It is fashionable to hold negative stereotypes of European nations. For the French, one of the prevailing ones is that of a nation of cowardice and surrender. As with most anti-European stereotypes, this one is found to be generally baseless when compared to the facts of history. In reality, the French have one of the best military win ratios in all of Europe; think Charlemagne, Hundred Years War, and Napoleon.
Which country is the most successful military power in European history?
France. According to the historian Niall Ferguson, of the 125 major European wars fought since 1495, the French have participated in 50 – more than Austria (47) and England (43). Out of 168 battles fought since 387BC, they have won 109, lost 49 and drawn 10.
The British tend to be rather selective about the battles they remember. Every English schoolboy was once able to recite the roll call of our glorious wins at Crécy (1346), Poitiers (1356) and Agincourt (1415), but no one’s ever heard of the French victories at Patay (1429) and (especially) at Castillon (1453), where French cannons tore the English apart, winning the Hundred Years War and confirming France as the most powerful military nation in Europe.
And what about the Duke of Enghien thrashing the Spanish at Rocroi late on in the Thirty Years War in 1643, ending a century of Spanish dominance? Or the siege of Yorktown, Virginia, in 1781, when General Comte de Rochambeau and American forces prevailed? The British always prided themselves on superiority at sea, but knew they could never win a land war on the Continent.
France’s achievements help to explain another French “military victory”. Whether it is ranks (general, captain, corporal, lieutenant); equipment (lance, mine, bayonet, epaulette, trench); organisation (volunteer, regiment, soldier, barracks) or strategy (army, camouflage, combat, esprit de corps, reconnaissance), the language of warfare is French. 1
It has only been in the last 150 years in facing the brute force of a united German nation that France’s military fortunes have turned for the worse. As Anglos, when we buy into the false premise of French military ineffectiveness, we lessen our own victories as well. What’s so special about Crécy, Poitiers, and Agincourt if the French are just a bunch of surrender monkeys? Watch Henry V’s famous speech on the eve of the Battle of Agincourt from Shakespeare’s play by the same name with the above in mind. These men are about to face the most feared European military force of the day while outnumbered 5 to 1.
- http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/the-filter/qi/8080884/Quite-Interesting-the-QI-cabinet-of-curiosity.html ↩