Patrice de MacMahon

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Patrice de MacMahon
The duc de Magenta, c. 1890
3rd President of France
In office
24 May 1873 – 30 January 1879
Prime MinisterAlbert de Broglie
Ernest Courtot de Cissey
Louis Buffet
Jules Armand Dufaure
Jules Simon
Gaëtan de Rochebouët
Preceded byAdolphe Thiers
Succeeded byJules Grévy
Governor-General of Algeria
In office
1 September 1864 – 27 July 1870
MonarchNapoleon III
Preceded byÉdmond de Martimprey
Succeeded byLouis Durrieu
Member of the Senate
In office
24 June 1864 – 4 September 1870
Nominated byNapoleon III
Personal details
Born(1808-06-13)13 June 1808
Sully, Saône-et-Loire, France
Died17 October 1893(1893-10-17) (aged 85)
Montcresson, Loiret, France
Political partyMiscellaneous right (Legitimist)
ChildrenMarie Armand Patrice de Mac Mahon
Eugene de Mac Mahon
Emmanuel de Mac Mahon [fr]
Marie de Mac Mahon
Countess de Pinnes
RelativesMacMahon family
EducationSpecial Military School of Saint-Cyr
ProfessionMilitary officer
Military service
AllegianceBourbon Restoration in France Bourbon Restoration
July Monarchy July Monarchy
Second French Empire Second French Empire
Branch/serviceFrench Army
Years of service1827–1873
Lieutenant colonel
Marshal of France
Unit French Foreign Legion
Lt. colonel
2nd Foreign Legion Regiment
2ème R.E.L.E/2e RE
Commander I Army Corps
Army of the Rhin (1870)
Army of Châlons (1870)
Battles/warsConquest of Algeria (1827–1857)

Crimean War (1853–1856)

Franco-Austrian War (1859)

Franco-Prussian War (1870–1871)

Paris Commune (1871)

Marie Edme Patrice Maurice de MacMahon, marquis de MacMahon,[1] duc de Magenta (French pronunciation: [patʁis makma.ɔ̃]; 13 June 1808 – 17 October 1893), was a French general and politician, with the distinction of Marshal of France. He served as Chief of State of France from 1873 to 1875 and as President of France from 1875 to 1879.

MacMahon led the main French army in the war against the Germans in 1870. He was trapped and wounded at the Battle of Sedan in September 1870, in part because of his confused and indecisive strategic planning. The army, including MacMahon and Emperor Napoleon III, surrendered to the Germans. Thus France lost the war and the Emperor went into exile. After convalescing, MacMahon was appointed head of the Versailles army, which suppressed the Paris Commune revolt in May 1871 and set the stage for his political career.

According to David Bell, after Thiers' resignation in May 1873, the royalist majority in the National Assembly drafted MacMahon as the new leader, with the hope that he would hold the fort until the Bourbon pretender was ready to restore the throne. However, the Count of Chambord's extreme Legitimist stance made restoration politically impossible. MacMahon refused to support efforts to force the Assembly's hand. In the absence of his full support there was no way to achieve monarchy by extra-parliamentary means. The right had no choice but to keep MacMahon in office to gain time and act as a barrier to the left by repressing radical agitation and pursuing policies to restore "moral order" to the country. In November 1873, he was voted a term of office of seven years. However, the divisions among the royalists left MacMahon in a political predicament for which he was not prepared, trying to keep the Republicans at bay without defined powers or a clear source of legitimacy, without a clear majority in parliament or the country, and without the use of force. In 1874, due to demands for Bonapartism, MacMahon called for constitutional reform. To ensure calm this led to a system of a President and Senate elected indirectly. In 1876, MacMahon had to accept governments by moderate Republicans. However, in 1877, MacMahon dismissed Simon and recalled the Duke de Broglie. The new government was dissolved on a no confidence vote. Conservatives hoped to exploit their influential press, heavy patronage, and martial law to coerce the voters. They failed in the general election of October 1877, as the Republicans won the majority despite the challenges on the right. In January 1879, the Republicans forced MacMahon's resignation. He died in 1893, with Republicans viewing him as a danger to the Republic and diehard monarchists considering him a bungler who mishandled their dream of restoration.[2]

