10 Major Events from the Long Rivalry Between Great Britain and France

10 Major Events from the Long Rivalry Between Great Britain and France

Larry Holzwarth - June 23, 2018

The word rivalry seems too feeble to describe the nearly thousand relationship between Great Britain and France, one of animosity and frequent hostility. For nearly five centuries the Kings and Queens of Great Britain styled themselves as the sovereigns of France and Navarre. The Norman invasion in the eleventh century brought significant lasting changes to Britain. The Hundred Years War, actually a series of wars which ran from 1337 to 1453, was a conflict over which Royal House had the right to occupy the throne of France. At the time the Kingdom of France was the largest in Western Europe.

After the discovery of the New World Great Britain and France competed for empires in North America, later expanding their conflicting ambitions to India, the Pacific, and Africa. Numerous wars were fought between the two countries, wars of conquest and defense. The French supported the Jacobite rebellion against the House of Hanover, and Scottish exiles found safe haven under French protection. Gradually the balance of power in Europe shifted to Britain and France as their mutual rivalry strengthened them at the expense of Spain, Portugal, and the Dutch. The relationship between Great Britain and France had a significant impact on the birth of the United States, and its expansion into a world power.

10 Major Events from the Long Rivalry Between Great Britain and France
William the Conqueror expanded Norman influence in the British Isles following his ascension to the British Throne. Wikimedia

Here are ten aspects of the relationship between Great Britain and France which had a significant impact on world history.

10 Major Events from the Long Rivalry Between Great Britain and France
A 1648 painting of Louis XIV, the ten year old King of France. Wikimedia

Universal Monarchy

The rivalry between the English and the French was already more than six centuries old when Louis IVX ascended to the throne of France in 1643. Since the end of the dynastic conflicts of the Hundred Years War England and France had often worked together, albeit warily to limit the strength of Spain, wealthy through the precious metals looted from its empire in the New World. In 1648 the Treaty of Westphalia (actually three separate treaties) finally brought to an end the more than eight decades of bloody religious wars on the European continent. France began to flex its muscle on both the continent and in the New World.

England had become more parliamentary in the functions of its government, to the point of having executed its King, Charles I, in part for exceeding his authority. The Glorious Revolution had deposed another King, James II, and he had fled to the protection of his cousin, Louis IVX of France. The French King on the other hand retained full monarchical authority (though through a regency until Louis came of age). There were religious differences between the nations as well, largely Catholic France considered the English heretical, while the Protestant English feared the influence of the Pope on international affairs. The British were concerned that a Catholic Monarch could hold sway over all of Europe.

While Spanish power was at its height England often allied with France to check the power of the Catholic Spanish. As Spain’s power ebbed and its influence dwindled, France under Louis IVX stepped into the gap, and the English fears of a universal monarch, a single sovereign ruling all of Western Europe, shifted to the French King. The foreign policy of Great Britain became one of containing French power, both on the continent and in the New World. The French considered the British to be a nation which supported piracy through its large naval fleet, which preyed upon French possessions in New France.

England maintained a large navy but a relatively small army, and its policy was to create alliances with continental powers to check the power of France. In 1688 England allied with Spain, Austria, the Dutch Republic, the Holy Roman Empire, and Savoy, in a coalition against the French. The resulting nine year war was the first of the English-French conflicts to include fighting in the New World. The War of the League of Augsberg, as it became known in Europe, was known as King William’s War in New England. The war also spread into the Caribbean and India, as well as into the Spanish possessions in what is now South America.

The result of the war was expansion of French territory at the expense of the German states of the Holy Roman Empire, minor territorial concessions by France to Spain, and little else. It established a pattern which continued for the next 125 years of wars between France and England, with the British attempting to check French power and influence in Europe and around the world. Most of the wars settled little, and the treaties which ended them often lay the groundwork for the next war. After the War of the League of Augsberg the conflicts between France and England were based on the creation of empires.

