Macron hosts King Charles at glittering Versailles state banquet

King enjoyed a meal inspired by the tastes of the 'Sun King' Louis XIV, who built the Palace of Versailles

King Charles III treated to opulent French banquet

King Charles III treated to opulent French banquet
Powered by automated translation

President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday hosted King Charles III for a glittering banquet at France's former royal residence, the Palace of Versailles.

The British monarch began a three-day state visit aimed at showing the underlying strength of cross-Channel ties after Brexit.

The visit, which was rescheduled from March because of the violent protests against pension reform in France, also aims to show King Charles' stature as a statesman just over a year after the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II.

The original itinerary in Paris and the south-western city of Bordeaux – packed with ceremony and pomp in a country that abolished its monarchy in the 1789 revolution and then executed its king – is largely unchanged.

King Charles and Queen Camilla were met outside the Versailles palace by Mr Macron and his wife Brigitte, before going in to join other guests.

Guests at the dinner included British rock star Mick Jagger, the French former manager of the Arsenal football team Arsene Wenger, and the world's richest man, luxury goods tycoon Bernard Arnault.

The menu included delicacies such blue lobster cooked as a starter by star chef Anne-Sophie Pic, who has said she was inspired by the tastes of the "Sun King" Louis XIV, who built Versailles.

Other dinner guests in the glittering Hall of Mirrors included English celebrity Hugh Grant and Charlotte Gainsbourg, the actor and daughter of French singer Serge Gainsbourg and British actor Jane Birkin.

King Charles III visits France - in pictures

It was here on her first state visit to France, in 1957, that Queen Elizabeth had lunch with president Rene Coty.

There are reminders throughout of the visit by the late queen, a French-speaking francophile who made five state visits to the country during her 70-year reign.

The king has spoken movingly about his mother’s ties to France as he told of the “firm friendship” between the nations at the banquet.

“Your generosity of spirit brings to mind how my family and I were so greatly moved by the tributes paid in France to my mother, the late Queen, whose funeral took place one year ago yesterday," he told Mr Macron.

“Mr President, among the many profoundly moving gestures here, the flying of the Union flag at the Elysee was particularly poignant.

“Your words, at that time, meant a great dealt to us too. You said that she had touched your hearts – and it was she who held France in the greatest affection, as, of course, did my grandmother Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.

“My parents’ first official visit together was to France in 1948, shortly after their wedding.

“By all accounts, they made quite a splash, dancing 'til the early hours at the glamourous Chez Carrere in the Rue Pierre Charron, serenaded by Edith Piaf.

“I suspect it may have left an indelible impression on me, even six months before I was born – La Vie En Rose is one of my favourite songs to this day.”

The king said relations between the UK and France have not always been “straightforward”, but he also stressed the unity between the nations.

King Charles also mentioned the importance of Britain working with France to tackle climate change.

“Mr President, in all of this we can rely on our firm friendship, which is renewed and reinvigorated with each new generation," he said.

“I would like, if you would allow me, to raise a toast to President and Madame Macron and to the French people, as well as to our entente cordiale – a sustainable alliance.

“Whatever lies ahead, may it endure, faithful and constant, for centuries to come.”

King Charles greeted with full honours in France

King Charles III was greeted by President Emmanuel Macron with full honours when he arrived in France on Wednesday.

Before his arrival, Mr Macron welcomed the monarch via social media writing: “You visited as a Prince, you return as a King. Your Majesty, welcome”.

The king said he had the “greatest love and admiration” for France and was looking forward to celebrating the two nation's “special bond”.

The pair arrived at the Elysee together by car, closely followed by the queen and the president’s wife Brigitte Macron.

The couples exchanged pleasantries as they stood at the end of a red carpet in the palace courtyard, laughing together.

Mr Macron appeared particularly animated, chatting with the gathered media.

As they entered Mr Macron’s lavishly decorated office, King Charles jokingly asked if the waiting photographers were always there.

On his arrival, King Charles presented Mr Macron with a book containing photographs of the pair together as they held talks at the start of the state visit.

