Throughout her reign, the Queen of England expressed her pleasure at discovering France, “this beautiful country” which she first visited in 1948. On many occasions, the Queen has shown great affection for the French people. Indeed, outside the Commonwealth, France was arguably the country she visited most in the world. This is due to the geographical proximity of France and England, but also to more historical and cultural reasons. In this article, you will find a list of all of Queen Elizabeth II’s visits to France, in chronological order, including the cities and sites she visited. And as you’ll see, there are some interesting facts… Let’s follow Queen Elizabeth II in France!
The French and the English: the best enemies?
It was hard to believe when Parisians came to greet Elizabeth II with cries of “Vive la Reine” at the flower market in 2014!
Ironically, this picturesque market is located on the Île de la Cité, a stone’s throw from the former Conciergerie prison where Marie-Antoinette was imprisoned before her execution during the French Revolution.
This heartfelt cry was certainly not the first in France.
A francophile Queen… of England
Since her first visit in 1948, Elizabeth II has become a star in the country.
By turns curious, fascinated and then charmed, the French have a particular affection and enthusiasm for the Queen of England.
For her part, Elizabeth II likes to point out that she is a long-standing friend of France, of its culture and its language, of which she masters all the subtleties and nuances.
Indeed, France is the European country that Elizabeth II has visited the most. She has made five state visits there, in 1957, 1972, 1992, 2004 and 2014, not counting unofficial and private visits.
The British monarch also holds the title of Duchess of Normandy. This title allows her to govern the Channel Islands of Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney and Sark.
Why such an attachment to France?
Perhaps it is due to her French ancestry…
The French ancestry of Queen Elizabeth II
It is known that Elizabeth II is descended, through her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria, from the Orange-Nassau, Stuart, Lancaster and Plantagenet families.
But the Queen of England also has French blood running through her veins. We have to go back to the beginning of the 17th century in La Rochelle.
It was in this town that her ancestor, Alexandre Desmier, lord of Olbreuse, Antigny, Beugnon and La Bruère, was baptised in 1608. This Protestant gentleman, from an old Poitevin family attested to in the 14th century, had four children, including a daughter named Eléonore.
Éléonore Desmier d’Olbreuse is called the grandmother of Europe.
She is the link to the King of England, George I, Queen Victoria’s great-great-grandfather.
Éléonore is also the ancestor of French President François Mitterrand, who are thus very distant cousins!
Throughout her reign, the doyenne of the kings and queens of Europe knew all the presidents of the Fourth and Fifth Republics.
Elizabeth II in France
To find the dates of Queen Elizabeth’s visits to France, I had to spend a lot of time searching the archives on the Internet. No site gave me a global overview of all her visits.
And some sources, however reputable, contradicted themselves in the years and activities.
According to my research, the Queen visited France on at least 14 occasions.
However, it should be remembered that Elizabeth II, a keen equestrian, also stayed at various stud farms in Normandy.
Worse, according to my research, Queen Elizabeth II seems never to have strolled along the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. Shocking!
Elizabeth II in France: there are still mysteries!
The queen is said to have visited the medieval city of Carcassonne and stayed at the Hôtel de la Cité.
However, so far I have not found any trace of this stay. If you have any information on this subject, please let me know!
1948: a princess in Paris
In May 1948, Elizabeth made her first official visit abroad without her parents. The 22-year-old princess had just married Philip Mountbatten.
She chose Paris.
The four-day trip, from 14 to 17 May, came only three years after the end of the Second World War. It was the first time in her life that Elizabeth left British soil.
No one knew it at the time, but she was pregnant with a baby boy to be named Charles.
The curiosity of the Parisians proved to be immense.
On the occasion of a visit to the Galliera Museum, which presented an exhibition entitled “Eight centuries of British life in Paris”, the Princess made her first speech in French.
