Conquered and conquerors

During the Middle Ages, England was a part of two main European empires:

The North Sea Empire of the Vikings:

This was an empire held together by the military strength of the Vikings, based in Denmark and Norway. King Cnut had united England with his other territories, but when he died the unity of that empire started to weaken. In 1042 an Anglo-Norman king, Edward the Confessor, was on the throne of England and this almost ended the presence of Viking authority in England. In 1066 Harald Hardrada of Norway mounted an invasion of England, but was defeated by King Harold II at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. A few days later the Battle of Hastings led to the successful invasion and occupation of England by the Normans under William the Conquerer.

The Angevin Empire:

This empire resulted from the dynastic union of the English Anglo-Normans with the Count of Anjou. It resulted in Henry II being confirmed as King of England in 1054. This empire was subject to the challenges of the kings of France who wanted to incorporate the Angevin and Norman territories into their kingdom. King Henry II’s son King John lost almost all of the French territories of the Angevin empire in 1204 and didn’t manage to regain them. Indeed, the French were so successful against the English that Prince Louis, together with his French troops, came to England in 1216 to claim the English throne. Louis then made peace and withdrew in 1217.

Hundred Years’ War:

The longest struggle over England’s Angevin empire became the Hundred Years’ War which lasted from 1337 to 1453. This was mainly a struggle over the rights to territory; however there were also some significant economic aspects to it. The wine trade of Gascony was an important product of the territory of Aquitaine, which had become part of the Angevin empire when King Henry II married Eleanor of Aquitaine in 1152.

Image depicting the Battle of Poitiers
The Battle of Poitiers

The Hundred Years’ War began with King Edward III deciding to reclaim his rights to an empire in France. The war saw a lot of fluctuations in the English territories within France. There were major victories under King Edward III, particularly Crecy (1346) and Poitiers (1356), which led to an increase in English control. Then there were years of decline, until King Henry V had a succession of stunning victories, particularly Agincourt (1415).

King Henry V died in 1422, but English control in France remained strong until the end of the 1420s. From 1428 until 1453 the English control over the territories in France was hard to maintain, particularly when Joan of Arc succeeded in motivating the French forces. The French victory at the Battle of Castillon in 1453 brought an end to the Hundred Years’ War and an end to the English empire in France.