Sun, 03 Dec 2023

When it comes to symbolism, Britain's King Charles III's visit to France is a big deal. Important historic monuments such as the Arc de Triomphe, les Champs Elysees, Château de Versailles are all part of the decor. But other important sites have been included that send a different message, one turned to the future challenges facing both nations.

France, which beheaded its own king and queen following the revolution of 1789, has never been able to resist infatuation with the British royal family and over the past 170 years has received them with pomp and circumstance.

It will be no different for King Charles III, whose three-day visit highlights this long historical relationship.

After a parade down the famed central Parisian avenue, the royal couple were hosted at the palace of Versailles, the jewel of France's diplomatic crown.

The seat of the monarchy before the Revolution, the Versailles palace is now a museum, but it is still used by French presidents to host leaders they want to impress.

"Whenever France has wished to mark its strong relationship with England, there has been a reception in Versailles," historian Fabien Oppermann told French news agency AFP.

String of important visitors

Emperor Napoleon III threw a ball for 1,200 guests at the royal opera in Versailles when Queen Victoria visited in 1855, the first trip to Paris by a British monarch in 400 years.

From then on, a string of royals and leaders, including Charles' mother, the late Queen Elizabeth II have stopped by.

For Stephane Bern, a French specialist in royal lineages, the castle has always been a diplomatic strategy. Louis XIV used it to present the art of fine dining and to show off French talent.

"Versailles is a symbol of the monarchy, but it is also one of French excellence when it comes to lifestyle," Bern told Le Parisien daily newspaper ahead of the visit.

Ahead of the gala dinner in Versailles on Wednesday, the Elysee palace and Buckingham palace have been working on the menu since January, involving three top French chefs.

Over 150 guests were treated to lobster, chicken from Bresse, rose-flavoured macaroons, all served on porcelain from the Sevres factory.

Missing from the menu, however, was foie gras - served to Queen Elizabeth during a lunch in 1957. Charles is openly against the controversial process of force-feeding ducks and has banned it from his household.

Will France's fascination with the British monarchy survive Queen Elizabeth?

Despite this, Charles has always been a fan of France. He made 34 official visits as Prince of Wales, and began learning French from a young age, encouraged by his mother. He also frequently spent time in France on personal visits, claiming France was "one of the most beautiful [countries] in the world."

Green team

As a further nod to symbolism, on Wednesday, Emmanuel Macron presented the king with an original edition of "Roots of Heaven" (Racines du ciel) by Lithuanian-born French author Romain Gary.

The work, which won the prestigious literary prize of the Academie Goncourt in 1956, takes place in Africa, with the central theme the protection of the planet and in particular elephants.

This gift echoes the "long-standing cooperation of the President of the Republic and King Charles in favour of biodiversity," underlines the Elysee.

During Cop26 in Glasgow, in November 2021, the two leaders presented the "Great Green Wall" program aimed at combating the effects of climate change and desertification in the Sahel.

This week, Macron also awarded the king with a medal in tribute to his efforts as a defender of the environment.

Designed by the engraver Joaquin Jimenez, it celebrates Charles' accession to the throne and Franco-British friendship.

During his visit, Charles will participate in a round-table discussion at the Museum of Natural History on biodiversity and plant an oak tree donated by the Versailles palace, in the gardens of the British ambassador's residence.

The royal couple will spend Friday in the Bordeaux area with a visit to Château Smith Haut Lafitte, an organic vineyard as well as an experimental forest in Floirac.

Entente cordiale

The details of the visit demonstrate the complicity between Macron and Charles, who both speak each other's languages.

"They have an extremely warm relationship," continues Bern, adding that the mutual respect and appreciation is the same between the first ladies Queen Camilla and Brigitte Macron.

The royal visit comes not long after moves by UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to reset relations between the two neighbours following tensions sparked by the UK's exit from the EU.

Bertrand Badie, a professor emeritus at Sciences-Po University told Le Parisien that "image counts for everything" in this kind of visit.

"The constant entente cordiale we've witnessed since Edward VII through to Macron serves as a counterweight to the heaviness of political disputes between the nations."

(with newswires)

Originally published on RFI

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