Let’s Be Friends

A martial Germany glares at John Bull, taking off with Marianne

After centuries of antagonistic relations (to say the least), Britain and France finally buried the hatchet with the signing of the Entente Cordiale on April 8, 1904. The Entente was a series of agreements that basically carved up giant chunks of Africa between the two nations: England got to keep meddling in Egypt and wouldn’t interfere in France’s attempts to “preserve order…and provide assistance in Morocco. Furthermore, the French gave up their rights to the western coast of Newfoundland and received the town of Yarbutenda (near the border between Senegal and The Gambia) and the Iles de Los in Guinea for their trouble, and the two countries hacked Thailand in half. But really, this was about Britain and France getting to be friends.

The agreement essentially ended both countries’ isolation in Europe (France’s because of Bismark’s machinations and Britain’s because they were too busy with their overseas empire and didn’t want to dirty their hands with European messes). Both countries found themselves growing nervous at Germany’s increased aggression, and as early as 1881 the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) met with French statesman Léon Gambetta to discuss an alliance against Germany. Both countries were too busy doing a land grab in Africa to come to an agreement at the time, and between 1898 and 1901 there were three rounds of talks to discuss an alliance between Britain and Germany. When he ascended the throne, King Edward rejected the notion of an alliance with Germany and revived talks with France. Théophile Delcassé, the French foreign minister, and Lord Lansdowne, the British Foreign Secretary, negotiated the agreement and Lansdowne and Paul Cambon, the French Ambassador to Britain, signed the Entente.

With all well and good, Britain and France settled down to be best buds, and they even invited Russia to the party, creating the Triple Entente in 1907 (which, through previous treaties, linked the countries with Portugal, Japan, the United States, Brazil, and Spain). It all sounded great, until an archduke got assassinated in Sarajevo in 1914, and the various interlocking alliances drew all these countries into a horrifying conflagration we still shudder to think about today. Still, the friendship between France and Britain exists to this day, so in that sense, we can declare the Entente Cordiale a total success.

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