“Why does everybody hate the French so much?”
These words were spoken by Frederick the Great at the onset of the Seven Years War – in reality, as history buffs know, this was ‘the first world war’ in everything but name. However ‘old Fritz’ knew a thing or two about international politics; he was well-read, well-liked and conversed with everyone, so it is fair to say that, at least in the mid-late 1700’s everybody really did. Well I can’t speak for the Germans as a race. Frederick actually quite liked the French (until they tried to invade him, of course) but there was something there, certainly.
Now, before I go on, I should add that this should be taken with a heavy pinch of salt and accepted with an extra large measure of British jingoism. The fact is that we don’t actually ‘hate’ the French; they’re just annoying. By rights we (that is the British) probably should dislike them a deal more than we actually do, but it isn’t our way. We just like to let them think it. It is a very old game we are playing which goes back a thousand years, and which the British and French have seemingly forgotten how to play nicely. Of course, it’s their fault (see, here we go!) and it isn’t really our fault that we won the game. It had become a bit like those epic games of Monopoly though that go on for days until everyone hates playing but refuses to lose. But really the French deserved it and worse, they are still sat there at the Monopoly board buying up houses and hotels and declaring themselves the winner, hoping to annoy us.
I want to take us on a waltz through history (with a bit of ‘John Bull jingoism’ thrown in) to explain why we British, at least, dislike the French. As you will see, they really are like the horror-movie characters Mike Myers or Jason Voorhies; you knock them down and they just get up and come back after you. Even when you think they’re buried and gone, they come back for an ever more dull sequel. In fact, to liken them to a mad serial killer is too much credit. Anyone remember the ‘Gobbledigooker’ from the WWE wrestling? He was the mad guy dressed as a chicken who formed part of Wrestlemania legend. Every year he came out with a new plan to attack the 6’10 monster Kane – nobody ever knew why, or what his problem was – and every year Kane put him away with a chokeslam and a tombstone piledriver to the roars of the crowd. Next year, of course, he would be back. That is France; an annoying man in a chicken suit who just won’t give up or go away.
Let’s have a look at fifteen reasons why we hate the French through history. An episode which I typically refer to as ‘The Thousand Years War’:
1) Hastings – Yes, as I said, they started it. The battle of Hastings in 1066. William ‘the bastard’ – some like to call him that – decided that he should be King. Someone had done a deal somewhere, he got cut out and now determined to cross the sea and come and get us. Of course, being French, he decided to not do it on his own and to wait for the Vikings to do the bulk of the work in Yorkshire, and then to turn up and finish us off. Sadly for him, Harold Godwinson destroyed the Vikings at Stamford Bridge and them marched the 300 miles to Hastings in the frozen weather with his army peeling away.Even then, old William was losing until he feigned retreat to drag the English soldiers down from the heights where his cavalry did for them. In modern terms it was like a weak guy crying that he had had enough and then pulling a flick-knife. Still, the French won, and they won’t let us forget it. For our part, we had Robin Hood though, who embarrassed and mulcted them at every turn, so we can get over it well enough.
2) The Crusades – The French determined to show everyone what great blokes they were by dragging us all off to the Holy Land and leading us to certain destruction. Only England’s King Richard the Lionheart (whom the evil French had previously imprisoned) really gave Saladin the right-about (see battle of Arsuf) but in the end, he was dead and the Crusades were lost. Except that the French determined to send about 10,000 school-boys out there with some kind of religious zeal, considering that God would see victory done if they said their prayers and sang hymns at the Persian horde long enough. Perhaps not surprisingly, nobody came back.
3) The Hundred Years War – The French love this one of course, because they won. Sadly, however, nobody cares or remembers that they did. We think of the Hundred Years War and we remember Crecy, Agincourt, Poitiers and Verneuil. Particularly in the first three, we gave them amongst the most embarrassing kickings of their ignoble careers. Again this was their fault. Having conquered our country and joined together the Royal Houses, they then didn’t much like it that the crown fell to England by succession and even pulled out their farcical bit of ‘Salic Law’ to try to prove the case…except that it was some old document pertaining to land in Germany. Finally they pulled up a French peasant girl named Joan of Arc who led them to victory, turning the tide at Orleans (and other battles the world has forgotten) but we got the last laugh, capturing and burning poor Joan as a witch. They have never forgiven us for that, mind you.
