Patrice de Mac-Mahon, Duke of Magenta

Patrice de Mac-Mahon, Duke of Magenta
Patrice de Mac-Mahon
President of the French Republic
Co-Prince of Andorra
In office
24 May 1873 – 30 January 1879
Preceded by Adolphe Thiers
Succeeded by Jules Grévy
Personal details
Born 13 July 1808(1808-07-13)
Sully, France
Died 17 October 1893(1893-10-17) (aged 85)
Montcresson, France
Nationality French
Political party Monarchist (Legitimists)

Marie Edme Patrice Maurice de Mac-Mahon, 1st Duke of Magenta (French pronunciation: [patʁis də makma.ɔ̃]; 13 July 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

Born in Sully (near Autun), in the département of Saône-et-Loire, Patrice de Mac-Mahon was the 16th of 17 children of a family already in the French nobility (his grandfather Jean-Baptiste de Mac-Mahon was named Marquis de Mac-Mahon 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 settled in France from County Limerick in Ireland (although they were originally from County Clare and may also have had earlier connections with County Monaghan) during the reign of William III due to their support of the deposed James II.[1] They applied for naturalization in 1749.

Patrice de Mac-Mahon was educated at the College of Louis Le Grand and at the Academy of St-Cyr, graduating in 1827.

Military career

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 Division 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.

Patrice de Mac-Mahon, duc de Magenta President of France, 1873–1879

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 marshal while in the field. He was later created Duke of Magenta by Napoleon III as a result.

Franco-Prussian War

He served as Governor-General of Algeria from 1 September 1864, returning at the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, during which he led an Alsatian army unit (although attrition throughout the war led to men from other areas being added to this).

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 won the border city of Wissembourg from the French; quickly moving onto capture the city of Woerth 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 was capturing town after town, while their defeated opponents I and V Corps hastily retreated to Chalon-s.-Marne making sure to stay out of the way of the advancing Prussians by heading southwest while the Prussians drove West.

Mac-Mahon left his Corps and led the 120,000 strong remnants of the French Rhine army (I, VII, XII Corps), reformed as the Army of Châlons, with Napoleon III. They began marching from Châlons-sur-Marne North/Northeast, in an attempt to relieve the besieged army at Metz over 130 km to the East. But the Prussian 3rd Army advance was incredible; in less than 3 weeks the army covered over 325 km, and intercepted the French army along the Meuse River, and for three days battled it (29 to 31 August), forcing the French to fall to Sedan. Meanwhile, the Prussians had created a 4th Army, and marched it to the southern flank of Sedan, while the 3rd Army dug in North of Sedan.

On 1 September 1870, the Prussians thus laid siege to the city of Sedan. Standing at the gates was a powerful force of 200,000 Prussian soldiers under the command of General Helmuth von Moltke. Mac-Mahon was highly indecisive, allowing the Germans to move in reinforcements to completely encircle Sedan.

Mac-Mahon was wounded and command passed to General De Wimpffen who announced the surrender of the French army. On 2 September Napoleon III surrendered, along with his remaining 83,000 French troops (Battle of Sedan).

Paris Commune and Third Republic

When the Paris Commune was suppressed in May 1871, Mac-Mahon led the Versailles troops.[2] The French army spent eight days massacring workers, shooting civilians on sight. Tens of thousands of Communards and workers were summarily executed (as many as 30,000); 38,000 others imprisoned and 7,000 were forcibly deported.

As president of France, he controversially dismissed the republican Prime Minister Jules Simon, replacing him with the Orleanist duc de Broglie, before dissolving the French National Assembly on 16 May 1877 in an effort to halt the rise of Republicanism and boost the prospects of a restoration of the monarchy under the Comte de Chambord. This event is known as the 16 May 1877 crisis.

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, he rather assisted at than took part in the proceedings which, in January and February 1875, led up to the passage of the fundamental laws finally establishing the Republic as the legal government of France. And yet Mac-Mahon writes 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.

French statesman and marshal Patrice de Mac-Mahon, duc de Magenta

When the episcopal charges of the bishops of Poitiers, Nîmes, and Nevers, recommending the case of the captive Pope Pius IX to the sympathy of the French Government, were met by a resolution in the Chamber, proposed by the Left, that the Government be requested "to repress Ultramontane manifestations" (4 May 1877), Mac-Mahon, twelve days later, asked Jules Simon to resign, summoned to power a conservative ministry under the Duc de Broglie, persuaded the Senate to dissolve the Chamber, and travelled through the country to assure the success of the Conservatives in the elections, 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 the president 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, and then, the senatorial elections of 5 January 1879, having brought another victory to the Left, Mac-Mahon found a pretext to resign (30 January 1879), and Jules Grévy succeeded him.

"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 retarded 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 passed in retirement, quite removed from political interests.

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


Patrice de Mac-Mahon is also remembered in France for unfortunate or naive quotes not always correctly attributed.

  • Concerning the floods of the Garonne river of 1875, in Toulouse he exclaimed "So much water! So much water!" (Que d'eau! Que d'eau!).
  • After the Republicans' victory in the elections of 1877, Léon Gambetta told him to "submit or resign (se soumettre ou se démettre) to which Mac-Mahon replied: "I'm here. I'm staying here! (J'y suis. J'y reste!)
  • On typhoid: "Typhoid fever is a terrible sickness. Either you die from it or you become an idiot. And I know what I'm talking about, I had it." (La fièvre typhoïde est une maladie terrible. Ou on en meurt, ou on en reste idiot. Et je sais de quoi je parle, je l'ai eue.)
  • On 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!").[3]

See also


  1. ^ Firinne, D.H. and Eugene O'Curry, Life of Marshal MacMahon, Duke of Magenta. (The "Irishman" Office, Dublin, 1859) pp. 5–6.
  2. ^ Hutton, Patrick H., Historical Dictionary of the French Third Republic. (Greenwood Press, New York, 1986) p. 587
  3. ^ . 

External links

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

Political offices
Preceded by
Adolphe Thiers
President of France
Succeeded by
Jules Grévy
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Adolphe Thiers and Josep Caixal i Estradé
Co-Prince of Andorra
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
Succeeded by
Louis, Baron Durieu
French nobility
New title duc de Magenta Succeeded by
Marie Armand Patrice MacMahon

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