A little history: a heritage shared
"For centuries, France and Britain have been the focus and the champions of human freedom". Charles de Gaulle, Oxford, 1941
France and Britain are deeply-rooted democracies, devoted to liberty, the rule of law, justice and peace. Both are at the forefront of the arts and sciences. These very words are a reminder of how much France and Britain have inherited from Ancient Greece and Rome. The Romans left their mark in the centuries between Julius Caesar’s conquests in Northern Gaul and Britain and the end of the Roman Empire in the West in 476 AD.
Down the centuries, the histories of both countries often interlocked and sometimes merged. They were among the first in Europe to attain nationhood and embrace Christianity. The Vikings fought King Albert in 871 and besieged Paris in 885. William of Normandy conquered much of England in 1066.
From 1154 to 1485 England was under Anjou-Plantagenet rule. French princesses became English queens: Isabella, daughter of Philip the Fair, married Edward II ; Catherine of Valois, daughter of Charles VI of France, wed Henry V. French monastic orders founded many abbeys and priories in Britain, including St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall, built in 1135 by the Abbot of Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy. For many years, English monarchs laid claim to much of France - a dispute resolved only in 1453 with the end of the Hundred Years’ War. Calais remained under English rule until 1558. After the Reformation and Henry VIII , the churches in France and England took separate paths.
The Scots did things differently. Mary Queen of Scots, daughter of James V of Scotland and Marie de Guise, was brought up at the French court and married the Dauphin, later François II. The wistful Jacobite toast to King James - ’the King across the water’ - was to the exile in France. The legacy of this Auld Alliance is still upheld - just as the Scots maintain their own distinctive education, legal and banking systems.
Politically, royal rule in Britain and France enjoyed contrasting fortunes in successive centuries. On New Year’s Day 1654 Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet spoke in a sermon of ’perfidious England’ - a phrase later echoed by Mme de Sévigné. But then this was the century that saw King Charles I tried and executed and King James II deposed and exiled, while France continued to be ruled by His Catholic Majesty Louis XIV. Times changed; but the phrase had entered the language as ’perfidious Albion’. Britain’s Royalty was re-moulded into a constitutional monarchy by the Civil War and Glorious Revolution of 1688. France was transformed by the Revolution of 1789. The Napoleonic Wars were the last time the two countries fought on opposite sides.
The 19th century saw the peak of the European powers’ colonial expansion, often in competition. France and Britain sought not only to gain commercial advantage, but also to export their values and the best of their institutions. Results were mixed. But both countries earned admiration for what characterised them - France as the home of revolutionary Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity; Britain as an example of continuing representative democracy and administrative impartiality.
The twentieth century saw the two powers embark on genuine long-term cooperation through the Entente Cordiale. The Entente Cordiale was a colonial-era agreement signed by the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Lansdowne, and the French Ambassador, Paul Cambon, in London on 8 April 1904 with the aim of settling long-standing disputes between the UK and France in countries such as Morocco, Egypt, Siam, Madagascar, the New Hebrides, West and Central Africa and Newfoundland. But it had a wider significance in that it also represented a shift from a history overshadowed by conflict and rivalry to a sustained era of rapprochement and alliance. For example, the agreements were crucial in paving the way for Franco-British diplomatic and military cooperation in the lead-up to World War One. France and Britain fought side by side in the two world wars and it was from London than General de Gaulle called on the French to resist German occupation in 1940. France and the UK are both permanent members of the United Nations Security Council which they helped found. Together in new theatres (Suez, the Gulf, the Balkans, Afghanistan), the two nations have constantly sought to strengthen their alliance since the United Kingdom joined the EEC (1973). the recent Saint-Malo summit (1998) highlighted an increasingly close relationship between London and Paris, symbolized by the opening of the Channel Tunnel in 1994.
A few key dates
William The Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, conquers England
Plantagenet reign in England
100 Years’ War between France and England
1558 The English leave Calais
Waterloo - Defeat of Napoleon
Queen Victoria and King Louis-Philippe meet at Eu, Normandy
Entente Cordiale concluded
Allies in World War I
General de Gaulle makes his "appel du 18 juin" from London
D-Day landing in Normandy
Allied victory. France and Britain are founder-members of the UN
The Concorde flies for the first time (2 March)
Britains joins the European Economic Community
State visit of President François Mitterrand to Britain
Third State visit of Her Majesty The Queen
Inauguration of the Channel Tunnel (6 May) The Queen in Normandy for the 50th anniversary of D-Day (6 June) Eurostar crosses the Channel for the first time (14 November)
State visit of President Jacques Chirac to Britain (14-17 May)
Saint-Malo Summit (4 December)
Anglo-French annual summit in London on 25 November
9 February, annual summit in Cahors
29 November, annual summit in London
Le Touquet, 4 February: 25th Anglo-French annual summit
Entente Cordiale Centenary
State visit by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh to France, 5 - 7 April 2004
Special Visit by President and Madame Chirac to the United Kingdom, 18-19 November