Entente Cordiale

Dafato Team | May 19, 2022

Table of Content


The French expression Entente cordiale (Italian: "Friendly Understanding") is used to define the agreement concluded in London on April 8, 1904 between France and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland for the mutual recognition of colonial spheres of influence. Primarily, the treaty defined French influence over Morocco and British influence over Egypt. It marked the end of centuries of contrast and conflict between France and Britain and was an initial response to Germany's naval rearmament.

The agreement was a decisive step toward the Triple Entente that would include, after the Anglo-Russian Asia Agreement of 1907, Russia in addition to France and Britain.

By the beginning of the 20th century, the antagonism that had divided France and Britain since the Napoleonic age was gradually turning into friendship. Indeed, the British had begun to fear competition from Germany, and the agitation of Emperor Wilhelm II had ended up opening their eyes to the threatening prosperity of the German Empire and its increasingly powerful navy. On the other hand, French Foreign Minister Théophile Delcassé, hostile to Germany, had with courage and tenacity managed to weave a plot whose results were beginning to show.

As anti-German sentiment grew in Britain, so did Francophilia: from King Edward VII on down, involving many influential officials in the Foreign Office. So that, even the man in government probably closest to Berlin, Colonial Minister Joseph Chamberlain, after failing a diplomatic rapprochement with Germany, began to become convinced that an accommodation with France was needed.

In late 1902, a rebellion against the Sultan of Morocco, Mulay Abdelaziz IV, provided an opportunity to address the issue of British and French interests in that country. German Chancellor Bernhard von Bülow did not appear alarmed by the newly begun negotiations, which were, in fact, proceeding very slowly. French public opinion was still very Anglophobic, and Minister Delcassé engaged in fairly difficult negotiations with the British government; but, in early May, King Edward VII of England visited Paris, and shortly thereafter French President Émile Loubet reciprocated with a visit to London, which aroused great enthusiasm.

The visits of Edward VII and Loubet

The main credit for the Anglo-French understanding is, in general, attributed to the determined will and shrewdness of King Edward VII of England. Arriving in Paris on May 1, 1903, the king had a rather cold reception, but to a British delegation he declared that the friendship and admiration of the English for the French nation could expand and become a feeling of union between the peoples of the two countries. In the aftermath, he said at the Elysée Palace, "Our fervent desire is to march side by side with you on the paths of civilization and peace." These tokens of friendship could not succeed indifferently, especially since the king was leading a senior Foreign Office official, Charles Hardinge, with him.

But it was two months later that the understanding took the decisive step, when, on July 6, French President Loubet arrived in the British capital welcomed in the most flattering way. At the Buckingham Palace luncheon King Edward spoke of his fellow citizens' feelings of affection for France, and in his farewell telegram he expressed his "ardent desire" to see the rapprochement between the two countries realized as soon as possible.

One reason for London's interest in the arrangement was Britain's weakness in the Mediterranean. For the British were now aware of the dangers of too large an engagement in the North African area and were looking for a partner with whom they could share the burden. The way was thus opened for a very broad understanding.

If Chancellor Bülow looked at the issue with skepticism and a certain amount of superiority, his emperor, Wilhelm II, used all his means to thwart its development. The Kaiser tried to sow suspicion by reminding the French naval attaché of the Fascioda episode and prophesying the political demise of Chamberlain, who actually left the Ministry of Colonies in 1903. "The day will come," the Kaiser assured his French interlocutors, "when Napoleon's idea of the continental blockade must be revived. He tried to impose it by force; with us it will have to be based on the common interests we have to defend."

Wilhelm wrote to Tsar Nicholas II of Russia that the Crimean coalition was about to be reconstituted against Russian interests in the East: "Democratic countries ruled by a parliamentary majority against imperial monarchies"; and as he reviewed the troops in Hanover, he recalled that at Waterloo the Germans had saved the British from defeat.

These clumsy attempts to put discord between nations certainly sowed distrust and suspicion, not of each other, however, but of Germany. Nor did the outbreak in February 1904 of the Russo-Japanese War, which was supposed to create tension between Russia's ally France and Japan's ally Britain, stop diplomats in London and Paris.

It took nine months, from July 1903 to April 1904, to precisely define the agreement. The main point of negotiation was Morocco. Initially, Minister Delcassé aimed at maintaining the status quo: Britain was to simply disinterest itself in Morocco so that France could persuade the Sultan to enlist his help in putting down revolts. From there, the step to protectorate would be a short one. British Foreign Secretary Lansdowne was quite agreeable. However, he demanded two conditions: that Spain's interests also be taken into account (fearing otherwise a rapprochement with Germany) and that the Moroccan coast opposite Gibraltar not be fortified. In addition, on Egypt, which France had definitively renounced in 1899, Lansdowne asked for Paris's cooperation in economic penetration that would enable Governor Cromer (1841-1917) to carry out his plans for financial reconstruction.