10 Major Events from the Long Rivalry Between Great Britain and France
French territorial ambitions in India were thwarted by Robert Clive, seen here following the Battle of Plessey. Wikimedia


The Dutch and British both established their East India Companies well before the French, who were a latecomer to exploit the riches to be had in the Indian trade. Historians have long been at a loss to explain why, with several different theories proposed and debated. What is known for certain is that several expeditions set out in the first half of the seventeenth century, including one in which two ships departed Le Havre to be lost at sea, evidently on the voyage out since there is no record of their arrival in India. By the time the French did initiate trade with India the British and Dutch East India Companies had built several factories on the subcontinent.

France came late to India but quickly began to make up for lost time. Several French trading establishments and manufacturing facilities were constructed on the subcontinent, and the small fishing village of Pondichery transformed into a flourishing port. Up until the mid-eighteenth century French interest in India was commercial (as was that of the Dutch), and beyond the properties which had been acquired through negotiation and purchase there was little territorial ambition. Pondichery, a small collection of huts when the French arrived, became a prosperous town, with streets laid in a grid pattern, and the residence of the French East India Company Governor.

In 1741 Joseph Francois Dupleix arrived to govern the French communities, bringing with him the idea of acquiring a territorial empire in India. Although the French government was decidedly against the idea officially, not wanting to provoke the British, they were aware of his plans. During the many European wars, the French, British, and Dutch interests in India changed hands, usually to be returned in the treaties which ended the conflicts. Dupleix intended to create a permanent French Empire, fortifying the possessions and garrisoning them with company troops, supported by those raised from the colonials.

Dupleix’s army eventually controlled a swathe of India’s coast from Hyderabad to Cape Comorin, leading the British to dispatch Robert Clive to lead the British troops in India. Clive was a professional soldier rather than a company officer or adventurer, and the French were soon defeated with Dupleix recalled to France. In settling the matter both the British and French agreed to commercial operations in India, but also to a hands off policy regarding government of India. Neither stuck to the letter of the agreement, and military adventurism and political scheming between the Indians, French, and English continued.

French possessions in India were lost during the Seven Year’s War, returned to them by treaty, lost again during the Napoleonic Wars, returned again, and remained in French hands up to the time of Indian independence following World War Two. Throughout the nineteenth and most of the twentieth century the British and French exploited the Indian subcontinent, competing with each other for economic gains. Both the British Empire and that of the French created army regiments from the Indian population, using them to support their aims in other areas of their dominions. After Indian independence from Great Britain, the French grudgingly granted independence of French India which wasn’t finalized until 1962.

10 Major Events from the Long Rivalry Between Great Britain and France
The journals of Louis-Antoine de Bougainville inspired the French writers and philosophers of the Age of Enlightenment. Wikimedia

The Voyages of Discovery

By the mid-eighteenth century advances in navigation led to a flurry of voyages of discovery. Prior to the development of precise chronometers, the discerning of longitude was an art developed by a navigator through the use of dead reckoning. The ability to accurately measure time and the development of the sextant made the calculation of longitude a science. Ships from Great Britain and France began to compete in voyages of discovery, which peaked in the years between the Seven Years War and the American Revolution. Both France and Great Britain competed for the prestige of being the leader in the acquisition of knowledge regarding the planet and its peoples.

The British explorer James Cook made voyages to chart the South Seas, the Alaskan coast, and the estuaries of the North American Pacific Coast. Cook’s voyages led to new knowledge in botany, geography, geology, the natives of various lands and archipelagos and were published in journals and scientific publications in England. In competition with Cook and other British captains, French vessels explored many of the same regions, and made discoveries of their own. In 1766 the first of the great French voyages of discovery was ordered by Louis XV, who appointed Louis de Bougainville to command it, consisting of two ships.

Officially de Bougainville was to open a new trade route to China as well as isolate spices which could be successfully cultivated on the island of Mauritius. Unclaimed lands discovered on the voyage were to be claimed for France. Bougainville spent a lengthy period of the voyage in Tahiti, observing the customs of the Polynesians there and on other islands. During the voyage Jeanne Bare, the consort of Bougainville’s botanist, disguised herself as a man to accompany her lover. Discovered after the ships were too far out too turn back, she remained with the expedition to the end and became the first woman to circumnavigate the globe.

