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King Edward VII and the Entente Cordiale. When the “Caressor” became the “Peacemaker”

Updated on April 22, 2015

Edward the Peacemaker


King Edward VII. A king who surprised all his critics

When King Edward VII came to the throne of Great Britain in 1901, not very much was expected of him. His mother, Queen Victoria was a hard act to follow. She had presided over the Empire since 1837 and was universally loved and respected by all her subjects. Her son and heir, was considered by most people to be a frivolous playboy. Edward had had many mistresses and been involved in more than a few scandals, in the years before the death of his mother brought him to the throne. No less an institution than the Times of London expressed doubt in an editorial about his fitness to reign. He was popularly nicknamed Edward the Caresser because of his excessive fondness for the fairer sex. But King Edward was to surprise everybody. In his short reign of just nine years he left a lasting historical legacy and he is known to posterity as Edward the Peacemaker.

I'm not proposing, in this short article, to detail all the achievements of this very capable monarch. But I would like to tell you about a famous diplomatic triumph that was brought about principally through the efforts of King Edward VII. I am referring here to the famous Entente Cordiale, which was the agreement that ended the centuries of animosity between Great Britain and France and secured a valuable alliance between both countries, that was of critical importance during the First World War.

The background to King Edward VIIs visit to Paris in 1903

Relations between Great Britain and Europe at the beginning of the 20th century were very strained. The Boer War in South Africa had brought great unpopularity to the British Empire. An attempt had even been made on the life of King Edward by a Belgian sympathiser to the South African cause. So it might reliably be inferred that the year 1903 would be an inauspicious year for the King to tour the continent and to visit France. The tensions between the French and British were added to by rivalry in North Africa, where both countries were vying for influence in Egypt, Morocco and Libya. They had almost gone to war only a few years previously. The only thing which united both countries was the mutual suspicion of Germany. The German Empire under Wilhelm II was engaged in a naval arms race with Britain and France was still smarting from its defeat in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870. Nevertheless, this was not sufficient to establish good relations between the two ancient enemies. It was into this Hornets’ nest that King Edward VII decided to go. He made the journey entirely on his own initiative and without informing the British government in advance. This was a very risky thing for the King to do. It was very unusual for a constitutional monarch to take an important initiative without the consent of his/her government. If it had gone wrong, the consequences could have been very damaging for the monarchy.

The official itinerary for King Edwards visit to the continent involved a visit to Lisbon, to see the King of Portugal, followed by a visit to Italy to see the king and queen of that country and also to visit Pope Leo the 13th. It was only when those two trips had been successfully concluded that the British government was informed that he would be returning to his country through Paris. Instead of bringing the Foreign Secretary Lord Lansdowne, as minister in attendance, the King decided to bring Charles Hardinge . He was the most junior of the four undersecretaries at the Foreign Office. There was a sound reason for excluding Lord Lansdowne from the party. He was particularly hostile to France, especially to any notion of compromising on French claims in Morocco.

King Edward VII charms the French people


The visit. King Edward shows how a king should behave

When King Edward VII arrived at the station in Paris and drove in a carriage to the British Embassy, the French people greeted him with boos and chants, supporting the Boers and damning the supposed British oppressor. The King just smiled and waved. He knew how to get people on his side and sulking over a few boos and hisses was not the way to do it. When one of his companions remarked that “the French don't seem to like us”, the King replied “why should they”.

At the embassy King Edward made a speech to the British Chambers of commerce in which he praised the French people. This was reported in all the French newspapers the following morning. That evening the King went to the theatre. He was given a very icy reception by the audience on his arrival. Far from hiding at the back of his box, the intrepid monarch insisted on mixing with his fellow theatregoers during the interval. This was the point where Edward the Caresser and Edward the Peacemaker merged, to the absolute delight of the hostile Parisians. He kissed the hand of the very famous and popular actress Mademoiselle Granier, while telling her how much he enjoyed watching her onstage in London and that she embodied all the grace and beauty of the French people. The reports of the King's compliments electrified the audience in the theatre and he was cheered to the rafters when he returned to his box.

He attended a military review in the morning with President Loubet. He made a special point of saluting all the French troops. This was also very much appreciated by his proud hosts. In the afternoon King Edward made a short speech in the Hotel de Ville, in which he poured further compliments on the French people. From that moment on, he was met by frenzied cheering; everywhere he went in the French capital. The mood of the French was completely turned around.