4) The War of Spanish Succession – This was the first time where Britain really got to have a good slap back at the French, and we did it in fine style. Good old Marlborough gave them a kicking at the battle of Donauworth then wrecked them at the battle of Blenheim, then at Ramillies and Oudenarde, took all of their principal fortresses including the impregnable Lille and then fought them at Malplaquet. This was a typically French battle; ‘If we can’t win we’ll just ruin the game’ – they didn’t even try to win, just to cause casualties. In the end, and despite never having lost to the French, Britain pulled out of the war due to their ministers ‘fiddling’ with the British court and persuading everyone that Marlborough was an old warmonger. They couldn’t beat him on the field so stabbed him in the back. Still they lost, though on much better terms than they deserved to.
5) The Seven Years War – Okay there were other wars, such as the Austrian Succession, but this one really gets my goat. The true ‘First World War’ raged across the globe for seven years, and everywhere the British went, the bloody French were there ready to butter the proverbial stairs for us. On our own doorstep they paid and equipped the Jacobites. In India they paid vast armies to attack us and do nasty things, whilst in Canada and North America they decided to fight even dirtier. Converting the local tribes to Christianity they produced their very own ‘French’ copy of the Bible. In it, Jesus was a lovely, happy little French boy who was one day brutally crucified by the evil English who were the Devil’s own people. They then diddled old Mary to death in a fiendish orgy and God decreed that all men should therefore hate and kill the men in red. This was a work for which the term ‘malice of forethought’ falls very short of the mark. Perhaps one of the lowest, dirtiest tricks ever played, and a subject they should have stayed well clear of. It didn’t help them though, of course, General Wolfe delivered the knock-down at the battle of Quebec, they lost, and ‘New France’ went the same way as old France – down the swanny, something we had ensured by embarrassing them at the battle of Minden. It was now ‘British North America.’ Meanwhile in India Robert Clive won an unlikely victory at Plassey and booted them out there as well. When the war ended, France had lost pretty much everything. You’d have thought they would have given up!
6) The American War of Independence – Again, the dastardly French had to stick their oars into stuff which didn’t concern them, and while Britain’s back was turned, they decided to take another swipe. This time they made sure that Spain and Holland were with them too – indeed by the end of the war Britain was fighting the entire known world and actually forced a half-decent draw on them all. Still, Lafayette and Washington between them won at Yorktown and the French raced back to Europe to announce ‘their’ victory, cutting Washington out of the picture completely. However after the surrender, the Americans were amazed to find the bitter enemies of Britain and France as the best of friends. They were disgusted that bayonet charges and death were instantly replaced with dances and dinners. Of course, they didn’t realise that we had been doing this for hundreds of years already…it was a game, the French had scored a point, and somewhere else they would all be killing each other somewhere else instead. Once the fighting stopped, they were old friends until the next show. This is something which seemingly the French have forgotten.
7) The French Revolution – What nasty sods they were to execute their own King (said the British who had done the same 150 years before) – but our own method was at least civilised. The French, by comparison, were carving up the Madamoiselles of Versailles in the most atrocious and fiendish fashion, killing children and losing all sense of fashion and common decency. Of course, all Britain went just a bit ‘Francophile’ at this. We rapidly opened our doors to accommodate the fleeing French nobility and there were real life ‘Scarlet Pimpernels’ who did a fair job of saving many of them. Of course, this brought to the front a young Corsican called Bonaparte, and he was to give us some troubles, but again the dastardly French were finally beaten at the early turn of the 19th century. We even forced them to surrender en masse in Egypt and nicked the Rosetta stone off of them, which serves them right!
