The Battle of Hastings: France's Most Important Battle
French Roots of Conflict
It has been said that France was born at Vouillé. At the Battle of Vouillé the King of the Franks, Clovis, killed the king of the Visigoths, Alaric II, which allowed the Franks to take over what became southern France. Frankish kings spread their influence over Europe in the years that followed the Battle of Vouillé.
Another important battle in the history of France was the Battle of Tours. Tours stopped the Islamic invaders known as the Moors from moving north of the Iberian Peninsula. Victory at Tours allowed the Carolingians to take over the kingdom of the Franks, and created the Carolingian dynasty.
The Battle of Hastings on the other hand is seen as the battle that created the Kingdom of England out of Saxon holdings, but Hastings is just as important for French history as it is for English history. At the time France was a collection of territories under dukes and princes. There was very little land in France that the King of France directly owned, and his dukes were able to effectively rule their own duchies inside of the Kingdom of France.
Norman Conquest of England
Duke William defeated King Harold at the Battle of Hastings and took the crown of England, but he was still a vassal of the King of France. William the Conqueror hastily took over England and revamped the tax system in England. This allowed William to quickly collect revenue from England.
William's goal in conquering England was to create a large tax farm to fuel his conflicts in France. After defeating King Harold, Duke William quickly moved through England placing his Norman allies in charge of English lands while building forts and castles to house his garrisons and treasure. After short visits to England the duke would return to Normandy with new soldiers and treasure to fight wars in France to expand his authority in France.
England was not the most important territory that William controlled, Normandy was. William was based in Normandy, he was buried there, and he gave it to his eldest son. England was merely a means to outdo his opponents on the continent.
The Angevin Empire and the Hundred Years War
The Norman conquest of England forced England to look south rather than east. Before the Normans invaded the English were more concerned with their Scandinavian neighbors and their old homeland in the Jutland. Danish kings constantly invaded England, and there was constant struggle between the established Saxons and the Danish invaders. William the Conqueror changed everything by making the king of England a vassal of the king of France.
Angevin kings took over the crown of England after a period of anarchy in England. Henry II was made heir to to crown of England, but he was also Duke of Normandy and of Aquitaine and Count of Anjou.These titles combined to create an Angevin Empire that controlled more of France than the kings of France did. Under the Angevins England became the central piece of the Angevin Empire, but their entire goal was still to take over the throne of France.
The Hundred Years war occurred as a result of the king of France finally being able to reclaim France from the Angevins. King John of England refused a request of the King of France, Philip II, which essentially broke their feudal relationship. Philip II was able to reclaim large portions of France, but this led to a series of conflicts between the two kingdoms now known as the Hundred Years War.
The Angevins attempt to control the crown of France was nearly successful when Henry V made the French king agree to make Henry V his heir at the Treaty of Troyes. Unfortunately for the English the war turned against them and the French nobility were able to hold out long enough for the English to run out of money and they were unable to enforce the claim. The French were able to beat back the English and retook most of the territory by 1453 with the last English stronghold, Calais , falling in 1557.
Legacy of Hastings
Duke William won the Battle of Hastings, and his successors fought with France for almost four hundred years because of it. French and English kings pushed back and forth over the French territory, with France almost completely in the English kings hands and then it went back to the French. William had hoped to use England to fund his French campaigns, but under the Angevins it slowly became the centerpiece of the Angevin Empire.
For France, the Norman conquest of England helped to centralize the French state. The kings of France were able to take over Angevin lands after John II failed to recognize his feudal responsibilities and the French added the Angevin territory to the crown. France became the most powerful kingdom in Europe because of the power of their monarchy by the end of the 16th century, and it dominated continental politics until the fall of Napoleon Bonaparte.
The story of England and France were woven together by the Battle of Hastings, and the outcome of this one battle helped to write the history of western Europe more than many others.
Davies, Norman. Vanished kingdoms: the rise and fall of states and nations. New York: Penguin Books, 2012.
Bradbury, Jim. The battle of Hastings. Stroud: Sutton publ., 1998.