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France–United Kingdom relations


France–United Kingdom relations

France–UK relations
Map indicating locations of France and the UK as well as their overseas territories

United Kingdom


France–United Kingdom relations are the relations between the governments of the French Republic and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK). The historical ties between the two countries are long and complex, including many inter-migrations, wars, and alliances at various points in history. In the ancient era, Celtic religions based on nature worship flourished in both countries; monuments like Stonehenge in Britain and the cave art of several French sites are still remembered and studied today. The Roman era saw both areas conquered by Rome, whose fortifications exist in both countries to this day, and whose writing system introduced a common alphabet to both areas; however, the language barrier remained. In the medieval period the countries were often bitter enemies, resulting in wars of great scope, such as the Hundred Years' War. The modern era however produced close ties between the two beginning with the 1904 Entente cordiale, particularly via the alliances in World War I and World War II, wherein both countries fought against Germany, and in the latter conflict British armies helped to liberate occupied France from the Nazis. In recent years the two countries have experienced a quite close relationship, especially on Defence and foreign policy issues; the two countries tend however to disagree on a range of other matters, most notably the European Union.[1] The British press relishes to refer to France and Britain as "historic rivals"[2] or emphasize the perceived ever-lasting competition that still opposes the two countries.[3]

Although the designation "Anglo-" strictly specifically refers to England, not the UK as a whole, modern intergovernmental relations between these two nations are habitually called Anglo-French relations and understood to refer to the UK and not only England. The term Franco-British relations is also used. Early Anglo-French relations interactions occurred before Caesar's invasion of Gaul, when the two regions were inhabited by loosely trading Celts fighting the Romans as a common enemy. They continued under the Roman Empire – as both modern-day states were ruled from Rome. Both were provinces in the larger Roman Empire. Recently relations have been cordial and cooperative, with an edge of wariness on both sides due to historical differences and more recent disagreements between two of the leaders of the two countries: former French President Jacques Chirac and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. French author Jose-Alain Fralon characterised the relationship between the countries by describing the British as "our most dear enemies". Tony Blair is regarded as being a francophile by the French media[4] and the former French President Nicolas Sarkozy was known for his will to transform the "Entente Cordiale" into an "Entente amicale" (that is, a friendlier and closer relation).[5]

Much of the two countries' histories has been defined by the relationship between the two countries. Today, both France and the United Kingdom are member states of the European Union (EU), and it is estimated that about 350,000 French people live in the UK, with approximately 400,000 Britons living in France.[6]


  • Country comparison 1
  • History 2
    • Pre-Roman period 2.1
    • Roman and post-Roman era 2.2
    • Before the Conquest 2.3
    • Norman conquest 2.4
    • Breton War, 1076–1077 2.5
    • Vexin War 1087 2.6
    • Rebellion of 1088 2.7
    • Wars in the Vexin and Maine 1097–1098 2.8
    • Anglo-Norman War 1101 2.9
    • Anglo-Norman War 1105–1106 2.10
    • Anglo-French War 1117–1120 2.11
    • High Medieval era 2.12
    • The Hundred Years' War 2.13
    • The Franco-Scots Alliance 2.14
    • The early modern period 2.15
    • Universal Monarchy 2.16
    • Union of England and Scotland 2.17
    • Overseas expansion 2.18
    • Seven Years' War 2.19
    • American War of Independence 2.20
  • The French Revolution and after 3
    • Union of Great Britain and Ireland 3.1
    • The Napoleonic Wars 3.2
    • Early 19th century 3.3
    • The July Monarchy and the beginning of the Victorian age 3.4
    • Second French Empire 3.5
    • Late 19th century 3.6
  • Twentieth century 4
    • The Entente cordiale 4.1
    • First World War 4.2
    • Treaty of Versailles 4.3
    • 1920s 4.4
    • Appeasement of Germany 4.5
    • Second World War 4.6
    • Suez Crisis 4.7
    • Common Market 4.8
    • De Gaulle 4.9
  • Since 1969 5
    • Sarkozy presidency 5.1
  • Defence Cooperation 6
  • Commerce 7
  • Education 8
  • The sciences 9
  • Arts and culture 10
  • Language 11
  • Sports 12
  • Transport 13
    • Ferries 13.1
    • Channel Tunnel 13.2
    • Flights 13.3
  • Twinnings 14
  • See also 15
  • References 16
  • Further reading 17
    • In French 17.1
  • External links 18

Country comparison

France United Kingdom
Population 65,350,000 64,000,000
Area 674,843  km2 (260,558 sq mi) 243,610  km2 (94,060 sq mi )
Population Density 116/km2 (301/sq mi) 255.6/km2 (661.9/sq mi)
Time zones 12 9
Exclusive economic zone 11,035,000 km2 6,805,586 km2
Capital Paris London
Largest City Paris – 2,234,105 (12,161,542 Metro) London – 8,174,100 (13,709,000 Metro)
Government Unitary semi-presidential constitutional republic Unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy
Official language French (de facto and de jure) English (de facto)
Main religions 58% Christianity, 33% non-Religious, 5% Islam,
1% Judaism, 1% Buddhism, 2% Other
59.4% Christianity, 25.7% Non-Religious, 7.8% Unstated, 4.4% Islam,
1.3% Hinduism, 0.7% Sikhism, 0.4% Judaism, 0.4% Buddhism (2011 Census)
Ethnic groups 86% French, 7% other European, 5% North African, Other Sub-Saharan African, Indochinese, Asian, Latin American and Pacific Islander. 87% White, 7% Asian British (2.3% Indian, 1.9% Pakistani, 0.7% Bangladeshi, 0.7% Chinese, 1.4% Asian Other) 3% Black 2% Mixed Race.
GDP (per capita) $42,793 $43,875
GDP (nominal) $2.712 trillion $2.452 trillion
Expatriate populations 96,281 French-born people live in the UK (2001 census)
137,000 (2011 estimate)[7]
400,000 British-born people live in France (2013 data)[8]
Military expenditures $61.2 billion $57.9 billion
Nuclear warheads active/total 290 / 300 160 / 225


Pre-Roman period

Humans have inhabited both countries since prehistory. Paleolithic culture flourished in France, such as the cave art painters of Lascaux and several other sites. French Paleolithic culture is very old; hominin evidence is present going back almost two million years - see Chilhac and Lézignan-la-Cèbe. The Neolithic produced the predecessors of the stonemasonry-practicing druids who would later build Stonehenge in Britain. Intermigrations occurred between the countries with reasonable regularity, generally via boats who dared to cross the Channel. In the periods usually referred to as the Bronze Age and Iron Age, both countries were essentially pre-metallurgical, but at some point Celtic culture spread outward from Central Europe to France and then England before the medieval period, resulting in the Gaulish culture in France, the Goidelic, Brythonic, and Pictish cultures in England, and the Belgae who would go on to found Belgium. Literacy of any kind was marginal until the Roman period, hence why both countries use the descendants of the Latin alphabet today; meaning that records from any pre-Roman period are generally considered archaeological and not historical.

Roman and post-Roman era

When Julius Caesar invaded Gaul, he encountered allies of the Gauls and Belgae from southeastern Britain offering assistance, some of whom even acknowledged the king of the Belgae as their sovereign.

Although all peoples concerned were Celts (and the Germanic Angles and Franks had not yet invaded either country that would later bear their names), this could arguably be seen as the first major example of Anglo-French cooperation in recorded history. As a consequence, Caesar felt compelled to invade in an attempt to subdue Britain. Rome was reasonably successful at conquering Gaul and Britain and Belgica all; and all three areas became provinces of the Roman Empire.

