Gateway to the Classics: The World at War by M. B. Synge
The World at War by  M. B. Synge

The Entente Cordiale

"And the soul of the Gaul shall leap to the soul of the Briton Through all disguises and shows."
—Stephen Phillips (Midnight, 1900).

The passing years of growing friendships and better understandings were sure safeguards of the peace so earnestly desired by the King of England. But they were more than this. The "peacemaker of the world" was able, by reason of his personality, to bring nations together on a firmer basis than that of mere personal friendship.

Perhaps nothing illustrates this better than the story of the Entente Cordiale with France.

King Edward had left England in the spring of 1903 for the first foreign tour of his reign. After visits to King Carlos at Lisbon and Victor Emmanuel in Rome, he returned by way of Paris. It was three years since he had visited the French capital. Feelings had run high in France over the South African War, and his reception was somewhat uncertain. Indeed it was hinted that he might be hooted by a people who had warmly received President Kruger on his flight from Pretoria, but a short time since. The King arrived, and the temper of the Parisian populace seemed doubtful.

But he himself dreamed of no danger, and his courage won the day. His first public words won the heart of France: "It is hardly necessary to tell you," he said, "with what sincere pleasure I find myself once more in Paris. The days of hostility between the two countries are, I am sure, happily at an end. There may have been misunderstandings in the past, but that is all happily over and forgotten. The friendship of the two countries is my constant thought, and I count on you all, who enjoy French hospitality in their beautiful city, to aid me to reach this goal."

The people remembered his staunch friendship for them even from boyhood, and cheered enthusiastically. The old wounds of Fashoda and the South African War were healed and all was well again.

A State banquet was followed by military reviews with President Loubet in attendance. French enthusiasm for the King of England grew daily.

When, three months later, the French President returned the royal visit, he was warmly welcomed.

" I hope," said the King with unusual warmth, "that the welcome you have to-day received has convinced you of the true friendship which my country feels for France."

The reply was cordial. "France was the friend of England."

"It is my most ardent wish that the rapprochement between the two countries may be lasting." This was Loubet's farewell message telegraphed to the King.

The sequel to the story is well known.

A General Agreement was drawn up between England and France in 1904 by which the two Governments reached an understanding in all questions under dispute, and further, that France would leave England a free hand in Egypt, and England would allow France a free hand in Morocco.

Now, although this Agreement between England and France was in no way an alliance against Germany, Germany was very vexed with it.

"Everything has been settled and we see that we have been kept systematically aloof," the Germans said bitterly.

With regard to Morocco, "the Farthest West of the Mohammedan world," they were specially concerned.

"France and Spain," argued the Kaiser, "wish to divide up Morocco, which is an independent country under its own Sultan, and close its markets."

Be this as it may, men could not but remember the Kaiser's words at Damascus, but a few years ago: "May the Sultan and the three hundred thousand Mohammedans scattered over the earth be assured that the German Emperor will always be their friend." Suddenly Europe was startled at the news that the Kaiser in his yacht had landed at Tangier, Morocco's capital, and during his short two-hour visit addressed the little German colony there.

"The Empire has great and growing interest in Morocco," he said. "My visit is to show my resolve to do all in my power to safeguard German interests. It is to the Sultan in his capacity of independent sovereign that I pay my visit to-day. I hope that under his sovereignty, a free Morocco will remain open to the peaceful competition of all nations without annexation, on a policy of absolute equality."

Great disquiet followed his lightning visit, feelings ran high, war rumours filled the air, and although peace was maintained, Germany continued to feel aggrieved.

As if to add fuel to the fire, a visit to England by the Prince and Princess of Japan was followed by a new departure from the traditions of British diplomacy, namely, a new alliance with Japan, by which each country pledged itself to assist the other if attacked, and to make war in common.

Meanwhile both England and Germany, though mutually distrusting one another, were seeking new alliances and the forging of new bonds with European countries. Each sought friendship with Russia. The Kaiser was first in the field, and the story of the "Willy-Nicky" correspondence over a proposed Treaty between Germany, Russia, and France nearly changed the face of Europe.

