The Army in Modern France

In modern French politics, writes John Terraine, the Army and its champions — “still treading the long road back from Sedan” — have sometimes played a dangerous part.

“The 25th we halted and His pottle belly Majesty, Louis 18th, marched A into the loyal town of Cambray. His Majesty was met by a deputation of his beloved subjects who received their father and their king with tears of joy...The Loyal and faithfull soldiers of the Great Napoleon followed their example and surrendered the citadel to their beloved master Old Bungy Louis.”1

It would be difficult to find anywhere a more harshly accurate summing-up of the emotional impact on France of the collapse of the First Empire and the Restoration of the Bourbons than this, by a sardonic Yorkshire soldier, Sergeant Wheeler of the 51st Foot. For fourteen years, the shadow of the Corsican had lain over France and Europe, and beside it the shadow of the Grand Army.

Emperor and Army together had performed an astonishing feat of reunification in post-Revolutionary France; intransigents at both ends of the political spectrum remained, certainly; but the long-sustained burst of militant French nationalism, fostered and manipulated by Napoleon, had performed little less than a miracle in a country that had seemed doomed to fall apart under the stresses of Terror and counter-Terror.

And now, in July 1815, in the month after Waterloo, Emperor and Army were shattered and dispersed. The national spirit of France, exhausted by its long-drawn-out effort, was, as one might say, “in suspension ”; should it revive, a new symbol would be required to replace the Imperial eagle. But the only one that offered itself was “Old Bungy Louis.”

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