MacMahon was a devout conservative Catholic, and a traditionalist who despised socialism and strongly distrusted the mostly secular Republicans. He kept to his duty as the neutral guardian of the Constitution and rejected suggestions of a monarchist coup d'état, but refused to meet with Gambetta, the leader of the Republicans. He moved for a parliamentary system in which the assembly selected the ruling government of the Third Republic, but he also insisted on an upper chamber. He later dissolved the Chamber of Deputies, resulting in public outrage and a Republican electoral victory. Soon after MacMahon resigned and retired to private life.


Family origins[edit]

The MacMahon family is of Irish origin. They were Lords of Corcu Baiscind[3] in Ireland and descended from Mahon, the son of Muirchertach Ua Briain, High King of Ireland.[4][5] After losing much of their land in the Cromwellian confiscations of 1652, a branch moved to Limerick for a time. They supported the deposed King James II in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and settled in France during the subsequent reign of King William III.[6] They applied for French citizenship in 1749; after the definitive installation of the family in France, their nobility was recognised by the patent letter of King Louis XV of France.

A military family (14 members of the house of de Mac Mahon were in the Army), they settled in Autun, Burgundy, at the Chateau de Sully, where Patrice de Mac Mahon was born on 13 June 1808, sixteenth and the second-youngest son of Baron Maurice-François de Mac Mahon [fr] (1754–1831), Baron of Sully, Count de Mac Mahon and de Charnay, and Pélagie de Riquet de Caraman (1769–1819), a descendant of Pierre-Paul Riquet.

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 Knight Lord Overlord Jean-Baptiste de MacMahon,[7] was named Marquis de MacMahon and 1st Marquis d'Éguilly (from his wife Charlotte Le Belin, Dame d'Éguilly) by King Louis XV, and the family in France had decidedly royalist politics.

Early military career and service in Algeria[edit]

General MacMahon (right) with General Jean-Louis Borel (left), c. 1856

In 1820, MacMahon entered the Petit Séminaire des Marbres at Autun; then completed his education at Lycée Louis-le-Grand at Paris. He then entered the Special Military School at Saint-Cyr on 23 October 1825. He then joined the application school at the General Staff Headquarters on 1 October 1827, for a period of two years.

Following his graduation from Saint-Cyr, MacMahon entered the French Army in 1827. He was assigned to the 4th Hussars Regiment in 1830. MacMahon subsequently participated in the French conquest of Algeria as a sous-lieutenant in the 20th Line Infantry Regiment [fr]. He was commended for his capacity and bravery during the seizure of Algiers. On 24 November 1830, MacMahon further distinguished himself while serving with his regiment, during the Medea expedition [fr], during the battle of Mouzaïa mountain [fr]. He was awarded the Knight Order of the Legion d'honneur.

Recalled to France, MacMahon participated in 1832 to the Ten Days' Campaign where he was noticed again during the Siege of Antwerp.

He became a captain in 1833, and returned to Algeria, this time, in 1836 where he was placed under the orders of General Bertrand Clausel, and then General Charles-Marie Denys de Damrémont. He led several audacious cavalry raids across tribal occupied plains and distinguished himself during the Siege of Constantine, in 1837, where he was slightly wounded. In 1840, he left Africa (Algeria) and upon his return to France, he learnt that he had been promoted to chef d'escadron (cavalry squadron chief).

Portrait of MacMahon, by Horace Vernet, c. 1860

In May 1841, he returned again to Algeria at the head of the 10th Chasseur Battalion à Pied [fr] with whom he distinguished himself, in April, at the Battle of Bab el-Thaza and against the troops of Emir Abdelkader, on 25 May.