8) The Napoleonic Wars – Yes there were a lot of them, and for once the French were more like a Myers/Voorhies character than an annoying chicken. Of course, Bonaparte had a lot to do with that. Now I like him. In fact, I am a confirmed ‘Napoleon worshipper’ – so this is a little difficult. But again, not to let sleeping dogs lie, the French were arming, equipping and training the Indians to pay us back. They didn’t even really want India at this point, they just didn’t want us to have it! Enter stage young Arthur Wellesley – later to be Duke of Wellington who crushed the Tipoo Sultan at Seringapatam and the Mahrattas at Assaye, Argaum and Gawilghur. Meanwhile the French tried to raise revolts in Scotland and Ireland, invaded Wales and generally made a mess of our back yard although beaten at every turn. When Nelson crushed the French at Trafalgar (good show!) Napoleon tried to block Britain off from European trade by his continental system and when Portugal didn’t comply, Napoleon invaded them…and thought he might have Spain with it. Enter once again Arthur Wellesley who trounced them from Hell to Huddersfield at the battles of Rolica, Vemiero, Oporto, Talavera, Busaco, Fuentes d’Onoro, Cuidad Rodrigo, Badajoz, Salamanca, Vittoria, the Pyrenees, Nive, Nivelle, Orthes and Toulouse…along with a hundred more smaller actions. After that, they gave up…for a bit.
9) Waterloo – Yes the stunning sequel in which the crazed psychopath gets up once again and goes for the jugular and this time it was Wellesley, now Field Marshal Lord Wellington who had to ‘save the world again’ in the words of the Tsar Alexander. Despite the measly old Prussians going down to a beating reminiscent of a bar-room-brawl at Ligny, Wellington held firm at Quatre Bras (with not much help from the Dutch who seemed inclined to throw the whole game away) and pulled back to Waterloo, which he had long-since considered would make a mighty fine battlefield. Finally after hundreds and hundreds of years, here it was: The decider. Whoever won this one was going to win a game that had started at Hastings in 1066 and Napoleon got drubbed. Of course, this being the biggest thrashing the French had received since Blenheim 111 years before and infinitely more decisive) they were forced to do a ‘patch-up’ job on it and to award the victory more to the Prussians who had turned up in the dying light and popped off a few shots on the French right flank. Meanwhile they decided to educate their children that they had, in fact, won, and built statues everywhere to show it. French thinking in the 200 years since Waterloo has been marked; if they made it ‘Napoleon’s battle’ then maybe in a thousand years people might forget that he had actually lost. Meanwhile ABBA sang a song about it just to remind them, and Wellington conducted his second tour of the Paris salons, rogering his way through the best ladies of French society, putting the proverbial ‘nob’ into ‘nobility’ and ensuring that half the top sons of France could answer to the name Wellesley if only they knew it.
10) The ‘entente cordial’ – Of course, now that the vile Frogs had (as far as Britain was concerned) had their medicine and were finally and officially ‘not better than us’, we could all be friends. We decided to team up and show them how to rule the world properly which, considering they had done such a stinking job for centuries, was a lesson long overdue. The problem was, of course, that they still weren’t quite as good as us. In 1845 in Paraguay they seemed to get hit from all angles by a bunch of cannon-toting peasants and limp away. Though we won, the whole thing became quite unpopular. They still had mercenaries funding, supplying and training the Indian princes which was annoying in the extreme. In the Crimea they were hard to work with; at the battle of the Alma they stood there and let us do all of the hard fighting while they climbed a cliff instead. At Balaclava whilst we gave the world the ‘Thin red line’ of the 92nd Highlanders, the charge of the Heavy Brigade and the world famous Charge of the Light Brigade, the French contribution was to sit there actually crying and watching us do it. At Inkerman they kept out of the fight until the last minute, and despite spreading rumours that at least they were better organised, they managed to lose two and a half times our number through sickness exposure and starvation. In China in the 1860’s we found something which we always knew – that they were good at running. So we tried to get them to run forwards as we provided the backbone and the firepower. At least it worked although they made an absolute wreck of the Summer Palace which was considered the eighth wonder of the world. Heathens. Finally we left them to it in the 1870’s to see how they got on, and the Prussians thrashed them hands down in the Franco-Prussian War which proved they had been too arrogant to learn a damned thing. The last actual battle of the century between Britain and France happened in Sierra Leone in 1896 where one of their patrols, lost and creeping around at night, walked into one of ours. It was a nasty mistake and wholly regrettable…but the British even won this one.