To Delcassé this last request seemed excessive. He tried to postpone the issue, first trying to avoid it, then proposing that the withdrawal of French activities from Egypt should take place in tandem with progress in Morocco. But Lansdowne remained inflexible and France had to give in. At the same time, the indefatigable Delcassé negotiated with the Spanish ambassador in Paris, Fernando León y Castillo (1842-1918), to define Spain's rights and interests in Morocco. These rights would be safeguarded in exchange for Spanish recognition of French political supremacy over Morocco. The negotiations were very difficult because the Spanish did not want to admit the end of their historical mission that had seen Morocco as their domain since the time of the Expulsion of the Moors. Thus wrote French Foreign Ministry official Maurice Paléologue: "Ambassador Leon y Castillo, Marquis of Muni, explains remarkable vigor and agility in advocating his cause, which has against him all the forces of reality."

The historical moment and the spirit of the agreement are sketched in an exemplary manner by Paléologue who writes: "Friday, April 8, 1904. Today our ambassador in London, Paul Cambon, and the Secretary of State at the Foreign Office, Lord Lansdowne, signed the Franco-English agreement, namely: 1st a Declaration concerning Egypt and Morocco; 2nd a Convention concerning Newfoundland and Africa; 3rd a Declaration concerning Siam, Madagascar and the New Hebrides. This great diplomatic act thus touches upon many issues, resolving them in a spirit of equity; no divergence, no quarrel remains between the two countries. Of all the stipulations the most important is the one concerning Egypt and Morocco: we abandon Egypt to England, which for its part abandons Morocco to us. The agreement just concluded opens a new era in Franco-English relations; it is the prelude to joint action in the general politics of Europe. Is it directed against Germany? Explicitly, no. But implicitly, yes: for to the ambitious aims of Germanism, to its confessed designs of preponderance and penetration, it opposes the principle of European equilibrium."

It must be remembered, however, that the situation of the two powers in the two African countries of their interest was not equal. Britain was already in a dominant position in Egypt (a British protectorate since 1882) while France was not yet in control of Morocco. Therefore, it was enough for Britain to maintain the status quo, while France, which had serious intentions of colonization, had a road fraught with diplomatic conflicts, especially with Germany.

Another element of the treaty was France's relinquishment of exclusive fishing rights held west of the island of Newfoundland. In return, London ceded to Paris the islands of Los off French Guinea, made a boundary adjustment to the right of the Niger River and near Lake Chad; as well as giving France an indemnity. There was also an accommodation of the situation in Siam, which was divided into three zones of influence; and of the New Hebrides, in the Pacific Ocean, for which arrangements for a joint administration were laid down. Finally, conventions also followed concerning Madagascar and the area of Gambia and Senegal.

Chancellor Bülow and the Reichstag

Despite the fact that in Articles 1 and 2 of the treaty, the two signatory nations pledged not to violate the existing institutional arrangements in Morocco and Egypt, there were numerous interpellations to the Reichstag that the agreement put Germany in a distressing and humiliating situation because of the privileges obtained by France. Chancellor Bülow on April 12 thus answered the German parliament, "We have no reason to suppose that this convention is directed against any particular power. It appears to be simply an attempt to make all the differences that exist between France and England disappear. From the point of view of German interests, we have no objection to this convention. Morocco, our interests there are primarily economic in nature. So we also have great interest that order and peace reign in that country."

In secrecy, however, Bülow, with the German ambassador to London Paul Metternich (1853-1934) tried to figure out the extent to which Britain would engage with France, in case of war for example. On this point, the "gray eminence" of the German imperial government, advisor Friedrich von Holstein, even believed that Britain wanted to see France occupied by Germany in order to have a free hand in the world, and therefore never would the British government take up arms alongside France.

Wilhelm II's resignation

Wilhelm II, on a cruise in the Mediterranean, appeared resigned to the snub instead, but wanted, given the circumstance of the visit of the president of the French republic Émile Loubet to Italy in those days, to meet him. Bülow barely persuaded him not to expose himself by fearing Loubet's sure rejection, which, given the international situation, would have ridiculed him.

Despite Bülow's behavior at the Reichstag and the Emperor's resignation, the German public did not tolerate the Anglo-French agreement and persisted in seeing it as a loss of prestige for Germany. In nationalist circles, there was hope for a rectification of Bülow's position by the Emperor. Still cruising, William II, on the other hand, wrote (on April 19 from Syracuse) to his Chancellor that the French without compromising their alliance with Russia had succeeded in making themselves pay dearly for their friendship with England; that the agreement considerably reduced the points of friction between the two nations; and that the tone of the English press showed that hostility toward Germany did not diminish.

With the Entente Cordiale those alignments began to emerge which, confirmed and strengthened with the Tangier and Agadir crises, the Algeciras Conference and the Anglo-Russian Asia Agreement, would later reflect the opposing alliances of World War I.


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