For the next five hundred years, there was much interaction between the two regions, as both Britain and France were under Roman rule. After the fall of the Roman Empire, this was followed by another five hundred years with very little interaction between the two, as both were invaded by different Germanic tribes. Anglo-Saxonism rose from a mixture of Brythonism and Scandinavian immigration in Britain to conquer the Picts and Gaels. France saw intermixture with and partial conquest by Germanic tribes such as the Salian Franks to create the Frankish kingdoms. Christianity as a religion spread through all areas involved during this period, replacing the native Celtic forms of worship. The deeds of chieftans in this period would produce the legendaria around King Arthur and Camelot - now believed to be a legend based on the deeds of many early medieval British chieftans - and the more historically verifiable Charlemagne, the Frankish chieftan who founded the Holy Roman Empire throughout much of Western Europe.

At the turn of the second millennium, the British Isles were primarily involved with the Scandinavian world, while France's main foreign relationship was with the Holy Roman Empire.

Before the Conquest

Prior to the Norman Conquest of 1066, there were no armed conflicts between the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of France. France and England were subject to repeated Viking invasions, and their foreign preoccupations were primarily directed toward Scandinavia.

Such cross-Channel relations as England had were directed toward Normandy, a quasi-independent fief owing homage to the French king; Emma, daughter of Normandy's Duke Richard, became queen to two English kings in succession; two of her sons, Harthacnut and Edward the Confessor later became kings of England. Edward spent much of his early life (1013–1041) in Normandy and, as king, favored certain Normans with high office, such as Robert of Jumièges, who became Archbishop of Canterbury.

This gradual Normanization of the realm set the stage for the Norman Conquest, in which Emma's brother's grandson, William, Duke of Normandy, gained the kingdom in the first successful cross-Channel invasion since Roman times. Together with its new ruler, England acquired the foreign policy of the Norman dukes, which was based on protecting and expanding Norman interests at the expense of the French Kings. Although William's rule over Normandy had initially had the backing of King Henry I of France, William's success had soon created hostility, and in 1054 and 1057 King Henry had twice attacked Normandy.

Norman conquest

However, in the mid-eleventh century there was a dispute over the English throne, and the French-speaking Normans, who were of Viking stock, invaded England under their duke William the Conqueror and took over following the Battle of Hastings in 1066, and crowned themselves Kings of England.

The Norman feudal culture took root in England, and for the next 150 years England was generally considered of secondary importance to the dynasty's Continental territories, notably in Normandy and other western French provinces. The language of the aristocracy was French for several hundred years after the Norman Conquest. Many French words were adopted into the English language as a result. Possibly up to one third of the English language is derived from or through French. The first Norman kings were also the Dukes of Normandy, so relations were somewhat complicated between the countries. Though they were dukes ostensibly under the king of France, their higher level of organisation in Normandy gave them more de facto power. In addition, they were kings of England in their own right; England was not officially a province of France, nor a province of Normandy.

Breton War, 1076–1077

This war was fought between the years 1076 to 1077.

Vexin War 1087

In 1087, following the monastic retirement of its last count, William and Philip partitioned between themselves the Vexin, a small but strategically important county on the middle Seine that controlled the traffic between Paris and Rouen, the French and Norman capitals. With this buffer state eliminated, Normandy and the king's royal demesne (the Île-de-France) now directly bordered on each other, and the region would be the flashpoint for several future wars. In 1087, William responded to border raids conducted by Philip's soldiers by attacking the town of Mantes, during the sack of which he received an accidental injury that turned fatal.

Rebellion of 1088

With William's death, his realms were parted between his two sons (England to William Rufus, Normandy to Robert Curthose) and the Norman-French border war concluded. Factional strains between the Norman barons, faced with a double loyalty to William's two sons, created a brief civil war in which an attempt was made to force Rufus off the English throne. With the failure of the rebellion, England and Normandy were clearly divided for the first time since 1066.

Wars in the Vexin and Maine 1097–1098

Robert Curthose left on crusade in 1096, and for the duration of his absence Rufus took over the administration of Normandy. Soon afterwards (1097) he attacked the Vexin and the next year the County of Maine. Rufus succeeded in defeating Maine, but the war in the Vexin ended inconclusively with a truce in 1098.

Anglo-Norman War 1101

In August 1100, William Rufus was killed by an arrow shot while hunting. His younger brother, Henry Beauclerc immediately took the throne. It had been expected to go to Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy, but Robert was away on a crusade and did not return until a month after Rufus' death, by which time Henry was firmly in control of England, and his accession had been recognized by France's King Philip. Robert was, however, able to reassert his control over Normandy, though only after giving up the County of Maine.

England and Normandy were now in the hands of the two brothers, Henry and Robert. In July 1101, Robert launched an attack on England from Normandy. He landed successfully at Portsmouth, and advanced inland to Alton in Hampshire. There he and Henry came to an agreement to accept the status quo of the territorial division. Henry was freed from his homage to Robert, and agreed to pay the Duke an annual sum (which, however, he only paid until 1103).

Anglo-Norman War 1105–1106

Following increasing tensions between the brothers, and evidence of the weakness of Robert's rule, Henry I invaded Normandy in the spring of 1105, landing at Barfleur. The ensuing Anglo-Norman war was longer and more destructive, involving sieges of Bayeux and Caen; but Henry had to return to England in the late summer, and it was not until the following summer that he was able to resume the conquest of Normandy. In the interim, Duke Robert took the opportunity to appeal to his liege lord, King Philip, but could obtain no aid from him. The fate of Robert and the duchy was sealed at the Battle of Tinchebray on 28 or 29 September 1106: Robert was captured and imprisoned for the rest of his life. Henry was now, like his father, both King of England and Duke of Normandy, and the stage was set for a new round of conflict between England and France.

Anglo-French War 1117–1120

In 1108, Philip II, who had been king of France since before the Norman Conquest, died and was succeeded by his son Louis VI, who had already been conducting the administration of the realm in his father's name for several years.

Louis had initially been hostile to Robert Curthose, and friendly to Henry I; but with Henry's acquisition of Normandy, the old Norman-French rivalries re-emerged. From 1109 to 1113, clashes erupted in the Vexin; and in 1117 Louis made a pact with Baldwin VII of Flanders, Fulk V of Anjou, and various rebellious Norman barons to overthrow Henry's rule in Normandy and replace him with William Clito, Curthose's son. By luck and diplomacy, however, Henry eliminated the Flemings and Angevins from the war, and on 20 August 1119 at the Battle of Bremule he defeated the French. Louis was obliged to accept Henry's rule in Normandy, and accepted his son William Adelin's homage for the fief in 1120.

High Medieval era

The Beaulieu Abbey, founded by King John of England for Cistercians,[9] a religious order from France who gave the Abbey its present name, French for Beautiful place.

During the reign of the closely related Plantagenet dynasty, which was based in its Angevin Empire, half of France was under Angevin control as well as all of England. However, almost all of the Angevin empire was lost to Philip II of France under Richard the Lionheart, John and Henry III of England. This finally gave the English a separate identity as an Anglo-Saxon people under a Francophone, but not French, crown.