11) World War One – Arrogant and annoyed that they had lost Alsace and Lorraine to the Germans in the 1870’s the French were itching to have another slap at them, and didn’t they get their wish, just? Running off to fight the Germans in what became known as ‘The battle of the Frontiers’ still waving flags and in enormous red pantaloons and Fez’s the French copped an absolute mauling and luckily their British friends were there to save the day. In our thought-process the French were ours to beat up. We didn’t want anyone else to do it in case it looked easy! So we mangled the ‘Hun’ at the battle of Mons, fought our biggest battle since Waterloo 99 years before at le Cateau, and went on to save the day at the Somme, 1st and 2nd Ypres, the Marne, Passchendael, Amiens and a thousand other very nasty places until we had those nasty pointy-headed sausage-suckers on the run! The French for their part had decided upon the novel tactic of getting shot until the Germans ran out of ammunition, which was embodied by the battle of Verdun. Hundreds of thousands of French soldiers were fed into the organ grinder, with many mutinying at the thought, but after fashion it worked, and when soldiers from across the British Commonwealth turned up (those places France had been trying to thieve off of us for years) and then the Americans, the Germans were defeated. The French didn’t like this at all, of course. Still reeling from Waterloo, they were damned in the British were now going to save them as well. Until about ten years ago French History textbooks still taught their children that “France won the first world war after the British ran away and the Americans turned up at the end but didn’t really do anything.” – and they still wonder why we hate them??
12) World War Two – France entered the second world war with an announcement which personified their by-now all-too-typical arrogance; “We are not Poles, it could not happen here!” – Of course it did. Sat behind the giant works of the Maginot line the French felt very secure…except that they hadn’t built it to the sea and the Germans simply walked around it. Even then, when some did try the Maginot line, it was found that some genius hd made the whole system work with one master key that opened the gun turrets and powered the whole system. And the bloke with the key happened to be on holiday in Spain and not very inclined to come back! Enter the British again (Yay!) who threw in a counter-attack, stalled the Germans and got over 100,000 Frenchmen back to old blighty, even at the cost of many of our own soldiers. Not content, half of the French now teamed up with the germans as ‘Vichy’ French and their navy – a wonderful collection of beautiful and modern ships, refused to join in and sat there in Vichy North Africa which forced the British to come and sink them at anchor. The French hate us for this, but in truth, well, we were trying to help them and they were in danger of handing the lot over to Germany. Britain had already pumped millions of pounds into France and now funded the ‘Free French’ war effort, finally returning to liberate them in 1944 with our American and Canadain friends. The bloody Vichy lot fought hard – particularly against the Americans to whom they handed a couple of frightful drubbings at Kasserine and elsewhere. It also didn’t help that their high command – especially de Gaulle, seemed intent upon feeding all of the allied plans to the Germans in a move which prompted Churchill and Roosevelt to codename him ‘The Bride’. Finally by feeding him a load of old rubbish, they conned the Germans and won the day. At the war’s end, France (who had lost the war twice, half as an allied power and half as an Axis power) now got all haughty again: ‘Quel surprise!’
13) The post-war years – Where were we? Ah yes, de Gaulle…First the Americans were shown the door by de Gaulle who didn’t want to feel ‘liberated’ or grateful in any way, then he reneged upon countless millions of war debts for loans given to him by Britain, prompting the Belgians, the Dutch and everyone else to follow suit. For a Britain who only finished paying its debts to America for the war in 2006 this has always been an annoyance. In effect, we paid for all of it. Thanks France! Of course, there was the newly-forming Common-Market to consider, so that we could all benefit financially together, but what wonderful and colourful comments did de Gaulle provide when asked if Britain should be included? – “Non” – That’s it. Twice liberating his country, hundreds of thousands of men killed and maimed and even him helping the bloody Germans out and we got one guttural sneer: “Non.” – he even tried to present us with the bill for houses, bridges and factories we had blown up whilst liberating his country. Naturally we tore that one up. Some national hero he is, eh? Still, Britain got to sit back and chuckle as the French surrendered to Giap at Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam and lost another part of their dwindling empire. We might have helped but, well…why would we?
