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1904 - 2004

Colloque franco-britannique

To coincide with the colloque franco-britannique events in Oxford and London (14-15 October 2004) the latest additions to the website illustrate two different aspects of the impact made by King Edward VII's visit to Paris in April 1903. The first is an extract from one of the many press cuttings in Sir Edmond Monson's papers marking the event. Provided by Romeike & Curtis, a press cutting agency in Ludgate Circus Buildings, London, the cutting from the Belfast Newsletter of 8 May 1903 describes the culinary impact of the visit and the King's preference for simple table settings.

The second extract is taken from the centenary lecture given by Dr. Hugh Cecil in the Ballroom of the British Embassy in Paris on 22 April 2004 at the invitation of the British Ambassador, Sir John Holmes.

In his lecture on Lord Landsdowne, the Foreign Secretary from 1900 to 1905, Dr. Cecil described how Edward VII's personality helped to transform the French public's view of Britain and the British.


2004 marks the hundredth anniversary of the 'Entente Cordiale' between Britain and France. This page has been put together by the Bodleian Library to commemorate this event and highlight some of the rich documentary sources held in the Department of Special Collections on the subject of Anglo-French relations. In the course of 2004 material from other Bodleian collections will be added to this page.

A valid reader's card is required for those wishing to access items in the collections: see admissions procedures.

The Entente Cordiale

On 8 April 1904 the two nations, once described by an 18th-century ambassador in Paris, the Earl of Stair, as 'natural and necessary enemies', made the 'Declaration between the United Kingdom and France Respecting Egypt and Morocco'. It was signed by the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Lansdowne, and Paul Cambon, the French ambassador in London. This was part of a series of agreements designed to settle long-standing areas of dispute between Britain and France in North Africa, the Far East and Canada over colonial spheres of influence and trading rights. As recently as 1898 the two powers had gone to the brink of war over Africa (the 'Fashoda Incident') but there were politicians in both countries who could see that it was in their mutual self-interest in a changing world to settle differences.

The 1904 'Entente Cordiale' was a historic agreement. There had been so much conflict between the two nations between 1688 and 1815 that the period has been characterised as the 'second Hundred Years War'. Since Waterloo however, Britain and France have not only been at peace, but have become close allies. The phrase 'entente cordiale' was first used to describe their friendship in the 1840s. The relationship has not always been smooth: mutual fear and jealousy occasioned by commercial and imperial rivalry; the changing political map of Europe in the 19th century; the attitude of individual politicians, the press and public opinion; and the complex interaction of these forces have tested the bonds of the entente nearly to breaking point. But the ties endured as Britain and France recognised that their mutual interests outweighed their differences. The formalisation of this relationship in 1904 paved the way for increasing co-operation and friendship in the century ahead.

The British Ambassador in Paris in 1904 was Sir Edmund Monson (1834-1909). He was instrumental in the movement towards an agreement between the two powers. His knowledge of France went back to 1856 when he was attaché in Paris during Lord Lyons' embassy. Newspaper and magazine accounts in 1903 refer to Monson's tact and discretion, and his success in meeting the demands of the post.

His papers include much fascinating detail about the formation of the 'Entente'. The papers relating to his Paris embassy (1896-1904) reveal increasing Anglo-French 'rapprochement', interrupted only briefly by the 'Fashoda Incident' of 1898.

The Exchange Visit of 1903: King Edward VII in Paris

thumbnail link to image of British Embassy, ParisAs a prelude to the signing of the 'Entente Cordiale', King Edward VII visited Paris in May 1903, and President Loubet made a return visit to England in June. The Royal visit in 1903 was extensively reported in the British press. Cuttings surviving in the Monson papers describe not only Monson's professionalism but Lady Monson's immense popularity with the British community in Paris. Wonderfully atmospheric photographs of the interior of the British Embassy, the Royal tribune at Longchamps, the King's apartments in the Embassy (upgraded to a Royal Residence for the duration of his visit, thus making the Monsons guests in their own home), and the Hemicycle room in the Elysée Palace, the President's official residence, capture the splendour and significance of the occasion.

thumbnail link to image of banquetDuring the next few weeks extracts from newscuttings from the Monson papers will be added to the Bodleian web page commemorating the Entente Cordiale. These vividly convey the style of the celebratory events.

The Exchange Visit of 1903: President Loubet in England

The following extracts from the correspondence of Sir Edmund Monson show the significance attached to this exchange visit in cementing a new friendship, and the complexities surrounding the arrangements of these visits. The problems of scheduling loom large, and by no means an insignificant question was whether or not the President of France should be allowed to wear trousers rather than the customary tights or breeches on his reception in England.

