Places to visit

Relations with the English

Norman Conquest
French warlord William the Conqueror led an army from Normandy across the Channel to slaughter most of the aristocracy of Anglo-Saxon England at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. For centuries after, England was ruled by a French-speaking king. French-speaking Norman lords siezed the land of the losers, and ruled from a network of Norman castle-strongholds. French-speaking bishops took over the English church, and rebuilt most of the churches in Norman style.

English Empire in France
William the Conqueror's descendants were not only kings of England, but also continued to rule much of France. This changed as each generation of warlords fought over what they inherited. Under the feudal system, the power of kings depended on the loyalty of the local warlords. Whilst lords on both sides of the Channel were semi-independent, the French king's hold over his lords was much weaker.

Hundred Years' War
In 1337 King Philip the Fair of France died, and a long-running fight - the "Hundred Years' War" - broke out over who was to succeed him. One claimant was his grandson, the English king Edward III. Edward won an important battle at Crécy in 1346.

Capture of Calais
In 1347 the English army beseiged Calais, and captured the town when the starving Burghers surrendered - a famous episode commemorated by a statue by Rodin in front of Calais Town Hall.

Battle of Azincourt ("Agincourt")
In 1415 English King Henry V won a famous battle where his archers slaughtered a much bigger army of French knights. By the 1420s, England ruled large areas of France.

In 1430 the French heroine Joan of Arc was taken prisoner by the English, after trying to raise support for the French king's heir, the Dauphin.

Battle of Crecy 1346

Edward III's army arrives at the gates

Expansion of France in 15th-16th centuries
In 1441 the French king regained control of the Paris area - the "Ile de France" - from the English. Slowly other areas were regained, but Picardy (south of Nord/Pas-de-Calais) and Flanders fell under the Duke of Bergundy in 1435 - see History of Flanders. In 1477 the French king captured Picardy, but Flanders became part of the bigger Hapsburg empire (including Austria).

Field of the Cloth of Gold
In 1520 Henry VIII of England and François I of France met at the "Field of the Cloth of Gold" Guines, on the borders of the English land at Calais. They tried to impress each other, but failed to make an alliance.

Loss of Calais
The area around Calais - the "Pale" - was the last part of France to be ruled by English kings *. It was taken for France in 1558 by the Duke of Guise. Queen Mary of England said about the loss that, when she died, "Calais would be engraved on her heart".

* Except for Dunkerque, which was captured from the Spamish Netherlands by Oliver Cromwell in 1658, and sold to the French by king Charles II in 1662 - see "Jean Bart - 'pirate' ".

18th century wars
England and France fought over colonies in north America. Many poor people from distressed areas in the north - some fleeing religious persecution - emigrated across the Atlantic. Both countries had colonies in Canada - the French colonies in Quebec were eventually captured by England, but remain French-speaking to this day.

France supported the American colonists in their fight for independence from British rule - which led to war and the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Napoleonic Wars
Following the French Revolution in 1789, the English aristocracy feared similar uprisings across the Channel. They sent armies to fight in France in support of Royalist counter-revolutionaries. In 1803 before he became Enperor, Napoleon was asked to prepare for invasion of England. Continuous wars at sea and across the Continent eventually led to the successful invasion of France in 1814 by an alliance of Enland and all the neighbouring countries that France had conquered. Napoleon was exiled - a brief return to try and regain the support of the French people led to his final defeat by an Allied army led by the English Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo in Belgium.

19th century
During the 19th century France was generally regarded as the traditional and most-likely enemy of England. Only slowly towards the end of the century did feelings in England change to consider the rise of Germany as more threatening.

Places to visit:
Azincourt - battlefield tours and museum
Calais - Town fortifications; Town Hall and Burghers' statue
Guines - commemoration of the Field of the Cloth of Gold

Related background information
Field of the Cloth of Gold 1520
Spanish Armada 1588
History of Flanders -How flanders vbecame separated from France for so long.....
Napoleon -




A-Z © Copyright 1999 Invicta Media Last updated 7th November 2003