14) The Falklands War – Just when the old ideas of the past differences between Britain and France were dying out, up came an issue in the South Atlantic which had started with the French poking their noses in two hundred years before. The Falklands – British for time immemorial and first claimed in 1594 would have remained so had not two very bitter Frenchmen; Bougainville and Choiseul – both of whom had been forced to sign the surrender of ‘New France’ to Britain determined to get their revenge. Seeing the new British discovery proclaimed to the world, they quickly set up a base on it and declared it for their King, letting the British know about it whilst declaring a faux pas to Spain who, by treaty, should inherit it. Thus began a dastardly French plan to set Britain and Spain on a collision course in the South Atlantic as no less than three plans were submitted in Paris for an invasion of Britain whilst our navy was 8,000 miles away. In the end, Britain and Spain came to blows, Britain mobilised like a demon and Spain backed down in an almost identical pre-cursor to the war which was going to happen 192 years later. because of this act of French perfidy, however, Spain supported a claim which Argentina later claimed to ‘inherit’ and lo and behold in 1982 it all kicked off…it was the bloody French again, returning to haunt us after death! Even then, the French had sold the Argentines modern Exocet missiles which did incredible damage to our ships, and had French maintenance and training crews in Argentina throughout the war, despite claiming to be backing us – at least on paper! Only when Thatcher demanded the codes to disarm the Exocets on pain of dropping a nuclear bomb on Argentina did France’s President Mitterand give in. And so Britain won the Falklands war which really was all France’s fault in the first place because they were bitter and vengeful losers again.
15) The Modern Day – You would have thought that after all the beatings we gave them and then all of the help and benevolence we gave them (and the money they still owe us) that France would have found a special place in its heart for Britain…on which planet? After the Falklands War, an embarrassed and bearded Mitterand hatched a plan to build ‘The Channel Tunnel’ citing his real reasons as Britain’s final defeat and humiliation that it would no longer be an island of which it was so proud (what a thoroughly nice man!). Even then, they complained that their train came in at ‘Waterloo’ station and campaigned to have it changed. When we refused, they tried to return the favour and had the station we would come in at renamed ‘Fontenoy’ – ever heard of the battle of Fontenoy? Feeling violated and depressed by this? No – another epic French fail, but this is truly how bitter they are! Of course, they don’t have a Waterloo or a Blenheim, do they? From then on, there have been no end of troubles. The French would rather go on strike than actually work, as we know. Even when they do work, it is 35 hours a week and they effectively close the entire country during the month of August. So they like to burn all of our farm produce going to the continent, famously including lorry loads of livestock which has the animal-loving British public abhor. the European Parliament has given leave to let France play some quite ridiculous games; it wasn’t too many years ago that the European parliament was forced to listen to a lengthy motion from a French lady commissioner to have all British men classified as homosexuals! – Naturally this didn’t make it to the debating table! When attacked, they squeal for help yet, when called upon to add their weight to allied causes they signally shirk their duty and let the British do it instead, something which led our American cousins to replace the word ‘French’ with ‘Freedom’ instead – as in ‘Freedom Toast’ and ‘Freedom Fries’ – which many also termed ‘coward sticks.’ Today, and with their ports heaving with economic migrants eager to get to what they consider as ‘the promised land’ of Britain, the French instead of deporting them, set up classrooms to teach them what to say and how to work the British system, just to annoy us and so they don’t get them back again! If we catch them and send them back to France, the French send them right back to us!
Conclusion – In conclusion, it is very hard to like the French. We have lived next door to them for ever and they are generally weasly little creatures who seem intent upon crashing their car into ours just to ruin our car even at the expense of their own. Their media in Paris (as one helpful Anglophile in Normandy asserted to me) fuels this ridiculous hatred born of jealousy and bitterness and combined with that arrogance and rudeness which has marked their tenure on this planet and which has only increased as their defeats and reverses have become more embarrassing. In Spain and in Italy they are hated. The Germans refer to them as ‘monkeys’. And still they aim at Britain like some crazed kamikaze pilot determined to do everything possible to reverse the fact that they lost the thousand year war. Every time something goes wrong to do with Britain, even to this day, the damned French are usually behind it. Anything we do, they get hold of and still, though the wars are over, try to ruin the party. Not for nothing did Shakespeare write “That is so French, catching every breeze.”
I only feel sorry for the countries who have to live next door to them!