While the English and French had been frequently acrimonious, they had always had a common culture and little fundamental difference in identity. Nationalism had been minimal in days when most wars took place between rival feudal lords on a sub-national scale. The last attempt to unite the two cultures under such lines was probably a failed French-supported rebellion to depose Edward II. It was also during the Middle Ages that a Franco-Scottish alliance, known as the Auld Alliance was signed by King John of Scotland and Philip IV of France.

The Hundred Years' War

During the Hundred Years' War England and France battled for supremacy. Following the Battle of Agincourt the English gained control of vast French territory, but were eventually driven out. English monarchs would still claim the throne of France until 1800.

The English monarchy increasingly integrated with its subjects and turned to the English language wholeheartedly during the Hundred Years' War between 1337 and 1453. Though the war was in principle a mere dispute over territory, it drastically changed societies on both sides of the Channel. The English, although already politically united, for the first time found pride in their language and identity, while the French united politically.

Several of the most famous Anglo-French battles took place during the Hundred Years' War: Crécy, Poitiers, Agincourt, Orléans, and Paris. Major sources of French pride stemmed from their leadership during the war. Bertrand du Guesclin was a brilliant tactician who forced the English out of the lands they had procured at the Treaty of Brétigny, a compromising treaty that most Frenchmen saw as a humiliation. Joan of Arc was another unifying figure who to this day represents a combination of religious fervour and French patriotism to all France. After her inspirational victory at Orléans and what many saw as Joan's martyrdom at the hands of Burgundians and Englishmen, Jean de Dunois eventually forced the English out of all of France except Calais, which was only lost in 1558. Apart from setting national identities, the Hundred Years' War is often cited as the root of the traditional rivalry and at times hatred between the two countries.

During this era, the English lost their last territories in France, except Calais, which would remain in English hands for another 105 years, though the English monarchs continued to style themselves as Kings of France until 1800.

The Franco-Scots Alliance

France and Scotland agreed to defend each other in the event of an attack on either from England in several treaties, the most notable of which were in 1327 and 1490. There had always been intermarriage between the Scottish and French royal households, but this solidified the bond between the royals even further.

The early modern period

Henry VIII and Francis I met at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1519, briefly marking a period of détente between the two nations

The English and French were engaged in numerous wars in the following centuries. They took opposite sides in all of the Italian Wars between 1494 and 1559.

An even deeper division set in during the English Reformation, when most of England converted to Protestantism and France remained Roman Catholic. This enabled each side to see the other as not only a foreign evil but also a heretical one. In both countries there was intense civil religious conflict. Because of the oppression by Roman Catholic King Louis XIII of France, many Protestant Huguenots fled to England. Similarly, many Catholics fled from England to France.

Henry VIII of England had initially sought an alliance with France, and the Field of the Cloth of Gold saw a face to face meeting between him and King Francis I of France.

Universal Monarchy

The English feared that Louis XIV of France, the Sun King, would create a Universal Monarchy in Europe, and devoted their efforts to frustrating this goal.

While Spain had been the dominant world power in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the English had often sided with France as a counterweight against them.[10] This design was intended to keep a European balance of power, and prevent one country gaining overwhelming supremacy. Key to English strategy was the fear that a universal monarchy of Europe would be able to overwhelm the British Isles.[11]

Following the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, as Spain's power weakened, France began to take on a more assertive role under King Louis XIV of France with an expansionist policy both in Europe and across the globe. English foreign policy was now directed towards preventing France gaining supremacy on the continent and creating a universal monarchy. To the French, England was an isolated and piratical nation heavily reliant on naval power, and particularly privateers, which they referred to as Perfidious Albion.

There was a sharp diversion in political philosophies in the two states. In England King Charles I had been executed during the English Civil War for exceeding his powers, and later King James II had been overthrown in the Glorious Revolution. In France the power of the monarchs and their advisors went largely unchecked.

England and France fought each other in the War of the League of Augsburg from 1688 to 1697 which set the pattern for relations between France and Great Britain during the eighteenth century. Wars were fought intermittently, with each nation part of a constantly shifting pattern of alliances known as the stately quadrille.

Union of England and Scotland

The Act of Union was passed in 1707 partly to unify Great Britain against the perceived French threat.

Partly out of fear of a continental intervention, an Act of Union was passed in 1707 creating the Kingdom of Great Britain, and formally merging the kingdoms of Scotland and England (the latter kingdom included Wales).[12] While the new Britain grew increasingly parliamentarian, France continued its system of absolute monarchy.

The newly united Britain fought France in the War of the Spanish Succession from 1702 to 1713, and the War of the Austrian Succession from 1740 to 1748, attempting to maintain the balance of power in Europe. The British had a massive navy but maintained a small land army, so Britain always acted on the continent in alliance with other states such as Prussia and Austria as they were unable to fight France alone. Equally France, lacking a superior navy, was unable to launch a successful invasion of Britain.

The War of the Austrian Succession was one of several wars in which states tried to maintain the European balance of power.
France lent support to the Jacobite pretenders who claimed the British throne, hoping that a restored Jacobite monarchy would be inclined to be more pro-French. Despite this support the Jacobites failed to overthrow the Hanoverian monarchs.

As the century wore on, there was a distinct passage of power to Britain and France, at the expense of traditional major powers such as Portugal, Spain and the Dutch Republic. Some observers saw the frequent conflicts between the two states during the 18th century as a battle for control of Europe, though most of these wars ended without a conclusive victory for either side. France largely had greater influence on the continent while Britain were dominant at sea and trade, threatening French colonies abroad.

Overseas expansion

From the 1650s, the New World increasingly became a battleground between the two powers. The Western Design of Oliver Cromwell intended to build up an increasing British presence in North America, beginning with the acquisition of Jamaica from the Spanish Empire in 1652.[13] The first British settlement on continental North America was founded in 1603, by the 1760s these had grown into thirteen separate colonies.

The French had settled the province of Canada to the North, and controlled Saint-Domingue in the Caribbean, the wealthiest colony in the world.[14] Both countries, recognising the potential of India, established trading posts there. Wars between the two states increasingly took place in these other continents, as well as Europe.

Seven Years' War

The loss of Quebec to the British in 1759 was a major blow to French colonial ambitions, compounded by defeats in Europe and India.

The French and British fought each other and made treaties with French and Indian War broke out, initially taking place only in North America but in 1756 becoming part of the wider Seven Years' War in which Britain and France were part of opposing coalitions.

The war has been called the first "world war", because fighting took place on several different continents.[15] In 1759 the British enjoyed victories over the French in Europe, Canada and India, severely weakening the French position around the world.[16] In 1762 the British captured the cities of Manila and Havana from Spain, France's strongest ally, which led ultimately to a peace settlement the following year that saw a large number of territories come under British control.

The Seven Years' War is regarded as a critical moment in the history of Anglo-French relations, which laid the foundations for the dominance of the Anglosphere during the next two and a half centuries, and arguably the spread of democracy and English common law.[17]

American War of Independence

The Anglo-American settlers had originally fought on the side of the British, but as some Americans grew dissatisfied with British policies the French saw an opportunity to undermine British overseas power. When the American War of Independence broke out in 1775, the French began sending covert supplies and intelligence to the American rebels.[18]

The British defeat at Yorktown was made possible by the combined actions of a French fleet and army. It marked the end of the First British Empire.

In 1778, France, hoping to capitalise on the British defeat at Saratoga, recognized the United States of America and signed a military alliance.[19] France in 1779 persuaded its Spanish allies to declare war on Britain.[20] France despatched troops to fight alongside the Americans, and besieged Gibraltar with Spain. Plans were drawn up, but never put into action, to launch an invasion of England.