As well as the photograph album, the king gave Mr Macron a complete edition of Voltaire’s writings when he visited the Elysee Palace.

The works have been edited by Professor Nicholas Cronk, a leading UK academic at Oxford University and director of the Voltaire Foundation.

Started in 1968, the complete works, comprising 205 volumes, was only completed in April 2022 and included Letters on the English, a series of essays by the French Enlightenment writer and philosopher, based on his experiences living in Britain between 1726 and 1729.

In return, Mr Macron gave the king a golden coin featuring Charles’s portrait, as well as a prize-winning French novel.

The king and president left the building, deep in conversation, to plant an oak tree which was also given by Mr Macron.

The king and the president heard from the embassy gardener, Damien Haudecoeur, about the continuing work in the garden before the ceremonial tree planting takes place.

The planting of a tree was a tradition set by Queen Elizabeth who planted three trees in the gardens.

Mr Macron, who has dealt with four UK premiers over the past half-decade, is known to have a strong personal rapport with King Charles.

Commentators in France excitedly noted how he repeatedly touched King Charles's shoulder and Brigitte Macron kissed Queen Camilla, in a new protocol unthinkable under the more distant and austere Elizabeth II.

Mr Macron, who has faced accusations from left-wing opponents of behaving like a monarch, will be eager to ensure the event proceeds smoothly, without showing excess at a time of economic frugality.

"This image, in this context, is obviously fundamentally harmful for Emmanuel Macron even if there are diplomatic imperatives behind it which also play a role," French author and academic Benjamin Morel told AFP.

King receives ceremonial welcome at the Arc de Triomphe

Earlier in the day, the king was honoured with a ceremonial welcome at the Arc de Triomphe, to be followed by a state banquet at the Palace of Versailles.

His visit was postponed in March at the last minute after violent nationwide demonstrations by those opposed to Mr Macron’s retirement age reforms. Bordeaux’s town hall was set on fire by protesters just a few days before the trip was due to begin.

The royal couple started the visit by joining their hosts, Mr Macron and his wife Brigitte, for a ceremony of remembrance and wreath-laying at the Arc de Triomphe on Wednesday where the king was invited by the president to symbolically light the monument’s eternal flame which burns in memory of those who died in the First and Second World Wars.

The Arc was the location for the Ceremonial Arrival of Queen Elizabeth for her final state visit to France, in 2014.

On arrival at the Arc the national anthems were played, and the king, accompanied by President Macron, reviewed the Regimental Band of the Garde Republicaine, followed by the French Colour Party, before inspecting the Tri-Service Guard of Honour.

After the Guard Inspection, they proceeded to the Plateau, the centre of the Arc de Triomphe, to visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

After the lighting, the bugle call Aux Morts, France's equivalent of The Last Post, was sounded, followed by a minute’s silence.

A fly-past by the demonstration unit of the French air force, the Patrouille de France, then took place followed by the Red Arrows.

King Charles to give speech at France's senate chamber

Later in the week, the king will become the first British monarch to give a speech from France’s senate chamber, to senators and national assembly members, where he will be presented with a gift of honey.

“Honey collected from the hives of the Luxembourg Garden will be offered to the king,” the Senate said.

“This protocol echoes the mobilisation of Charles III in favour of the protection of the environment and organic agriculture.”

A senior official from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office described Britain’s ties with France as an “absolutely massive relationship, both government to government and people to people”.

“It’s what we call a ‘full spectrum’ relationship, ranging through defence … trade, migration, and a key part of it is sustainability and our work together on the environment, both with each other and in the world,” the official said.

In Bordeaux, the king and queen will meet emergency workers and communities affected by the 2022 Bordeaux wildfires, as well as UK and French military personnel to learn more about how the two nations are collaborating on defence.

It will be the king’s 35th official visit to France. He last visited France in 2019, attending a service in Bayeux Cathedral to mark the 75th anniversary of the Normandy Landings.

Updated: September 20, 2023, 9:51 PM