Great Britain, France, and the German Problem, 1918-1939: A Study of Anglo-French Relations in the Making and Maintenance of the Versailles Settlement

By W. M. Jordan | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIV
THE RHINELAND IN ANGLO-FRENCH
RELATIONS, 1919

IN his classic presentation of the foreign policy of the French monarchy, the great historian Sorel sought to show how that policy was motivated by the desire for the expansion of France to her natural frontiers on the Rhine, the Alps, and the Pyrenees. There is a well-established tradition that Richelieu confirmed as the guiding line of French policy the objective of making the Rhine the frontier of France. 'Did you ever see Richelieu's testament?' wrote Lord Esher to Sir Maurice Hankey in October 1917. 'His methods have been steadily pursued ever since, both under Kings, Emperors, and Republics.'1

Yet this tradition has little foundation in fact, and Sorel's interpretation must, it seems, be consigned to the well-stocked limbo of historical legends. For it is more than doubtful whether, under the monarchy, French policy was ever directed towards the conquest of natural frontiers. The notion of pushing France out to her 'natural' frontiers was, before the Revolution, the chimera of a few solitary thinkers who exercised no influence on the direction of policy. The edition of Richelieu's famous Testament in which the doctrine of natural frontiers is proclaimed is an apocryphal production, the work of the Jesuit Pierre Labbé. The episodes in French frontier history which gave colour to Sorel's thesis were not the expression of a policy of expansion to the Rhine; save for Fleury's acquisition of Lorraine in 1733-1738 they were not the expression of any clearly formulated frontier policy at all. They were no more than a series of actions taken to meet the military exigencies of the moment. Sorel erred in attributing the design of well-thought-out policy to measures which were hasty responses to immediate problems.2

The doctrine of the natural frontier of France on the Rhine is a legacy not of monarchic policy, but of the French Revolution. Valmy was followed by the advance of the French armies to Mainz. Once this territory had been occupied, what was to be done with it? What guarantees could be found against the return of the old rulers, so hostile to the Revolution, save through annexation? But

____________________
1
Esher, Viscount: Journal and Letter, iv, P. 212.
2
For the reassessment of the foreign policy of the French Monarchy, see Zeller, G. : Ia Réunion de Metz à la France, 1552-1648, Paris, 1926; Mommsen, W.: Kardinal Richelieu, Seine Politik im Elsass und im Lothringen, Berlin, 1922; Battifol, L.: "'Richelieu et la question de l'Alsace,'" Revue historique, vol. 138, 1921-1922., pp. 160-199; Picavet, C. G. : La Diplomatie française au temps de Louis XIV, pp. 175-180, Paris, 1930.

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