That Sweet Enemy: Britain and France: the History of a Love-Hate Relationship

That Sweet Enemy: Britain and France: the History of a Love-Hate Relationship

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by Robert Tombs, Isabelle Tombs

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That Sweet Enemy brings both British wit (Robert Tombs is a British historian) and French panache (Isabelle Tombs is a French historian) to bear on three centuries of the history of Britain and France. From Waterloo to Chirac’s slandering of British cooking, the authors chart this cross-channel entanglement and the unparalleled breadth of cultural,


That Sweet Enemy brings both British wit (Robert Tombs is a British historian) and French panache (Isabelle Tombs is a French historian) to bear on three centuries of the history of Britain and France. From Waterloo to Chirac’s slandering of British cooking, the authors chart this cross-channel entanglement and the unparalleled breadth of cultural, economic, and political influence it has wrought on both sides, illuminating the complex and sometimes contradictory aspects of this relationship—rivalry, enmity, and misapprehension mixed with envy, admiration, and genuine affection—and the myriad ways it has shaped the modern world.

Written with wit and elegance, and illustrated with delightful images and cartoons from both sides of the Channel, That Sweet Enemy is a unique and immensely enjoyable history, destined to become a classic.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

Maya Jasanoff
Robert and Isabelle Tombs's magnificent survey is an important interpretation of one of Europe's defining relationships and a rollicking, eventful cultural tour. That Sweet Enemy is indispensable reading for anybody interested in Britain, France or the Europe they have shaped.
— The Washington Post
Foreign Affairs
Why read a long book on Anglo-French relations? Whatever the UnitedKingdom and France may have been in the past, they are secondary powers today -- character actors rather than protagonists on the stage of world history. And good arguments can be made that even the limited prominence in world affairs that the two countries currently enjoy is transient. The failure of the European Union to thus far develop an effective single foreign policy gives Paris and London and their relationship more prominence than they will have when (or if) the Europeans begin to speak with one voice. With the Soviets gone, the Europeans disunited, and China and India still at a relatively early point on the road to world power, the United Kingdom and France today look more important than they really are and are likely to be in the future.

So is the writing and the reading of That Sweet Enemy, however delicious and well researched the book is, more of an indulgence than a serious project? Instead of reading about foppishly Anglophile eighteenth-century French aristocrats or about bad nineteenth-century English cuisine, should we not be reading about coal production in China, labor-market reforms in India, and bureaucratic progress, or the lack of it, in Brussels today? <

Library Journal
British historian Robert Tombs (French history, Cambridge Univ.) and the French-born Isabelle Tombs (French, Foreign & Commonwealth Office), whose doctorate is in modern British history, have attempted a vast and ambitious project—to weave together the complex tale of British-French interaction, rivalry, and cultural exchange across the last three centuries. Although utilizing a standard chronology and the usual political high-water marks like war and revolution, this is not a standard political history but a fascinating collection of reflections upon the changing nature of the British-French relationship. Maps, charts, cartoons, graphs, advertisements, and images of various kinds enrich the presentation, freshening familiar tales like Anglo-French rivalry in the New World. Fashion, art, and literature provide further examples of cultural exchange, e.g., the authors show how the work of Shakespeare has served as a "weathervane" for French attitudes toward English culture. The themes of rivalry and respect, as well as alliance and collision, are carried to the present, with discussions of how both the European Union and the Iraq War have provided opportunities for interaction and separation. Both British and French national identity, the authors conclude, have been created and shaped by this rivalry and connection. An impressive book that will delight scholars and informed lay readers alike; recommended for academic collections and large public libraries.
—Marie Marmo Mullaney
From the Publisher
“Magnificent. . . . An important interpretation of one of Europe’s defining relationships and a rollicking, eventful cultural tour.” —The Washington Post Book World “A remarkably inventive, stylish, and audacious work. . . . One of the most engaging and invigorating works of international history I’ve read in years.” —Benjamin Schwarz, The Atlantic Monthly“Grand and luminously detailed.” —The New York Review of Books“It took two people, one English and the other French, to write a book as compendious and unbiased as [That Sweet Enemy]. And it didn't hurt that each seems to have an excellent sense of humor.”—Los Angeles Times

