In 1337 Edward III held the county of Ponthieu, straddling the Somme. He also bore the title duke of Aquitaine, although the territory he actually held in south-west France was little more than a 50-mile-wide coastal strip between Bayonne and Bordeaux. This was a far cry from the days of Henry II, when a king of England held the whole of western France: from the duchy of Normandy in the north, through the counties of Anjou, Maine, Touraine and Poitou to the extensive duchy of Aquitaine in the south, with additional claims to the overlordship of the duchy of Brittany and county of Flanders. Much happened between the twelfth and early fourteenth centuries, but in many ways, the two basic issues of English royal lands in France remained the same: the relationship between the kings of England and France that their tenure generated, and their rightful extent. It was impossible to find a peaceful solution to Anglo-French differences in 1337 because the issues had been so long-running, and had repeatedly proved themselves incapable of lasting settlement. The reasons for this, however, need to be seen in the context of each successive conflict as well as in the problems inherent in the issues themselves. A further major stumbling block was that the dispute was between kings, and was thus much affected by wider considerations of international relations and domestic politics. As a result, the issues were always more than ‘little local difficulties’, often assuming Europe-wide dimensions, as is more fully explored in Chapter 4.
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