In August 1892, when Gladstone kissed the Queen's hands for the fourth time, the Franco-Russian Alliance was already in the offing. During the last week of July 1891, a French squadron had visited Kronstadt and was accorded an enthusiastic welcome there. A month later, in August, there was an exchange of letters between the two governments. If peace was threatened, the two powers agreed not merely to consult each other but also 'to agree on measures' to be taken. A year later, during the month when Gladstone formed the government, a military convention was signed between the generals of the two countries. Under this, Russia promised support to France even against Germany alone. In return, the French agreed to mobilise (though not necessarily to go to war) even if Austria-Hungary alone mobilised against Russia. 1 The convention was to last as long as the Triple Alliance, though neither France nor Russia knew the term of the latter. Tsar Alexander, basically because of his misgivings regarding allying with a republican state, gave his approval only in December 1893, to which the French reciprocated on 4 January 1894. 2 This joined Russia and France firmly through a military convention and formal alliance. The negotiations leading to this alliance, as in all such cases, were carried on secretly. In fact, the first public mention of the alliance was made only in mid-1895. But the Kronstadt visit of the French fleet had been a public affair, and from reports in the French press, Britain and Germany were quick to sense that friendly exchanges had taken place between the two countries. After the Alliance was signed, the European powers did not know its terms, but they all tried to decipher what it stood for. From 1894, all questions in diplomacy centred on the intentions of France and Russia.
In Britain, during the six-year period from 1892 to 1898, the Liberals were in power for the first three years and the Conservatives thereafter. The success of the Liberals had given rise to anxieties that a policy of imperial retreat might be in the offing. In the election campaign, the Liberals had made it clear that they stood for opposition to foreign ventures, the system of alliances and control over Egypt. The French saw themselves as beneficiaries of this programme, while Germany remained apprehensive about the intentions of the government. In practice, however, nothing changed. The Liberal Unionists went over to the Conservatives. The views of the Liberal Imperialists, who remained in the