The first major foreign war in English experience was the prolonged war with France, begun by Edward III (r. 1327–77), and known as the Hundred Years War. It came to a temporary end in 1382, but was revived under Henry V (r. 1413–22). By the mid‐15th century the English retained no interest in France, except for Calais. Henry VIII conducted three expensive and inconclusive campaigns in France (1511–14, 1522–5, and 1542–6), and waged war against the Scots. During the second half of the 16th century the Continental balance of power changed and Spain became the major threat to England, until the defeat of the Armada in 1588. Another war with Spain lasted from 1656 to 1659. From the reign of Elizabeth I (1558–1603) onwards, the English were concerned to create and extend an empire, starting with Ireland, and then Virginia. This led not only to conflict with the Irish and the Native Americans, but to frequent skirmishes, and eventually to full‐scale wars, with other western European powers engaged in similar activity. Three wars were fought against the Dutch (1652–4, 1665–7, and 1672–4), and two long wars were fought against the France of Louis XIV (1689–97 and 1701–14, the latter being known as the War of the Spanish Succession).
In the 18th century the Union with Scotland (1707) and the defeat of the Jacobite rebellions of 1715 and 1745 brought an end to wars between England and Scotland, but renewed struggle with the Catholic countries of Europe brought the War of Jenkins's Ear (1739), the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–8), and the Seven Years War (1756–63). Military activity took place not only in Europe, but in Brazil, the Caribbean, New England, Africa, and India. See Linda Colley, Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707–1837 (1992). The American colonies were lost as a result of the War of Independence (1775–83). The major and prolonged conflict known as the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars lasted from 1793 to 1815. France subsequently ceased to be the traditional enemy of the English and fought with the British against the Russians in the Crimean War (1854–6). British military activity was thereafter largely concentrated on consolidating an empire in India and Africa, culminating in the Boer War (1899–1902). (See also army records; Navy records; world wars, records of.) The Korean War (1949–51), the Suez Campaign (1956), and the Falklands War (1982) were the major wars involving British troops in the second half of the 20th century, and the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been the major conflicts in the early 21st century.