Conclusion. The Entente Cordiale and some consequences

A return visit to London by the French president and his wife was equally successful. In the following year the British and French governments settled their differences over North Africa.

I'm not saying that the Entente Cordiale was negotiated by King Edward VII. In a constitutional monarchy these things are settled by governments and not by Kings or Queens. But undoubtedly, the charm and the diplomatic skills of the astute monarch paved the way very successfully for the agreements that were to come. There was a downside though to this reconciliation between two old enemies. This came in the form of the further alienation of Germany. It is arguable that King Edward, in making it possible for Britain and France to win World War I, made it more inevitable that that dreadful conflict would start in the first place. Historians have debated that point ever since.

King Edward would have loved this.

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    • christopheranton profile image

      Christopher Antony Meade 4 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      Thank you Reynold. I guess Edward VII could be classed as one of history's "ugly ducklings". Obama has another four years left. Now that he doesn't need to worry about re election, he might concentrate on leaving a worthwhile legacy.

    • Reynold Jay profile image

      Reynold Jay 4 years ago from Saginaw, Michigan

      This is a wonderful story and it reminds me of the characters in my novels that so often turn the world updsside down and then leave it in a better place. He was a true statesman that one could only hope someone this charming would emerge on the world stage today. We had hope for Obama and he has left us with so little substance. Watchdogg and the King sound so very much alike. Keep these wonderful stories coming. Up and beautiful. As always, your writing is world class and uplifting.

    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 4 years ago from TEXAS


      Would be logical.

    • christopheranton profile image

      Christopher Antony Meade 4 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      Hi Nelleanna.

      He certainly did spend a lot of time in Paris before he became King, but not during World War One. He died in 1910. His ghost might still be there though.

    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 4 years ago from TEXAS

      Guess it wasn't the first or last instance of royal messing around, Christopher, and as you mentioned, other high-ranking political figures (JFK - and certainly Bill Clinton. It's never been a secret that power attracts and seeks!)

      King Edward VIII had his own tryst going on. I can even remember in my youth seeing the RKO Pathe News at the movies (the only animated news one saw in the 30s) telling about the Wallis Simpson-Edward romance, leading to his abdication and many rumors about her morality, dalliances and possible traitorous actions. Thing is, royalty are still human.

      It's kinda cute that Edward VII found a pleasurable time-passer in Paris. Didn't he beg the Queen to let him serve his military duty there during WWI? Sounds like a theme of a popular romance novel.

      Interesing, in any case.

    • christopheranton profile image

      Christopher Antony Meade 4 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      Thanks Nellieanna, for those kind words.

      King Edward was Prince of Wales for a very long time and was never allowed, by Queen Victoria, to share in her work. Consequently, he had to find his own way of passing the time. "Charming the ladies" was one of his favourite pastimes. He spent a lot of time travelling in Europe and he loved Paris. It was the perfect place to relax. It still is.

    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 4 years ago from TEXAS

      What a delightful account of King Edward's coup. You've given me a lovely term, too. The world could use more entente cordiales! It had me trying to think what he could have been thinking, going so apparently contrary to protocol and sentiment - and carrying it off so well! Maybe his skill with charming the ladies prompted him to apply it to more serious matters.

      Yes, I'll bet he would have (perhaps did!) enjoy the Can-Can! Funny with the pantaloons!

      Great history lesson, Christopher! Voting up and other good things!

    • christopheranton profile image

      Christopher Antony Meade 4 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      Thanks for reading drbj. I remember learning about this when I was at school and it always stuck in my mind. He certainly knew how to charm people. He had that in common with President Kennedy. They shared the womanising habit as well.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 4 years ago from south Florida

      Fascinating details, christopher, about a monarch I now respect more due to your interesting revelations. He certainly knew how to do a positive PR tour when he got to France. Thanks for this very readable article and the charming Offenbach Can Can.

    • christopheranton profile image

      Christopher Antony Meade 4 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      Hi UnnamedHarald.

      It really is one of the oddities of history, that Britain should have ended up in an alliance with France against Germany. Germany had always been the natural ally of this country. Mind you, we also had Russia on our side during World War One and the Germans were allied with the Turks. All of this was a reversal of the usual situation. I suspect the rise of the German Empire put a very big "Cat" among the European "Pigeons".

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      This is very interesting and important to note in that 11 years later, alliances dragged Europeans into the Great War. When one considers the many, many years these two nations hated and fought against each other, it seems improbable they would find themselves as allies. Voted up an interesting.