The royal couple took part in an outing in Paris by night. In a nightclub in the Rue Pierre Charon, they danced and listened to Henri Salvador and his orchestra. Then Edith Piaf sang “La vie en rose” for them.
The Parisians were charmed. This would have prompted the future queen to ask:
“Mais comment le peuple français a-t-il pu guillotiner un roi ?”
(But how could the French people guillotine a king?)
This first visit to a foreign country left a deep and lasting impression on the queen.
1957: First state visit
Queen Elizabeth II made her first official visit to France from 8 to 11 April 1957. This was four years after her coronation. She was then 30 years old.
Her Majesty was received with great pomp at the Palace of Versailles by President René Coty.
A sumptuous reception took place in the Hall of Mirrors with a menu of Grand Siècle woodcock supreme on plates costing 100,000 francs each.
The Queen went to the Paris Opera to see the play Le Chevalier et la damoiselle.
Then a gala dinner was organised in the Salle des Cariatides in the Louvre, amidst the paintings.
A little anecdote: Buckingham Palace had sent the Elysée Palace a memo concerning the Queen:
“Her Majesty has a small appetite but will eat just about anything, except caviar, oysters and shellfish in general. She prefers simple food. “
Then, Elizabeth and Philip set off on a cruise along the Seine. Along the five-mile route, there were tableaux vivants depicting French history: musketeers in front of the Louvre, King Henry IV in the Square du Vert-Galant, and a fireworks display on the Pont Alexandre III.
This visit took place in a tense diplomatic context following the fiasco of the Suez expedition in 1956.
A visit to Lille
For her last day in France, Elizabeth wanted to come to Lille to spend a few hours on her way back to London. The royal couple went to the Hôtel de Ville to be received with all the honours of the city. The visit continued with the laying of a wreath at the war memorial on Place Rihour and the annual flower market on the Grand Place.
Just before returning to London, the couple made a short visit to Roubaix to see two of the Prouvost group’s largest textile factories: Peignage Amédée and Lainière de Roubaix (10,000 workers at the time).
In 1960, it was the Queen’s turn to receive a French president: Charles de Gaulle. In his honour, the Queen organised a grand gala evening in Covent Garden.
1967: Tour of the Normandy stud farms
On Friday 26 May 1967, Elizabeth II landed at Tours airport at around 11am and immediately set off for Normandy for a three-day visit. The Queen stayed at the Château de Sassy, between Argentan and Alençon.
A keen equestrian, the Queen had long wanted to discover the French stud farms (les haras in French). She visited the Haras National du Pin, the Haras du Mesnil, the Haras de La Verrerie, Marcel Boussac’s stud in Fresnayle-Buffard, as well as Meautry, the stud of Baron Guy de Rothschild, near Deauville.
She flew back to Deauville on the morning of Monday 29 May.
1972: Second State visit
In May 1972, three years after the events of 1968, the Queen was received by Georges Pompidou at the Elysée Palace.
There was a near diplomatic incident when President Pompidou took the Queen’s arm to help her up the steps of the Elysée Palace… Indeed, as British protocol stipulates, it is formally forbidden to touch the monarch, or even to speak to her if no one has invited you to do so.
On the Champ-de-Mars, Elizabeth II admired an equestrian show given by the Cadre Noir of Saumur and the Garde Républicaine, before attending the races at Longchamp.
The visit included a further visit to the Palace of Versailles, which she described as “an enchanting blend of what is both similar and different in our two countries”. Elizabeth II thus holds the record for visits by foreign heads of state to Versailles.
On this occasion, she visited the Renault factory, including a room displaying the Dauphine car.
The Queen took the opportunity to visit her uncle, the Duke of Windsor and his wife, Wallis Simpson, at their residence in the Bois de Boulogne. The Queen’s uncle died of cancer later that month.
A visit to Provence
The Queen spent the night in Les Baux-de-Provence, in a former sheepfold converted into a luxury hotel by a Lyon businessman.
Next stop: Normandy!