On 31 December 1842, he was promoted to lieutenant-colonel at the 2nd Regiment of the French Foreign Legion 2ème R.E.L.E. In 1843, he assumed the functions of regimental commander, by replacing the ill holder, a command which he kept until 1845.

MacMahon distinguished himself again during the battle of Chaab el-Gitta and the battle of Aïn Kebira on 14 October and 17 October 1844.

Nominated to colonel in December 1845, he assumed the command of the 41st Line Infantry Regiment [fr], garrisoned at Marnia.

Since 1848, MacMahon was nominated at the head of the subdivision of Tlemcen, where he was designated as a général de brigade on 12 June of the same year.

In 1849, he became a Commander of the Order of the Legion d'honneur, and served under General Aimable Pélissier, chief of the general staff of the Oran Province.

In 1852 MacMahon organized in Algeria the plebiscite of legitimation by universal suffrage destined to approve the French coup d'état of 1851. In March the same year he was appointed commandment of the Constantine Division [fr], before being promoted to Général de division, in July.

Crimean War, Sevastopol[edit]

Général MacMahon, c. 1865-70

During the Crimean War, he was given command of the 1st Infantry Division of the 2nd Orient Army Corps and, in September 1855, he won a victory at the Battle of Malakoff during the Siege of Sevastopol. During the battle he is reputed to have said: "Here I am; here will I stay!" (French: J'y suis, j'y reste!)[citation needed][8][9]

Senator and further Algerian service[edit]

After his return to France, he received a number of honours and was appointed Senator. Desiring a more active life, he refused a senior position in the French metropolitan army, and returned to Algeria. In Algeria, he served in a campaign against the Kabyle people. On his return to France, he voted as senator against a new law on general security, proposed after the failed assassination attempt of Felice Orsini against Emperor Napoleon III; the law (which passed) allowed easier government action against "enemies of the Empire" and those suspected of political crimes, and made anyone who did not pledge allegiance to Napoleon III ineligible for the legislature.

Magenta: Marshal of France[edit]

Patrice de Mac-Mahon, Marchal of France

MacMahon distinguished himself during the Italian Campaign of 1859. He advanced his troops without having received orders at a critical moment during the Battle of Magenta, which assured French victory.

For his military services, he was appointed a Marshal of France by Emperor Napoleon III, and awarded the title of Duke of Magenta.

Governor General of Algeria[edit]

In 1861 MacMahon represented France at the coronation of William I as King of Prussia. In 1864, he was named as Governor General of Algeria.

MacMahon did not distinguish himself in this appointment. While he initiated several reforms, numerous complaints were made against him. During the first half of 1870, he submitted his resignation to Napoleon III. When the Olivier cabinet was formed, the Emperor abandoned his Algerian projects and MacMahon was recalled.

War and the Paris Commune[edit]

MacMahon led the main French army in the Franco-Prussian War where he suffered several defeats in Alsace. He was seriously wounded during the Battle of Sedan. In 1871 the French army surrendered, and the Germans had clearly won the war. Overall his strategic planning was confused and marked by indecision. He, along with the rest of the army including the Emperor, was made prisoner during the capitulation of Sedan on 1 September.

In 1871, he became the head of the army of the French Third Republic, under President Adolphe Thiers, and in May led the Semaine Sanglante, the bloody week-long military campaign which defeated the Paris Commune and placed the city under the authority of the Third Republic. He was not blamed for the repression, but instead became the hero of the hour for the right.[10]

President of the Republic[edit]

Visit of the President-Marshal to the Emperor and Empress of Brazil, in Paris (L'Univers illustré, nº 1.153, 28 April 1877)
Silver coin: 5 francs of France 1876, released under President Patrice de Mac Mahon

In May 1873, MacMahon was elected President of the French Third Republic, by the royalist and conservative majority in the National Assembly. Only one vote was cast against him.[11] Renowned for his popularity, Mac Mahon was elected following the unsuccessful election of Adolphe Thiers on 24 May 1873. He replaced Prime Minister Jules Armand Dufaure with Duke Albert de Broglie, a monarchist. With de Broglie as Prime Minister, he adopted a series of measures to install a new conservative "moral order".