When Bougainville returned to France he published portions of his journals, and his descriptions of the behavior and customs of the Polynesians were soon debated in France and England. To the British the Polynesians were seen as barbarians, to the French they were lauded as man in his natural state, occupying a veritable Garden of Eden. These attributes did much to underscore the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and other writers during the Age of Enlightenment. Bougainville had also completed the more than three year journey while losing only seven men of his company, a remarkable achievement while sailing in largely uncharted waters.

The competition between the British and French continued following the American Revolution and during the brief gaps of peace during the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars. It was during the voyages of discovery that it was learned that scurvy could be controlled through the use of citrus and other fresh fruits and vegetables, the Great Barrier Reef was discovered, and the Southern Indian Ocean charted. The scientific achievements of the voyages made Great Britain and France the capitals of advanced learning in the world at the time, though with differing views of their respective roles towards the world’s populations.

10 Major Events from the Long Rivalry Between Great Britain and France
A map prepared in the first decade of the eighteenth century depicting the French, British, and Spanish holdings in the New World. Wikimedia

North America

New France was the name of the French holdings in the North American continent and the Caribbean. Unlike the British (and other Europeans) who settled predominantly along the Atlantic coast, impeded from moving inland by the American Indians, the French pushed deeply into the interior, establishing trading outposts, towns, and fortified positions. During the numerous wars which were fought in Europe, French allied Indians harassed the English colonials, with each succeeding war becoming more violent, with greater numbers of French and English troops involved. North America became the major point of contention between the British and the French by the mid-eighteenth century.

To support the Indians and contain expanding British settlement, the French built a chain of fortresses along the natural waterways descending into the interior of the continent. During the wars in Europe and as a result of actions in North America these posts changed hands between the French and British, both of which viewed North America as just one piece of global empires. During the War of the Austrian Succession a British naval squadron supported an attack on the French fortress at Louisbourg in Nova Scotia. The American colonial militia, mostly from New England, captured the fortress.

In the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle the British negotiators returned the French fortress in exchange for Great Britain retaining Madras on the Indian subcontinent. The American militia was forced to abandon the fort. In New England, resentment against the cavalier manner in which Great Britain disregarded the needs of the colonies grew. Great Britain then built a military base and port at Halifax, to counter the French presence at Louisbourg. In 1758, during the Seven Years War, another expedition of British and colonial troops captured Louisbourg again, using it as a springboard for the expedition against Quebec led by James Wolfe.

The Seven Years war was a global war between all of the major European powers, but to the American colonists it was a war against the French and their Indian allies to secure the American frontier. The fighting in Europe limited the men available to be sent to North America and the British relied heavily on the colonial militia. The French relied on their Indian allies. There were conflicts between the French and British troops in North America, but compared to the battles fought on the continent they were relatively small. In the resolution of the global conflict Great Britain acquired nearly all of New France east of the Mississippi.

Because the North American battles between the French and the British were viewed as a theater of a global war, and the American colonists benefited from its result, the British government view was the costs of that portion of the war should be borne in part by the colonies. The colonial legislatures view was that they had borne a large share of the costs of the war, which had ended with Great Britain becoming the dominant military power on earth. Leaders in the American colonies began to realize that they were but pawns on the chessboard of world domination being played by the great European powers, with little say about their own destiny.

10 Major Events from the Long Rivalry Between Great Britain and France
The author of the play The Marriage of Figaro, Augustin-Caron de Beaumarchais was an architect of French aid to the American Revolution. Wikimedia

The American Revolution

The costs of the Seven Years War and the role of the American colonies in its prosecution were the seeds of the American Revolution. As Great Britain exercised its control over the colonies to raise taxes to defray the cost of the war and the continuing defense of the colonies the Americans resisted its efforts. The absolute monarchy of Louis XVI in France followed the deteriorating relationship between Great Britain and the Americans with interest, not because of its support for the position of the Americans, but because of the potential for France to recover much of the prestige lost following the recent war.

