Patrice de Mac-Mahon, Duke of Magenta

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Patrice de MacMahon
Maréchal de Mac-Mahon.jpg
3rd President of France
In office
24 May 1873 – 30 January 1879
Prime Minister Albert de Broglie
Ernest Courtot de Cissey
Louis Buffet
Jules Armand Dufaure
Jules Simon
Albert de Broglie
Gaëtan de Rochebouët
Jules Armand Dufaure
Preceded by Adolphe Thiers
Succeeded by Jules Grévy
Co-Prince of Andorra
In office
24 May 1873 – 30 January 1879
Served with Josep Caixal i Estradé
Preceded by Adolphe Thiers
Succeeded by Jules Grévy
Personal details
Born 13 June 1808
Sully, France
Died 17 October 1893
Montcresson, France
Political party Legitimists

Marshal Marie Esme Patrice Maurice de MacMahon, 1st Duke of Magenta (French pronunciation: ​[patʁis də makma.ɔ̃]; 13 June 1808 – 17 October 1893), was a French general and politician with the distinction Marshal of France. He served as Chief of State of France from 1873 to 1875 and as the first president of the Third Republic, from 1875 to 1879.

Early life[edit]

Patrice de MacMahon (as he was usually known before being elevated to a ducal title in his own right) was born in Sully (near Autun), in the département of Saône-et-Loire. He was the 16th of 17 children of a family already in the French nobility (his grandfather Jean-Baptiste de MacMahon was named Marquis de MacMahon and Marquis d'Eguilly (from his wife Charlotte Le Belin, Dame d' Eguilly) by King Louis XV, and the family in France had decidedly royalist politics).

His ancestors were part of the Dál gCais[1] and were Lords of Corcu Baiscind[2] in the Kingdom of Thomond (later to become County Clare) in Ireland. After losing much of their land in the Cromwellian confiscations, a branch moved to Limerick for a time before settling in France during the reign of King William III because of their support of the deposed King James II.[3] They applied for naturalization in 1749.

Patrice de MacMahon was educated at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand and at the Academy of St-Cyr, graduating in 1827.

Military career[edit]

He served in the Army as aide-de-camp to General Achard, and went to the campaign in Algiers in 1830. He stayed in Algeria from 1834–1854, and was wounded during an assault on Constantine in 1837. He became commander of the Foreign Legion in 1843, and was promoted to Divisional General in 1852.

In the Crimean War, he distinguished himself in the Battle of Malakoff at Sevastopol (8 September 1855), during which he reputedly uttered the famous quotation now attributed to him: J'y suis, j'y reste ("Here I am, here I stay"). He was offered the top French Army post after the war but declined, preferring to return to Algeria.

He was appointed to the French Senate in 1856.

He fought in the Second Italian War of Independence as commander of the Second Corps ("Army of Italy"). He secured the French victory at Magenta (4 June 1859) and rose to the rank of Maréchal de France while in the field. He was later created Duke of Magenta by Napoléon III as a result.

Franco-Prussian War[edit]

Patrice de MacMahon, duc de Magenta at the Battle of Magenta

MacMahon served as Governor-General of Algeria from 1 September 1864, returning at the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War.

In the Franco-Prussian War MacMahon commanded the I and V French Corps on the Rhine Army's Southern line. On 4 August 1870 the Prussian 3rd Army attacked the Southern line, and immediately took the border city of Wissembourg. They quickly moved on to capture the city of Wörth two days later.

After less than a week of fighting, the entire French Rhine Army's Southern line could not withstand the Prussian attacks and retreated west, further into French territory. The Prussians were relentless. The Prussian 3rd Army captured town after town, while the French I and V Corps hastily retreated southwest to Châlons-sur-Marne, out of the way of the advancing Prussians, while the Prussians drove west.

MacMahon led the 120,000 strong remnants of the French Rhine army (I, VII, XII Corps), reformed as the Army of Châlons, with Napoléon III. They marched north-northeast from Châlons-sur-Marne, in an attempt to relieve the besieged army at Metz over 130 km to the east. But the Prussian 3rd Army marched 325 km and intercepted the French army along the Meuse River. After three days of fighting (29 to 31 August), MacMahon's troops fell back to Sedan, where they were encircled, in part due to MacMahon's indecision. MacMahon was wounded on 31 August, and passed command.

After the Battle of Sedan, Napoléon III surrendered the main French army on 2 September, and MacMahon was taken prisoner.

Paris Commune and Third Republic[edit]

France surrendered to the Prussians in January 1871, and formed a new interim government based in Versailles. Radicals in Paris rejected this government and formed the Paris Commune. In May 1871, MacMahon led the troops of the Versailles government against the Commune.[4] In the bitter fighting of what was latter called "The Bloody Week," the forces of MacMahon crushed the Commune. Communards captured with weapons were often executed on the spot. One hundred forty-seven Communards were shot against what is now known as the Communards' Wall in Père Lachaise Cemetery.[5] Several hundred others were summarily executed by firing squad in the Luxembourg Gardens, and the Lobau Barracks, behind the Hôtel de Ville. At a Parliamentary hearing in 1871, MacMahon estimated that as many as seventeen thousand Communards might have been killed and wounded between April and the end of May.[6] A study of the records of the police and cemeteries of Paris during and after Bloody Week showed that that the number killed during and immediately after Bloody Week was probably between 6000 and 7500.[7]

In May 1873, MacMahon was elected President of the French Republic, with the support of monarchists and conservatives in the National Assembly.

