The present century has seen two wars deemed worthy of the description ‘world war’. The term ‘Hundred Years War’ emphasises the long duration of Anglo-French conflict rather than its geographical extent. Admittedly the conflict had little significance outside Western Europe, but within this area it impinged on all countries and formed the main influence on international relations in the later middle ages. Even before the Hundred Years War, Anglo-French relations had loomed large in European affairs. English kings had never been isolationist. Their continental possessions and trading links had always necessitated a close interest in European affairs. Three factors now brought Anglo-French relations to centre stage. The first was the decline of the Empire as the main focus of Europe, a decline already well under way by 1300. The second was the claim of Edward III and his successors to the crown of France. Whether seriously undertaken or not, it elevated the significance of the Anglo-French quarrel within the international context. Third, success in France under Edward III and Henry V made England into a ‘superpower’, with a formidable military reputation and considerable political influence within Europe as a whole. On the reverse side of the coin, the loss of almost all her French possessions by 1453 reduced England’s significance in European affairs, yet it took a while for subsequent English rulers to abandon the notion that the route to greatness in Europe lay through France. For at least two centuries, therefore, English policies towards the rest of Europe, as revealed particularly by the search for allies, were determined by the conflict with France.
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