Fashoda Incident Pits France vs. Britain Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The culmination of British and French rivalry for control of the Upper Nile, the Fashoda incident took Great Britain and France to the brink of war and changed the course of European domestic diplomacy.

Summary of Event

During the summer of 1897, Great Britain approached its zenith as an imperial power, and the British Empire celebrated the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria’s accession to the throne. Nowhere was British imperial power more apparent than in Africa, the arena where the great powers competed for colonies. The most heated imperial rivalry in Africa was between Great Britain and France over Egypt and the large, relatively isolated and desolate area known as the Sudan. Fashoda incident (1898) Sudan;Fashoda incident (1898) Egypt;Fashoda incident (1898) British Empire;Fashoda incident Nile River;Fashoda incident Kitchener, Horatio Herbert Marchand, Jean-Baptiste French Empire;Fashoda incident British Empire;and Sudan[Sudan] French Empire;and Sudan[Sudan] [kw]Fashoda Incident Pits France vs. Britain (July 10-Nov. 3, 1898) [kw]Incident Pits France vs. Britain, Fashoda (July 10-Nov. 3, 1898) [kw]Pits France vs. Britain, Fashoda Incident (July 10-Nov. 3, 1898) [kw]France vs. Britain, Fashoda Incident Pits (July 10-Nov. 3, 1898) [kw]Britain, Fashoda Incident Pits France vs. (July 10-Nov. 3, 1898) Fashoda incident (1898) Sudan;Fashoda incident (1898) Egypt;Fashoda incident (1898) British Empire;Fashoda incident Nile River;Fashoda incident Kitchener, Horatio Herbert Marchand, Jean-Baptiste French Empire;Fashoda incident British Empire;and Sudan[Sudan] French Empire;and Sudan[Sudan] [g]Africa;July 10-Nov. 3, 1898: Fashoda Incident Pits France vs. Britain[6340] [g]Sudan;July 10-Nov. 3, 1898: Fashoda Incident Pits France vs. Britain[6340] [g]Egypt;July 10-Nov. 3, 1898: Fashoda Incident Pits France vs. Britain[6340] [g]Great Britain;July 10-Nov. 3, 1898: Fashoda Incident Pits France vs. Britain[6340] [g]France;July 10-Nov. 3, 1898: Fashoda Incident Pits France vs. Britain[6340] [g]British Empire;July 10-Nov. 3, 1898: Fashoda Incident Pits France vs. Britain[6340] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;July 10-Nov. 3, 1898: Fashoda Incident Pits France vs. Britain[6340] [c]Expansion and land acquisition;July 10-Nov. 3, 1898: Fashoda Incident Pits France vs. Britain[6340] ՙAbd Allāh Salisbury, third marquess of Delcassé, Théophile

Friction had been increasing in northeastern Africa since the mid-nineteenth century. British and French business interests had combined to construct the Suez Canal Suez Canal and a number of Egyptian railroads, but Ismāՙīl Pasha Ismāՙīl Pasha , the khedive of Egypt, had plunged his country into hopeless debt through reckless spending on private and public projects. To get out of debt, he had sold his Suez Canal company shares to the British government in 1875, thereby focusing British interest on the future of Egypt and the canal.

Resentment in Egypt Egypt;and Great Britain[Great Britain] British Empire;and Egypt[Egypt] British Empire;and Egypt[Egypt] over foreign control of its affairs led to violence that provoked a British naval bombardment of the port of Alexandria and the appointment of a British consul general to supervise the activities of the new khedive, Muḥammad Tewfik, in order to protect British interests. Egypt had become a British protectorate, and by abstaining from these affairs France had been eased out of the region. The French consoled themselves by searching for other areas in Africa to control.

