Voisins terribles: a short history of Anglo-French rivalry since the dawn of time

One would think an ocean, rather than just a channel, separates the two
No we don't actually hate each other, ok we do.

No we don’t actually hate each other, ok we do.

Forget the Cold War, forget Barcelona vs. Real Madrid, if humanity has ever had a rivalry for the ages it is that between Britain and France. But just when we thought the seeds of discord had been buried in the sands of time, the recent spats between the two countries as a result of the Euro crisis have reminded us that old habits die hard. And I mean really old. As historian Desmond Seward notes in his short but classic account of the Hundred Years War, “Undoubtedly the antagonism between fifteenth-century Englishmen and Frenchmen reflected a genuinely national xenophobia. By Joan of Arc’s day, at least, the French were already using the word Godon – ‘God-damn’ – to describe an Englishman.” Touché.

Admittedly, one must be at least thankful that the rivalry between these two old and proud nations now extends only to the realm of politics, trade and sport. After all, it has taken almost a millennium of savage conflict to realize that differences are better settled on the football or rugby field rather than the battlefield. And one must not deny that behind the veneer of hatred and envy, there is also a less visible feeling of mutual respect and gratitude. After all, how many thousands of Britons did not give their lives in the trenches of the Somme or the hedgerows of Normandy? And how many Frenchmen did not die defending their country from the Kaiser and the Fuhrer so that Britain would not be next? Nevertheless, let’s travel back in time to explore the most noteworthy historical moments of the Anglo-French rivalry since the dawn of time. Continue reading