Empire Defense Council

The Empire Defense Council (also called Council of Defense of the Empire, from French: Conseil de défense de l'Empire) was the embodiment of Free France which constituted the government from 1940 to 1941. Subsequently, this role was assumed by the French National Committee.[clarification needed]

Empire Defense Council
Flag of Free France (1940-1944).svg
government in exile of France and territories
in exile; contested
Charles De Gaulle, Philippe de Scitivaux, René Mouchotte, Martial Valin.png
Date formed11 July 1940 (1940-07-11)
Date dissolved24 September 1941 (1941-09-24)
People and organisations
Head of governmentCharles De Gaulle
PredecessorFlag of France.svg Pétain government (Third Republic)
SuccessorFlag of Free France (1940-1944).svg French National Committee

Creation and legitimacyEdit

On 26 June 1940, four days after the Pétain government requested the armistice, General de Gaulle submitted a memorandum to the British government notifying Churchill of his decision to set up a Council of Defense of the Empire[1] and formalizing the agreement reached with Churchill on 28 June, which allowed the Free French forces to be recognized as a fully-fledged French authority by the British government: in the eyes of the British government, General de Gaulle was then the "Head of the French who are continuing the war".[citation needed] This memorandum led to an agreement on 7 August, but provided for the creation of a French Committee or Council as of 26 June.[citation needed]

The agreement of 7 August between de Gaulle and the UK, known as the "Chequers agreement", gave General de Gaulle all the financial independence and resources of a government in exile.[2] The British government considered it to have taken effect 11 July 1940, the day Marshal Pétain took full powers and signed into law the end of the Third Republic. By this act, the British government wished to indicate that it recognized that Free France, still being formed at the time, was the legitimate successor to the Republic that had just died, and was an ally of the United Kingdom in the war. It[clarification needed] also undertook to reconstitute the entire French territory and "the greatness of France" after the war was over.

The formal recognition of the Empire Defense Council as a government in exile by the United Kingdom took place on 6 January 1941; recognition by the Soviet Union was published in December 1941, by exchange of letters.[3]

Geographical baseEdit

In his view, General de Gaulle was ensuring the continuity of the rule of law and national defense against the Axis powers. This was made possible by the legitimacy he obtained from his appeal of 18 June, as well as by the rapid rallying of military units and French territories that wished to continue the fight (from 22 June, in the case of the Franco-British territory of New Hebrides).

De Gaulle's support grew out of a base in colonial Africa. In the fall of 1940, the colonial empire largely supported the Vichy regime. Félix Éboué, governor of Chad, switched his support to General de Gaulle in September. Encouraged, de Gaulle traveled to Brazzaville in October, where he announced the formation of the Empire Defense Council[4] in the Brazzaville Manifesto,[5] and invited all colonies still supporting Vichy to join him and the Free French forces in the fight against Germany, which most of them did by 1943.[4]

At the time, Free France had the bulk of its territorial base in its colonial empire, thanks to the rallying of various colonies : French India was the first to rally, followed by most of the territories of French Equatorial Africa, followed by the New Hebrides Condominium, French Polynesia and New Caledonia.[6] Félix Éboué, governor of Chad, announced his support on August 26.[4] He quickly received the support of Edgard de Larminat, Pierre Koenig and Philippe Leclerc.[citation needed] At the end of the summer, most of French Equatorial Africa, newly designated "Free French Africa", was in support of Free France.[7][4]

Government of Free FranceEdit

On 27 October 1940, General de Gaulle announced the creation of the Empire Defense Council as the decision-making body of Free France in the "Brazzaville Manifesto", from the capital of French Equatorial Africa.[5] This was part of his strategy to give the movement a political as well as a military character, both to attract supporters, and to provide support for his claim as a political as well as military leader of the French resistance.[8]

In the ordinances of 27 October 1940, De Gaulle defined the powers of the council, including: external and internal security, economic activity, negotiating with foreign powers (in article 2), as well as the "establishment of organs that would exercise the powers of jurisdiction normally devolved to the Council of State and the Court of Cassation" (article 4). However, the decision-making power rested with the head of the Free French (article 3), the Council exercising only an advisory role. Ministerial powers were exercised "by agency directors appointed by the Head of the Free French". This gave the Defense Council the nature of a consultative and representative body in the territories that joined with it. The Administrative Conference of the Free French (Conférence administrative de la France Libre), created by decree of 29 January 1941, served as the government, bringing together all the agency directors and the members of the Empire Defence Council.


The members of the council were chosen by Charles de Gaulle[9] because they "already exercise authority on French lands or symbolize the highest intellectual and moral values of the nation."[citation needed] (Brazzaville Manifesto)[5]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ White 1964, p. 161.
  2. ^ Venner 2017, p. 195.
  3. ^ Danan 1972.
  4. ^ a b c d Shillington 2013, p. 448.
  5. ^ a b c France libre 1940.
  6. ^ persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/article/jso_0300-953x_1945_num_1_1487 Le ralliement à la France Libre des colonies du Pacifique, Journal de la société des océanistes, year 1945
  7. ^ Jennings 2015, p. 46.
  8. ^ Munholland 2007, p. 19-23.
  9. ^ Wieviorka 2019, p. 67.
  10. ^ "Georges Thierry d'Argenlieu". L'Ordre de la Lberation. 14 December 2001. Archived from the original on 1 June 2002. Retrieved 2 June 2020.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit