. Before the Industrial Revolution the planet was noticeably colder, making Britain less hospitable. For all of these reasons, France was able to bully much of Europe for over a thousand years, whereas Great Britain was a peripheral territory for much of its history.

During the medieval period England was only able to compete with the Kingdom of France due to personal political unions of French nobles who also ruled as Kings of England. First the Normans, then the Angevins controlled a cross-Channel polity. The combined French and English forces were capable of going toe-to-toe with the relatively weak monarchs of France until the Hundred Years’ War effectively severed ties between island and continent. For the next three centuries France smashed England at virtually every opportunity.

English fortunes changed around 1700 for 4 major reasons. First, it experienced significant population growth which outpaced France. Second, in 1707 England and Scotland combined to form one kingdom. Britain was significantly more powerful than just England and the unification meant that France could no longer call upon the Scots to fight the English whenever England went to war with them. Third, England established a global maritime empire which gathered resources from around the world for the mother country.

The fourth and final reason why the British succeeded, and I cannot stress enough that I’m not joking, is that Britain got a huge boost by copying off the Dutch. When William of Orange came to England he brought with him modern financial practices. From the medieval period to that point most European leaders operated on a medieval mindset, wherein they would take out huge loans from banks and whenever they could not afford to pay them they would simply default on the debt. In simple economic terms defaulting on the debt is a disastrously stupid idea, as it means that a central state won’t guarantee the value of money, which causes its value to plummet. Banks tend not to make loans to people they know won’t pay them, so medieval monarchs could only raise money if they paid huge interest rates. The Dutch came up with this novel idea that people should actually pay for the things they buy. In the short term paying for things means you lose money, but if you honor your debts then banks will want to loan to you. British monarchs paid their debts and even attached spending bills to new taxes as a guarantee. As such, Britain could take out loans at 1-2%, which barely grew unless left unattended for decades. In contrast, most other countries had to take out loans at around 8%, meaning that within a decade  their debt would double. Britain demonstrated the power of modern finances during the 18th century. Despite being a much smaller country than France it was able to raise a comparable army due to its ability to incur huge debts without going bankrupt. During the War of Spanish Succession Britain proved it was a first-rate power. During the Seven Years’ War it was potentially the great European power.

France made a comeback during the Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, as it demonstrated its old ability to fight against the rest of Europe. But Napoleon overplayed his hand. Afterwards France entered into a period of relative decline as the rest of Europe’s population growth outpaced it. It was still a great power but its period of dominance was over. Instead of fighting Europe all alone it needed to make friends and did so by establishing peace with its old rival.





List of wars between the central states of France and England/Britain


  1. Anglo-French War 1109–1113: Tie (0-0-1)
  2. Anglo-French War 1116–1119: Loss (0-1-1)
  3. Anglo-French War 1123–1135: Loss (0-2-1)
  4. Anglo-French War 1158–1189: Win (1-2-1)
  5. Anglo-French War 1193–1199: Loss (1-3-1)
  6. Angevin War of Succession 1199-1204: Win (2-3-1)
  7. Anglo-French War 1213-14: Win (3-3-1)
  8. Poitou War 1224: Win (4-3-1)
  9. The English invasion of France 1230: Win (5-3-1)
  10. Saintonge War 1242–1243: Win (6-3-1)
  11. Anglo-French War 1294–1303: Win (7-3-1)
  12. War of Saint-Sardos 1324: Win (8-3-1)
  13. Hundred Years’ War: Win (9-3-1)
  14. Castilian Civil War 1351–1369: Win (10-3-1)
  15. Wars of the Roses 1455–1487: Win (11-3-1)
  16. Mad War 1485–1488: Win (12-3-1)
  17. French-Breton War 1487–1491: Win (13-3-1)
  18. War of the League of Cambrai 1508–1516: Win (14-3-1)
  19. Italian War of 1521–1526: Loss (14-4-1)
  20. The Rough Wooing 1542–1551: Win (15-4-1)
  21. Italian War of 1551-1559: Win (16-4-1)
  22. Anglo-French War 1627–1629: Win (17-4-1)
  23. Second Anglo-Dutch War 1665–1667: Win (18-4-1)
  24. Franco-Dutch War 1672-1678: Loss (18-5-1)
  25. The Nine Years’ War: Tie (18-5-2)
  26. Beaver Wars: Tie (18-5-3)
  27. War of Spanish Succession 1701-1715: Tie (18-5-4)
  28. War of Austrian Succession 1740–1748: Tie (18-5-5)
  29. Father Le Loutre’s War 1749-1755: Loss (18-6-5)
  30. Seven Years' War 1756–1763: Loss (18-7-5)
  31. Chickasaw Wars: Loss (18-8-5)
  32. American Revolutionary War: Win (19-8-5)
  33. War of the First Coalition: Win (20-8-5)
  34. War of the Second Coalition: Win (21-8-5)
  35. Haitian Revolution: Tie (21-8-6)
  36. War of the Third Coalition: Win (22-8-6)
  37. War of the Fourth Coalition: Win (23-8-6)
  38. War of the Fifth Coalition: Win (24-8-6)
  39. War of the Sixth Coalition: Loss (24-9-6)
  40. Peninsular War: Loss (24-10-6)
  41. Hundred Days War: Loss (24-11-6)