Lord Lansdowne to Monson, Foreign Office, 19 May 1903, MS. Eng. hist. c. 595, fols. 81-2

"...My letter to you of the 9th on the subject of a possible visit from the President of the French Republic will be in your recollection. Your reply dated the 10th was seen and approved by His Majesty who would strongly deprecate the use of any language likely to suggest that he was indifferent to receiving a return visit from M. Loubet, or, still worse, that he desired to discourage the idea...
...if M. Loubet is to come here at all it would be necessary that he should come after Ascot & not later than the 14th of July as His Majesty will probably be going to Ireland very soon after that date...
...Will you mention the matter quite unofficially in the proper quarter and let me know how the suggestion is received..."

Knollys to Monson, Buckingham Palace, 26 May 1903, MS. Eng. hist. c. 595, fols. 95-6

"...The King does not understand why M: Loubet cannot absent himself from France for three nights while the Chambers are sitting, and he cannot help thinking that if the circumstances were explained to the Chambers they would throw no obstacles in his going...
...His Majesty, to suit the President's arrangements, remained abroad a week longer than he had originally intended, at much inconvenience to himself, so that he might visit him in Paris, and the King does not therefore think it unreasonable that M. Loubet should now endeavour to meet his views by coming to London at an earlier date than that which he now proposes..."

Sanderson to Monson, Foreign Office, 15 June 1903, MS. Eng. hist. c. 595, fols. 100-1

"...I perceive with regret that long residence in a Republican Capital has dimmed your appreciation of the inner significance of clothes...
...Sir E Cust...came to the conclusion that [court dress] did not consist in any particular cut of garment, but that the essence of it was that the costume should bear the impress of a previous period...Starting from this principle, and dismissing woad, oak leaves, armour, trunk hose, and ruffs as obsolete, he decided that the Court of St. James had remained in the age of Queen Anne and the earlier Georges - that big-wigs though commendable were not of the essence of the matter, but that sword, breeches, buckles in the shoes and some kind of chapeau bras were the indispensable elements. If you look at it in this way you will see that the wearing of breeches is a formal though tried recognition of the Hanover succession..."

Knollys to Monson, Windsor Castle, 17 June 1903, MS. Eng. hist. c. 595, fols. 108-9

thumbnail link to letter from Knollys to Monson"...I have submitted to the King your letter of yesterday, and he desires me to say he will offer no further opposition to M: Delcassé appearing in Trousers instead of "Tights". His Majesty desires me also to let you know that he is giving instructions that the admiral & officers of the English Fleet shall go on board the President's ship & be presented to him. Will you inform M. Delcassé that the King proposes to send the Duke of Connaught, his only Brother, to Dover to receive the President..."

Sanderson to Monson, Foreign Office, 19 June 1903, MS. Eng. hist. c. 595, fols. 105-6

thumbnail link to image of letter from Sanderson to Monson"...I sympathise much with you in your troubles over the President's visit. These things are always much more difficult and tiresome than the most complicated diplomatic or political questions - mainly because they are almost entirely matters of sentiment and have not au fond any other importance or standard by which they can be estimated.
I do not quite understand why the Protocole should so greatly dislike tights or breeches. The garments are antiquated but not unbecoming, nor uncomfortable. The French have kept the cocked hat and dropped the continuations, other courts have kept both.
I heard from Lord Lansdowne that it was settled that the King should give Loubet his bust. I cannot conceive that he would ever agree to make a new departure from precedent by conferring the Garter on a temporary elective Head of State. Moreover, though that is a minor matter, it can only be worn with breeches..."

thumbnail link to image of Guildhall banquet"The English Channel not a barrier, but a bond": The chief point of Admiral Caillard's speech at the Guildhall.

Entente Cordiale 1904: Draft Declaration

Draft Declaration concerning Newfoundland, Canada, 15 March 1904, MS. Eng. hist. c. 595, fol. 132

This draft declaration of 14-15 March 1904 illustrates the global nature of the 'Entente'. It outlines agreements made in Siam, the New Hebrides and Newfoundland, beyond the chief areas of conflict in North Africa. The Newfoundland fisheries had been a bone of contention since French rights were outlined in the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713 (cited in this declaration). Some territory in West Africa was ceded to France as part of the agreement over Newfoundland.

Last modified: 07 January 2008 by ---LwM---