From the outset of hostilities French officials saw an opportunity to cripple Great Britain. The French foreign minister, the Comte de Vergennes, was a bitter enemy of Great Britain, believing it to be the “natural enemy” of France. Vergennes contacted Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, a French playwright and polymath, who went to London where he received a letter from the American Arthur Lee. The letter, from the American Congress, requested French military assistance in the form of weapons and financial aid. After Vergennes and Louis XVI agreed, Beaumarchais established the sham company of Hortalez et Cie.

Before the Americans announced their independence from Great Britain French military goods were being shipped to the rebels through the company. At the same time Louis XVI continued his already begun buildup of French military and naval strength. The French shipments, which were sent through neutral ports, included critical supplies of gunpowder, without which the Continental Army would have been unable to continue to resist. French ports also welcomed the American privateers, and served as the maritime court for the sale of their prizes. British spies swarmed throughout France, and many of the activities were soon known to the British, but they took no action, not wanting France in the war.

It is often written that the American victory at Saratoga was what led the French to agree to an alliance, but it is less well known that up to 90% of the war materials which supplied the American army during the Saratoga campaign came from covert French shipments. The expense became burdensome and Vergennes made the decision to suspend the aid when news of Burgoyne’s surrender of his entire Army led the King to order an alliance between France and the United States. The rebuilt French fleet immediately began confronting British ships, and the financial losses to British merchants and shipping interests mounted.

France’s support of the American cause had nothing to do with the republican spirit which led to America’s Declaration of Independence. It was entirely based on the opportunity to weaken the British Empire. The belief that the loss of the American colonies would financially cripple England led to French intervention. In the end the French gained little from the war, and England strengthened its positions in India and elsewhere. The French treasury was devastated, and the victories it had helped win in America led to an increase in republican spirit in France, exacerbated by famine and privation on the continent. The American Revolution was born of the rivalry between Britain and France, nurtured by it, and eventually fed it further.

10 Major Events from the Long Rivalry Between Great Britain and France
A portrait of Maria Antonia (Marie Antoinette) of Austria is presented to her future husband, while his father Louis XV (seated) watches in 1770. Wikimedia

Toward the French Revolution

Following the American victory in the Revolutionary War French national prestige was restored, and it was again viewed as one of the great powers of Europe. The performance of the French Navy during the war against the British was a point of particular pride, but France was heavily burdened by debts incurred during the war. The period of peace immediately following the war saw little increase in trade with the Americans, and a large increase in American trade with the British. In 1785 John Adams was received in England as the first American ambassador to the Court of St. James. Adams was pro-British and contemptuous of French morals and practices.

In France a series of bad harvests led to famine, and government efforts to relieve them were to naught, as the treasury had been bankrupted by the series of wars fought in the eighteenth century. Unable to sell their cargoes to bereft French merchants, American traders sent their ships to other European ports. British merchants did likewise and the loss of revenues from the former North American colonies was made up by Canadian shipments and the growing trade with India. England lost the war with the French and Americans, but emerged as the financial victor as the Americans suffered from a weak central government and the French from a crippled economy.

French King Louis XVI was an absolute monarch, though his circle of advisers were often able to sway his decisions towards their mutually held opinions. The King had been popular with his subjects up to the mid-1780s, especially so after the victory over England in the American Revolutionary War, but the popularity soon waned as the wealthy French nobility continued to flaunt their superior social positions while the people starved, burdened by crushing taxes supporting the estates of the nobles. The common people of France also bore the burden of supporting the clergy, which was in many instances hopelessly corrupt.

The Estates General were called in France in 1789, the first such event since the early seventeenth century. There were three estates, the first estate being the clergy, the second the nobility and the third the commoners, including lawyers, merchants, artisans and farmers. By June, the middle classes were fanning the fires of radicalism and the following month the Bastille was stormed by the Paris mob in response to the King dismissing his minister of finance, Jacques Necker, who had been manipulating public opinion through the publication of false information regarding the finances of the kingdom.