The Assembly having (9 November 1873) fixed his term of office at seven years, he declared in a speech delivered 4 February 1874 that he would know how to make the legally-established order of things respected for seven years. Preferring to remain above party politics, he assisted at rather than taking part in the proceedings which, in January and February 1875, led to the passage of the fundamental laws finally establishing the French Third Republic as the legal government of France.

And yet MacMahon (also known as Magenta) wrote in his still unpublished memoirs: "By family tradition, and by the sentiments towards the royal house which were instilled in me by my early education, I could not be anything but a Legitimist." He felt some repugnance, too, in forming, in 1876, the Dufaure and the Jules Simon cabinets, in which the republican element was represented.

In May 1877, the bishops of Poitiers, Nîmes, and Nevers issued episcopal charges recommending the case of the captive Pope Pius IX to the sympathy of the French government. On 4 May, the Left responded with a resolution in the Chambre des Députés calling on the Government "to repress Ultramontane manifestations".

Twelve days later, MacMahon controversially provoked the 16 May 1877 crisis, by demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Simon, a republican. Simon resigned, later claiming to avert a coup d'état by MacMahon, who replaced him with the Orleanist Duc de Broglie. He then persuaded the Senate to dissolve the Chamber on 16 May 1877. By these moves he sought to quell Republicanism and boost the prospects of a restoration of the monarchy under the Comte de Chambord.

Marshal The Duc de Magenta, French soldier and statesman

During the next five months, MacMahon travelled through the country campaigning for the Conservatives, protesting at the same time that he did not wish to overturn the Republic. However, the elections of 14 October resulted in a majority of 120 for the Left; the de Broglie ministry resigned on 19 November, and MacMahon formed a Left cabinet under Dufaure. He retained his office until 1878, so as to allow the Exposition Universelle to take place in political peace. After the senatorial elections of 5 January 1879, having brought another victory to the Left, MacMahon found a pretext to resign on 30 January. He was succeeded by Jules Grévy.

"I have remained a soldier", he says in his memoirs, "and I can conscientiously say that I have not only served one government after another loyally, but, when they fell, have regretted all of them with the single exception of my own." In his voluntary retirement he carried with him the esteem of all parties: Jules Simon, who did not love him, and whom he did not love, afterwards called him "a great captain, a great citizen and a righteous man" (un grand capitaine, un grand citoyen et un homme de bien). His presidency may be summarised thus: on the one hand, he allowed the Republic to establish itself; on the other hand, so far as his lawful prerogatives permitted, he restrained the political advance of parties hostile to the Catholic Church, convinced that the triumph of Radicalism would be to the detriment of France. The last fourteen years of his life were spent in retirement, quite removed from political interests.

The Duke died at the Château de La Forest at Montcresson, Loiret, in 1893. He was buried, with national honours, in the crypt of Les Invalides.

Quotes[edit]

  • Showing his faith in the Foreign Legion during the Battle of Magenta: "The Legion is here. It's in the bag! ("Voici la Légion ! L'affaire est dans le sac !").[8]
  • During the Siege of Sevastopol in the Crimean War, MacMahon led an assault by French troops against the Malakoff redoubt. MacMahon captured the Malakoff, but was urged to withdraw rather than be crushed by imminent Russian counter-attacks. He refused, replying "J'y suis. J'y reste!" ("Here I am. Here I stay!"). MacMahon's troops held the Malakoff, and Sevastopol soon fell.[9]

MacMahon's line became widely quoted as an expression of defiance. P. G. Wodehouse's character Bertie Wooster used it in response to pressure from his valet Jeeves to shave off his new moustache.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ The Tribe of Cas (26 August 2011). "Pedigree of MacMahon, Lords of Corca Baisgin, County Clare". 
  2. ^ Family History Ireland (26 August 2011). "Marshal MacMahon and the Ottomans". 
  3. ^ Firinne, D.H. and Eugene O'Curry, Life of Marshal MacMahon, Duke of Magenta. (The "Irishman" Office, Dublin, 1859) pp. 5–6.
  4. ^ Hutton, Patrick H., Historical Dictionary of the French Third Republic. (Greenwood Press, New York, 1986) p. 587
  5. ^ Cobban, Alfred (1965), A History of Modern France, p. 215. Penguin Books
  6. ^ Deposition de M. le maréchal MacMahon (28 August 1871) in Enquéte Parlementaire sur l'insurrenction du 18 mars 1871 (Paris: Librarie Législative, 1872), p. 183.
  7. ^ Robert Tombs, "How Bloody was La Semaine Sanglante of 1871? A Revision", Historical Journal (Sept 2012) 55#3 pp 679-704.
  8. ^ The French Foreign Legion: A Complete History of the Legendary Fighting Force (book), Porch, Douglas
  9. ^ Bellamy, Christopher; Ed. Richard Holmes (2001). The Oxford Companion to Military History: Crimean War. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-866209-2. 

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Adolphe Thiers
President of France
1873–1879
Succeeded by
Jules Grévy
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Adolphe Thiers and Josep Caixal i Estradé
Co-Prince of Andorra
1873–1879
with Josep Caixal i Estradé
Succeeded by
Jules Grévy and Salvador Casañas i Pagés
Government offices
Preceded by
Édouard de Martimprey
Governor-General of Algeria
1864–1870
Succeeded by
Louis, Baron Durieu
French nobility
New title Duc de Magenta Succeeded by
Marie Armand Patrice MacMahon