The British were forced to withdraw forces from the American mainland to protect their more valuable possessions in the West Indies. While the French were initially unable to break the string of British victories, the combined actions of American and French forces, and a key victory by a French fleet over a British rescue fleet, forced the British into a decisive surrender at Yorktown, Virginia, in 1781.

In 1783 the Treaty of Paris gave the new nation control over most of the region east of the Mississippi River; Spain gained Florida from Britain; France received little except a huge debt. For a brief period after the war, Britain's naval power was subdued by an alliance between France and Spain.[21]

The crippling debts incurred by France during the war, and the cost of rebuilding the French navy during the 1780s caused a financial crisis, leading directly to the French Revolution of 1789.[22]

The French Revolution and after

The French Republican leader Maximilian Robespierre became a deeply unpopular figure in Britain because of his role in The Terror. Despite this Britain initially had no desire to go to war with the new French Republic.
The revolution was initially popular in Britain, but later its turmoils turned into a cause of alarm, as this 1792 caricature contrasting "British Liberty" with "French Liberty" demonstrates.

During the French Revolution, the anti-monarchical ideals of France were regarded with alarm throughout Europe. While France was plunged into chaos, Britain took advantage of its temporary weakness to stir up the civil war occurring in France and build up its naval forces. The Revolution was initially popular with many Britons, both because it appeared to weaken France and was perceived to be based on British liberal ideals. This began to change as the Jacobin faction took over, and began the Reign of Terror.[23]

The French were intent on spreading their revolutionary republicanism to other European states, including Britain. The British initially stayed out of the alliances of European states which unsuccessfully attacked France trying to restore the monarchy. In France a new, strong nationalism took hold enabling them to mobilise large and motivated forces.

Following the execution of King Batavian Republic, and the British devoted much of their own forces to campaigns against the French in the Caribbean, with mixed results.

French forces landed in Ireland to support Irish rebels during the Irish rebellion of 1798

Union of Great Britain and Ireland

In 1798 French forces invaded Ireland to assist the United Irishmen who had launched a rebellion, where they were joined by thousands of rebels but defeated by British and Irish loyalist forces. The fear of further attempts to create a French satellite in Ireland, led to the Act of Union merging of the crowns of Great Britain and Ireland to create the United Kingdom in 1801.

British dominance of the seas prevented France from gaining the upper-hand outside Continental Europe

The Napoleonic Wars

In 1799, Napoleon came to power in France, ending the revolutionary era and creating a dictatorship (crowning himself Emperor in 1804). After he had triumphed on the European continent against the other major European powers, Napoleon contemplated an invasion of the British mainland, but was dissuaded by the annihilation of the Franco-Spanish fleet at Trafalgar, coinciding with an Austrian attack over its Bavarian allies.

In response Napoleon established a continental system by which no nation was permitted to trade with the British. Napoleon hoped the embargo would isolate the British Isles severely weakening them, but a number of countries continued to trade with them in defiance of the policy. In spite of this, the Napoleonic influence stretched across much of Europe.

In 1808 French forces invaded Portugal trying to attempt to halt trade with the United Kingdom, turning Spain into a satellite state in the process.[24] The British responded by dispatching a force under Sir Arthur Wellesley which captured Lisbon.[25] Napoleon dispatched increasing forces into the Iberian Peninsula, which became the key battleground between the two nations. Allied with Spanish and Portuguese forces, the British inflicted a number of defeats on the French, confronted with a new kind of warfare called "guerrilla" which led Napoleon to brand it the "Spanish Ulcer". Allied to an increasingly resurgent European coalition, the British invaded southern France forcing Napoleon to abdicate and go into exile on Elba in 1814.[26]

The Allied victory at the Battle of Waterloo marked the end of the Napoleonic Era. Though the last war fought between the two states, the rivalry continued throughout the nineteenth century.

After escaping and briefly threatening to restore the French Empire, Napoleon was defeated by combined British, Prussian and Dutch forces at Battle of Waterloo. With strong British support, the Bourbon monarchy was restored and Louis XVIII was crowned King of France. The Napoleonic era was the last occasion on which Britain and France went to war with each other, but by no means marked the end of the rivalry between the two nations. Despite his final defeat, Napoleon continues to be regarded as a national hero figure in France for his numerous victories over coalised monarchies.

Early 19th century

The Duke of Wellington was a major influence British politics following the Congress of Vienna. He advocated support for a restored Bourbon monarchy in France.

Despite having entered the Napoleonic era regarded by many as a spent force, the UK had emerged from the 1815 Congress of Vienna as one of the leading financial, military and cultural powers of the world. France also recovered from the defeat at Waterloo quickly to retake its position on the world stage.

Despite their historic enmity, the British and French eventually became strained political allies, as both began to turn their attentions to acquiring new territories beyond Europe. The British developed India and Canada and settled Australia, spreading their powers to several different continents as the Second British Empire.

They frequently made stereotypical jokes about each other, and even side by side in war were critical of each other's tactics.

As a Royal Navy officer said to the French corsair Robert Surcouf "You French fight for money, while we British fight for honour.", Surcouf replied "Sir, a man fights for what he lacks the most." According to one story, a French diplomat once said to Lord Palmerston "If I were not a Frenchman, I should wish to be an Englishman"; to which Palmerston replied: "If I were not an Englishman, I should wish to be an Englishman."[27] According to another, upon seeing the disastrous British Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War against Russia, French marshal Pierre Bosquet said 'C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre.' ('It's magnificent, but it's not war.') Eventually, relations settled down as the two empires tried to consolidate themselves rather than extend themselves.

The July Monarchy and the beginning of the Victorian age

British Foreign Secretary Viscount Palmerston allied himself with French monarch Louis-Philippe.

In 1830, France underwent the July Revolution, and the Orléanist Louis-Phillipe subsequently ascended to the throne; by contrast, the reign of Queen Victoria began in 1837 in a much more peaceful fashion. The major European powers—Russia, Austria, the UK, and to some extent Prussia—were determined to keep France in check, and so France generally pursued a cautious foreign policy. Louis-Phillipe allied with Britain, the country with which France shared the most similar form of government, and its combative Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston. In Louis-Philippe's first year in power, he refused to annex Belgium during its revolution, instead following the British line of supporting independence. Despite posturings from leading French minister Adolphe Thiers in 1839–1840 that France would protect the increasingly powerful Muhammad Ali of Egypt (a viceroy of the Ottoman Empire), any reinforcements were not forthcoming, and in 1840, much to France's embarrassment, Ali was forced to sign the Convention of London by the powers. Relations cooled again under the governments of François Guizot and Robert Peel. They soured once more in 1846 though when, with Palmerston back as Foreign Secretary, the French government hastily agreed to have Isabella II of Spain and her sister marry members of the Bourbon and Orléanist dynasties, respectively. Palmerston had hoped to arrange a marriage, and "The Affair of the Spanish Marriages" has generally been viewed unfavourably by British historians ("By the dispassionate judgment of history it has been universally condemned"),[28] although a more sympathetic view has been taken in recent years.[29]

Second French Empire

Napoleon III of France had an expansionist foreign policy, but his relations with the UK were surprisingly harmonious.

