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Seven facts about the Queen’s relationship with France

The monarch enjoyed a long, warm relationship with the country. We look at some of her historical, cultural and linguistic ties with the French people

The Queen with the now Queen consort Camilla at the commemorations for the 70th anniversary of D-Day in 2014 Pic: PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

On the occasion of Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral today (September 19), we take a look at some of the key events and customs which linked her to France. 

1. The Queen’s first official trip abroad was to France 

The then 22-year-old Princess Elizabeth carried out an official visit to France in 1948 with her new husband Philip, representing her father King George VI. 

During this trip, she met figures including Édith Piaf and comedian Henri Salvador. 

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 at the opening of an exhibition on British life in Paris through the centuries.

Read more: Queen won hearts in France with first speech in French at 22

It was through this visit that Elizabeth first experienced Parisian culture and lifestyle in an official capacity, although she was not able to sample a glass of champagne as she was pregnant with her first child, Charles, at the time.

2. The Queen knew 10 French presidents 

On her 1948 trip to France, the Queen was welcomed by President Vincent Auriol, the first socialist head of state, who presented her with the Legion of Honour. 

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. 

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

The Queen met Georges Pompidou in 1972, on the occasion of the UK’s entry into the EEC. In a speech also given in French, she spoke of the links between the two countries and said: “We may not drive on the same side of the road, but we are going in the same direction.” 

Valéry Giscard d’Estaing visited London in 1976, and left with a Labrador Retriever puppy from the Queen’s kennels.

The Queen is thought to have particularly enjoyed the company of François Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac, both of whom she met on several occasions. 

She also received Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife Carla Bruni-Sarkozy during his state visit to the UK in 2008, and François Hollande at Windsor Castle in 2012. 

The Queen also met Mr Hollande during her last official visit to France in 2014, to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day. In her speech at the official dinner at the Élysée Palace, she said: “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.” 

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

President Emmanuel Macron also met the Queen on a number of occasions, including the 75th anniversary of D-Day and the 70th anniversary of NATO.

Today, President Macron has published a video showing the Queen’s interactions with all the presidents she met and knew. 

3. The Queen spoke fluent French 

The Queen was able to give speeches in French after learning the language from her Belgian teacher Marie-Antoinette de Bellaigue. 

Below you can see the Queen’s speech to the French Senate in 2004. 

4. Horses were sent between the UK and France 

To celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in June 2022, France gifted the monarch a horse called Fabuleu de Maucour.

Fabuleu, a grey gelding, came with a ceremonial saddle and a cavalry sabre. 

“The shapeliness and elegance of the horse, a seven-year-old standard-bearer for the Garde Républicaine, epitomises French horse-breeding,” the French embassy said in a statement at the time. 

It added that Fabuleu was a “very versatile” horse and a “small piece of France”. 

President Macron also filmed himself making a speech to the Queen to mark her Platinum Jubilee, calling her, “the golden thread that binds our two countries, the proof of the unwavering friendship between our nations”.

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

In 2017, the Queen’s stallion, Recorder, was sent to a stud in Normandy to help produce champion race horses. 

Recorder was immediately the subject of keen interest by breeders, who began booking services with him straightaway. 

5. The Queen had a flower market named after her 

In Paris’ fourth arrondissement, there stands the Marché aux Fleurs Reine Elizabeth II, which was named in honour of the Queen in 2014, during her official visit to France. 

This tribute was meant to reflect the “enormous affection” of the French people for the monarch. 

The market, which dates back to 1808, is situated in the Place Louis-Lépine and Quai de la Corse on the Ile de la Cité, near Notre-Dame Cathedral. 

After news of the Queen’s death emerged, France’s “most British” airport, Touquet Paris-Plage (Hauts-de-France), also announced that it would be renamed after the monarch.

Read more: France’s ‘most British airport’ to be renamed after Queen Elizabeth II

6. The Queen’s favourite cocktail involves Dubonnet

The Queen’s favourite cocktail was a Dubonnet and Gin, which, according to Christian Porta, the director-general of Dubonnet’s owner Pernod Ricard, reflected “above anything else the recognition of a savoir-faire and a tradition.” 

Dubonnet is a sweet, wine-based apéritif which was invented by Joseph Dubonnet in 1846, in response to a French government competition aiming to find a way of persuading French Foreign Legionnaires to drink quinine, which combats malaria but is very bitter. 

It is said that the Queen liked two thirds Dubonnet to one third gin, with two cubes of ice and a lemon slice before lunch every day. 

Her mother, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, was also a fan of the drink. Before taking a trip away, she once said: “I think I will take two small bottles of Dubonnet and gin with me this morning, in case it is needed.” 

Since the Queen died, supermarkets Tesco and Waitrose have reported that bottles of Dubonnet have sold out as people rush to try it. 

7. The only leader at D-Day commemorations to have lived through it 

The Queen’s last official visit to France in 2014 included a trip to Normandy to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings. 

She was the only one of the political figures and heads of state present to have actually lived through World War Two, and so she was welcomed as the guest of honour at the event. 

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