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Uniting the Kingdoms? 1066-1603

 
   

France

The Anglo-French Frontier, 1154-1558

Conflict between England and France was most intense along the frontier of England's continental possessions. Cross-border raids were common. Villages would be burnt and crops destroyed, the raiders escaping across the border before an effective defence could be organized. Richard I erected a chain of castles along the Norman border to prevent such incursions. These fortresses were a serious drain on the royal finances: the stronghold at Château Gaillard alone cost over £11,500 to build. GasconyGlossary term - opens in a pop-up window was defended by a similar chain of fortifications, which were strengthened by Edward I in the 1290s.

Royal authority was weak in the border areas, especially in Gascony. Nobles enjoyed a semi-independent existence, playing off the English and French against each other for personal gain. Rebellions were also a common occurrence, local rivalries dictating a lord's choice of allegiance. Gascon nobles frequently appealed to the French court for support in their disputes against the English crown. After Henry III's acknowledgement of French overlordship of Aquitaine in 1259 these appeals became more problematic for the English.

 

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Account for building work at Château Gaillard and Tosny

 

The fruits of victory

Between 1154 and 1558, the frontier was not static. Territory was won and lost, the border moving in response. Towns frequently changed hands and this often acted as the catalyst for hostilities: when the English demolished the Gascon border town of Saint Sardos in 1323, for example, the French retaliated by invading AquitaineGlossary term - opens in a pop-up window.

Before the fifteenth century there was relatively little English settlement in its continental possessions. After Henry V's conquest of Normandy in 1419 this situation changed. Soldiers who had fought in the Agincourt campaign were granted estates or town houses. Merchants, sensing the opportunity for economic gain, also settled in towns such as Rouen in Normandy. Intermarriage often occurred between the English troops in the garrisons and local women. The number of English settlers in France was, however, much fewer than in Ireland or Wales.

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Detail from Henry VI presenting the Earl of Shrewsbury with the sword of the Constable of France, 1442. By permission of the British Library.
 
Detail from Henry VI presenting the Earl of Shrewsbury with the sword of the Constable of France, 1442. By permission of the British Library.