As France suffered through the convulsions of its revolution and the excesses into which it descended, the British Empire and the by then strongly governed United States continued to expand their trade markets. Large sections of France became areas of anarchy. French ships rotted at their wharves, as reactionaries refused to allow them to sail, fearing that they would bring back mercenaries opposing the revolution. Fleeing French royalists raised armies to return to France and overthrow the revolution, supported by the other crowned heads of Europe. By 1793 France was engaged in the most expensive and fateful of its conflicts with Great Britain.

10 Major Events from the Long Rivalry Between Great Britain and France
French artillery bombards Frankfurt during the Revolutionary Wars in 1796. Wikimedia

The French Revolutionary Wars

In 1792 Louis XVI, believing that a victory in war would enhance his popularity while a defeat of French forces would reflect badly on the revolutionaries, supported war against the Austrians. The revolutionary Robespierre shared his belief that war would strengthen the monarchy and opposed the King, but France declared war against Austria that spring. The Prussians entered the war on the side of the Austrians. French forces defeated the Prussians at Valmy and the Austrians in several battles in the Netherlands and the Rhineland. In 1793 Louis XVI was executed, and the occupation of the Netherlands led the British to enter into the war.

Following the execution of the King nearly all of the European powers declared war on the French, who also faced internal rebellions. The French defeats of the period led to the establishment of Jacobin power in France and the Reign of Terror. By 1794 French forces stabilized the situation on its borders and the following year victories against the Spanish and the Prussians led those countries to sue for peace in 1795. The following year French forces invaded Austrian held Italy, led by Napoleon Bonaparte, a general almost wholly unknown at the time. In the first of his many brilliant campaigns Bonaparte destroyed the opposing forces in Italy.

By 1796 Bonaparte and the French armies were advancing upon the Austrian capital of Vienna and the Austrians requested a peace treaty. The Treaty of Campo Formio ended the first of the French Revolutionary Wars, also known as the War of the First Coalition. Fighting continued at sea, with the British, French, and Spanish fleets engaging in several notable battles. In 1797 the British fleet under John Jervis defeated the Spanish at the Battle of Cape Saint Vincent. Spain had by then made peace with France, but the British were concerned about a possible merger of the Spanish and French fleets, which combined would overpower the British.

While technically the war of the First Coalition was over the British remained at war with France. This led General Bonaparte to plan an attack on Britain through an invasion of Egypt. His increasing popularity was one impetus for the French Directory to approve the plan, since it would place Bonaparte far from Paris. Napoleon won a crushing victory in Egypt at the Battle of the Pyramids, but his fleet was destroyed by the British under Horatio Nelson at the Battle of the Nile, stranding his army. The following year the British organized a second coalition against the French, with Austria and the Russian Empire.

The French dispatched troops to Ireland to provided assistance to the rebellion against British rule, and fought a brief, undeclared naval war with the United States. The Americans had originally been solicited to support France in its wars based on the Alliance of 1778, but the Americans took the position that the treaty of Alliance had been with the Bourbon government of Louis XVI and his overthrow ended the agreement. The War of the Second Coalition, pitting France against the Austrians, British, Russians, and several smaller states began in 1799, with General Bonaparte still in Egypt. By the time it ended Bonaparte would be the most famous man in Europe.

10 Major Events from the Long Rivalry Between Great Britain and France
An unfinished portrait of General Napoleon Bonaparte, done by Jacques-Louis David in 1797. Wikimedia

The Rise of Napoleon

When Napoleon Bonaparte returned to France and staged a successful coup, installing himself as First Consul and the de facto ruler of France, it presented what Great Britain had feared for more than two centuries – a universal monarch of the European States. Desperate to stop the French ascendancy, Great Britain, again using allies to support its relatively small army, attempted to thwart French control of the continent. Fighting primarily at sea after being defeated in the German states, Britain threatened and then attacked neutral Denmark, destroying its fleet at Copenhagen in order to deny its support to the French.