Lord Aberdeen (foreign secretary 1841–46) brokered an entente cordiale with François Guizot and France in the early 1840s. However Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte was elected president of France in 1848 and made himself Emperor Napoleon III in 1851. Napoleon III had an expansionist foreign policy, which saw the French deepen the colonisation of Africa and establish new colonies, in particular Indochina. The British were initially alarmed, and commissioned a series of forts in southern England designed to resist a French invasion. Lord Palmerston as foreign minister and prime minister had close personal ties with leading French statesmen, notably Napoleon III himself. Palmerston's goal was to arrange peaceful relations with France in order to free Britain's diplomatic hand elsewhere in the world.[30] Napoleon had a very pro-British foreign policy, and was eager not to displease the British government whose friendship he saw as important to France.

France and Britain were allies during the Crimean War, both aiming to check on the power of an expanding Russia. During the iconic Charge of the Light Brigade it was cover from French cavalry which allowed the British survivors to escape.

The two nations were military allies during the Crimean War (1853–56) to curb Russia's expansion westwards and its threats to the Ottoman Empire. However when London discovered that Napoleon III was secretly negotiating with Russia to form a postwar alliance to dominate Europe, it hastily abandoned its plan to end the war by attacking St. Petersburg. Instead Britain concluded an armistice with Russia that achieved none of its war aims.[31]

The two nations also co-operated during the Second Opium War with China, dispatching a joint force to the Chinese capital Peking to force a treaty on the Chinese Qing Dynasty. In 1859 Napoleon, bypassing the Corps législatif which he feared would not approve of free trade, met with influential reformer Richard Cobden, and in 1860 the Cobden-Chevalier Treaty was signed between the two countries, reducing tariffs on goods sold between the UK and France.[32]

During the American Civil War both nations remained neutral. France came close to entering on the side of the Confederate States of America. The cutoff of cotton shipments caused economic depression in the textile industry, resulting in widespread unemployment and suffering among workers, and support for an intervention that would reopen the trade.[33] In the end Britain refused to go to war and France followed suit.

Napoleon III attempted to gain British support for a scheme to put an Austrian Prince, Maximilian I, on the throne of Mexico, but the British were not willing to support any action other than the collection of debts owed by the Mexicans. This forced the French to act alone in the French Intervention in Mexico. The U.S. helped the Juarez regime and France pulled out its troops. Its puppet Emperor Maximilian was executed by the Mexicans.[34]

When Napoleon III was overthrown in 1870, he fled to England where he and his family lived in exile. The new French Third Republic continued a policy of the warm relations with Britain, especially following the creation of the German Empire.

Major Jean-Baptiste Marchand led colonial France into the Fashoda incident against British colonists, putting the nations on the brink of war.

Late 19th century

In the 1875-1898 era, tensions were high, especially over African issues. At several points war was possible, but it never happened.[35] One brief but dangerous dispute occurred during the Fashoda Incident when French troops tried to claim an area in the Southern Sudan, and a British force purporting to be acting in the interests of the Khedive of Egypt arrived.[36] Under heavy pressure the French withdrew securing Anglo-Egyptian control over the area. The status quo was recognised by an agreement between the two states acknowledging British control over Egypt, while France became the dominant power in Morocco. France was humiliated by the result.[37][38][39]

During the Scramble for Africa in the 1870s and 1880s, the British and French generally recognised each other's spheres of influence. The Suez Canal, initially built by the French, became a joint British-French project in 1875, as both saw it as vital to maintaining their influence and empires in Asia.[40] In 1882, ongoing civil disturbances in Egypt (see Urabi Revolt) prompted Britain to intervene, extending a hand to France. France's expansionist Prime Minister Jules Ferry was out of office, and the government was unwilling to send more than an intimidatory fleet to the region. Britain established a protectorate, as France had a year earlier in Tunisia, and popular opinion in France later put this action down to duplicity.[41] It was about this time that the two nations established co-ownership of Vanuatu. The Anglo-French Convention of 1882 was also signed to resolve territory disagreements in western Africa.

Twentieth century

The Entente cordiale

A cartoon on the Entente cordiale from the German perspective.

From about 1900, Francophiles in Britain and Anglophiles in France began to spread a study and mutual respect and love of the culture of the country on the other side of the English Channel. Francophile and Anglophile societies developed, further introducing Britain to French food and wine, and France to English sports like rugby. French and English were already the second languages of choice in Britain and France respectively. Eventually this developed into a political policy as the new united Germany was seen as a potential threat. Louis Blériot, for example, crossed the Channel in an aeroplane in 1909. Many saw this as symbolic of the connection between the two countries.

This period in the first decade of the 20th century became known as the Entente cordiale, and continued in spirit until the 1940s. The signing of the Entente Cordiale marked also the end of almost a millennium of intermittent conflict between the two nations and their predecessor states, and the formalisation of the peaceful co-existence that had existed since the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815. Up to the 1920s, relations between Britain and France were closer than those between Britain and the US.[42] This also started the beginning of French and British Special Relationship.

First World War

Between 1914 and 1918 the British and French were allies against the Central Powers after Belgium and a small part of northern France had been invaded by the German army.

There was strong co-operation between the British and French forces. The battles took place on several different fronts, but most particularly to Anglo-French relations in the trenches in France and Belgium against the Germans. Unable to advance against the combined primary alliance powers of the British, French, and later American forces as well as the blockade preventing shipping reaching German controlled North Sea seaports, the Germans eventually surrendered after four years of heavy fighting.

Treaty of Versailles

The British (red) and French (blue) colonial empires reached their peaks after the First World War, a reflection of the power of their alliance.

Following the war, at the

  • Franco-British Council Links
  • University of London in Paris (ULIP)
  • French Embassy in the United Kingdom
  • British Embassy in France

External links

  • Serodes, F., Anglophobie et politique de Fachoda à Mers el-Kebir (L Harmattan, 2010)

In French

  • Bell, Philip J. France and Britain, 1900–1940. Entente and Estrangement (Longman, 1996)
  • Chassaigne, Philippe, and Michael Lawrence Dockrill, eds. Anglo-French Relations 1898-1998: From Fashoda to Jospin (Palgrave, 2002) online essays by scholars
  • Crossley, Ceri, and Ian Small, eds. Studies in Anglo French Cultural Relations: Imagining France (1988)
  • Crouzet, François. Britain's Ascendant. Comparative Studies in Franco-British Economic History (Cambridge University Press, 1990).
  • Gibson, Robert. The Best of Enemies: Anglo-French Relations Since the Norman Conquest (2nd ed. 2011) major scholarly study excerpt and text search
  • Harvey, Robert, The War of Wars: The Great European Conflict 1793–1815 (Robinson, 2007).
  • Horne, Alistair, Friend or Foe: An Anglo-Saxon History of France (Weidenfield and Nicholson, 2005).
  • Keiger, J.F.V. France and the World since 1870 (2001)
  • Kolodziej, Edward A. French International Policy under de Gaulle and Pompidou: The Politics of Grandeur (1974) online edition
  • MacMillan, Margaret, Peacemakers: Six Months that Changed the World (John Murray, 2003) on Versailles Conference of 1919
  • McLynn, Frank, 1759: The Year Britain Became Master of the World (Pimlico, 2005).
  • Otte, T. G. "From “War-in-Sight” to Nearly War: Anglo–French Relations in the Age of High Imperialism, 1875–1898." Diplomacy and Statecraft (2006) 17#4 pp: 693-714.
  • Sharp, Alan et al. eds. Anglo-French Relations in the Twentieth Century: Rivalry and Cooperation (2000) excerpt and text search
  • Simms, Brendan, Three Victories and a Defeat: The Rise and Fall of the First British Empire (Penguin Books, 2008)
  • Thomas, R. T. Britain and Vichy: The Dilemma of Anglo-French Relations, 1940-42 (1979)
  • Tombs, R. P. and I. Tombs, That Sweet Enemy: Britain and France, the History of a Love-Hate Relationship (Pimlico, 2007)
  • Torrent, Melanie. Diplomacy and Nation-Building in Africa: Franco-British Relations and Cameroon at the End of Empire (I.B. Tauris, distributed by Palgrave Macmillan; 2012) 409 pages;
  • Turner, Barry, Suez 1956: The First Oil War (Hodder, 2007)

