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Marshal of France (France, State distinction)

Maréchal de France

Last modified: 2008-09-13 by
Keywords: marechal de france | marshal of france | batons: 2 (blue) |
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[Marshal of France's standard]         [Car flag of a Marshal of France]

Flag at sea (left) and car flag (right) of a Marshal of France - Images by Željko Heimer, 13 November 2001


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Presentation of the State distinction of "Marshal of France"

Marshal of France is not a military rank but a State distinction awarded to a General Officer victorious on battle fields.
The word maréchal is the modern form of mareschale, from Germanic mareschale, servant in charge of horses [mare and merrie are used for a female horse in modern English and Dutch, respectively].

The distinction of Maréchal (Marshal) seems to have the same origin as the distinction of Connétable (Constable). The Constable, that is the Chief of the Royal stables, had for servants Marshals, whose statute and duty were progressively increased and precised.
Initially, there was only one Marshal. The first Marshal of France was Albéric Clément I, Lord of Metz, appointed in 1185 by King Philippe-Auguste. From Saint-Louis (1226-1270) to Louis XII (1498-1515), there were two Marshals. François I (1515-1547) appointed a third Marshal and created the Marshal's baton (bâton de Maréchal). The number of Marshals then increased to four under Francois II (1559-1560), six under Charles IX (1560-1574) and eight under Henri III (1574-1589).
In 1627, under Louis XIII (1610-1643), the distinction of Constable was suppressed by Richelieu and the Marshals became the first dignitaries of the Army. Under Louis XIV (1643-1715), there were 20 Marshals, but they had only a ceremonial function at the Court in Versailles. The number of Marshals decreased to 18 under Louis XV (1715-1774). In 1791, under Louis XVI (1774-1792), a Decree stated that the Marshals should have only military functions.

On 21 February 1793, the Convention suppressed the distinction of Marshal, which was reestablished by Napoléon I on 19 May 1804. The first 18 Empire Marshals (Maréchaux d'Empire) were Berthier, Moncey, Masséna, Murat, Jourdan, Augereau, Bernadotte (later King of Sweden), Brune, Mortier, Lannes, Soult, Ney, Davout, Kellerman, Bessières, Pérignon, Lefebvre, and Sérurier. Those names are quite familar in Paris, because the outer boulevards were named after the Empire Marshals and globally nicknamed boulevards des maréchaux (Marshals' boulevards). Marshal of Empire was a State distinction without command power.

The miitary distinction was reestablished under the Bourbon Restoration. In 1839, under Louis-Philippe, a Law prescribed six Marshal positions in peacetime and twelve in wartime. In 1875, under the Third Republic, the Law on the Army Officers kept the distinction of Marshal, which, however was not conferred until 1916 (Joffre).

During the XXth century, the distinction of Marshal of France was conferred to the following officers:
- 1916: Joseph Joffre (1852-1931), Commander-in-Chief of the Army in 1915-1916;
- 1918: Ferdinand Foch (1851-1929), Commander-in-Chief of the Army in 1918, also Marshal of Great Britain and Poland;
- 1919: Philippe Pétain (1856-1951), Commander-in-Chief of the Army in 1917-1918, later head of the French State (1940-1945);
- 1921: Emile Fayolle (1852-1928), commander of an Army group in 1918;
- 1921: Louis Franchet d'Esperey (1856-1942), Commander-in-Chief of the Allied troops in Macedonia in 1918;
- 1921: Louis-Hubert Lyautey (1854-1934), founder of the French Protectorate in Morocco in 1912, Minister of War in 1916-1917;
- 1921 (posthumously): Joseph Galliéni (1849-1916), Governor of Paris in 1914, Minister of War in 1915-1916;
- 1923 (posthumously): Joseph Maunoury (1847-1923), one of the - 1952 (posthumously): Jean-Marie de Lattre de Tassigny (1889-1952), Commander of the 1st French Army in 1944-1945, later High-Commissioner and Commander-in-Chief in French Indochina (1950-1952);
- 1952 (posthumously): Philippe de Hauteclocque, a.k.a. Leclerc (1902-1947), commander of the 2nd Armoured Division and liberator of Paris in 1944, later Commander in French Indochina (1946) and Inspector of the Army in Northern Africa, where he died in a mysterious plane accident;
- 1952: Alphonse Juin (1888-1967), Commander of the expeditionary corps in Italy and winner of the battle of Garigliano (1944), later Resident-General in Morocco (1947-1951), and Commander of the Atlantic forces of the Center-Europe sector (1953-1956);
- 1984 (posthumously): Marie-Pierre Koenig (1898-1970). Winner of the battle of Bir-Hakeim (1942), Commander of the Inner French Forces (1944), Minister of National Defense (1954-1955).

The Marshal's baton is 50 cm in length and 4.5 cm in diameter. The baton is covered in blue velvet ornated with golden fleurs-de-lis (Kingdom), eagles (Empire) or stars (Republic). Both ends of the baton are capped with a vermeil calotte. One calotte bears the Marshal's name, the other the Latin motto:Terror belli, Decus pacis (Terror of war, honour of peace).

Source: Grand Larousse Illustré du XXe siècle (1932) and subsequent Larousse encyclopaedia.

Ivan Sache, 13 November 2001

Other sources claim that the word maréchal came to French from the Breton word for "knight". Indeed, the Breton word for horse is marc'h.

Marc Pasquin, 14 November 2001


Flag of a Marshal of France

According to Album des Pavillons [pay00], the flag of a Maréchal de France is a square white flag with the French Tricolore in canton and two crossed blue marshal's batons in lower fly. Since there is no Maréchal de France still alive, the flag is prescribed but not currently in use.
The car flag of a Maréchal de France is similar but with proportions 7:8.

Ivan Sache, 13 November 2001


Former flag of a Marshal of France

[Marshal of France's former standard]

Former flag of a Marshal of France - Image by Miles Li & Željko Heimer, 9 October 2007

Flaggenbuch (1939) [neu39] shows the flag of a Marshal of France asthe French Tricolore with two crossed blue marshal's batons in the top of the white stripe.

Ivan Sache, 9 October 2007

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