Magazine article The Spectator

King of the Charm Offensive

Magazine article The Spectator

King of the Charm Offensive

Article excerpt

King of the charm offensive EDWARD VII AND THE ENTENTE CORDIALE by Ian Dunlop Constable, £25, pp. 315, ISBN 1841195308

There could scarcely be a more delightful way to remind oneself of the British and French statesmen who created the Entente Cordiale, signed on 8 April 1904, than to read this book. Ian Dunlop's method of composition is unfashionable. It consists largely of the skilful selection of amusing passages from diplomatic memoirs and other works published during the last century, with no preference given to the latest research and certainly no attempt to make daring reassessments. This is history without the idea that we know better than those who made it; history where due respect is paid to the personalities involved, whose lives were set down in the ponderous volumes which gathered dust on our grandfathers' shelves.

We feel as if Dunlop is showing us his library, and we share his pleasure as he reads out his favourite passages. The start of the book has a slightly inconsequential feel, but he is surely right to begin with the first, unsuccessful Entente Cordiale between Britain and France, early in the reign of Queen Victoria, who in 1843 made the first visit by an English monarch to French soil since 1520. Dunlop brings us Sir Robert Peel and Lord Aberdeen comparing notes on the coverage of her visit in the French and English newspapers.

Queen Victoria was unquestionably a fairly Germanic figure, with an impossibly Germanic husband, but they completely failed to impress their Coburg earnestness on their eldest son, Bertie. The future Edward VII turned out to have a quite remarkable affinity with the French. He got on well with radical politicians such as Gambetta and Delcassé. Unlike his nephew, the Kaiser, he was not in the slightest bit huffy that the French had chosen, in their abominably modern and unreliable way, to overthrow their monarchs and set up a republic. He loved Paris, and pleased the Parisians by telling them that he felt at home there. After his death in 1910, Sir Edward Grey, the Foreign Secretary, said:

King Edward had a rare, if not unique, power of combining bonhomie and dignity. The bonhomie was warm and spontaneous, hut it never impaired the dignity . …

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