Patrice de MacMahon

Patrice de MacMahon, 6th Marquess of MacMahon,[1] 1st Duke of Magenta (French pronunciation: ​[patʁis də makma.ɔ̃]; born Marie Edme Patrice Maurice; 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.

Count – The Duke of Magenta

Patrice de MacMahon

Patrice de Mac Mahon crop.jpg
Official Portrait of Marshal de MacMahon, President of the Republic
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
Albert de Broglie
Gaëtan de Rochebouët
Jules Armand Dufaure
Preceded byAdolphe Thiers
Succeeded byJules Grévy
Governor General of Algiers
In office
1 September 1864 – 27 July 1870
MonarchNapoleon III
Preceded byÉdmond de Martimprey
Succeeded byLouis Durrieu
Member of the French Senate
In office
24 June 1864 – 4 September 1870
MonarchNapoleon III
Personal details
Born(1808-06-13)13 June 1808
Sully, France
Died17 October 1893(1893-10-17) (aged 85)
Montcresson, France
Political partyMiscellaneous right (Legitimist)
Élisabeth de La Croix de Castries (m. 1854⁠–⁠1893)
; his death
ChildrenMarie Armand Patrice de Mac Mahon [fr]
Eugene de Mac Mahon
Emmanuel de Mac Mahon [fr]
Marie de Mac Mahon
Countess de Pinnes
EducationSpecial Military School of Saint-Cyr
ProfessionMilitary officer
Military service
AllegianceBourbon Restoration/July Monarchy Bourbon Restoration
France Second French Republic
 Second French Empire
Branch/serviceFrench Army
Years of service1827–1873
Lieutenant colonel
Marshal of France
UnitFlag of legion.svg 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)

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. The army surrendered to the Germans, including MacMahon and Emperor Napoleon III. Thus France lost the war and the Emperor went into exile. After convalescence MacMahon was appointed head of the Versailles Army, which defeated the Paris Commune revolt in May 1871 and set the stage for his political career. MacMahon was a devout conservative Catholic, a traditionalist who despised socialism and strongly distrusted the secular Republicans. He took seriously his duty as the neutral guardian of the Constitution and rejected suggestions of a monarchist coup d'état. He also 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 originsEdit

The Mac Mahon family is of Irish origin. They were Lords of Corcu Baiscind[2] in Ireland and descended from Mahon, the son of Muirchertach Ua Briain, High King of Ireland.[3][4] After losing much of their land in the Cromwellian confiscations, a branch moved to Limerick for a time before settling in France during the reign of King William III because of their support of the deposed King James II in the Glorious Revolution[5] 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 last 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,[6] 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 AlgeriaEdit

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 de 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).

In May 1841, he returned again to Algeria at the head of the 10th Chasseur Battalion à Pied [fr] with whom he distinguished himself with, 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, SevastopolEdit

Général MacMahon.

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][7]

Senator and further Algerian serviceEdit

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. Here where he served against the Kabyles. On his return to France, he voted as senator against the unconstitutional law on general security, proposed after the failed assassination attempt of Felice Orsini against Emperor Napoleon III.

Magenta: Marshal of FranceEdit

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 AlgeriaEdit

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 CommuneEdit

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

In 1871, he became the head of the Versaillaise Army [fr] which, under the orders of the French Third Republic, harshly repressed the Paris Commune, killing or capturing thousands of people.

France surrendered to the Prussians in January 1871, and formed a new interim government based in Versailles. Radicals in Paris rejected this government and formed the Paris Commune. In May 1871, MacMahon led the troops of the Versailles government against the Commune. In the bitter fighting of what was latter called La Semaine Sanglante ("The Bloody Week"), the government forces under MacMahon crushed the Commune with many communards being executed. He was not blamed for the repression, but instead became the hero of the hour for the right.[8]

President of the RepublicEdit

Visit of the President-Marshal to the Emperor and Empress of Brazil, in Paris (L'Univers illustré,nº 1.153, 28/04/1877).

In May 1873, MacMahon was elected President of the French Republic, with the support of monarchists and conservatives in the National Assembly. Only one vote was cast against him.[9]

Renowned for his popularity, de Mac Mahon was elected President of the Republic by the majority of the royalist at the époque, following the unsuccessful election of Adolphe Thiers on May 24, 1873. After sacking president council Jules Armand Dufaure, he replaced the latter with Duke Albert, 4th duc de Broglie, a monarchist, projecting accordingly a restoration of the monarchy. However, the failure of this restoration drove the latter to a vote for the presidential septennat [fr](seven-year period mandate). This decision made the public loans reach the Paris Bourse.

"Even though a convinced royalist, he nevertheless did not meet Henri, Count of Chambord in November 1873, estimating his incapability of allying his duties as President of the Republic with the desires of the prince" (according to his great-granddaughter Élisabeth de Miribel [fr] in La liberté souffre violence, Plon, p. 31). With Duke Broglie as President of the Council [fr], he adopted a series of "moral order" [fr] measures. With the Assembly, on 9 November 1873, having fixed his mandate to seven years, he declared, on 4 February 1874, that he would accordingly during seven years make respect of the Legal Order established. Preferring to remain « au-dessus des partis » (on top of the parties), he observed rather than take part in the procedures which in January and February 1875 led to the French Constitutional Laws of 1875, which finally established the French Third Republic as the Legal Government of France. Mac Mahon deemed himself responsible in front of the country, more than the Chambers, which led to bring conflicts with the latter.