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Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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Chapter 1

Britain joins Europe

England is worth conquering, and whenever there is a probability of getting it, it will surely be attempted. When the people are . . . weak, cowardly, without discipline, poor, discontented, they are easily subdued; and this is our condition . . . nothing can be added to render them an easy prey to a foreigner unless a sense of their misery and hate of them that cause it make them look on any invader as a deliverer.—Algernon Sidney, political writer

A Nation which hath stood its ground, and kept its privileges and freedoms for Hundreds of Years, is in less than a Third of a Century quite undone; hath lavishly spent above 160 Millions in that time, made Hecatombs of British Lives, stockjobb’d (or cannonaded) away its Trade, perverted and then jested away its Honour, Law, and Justice.—Political pamphlet, 1719

In a Europe devastated by more than a century of ferocious religious conflicts, culminating in a Thirty Years War (1618–48) that had killed millions, France, emerging from its own internal conflicts in the 1650s, became the pre-eminent power by reason of its population, armed force, wealth and cultural influence. The embodiment of that power was Louis XIV, who acceded to the throne at the age of four in 1643 and reigned for seventy-two years. Of the fifty-four years when he effectively ruled, thirty-three were years of war. His life was dedicated to ensuring that the king dominated France—culturally and politically—and that France dominated Europe. This was a time when war and predation were normal conditions. The métier de roi—the king’s job—was to direct these conflicts, burnishing his gloire and that of his dynasty and realm, whose prosperity and security were the prizes of his strength and cunning.

Louis XIV dominated Europe less by force of intellect or character—he was hard-working rather than brilliant—than by the length of his reign and his tireless devotion to promoting an image of majesty. Artists, writers, architects, musicians and priests were enrolled, to create (as Louis himself wrote) “an extremely useful impression of magnificence, power, wealth and grandeur.” Versailles, practically complete by 1688, provided a setting that impressed all Europe. It has long been believed—and Louis’s own comments lend support—that his motivation was a reckless thirst for glory. This is not wholly false, but la gloire must be understood to include overtones of “renown,” even “duty.” Unlike some British historians, French historians argue that France under Louis was following no grand strategy, whether to seize the Spanish Empire or to gain territory up to what would later be claimed as France’s “natural frontiers”—the Pyrenees, the Alps and the Rhine. He and his entourage certainly believed in his right as Europe’s greatest monarch to aggrandize his kingdom and dynasty, and to equal or surpass the great men of history—he was hailed as an “Augustus,” a “new Constantine” or “new Charlemagne.” These vague and potentially unlimited ambitions, manifested in imperious words and belligerent acts, rallied most of Europe against him. That Britain was dragged into this maelstrom was Louis’s part in British history. That, against the odds, Britain came to lead the coalition against Louis was its part in his. His personal support of the Stuarts—part chivalry, part piety, part Realpolitik—caused durable bitterness within and between the Three Kingdoms, and made conflict with France inevitable.

By the early 1680s Louis and his ministers could contemplate Europe with satisfaction.

France . . . is naturally fortified against foreign attack, being almost surrounded by seas, by high mountains, or by very deep rivers. She produces an abundance of the things needed for man . . . She has an unusual perfection as a state . . . and her inhabitants are almost infinite in number, robust and generous, born for war, frank and disciplined.

The largest population in Europe—20 million and rising—made France a giant among pygmies. Spain had only 8.5 million; the countless city states, bishoprics and principalities of Germany totalled 12 million, but with a mosaic of vulnerable micro-states on France’s eastern marchlands; the United Provinces of the Netherlands, nearly 2 million; the Scandinavian kingdoms, between 2 and 3 million combined. Well down the pecking order came the “Three Kingdoms,” with a total population of 8 million and falling, and reckoned by the French foreign ministry to constitute Europe’s sixth-ranking power, their government revenues one-fifth those of France, their armies a quarter the size of Sweden’s.

