Courtesy Reuters

What England Means to France

THE traditional conception of England among average Frenchmen is expressed in the words "perfidious Albion." Some years ago I made an effort to run down the source of the term. I failed. One meets it in the songs and epigrams of the French Revolution and in the political writings of the eighteenth century; it was used in the days of the Great King; but its origin is lost in the mists of time. Its modern currency goes back to the "treachery" that imprisoned Napoleon on St. Helena and allowed him to die there. I remember a remark of M. Laval in 1935 when the Ethiopian affair had divided the French people into "Anglophiles" and "Italophiles" and Henri Béraud had published his scandalous article, "England Must Be Reduced To Slavery." Said M. Laval to me: "The French people will never forget the Emperor's wretched end."

The epithet "perfidious Albion" is first of all to be explained by the continuous and often painful contact between the two peoples. In the Middle Ages the French and the English together made up a world apart. They did not yet think of themselves as two separate nations; in fact, it was during their never-ending struggles that each began to be aware of a feeling of patriotism. Under the feudal system French and English intermingled freely on French soil. Do not forget that for three centuries -- from the middle of the twelfth to the middle of the fifteenth -- Aquitaine was a dependency of the British crown. England was the only enemy that the French masses knew at first hand; on England was bestowed the hatred which must forever be the lot of an invader. And this hostility was reciprocated -- one need only read Shakespeare to perceive how cordially. Later on, the sentimental relations between France and England were seriously affected by the execution of Charles I, the husband of a French princess. That was a hard pill for the subjects of Louis XIV to

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