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Queen won hearts in France with first speech in French at 22

As President Macron pays homage to a 'friend of France' following the news of Queen Elizabeth's death tonight, we look back on her enduring relationship with the country

An image of the Queen on her last state visit to France in 2014

Queen Elizabeth with Charles de Gaulle - one of 10 French presidents she knew during her reign Pic: Smith Archive / Alamy

As tributes pour in from France and from around the world following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, we look back at the monarch's long and fond relationship with France, and the 10 presidents she knew during her reign.

The Queen died this afternoon (September 8) at Balmoral Castle, at the age of 96.

President Macron has paid tribute with tweets in English and French.

Enduring links with France

Queen Elizabeth’s 70-year reign spanned two French Republics and she made 13 official visits, including five ‘state’ ones, and is thought to have visited France in total some 30-40 times.

Her first official visit to the country took place in 1948, when as a 22-year-old Princess Elizabeth she was accompanied by her husband Prince Philip. 

British Ambassador to France Dame Menna Rawlings told The Connexion: “We have brilliant photos of her at the British Ambassador’s Residence, walking down the street with crowds waving out of windows and balconies.”

Read more: From Auriol to Macron: 10 French presidents of Queen’s 70-year reign

On that occasion, the Queen was welcomed by President Vincent Auriol, the first socialist head of state, who presented her with the Legion of Honour. 

The princess attracted keen interest from both the British and French media and endeared herself further to the latter by giving her first speech in impeccable French.

Her first official visit to France as sovereign came in 1957, when she met René Coty, the last president of the Fourth Republic. 

She was then visited by Charles de Gaulle in London in 1960, and presented him with the Royal Victorian Order, recognising his distinguished personal service to the monarch as a hero of World War Two. 

One story goes that during this visit, a dinner guest asked De Gaulle’s wife Yvonne what she was looking forward to with regards to her husband’s upcoming retirement. 

She replied with what sounded like: “A penis”. 

An uncomfortable silence ensued, until the Queen reportedly came to her rescue with: “Ah, happiness.”

The following years brought many other state visits between France and the UK, and it is thought that the Queen enjoyed a particularly warm relationship with François Mitterand and Jacques Chirac. 

Pic: Alessia Pieromenico / Shutterstock

On her last official visit to France in 2014, the Queen made a speech in which she said that France and the UK stood shoulder to shoulder as “trustees of international peace and security”. 

She added: “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.”

The then-President François Hollande, in turn, said the Queen was a woman who personified the phrase ‘Keep calm and carry on’.

During the visit, Parisians coming to see her shouted “Vive la Reine!” (Long live the Queen), an ironic sentiment to express considering that they were standing near La Conciergerie prison, where Marie-Antoinette was imprisoned before being beheaded. 

Despite its republican history, France has often reflected a deep fondness for the Queen, whose interest in French culture, language and history became clear through her many visits to various different cities and regions, including Lille, Provence, Normandy and the Loire.

The Queen’s links to France were also rooted in a wartime bond, and she visited on several occasions to pay homage at the D-Day landing beaches and other World War Two sites. 

Celebrating the Jubilee across the Channel 

In this, the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee year, French institutions and associations with British links, as well as the British Embassy in Paris, set about organising celebrations to mark the occasion. 

An English-speaking group based in south-west France put on a tea party with coronation chicken, victoria sponge and croquet, and the whole UK community in France were invited to sign up to attend an event at the British Embassy in Paris. 

Read more: English-speaking group celebrates Platinum Jubilee with garden party

Read more: Platinum Jubilee: how France fell in love with the Queen

The Jubilee day itself was marked with a ceremony ‘reviving’ the flame at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, attended by President Emmanuel Macron and British Ambassador Dame Menna Rawlings. 

The event included a rendition of the British national anthem performed by the fanfare of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, followed by the Marseillaise, played by the orchestra of the Republican guard.

Read more: France marks Queen’s Platinum Jubilee with Paris flame revival

Speaking to The Connexion before the Jubliee, Dame Menna said: “She represents the longevity and continuity of the relationship despite ups and downs over the years. 

“She has known 10 French presidents and there’s huge affection for her in France.

“Everywhere I go people want to know how she’s doing so it’s a great moment to celebrate.”

Read more: UK ambassador to France shares views on her first hectic months in post

This year, the Queen also exchanged letters with a seven-year-old boy from Normandy, who first wrote to her to express his sadness at the news that her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, had died.  

Read more: French boy, seven, exchanges letters with the Queen

Pic: Patrel family

Noé Patrel said he sent a note to the Queen because he felt sad seeing her sitting alone at the Duke’s funeral, and was “happy, happy, happy” when he received a signed card in return. 

“My uncle used to work in a factory making airbags for the Queen’s cars and he told me about it all,” he told The Connexion.

“I’ve liked it since then. I like the phone boxes and Big Ben. I would like to see the Queen and her castle, and the guards.”

Noé later received a second card from Buckingham Palace after he wrote to congratulate the Queen on her Platinum Jubilee. 

Read more: Platinum Jubilee: French boy delighted with second card from the Queen

A leading role in Asterix film

When popular French comic book Asterix in Britain was adapted as a live-action film in 2012 – despite the fact the setting is Roman times when there was no such person – a Queen of Britain was added as a central role.

She was played by Catherine Deneuve in pearls and crown and with Elizabeth’s coiffure in what was retitled Asterix and Obelix: On her Majesty’s service.

It may have lacked a little in historical accuracy, but perhaps goes to show that Britain isn’t quite Britain for the French without its Queen.

France pays tribute 

News first broke of the Queen’s worsening health on Thursday (September 8), when Buckingham Palace issued a statement reading: “Following further evaluation this morning, the Queen’s doctors are concerned for Her Majesty’s health and have recommended she remain under medical supervision. 

“The Queen remains comfortable and at Balmoral.” 

All of her immediate family members travelled to Scotland to be with her, including the Duke of Sussex, who was in Germany at the time of the announcement, the BBC reported. 

A statement from King Charles was later released.

President Macron followed with a statement about the Queen on Twitter: 

Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne also offered her condolences to "the British Royal Family and British people". 

Related articles 

Campaigners for Britons abroad recognised in Queen's Birthday Honours

Queen’s jubilee: Red Arrows to join French navy planes at Le Touquet

Schadenfreude, secret envy: Why do the French love the British royals?

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