France’s natural strength was consolidated by hard labour. In the 1670s the great minister Colbert had built a larger navy than the Dutch or the English. The army, over 200,000 strong, dwarfed all others. The engineer Marshal Vauban built a vast ring of fortresses, which made the kingdom a protected space and, as can be seen from the many still standing, the most fortified country in the world, able to fight nearly all its wars on foreign soil. Nature and labour were seemingly confirmed by Divine Providence, which favoured France in war and diplomacy, bountifully creating a power vacuum into which Louis had stepped. The old Habsburg enemy, which had once ruled both the Spanish and the Holy Roman empires, was now divided between Madrid and Vienna. Spain, though its colonies were temptingly rich, was in decline. The Empire, fragmented and ravaged by war and religious conflict, was assailed by the Turks, who in 1683 were besieging Vienna. Louis seemed to represent the future: absolute royal authority, professional administration, and religious uniformity. French officials and pamphleteers became accustomed to describing any state that opposed them as “arrogant” and “pretentious,” so rightful did their superiority appear.

The Three Kingdoms, after the restoration of their Euro-Scottish dynasty the Stuarts in 1660, had gravitated towards the Bourbon sun. They had not fully emerged from their own share of the religious and military cataclysm that had sundered Europe, and which had cost Charles I his head and 250,000 of his English and Scottish subjects, and an incalculable number of Irish, their lives.6 The return of Charles II from French exile had been popular at first, after the Puritan republic of “Fanatics” (as their enemies commonly called them). Charles and his brother James, Duke of York, worked to consolidate their restoration by moving towards a modern absolutist regime, bypassing the archaic nuisance of Parliament. This needed French support, including grants of money, sometimes delivered personally to Charles by his valet.7 The French were concerned by England’s budding commercial and naval success, and wanted an ally on the British thrones. Charles’s senior mistress, Louise de Penancouët de Kéroualle, Duchess of Portsmouth, was a useful agent of influence: the French expatriate writer Saint-Evremond suggested that “the silk ribbon round her waist holds France and England together.” Charles did not need such pleasurable inducements: his “mental map of Europe had its centre not in England at all, but France.”8 He helped to start Louis’s aggressive war in 1672 against the Dutch, England’s national enemy. But this war, far from cementing an Anglo-French alliance, seemed sudden proof that the real threat came from France. The French army was alarmingly successful, while their navy was believed to have deliberately shirked battle so that the British and Dutch would destroy each other. French sailors reportedly “bragged that after they had Holland, they hoped to have England.”9 English opinion felt they had been duped into serving Louis’s aggressive designs, with the connivance of a francophile court. As one MP put it, “Our main business is to keep France out of England.”10 Charles assured Louis that he was “standing up for the interests of France against his whole kingdom.”11 Astonishingly, Louis revealed the details of his dealings with Charles to the parliamentary opposition— which he was also bribing. His strategy (he acted similarly in Holland) was to stir the embers of the Civil War in order to keep the Three Kingdoms weak.

Many at home and abroad assumed that the Stuarts’ power depended on the support of Versailles. Ironically, given his eventual fate, James II of England and VII of Scotland (who succeeded Charles in 1685) moved somewhat out of the French orbit, realizing that Louis would sacrifice the Stuarts if it suited him. Although he appointed a French crony, the Marquis de Blanquefort, alias Earl of Feversham (whose brother commanded the French army in 1688), to command his new mercenary army, raised for internal use, and sent an Irish Catholic with a French title, the Marquis d’Albeville, to represent him at the crucial post of The Hague, he did not intend to become wholly dependent, like his brother, on France. His strategy was to avoid expensive European wars while using sea power to counter the French in North America, consolidating his possessions there into a vast private domain—New York already belonged to him—and using the income to become independent of his parliaments. Those of Scotland and Ireland could be ignored, and that of England subverted.

