As you might have seen in the news recently, it’s the 120th anniversary of the Entente Cordiale, when Britain and France signed several agreements to stop bothering each other.

There’s also a short-run exhibition about the diplomatic shenanigans that led to the two European powers agreeing to be cordial over their territorial disputes — being held at the Institut français du Royaume-Uni in South Kensington.

It’s predominantly a lot of history boards which start on the grand staircase and then flow up to the library. There are ten in total, and they tell how diplomats worked to settle their disputes and how both sides put on the pomp and ceremony to win over the other teams.

However, as it’s mainly display boards, the number of objects on display is limited to three glass cases, but what’s in them is fascinating to see.

A lot of the collections are celebrating the Franco-British Exhibition of 1908 which showed off the best of both country’s colonial powers — which is, well, not the sort of thing you’d do today.

There’s also a wonderful selection of pre-cordial drawings when things were less cordial – with the King shown as a fat beer barrel and Brits lampooned as effete homosexuals, and so unlike their virile French lovemakers.

In the library is the really exciting document – the one that was never seen at the time because it has the word “secret” all over it — the secret pact that allowed France and Britain to carve up part of Africa between them.

Obviously the African nations weren’t consulted on this.

While the Entente Cordiale is rightly celebrated as a moment when Britain and France ended a thousand years of military rivalry, it was really about expanding their respective empires and colonial ambitions overseas.

Good for the Brits and the French but not so good for everyone else.

I think most people will learn a lot from the exhibition, mainly from reading the display boards, which are then enlivened by the cabinet displays — and that secret document.

The exhibition, When Marianne and Britannia Meet is at the Institut français until 27th April 2024. It’s open Wed to Sat in the afternoons and is free to visit.


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