Between two fires

For much of its history, England found itself sandwiched between hostile powers to the north and south - a situation illustrated by this map, drawn around 1490 by the German cartographer and book illuminator, Henricus Martellus, who worked in Florence.

The Scottish wars at the end of the 13th century earned the English king, Edward I, his nickname 'hammer of Scotland' but gave him only temporary control of the country. It was to be more than three centuries before one monarch ruled both countries, when James VI of Scotland inherited the English throne from Elizabeth I in 1603. Formal political union followed in 1707. Despite this Act of Union, many old enmities still simmered beneath the surface, waiting for an opportunity to break through.

Across the Channel to the south, English territorial claims in France sowed the seeds of war over centuries. However, even the passing triumph of Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 could not halt the eventual loss of all English lands in France. Long after, the two countries remained suspicious and competitive neighbours.