On land the French armies were nearly invincible. The Austrians were defeated in the German states and in Italy, and sued for peace. Portugal was conquered by combined French and Spanish Armies. French domination of the continent, economically and militarily, was all but ensured by the end of 1801 and the British negotiated the Treaty of Amiens with France, which marked the end of the French Revolutionary Wars. Despite the Revolution’s turmoil and the cost of the wars which followed it, France was the dominant European power. Great Britain’s influence on the continent continued to wane as French economic power grew.

Both the British and French ignored those parts of the Treaty of Amiens which posed inconveniences to their respective national interests. Disputes between the rivals over Malta, Switzerland, and Cape Colony (part of today’s South Africa) increased tensions which were fed by the British press hostile to the French. Napoleon sought to avoid war through diplomacy, both with the British and his neighbors on the continent but in the United Kingdom the primacy of France was unacceptable, especially in regard to its economic influence on the rest of Europe. The British also opposed the improving relationship between France and the young United States.

It was in the Treaty of Amiens that the British monarch finally relinquished claims to the throne of France, which as a republic was no longer ruled by a monarch. The British did not relinquish its aim of economic power in Europe, and it was this more than any other reason which led to the United Kingdom declaring war on France in 1803. For the next decade Great Britain, protected from invasion by its Navy, paid continental partners to wage war against the French, committing relatively small armies of its own. Throughout the rest of the Napoleonic wars, Great Britain ignored international neutrality laws as part of its crusade to end French dominance of Europe.

British policies led to another war with the United States, and to preemptive attacks on neutral states. Ships of all nations, but in particular of the United States, were stopped on the high seas and searched for contraband. Sailors were kidnapped in violation of international law. Britain claimed the right to seize any ship bound for European ports if it did not first stop in a British port and submit to a search. Massive sums of money, as well as promises of territorial gains, were distributed to European monarchs in return for active warfare against Napoleon and the French. The rivalry had become a fight to the death.

10 Major Events from the Long Rivalry Between Great Britain and France
Throughout the Napoleonic Wars, Great Britain paid its allies for their support and waged a propaganda battle against the French Emperor. Wikimedia

The Napoleonic Wars

Although there were actions fought in the colonies and possessions of both the British and French Empires, the Napoleonic Wars were not as global as the preceding Seven Years War, nor even the American Revolutionary War. Most of the land fighting was confined to the European continent, mostly due to the British policy of financially supporting the continental powers against the French. After the threat of French invasion of Great Britain faded following the defeat of the combined Franco-Spanish fleet at Trafalgar, the British imposed a blockade on the ports of Europe held by the French or their allies.

On the continent the French won victory after victory, as one coalition after another formed and financially supported by the British was defeated by French armies. The great battles fought on the continent grew increasingly bloody, Austrians, Prussians, Russians, troops from the German states, Poles, Spanish, Danes, and Dutch fought against and were overwhelmed by the French. British propaganda – a new form of warfare – railed against French tyranny while the wealth of the empire was spent to contain French power. Austerlitz, Jena and Auerstadt, Essling, and numerous other battles increased the power of Napoleon’s name and the strength of the French Empire.

Neutrality was considered an inconvenience to the British, who destroyed the neutral Danish fleet at Copenhagen, occupied neutral territories, and ignored the provisions of treaties in their drive to prevent a universal monarchy in Europe. When the Iberian Peninsula erupted in rebellions against the assertion of French rule over Spain the British committed an Army there, and the Peninsular War, combined with Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, led to the end of French domination of the continent. The great powers which finally brought down the Napoleonic Empire agreed to meet in Vienna to redraw the map of Europe, after reinstalling the Bourbon Kings of France.

The Congress of Vienna sought to reduce the influence of France on the continent, a position particularly desired by Great Britain, which strove to create a balance of power in which no nation threatened British economic dominance. The French had spread much of the ideals of their revolution across Europe, including the right of due process in courts, suppression of the civil authority of the clergy, a weakening of the nobility, and the Napoleonic Code of civil law. Serfdom was abolished throughout most of Europe under Napoleon, though it remained in the Russian Empire. The Congress of Vienna cleared the way for Great Britain to become the dominant economic power of Europe.

