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Part of the reason both France and England became nation-states earlier than the rest of Europe hearkens back to the Middle Ages. When the Normans conquered England back in 1066, they became somewhat unified, not encompassing today's modern borders, but with enough sections in each to create a dominant culture. The infighting between different sections of both countries (Normandy, Brittany, Aquitaine, Wales, Cornwall, Northumbria, for example, each of which could have been considered its own "country" back then) caused these smaller areas, through conquest or political alliance, to to form larger areas. By the Renaissance, both England and France had sorted out their mutual internal territorial disputes, for the most part; what conflict remained was between the English Isle and the French Continent. Stable governments allowed for agriculture and population to increase; in time this fed industrialization, and led to merchant marine, trade and colonization on the part of England, and political and military superiority in France over the rest of Continental Europe. In short, their centuries-long history of fighting each other caused both to advance quickly into nations, then world powers.
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