What did Winston Churchill mean by the quote below?

The Almighty in His infinite wisdom did not see fit to create Frenchmen in the image of Englishmen.

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3 Answers 3


The speech was part of a secret session briefing on the situation in North Africa on 10 December 1942. The original papers are held at the UK National Archives under reference PREM3/442/12.

That quote was part of a section that read:

“I now turn to examine a peculiar form of French mentality, or rather of the mentality of a large proportion of Frenchmen in the terrible defeat and ruin which has overtaken their country. I am not defending or still less eulogising this French mentality. But it would be very foolish not to try to understand what is passing in other peoples's minds and what are the secret springs of action to which they respond.

The Almighty in His infinite wisdom did not see fit to create Frenchmen in the image of Englishmen. In a State like France which has experienced so many convulsions—Monarchy, Convention, Directory, Consulate, Empire, Monarchy, Empire and finally Republic— there has grown up a principle founded on the ‘droit administratif’ which undoubtedly governs the action of many French officers and officials in times of revolution and change. It is a highly legalistic habit of mind and it arises from a subconscious sense of national self-preservation against the dangers of sheer anarchy.

For instance, any officer who obeys the command of his lawful superior, is absolutely immune from subsequent punishment, Much therefore turns in the minds of French officers upon whether there is a direct, unbroken chain of lawful command, and this is held to be more important by many Frenchmen than moral, national or international considerations. From this point of view many Frenchmen who admire General de Gaulle and envy him in his role nevertheless regard him as a man who has rebelled against the French state ...

... We all thought General Giraud was the man for the job, and that his arrival would be electrical. In this opinion, General Giraud emphatically agreed.”

[text from Winston S. Churchill: Secret Session Speeches]

General Giraud had slipped into Vichy France where he made his identity known to the authorities. He tried to convince Marshal Pétain that Germany was going to lose the war, and that France should therefore resist the German occupation.

His views were rejected, although the Vichy government did refuse to hand Giraud over to the Germans.

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    Reading the full context, I'd interpret it as meaning nothing more than "Frenchmen and Englishmen think differently"
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Nov 27, 2017 at 2:32
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    T.E.D. yes, but although while it is hard to prove or disprove generalisations about how different groups of people think, the nature of the difference that Churchill identifies may be perceptive and historically important.
    – Timothy
    Commented Nov 27, 2017 at 19:15
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    Churchill, by profession was first a journalist, then a politician, a military leader and finally statesman. In all these roles he had an adroit and inspirational command of the English Language (perhaps his greatest asset). He was NOT an economist, historian, anthropologist, social philosopher, or great thinker. So anything he ever said of this kind is of no value whatever to anyone.
    – WS2
    Commented Nov 28, 2017 at 14:18
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    @WS2 For someone who wasn't an historian, he did write some impressive histories. For example, Marlborough: His Life and Times, his history of The Second World War (he got a Nobel Prize for that one), and A History of the English-Speaking Peoples. ;-) Commented Nov 28, 2017 at 14:34
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    @sempaiscuba Historians would regard them as little more than historical journalism. But he was a good journalist and writer.(Anyone wondering how to write a letter of condolences need look no further than his to Eleanor Roosevelt on the death of FDR) His history of the WW2 is of value. As a leading player it reveals a lot about his own approach, and is replete with original sources, verbatim reports etc. So it is of use to historians, not so much as good history, but for reference purposes. But if you want a proper history of WW2 and the Nazi period there are vastly better works on offer.
    – WS2
    Commented Nov 29, 2017 at 21:21

As another answerer pointed out, the context was the difference between the willingness of the British and the French to carry on the struggle against the Germans from their overseas (e.g. African) colonies, and specifically on during Operation Torch.

The differences were best summed up in Wikipedia article on France's Descartes:

Descartes laid the foundation for 17th-century continental rationalism, later advocated by Baruch Spinoza and Gottfried Leibniz, and opposed by the empiricist school of thought consisting of Hobbes, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume. Leibniz, Spinoza[16] and Descartes were all well-versed in mathematics as well as philosophy, and Descartes and Leibniz contributed greatly to science as well.

That is, the French were "rational," and tended to have their actions dictated by a chain of reasoning, while the British were more "empirical, that is, more likely to react intuitively to what their senses and data told them.

The French "reasoned" that their French homeland was under German occupation, therefore, resistance should "logically" end. The British "sensed" something different from their empirical approach ; 1) that the Axis were more than capable of bungling, at least in North Africa and 2) the power of the United States would eventually supersede Axis power. These differences in thought process explained the differences in willingness to fight the Axis in North Africa.

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    Tom Au, while this intellectual explanation (as a generalisation only) of many French and British peoples' reaction to defeat in the land campaign in 1940 may well be true in itself, it was surely also important that the British had the additional protection of a sea between them and the Germans, while the French did not. It was more practical for the British to fight on. Also, France had proportionally to population suffered higher causalities in World War I than either Britain or Germany, so may understandably have had the least enthusiasm for another war.
    – Timothy
    Commented Nov 27, 2017 at 19:28
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    This argument might have validity, except that Winston explicitly derives his analysis from roughly 1789 on, and the historical figures you allude to are from a very much earlier period in time, centuries earlier, before the relevant events. Commented Nov 27, 2017 at 22:47
  • @Timothy: But Churchill's quote was:The Almighty in His infinite wisdom did not see fit to create FrenchMEN in the image of EnglishMEN." It was not, "The Almighty in His infinite wisdom did not see fit to create France in the image of England," which would support your view.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Nov 28, 2017 at 5:14
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    @PieterGeerkens: Churchill's reference to "monarchy" meant that the relevant period started "no later" than 1789, but did not rule out its starting earlier. And from 1789 to 1842 is 153 years. David Hume died in 1776, a mere 13 years before 1789; Bishop Berkeley, 1753, 36 years before 1789; John Locke died in 1704, 85 years before 1789; Descartes died the earliest, in 1650, I don't find it a stretch to go back 139 years for a monarchy that effectively ended in 1789.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Nov 28, 2017 at 5:17

Other answers give good perspective on the meaning of the phrase... having to do with the French character, but there is a subtext here as well.

From the Book of Genesis:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

Dear old Winston is taking a jab at the French here, jokily implying that Englishmen are created in God's image but Frenchmen are later, and lesser creation.

  • Downvoters may I know why so I may be a better answerer?
    – AllInOne
    Commented Nov 28, 2017 at 15:17
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    I am pretty sure that you are getting down votes due to not supporting your answer (amusing as it is), in terms of linking Churchill's remarks directly to Scripture with the perjorative connotation that your last line attributes to Winston's bon mot. Commented Nov 28, 2017 at 16:25
  • Perhaps simply that he celebrated the cultural differences of European people, as most of the educated classes did, and still do. Churchill was a huge Francophile. In 1940 with France on the verge of defeat he offered the country union with Britain. He spoke French with the awkwardness of an English gentleman - one of his military observations said to have been "mon derriere est divise dans deux parties". His later years were largely spent painting, in the South of France.
    – WS2
    Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 8:32

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