On 8th April 1904, a series of agreements between Britain and France known as the Entente Cordiale were signed. The name is French for “warm understanding,” with the Entente Cordiale settling imperialistic disputes between Britain and France in places such as Egypt and Morocco. The agreement marked the end of years of intermittent conflict between Britain and France, and set the stage for the series of agreements known as the Triple Entente that bound Britain, France and Russia together at the start of the First World War.
Throughout the late 19th Century, German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck had been constantly toying with the European balance of power to keep France from forming alliances with other European nations. Meanwhile, Britain had actively maintained its own “splendid isolation”, focusing instead on its sprawling Empire. The Entente Cordiale therefore marked a significant change in European politics.
However, it was not a military alliance. Despite being closely associated with the First World War due to the later emergence of the Triple Entente, the Entente Cordiale was simply an understanding between France and Britain over foreign policy in three very specific regions.
When the centenary was celebrated in 2004, posters at the Gare du Nord railway station in Paris and the Waterloo railway station in London, were emblazoned with the words ‘Entente Cordiale’. The irony that Waterloo was named after the battle where a British-led coalition destroyed Napoleon’s army was not lost on either side.