As of last month, Western Europe has been at peace for 75 years. I wrote a piece on my previous blog which looked at a list of wars involving France on my previous blog before I made my switch to WordPress. What this blog fails to analyze is how all of these wars are related, and I can’t find an article which really looks at the truly major wars in Europe.
To make this list, and to truly understand the history of the largest wars in European History, I am going to list only the wars which have involved England (or the UK), France, and at least one predecessor state to Germany. Any war involving these three is clearly one of the most important in the area.
- World War II (1939-1945) 75 years
- World War I (1914-1919) 20 years
- Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) 99 years
- War of the French Revolution (1793-1802) 1 year
- American Revolutionary War (1775-1783) 10 years
- Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) 12 years
- War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748) 8 years
- War of the Quadruple Alliance (1718-1720) 20 years
- War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714) 4 years
- Nine Years’ War (1688-1697) 4 years
- Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665-1667) 30 years
- Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648)
- Eighty Years’ War (1566-1648) 19 years
- Italian War (1551-1559) 7 years
- Italian War (1542-1546) 5 years
- War of the League of Cognac (1528-1529) 13 years
- Italian War (1521-1526) 2 years
- War of the League of Cambrai (1508-1516) 5 years
- First Italian War (1494-1498) 10 years
- Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) 45 years
- Anglo-French War (1213-1214) 123 years
The Anglo-French War was the first war which directly involved the English, French, and at least one state of the Holy Roman Empire.
Before these wars was obviously the conquest of England by the Normans in 1066. The Vikings were raiding across all of Europe and as far as North America. This era started on 8 June 793 AD when Charlemagne was still alive. The century before Charlemagne had a series of wars where the Franks became the dominant force in modern-day France, Germany, and Benelux.
The 5th and 6th centuries were of course the era where Germanic tribes (such as the Goths, Visigoths, Ostrogoths, etc.) were raiding across Western Europe during the fall of the Western Roman Empire after the empire was divided in 395 AD.
There were no conflicts between 395 AD and 1213 AD which involved the Germans, French, and English all at once. There were obviously many wars in this era, but they were primarily local.
Before 130 BC France was dominated by Celtic tribes known as the Gauls, and there were no empires or states as we would recognize today with a strong central state in this area.
France was the first of today’s nation states to fully form under the leadership which would rule them until the 1790s. The Middle Ages can be described with the Roman Empire holding relatively strong in modern day Greece and Turkey, the French where they are today, fighting with England who was ruled by Viking and French monarchs, Germany and most of Italy were a loose collection of city states known as the Holy Roman Empire, and until the 1200s Spain was dominated by Islam.
Through all of this time there was the idea of the restoration of the Roman Empire. France saw itself as the legal successor state to Charlemagne for fairly obvious reasons. The Holy Roman Empire also saw itself as a successor because the first Holy Roman Emperor was Charlemagne, crowned by the Pope himself on Christmas day 800. The English crown held territory on mainland Europe for most of the time from 1066 until 1837 with the Kingdom of Hanover. England continues to hold the islands of Guernsey, Jersey, and Sark as a symbol of their former continental holdings to this day. With all three having in essence claims over the entire former Roman Empire this was obviously a recipe for war.
Germans have a historic practice of dividing lands among the King’s sons when the King dies. This was one of several factors which led to a significant fracturing and rapid increase in the number of states which made up the Holy Roman Empire. It wasn’t until the Napoleonic wars that the number of microstates significantly shrank to a point that it started to look like today. With so many different states fighting with each other, particularly Brandenburg, Austria, Saxony, and Bavaria near the end of the Holy Roman Empire, war was practically inevitable.
Everything changed with Napoleon. The number of microstates significantly shrunk following the exile of Napoleon in 1815. There were only several large German speaking states in what is now modern Germany, along with the largest of them all being Austria. Prussia had significantly grown to include many lands which had formerly been part of Poland-Lithuania, outside of the borders of the Holy Roman Empire. The German Confederation existed during an era of immense social upheaval, with a balance of power between the states. It ended with a dispute between the two great houses of Hohenzollern and Hapsburg fighting a war about whose right was to rule and in 1866 the short lived German Confederation was formed. Only 5 years later they united with Baden and Bavaria to form the German Empire which lasted until World War I. The monarchs of many of the former members of the Holy Roman Empire maintained their titles and some power under the German Empire until it was disbanded at the end of World War I.
This is why if you really want to define history, Europe is in a completely different political era before and after World War I. World War II was without a doubt a direct response to World War I, and after World War II the Allies were divided between capitalist and communist. Despite animosity and proxy wars around the world (Vietnam and Korea being the most notable) Europe stayed out of international conflict on the peninsula up to the present date. The European Coal and Steel Community was formed on 23 July 1952, bringing West Germany, France, Italy, and Benelux into an economic organization. The European Economic Community was formed in 1958 which brought in Spain, Greece, Ireland, and the United Kingdom over the next 20 years. This increase in trade is a real life implementation of Complex Interdependence, which is the theory that countries which trade with one another are less likely to go to war. With the economic benefits of trading with one another, the costs of going to war is greater than any potential benefit. From this, countries are more likely to seek out diplomatic solutions to disagreements, which is what we are seeing in Europe. The European Community was formed on 1 January 1993 and the European Union was formed on 1 November 1993. It has now grown to include 27 member states, and is a major power in the world.
There are many debates which can be made about the European Union. The response to the depression was the biggest test of the European Central Bank, and there are challenges which come as a consequence of all of the most developed countries in that part of the world being members. European laws impact every part of life, including massive benefits such as the free movement of people. As a government, the powers it holds are vast, and can be used for either good or evil, like any democracy in the world. In terms of its success, it has managed to keep a strong economy in the face of turmoil, with the standard cyclical depressions like almost any advanced economy in the world (looking at you Australia). But the biggest success of the European Union has to be the lack of international wars on the peninsula for the last 75 years. This is without a doubt the longest period without war in the region in recorded history.
Even in the darkness we are in now, with protesters being shot at by police as an epidemic rages across the United States and the world, we have hit an anniversary of incredible importance. The 75th anniversary of the end of World War II is a reminder in this time of darkness that evil will always lose. Things will get better, as long as we work towards justice. This progress can be permanent, and in the long run, peace and justice can indeed win. This is worth defending and commemorating and fully understanding the full importance of this great peace.