During British Empire;and Africa[Africa] Africa;and British Empire[British Empire] the mid-1890’s, Great Britain began developing a vision of a continuous strip of British-held territory, “a thin red line” on the map of Africa, stretching from Cairo "Cape-to-Cairo" railroad[Cape to Cairo railroad] in the north to the Cape of Good Hope in the south. To make this dream a reality, a gap had to be filled by annexing the area known as the Sudan, between the southern boundary of Egypt and northern Uganda Uganda . This area had fallen into the hands of Muḥammad Aḥmad, better known as the Mahdi, Mahdi, the and his dervish followers after the defeat and death of the British general Charles George Gordon Gordon, Charles George at Khartoum Khartoum in 1885. Since that time, Great Britain had not seen fit to challenge the climate, the terrain, and the dervishes who followed the Mahdi’s successor, ՙAbd Allāh ՙAbd Allāh , known as the khalifa, or caliph. British policy had been to maintain, at least temporarily, the status quo in the Sudan.

Gabriel Hanotaux Hanotaux, Gabriel , France’s foreign minister from 1894 to 1898, was a militant expansionist who wanted France to annex as much territory as possible, even if it involved heated diplomacy with other European states. For example, he challenged the British over their longstanding trading rights in Tunisia Tunis;and Great Britain[Great Britain] , which had become a French protectorate in 1881. Hanotaux constantly exerted French claims over Morocco Morocco;and France[France] , although the British, Germans, and Spanish also had considerable interests there. His policies were equally aggressive in other parts of Africa and in Asia. Hanotaux’s diplomacy was supported by France’s equally militant minister of colonies, Théophile Delcassé, Delcassé, Théophile and by a host of aggressive French colonialist organizations.

France French Empire;and Africa[Africa] Africa;and French Empire[French Empire] envisioned a strip of French-held territory stretching across Africa from Senegal Senegal on the Atlantic coast in the west to Somaliland Somalia on the Red Sea in the east. Still chafing over the British takeover in Egypt, the French planned to control the water supply of Egypt by seizing the headwaters of the Nile River Nile River;and imperial rivalries[Imperial rivalries] . After a brief period of diplomatic maneuvers and intrigues, which included providing arms to the Ethiopians that enabled them to defeat Italian forces at the Battle of Adowa in 1896, the French launched the operation.

Meanwhile, in the British House of Commons the British minister of war, Sir Edward Grey Grey, Sir Edward , announced that any French move toward the Nile River “would be viewed as an unfriendly act,” and Great Britain took immediate steps to meet such a threat. Sir Horatio Herbert Kitchener, Kitchener, Horatio Herbert then the chief commander of the Egyptian army, was provided with a strong Anglo-Egyptian force, and he began the reconquest of the Sudan by moving up the Nile River. At the same time a very small French force of Senegalese soldiers and French officers under Captain Jean-Baptiste Marchand began to move eastward from Brazzaville in the French Congo. Both sides were racing to a derelict fortress at Fashoda, a position of strategic importance for controlling the headwaters of the Nile.

After an epic journey, which included transporting all the parts of a steamboat across the wilderness of central Africa, Marchand arrived at Fashoda on July 10, 1898. Two months later, after defeating the dervishes, Kitchener arrived with five gunboats and a superior force. Marchand expected reinforcements to come from the Red Sea coast, but they did not materialize. The French had won the race to Fashoda, but they were outgunned. Observing correct military etiquette, Marchand and Kitchener drank whiskey and sodas together and decided to fly their nations’ flags over different parts of the fortress while awaiting orders from their governments.

Editorial cartoon by Francis Carruthers Gould (1844-1925) commenting on the developing Fashoda crisis. The caption has Captain Jean-Baptiste Marchand saying to the leader of the Anglo-Egyptian expedition, “Do hurry up with those negotiations—it’s very uncomfortable up here.”

