Anglo-French rivalry can animate politicians and historians in equal measure – and while the former have been preoccupied with fishing disputes, the latter have been reflecting on the antecedents of this fractious relationship. Ian Dunt (@iandunt) remarked: “Quite apart from Brexit, fish etc, I find the whole Anglo-French rivalry so tiresome. [It] was really striking to me how connected [both nations] were in creating liberalism, and how those who did so – [Benjamin] Constant, [John Stuart] Mill – were so deeply invested in both countries.”


Dan Snow (@thehistoryguy) added his take on what he described as his “pet subject”, commenting: “Adam Smith discovered the physiocrats and laissez-faire in Paris; [18th-century scholar] Montesquieu [was] profoundly influenced by his time in Britain. The Duke of Bridgewater [was] inspired to build canals after a France visit. And Wellington learned to soldier as a student not at Eton, but in France.” Arthur Dent (@A4Dent) provided more recent examples, noting that Anglo-French “cooperation” created Concorde and the Channel Tunnel.

Elizabeth of Warwick (@oshay moishe1) tweeted: “Sadly it’s a rivalry that goes back to the Norman conquest. Just mention the Hundred Years’ War or Agincourt and the English start to salivate. War against France was the one way people would happily dig into their pockets to fund it.”

Listen: John Shovlin describes 18th-century efforts to reset Anglo-French relations – from bitter enemies to economic partners, on this episode of the HistoryExtra podcast:

Tyler (@CasperoBull) was perplexed: “It’s all very strange, considering that post-1066, we were ruled by essentially a French dynasty for 400 years and adopted much of their culture and customs that formed our country… odd how some people keep fighting a 200-year-old war in their imagination.”

Shelagh Sneddon (@ShelaghSneddon) noted that, “It’s one of the biggest differences between Scotland and England. This animosity doesn’t really exist in Scotland, largely because France were our allies against England for much of the Middle Ages. As a result, it bewilders me whenever I meet it.” On this, John Stanners (@JohnStanners) said: “Do you think the problem England has with the French is due to the Auld Alliance [a 1295 alliance made between the kingdoms of Scotland and France]? It’s the only reason that I can think of for the current issues.” Tricia Greig (@Triciagreig2) was also among those to point to the Auld Alliance, noting that it “recognised close association and [agreed] in some measure to protect each other from English encroachment… [It was] never formally revoked”.

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And so the discussion went on, with pearsisido (@PearsiSido) making perhaps the most pithy, although arguably the most controversial, contribution, asking: “Isn’t England basically French?” Answers on a postcard, or a tweet, please…

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This article first appeared in the Christmas 2021 issue of BBC History Magazine


Anna Whitelock is chair in history at City, University of London