Perfidious Albion

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Perfidious Albion is an anglophobic pejorative phrase used within the context of international relations and diplomacy to refer to alleged acts of diplomatic sleights, duplicity, treachery and hence infidelity (with respect to perceived promises made to or alliances formed with other nation states) by monarchs or governments of Britain (or England) in their pursuit of self-interest and the requirements of realpolitik, often as not employed by the loser in geopolitical affairs.

Perfidious signifies one who does not keep his faith or word (from the Latin word "perfidia"), while Albion is derived from an ancient Greek name for Great Britain.

Origins and use[edit]

The use of the adjective "perfidious" to describe England has a long history; instances have been found as far back as the 13th century.[1] A very similar phrase was used in a sermon by 17th-century French bishop and theologian Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet:

'L'Angleterre, ah, la perfide Angleterre,
que le rempart de ses mers rendait inaccessible aux Romains,
la foi du Sauveur y est abordée.

(England, oh, treacherous England,
that the ramparts of her seas made inaccessible to the Romans,
there also the faith of Christ has landed.)

The coinage of the phrase in its current form, however, is conventionally attributed to Augustin, Marquis of Ximenez a Frenchman who wrote in a 1793 poem:

Attaquons dans ses eaux la perfide Albion.

(Let us attack perfidious Albion in her waters.)

In this context, Great Britain's perfidy was political: in the early days of the French Revolution many in Great Britain had looked upon the Revolution with mild favour, but following the overthrow and execution of Louis XVI, Britain had allied herself with the other monarchies of Europe against the Revolution in France. This was seen by the revolutionaries in France as a "perfidious" betrayal.

"La perfide Albion" became a stock expression in France in the 19th century, to the extent that the Goncourt brothers could refer to it as "a well-known old saying". It was utilised by French journalists whenever there were tensions between France and Britain, for example during the competition for colonies in Africa, culminating in the Fashoda incident. The catch-phrase was further popularized by its use in La Famille Fenouillard, the first French comic strip, in which one of the characters fulminates against "Perfidious Albion, which burnt Joan of Arc on the rock of Saint Helena" (Carried away by his anti-English fury, the character mixes up Joan of Arc with Napoleon, who was exiled to the British island of Saint Helena).

In the German speaking area, the term "das perfide Albion" became increasingly frequent especially during the German Empire (1871–1918) against the backdrop of rising British-German tensions.[2]

Examples of usage[edit]

Fascist Italy[edit]

Further information: Propaganda of Fascist Italy

The Italian term "perfida Albione" (perfidious Albion)[7] was used by Fascist powers in order to criticise the global dominion of the British Empire. Fascist propaganda depicted the British as ruthless colonialists who exploited foreign lands and peoples to feed extravagant lifestyle habits like eating "five meals a day".[8] The term was used frequently in Italian politics after the Second Italo-Abyssinian War, because despite having gained large colonial territories for herself, Britain approved of trade sanctions in the wake of Italian aggression against Ethiopia. The sanctions were depicted as an attempt to deny Italy its "rightful" colonial dominions, whilst at the same time Britain was trying to extend its own influence and authority.[9]

Cultural references[edit]

Today the term is used in many contexts, and largely divorced from its historic origins.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Schmidt, H. D. (1953). "The Idea and Slogan of 'Perfidious Albion'". Journal of the History of Ideas 14 (4): 604–616. JSTOR 2707704. 
  2. ^ Geiser, Alfred. "Das perfide Albion". via Archelaus. 
  3. ^ Palla, Marco (1994). Mussolini e il fascismo (in Italian). Firenze Paris: Giunti Caster man. ISBN 9788809202726.  p.112
  4. ^ Luchinat, Vittorio (2012). Mussolini pubblico e privato (in Italian). ISBN 9788897982067.  page
  5. ^ "Fabian Picardo (Chief Minister of Gibraltar) discusses politics in Spain and Gibraltar". YouTube. 
  6. ^ Gorenberg, Gershom (31 July 2014). "'Perfidious America': Behind Netanyahu's hostility to Kerry". Haaretz. Retrieved 4 August 2014. 
  7. ^ Palla, M. (1993). Mussolini e il fascismo. Giunti. p. 112. ISBN 9788809202726. Retrieved 15 October 2014. 
  8. ^ Borelli, G.F.; Luchinat, V. (2012). Benito Mussolini privato e pubblico. Da Dovia 1883 a piazzale Loreto a Milano 1945. INDEX. ISBN 9788897982067. Retrieved 15 October 2014. 
  9. ^ "The Age - Google News Archive Search". news.google.com. Retrieved 15 October 2014. 
  10. ^ Smith, Wilbur (2008). The Angels Weep, [and], A Time to Die. London: Pan. ISBN 9780330440998.  p. 540