MacMahon favoured a restoration of the monarchy but when this project failed, accepted a seven-year mandate which the Assembly gave him on 9 November 1873. Mac Mahon deemed himself responsible to the country than to parliament, which brought him into conflict with the Chamber of Deputies.

In his still unpublished memoirs, MacMahon described his political convictions: "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." Nevertheless, in November 1873, he refused to meet with the Bourbon claimant to the throne, Henri, Count of Chambord, as he thought this incompatible with his duties as President of the Republic.[12] On 4 February 1874, MacMahon declared that he would respect the established legal order. Preferring to remain "au-dessus des partis" (above parties), he observed rather than took part in the procedures which in January and February 1875 led to the French Constitutional Laws of 1875, which established the French Third Republic as the government of France.

During the night of 23–24 June 1875 the Garonne region suffered heavy flooding. While visiting the inundated cities and villages he declared "que d'eau… que d'eau !… " (nothing but water…only water!…).[13] The prefect of the department responded to him: "Et encore, Monsieur le Président, vous n'en voyez que le dessus!" (Then again, Mr. President, you are only seeing what's above the surface!").

In September 1875, he stayed at Vernon for several days, in order to prepare the grand maneuvers of the third army. Following the 1876 French legislative election, which resulted in a republican majority, he agreed with great reluctance to the formation of governments under prime ministers Jules Dufaure and Jules Simon, which were dominated by Republicans.

In order to contain and destabilize France, German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck sought to promote republicanism in France by strategically and ideologically isolating MacMahon's clerical-monarchist supporters.[14] Bismarck's containment policy almost got out of hand in 1875 during the "War in Sight" crisis. There was a war scare in Germany and France when the German press reported that influential Germans, alarmed by France's rapid recovery from defeat in 1871 and its rearmaments program, were talking of launching a preemptive attack on France. Britain and Russia made it clear that they would not tolerate such aggression. Bismarck did not seek war either, but the unexpected crisis forced him to take into consideration the alarm that his aggressive policies, plus Germany's fast-growing power, were causing among its neighbors.[15][16][17]

The 16 May 1877 crisis heightened MacMahon's conflict with the Chamber of Deputies. After the bishops of Poitiers, Nimes and Nevers had assured Pius IX of the French government's support in the Roman question, the Chamber passed a resolution that asked the government to "suppress the ultramontanism manifestations". Twelve days later, he dismissed Prime Minister Jules Simon and again appointed Albert de Broglie. Hoping for a conservative victory, MacMahon then convinced the Senate to dissolve the Chamber of Deputies, and campaigned across the country, while protesting that he had no intention of overthrowing the Republic.[18] On 15 August 1877, Léon Gambetta declared: "Le Président n'a que ce choix: il lui faut se soumettre ou se démettre." ("The President has only but one choice: he must submit or resign.")

The elections of 14 October gave the Republicans a majority of 120 seats, and prime minister Broglie accordingly resigned on 19 November. MacMahon attempted first to form a government under General Gaëtan de Rochebouët, but the Chamber refused to cooperate with him. Rochebouët resigned the next day, and the President recalled Dufaure to form a Republican government. On 5 January 1879, elections to the Senate also resulted in a Republican majority, depriving MacMahon of his last parliamentary support. Faced with a decree which revolved around confiscating and diminishing a number of military authorities and commands to certain generals, MacMahon preferred to resign on 30 January 1879.