The Fashoda confrontation brought Great Britain and France to the brink of war. Public opinion in Europe, inflamed by irresponsible reporting in the press, demanded a decision by force of arms. Théophile Delcassé Delcassé, Théophile , who had recently been appointed French minister of foreign affairs, wisely realized that the French position at Fashoda was hopeless. In addition to Kitchener’s superiority in troop strength on the spot was Britain’s overwhelming naval superiority in the Mediterranean. For France, a military confrontation in that part of Africa was not only undesirable but also potentially catastrophic. Even more significant, the French government was preparing for a dangerous confrontation with Germany. When the time came for a show of force against Germany, France wanted to count on support from Britain. Under unrelenting pressure from the British government led by Lord Salisbury Salisbury, third marquess of , who was both prime minister and foreign secretary, the French gave ground and on November 3, 1898, ordered Marchand to withdraw from Fashoda.

Salisbury, who had prepared for the clash at Fashoda since 1897, sincerely believed that any confrontation between France and Britain could only benefit Imperial Germany. Since the 1870’s, Salisbury had come to distrust the national and international goals of Germany, fearing that Germany, if not checked, might emerge as the dominant power on the Continent. In the long run, such a development would be a serious blow to British policies. Salisbury also understood that if Britain were to humiliate France, the possibilities of ever achieving a Franco-British rapprochement would be almost nonexistent.

With that in mind, as early as 1897, Salisbury Salisbury, third marquess of envisioned making France understand that Britain would assist it in obtaining Morocco Morocco;and France[France] , if the question of the Nile and Sudan were resolved in Britain’s favor. France could receive some minor compensations in the short run, but the Nile question, in the long run, would have to be negotiated with greater colonial questions in mind. French claims were not settled until the following March, when France was obliged to renounce all territory along the Nile River in return for comparatively worthless districts in the Sahara Sahara Desert;and Fashoda incident[Fashoda incident] .

Significance

Marchand was hailed as a mighty hero upon his return to France, and Kitchener rose to the highest military post in Britain. Beyond mortal glories and reputation, however, was the salient fact that Britain and France would not go to war over Fashoda. What began as a dangerous confrontation on the Nile would end up being an important part of the process bringing Britain and France together, and six years later the two nations would sign the historic Entente Cordiale in London. When France finally went to war against Germany in 1914, it did so as Britain’s ally.

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. Best and most detailed work on Delcassé, who was a militant expansionist and who, as foreign minister, had to deal with the Fashoda crisis and its aftermath.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bates, Darrell. The Fashoda Incident of 1898: Encounter on the Nile. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984. Comprehensive scholarly work that covers all aspects of the Fashoda crisis.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Brown, Roger T. Fashoda Reconsidered. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1969. Reevaluation of the Fashoda incident that examines its impact on European expansionism and diplomacy.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lewis, David L. The Race to Fashoda. New York: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1987. Engaging study of the motivations behind the interest of the great powers in Fashoda and the race to control the Upper Nile.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Neillands, Robin. The Dervish Wars: Gordon and Kitchener in the Sudan, 1880-1898. London: John Murray, 1996. Study of British imperial interests in the Sudan that should be of interest to both students and scholars of the subject.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sanderson, George N. England, Europe, and the Upper Nile, 1882-1899. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1965. Classic overview of British imperialism in the Upper Nile that places the Fashoda incident in a broad historical context.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Steele, David. Lord Salisbury: A Political Biography. London: LCL Press, 1999. Reappraisal of Salisbury’s political career that focuses on both his domestic and foreign policies.

Suez Canal Opens

Siege of Khartoum

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Sudanese War

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First Hague Peace Conference

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Charles George Gordon; The Mahdi; Menelik II; Third Marquis of Salisbury. Fashoda incident (1898) Sudan;Fashoda incident (1898) Egypt;Fashoda incident (1898) British Empire;Fashoda incident Nile River;Fashoda incident Kitchener, Horatio Herbert Marchand, Jean-Baptiste French Empire;Fashoda incident British Empire;and Sudan[Sudan] French Empire;and Sudan[Sudan]

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