The Congress of Vienna also cleared the way for new rivals to emerge, threatening the economic might of Great Britain and France. Prussia received Westphalia and the Rhineland, as well as parts of Poland, and was soon on its path to becoming an industrial power, and eventually a unified Germany. In the decades following the Napoleonic Wars German and Italian nationalism rose, and the empires of Austria and Spain were reduced in international significance. French nationalism led to another French Empire by the middle of the century. The rivalry between the French and British reached its peak during the Age of Napoleon, but it was not yet over.

10 Major Events from the Long Rivalry Between Great Britain and France
The century following the Napoleonic Wars saw almost continuous fighting by the British to retain and expand their empire. Wikimedia

The modern era

As the nineteenth century unfolded, the British Empire engaged in colonials wars around the globe as it enforced the so-called Pax Britannica. There were major wars in Europe as well, including the Crimean War, in which the British and the French fought as allies. The need for both nations to curtail the growth of the Russian Empire and later a unified Germany led to a growing dependence on each other. Competition for colonies in Asia and Africa was replaced with a more co-operative spirit, and eventually an alliance between the former enemies. France and Great Britain began to find mutual interests in containing their European rivals and the growing United States.

France was officially neutral during the American Civil War, though it sent a large Army to Mexico and did little to stop Confederate blockade runners from using its ports during the early days of the war. Great Britain allowed its shipyards to provide vessels to the Confederacy. Neither France nor Great Britain officially recognized the Confederacy, though ministers from the rebellious government were allowed to remain in Paris and London throughout the war. Because Great Britain was dependent on food imports from the United States, it could not risk war with them, and warned France against accepting southern cotton.

In Africa, British and French interests merged against the influence of the Germans and the Italians. By the beginning of the twentieth century the two powers recognized the increasing strength of the German, Italian, and Austro-Hungarian fleets and an arrangement was made in which the British Navy assumed responsibility for the defense of the French Atlantic and Channel ports. In return, the French fleet would assume primary responsibility for the defense of the Mediterranean from its ports in Southern France and North Africa. Both fleets expanded to counter the growth of their European rivals.

When the Vichy government was established as the ruling authority of non-occupied France during the Second World War it was recognized as such by the government of Great Britain. The Vichy government was dominated by leaders hostile to Great Britain, who blamed most of France’s difficulties on the relationship which had evolved with the British. These leaders agreed with those of more than a century earlier, when Vergennes had called Great Britain the “natural enemy” of France. When the British attacked and destroyed the French fleet at Mers-al Kebir in 1940 the Vichy government responded by ending diplomatic relations with the United Kingdom.

The Vichy government of France produced virulent anti-British propaganda throughout its existence, describing Great Britain as the true threat to France, as it supported international Zionism and anti-French expansion. As part of its propaganda campaign it drew on the long history of French-British relations, depicting French history as being one of opposing consistent British aggression. Following the American led invasion of Southern France in 1944 the Vichy government was withdrawn to Germany, where it continued to rail against “perfidious Albion” as American, British, Canadian, and French troops, supported by allies, liberated the rest of France.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“The Ideological Origins of the British Empire” by David Armitage, 2000

“Rival Empires of Trade in the Orient”, by Holden Furber, 1976

“Storms and Dreams: The Life of Louis de Bougainville”, by John Dunmore, 2007

“The French and Indian War: Deciding the Fate of North America”, by Walter R. Borneman, 2007

“Beaumarchais and the American Revolution”, by Streeter Bass, Studies in Intelligence, US Central Intelligence Agency, 1970

“Revolutionary France 1770 – 1880”, by Francois Furet, 1995

“The French Revolutionary Wars, 1787 – 1802”, by T. C. W. Blanning, 1996

“The Campaigns of Napoleon”, by David Chandler, 2009

“British Strategy in the Napoleonic War, 1803 – 1815”, by Christopher D. Hall, 1992

“The Best of Enemies: Anglo-French Relations since the Norman Conquest”, by Robert Gibson, 2011