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 the nation. MacMahon's government was mildly repressive toward the left. Newspapers were prosecuted, senior officials were removed if they were suspected of support for republicanism. Critical pamphlets were suppressed while the government circulated its own propaganda. The proprietors of meeting places were advised not to allow meetings of critics of the government. On the other hand, he gave no support to a coup d'état by monarchists. MacMahon truly believed that the National Assembly should rule France and not the president.[19]

Last years[edit]

From 1887 to 1893, he directed the Société de secours aux blessés militaires (S.S.B.M.—Rescue Society of Wounded Military), which in 1940 became the French Red Cross.

Patrice de MacMahon died on 17 October 1893, at the Château de la Forêt [fr] at Montcresson, after having written his memoirs. He was buried on 22 October at the Hôtel des Invalides after a state funeral and a religious mass at La Madeleine. The five cordons (ornamental cords) of the funeral chariot were held by General Victor Février [fr], Grand Chancellor of the Legion d'Honneur; Admiral Henri Rieunier, Ministère de la Marine; Général Julien Loizillon [fr], Minister of War; Charles Merlin of the Senate; and M. Malvy[who?] from the Chamber of Deputies.


Figure Blazon

Arms of House de MacMahon: "Argent, three leopards (lions passant regardant) gules.

Arms of House de MacMahon, thereon the "couronne comte" (crown of a count of the Ancien Régime).

Arms of Duke of Magenta (argent, three leopards gules, a chief of the second semé of mullets of the first) thereon the "couronne ducale" (crown of a duke of the Ancien Régime).
Marshal MacMahon


Battle honours[edit]

Wounded four times: in 1837, at the Siege of Constantine, a bullet pierced his uniform; in 1840, a bullet pierced his sabre through the rib cage; in 1857 at the battle of Icheriden [fr]; and finally seriously on 1 September 1870 at Sedan.


  • "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:

un grand capitaine, un grand citoyen et un homme de bien (a great captain, a great citizen, and a good man)


  • 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 !").[28]
  • 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.[29]

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 ('Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit' Ch.1).


