THE Emperor's Turkish wars enabled France to continue to encroach on the Netherlands. This process began when France first acquired unity in the Middle Ages, and remained a feature of French policy until 1870. Desultory wars went on for years, small armies besieging small frontier fortresses and marching through what was already the characteristic mud of Flanders. After Philip II.'s accession Spain won a victory at St. Quentin and made peace at Le Cateau in Cambresis (1559). The part played by St. Quentin and Le Cateau in the war of 1914-18 is a reminder that this area for seven hundred years has never been immune for long from invasion, chiefly because the level plains provide better routes between France and Germany than the mountainous country which separates them in the southeast, and are worth occupying for their own sake.
The part played by Britain in these wars was inconspicuous. The poor but warlike kingdom of Scotland was always ready, as in the Flodden campaign of 1513, to invade the north when her neighbour had a French war. The cardinal principle of English policy for several centuries was to keep friends with the Netherlands, to which she sold her all-important wool, and this meant alliance with Spain when Spain controlled the Netherlands, an alliance which was fortified by the traditional English hatred for Spain's rival, France. Henry VIII. supported Spain before Pavia, partly in hopes of Spain's help in regaining Henry V.'s dominions in France. Though disappointed by Charles, with whom his relations were further damaged by the divorce of Catherine and the breach with Rome, he remained neutral or passively friendly towards Spain. His hands were full enough with the dissolution of the monasteries, his organisation of Wales, Ireland, and the north, and financial difficulties resulting from the rapidly falling value of silver, which drove him to debase the coinage and caused great distress and disorder.
The guardians of Henry's successor, Edward (1547-53), raided Scotland, and Henry's daughter, Mary (1553-58), married the new king of Spain, Philip, as part of her unsuccessful attempt to retrace the steps towards Protestantism taken by Henry and Edward's guardians. Mary's sister and successor, Elizabeth, began her reign with every wish to preserve good relations with Spain, her only support against the Franco-Scottish menace.