As an American, I’m very unfamiliar with much of Europe’s deeper history, but I’ve noticed that Britain and France seem to have an extraordinarily entangled history. Is this true, and to what extent politically, culturally, and militarily?

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In the Viking age (roughly 8th – 10th centuries), Vikings from Denmark, Norway etc raided and subsequently conquered various parts of the British isles and northwestern Europe. One particularly successful Viking named Rollo (Hrolfr or Gaange-Hrolfr, “Rolf the Walker) even laid siege to Paris itself. The French king made a treaty with this Viking, ceding him a chunk of northwestern France to rule as a vassal of said French king, thereby protecting the rest of France from other Viking incursions. This group of Northmen embraced Catholicism, the feudal system and local French culture, and over time evolved into the Normans. Due to close proximity and dynastic marriages, the ruling Norman family became somewhat entangled with the Anglo-Saxon court. The English King, Edward the Confessor, had been close to William, the Duke of Normandy (called William the Bastard), and when Edward died childless, William came forth and said Edward had named him his heir. Then there was a three way war between William, English claimant Harold Godwinson and a Norwegian claimant Harald Hardrade. Fast forward and now the Kings of England are also the Dukes of Normandy. The problem here arises with the feudal contract. The King of England, in theory and in practice, was pretty much an equal with the King of France. However, as Duke of Normandy, he owed the French King homage—he was technically his vassal. This created the first major sore spot in Anglo-French relations. Over time, other marriages and inheritances further complicated the matter. Geoffrey of Anjou, another major vassal of the French King, marries the Empress Matilda, daughter of King Henry of England and widow of the Holy Roman Emperor. When Henry dies, a fierce civil war (the Anarchy) is fought between Matilda’s supporters and those of the King’s nephew Stephen. After all is said and done, they make peace, Stephen dies and the crown passes to Matilda and Geoffrey’s son, Henry II (Henry FitzEmpress). Now the English king directly controls Anjou as well as Normandy, and goes on to conquer Brittany as well. The French King, a fellow named Philip, divorces his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine (the most eligible bachelorette in Christendom) because she hasn’t given him any male heirs, and also because they hate each other. Henry II snaps her up and the marriage brings her massive duchy under English control. Henry now controls more of France than Philip. England later lost most of these lands, but this creates further enmity between the two royal courts. In 1328, Charles IV of France dies without a male heir. His closest living male relative is Edward III of England. The French don’t want to give Edward the throne, and conveniently a decade or so prior they established that the crown could not pass through the female line, citing the ancient law of the Salic Franks (Edward’s claim came through his mother, Princess Isabella of France). This episode kicked off the Hundred Years’ War, which shaped Anglo-French relations until the mid 15th century. France and England, or at least their ruling classes, shared a common culture and language for large stretches of their formative histories. Depending on the time, they were rivals, competitors, allies or downright extended family. When the English crown later passed to the Scottish House of Stuart, England was ruled by a succession of Francophile Kings who were very close to the French court (some even suspected them of being secret Catholics, which was highly unpopular in Anglican England). This was one of many factors that kicked off the English Civil War against Charles (Stuart) I. After the Restoration, due to the apogee of French power under the absolutist Louis XIV, and his direct personal and political influence of Charles II, many in England’s government feared that they were being relegated to the status of an unofficial vassal. Throughout this period, England fought a series of wars against the Dutch wherein France was their ally. These tensions were just as much Protestant/Catholic as they were English/French, and the climax was reached with the Glorious Revolution, where James II was deposed in favor of his daughter Mary (and, more to the point, her husband, William of Orange, Stadtholder of the Dutch Republic, savior of Protestantism and arch rival of Louis XIV). The English crown passed from Mary’s sister, Anne, to their next closest Protestant kin, which happened to be the German House of Hanover in the person of George I, and away from the French sphere of influence. They would forever be entangled, though, culturally and historically, and their rivalry would continue well into the modern age, until a certain series of conflicts made them the most ardent of allies.


>Normandy was for much of its history ruled by English kings You have this all backwards. England was ruled, and still is, by descendants of Norman kings, starting with William the Conqueror, and even Queen Elizabeth is descended from them. But the Normans weren’t french, but rather Vikings from Denmark, Norway, and Iceland, who conquered Normandy centuries prior to that. But yes, much of the continental history of (western) Europe between 1066 and present day is strongly influenced by French and English relations, there are almost too many examples to mention.


Be careful of your use of ‘Britain’. You’ll notice that most of the responses here refer purely to England but other parts of ‘Britain’ have an entirely different relationship with France.. particularly Scotland. Between 1295 and 1560 an alliance existed between Scotland and France that pledged support from either nation against English aggression. Generally speaking, even to this day the French enjoy a more cordial relationship with Scotland than they do with England, with the old treaty fondly referred to as *The Auld Alliance*


>Britain and France seem to have an extraordinarily entangled history. Not only Britain and France, but Germany as well. Nearly every war fought, for hundreds of years, was in essence, a family squabble.


The Cliff Notes version: 1. Most of England technically owed the French King vassalage. I say technically, because the system of vassalage was very complicated, and it’s difficult to say if the French Kings could ever have fulfilled their obligations to the English lords. That said, 2. Most English Lords also had land in France, and thus had obligations to both the French and English kings. These quickly became mutually exclusive, resulting in war between the kings and lords; eventually, the various lords picked either Britain or France to live in, and that decided the matter of who they were loyal to for all practical purposes. 3. After this, clashes largely came about because Britian feared French domination of Europe; thus Britain sought to undermine the French where possible. This was exacerbated by mercantilism, which dictates that trade from sources a country doesn’t control is fundamentally bad. This basically continued until the Prussians freaked the British out by thrashing Austria and France; you probably know how that ended.