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gabriel de Broglie (2000). Mac Mahon. Perrin. p. 17.
  2. ^ David Bell, et al. eds. Biographical dictionary of French political leaders since 1870 (1990) pp 257-258.
  3. ^ Family History Ireland (22 February 2016). "Marshal MacMahon and the Ottomans".
  4. ^ Brian Boru and The Battle of Clontarf, Seán Duffy, page 100, page 273
  5. ^ John O'Hart,Irish Pedigrees or the Origin and Stem of the Irish Nation, Volume 1, 1892, pages 148–150,
  6. ^ Firinne, D.H. and Eugene O'Curry, Life of Marshal MacMahon, Duke of Magenta. (The "Irishman" Office, Dublin, 1859) pp. 5–6.
  7. ^ Lord Messier, Knight Lord overlord of the towns, countries, castles and lands of Seenish, Inisch, Arovan, Ylan-Magrath, Ing, located in the County of Clare and the island of Fymes, of the city and not of Ryencanagh, and several lands in Limerick County, 1st Marquis of Éguilly.
  8. ^ Bent, S. A. (1887). Familiar short sayings of great men [eBook edition]. Ticknor and Company.
  9. ^ This word that is very suggestive in its concision, was that of Marshal de Mac Mahon, in the circumstances which historian Henri Martin related to: Mac-Mahon, while launching all his division, had finished off with repelling the Russians from Malakof. Informed that the openings were rigged with mines and that there were severe risks of explosions and being blown to pieces, he responded with the famous: ("J'y suis, j'y reste !" – "Here I am; here will I stay !"). Later, other controversies were engaged around the authenticity of this word, and no certain proof of this authenticity were able to be appropriated. It seems that the historical truth would be a little different. After having entered into Malakof, the French troops had to sustain violent counterattacks launched by the Russians; it was only after a couple of hours that their position were finally consolidated, and Mac-Mahon would have sent a letter to Pélissier with the following message, quite different in the form and the content :" Je suis dans Malakof et je suis sûr de m'y maintenir" – "Here I am in Malakof and I am certain of maintaining myself" (Paris soir, 4 January 1937)
  10. ^ Hutton, Patrick H., Historical Dictionary of the French Third Republic. (Greenwood Press, New York, 1986) pp. 587–88
  11. ^ D.W. Brogan, France under the Republic: The Development of Modern France (1870–1939) (1940) p 97
  12. ^ Élisabeth de Miribel, La liberté souffre violence, Plon, p. 31. (in French)
  13. ^ Eugène Labiche et Delacour, Le Voyage en Chine (The Voyage to China), edition. Dentu, 1865
  14. ^ James Stone, "Bismarck and the Containment of France, 1873–1877," Canadian Journal of History (1994) 29#2 pp 281–304 online Archived 14 December 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ A.J.P. Taylor, The Struggle for Mastery in Europe (1955) pp 225–27
  16. ^ William L. Langer, European Alliances and Alignments, 1871–1890 (2nd ed. 1950) pp 44–55
  17. ^ T. G. Otte, "From 'War-in-Sight' to Nearly War: Anglo–French Relations in the Age of High Imperialism, 1875–1898," Diplomacy and Statecraft (2006)17#4 pp 693–714.
  18. ^ D.W. Brogan, France Under the Republic: The Development of Modern France (1870–1939) (1940) pp 127–43.
  19. ^ Robert Tombs, France: 1814–1914 (1996), pp 440–42
  20. ^ Shaw, Wm. A. (1906) The Knights of England, I, London, p. 192
  21. ^ Italia : Ministero dell'interno (1889). Calendario generale del Regno d'Italia. Unione tipografico-editrice. p. 51.
  22. ^ Sveriges och Norges Statskalender (in Swedish), 1865, p. 428, retrieved 22 August 2021 – via
  23. ^ "Schwarzer Adler-orden", Königlich Preussische Ordensliste (in German), vol. 1, Berlin, 1886, p. 6 – via{{citation}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  24. ^ Bille-Hansen, A. C.; Holck, Harald, eds. (1894) [1st pub.:1801]. Statshaandbog for Kongeriget Danmark for Aaret 1881 [State Manual of the Kingdom of Denmark for the Year 1881] (PDF). Kongelig Dansk Hof- og Statskalender (in Danish). Copenhagen: J.H. Schultz A.-S. Universitetsbogtrykkeri. pp. 3–4. Retrieved 30 August 2021 – via da:DIS Danmark.
  25. ^ "Ritter-Orden: Königlich-ungarischer St. Stephans-Orden", Hof- und Staatshandbuch der Österreichisch-Ungarischen Monarchie, 1881, p. 68, retrieved 30 August 2021
  26. ^ Belgien (1875). Almanach royal officiel: 1875. p. 55.
  27. ^ "Caballeros de la insigne orden del toisón de oro", Guía Oficial de España (in Spanish), Madrid, 1887, p. 146, retrieved 21 March 2019{{citation}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  28. ^ The French Foreign Legion: A Complete History of the Legendary Fighting Force (book), Porch, Douglas
  29. ^ Bellamy, Christopher (2001). Richard Holmes (ed.). The Oxford Companion to Military History: Crimean War. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-866209-2.

Further reading[edit]

  • Brogan, D.W. France Under the Republic: The Development of Modern France (1870–1939) (1940) pp 127–43.
  • Derfler, Leslie. President and Parliament: A Short History of the French Presidency (University Presses of Florida. 1983)
  • Wawro, Geoffrey. The War Scare of 1875: Bismarck and Europe in the Mid-1870s (2012).

External links[edit]

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Marie-Edmé-Patrice-Maurice de MacMahon". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

Government offices
Preceded by Governor-General of Algeria
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by President of France
Succeeded by
Regnal titles
Preceded by Co-Prince of Andorra
Served alongside:
Josep Caixal i Estradé
Succeeded by
French nobility
New title Duc de Magenta
Succeeded by