Entente Cordiale Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Entente Cordiale settled long-standing disputes between England and France and began an era of improved relations that eventually made the two nations allies in World War I.

Summary of Event

Rapprochement between Great Britain and France, culminating in 1904 in the Entente Cordiale, was born of the realization in both countries at the beginning of the twentieth century that each had more to gain by seeking the other’s friendship than by perpetuating hostile and dangerous imperialistic rivalry. Anglo-French conflict was possible at a number of places around the globe. In the Far East, tension was growing between Japan (an ally of Great Britain) and Russia (an ally of France). The outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War in 1904 made it important for London and Paris to repair their damaged relations to avoid becoming involved in war against each other. Entente Cordiale (1904) Diplomacy;Great Britain Diplomacy;France [kw]Entente Cordiale (Apr. 8, 1904) [kw]Cordiale, Entente (Apr. 8, 1904) Entente Cordiale (1904) Diplomacy;Great Britain Diplomacy;France [g]England;Apr. 8, 1904: Entente Cordiale[01030] [g]France;Apr. 8, 1904: Entente Cordiale[01030] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Apr. 8, 1904: Entente Cordiale[01030] Delcassé, Théophile Barclay, Sir Thomas Edward VII Loubet, Émile-François Lansdowne, Lord (Henry Charles Keith Petty-Fitzmaurice) Cambon, Pierre Paul

The two nations had, in fact, already come into conflict in 1898 over the crisis at Fashoda (now Kodok), the climax of the struggle for the Sudan, but France was not in a very strong position at the time. A similar situation arose in North Africa, where Great Britain desired a free hand in Egypt while France wanted the same in Morocco; French financial interests in Egypt had long bothered Great Britain, whose large share of Moroccan trade was a source of major discomfort to France. Other minor problems, including the traditional dispute over the Newfoundland fisheries, also marred Anglo-French relations.

The British and French had been in dangerous competition in Africa for more than two decades. The French had an added burden in that they had been humiliated in the Franco-Prussian War and by the Treaty of Frankfurt of 1871. One aspect of the new imperialism of the late nineteenth century for France was a psychological one. Territorial annexation helped assuage some French sensibilities, but it also focused national ire on Britain, which had become France’s chief competitor in Africa. On both sides of the English Channel political rhetoric often became heated. In the wake of the Fashoda crisis, Théophile Delcassé, who became French foreign minister in the aftermath of the embarrassment on the Nile, wanted to proceed with caution in dealing with any new relationship with Britain.

Inside Europe, the relations of both countries with Germany provided better reasons for mutual friendship. Great Britain no longer desired splendid isolation, and the nation made repeated attempts between 1898 and 1901 to enter into an alliance with Germany, but anti-British feeling in Germany generated by the Boer War of 1899-1902 Boer War (1899-1902) not only frustrated these attempts but also had the effect of bringing Great Britain closer to France. A number of British politicians distrusted Germany’s intentions on the Continent. Many, including Lord Salisbury, who was the British prime minister at the time of the Fashoda crisis, believed that Germany, if left unchecked under Emperor William II, William II would emerge as the undisputed power in Europe. William II was seen as aggressive, militant, and often erratic, and his near-paranoid distrust of England and King Edward VII was widely recognized. This was not a solid foundation on which to make a mutually beneficial alliance.

On the other side, France, always fearful of Germany, came to realize by 1904 that an entente with England might compensate for its disappointing alliance with Russia, which had turned out to be a financial drain without visible returns on the diplomatic level. Both the British and the French governments appointed new officials to improve relations between their countries.

In France, Delcassé, the new minister of foreign affairs, tried to persuade the British to acquiesce in French dominance of Morocco; for this he was willing to back down from a confrontation with British forces at Fashoda in 1898. On March 21, 1899, he reached agreement with Great Britain demarcating the French and English spheres of influence in Africa. A year later, Delcassé gave his blessing to the efforts of Sir Thomas Barclay, a British official, to arrange for British chambers of commerce to visit the great Paris Exposition. Barclay also arranged for French chambers of commerce to visit England in return.

On October 14, 1903, both states signed the Anglo-French Treaty of Arbitration, Anglo-French Treaty of Arbitration (1903)[Anglofrench Treaty of Arbitration (1903)] promising to submit most of their disputes to the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague. Barclay was as influential in arranging this treaty as he was in organizing an exchange of visits to the two capitals by King Edward VII and President Émile-François Loubet in 1903. Edward VII’s visit to Paris was a huge success, attracting large, friendly, and cheering crowds. The British king, who had always been popular in France, did much to warm relations between the two countries.

