The Zouaves Pontificaux in the Franco-Prussian War: Loigny and the Zouave Myth

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 9:10 AM
Hancock Parlor (Palmer House Hilton)
Martin Simpson, University of the West of England
This paper examines the French papal zouaves, volunteers who fought for the defence of the temporal sovereignty of the Pope in the decade 1860-1870, in the context of Franco-Prussian war. Following the fall of Rome in September 1870 the French contingent of the zouaves returned to France and offered their services to the republican Government of National Defence that had replaced Napoleon III’s Second Empire after the disastrous defeat of the Imperial armies at Sedan. The zouaves became the nucleus of a new force, the irregular Volunteers of the West – routinely referred to as the zouaves. The Volunteers were above all associated with the battle of Loigny of 2 December 1870, where a heroic albeit suicidal charge left 198 of the 300-strong first battalion on the field of battle. I explore Catholic discourse on the Volunteers at Loigny. My concern is to understand how service in the Franco-Prussian war – and this particular engagement - impacted upon Catholic interpretations of the zouaves. While in terms of ideas of expiation, national history and counter-revolution the discourse on the Volunteers reflected the original discourse developed in the decade 1860-70, there were significant differences. Firstly, whereas the language on the original zouaves possessed strongly feminising aspects, emphasising youth, purity and innocence, the language applied to the fallen of Loigny was very different. Secondly, the Volunteers offered political arguments about the relationship between patriotism and Catholic convictions, deployed in the context of debates about French regeneration. Overall the Volunteers stood for a vision of French history and French identity diametrically opposed to the legacy of 1789, a challenge to the Third Republic’s official vision.
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