Further reading

  1. ^ Britain and France: the impossible, indispensable relationship , The Economist, Dec 1st 2011
  2. ^ Economies of Britain and France have more similarities than differences, The Guardian, 5 January 2014
  3. ^ "The two countries are forever comparing one against the other.[...]", Britain-France ties: How cordial is the entente?, BBC News, 30 January 2014
  4. ^ (French) La récompense de Tony Blair – Le Point
  5. ^ "Sarkozy: We are stronger together". BBC News. 26 March 2008. 
  6. ^ (French) Royaume-Uni – France Diplomacie
  7. ^
  8. ^ Sedghi, Ami (26 January 2012). "Europe: where do people live?". The Guardian (London). 
  9. ^
  10. ^ Brendan Simms, Three Victories and a Defeat: The Rise and Fall of the First British Empire (2008) pp. 9–29
  11. ^ Simms p.11-25
  12. ^ Simms p.51-3
  13. ^ Simms p.29
  14. ^ Horne p.144
  15. ^ Tom Pocock, Battle for Empire: The Very First World War, 1756-63 (London: Michael O'Mara Books, 1998)
  16. ^ 1759: The Year Britain Became Master of the World. McLynn, Frank. (2005)
  17. ^ McLynn p.1
  18. ^ Harvey p.247
  19. ^ Harvey p362-63
  20. ^ Harvey p.393
  21. ^ Rodgers p.361
  22. ^ Rodgers p.362-3
  23. ^ Jeremy Black, British Foreign Policy in an Age of Revolutions, 1783-1793 (1994) ch 9
  24. ^ Esdaile p.1-36
  25. ^ Esdaile p.87-108
  26. ^ Esdaile p503-6
  27. ^ William Ewart Gladstone recounting the conversation to Lord Rendel in 1889, from F. E. Hamer (ed.) The Personal Papers of Lord Rendel (London: Ernest Benn Ltd, 1931), p. 60.
  28. ^ Henry Reeve; James Thomson Shotwell (1911).   s:1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Guizot, François Pierre Guillaume
  29. ^ Keith Randell (1991). France 1814–1870: Monarchy, Republic and Empire. Access to History.  
  30. ^ David Brown, "Palmerston and Anglo–French Relations, 1846–1865," Diplomacy & Statecraft (2006) 17#4 pp 675-692.
  31. ^ Brian James, "Allies in Disarray: The Messy End of the Crimean War," History Today (2008) 58#3 pp 24-31, online
  32. ^ Randell, p. 50-53
  33. ^ Thomas A. Sancton, "The Myth of French Worker Support for the North in the American Civil War," French Historical Studies (1979), 11#1 pp. 58-80 in JSTOR
  34. ^ Jasper Ridley, Maximilian and Juarez (2001)
  35. ^ T. G. Otte, "From 'War-in-Sight' to Nearly War: Anglo–French Relations in the Age of High Imperialism, 1875–1898," Diplomacy and Statecraft (2006) 17#4 pp 693-714.
  36. ^ Urban p.194-5
  37. ^ A.J.P. Taylor, The Struggle for Mastery in Europe, 1848-1918 (1954) pp 381-88
  38. ^ D.W. Brogan, France under the Republic: The Development of Modern France (1870-1930) (1940) pp 321-26
  39. ^ William L. Langer, The diplomacy of imperialism: 1890-1902 (1951) pp 537-80
  40. ^ Turner p.26-7
  41. ^ Keith Randell (1991). France: The Third Republic 1870–1914. Access to History.  
  42. ^ P. J. V. Rolo, Entente Cordiale: the origins and negotiation of the Anglo-French agreements of 8 April 1904 (1969)
  43. ^ Margaret MacMillan, Peacemakers: Six Months that Changed the World (John Murray, 2003)
  44. ^ John Keiger, "Wielding Finance as a Weapon of Diplomacy: France and Britain in the 1920s," Contemporary British History (2011) 25#1 pp 29-47
  45. ^ William I. Shorrock, "France, Italy, and the Eastern Mediterranean in the 1920s," International History Review (1986) 8#1 pp 70-82
  46. ^ David Faber, Munich, 1938: Appeasement and World War II (2009) excerpt and text search
  47. ^ Turner p.186
  48. ^ Turner p.267
  49. ^ Philip G. Cerny, The Politics of Grandeur: Ideological Aspects of de Gaulle's Foreign Policy (1980).
  50. ^ Douglas Brinkley; Richard T. Griffiths (1999). John F. Kennedy and Europe. LSU Press. p. 303. 
  51. ^ Ronald Tiersky; John Van Oudenaren (2010). European Foreign Policies: Does Europe Still Matter?. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 167. 
  52. ^ Kettle, Martin (5 April 2004). "The odd couple". The Guardian (London). 
  53. ^ (French) À Londres, pompe royale pour le couple Sarkozy – Le Point
  54. ^ French-UK links to be strengthened in 'entente formidable'
  55. ^ Be it cordiale or amicale, entente is here to stay
  56. ^ Sarkozy: We are stronger together – BBC
  57. ^ President pays tribute to Britain and calls for 'brotherhood' – The Guardian
  58. ^ Nicolas Sarkozy: 'France will never forget Britain's war sacrifice' – The Daily Telegraph
  59. ^ "Sarkozy: Britain, France stronger together".  
  60. ^ Pop, Valentina. "/ Defence / France and UK to sign historic defence pact". Retrieved 2011-09-19. 
  61. ^ "Q&A: UK-French defence treaty". BBC News. 2 November 2010. 
  62. ^ Rettman, Andrew (19 September 2013). "UK and France going own way on military co-operation". Retrieved 19 September 2013. 
  63. ^ Sedghi, Ami (24 February 2010). "UK export and import in 2011: top products and trading partners". The Guardian (London). 
  64. ^
  65. ^
  66. ^ Franco-British Council (2001). Crossing the Channel.  
  67. ^ Entente Cordiale scholarships on the website of the French Embassy in the UK
  68. ^ Entente Cordiale scholarships on the website of the British Council France
  69. ^ Entente Cordiale scholarships on the website of the UK embassy in France
  70. ^ Wilson, Iain (2010), Aberyswyth University, ed., Are International Exchange and Mobility Programmes Effective Tools of Symmetric Public Diplomacy ?, p. 52 
  71. ^
  72. ^
  73. ^
  74. ^
  75. ^ "EUROPA" (PDF). Retrieved 21 April 2010. 
  76. ^ Finkenstaedt, Thomas; Dieter Wolff (1973). Ordered profusion; studies in dictionaries and the English lexicon. C. Winter.  
  77. ^ Brown, Windsor and soccer for Sarkozy visit
  78. ^ Barkham, Patrick (5 July 2005). "Chirac's reheated food jokes bring Blair to the boil". The Guardian (London). 
  79. ^
  80. ^ Oxford Dictionary of English (2nd Edition Revised ed.).  
  81. ^ Janet Stobart (20 December 2009). "Rail passengers spend a cold, dark night stranded in Chunnel". L.A. Times. Retrieved 27 June 2010. 
  82. ^ Whiteside p. 17
  83. ^ "The Channel Tunnel". Retrieved 19 July 2009. 
  84. ^ Wilson pp. 14–21
  85. ^ "Seven Wonders". American Society of Civil Engineers. Retrieved 7 October 2012. 
  86. ^


See also

There are lists of twinnings (including those to towns in other countries) at List of twin towns and sister cities in France and at List of twin towns and sister cities in the United Kingdom.