On 19 May, Prince Philip and the Queen of England visited Rouen. They visited the Place du Vieux-Marché, where Joan of Arc was burned, and the Saint-Sever military cemetery in Petit-Quevilly, which contains almost 12,000 British graves.
Anxious French organisers?
Claude Pompidou, France’s First Lady, was later quoted as saying:
“We were very anxious to see her get off the plane.”
Georges Pompidou himself is reported to have said:
“We went to a lot of trouble to receive her at the Elysée. We said to ourselves: ‘We’ll never manage to make it as good as she expects. And finally, she was absolutely charming! “
1979: Loire Valley Castles and Burgundy
On 24 October 1979, Elizabeth II made a private day trip to the Loire Valley. After landing at Tours airport, the monarch visited two of the most famous French royal castles.
Chambord and Chenonceaux
First of all, she visited the castle of Chambord. The magnificent estate of François I represented all the power of this monarch who had challenged Henry VIII of England. Arriving at 12.30 p.m., a dinner was organised in the hunting room of François I. Elizabeth II then followed the administrator of the estate, Geoffroy Chancerelle de Roquancourt-Keravel, on a guided tour. The Queen was enchanted by the wonders of Chambord. But the visit was a whirlwind.
In the afternoon she went to Chenonceau, which she visited in the company of Madame Giscard d’Estaing.
The Chenonceau castle, known in French as the Château des Dames, welcomed a new queen, this time from the other side of the Channel. The sumptuous and delicate decor of the castle built on a bridge dazzled the sovereign.
She was particularly impressed by the Chamber of the Five Queens, which she discovered with the owners Jean-Louis and Pauline Ménier, and the curator of the time, Bernard Voisin.
A trip to Burgundy
The Queen then headed for Burgundy: to the castle of Epoisses, the Hospices de Beaune and the Basilica of Vézelay.
The stay in France ended with a short reception at the British Embassy in Paris.
On 8 June 1984, Elizabeth II took part in the ceremonies marking the 40th anniversary of the Normandy landings at Utah Beach (Arromanches), alongside François Mitterrand and the American President, Ronald Reagan.
The first ceremony involving foreign sovereigns and heads of state on the beaches of D-Day was held in 1984. Other similar celebrations will take place every ten years, in 1994, 2004 and 2014.
Accompanied by French President François Mitterrand, the Queen visited the British cemetery at Bayeux.
During a weekend of relaxation in Deauville (around 25 May), Queen Elizabeth II visited the Alec Head stud farm. She rode in a Rolls Royce on the promenade des Planches, without setting foot on the ground, by special dispensation.
When asked “How did you find her? “several stable boys comically replied, “Who? the horse?”
On 12 May 1992, Queen Elizabeth II went to Strasbourg to give a speech in the European Parliament. Dressed in the colours of Europe – blue coat and hat – it was the Queen’s first visit to the Council of Europe and the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
In a very consensual speech in which she referred to Winston Churchill and Jean Monnet – in French in the text – the Sovereign, in a nearly full hemicycle, congratulated herself on the efforts “unique in the history of the world” made since the war to bring together “the European family”.
1992: Third State visit
The year 1992 was rich in political events. It was a time when the Maastricht Treaty was stirring passions on both sides of the Channel.
In the company of President Mitterrand, she drove down the Champs-Elysées in the same car as in 1972, a Citroën SM.
She also visited the Bagatelle gardens in the Bois de Boulogne, in the company of President François Mitterrand and Prime Minister Jacques Chirac, the Parc de la Villette, the Louvre Pyramid and the Manet Room in the Orsay Museum.
In the garden of the British Embassy, she found the elm tree she had planted in 1957: “It has grown up well,” she declared.
Visit to the castle of Blois
On 11 June, she travelled on the Atlantic TGV at 300 km/h to Blois. After a reception at the town hall hosted by the Minister of Culture, Jack Lang, the Queen visited the Castle of Blois, a Renaissance masterpiece.
