A love-hate history

RELATIONS BETWEEN France and Britain may be cosy today but they were pretty frosty in centuries gone by. The Resident’s Chris Graeme takes an amusing look!

In all started to go terribly wrong in 1066 when William of Normandy believed he had been promised the throne of England through a blood relative and invaded the country. Then, in 1152, just as the French thought they were sitting pretty, Louis VII’s wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, ran off with England’s King, Henry II Plantagenet, taking Aquitaine with her and leaving the English vassal state larger and more powerful than the suzerain. However, Philip II of France got his own back in 1204 by walking off with Normandy, Maine, Touraine and Anjou.

By the 1330s, however, Edward III came along, said he wanted all ‘his’ land back, and started the Hundred Years War – not actually a single war at all, but rather a series of battles and dynastic squabbles. In the beginning the English beat the French, as every schoolboy knows, at Crécy (1346) and Poitiers (1356), until the Black Death made us all too sick to fight one another. But it was back to business as usual in 1415 at the Battle of Agincourt when the French fell like ninepins to the English archers of Henry V.

In between handing over mad maids to the French to be burned a the stake, Henry managed to have a pious but useless son, Henry VI, who just about lost England the rest of her French territories, despite the fact his wife was French!

There was a rather nice, if expensive, camping party thrown in a French field by King Henry VIII and Francis I in 1522, called the Field of the Cloth of Gold, that called a truce, for a while, and then Henry proceeded to lose Tournai. But then it got worse as Henry’s daughter, Mary, managed to lose England’s last foothold, Calais, in 1557, a fact that is, apparently, ‘engraved’ on her heart.

Then the French started meddling in Scotland in the late 1550s, upsetting Elizabeth I who had the French regent Mary de Guise poisoned and cut off her daughter’s – and Lizzy’s Francophile cousin, Mary Queen of Scots’ – head in 1587.

The English and French carried on their love-hate relationship through various European crises in the 17th and 18th centuries, until rivalry wars with Austria and succession wars with Spain saw the French defeated by the English in Queen Anne’s reign. The French also had a rather severe setback when many of her colonies went to the English after the Seven Years War of 1756-1763. But England couldn’t rest on its laurels for long because the French were soon helping the breakaway American colonists send us packing between 1778-1783 and our King George III barking mad!

Despite the fact that Marie Antoinette was best of friends with Princess Di’s great-great-great grandmother Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, that didn’t count as she was Austrian and the French cut her block off anyway in 1793!

There then began another round of wars in the early 19th century against Napoleon which weren’t resolved until 1815 when the Brits locked him up on an island in the middle of the South Atlantic.

And so it continued, until finally, we became friends in 1904 thanks to good old Uncle Bertie (Edward VII) who hated his German cousin Willy, happened to agree with the French that the English, like his mother Victoria, couldn’t cook and couldn’t dress, and rather liked holidaying in Biarritz!