It was with heavy hearts yesterday evening (8 September 2022) that we read the news of the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Britain’s longest-ruling monarch, who has been on the throne for an incredible 70 years and 214 days. As the UK goes into mourning and tributes flood in from countries all around the world, we take a look back at The Queen’s extraordinary legacy and shine the spotlight on her special connection with La Belle France.
From choosing Paris for her very first overseas trip to visiting the Elysée more times than any other foreign sovereign in history, The Queen was very much the “friend of France” that French President Emmanuel Macron referred to in his tribute.
Here are seven special reasons why The Queen loved France and why France will always remember her.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II embodied the British nation’s continuity and unity for over 70 years. I remember her as a friend of France, a kind-hearted queen who has left a lasting impression on her country and her century.
— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) September 8, 2022
1. Queen Elizabeth’s first ever trip overseas was to France
The future monarch made her first visit to France in May 1948 at 22 years old for a four-day trip to Paris. In fact, it wasn’t just her first trip to Paris; it was her very first time travelling overseas.
The trip came months after her marriage to Philip Mountbatten (who would later become Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh) in November 1947, and—although it wasn’t disclosed to the public at the time—the Princess was already pregnant with her first son, Charles (now King Charles III).
During her Parisian séjour, Princess Elizabeth attended the Opéra Garnier, visited the Flower Market in the Ile de la Cité, met President Auriol at the Elysée, and enjoyed a special date night along Rue Pierre Charon, where Edith Piaf sang “La Vie en Rose” for the young couple. While on a 2014 state visit to France, The Queen referenced this memorable moment, saying, “I recall my own happiness, discovering this beautiful country for myself and for the first time, and developing my own great affection for the French people.”
2. Her Majesty made six state visits to France during her reign
Queen Elizabeth II made six official state visits to France during her reign, more than to any other European country outside of the UK. Her first state visit took place in April 1957, four years after her coronation, during which time she visited the Palace of Versailles, the Paris Opera, and the Louvre; enjoyed a Seine River cruise with Prince Philip; and also visited Lille to place a wreath at the WWI memorial.
She made further state visits to France in 1972 (Paris), 1992 (Paris, Blois, and Bordeaux), 1994 (Calais), 2004 (Paris and Toulouse), and 2014 (Paris and Normandy), and was received by French Presidents René Coty, Georges Pompidou, François Mitterrand, Jacques Chirac, and François Hollande.
Bonus fact: no foreign sovereign has visited the Élysée Palace more times than Queen Elizabeth II!
Many French Presidents have also been invited by The Queen for state visits to the UK, from Charles de Gaulle, who visited in 1960, to President Emmanuel Macron in 2020.
3. The Queen is also the Duke of Normandy
Queen Elizabeth II held many titles, but perhaps one of the most intriguing to Francophiles is that she was also the Duke of Normandy. This historic title dates back to the Middle Ages, and in particular, to the treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte (911) between King Charles III of West Francia and the Viking leader Rollo.
The title was passed down to Queen Elizabeth II as the British monarch rules over the Channel Islands (Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney and Sark), which make up the last remaining part of the former ‘Duchy of Normandy’.
And yes, bizarrely, even though the title would normally be converted to “Duchess” for a female ruler, this particular title does not follow tradition, and so Queen Elizabeth II was also “Duke of Normandy”.
4. The Queen and Prince Philip vacationed in France
The Queen and Prince Philip didn’t only visit France during their six state visits; they also enjoyed many other unofficial visits to France over the years. Among the many French destinations The Queen is reported to have visited are Normandy, Strasbourg, the Loire Valley, Bordeaux, the medieval city of Carcassonne, and Burgundy.
But she seemingly never visited the Mont St Michel monastery, the lavender fields of Provence, or the beaches of the French Riviera.
5. The Queen inaugurated the Channel Tunnel
If you’ve travelled between the UK and France in recent years, there’s a good chance that you’ve experienced a ride on the Eurotunnel Shuttle or Eurostar train. In fact, it’s become so normal to ‘take the train’ to France that it’s hard to remember that 30 years ago, this was an unthinkable venture!
The opening of the Channel Tunnel, the 50.46-kilometre (31.35-mile) long underwater railway tunnel, was an unprecedented feat – not only measuring in as the longest underwater tunnel in the world but providing a physical link between Great Britain and the European mainland for the first time in history.
Naturally, The Queen was present at the inauguration of the Channel Tunnel on 6 May 1994, where she cut the red ribbon along with French President François Mitterrand at the French terminal of Coquelles near Calais.
6. France gifted The Queen a horse for her Platinum Jubilee
In June 2022, as The Queen marked her Platinum Jubilee with a four-day bank holiday and a busy schedule of parades, concerts, and festivities in the UK, France was among the many countries around the world to join the celebrations.
French President Emmanuel Macron recorded a touching video message for the Queen, but it was France’s gift to the monarch that was especially poignant. The Queen was gifted a seven-year-old “Selle Français” horse, Fabuleu de Maucour, alongside a ceremonial saddle.
The Queen’s long-standing passion for equestrianism is well-known, but what many don’t know is that she has long been an admirer of French equestrian traditions and breeding. Queen Elizabeth II visited stud farms in Normandy on many of her trips to France, as well as attending the Longchamp horse races and watching performances of the Cadre Noir of Saumur.
7. French was The Queen’s second language
The Queen’s love of France went much deeper than simply visiting the UK’s nearest neighbour – in fact, according to the official Royal Family website, she is also fluent in French. Queen Elizabeth II started learning French as a young girl and gave several speeches in French throughout her reign, further cementing her links with the French nation.
Lead photo credit : Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II © Shutterstock
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