11,675,910 passengers in 2008 travelled on flights between the United Kingdom and France.[86]


The Eurotunnel, began construction in 1988 and was opened by British Queen Elizabeth II and French President François Mitterrand in a ceremony held in Calais on 6 May 1994. The same year the American Society of Civil Engineers elected the Channel Tunnel as one of the seven modern Wonders of the World.[85]

Since 1994, the Channel Tunnel (French entrance pictured) has provided a direct rail link between the United Kingdom and France.

Channel Tunnel

In addition, there are ferries across the Anguilla Channel between Blowing Point, Anguilla (a British Overseas Territory) and Marigot, Saint Martin (an overseas collectivity of France). [79]

The busiest seaway in the world, the English Channel, connects ports in Great Britain such as Dover, Newhaven, Poole, Weymouth, Portsmouth and Plymouth to ports such as Roscoff, Calais, Boulogne, Dunkerque, Dieppe, Cherbourg-Octeville, Caen, St Malo and Le Havre in mainland France. Companies such as Brittany Ferries, P&O Ferries, DFDS Seaways and LD Lines operate ferry services across the Channel.



Many people blamed the then French President Jacques Chirac for contributing to Paris' loss to London in its bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics after he made deregatory remarks about British cuisine and saying that "only Finnish food is worse". The IOC committee which would ultimately decide to give the games to London had two members from Finland.[78]

The influence of French players and coaches on British football has been increasing in recent years and is often cited as an example of Anglo-French cooperation. In particular the Premier League club Arsenal has become known for its Anglo-French connection due to a heavy influx of French players since the advent of French manager Arsène Wenger in 1996. In March 2008 their Emirates stadium was chosen as the venue for a meeting during a state visit by the French President precisely for this reason.[77] Despite rivalry in rugby, there is no significant rivalry between the international football teams.

In the sport of rugby union there is a rivalry between England and France. Both countries compete in the Six Nations Championship and the Rugby World Cup. England have the edge in both tournaments having the most outright wins in the Six Nations (and its previous version the Five Nations), and most recently knocking the French sides out of the 2003 and 2007 World Cups at the semifinal stage and France knocked England out of the rugby World Cup 2011 with a convincing score in their quarter final match. Though rugby is originally a British sport, French rugby has developed to such an extent that the English and French teams are now stiff competitors, with neither side greatly superior to the other.

French football manager Arsene Wenger has won three Premier League titles with Arsenal F.C. using teams with significant French players.


Modern and Middle English reflect a mixture of Oïl and Old English lexicons after the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, when a Norman-speaking aristocracy took control of a population whose mother tongue was Germanic in origin. Due to the intertwined histories of England and continental possessions of the English Crown, many formal and legal words in Modern English have French roots. For example, buy and sell are of Germanic origin, while purchase and vend are from Old French.

Both languages have influenced each other throughout the years. According to different sources, nearly 30% of all English words have a French origin, and today many French expressions have entered the English language as well.[76] The term Franglais, a portmanteau combining the French words "français" and "anglais", refers to the combination of French and English (mostly in the UK) or the use of English words and nouns of Anglo-Saxon roots in French (in France).

The second language most commonly taught in schools in Britain is French, and the second language most commonly taught in schools in France is English. Those are also the languages perceived as "most useful to learn" in both countries.[73][74] French is a substantial minority language and immigrant language in the United Kingdom, with over 100,000 French-born people in the UK. According to a 2006 European Commission report, 23% of UK residents are able to carry on a conversation in French.[75] French is also an official language in both Jersey and Guernsey. Both use French to some degree, mostly in an administrative or ceremonial capacity. Jersey Legal French is the standardized variety used in Jersey. However, Norman (in its local forms, Guernésiais and Jèrriais) is the historical vernacular of the islands.

The Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom contains two mottos in French: Honi soit qui mal y pense (Shame on whoever thinks ill of it) and Dieu et mon droit (God and my right).


French classical music has always been popular in Britain. British popular music is in turn popular in France. English literature, in particular the works of Agatha Christie and William Shakespeare, have been immensely popular in France. French artist Eugène Delacroix based many of his paintings on scenes from Shakespeare's plays. In turn, French writers such as Molière and Voltaire have been translated numerous times into English. In general, most of the more popular books in either language are translated into the other.

In general, France is regarded with favour by Britain in regard to its high culture and is seen as an ideal holiday destination, whilst France sees Britain as a major trading partner. Both countries are famously contemptuous of each other's cooking, many French claiming all British food is bland and boring, whilst many British claim that French food is inedible. Much of the apparent disdain for French food and culture in Britain takes the form of self-effacing humour, and British comedy often uses French culture as the butt of its jokes. Whether this is representative of true opinion or not is open to debate. Sexual euphemisms with no link to France, such as French kissing, or French letter for a condom, are used in British English slang.[72]

Arts and culture

The Concorde supersonic commercial aircraft was developed under an international treaty between the UK and France in 1962, and commenced flying in 1969.[71]

There have been some major patriotic issues between the French and British scientific communities, despite general cooperation. Newtonian mechanics was not generally accepted in France for about half a century because of what was seen as a competing formulation by Descartes. As a second example of stiff competition, the controversy about which of the two countries deserves credit for the discovery of the planet Neptune has still not died down.

An Air France Concorde. The supersonic commercial aircraft was developed jointly by the United Kingdom and France.

The sciences

The programme was initiated by Sir Christopher Mallaby, British ambassador to France between 1993 and 1996.[70]

It provides funding for British and French students to study for one academic year on the other side of the Channel. The scheme is administered by the French embassy in London for British students,[67] and by the British Council in France and the UK embassy in Paris for French students.[68][69] Funding is provided by the private sector and foundations. The scheme aims to favour mutual understanding and to promote exchanges between the British and French leaders of tomorrow.

The Entente Cordiale Scholarship scheme is a selective Franco-British scholarship scheme which was announced on 30 October 1995 by British Prime Minister John Major and French President Jacques Chirac at an Anglo-French summit in London.[66]


The British Foreign & Commonwealth Office estimates that 19.3 million British citizens, roughly a third of the entire population, visit France each year.[64] In 2012, the French were the biggest visitors to the UK (12%, 3,787,000) and the second-biggest tourist spenders in Britain (8%, £1.513 billion).[65]

France is the United Kingdom's third-biggest export market after the United States and Germany. Exports to France rose 14.3% from £16.542 billion in 2010 to £18.905 billion in 2011, overtaking exports to the Netherlands. Over the same period, French exports to Britain rose 5.5% from £18.133 billion to £19.138 billion.[63]


Their post-colonial entanglements have given them a more outward focus than the other countries of Europe, leading them to work together on issues such as the Libyan Civil War.[62]

On 2 November 2010, France and the UK signed two defence co-operation treaties. They provide for the sharing of aircraft carriers, a 1000-strong joint reaction force, a common nuclear simulation centre in France, a common nuclear research centre in the UK, sharing air-refuelling tankers and joint training.[60][61]

Signing of the defence co-operation treaties

The two nations have a post WWII record of working together on international security measures, as was seen in the Suez Crisis and Falklands War.