Yet MacMahon (also known as Magenta) wrote 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.

On 26 September 1875, he stayed at Vernon in the Eure department for several days, in order to prepare the grand maneuvers of the third army. Following the 1876 French legislative election, which were won by a republican majority, he agreed with great reluctance to the formation of the third [fr] and fourth [fr] governments of Jules Dufaure, and the government of third [fr], and the government of Jules Simon [fr], which were dominated by the Republicans.

During the night of 23 June – 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!…).[10] 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… !").

German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck sought to contain and destabilize France, and to weaken the rightwing elements that wanted revenge against Germany. Bismarck attempted to promote republicanism in France by strategically and ideologically isolating MacMahon's clerical-monarchist supporters.[11] 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 preventive 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.[12][13][14]

When the episcopal mandates of the bishops of Poitiers, Nimes and Nevers, recommending the sympathy of the French Government in the case of Pius IX, were followed by a resolution of the Chamber of the Third Republic proposed by the leftist and asking the Government to « suppress the ultramontanism manifestations », Mac Mahon, twelve days later, asked Jules Simon to resign, and constituted a conservative government under [fr] the direction of the Duke de Broglie; he convinced the Senate of the Third Republic [fr] to dissolve the Chamber, and travelled across the country to ensure the success of the conservative elections, while protesting that he had no intention of overthrowing the Republic. This was referred to as the 16 May 1877 crisis.[15]

Nevertheless, the elections of 14 October gave the Left-wing a majority of 120 seats, and minister de Broglie accordingly resigned on 19 November. Mac Mahon attempted first to form a functionary government directed by général de Rochebouët, the Gaétan de Rochebouët government [fr], but the Chamber having refused to enter in contact with him, Rochebouët resigned the next day, and the President recalled Dufaure to form a left-wing government, the fifth Fifth Dufaure government [fr].

With the senatorial elections of 5 January 1879, having delivered the assembly to the leftists, Mac Mahon, who didn't have anymore any sort of parliamentary support, preferred to resign on 30 January 1879, after having refused to sign a decree which revolved around confiscating and diminishing a number of military authorities and commands to certain generals.

Léon Gambetta declared on 15 August 1877 : « 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).

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 secular parties hostile to the Catholic Church, convinced that the triumph of Radicalism would be to the detriment of the nation. MacMahon headed a regime that 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 regime. 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.[16]

Last yearsEdit


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 Mac Mahon died on 17 October 1893, at Château de la Forêt [fr] at Montcresson, after having written his memoirs, and was buried on 22 October at the Hôtel des Invalides after a State funeral and a religious mass at La Madeleine. The five cordons of the funeral chariot were held by General Victor Février [fr], grand chancellor of the Legion d'Honneur, Amiral Henri Rieunier, Ministère de la Marine, général Julien Loizillon [fr], Minister of War, Mr. Charles Merlin, of the Senate, and Mr. Malvy, from the Chamber.


Figure Blasonnement
Arms of House de MacMahon : « Silver adorned, with three topped leopard style Lions Passant Regardant ».
Arms of House de MacMahon with Ancien Régime Count Heraldry.
Arms of Duke of Magenta with Ancien Régime Duke Heraldry.
Marshal MacMahon.


Battle honoursEdit

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.


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:


  • 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 !").[18]
  • 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.[19]

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 alsoEdit


  1. ^ Gabriel de Broglie (2000). Mac Mahon. Perrin. p. 17.
  2. ^ Family History Ireland (22 February 2016). "Marshal MacMahon and the Ottomans".
  3. ^ Brian Boru and The Battle of Clontarf, Seán Duffy, page 100, page 273
  4. ^ John O'Hart,Irish Pedigrees or the Origin and Stem of the Irish Nation, Volume 1, 1892, pages 148-150,
  5. ^ Firinne, D.H. and Eugene O'Curry, Life of Marshal MacMahon, Duke of Magenta. (The "Irishman" Office, Dublin, 1859) pp. 5–6.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ 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)
  8. ^ Hutton, Patrick H., Historical Dictionary of the French Third Republic. (Greenwood Press, New York, 1986) pp. 587-88
  9. ^ D.W. Brogan, France under the Republic: The Development of Modern France (1870-1939) (1940) p 97
  10. ^ Eugène Labiche et Delacour, Le Voyage en Chine (The Voyage to China), edition. Dentu, 1865
  11. ^ James Stone, "Bismarck and the Containment of France, 1873-1877," Canadian Journal of History (1994) 29#2 pp 281-304 online
  12. ^ A.J.P. Taylor, The Struggle for Mastery in Europe (1955) pp 225–27
  13. ^ William L. Langer, European Alliances and Alignments, 1871–1890 (2nd ed. 1950) pp 44–55
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ D.W. Brogan, France Under the Republic: The Development of Modern France (1870-1939) (1940) pp 127-43.
  16. ^ Robert Tombs, France: 1814-1914 (1996), pp 440-42
  17. ^ Almanach royal officiel: 1875; p. 55
  18. ^ The French Foreign Legion: A Complete History of the Legendary Fighting Force (book), Porch, Douglas
  19. ^ Bellamy, Christopher (2001). Richard Holmes (ed.). The Oxford Companion to Military History: Crimean War. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-866209-2.

Further readingEdit

  • D.W. Brogan, France Under the Republic: The Development of Modern France (1870-1939) (1940) pp 127–43.

External linksEdit

  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.

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