Noël Édouard, vicomte de Curières de Castelnau

Noël Édouard Marie Joseph, Vicomte de Curières de Castelnau (24 December 1851 – 19 March 1944) was a French general in World War I. He represented a militant French Catholic element in the French Army, and later headed the Fédération Nationale Catholique, a short-lived movement (1924-1944) which espoused a socio-religious political ideology, driven by conservative Catholic dogma.

Noël Édouard, Vicomte de Curières de Castelnau
Édouard de Castelnau.jpg
Édouard de Castelnau in 1915
Nickname(s)the fighting friar
Born24 December 1851
Saint-Affrique, France
Died19 March 1944 (aged 92)
Montastruc-la-Conseillère, German-occupied France
Allegiance France
Service/branchFrench Army
Years of service1870–1919
Commands held2nd Army
Battles/warsFranco-Prussian War
World War I
AwardsGrand cross of the Légion d'honneur

Despite his significant achievements during the war, he was never named Marshal of France, perhaps owing to his staunch Catholicism, his consistent anti-semitic posture regarding the Dreyfus Affair, and the emerging dominance of a more secular and egalitarian mood in France after the Armistice.


Early yearsEdit

Born in Aveyron to an Occitan family with a long history in their home province of Languedoc. His father was a lawyer who had once been the mayor of St. Affrique. Édouard was described as a broadly-built man of short stature, with dark hair and a tan complexion, and a perpetually serious look.[1] He joined the army in 1870 and fought in the Franco-Prussian War, 1870–71. He was Catholic and nicknamed le Capucin Botté (the fighting friar).

World War 1Edit

In 1900 he was removed from the General Staff for his anti-semitic, anti-Dreyfusard attitude. Nevertheless, Castelnau later became deputy to Joseph Joffre from 1911 to 1914, and helped develop the strategic Plan XVII for the recapture of Alsace-Lorraine as part of an invasion of Germany. In 1914 with war imminent, General de Castelnau was put in command of the French 2nd Army facing the oncoming Germans in Belgium. Under his leadership, in August 1914, the French 2nd Army was decisively routed by the Germans at the Battle of the Frontiers under Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria, with the initial French 2nd Army offensive (along with the French 1st Army) being driven back by the Germans 25 km (16 mi) from the positions where the offensive had initially begun on 14 August. By the end of August, however, the French won back most of the territory lost in the hard-fought Battle of the Trouée de Charmes. The Battle of the Trouée de Charmes was a definitive victory for the Second Army; in stopping the Germans from passing through the Trouée de Charmes, de Castelnau possibly saved the French from disaster. The French were able to then organize a defense at Nancy and hold the city after victory in the Battle of Grand Couronné. It was suggested that this battle was decisive in the protection of Paris, by binding up significant German resources in static trench warfare for the duration in Lorraine.[2]

In June 1915 de Castelnau was appointed to command the newly created Central Army Group. Later that year he was made chief of staff to Joffre, and in 1916 he organised the initial defence at the Battle of Verdun, before appointing Philippe Pétain to the command.

After the dismissal of Joffre and the appointment of Robert Nivelle in 1916, Castelnau retired from active service. He was later sent on the Allied Mission to Russia in the early months of 1917, just prior to the Fall of the Tsar. When Nivelle was dismissed and replaced by Philippe Pétain, Castelnau was recalled to the command of the Eastern Army Group where he commanded the advance into Lorraine in 1918.

Three of Castelnau's sons were killed in the war. Recognizing the hopelessness of modern trench warfare, he once remarked: "Ah, Napoleon, Napoleon. If he were here now, he'd have thought of something else."[3]

Post WW1Edit

After the war he entered politics. In 1919 he was elected to parliament as a deputy of Bloc National for Aveyron. In 1924 he founded the Fédération Nationale Catholique, which advanced a socio-religious model of France that has been described as "National Catholicism". In the same year Castelnau wrote an anti-Masonry pamphlet titled "La dictature de la maçonnerie en France" (The Dictatorship of the Masonry in France); he further publicized his accusations in a series of articles in Echo de Paris.[4] Although his Catholic Federation reached one million members in 1925, its significance was short-lived and it subsided into obscurity by 1930.[5]


Rue De Castelnau and De Castelnau metro station in Montreal are named after the general. School year n° 198 of the Ecole Speciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr (2011-2014) called Castelnau's school year" honours the general Castelnau.


  1. ^ Francis Whiting Halsey. "The Literary Digest History Of The World War Compiled From Original And Contemporary Sources". Richardson Press (March 9, 2010). Page 102.
  2. ^ Hastings, Max: Catastrophe 2014, Europe Goes to War, Chapter 3, Battle of the Frontiers; Knopf, New York, 2013.
  3. ^ Robert B. Holtman, The Napoleonic Revolution (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1967), 36.
  4. ^ Frank Tallett (2003). Catholicism in Britain & France Since 1789. Continuum International Publishing Group. pp. 152–154. ISBN 978-1-85285-100-2.
  5. ^ Maurice Larkin (2002). Religion, Politics and Preferment in France since 1890: La Belle Epoque and its Legacy. Cambridge University Press. p. 157. ISBN 978-0-521-52270-0.

Further readingEdit

  • Arnal, Oscar. "The Ambivalent Ralliement of La Croix." Journal of Ecclesiastical History 31.1 (1980): 89-106; on his leadership of the ultra-conservative Federation National Catholique.
  • Brécard, Général. "Le Général DE CASTELNAU." Revue des Deux Mondes (1944) 81#1: 15-19. online
  • Greenhalgh, Elizabeth. The French Army and the First World War (Cambridge University Press, 2014).

External linksEdit