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Perfidious Albion is a pejorative phrase used within the context of international relations and diplomacy to refer to acts of duplicity, treachery and hence infidelity (with respect to 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 Greek name for Great Britain.
1 Origins and use
1.1 Examples of usage
2 Fascist Italy and colonial propaganda
3 Cultural references
4 See also
Origins and use[edit source | editbeta]
The use of the adjective "perfidious" to describe England has a long history; instances have been found as far back as the 13th century. 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, the most liberal European state, 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 withNapoleon, who was exiled to the British island of Saint Helena).
Examples of usage[edit source | editbeta]
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.
In Portugal the term was widely used after the 1890 British Ultimatum, after Cecil Rhodes' opposition to the Pink Map.
In Irish political debate the term may be used in conjunction with the term 'Hibernia Immaculata' to suggest a simplistic view of Irish history in which Britain is the cause of all Irish misfortune.
The term was used by then Vice President of the United States Dick Cheney in response to the meeting in November 2008 betweenBritish Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Fascist Italy and colonial propaganda[edit source | editbeta]
Further information: Propaganda of Fascist Italy and Nazi propaganda and the United Kingdom
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After the 19th century, relationships between France and Britain improved, since the growing power of Germany was a threat for both the countries. During World War I the two countries were allies in the struggle against German forces, leaving their historical rivalry behind. However, the term "perfidious Albion" would have been soon used again by fascist powers in order to criticise the global dominion of the British empire, that drains resources and occupies territories while leaving nothing to emerging powers such as Italy or Germany which had limited colonial empires.
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". Benito Mussolini called the British Empire "Perfida Albione" after the Second Italo-Abyssinian War, because despite having carved out large colonial territories for herself, Britain approved of trade sanctions in the wake of Italian aggression against Ethiopia. In fascist propaganda, 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. Mussolini called "un posto al sole" (a place in the sun) the goal of the fascist expansionism, that is, an extended colonial and politic power in order to bring back the glory of the Roman empire in the Mediterranean sea and the influence of Italy in world politics.
During World War II the term Perfida Albione was again used many times by the Italian fascist regime for propaganda purposes. In Mussolini's propaganda, Western nations were winning only because they had superior industrial and economic resources, and the superior skills and valour of Italo-German soldiers were defeated only by overwhelming numbers of weapons and machinery brought by "vile", "untruthful" and "wretched" plutocratic powers – with the aid of a claimed "Zionist conspiracy" against fascist powers.
The term has been revived in light of declassified documents that show that Churchill was protecting British nationals who helped rearm Japan during the 1920s and 1930s: Lord Sempill and Frederick Rutland.
Cultural references[edit source | editbeta]
Today the term is used in many contexts, and largely divorced from its historic origins.
It is used in the Irish adaptation of the folk song Foggy Dew, about the Easter Rising of 1916, "Oh the night fell black and the rifles' crack Made perfidious Albion reel".
It was used by Argentinians in the context of the football rivalry between the Argentine and English national teams.
It is also often used in a humorous context, notably in France ("Perfide Albion"), Spain ("Pérfida Albión"), Italy ("Perfida Albione"),Portugal ("Pérfida Álbion") and Romania ("Perfidul Albion")
See also[edit source | editbeta]
References[edit source | editbeta]
^ Schmidt, H. D. (1953). "The Idea and Slogan of ‘Perfidious Albion’". Journal of the History of Ideas 14 (4): 604–616. JSTOR 2707704.
^ Hersh, Seymour M. (March 2009), "Syria Calling", The New Yorker
^ Lashmar Paul; Mullins, Andrew (24 August 1998). "Churchill protected Scottish peer suspected of spying for Japan Second World War". The Independent. Retrieved 7 December 2012.
^ Getlen, Larry (27 May 2012). "The traitor of Pearl Harbor". New York Post. Retrieved 7 December 2012.