King Edward VII rides in a carriage with French leader Émile-François Loubet in 1903. The two met as a prelude to the signing of the Entente Cordiale.

(Library of Congress)

Expressions of warmth and friendship on both visits helped to smother anti-British feeling in France stemming from the Boer War. Also, Delcassé accompanied Loubet on his visit to London and used the occasion to begin serious negotiations with the new British foreign secretary, Lord Lansdowne, to settle outstanding differences between the two governments. This led to the signing of the Entente Cordiale on April 8, 1904, by Lord Lansdowne and Pierre Paul Cambon, the French ambassador at London.


Although not a military pact, the Entente Cordiale reestablished good relations between Great Britain and France so that military cooperation was possible in the dark days of August, 1914. Among the minor disputes settled by the Entente Cordiale were disagreements regarding the Newfoundland fisheries, West African boundaries, Siam, Madagascar, and the New Hebrides Islands. Most important was the provision that France would allow Great Britain a free hand in Egypt in exchange for being allowed a free hand in Morocco. Under a secret convention of the Entente Cordiale, Great Britain agreed to an eventual partition of Morocco between Spain and France whereby the Spanish controlled the coastal area opposite Gibraltar while the French occupied the hinterland.

Although it is correct to view the Entente Cordiale in the light of a warming of relations between France and Britain and a settling of long-standing colonial conflicts, the agreement’s military effects were important as well. The Entente gave the general staffs of France and Britain the opportunity to visit each other and discuss military matters of mutual interest. Although serious misunderstandings still existed between the two armies, they found certain common ground, and plans were slowly formulated for concerted action if war with Germany ever began. Despite obvious Russian weaknesses, made manifest by the Russo-Japanese War, it was clear that France was in a much better position militarily and diplomatically than it had been since the Franco-Prussian War.

In Delcassé’s view, the primary purpose of this agreement with Great Britain, as it was for a similar one made with Italy in 1902, was to gain French ascendancy in Morocco. To an insulted Germany, whose Moroccan interests Delcassé believed he could ignore, the Anglo-French agreement took on far greater significance, especially given that France was already allied with Russia. For Germany, the balance maintained for ten years between the Triple Alliance Triple Alliance (Germany, Italy, and Austria-Hungary) and the Franco-Russian Dual Alliance Dual Alliance of 1894 had now shifted in favor of the newly emerging Triple Entente. Triple Entente The German foreign office was particularly angered by the fact that Great Britain and France had sealed their rapprochement at the expense of German interests in Morocco. German attempts to defend these interests in 1905 and 1911 touched off two serious Moroccan crises, which in turn led to the strengthening of the Anglo-French accord. The combined effect was to divide Europe into two armed camps that were to move against each other in 1914. Entente Cordiale (1904) Diplomacy;Great Britain Diplomacy;France

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Andrew, Christopher. Théophile Delcassé and the Making of the Entente Cordiale. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1968. One of the best and most detailed accounts available of the events surrounding the signing of the Entente Cordiale.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dunlop, Ian. Edward VII and the Entente Cordiale. London: Constable & Robinson, 2004. Emphasizes the role played by the British monarch in establishing the Entente while describing all of the various individuals involved. Also reviews Britain’s earlier attempts to improve relations with France.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fay, Sidney B. The Origins of the World War. 2 vols. New York: Free Press, 1966. Revisionist study remains a classic. Provides detailed analysis of the background, signing, and results of the Entente Cordiale.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Grey, Sir Edward. Twenty-Five Years, 1892-1916. New York: Frederick A. Stokes, 1925. Memoirs of an individual who was involved in great events from the Entente Cordiale to the outbreak of World War I provide good insight into the period.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hale, Oron J. The Grand Illusion, 1900-1914. New York: Harper & Row, 1971. Addresses social as well as diplomatic crosscurrents of the period.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kennedy, Paul. The Rise of Anglo-German Antagonism, 1860-1914. London: Allen & Unwin, 1980. Provides extensive analysis of the factors leading up to the Entente Cordiale.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mayne, Richard, Douglas Johnson, and Robert Tombs, eds. Cross Channel Currents: One Hundred Years of the Entente Cordiale. New York: Routledge, 2004. Collection of essays on the Entente begins with discussion of how the agreement began and its immediate impacts. Also addresses the meaning and functions of the Entente in the years since World War I.

Tangier Crisis

Formation of the Triple Entente

Outbreak of World War I

Categories: History