Both countries were, for the moment, enraged against England, though Kaiser, Tsar, and King were all related to one another and on terms of personal friendship.

"The only way, as you say," wrote the Tsar to the Kaiser, "would be that Germany, Russia, and France should at once unite. This combination has often come into my mind. It will mean peace and rest for the world."

"Best thanks," telegraphed the Kaiser. "Have sent off draft of Treaty you wished for this evening."

A letter followed from the Kaiser: "I at once communicated with the Chancellor and we have secretly drawn up the articles of the Treaty. If you and I stand shoulder to shoulder, France must openly join us. I enclose draft of the Treaty. May it meet with your approval. Nobody knows anything about it, not even my Foreign Office."

The Tsar demurred at certain points, and the Kaiser gave good advice for "keeping the British lion in his den."

"Should the revised draft meet with your approval, it can be signed immediately. God grant that we may have found the right way to hem in the horrors of war and give His blessing to our plans," added the Kaiser.

The Tsar, always uncertain, thought that France should see the Treaty before he signed it.

"It is my firm conviction," returned the Kaiser, "that it would be absolutely dangerous to inform France before we have both signed the Treaty. It is only the knowledge that we are both bound by the Treaty for mutual help that will bring France to press upon England to keep the peace for fear of France's position being jeopardised."

But the months passed on and the Treaty remained unsigned.

In July 1905 the Kaiser was yachting in the Gulf of Finland when he proposed a meeting with the Tsar, as "simple tourists and without any ceremony." The monarchs met in their yachts on the shores of the Gulf. The Kaiser at once produced the draft of the Treaty, and persuaded the Tsar to sign it on board the Hohenzollern. Then the Kaiser returned home delighted with his work.

But the Tsar was oppressed by his guilty secret."

A letter suggesting difficulties which he foresaw in the future brought a severe reply from Germany. "What is signed, is signed. God is our testator."

France, however, refused to agree, and the Treaty became useless.

Relieved, the Tsar turned for help to Great Britain.

A closer intimacy had been growing between the two countries for some time. This was as acceptable to France, as it was distasteful to Germany.

Since the Kaiser's visit, Russian internal troubles had reached a crisis, and the difficulty of the Tsar in dealing with the growing discontent of his people had become apparent. The story of "Bloody Sunday," 9th January 1905, was never to be forgotten. After oft-repeated petitions to their Tsar, the workmen of Russia decided to act. Led by a priest, Gapon, the peasants of Petrograd, carrying ikons and singing religious songs, marched to the Winter Palace to present a further petition in person to the Tsar.

"Sire," ran the pitiful document, "here are many thousands of us, we come to thee, Sire, to seek for truth and defence. We have been oppressed, we are treated as slaves who must suffer and keep silence. The limit of patience has arrived. Government officials have brought the country to complete destruction. We, working men, have no voice in the expenditure raised from us in taxes. Do not refuse assistance to your people. Destroy the wall between thyself and thy people. Russia is too great for officials alone to rule. National representation is indispensable. If thou wilt not answer our prayer, we shall all die here on this square before thy Palace."

But the Tsar had already left the capital. The troops were ordered to fire on the unarmed workers, with whom were women and children, and some fifteen hundred were killed. It was indeed Bloody Sunday. True, the first Parliament, or Duma, ever held in Russia was held the following year, but it was speedily dissolved, and the discontent was so great that when in the summer of 1908 the King and Queen of England suggested a visit to Russia, the first visit ever paid by an English King, it was deemed prudent to hold the meeting at Reval on the shores of the Finland Gulf. Here they were received by the Tsar Nicholas and Tsarina Alexandra after a separation of seven years. It was a meeting with far-reaching results. For soon the news ran through Europe that the two countries, England and Russia, were in complete agreement "on all points."

In fact, a Triple Entente had been created by England, Russia, and France, as opposed to the Triple Alliance between Germany, Austria, and Italy, which still held good.

"It seems," commented the Kaiser, "it seems they wish to encircle and provoke us."

Be this as it may, he knew that Germany, his Fatherland, stood solidly behind him, and amid universal enthusiasm from his own people the Kaiser went on his way.

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