Harfleur to Hamburg

Five Centuries of English and British Violence in Europe

Edited by
April 2024 9781911723172 336pp
Available as an eBook
EU Customers


Britain has historically been seen as an upholder of international norms, at least in its relations with western powers. This has often been contrasted with the violence perpetrated in colonial contexts on other continents. What is often missed, however, is the extent to which the state with its capital in London—first England, then Great Britain—inflicted extreme violence on its European neighbours, even when still using the rhetoric of neighbourliness and friendship.

This book comprises eleven case-studies of Anglo-British strategic violence, from the siege of Harfleur in 1415 to the fire-bombing of Hamburg in 1943. Chapters examine actions that were top-down and directed, and perpetrated for specific geopolitical reasons—many of them at, or well beyond, the bounds of what was sanctioned by prevailing international norms at the time. The contributors look at how these actions were conceived, executed and perceived by the English/British public, by the international legal community of the time, and by the victims.

This history of English violence in Europe complicates not only easy notions of England/Britain as a champion of the ‘standards of civilisation’ or of the ‘liberal international order’, but also of the supposed distinction between ‘European’ and ‘extra-European’ warfare.


‘If you think that Britain is a country that not only goes to war with reluctance but also then wages it with restraint, Harfleur to Hamburg will make you think again. Serious scholars show how the British have been ready to use extraordinary and sometimes unjustifiable levels of violence—not least against their fellow Britons.’ — Hew Strachan, Bishop Wardlaw Professor of International Relations, University of St Andrews

‘Fascinating, well-researched pieces by long-standing experts in their fields.’ — Beatrice Heuser, Chair of International Relations, University of Glasgow

‘This brilliant book is riveting history. Every chapter sheds new light on the motives, policies and consequences of Britain’s warfare on the European continent. The inflection points selected for examination are themselves an interesting story: instances in which a country that advances international law and normative power acts utterly ruthlessly for strategic reasons, and the culture that drove those decisions.’ — Kori Schake, Director of Foreign and Defense Policy, American Enterprise Institute


D. J. B. Trim is Professor of Church History at Andrews University in Michigan. His books include European Warfare, 1350–1750.

Brendan Simms is Professor in the History of International Relations, University of Cambridge, and author, inter alia, of Europe: The Struggle for Supremacy, 1453 to the Present.

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