Napoleon Iii, Lord Palmerston and the Entente Cordiale

By Golicz, Roman | History Today, December 2000 | Go to article overview

Napoleon Iii, Lord Palmerston and the Entente Cordiale

Golicz, Roman, History Today

Roman Golicz explores relations between Britain and France under the direction of Pam's `liberal' foreign policy during' the Second Empire.

IN JULY 1830, THE `bourgeois revolution' in France ousted Charles X and the Second Bourbon Restoration, and a new era in Anglo-French relations ensued. The terms set down at the Congress of Vienna in 1815 following Napoleon's defeat were now considered academic. Britain, as victor against France, had been obliged to uphold the articles of the various treaties, designed, as one of them stated, for the purpose of `maintaining the order of things re-established in France'. The quasi-constitutional Orleans monarchy of Charles X's successor Louis-Philippe was therefore recognised by Britain. But from now on Anglo-French relations would depend on the ambiguous responses of individual politicians rather than on a set of codes signed in 1815.

Support for the new regime in Britain was initially forthcoming from Lord Palmerston, foreign secretary for four years from November 1830 and again from April 1835 to August 1841. In France, the triumvirate of Casimir Perier (soon to become prime minister), the Comte de Mole (minister of foreign affairs) and the Duc de Broglie (minister of the interior), was equally keen to repair the damage done to Anglo-French relations by Napoleon. In a diplomatic dispatch of 1832, Lord Granville, British ambassador in Paris, noted that Perier, then president of the Council, believed that `the welfare of France and England and the peace of Europe depended upon an intimate alliance and concert between the two governments'.

A political liberal who admired the Revolution of 1789 during its benign phase, Palmerston had visited Paris in 1829 and predicted the fall of the Bourbon monarchy he despised. He quickly responded to the conciliatory overtures from Paris in 1830, and subsequently, in 1844 at a time when he was out of the Foreign Office, he was the first leading politician to employ the expression `entente cordiale' to signify the `warm understanding' between France and Briatin to which he had been ostensibly committed since 1830. But numerous events before and afterwards reveal that Palmerston was equally adept at dousing the rapprochement with cold water, as for him entente cordiale really meant a state of grace between the two nations in which Britain would be free to pursue it's own interests without French interference. By 1848, once more heading foreign affairs (June 1846 to December 1851), the `Jupiter Anglicanus of the Foreign Office' allowed Anglo-French relations to sink to a level not witnessed since 1814. He had orchestrated the creation of Belgium in 1831, a supposedly neutral country but one which would naturally be pro-British and often anti-French. In 1841, during a speech at his Devon constituency of Tiverton, Palmerston had contrasted aggressive French colonial behaviour against benign British colonialism, in both cases misjudging the truth. Five years later he had attempted to manipulate the outcome of the marriage of Isabella II of Spain against French interests in order to align Britain with a liberal Spain. A defensive breakwater in St Peter Port, Alderney, in the Channel Islands was begun in 1847 to repel the forthcoming French invasion and can still be seen today.

In February 1848, a new revolution in Paris threatened to upset Anglo-French relations altogether. The poet-politician Alphonse de Lamartine (1790-1869), minister for foreign affairs in the new republican government, laboured to maintain moderate and pacific foreign policies, but a radical core within his circle openly favoured a righteous republican war in Europe. The Second Republic was therefore seen as unstable and potentially militaristic, and Palmerston's reaction was to issue a confidential paper outlining government preparations for an imminent invasion of Britain.

The attempt of the nationalist Young Ireland movement to enlist Lamartine's support for an attack on England, the attempted coup of May 15th, 1848, when radicals invaded the French Chamber of Deputies, and the serious June Days riots in Paris, all confirmed Palmerston's fears. …

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