Monday, 15 June 2015
Fighting the French – Two Anniversaries
Today is the 800th anniversary of the imposition of Magna Carta on King John. There are events on all year to mark the occasion. When John broke the conditions of the charter soon afterwards, civil war broke out again.
To legitimise their cause the rebel barons offered the English crown to Prince Louis of France, who was married to the granddaughter of Henry II. When he arrived, they threw open the gates of London to him. He conquered much of south-east England.
It was only John's death and the astute rule of the famous knight William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, that saved England from becoming part of France. William himself led the battle against Prince Louis' forces. England wasn't free of the French army until nearly two years after Magna Carta. I'll be telling the full story in next week's post.
Six hundred years later, in 1815, there was another great battle led by the English against the French. We celebrate the 200th anniversary of the battle of Waterloo on 18 June. The difference with this battle is that it was in present-day Belgium, not on home soil, so even if Napoleon had won at Waterloo, his ambitions over England would have taken a lot more work.
The history of conflict between the French and the English is a long and stormy one. The Angevin kings, starting with Henry II, ruled more land in France than the French King, but this was all gradually lost. So England eventually ceased to own any land in France.
The battle of Waterloo was intended to stem Napoleon's ambitions to build an empire outwards from France, a fight that had encompassed the whole of Spain and Portugal, where England led the fight, as well as on other fronts. The defeat of Napoleon put an end to any chance of France ruling England.