Prytanée National Militaire

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Coordinates: 47°42′2″N 0°4′33″W / 47.70056°N 0.07583°W / 47.70056; -0.07583

Prytanée National Militaire
La Flèche, Collège jésuite (portail).JPG
The entrance gate of the Prytanée National Militaire.
La Flèche, Sarthe (72), France
Type Military education
Established 1604

The Prytanée National Militaire, originally Collège Royal Henry-Le-Grand, is a French school managed by the military, offering regular secondary education as well as special preparatory classes, equivalent in level to the first years of university, for students who wish to enter French military academies. The school is located in western France in the city of La Flèche.


During the 16th century, Françoise, duchess of Alençon, and grandmother to the future Henry IV established a castle in La Flèche, where Antoine de Bourbon, king of Navarre, and his wife Jeanne d'Albret, future parents of Henry IV, resided in 1552. The castle was given to the Jesuits by Henri IV in 1604 to found a College under the name of "Collège Royal Henry-Le-Grand", in order "to select and train the best minds of the time".

The Jesuit College (1604–1762)[edit]

The castle of La Flèche.

The first Jesuits left Pont-à-Mousson on 16 October 1603, and reached La Flèche on 2 January 1604. They started to teach grammar, rhetorics, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, philosophy, mathematics, and theology. A foundation edict was issued at Fontainebleau in May 1607, in which the building started to take its present shape.

Graduation registry for Descartes at the Collège Royal Henry-Le-Grand, 1616.

René Descartes was one of the first and most illustrious students of the school from 1607 to 1615, and introduced the school in his Discourse on Method under the phrase "I was in one of the most famous schools of Europe".

The College continued to expand, and, upon the death of Henry IV, a vast church was built, in which the hearts of Henry IV and his wife queen Marie de Medicis were enshrined.

Missions to China and the Americas[edit]

Many of the Jesuit missionaries who went to the Americas or China during the 17th century had been trained at the College.[1] Among them were Énemond Massé, who became an early missionary to Canada and became Minister of the College upon his return in 1614. When he went back to Canada, he was accompanied by Charles Lalemant, another alumni of the school.[2] Paul Le Jeune, also a student of the College, is considered as the "father of the Jesuit missions in New France", and was the Superior of the Jesuits in Quebec from 1632 to 1639.[3] Others were Erard Bille, Jacques Buteux, Nicolas Adam, Barthélemy Vimont, Paul Ragueneau, Claude de Quentin, Isaac Jogues.[4]

In China also, numerous students of the College became active participants to the missions. Three of the five Jesuits sent by Louis XIV to China were from the Collège: Jean de Fontaney, the Superior of the mission, who had been a professor of mathematics there and became Rector of the school until 1710 after his return from China; Joachim Bouvet, who was a philosophy student in 1676, became a teacher to the Kangxi Emperor; Claude Visdelou, who was a repetitor and a teacher at the school from 1676 to 1678.[5] Others included Guillaume le Couteux, Pierre Foureau, Charles de Broissia, Emeric de Chavagnac, Jean-François Fouquet, and Joseph Labbe.

Around 1650, the College became a center of cosmopolistic learning, as "Americans, Indians, Tartars, Russians, and even Chinese visited it"[1]. In 1751, two Chinese students were enrolled: Yang Dewang (Etienne Yang Tche-teh), and Gao Ren (Louis Kao Fen).[6]

Cadets school (1764–1776)[edit]

Engraving of the Prytanée, 18th century.
"Le Triomphe du Prix d'Honneur", 1887, M. Crès.
Prytanée students having lunch around 1900.

In 1764 following the expulsion of the Jesuits, after a lapse of two years, the school was transformed by Louis XV and Choiseul into a military institution designed to train young cadets for admission to the École Militaire, the "École de Cadets ou École Militaire préparatoire à l’École Militaire du Champ de Mars". These efforts at creating military institutions followed military defeats in the Seven Years' War (1756-1763). The school was reserved to 250 students of noble extraction, as well as sons of officers who were wounded or died in combat, and the sons of the Chevaliers de Saint-Louis.

College (1776–1793)[edit]

In 1776 the Count of St Germain attempted to close the school, but it was re-established by Louis XVI, who gave its management to the "Fathers of the Christian Doctrine" (Pères de la Doctrine chrétienne). Among others, they educated the future General Bertrand, who accompanied Napoléon to Saint Helena, and the two Chappe brothers, who invented the aerial telegraph.

The College was closed in 1793 following the advent of the French revolution. For a while, the buildings were used for a variety of purposes, such as becoming a cordonery for the Army of the Republic.

Prytanée Militaire (1808-today)[edit]

In 24 March 1808, Napoléon renamed the school "Prytanée Militaire", in a classic reference to the Greek prytaneis (literally "Presidents"), an executive body acting as the religious and political heart of ancient Greek cities. As Napoleon had moved to Fontainebleau to establish his court, he had decided to transfer the "École Spéciale Militaire de Fontainebleau" to Paris, and the "Prytanée de Saint-Cyr" to La Flèche. Since then various names were adopted for the school, such as "École royale militaire" (1814–1830), Collège royal militaire (1831–1848), Collège national militaire (1848–1853), Prytanée impérial militaire (1853–1870), Prytanée militaire and Prytanée national militaire (since 1870).

During World War II in 1940, the Prytanée had to be moved for a few years successively to Billom, Valence, then Briançon.


Swearing-in ceremony, for Prytanée student preparing to École de Saint-Cyr c. 1950.

Today the Prytanée provides secondary education and also has "Classes préparatoires", that is, preparatory classes to the entrance examinations of the French elite Grandes Écoles, such as École polytechnique, the Navy École Navale, the Army École Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr, the École de l'Air and various civilian engineering or commercial graduate schools.

The school's students are nicknamed "Brutions", as a classic reference to the inhabitants of the Bruttium region of Roman Italy, who had a reputation for their roughness and fighting spirit.


Sergent-Major insignas.

The school grades received by students are even today symbolized by military insignias which are worn on the traditional uniform (Uniforme de tradition), starting with "Sergent-Major" (4 golden chevrons) for the top of a class, "Sergent" (3 golden chevrons), "Caporal-Chef" (2 red and 1 golden chevrons), and finally "Caporal" (2 red chevrons). Typically, the top ten students of each class during a given quarter would receive such insignias.

Colored shoulder badge, with a "Navy" anchor.

Students also have colored shoulder badges for each year, attached to the daily fatigues ("Uniforme de travail"), starting with blue for the first year of high school, orange for the second, and green for the third. These badges can further be adorned with various small symbols and decorations, especially expressing the type of career to which each student is aspires.

Famous alumni[edit]

René Descartes (1596–1650).
Claude Chappe (1763–1805).
Gallieni (1849–1916).
Patrick Baudry (1946–).

The Prytanée has trained various military and non-military celebrities. In chronological order:

Famous professors[edit]


  1. ^ On vit arriver au Collège "des Américains, des Indiens, des Tartares, des Russes et même des Chinois", Marchant de Burbure (1803)
  1. ^ Shenwen Li, p.45
  2. ^ Shenwen Li, p.45
  3. ^ Shenwen Li, p.46
  4. ^ Shenwen Li, p.46
  5. ^ Shenwen Li, p.46
  6. ^ Shenwen Li, p.37


  • Li, Shenwen, 2001, Stratégies missionnaires des Jésuites Français en Nouvelle-France et en Chine au XVIIieme siècle, Les Presses de l'Université Laval, L'Harmattan, ISBN 2-7475-1123-5

External links[edit]