Defence Cooperation

In March 2008, Sarkozy made a state visit to Britain, promising closer cooperation between the two countries' governments in the future.[59]

Following his election in 2007, President [58]

Former President Nicolas Sarkozy had tried to establish a closer relationship with the UK,[53] than existed under his predecessors Jacques Chirac and François Mitterrand.

Sarkozy presidency

The two countries' relationship was strained significantly in the lead-up to the 2003 War in Iraq. Britain and its American ally strongly advocated the use of force to remove Saddam Hussein, while France (with China, Russia, and other nations) strongly opposed such action, with French President Jacques Chirac threatening to veto any resolution proposed to the UN Security Council. However, despite such differences Chirac and then British Prime Minister Tony Blair maintained a fairly close relationship during their years in office even after the Iraq War started.[52] Both states asserted the importance of the Entente cordiale alliance, and the role it had played during the 20th century.

When de Gaulle resigned in 1969, a new French government under EEC, opening the way for the United Kingdom to join it in 1973.[51]

Since 1969

DeGaulle feared that letting Britain into the European Community would open the way for Anglo-Saxon (i.e., US and UK) influence to overwhelm the France-West Germany coalition that now was dominant. On 14 January 1963, de Gaulle announced that France would veto Britain's entry into the Common Market.[50]

In 1958 with France mired in a seemingly unwinnable war in Algeria, Charles de Gaulle, the wartime leader of the Free French, returned to power in France. He created the Fifth French Republic, ending the post-war parliamentary system and replacing it with a strong Presidency, which became dominated by his followers—the Gaullists. De Gaulle made ambitious changes to French foreign policy—first ending the war in Algeria, and then withdrawing France from the NATO command structure.[49]

De Gaulle

Over the years, the UK and France have often taken diverging courses within the European Community. British policy has favoured an expansion of the Community and free trade while France has advocated protectionism and restricting membership of the Community to a core of Western European states.

Shortly after 1956, France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg formed what would become the European Economic Community and later the European Union, but rejected British requests for membership. In particular, President Charles de Gaulle's attempts to exclude the British from European affairs during France's early Fifth Republic are now seen by many in Britain as a betrayal of the strong bond between the countries, and Anthony Eden's exclusion of France from the Commonwealth is seen in a similar light in France. The French partly feared that were the British to join the EEC they would attempt to dominate it.

Immediately after the Suez crisis Anglo-French relations started to sour again, and only since the last decades of the 20th century have they improved towards the peak they achieved between 1900 and 1940.

Common Market

The Americans, while opposed to Nasser, refused to become involved with what many regarded as European colonialism, putting severe strain on the Anglo-American special relationship. The relations between Britain and France were not entirely harmonious, as the French did not inform the British about the involvement of Israel until very close to the commencement of military operations.[48]

In 1956 the Suez Canal, previously owned by an Anglo-French company, was nationalised by the Egyptian government. The British and the French were both strongly committed to taking the canal back by force.[47] Both the British and French governments saw the actions of the Egypt president Gamal Abdel Nasser as potentially dangerous to their interests in trade, and within the framework of the Cold War and the tensions of the newly independent.

Suez Crisis

Following D-Day, relations between the two peoples were at a high, as the British were greeted as liberators. Following the surrender of Germany in 1945, the UK and France became close as both feared the Americans would withdraw from Europe leaving them vulnerable to the Soviet Union's expanding communist bloc. The UK strongly advocated that France be given a zone of occupied Germany. Both states were amongst the five Permanent Members of the new UN Security Council, where they commonly collaborated.

In southern France a collaborative government known as Vichy France was set up, allied to Germany. The British were soon at war with the Vichy state, destroying much of its navy and moving into many of its colonies, such as Senegal, on behalf of the Free French government. However, the pre-emptive destruction of the French fleet by the British at Mers-el-Kebir, on the grounds that it might decide to support the Vichy government, as well as a similar attack on French ships in Oran, proved to be a long-lasting fuel for anti-British sentiment in France.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill and General Charles de Gaulle at Marrakesh, January 1944

After guaranteeing the independence of Poland, both declared war on Germany on the same day, the 3rd of September 1939, after the Germans ignored an ultimatum to withdraw from the country. When Germany began its attack on France in 1940, British troops and French troops again fought side by side. Eventually, after the Germans came through the Ardennes, it became clear that France would not be able to fend off the German attack, and Winston Churchill pledged that the United Kingdom would continue to fight for France's freedom, even if it must do so alone. The final bond between the two nations was so strong that members of the British cabinet had proposed a temporary union of the two countries for the sake of morale: the plan was drawn up by Jean Monnet, who later created the Common Market. The idea was not popular with a majority on either side, and the French government felt that, in the circumstances, the plan for union would reduce France to the level of a British Dominion. The proposal was turned down, shortly before France fell to the Germans. The Free French resistance, led by Charles de Gaulle, were formed in London, after de Gaulle gave his famous 'Appeal of the 18th of June', widely broadcast by the BBC.

Second World War

In the years leading up to World War II, both countries followed a similar diplomatic path of appeasement of Germany. As Nazi intentions became clear, France pushed for a harder line but the British demurred, believing diplomacy could solve the disputes. The result was the Munich Agreement of 1938 that gave Germany control of parts of Czechoslovakia settled by Germans. In early 1939 Germany took over all of Czechoslovakia and began threatening Poland. Appeasement had failed, and both Britain and France raced to catch up with Germany in weaponry.[46]

The Anglo-German Naval Agreement was signed between the Britain and Nazi Germany in 1935, allowing Hitler to reinforce his Kriegsmarine. It was regarded by the French as the ruining of the anti-Hitlerian Stresa front.

In the 1930s Britain and France coordinated their policies toward the aggressive dictatorships of Mussolini's Italy and Hitler's Germany. However public opinion did not support going to war again, so the diplomats sought diplomatic solutions, but none worked. Efforts to use the League of Nations to apply sanctions against Italy for its invasion of Ethiopia failed. France supported the "Little Entente" of Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Yugoslavia. It proved much too weak to deter Hitler.[45]

Both states initially pursued a policy of appeasement towards Nazi Germany. When this failed, they both declared war in September 1939 in response to the German invasion of Poland.

Appeasement of Germany

Premier and Finance Minister Raymond Poincaré made it a policy to stabilise the franc to protect against political currency manipulation by Germany and Britain in the early 1920s. He stabilised the franc in 1926 and turned the tables, using short-term financial advantage as leverage against Britain in major policy matters.[44]

Both states joined the League of Nations, and both signed agreements of defence of several countries, most significantly Poland. The Treaty of Sèvres split the Middle East between the two states, in the form of mandates. However the outlook of the nations were different during the inter-war years; while France saw itself inherently as a European power, Britain enjoyed close relationships with Australia, Canada and New Zealand and at one time flirted with the idea of Empire Free Trade, a form of protectionism that would have seen large tariffs placed on goods from France, but drew back.



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