The Entente cordiale is a series of agreements signed on 8 April 1904 between the United Kingdom and France. Beyond the immediate concerns of colonial expansion addressed by the agreement, the signing of the Entente cordiale marked the end of almost a millennium of intermittent conflict between the two nations and their predecessor states, and the start of the peaceful co-existence that has continued to the early years of the 21st century. The Entente cordiale, along with the Anglo-Russian Entente and the Franco-Russian Alliance, later became part of the Triple Entente among the UK, France, and Russia. It paved the way for the diplomatic and military cooperation that preceded World War I.
The French term Entente cordiale (usually translated as "cordial understanding") was first used in English in 1844 (according to the OED) to denote recognition of common interests between the United Kingdom and France. Now the term usually denotes the second Entente cordiale, that is to say the written and partly secret agreement signed in London between the two countries on 8 April 1904.
The agreement had its roots in a British loss of confidence after the early humiliations experienced in the Second Boer War, and a growing fear that the country was isolated in the face of a potentially aggressive Germany. As early as March 1881, the French statesman Léon Gambetta and the then Albert Edward, Prince of Wales met at the Château de Breteuil to discuss an alliance against Germany. The Scramble for Africa prevented the countries from coming to terms. On the initiative of Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain, there were three rounds of British-German talks between 1898 and 1901. After becoming King in 1901, Edward VII declined to accede to the Triple Alliance, broke off the negotiations with Berlin, and revived the idea of a British-French alliance.
When the Russo-Japanese War was about to erupt, France and Britain found themselves on the point of being dragged into the conflict on the side of their respective allies. France was firmly allied with Russia, while Britain was allied with Russia's foe Japan. In order to avoid going to war, both powers "shucked off their ancient rivalry" and resolved differences between the two countries in Africa, America, Asia and the Pacific. An agreement on colonial matters was negotiated between French foreign minister Théophile Delcassé, and Lord Lansdowne, the British Foreign Secretary. The resultant convention was signed by Lord Lansdowne and Paul Cambon, the French Ambassador, on 8 April 1904. The agreement did little to advance British interests, but to some extent it linked the country to Continental rivalries in a way which it had hitherto managed to avoid during the period of splendid isolation. However it is far from clear what exactly the Entente meant to the British Foreign Office. For example in early 1911 following French press reports contrasting the virility of the Triple Alliance with the moribund state of the Entente Eyre Crowe minuted: The fundamental fact of course is that the Entente is not an alliance. For purposes of ultimate emergencies it may be found to have no substance at all. For the Entente is nothing more than a frame of mind, a view of general policy which is shared by the governments of two countries, but which may be, or become, so vague as to lose all content.
Convinced that they had British support, the French became ever more belligerent in their attitude towards the Germans, fully demonstrated in the Moroccan crises of 1905 and 1911. Concerned by possible encirclement, the Germans grew ever more alienated. An arrangement that had been intended to improve Britain's standing in the world merely added to the tensions within Europe, and became just another milestone on the road to the Great War.
The Entente was composed of three documents:
The hundredth anniversary of the Entente cordiale in 2004 was marked by a number of official and unofficial events, including a state visit to France by Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh, and a return visit by President Chirac in November. British troops (the band of the Royal Marines, the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment, Grenadier Guards and King's Troop, Royal Horse Artillery) also led the Bastille Day parade in Paris for the first time, with the Red Arrows flying overhead.
The Entente is still honoured at both ends of Channel Tunnel; in both London Waterloo International and Paris Gare du Nord, the flags of the United Kingdom and of France are depicted connected with the words 'Entente cordiale' superimposed on posters. However a number of French political leaders had complained about the name "Waterloo" for the destination of trains from Paris because the British terminus is named after the 1815 battle where a British-led alliance defeated Napoleon's army. In 1998, French politician Florent Longuepée wrote to the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair demanding, without success, that the name be changed. As of November 2007 this irritant has been removed as St Pancras International became the new London terminus for the Eurostar service.
During his March 2008 summit with Prime Minister Gordon Brown, French President Nicolas Sarkozy (famous for his Anglophilic and Atlanticist tendencies) called for a stronger entente amicale ("friendly understanding") between the two nations in a speech before the House of Commons. Brown, in turn, called for an entente formidable ("formidable understanding"), emphasizing military cooperation between the United Kingdom and France and possibly indicating an interest in European military integration and strengthening the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union.