- Victoria was the first British monarch to visit France for 400 years
- George V was injured on French battlefield – when cheering spooked his horse
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France might well be our oldest and, over time, our most implacable enemy.
But the history of Anglo-French state visits is longer and warmer than might be expected, a warmth I’ve no doubt Charles will feel when he arrives in Paris later this month.
For all the recent hostilities over Brexit, his mother was adored in France – and they will let him know as much.
The first great royal rapprochement was in August 1855, when Charles’s great-great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria was on the throne.
Queen Victoria in her carriage, right, and Emperor Napoleon III, right, during the Queen’s visit to Paris in 1855. This was the first visit to France by a British monarch for 400 years
An illustration showing Napoleon III, Queen Victoria, Princess Eugenie and Prince Albert at the Opera House in Paris with Napoleon III
On a later visit to France, Queen Victoria (seated) was taken to a perfume factory, where the distillation process was explained to her
She became the first British monarch to visit Paris in over 400 years when she was a guest of the Emperor Napoleon III.
The timing, in the middle of the Crimean War, marked a turnaround in the relationship between the two countries, which just 40 years earlier had fought each other at the Battle of Waterloo.
In a gesture of reconciliation Victoria even visit the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte – ‘our bitterest foe’ as she noted in her journal, as well as touring the Palace of Versailles and Notre Dame Cathedral.
In the last ten years of her life, Victoria travelled to France for seven holidays on the Riviera, travelling under the alias of ‘Madame de la Comtesse de Balmoral’, a disguise so thin it never fooled anyone especially as she took up to 100 staff and her own horses and carriages. Huge crowds gathered at the various ports and railway stations along her route.
Her successor, Edward VII, was a huge Francophile, and made many private visits to Paris, where he relished the capital’s legendary food, cabarets, and women. Known as ‘Tum-Tum’ thanks to his ever-increasing waist, when he frequented high class brothels, he used a custom-made chair made by Louis Soubrier which enabled Edward to have sex with two or more coquettes without crushing them!
Edward’s pro-French attitude had its political uses since it paved the way for the 1904 Entente Cordiale which cemented the Anglo-French alliance a decade before the First World War. A century later, Elizabeth II marked its 100th anniversary by visiting France and hosting a state visit to Britain by President Chirac.
Edward VII, son of Queen Victoria, was a true Francophile. He made many private visits to Paris where he relished the food, the cabaret – and the women
Edward VII engineered the Entente Cardiale which cemented the Anglo-French alliance a decade before the First World War
The Queen’s Grandfather George V in military uniform viewing a battlefield in France in 1914
George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth, later the Queen Mother, arrive in Paris in July 1938
George VI and Queen Elizabeth visit a Parisian town hall during the 1938 State
The late Queen’s grandfather George V undertook a state visit to France in the spring of 1914 a few months prior to the start of the Great War, just as her father, George VI, visited Paris in 1938 ahead of World War II.
George V visited the battlefields several times during the 1914-18 conflict and was badly injured in 1917 when cheering troops caused his horse to rear and fall back on him, fracturing his pelvis.
Elizabeth II made five state visits to France from 1957 to 2014 as well as numerous official visits beginning in 1948 when she was in the early stages of her pregnancy with Charles. (It was during this visit that she heard the legendary Edith Piaf sing ‘La Vie en Rose’ in a nightclub in the Rue Pierre Charon.)
Outside of the Commonwealth it was the country she visited most, thanks in part due to its proximity across the Channel. It helped that she was fluent in French having been taught it as a child by several tutors. (This skill was also useful in French-speaking Quebec where, for instance, she opened the 1976 Montreal Olympics in French before repeating it in English.)
In May 1967 the equine-loving Queen made a private three-day tour of some of Normandy’s finest stud farms which she had long wanted to see.
Among her most memorable trips to France was her second state visit in 1972 when she paid a visit to see the Duke and Duchess of Windsor at their home in the Bois de Bologne. The former Edward VIII had throat cancer and died just ten days later.
Queen Elizabeth II with Germaine Coty, the wife of French President Rene Coty during her state visit to France in 1957
Queen Elizabeth II exudes glamour during a state visit in France on April 1957. She is greeted by President Rene Coty
Queen Elizabeth II with Prince Philip at the Paris Opera during a the 1957 visit
Queen Elizabeth and Charles during a private visit to see her uncle, the Duke of Windsor, who was by now seriously ill in May 1972. The Duchess of Windsor is on the left of the picture
Queen Elizabeth is accompanied by Jacques Chiracon a three-day state visit to mark the centenary of the Entente Cordiale in April 2004
The Queen’s last State visit in 2014 saw her meet President Francois Hollande at the Elysee Palace for a State dinner to mark the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings
Queen Elizabeth II with French President Francois Hollande at a state dinner at the Elysee presidential palace in Paris, following the international D-Day commemoration ceremonies in Normandy
President Macron signs the book of condolence for the Queen after a moving speech paying tribute to Queen Elizabeth II
Her final state visit in June 2014 commemorated the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings and she joined other heads of state including Barack Obama. It was a poignant visit as she was the only living head of state present who had lived through and served in World War Two.
Elizabeth II was venerated in France and following her death a year ago, President Macron made the moving tribute – ‘To you, she was your Queen. · To us, she was The Queen. · She will be with all of us forever.’
Such respect will surely help ensure the success of the visit of Charles and Camilla and maintain the strong bond between the Britain’s monarchs and the French state.
- Ian Lloyd: author of The Queen: 70 Chapters in the Life of Elizabeth II
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