The last successful invasion of England was that by the Normans in 1066. Prior to that, England had been successfully invaded by waves of Angles, Saxons, and Jutes from the Continent, and before that, the Romans.

After 1066, no one from the Continent successfully invaded England. These include Hitler, Napoleon, the Spanish Armada, and possibly the French during the 100 years war. "Native" invaders like William and Mary, (the latter of whom was English) or Henry Beaufort or the Barons in the First Barons War did sometimes succeed.

The key factor appears to be that in the second millennium, England had a "critical mass" of naval clout to defeat the various would-be foreign invaders, but this was not true in the first millennium. If so, what would be the key ingredients of this naval "critical mass?" What caused this change? Was it due, for instance, to the greater efficacy of ships built in the second millennium in patrolling the waters around England?

Or put another way, why were first millennia foreigners more successful in invading England, given the same weather, and more primitive ships (unless the argument might be that the weather changed and we had e.g., a new ice age in the second millennia and not the first).

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. There is an active effort to refine the question, but that effort is better served by chat than by an increasingly long comment string. I'm going to freeze comments on this question to redirect the effort over to chat. Thank you to the community for the efforts to refine.
    – MCW
    Mar 4, 2021 at 17:10
  • From the Wikipedia article on 1st BR: "The rebellious barons, faced with an uncompromising king, turned to King Philip's son, Prince Louis, who then sailed to England with an army despite his father's disapproval, as well as the Pope's, who subsequently excommunicated him. Louis captured Winchester and soon controlled over half of the English kingdom.[1] He was proclaimed "King of England" in London by the barons, although never actually crowned." How on earth is this not an French invasion? Mar 4, 2021 at 17:57
  • It's much more likely to do with having a strong central government over the entire country south of the Tees, or even Tyne, than with evolution of land vs sea warfare. Strong governments don't tend to get invaded; weak central governments (and a diaspora of governments) attract invasion. Mar 4, 2021 at 19:36
  • @PieterGeerkens: That appears to be the correct answer. Why don't you turn your (excellent) comment into such.
    – Tom Au
    Mar 4, 2021 at 20:42
  • 1
    @MoisheKohan It's a French invasion but not a successful one, at least in the longer term. Keep reading that article and you'll see that Prince Louis was defeated in 1217, partly as a result of naval action.
    – Graham Nye
    Mar 5, 2021 at 1:22

1 Answer 1


There are plenty of opportunities to argue against the premise of the question here. The exception made for native invaders in particular is not particularly convincing. The "Glorious Revolution" could certainly be counted as a Dutch invasion. Henry Tudor's invasion had signficant Breton support. The Spanish Armada could easily have gone another way, had the weather been more favourable on them.

However, once we get to Napoleon something clearly has changed about the "invadability" of Great Britain. Here we have a brilliant military leader with a significant army on the French coast and more than enough motivation to invade Great Britain - but he doesn't try.

The crucial change between William the Conqueror and Napoleon is how naval combat works. The traditional form of naval combat is that you tie together the ships, and then fight hand-to-hand. A warship will be more in control over whether or not to fight than a troop transport, but will not necessarily have a significant advantage if the fighting happens. However, once cannons become the standard, utterly wrecking the enemies troop transports with your warships becomes an option.

Accompanying the technological development is that a supporting a substantial navy is a significant challenge for a state, and only in the early modern period did European states again reach the required level of centralisation and government budgets.

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