Religion was crucial. The struggle that had convulsed Europe since Luther and Calvin was tilting towards a victory for Catholicism, and hence, so many thought, for monarchs. Louis XIV considered Catholicism the pillar of his power, as well as the source of divine favour. Pressure on France’s remaining 1.5 million Protestants mounted during the 1680s, ending the relative tolerance that had previously caused English religious Dissenters (Presbyterians, Quakers, Baptists) to praise France in contrast to the persecution they suffered in England. Soldiers were billeted on Protestant families to make life unbearable—the infamous dragonnades. In October 1685, Louis, the “New Constantine,” proclaimed victory over the dwindling “Huguenots” (the insulting nickname for Protestants) by revoking the 1598 Edict of Nantes, which had supposedly recognized their religious, civil and political rights in perpetuity. He declared that the “so-called reformed religion” no longer existed in his realm. Hence, there could be no public or private Protestant worship, and no marriage or inheritance. All schools and churches were to be demolished. This was the most popular act of his reign, producing “explosions of joy” among his Catholic subjects, including the court writers La Bruyère, La Fontaine and Racine. Crowds demolished Protestant churches and desecrated cemeteries. There was some armed resistance. The minister of war Louvois ordered: “take very few prisoners . . . spare the women no more than the men.”12 Protestant refugees flooded into Holland and Britain, bringing harrowing stories of persecution. At the behest of the French ambassador, one of the most influential published accounts was seized and burnt by the English government.

This trauma across the Channel darkened the first months of James’s reign, when in February 1685 he became the Catholic king of Europe’s largest remaining Protestant realm. Like several other circumspect northern princes, Charles and James had moved towards Catholicism, partly for personal and family reasons—the influence of their French mother—but also because they shared the universal view that Catholicism buttressed royal authority. Charles’s position was mainly political, but James was genuinely Catholic. In either case, their combination of religious and secular power was stigmatized by their opponents as “Popery.” It was all the more alarming in the light of the persecution in France, which James approved of. The choice, as one peer put it, was “whether I will be a slave and a Papist, or a Protestant and a free man.”13 Rebellions against James broke out in Scotland and in the West Country, where Charles I’s illegitimate Protestant son the Duke of Monmouth proclaimed himself king. The risings were quickly and harshly suppressed. A woman was burned at the stake for harbouring a traitor, and some 300 men were hanged, drawn and quartered: the execution grounds were awash with body fluids. James’s aim was to legalize Catholicism in his kingdoms. He tried to both charm and bully Anglicans into an alliance with Catholics against the turbulent Dissenters, even meeting every MP individually. When this failed, he switched desperately to an opposite strategy: to create an alliance of Catholics and Dissenters against the Anglican establishment by offering toleration to both. He dared not end the exclusion of Catholics from Parliament, but instead took steps to pack the House of Commons with Dissenters. He sacked two-thirds of Anglican JPs and Lords Lieutenant and appointed a disproportionate number of Dissenters and Catholics to positions of military and political power: Catholics included a Secretary of State, the acting Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, the Lord Chancellor, and the commander of the fleet. A Jesuit, Father Edward Petre, joined the Privy Council. James intended Catholicism to attain equality with the “established” church, with its own bishops, parishes, tithes and colleges. This meant displacing Anglicans: for example Magdalen College, Oxford, was ordered to elect a Catholic president, and when its Fellows refused they were all expelled.14 Mass was publicly celebrated at the Chapel Royal, and a papal nuncio received. Some hoped and many feared that in the fullness of time the whole country would, like France, be brought back to Catholicism. James’s strategy became suddenly more credible when in June 1688 a male heir, who took precedence over his Anglican half-sisters Mary and Anne, was born and baptized a Catholic. The rumour spread that the baby was not genuine, but had been smuggled into the queen’s bedroom in a warming-pan.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

Isabelle Tombs was born in France, studied at the Université de Paris I (Panthéon-Sorbonne) and received a Ph.D in modern British history at Trinity College, Cambridge. Robert Tombs was born in England, studied at Cambridge, and conducted doctoral research on modern French history in France where he was connected to Université de Paris IV (Sorbonne). Presently, Isabelle teaches French at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Robert is a reader in French History at Cambridge and a Fellow of St. John's College. They live in Cambridge, England.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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That Sweet Enemy: Britain and France: the History of a Love-Hate Relationship 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Was i the only one thinking of that super funny historical anime hetalia when i was reading this book ? It's really awesome because real life countries are people in this anime ! Fruk or Usuk the world will never know ! LOL ( also beware because this anime has alot of sterotypes so you should not watch it if your feelings get easily hurt . Hetalia just makes you laugh at yourself because you know those sterotypes are not actually true in your country you live in . ) anyway this book has a lot of information between england & france forigen relationship between eachother and it stops and makes you think of history more : - ) p.s Im the first reviewer OMG !
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