Of her visit, the Queen said:
“Une visite en France n’est jamais parfaite si elle ne passe pas par la Loire. Les attentions chaleureuses de ses habitants et la beauté de ses paysages resteront longtemps gravées dans mon cœur”.
(A visit to France is never perfect without passing through the Loire. The warmth of its people and the beauty of its landscapes will long remain in my heart.)
Two days in Bordeaux
On 11 and 12 June, she visited Bordeaux, a former possession of the English in the Middle Ages.
To conclude this State visit, the President of the Republic had the plane taking the Queen back to Great Britain escorted by air force fighters. It was a rare tribute!
On 6 May 1994, the Queen and French President François Mitterrand inaugurated the channel tunnel. Shortly before 1 pm, French President François Mitterrand and Queen Elizabeth II of England cut a symbolic ribbon at the French terminal at Coquelles near Calais.
The two heads of state then drove to the English terminal at Cheriton, near Folkestone, in the royal white Rolls-Royce, to attend another ceremony on the English side.
The Queen, who spoke in French, noted that:
“Au cours du siècle présent, au plus dur de l’épreuve, la conjugaison de l’élan français et du pragmatisme britannique a fait merveille. Le tunnel proclame cette vérité simple: continuons aujourd’hui à faire cause commune pour le bénéfice de l’humanité tout entière.
Le peuple français et le peuple britannique, aussi différents soient-ils, d’une région à l’autre et d’une personne à l’autre, et en dépit de leur rivalité séculaire, se complètent bien, mieux sans doute qu’il n’y paraît à première vue”.
(“In the present century, at the height of the ordeal, the combination of French élan and British pragmatism has worked wonders. The tunnel proclaims this simple truth: let us continue today to make common cause for the benefit of all humanity.
The French people and the British people, however different they may be, from region to region and from person to person, and despite their age-old rivalry, complement each other well, perhaps better than they appear at first sight.”)
On 6 June 1984, Elizabeth II returned to Normandy for the 50th anniversary of D-Day at Omaha Beach.
On 11 November 1998, the Queen returned to France to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the 1918 Armistice. President Jacques Chirac and the Queen of England each laid a wreath on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the Arc de Triomphe and then went to the statue of Clemenceau before inaugurating a statue of Churchill, near the Petit Palais.
2004: Fourth State Visit
In April 2004, Elizabeth II and her husband Philip were back in France for the centenary of the Entente Cordiale.
The royal couple crossed the Channel by Eurostar, inaugurated 10 years earlier.
For their three-day stay in France, Elizabeth and Philip were welcomed by Jacques Chirac on the Place de la Concorde.
Then, the Queen gave a famous speech to the Senate (Palais du Luxembourg) in impeccable French.
The Queen strolled along the Rue Montorgueil in the First arrondissement and even took the risk of a walk in the crowd.
2014: Fifth state visit
Elizabeth II’s last state visit to France was in June 2014.
She arrived in Paris-Gare du Nord on the Eurostar high-speed train.
This three-day trip to France was mainly for the commemorations of the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Ouistreham (Calvados), on Friday 6 June 2014, alongside François Hollande and Barack Obama.
Elizabeth II is the only living head of state to have lived through and participated in the Second World War.
This was probably the last time Elizabeth II visited France.
What other sites could you have suggested to Queen Elizabeth II in France? Rocamadour? Nice? Lyon? Mont-Saint-Michel? Brittany? Let us know in the comments!
More about Queen Elizabeth II in France
Here’s a short selection of sites about Queen Elizabeth II in France with photos and videos.
Various Videos – Elizabeth II in France
Queen Elizabeth II in Versailles:
A French dinner for the Queen – in the kitchens of the Elysée Palace:
Elizabeth II : un destin royal :
Featured image of Queen Elizabeth II in France: photos © French Moments except for the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II: By Joel Rouse (Ministry of Defence), and nagualdesign, OGL 3