Is France the most successful military power in European history ?

Jul 2017
50
France
#1
According to a British historian, yes.

I was watching this video

Even if I don't agree with the video, I saw this article in the comments :
Quite Interesting: the QI cabinet of curiosity (British historian Niall Ferguson)

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.





What do you think ?
 
Sep 2016
804
Georgia
#2
I would like to see the list of battles by Nial Ferguson. Because Napoleon alone had around 60 battles. Don't forget that there were plenty of battles in Revolutionary wars and Napoleonic ones where Napoleon wasn't even present. Number of those alone would be close to 100.

Nial also must elaborate about what wars he is talking about. What does he consider a victory ? Also, do we include Colonial wars ?

Do we count battles and wars of Clovis I, Charlemagne and etc. ? When do we start counting battles as French victories ?

Providing Rocroi and Yorktown as an example of French military might, doesn't really work. Also, what does he mean by ,, Rocroi ended a century of Spanish dominance '' ? Why ? Just because they lost a battle ? Spanish lost battles before and to French as well. War didn't end with Rocroi. In fact, Conde had another battle against them at Lens and war with Spanish ended only in 1659 after Turenne's victory at Dunes in 1658.

France is indeed one of the most successful military powers in history of Europe, but Nial Ferguson and that video don't really make a good case for proving that it was the best.

I also wonder how they judged battle like Borodino, for example ? French tactical victory ? Draw ? Russian strategic victory ?

Smells pop-history.
 
Last edited:
Oct 2013
13,534
Europix
#3
Smells pop-history.
Maybe ... probably?

Anyway, there's something about the very impressive military record of France:

1. Time: usually, France is considered as France since the Franks. That's giving France the longest time period amongst all existing European nation. Other biggies (say BE, Germany, Russia for example) have a much "shorter" history as "biggies".

2. Space: France quit quickly became (and remained) a big country. Meaning a lot of man power and resources. Helps a lot in warfare.

So it's a bit logical France has a great record.
 
Sep 2016
804
Georgia
#4
1. Time: usually, France is considered as France since the Franks. That's giving France the longest time period amongst all existing European nation. Other biggies (say BE, Germany, Russia for example) have a much "shorter" history as "biggies".

2. Space: France quit quickly became (and remained) a big country. Meaning a lot of man power and resources. Helps a lot in warfare.

So it's a bit logical France has a great record.
Yeah, for sure. I believe it is one of those responses to ,, French always surrender '' myths/memes. However, there are even more unanswered questions in Nial Ferguson statement. When does he start counting wars for Austria ? How does he count Holy Roman Empire conflicts ? Puts all of them in Ausria's list ? How did he get so many for Austria ? More than England even.

There are though historians who start history of France itself from 843 or 987 with Hugh Capet coronation. Though, first monarch to style himself ,, King of France '' was Philip II Augustus.
 
Aug 2010
15,496
Welsh Marches
#5
One could perhaps ask, who else? It would be hard to suggest anyone, partly for the reasons that Deaf has already put forward. Not England/UK, which was more a naval power at the time of its greatest prominence, not Germany, which only united very late, not Russia, so who?
 
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Sep 2016
804
Georgia
#6
One could perhaps ask, who else? It would be hard to suggest anyone, partly for the reasons that Deaf has already put forward. Not England/UK, which was more a naval power at the time of its greatest prominence, not Germany, which only united very late, not Russia, so who?
That's a good point. Who is the other contender really ? Though Russians would say that it's them.
 
Likes: Futurist
Oct 2013
13,534
Europix
#8
There are though historians who start history of France itself from 843 or 987 with Hugh Capet coronation. Though, first monarch to style himself ,, King of France '' was Philip II Augustus.
Even if You start only with Philip II (and we can accept that, as there aren't that many French around :p), it's still a damn long period in European history.

Another thing (it was mentioned in another context) while Brits, Germans, Russians or others had to "built up from scratch", Franks "exploded on the European stage" as they took over the Roman Gaul, a region that was still a rather well running region. They had a lot less to do (organisational wise) then the "others".
 
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Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
7,095
#9
Even if you only included the early.modern era, France would still have the best military record of Europe. It wasn't until the late 19th century that France was no longer the leading land power in Europe.

Outside of Europe, Britain was the most successful European military power. In a couple of widely different spheres, Britain decisively defeated France, in North America, India, and Egypt. France maight have been the most successful in continental Europe, but not outside it.
 
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Jul 2018
496
Hong Kong
#10
Virtually, there’re many competitors :

1. France (which I totally disagree with)
2. England-Britain (consistently nice record in winning ratio)
3. Prussia-Germany (which I vote for)
4. Russia-Soviet (excelled in toughness and endurance, seemed unbroken no matter how many times defeated)
5. Poland (produced one of the best cavalry force in military history and some “miraculous” victories which had decisive impact on the course of the European history)
6. Romans (the greatest military power in antiquity)
 
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