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.

Perfidious signifies one who does not keep his faith or word (from the Latin word "perfidia"), while Albion is derived from an ancient Celtic name for 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:[2]

'L'Angleterre, ah, la perfide Angleterre,
que le rempart de ses mers rendoit 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 Louis de Ximénès, a French playwright who wrote it in a poem entitled L'Ère des Français, published in 1793

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.[citation needed]

"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).[3]

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.[4]

Examples of usage[edit]

  • The term often refers to the English reneging on the Treaty of Limerick of 1691, which ended the war between the predominantly Roman Catholic Jacobite forces and the English forces loyal to William of Orange, giving favourable terms to the Irish Catholics, including the freedoms to worship, to own property and to carry arms, but those terms were soon repudiated by the Penal Laws of 1695.[citation needed]
  • In Portugal, the term was widely used after the 1890 British Ultimatum, after Cecil Rhodes' opposition to the Pink Map.[citation needed]
  • Bastiat uses the term sarcastically in his satirical letter "The Candlemakers' Petition", first published in 1845.
  • It is used by Ian Smith in his memoirs (The Great Betrayal, 1997) to describe his opposition on the British handling of Rhodesian independence.[citation needed]
  • In 2012, Fabian Picardo, the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, used the phrase to describe the UK government's position on the UN Decolonisation Committee: "The position of the United Kingdom is as usual so nuanced that it's difficult to see where they are on the spectrum, but look that's what Britain's like and we all love being British."[5]
  • The father of Israeli novelist Amos Oz wrote pamphlets for the Irgun that attacked "perfidious Albion" during the British rule in Palestine.[6]
  • The Italian term "perfida Albione" (perfidious Albion)[7] was used in the propaganda of Fascist Italy 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 itself, 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, while at the same time, Britain was trying to extend its own influence and authority.[9] The same term was used after World War I related to the so-called mutilated victory.[10]
  • The term was used in reference to a possible United Kingdom withdrawal from the European Union in the run up to the referendum on the issue. An article in the French newspaper Le Parisien claimed that a poll showing that only 54% of French people supported UK membership of the EU (compared to 55% of British people) showed that "the British will always be seen as the Perfidious Albion.”.[11] In contrast, the editor of the Financial Times, Lionel Barber, has written that "Too many people in the UK are under the illusion that most European countries cannot wait to see the back of perfidious Albion."[12] Eventually, the United Kingdom voted to leave the EU.[13]

Cultural references[edit]

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

See also[edit]


  • The Dark Side of England, Gelli, Frank Julian, London, 2014, ASIN: B00QJ19TXI


  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. ^ Jacques Bénigne Bossuet, "Sermon pour la fête de la Circoncision de Notre-Seigneur" in: Oeuvres complètes, Volume 5, Ed. Outhenin-Chalandre, 1840, p.264
  3. ^ Jean-Michel Hoerner, "La Famille Fenouillard: une œuvre prémonitoire ?", Hérodote, 2007/4 (nr. 127) ISBN 9782707153555 DOI 10.3917/her.127.0190
  4. ^ Geiser, Alfred. "Das perfide Albion". via Archelaus. 
  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". Retrieved 15 October 2014. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ Samuel, Henry (1 April 2016). "French more keen on Brexit than British, says major poll". The Telegraph. Retrieved 10 June 2016. 
  12. ^ Barber, Lionel (16 April 2016). "Could Brexit be a good thing for Europe?". Financial Times. Retrieved 10 June 2016. 
  13. ^ Erlanger, Steven (23 June 2016). "Britain Votes to Leave E.U.; Cameron Plans to Step Down". New York Times. Retrieved 1 August 2016.