National Guard (France)

Last updated

National Guard
Garde nationale
Logo de la Garde Nationale Francaise (2016).svg
Logo of the National Guard (since 2016)
CountryFlag of France.svg  France
Type Reserve
Size>77,000 [1]
Part of French Armed Forces
National Police
Motto(s)Honneur et Patrie
"Honour and Fatherland"
Engagements (List of wars involving France)
Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly
Secretary General for the National GuardGeneral Véronique Batut
Gilbert du Motier, marquis de Lafayette

The National Guard (French: Garde nationale) is a French military, gendarmerie, and police reserve force, active in its current form since 2016 but originally founded in 1789 during the French Revolution.


For most of its history the National Guard, particularly its officers, has been widely viewed as loyal to middle-class interests.[ citation needed ] It was founded as separate from the French Army and existed both for policing and as a military reserve. However, in its original stages from 1792 to 1795, the National Guard was perceived as revolutionary and the lower ranks were identified with sans-culottes. It experienced a period of official dissolution from 1827 to 1830 but was reestablished. Soon after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71, the National Guard in Paris again became viewed as dangerously revolutionary, which contributed to its dissolution in 1871. [2]

In 2016, France announced the reestablishment of the National Guard for the second time, in response to a series of terrorist attacks in the country. [2] [3] [4]


The raising of a "Bourgeois Guard" ("garde bourgeoise") for Paris was discussed by the National Assembly on 11 July 1789 in response to the King's sudden and alarming replacement of minister for finance and state, [5] Jacques Necker, with the Baron de Breteuil on that day. The replacement caused rapidly spread anger and violence throughout Paris. The National Assembly declared the formation of a "Bourgeois Militia" ("milice bourgeoise") on 13 July. [6] [7] In the early morning of the next day, the search for weapons for this new militia led to the storming of the town hall, the Hotel des Invalides and then the storming of the Bastille.

Lafayette was elected to the post of commander in chief of the Bourgeois Militia on 14 July, and it was renamed the "National Guard of Paris". When the French Guards mutinied and were disbanded during the same month, the majority of this former royal regiment's rank and file became the full-time cadre of the Paris National Guard. Its uniform of a blue coat with red cuffs and collar borrowed heavily from the French Guards, and would in turn influence the later uniforms of the Republican and Napoleonic armies. Similar bodies of National Guards were spontaneously created in the towns and rural districts of France in response to widespread fears of chaos or counter-revolution. "Bourgeois Militia" changed its name to National Guard, like in Limoges in November 1789, where no other military bodies were allowed. [8]

Initially, each city, town and village maintained National Guard units operated by their respective local governments in the districts for not more than a year. They were united on 14 July 1790 under Lafayette, who was appointed "Commandant General of all the National Guards of the Kingdom" and was responsible to the King as commander-in-chief of the armed forces.


On 5 December 1790 Robespierre held a speech on the urgent topic of the National Guard, a police force, independent from the army and repeated his ideas in the following year. [9] [10] [11] It is likely the election of (new) police officers before the end of the year played a role.[ citation needed ] On 27 April 1791, Robespierre again opposed the plans for reorganizing the National Guard and restricting its membership to active citizens. [12] [13] At the end of September a law passed to reorganize the National Guard formations in cantons and districts; each year officers and non-commissioned officers could be elected on 14 July.

Under the law of 14 October 1791, all active citizens and their children over 18 years were obliged to enlist in the National Guard. Their role was the maintenance of law and order and, if necessary, the defence of the territory. Following a nationwide scheme decided on in September 1791, the National Guard was organised on the basis of district or canton companies. Five of these neighbourhood units (designated as fusiliers or grenadiers) made up a battalion. Eight to ten battalions comprised a legion. Districts might also provide companies of veterans and young citizens, respectively drawn from volunteers over 60 or under 18. Where possible, there was provision for mounted detachments and artillerymen. [14]

On 2 July 1792, the Assembly authorized the National Guard's attendance as part of the Festival of Federation on 14 July, thus circumventing a royal veto. Section assemblies were permitting "passive" citizens to join their National Guard companies without seeking formal permission. [15] On 11 July, the Jacobins won an emergency vote in the wavering Assembly, declaring the nation in danger and drafting all Parisians with pikes or pistols into the National Guard. [16] On 17 July the municipality of Paris accepted all citizens armed with a pike for enlistment as part of the capital's own National Guard unit.

The citizens kept their weapons and their uniforms at home and set forth with them when required. The initially multi-coloured uniforms of the various provincial National Guard units were standardised in 1791, using as a model the dark blue coats with red collars, white lapels and cuffs worn by the Paris National Guard since its creation. [17] This combination of colours matched those of the revolutionary tricolour.

From French Revolution until 1827

Role during the Revolution

Soldiers of the Garde nationale of Quimper escorting royalist rebels in Brittany (1792). Painting by Jules Girardet. Revolte Fouesnant.jpg
Soldiers of the Garde nationale of Quimper escorting royalist rebels in Brittany (1792). Painting by Jules Girardet.

The former Guet royal had held responsibility for the maintenance of law and order in Paris from 1254 to 1791, when the National Guard took over this role. In fact, the last commander of the Guet royal (Chevalier du Guet), de La Rothière, was elected to head the National Guard in 1791. In the summer of 1792, the fundamental character of the guard changed. The fédérés were admitted to the guard and the subsequent takeover of the guard by Antoine Joseph Santerre when Mandat was murdered in the first hours of the insurrection of 10 August placed a radical revolutionary at the head of the Guard. After the abolition of the monarchy (21 September 1792), the National Guard fought for the Revolution and it had an important role in forcing the wishes of the capital on the French National Assembly which was obliged to give way in front of the force of the "patriotic" bayonets. The Insurrection of 31 May started after François Henriot was chosen by the Commune to lead the Paris Guards.

After 9 Thermidor, year II (27 July 1794), the new government of the Thermidorian Reaction placed the National Guard under the control of more conservative leadership. Part of the National Guard then attempted to overthrow the Directory during the royalist insurrection on the 13 Vendémiaire, year IV (5 October 1795), but was defeated by forces led by Napoleon Bonaparte in the Battle of 13 Vendémiaire. The Paris National Guard thereafter ceased to play a significant political role.

First Empire

Philippe Lenoir, (1785-1867), French painter, in his National Guard uniform. By Horace Vernet (1789-1863) Philippe Lenoir by Horace Vernet.jpg
Philippe Lenoir, (1785–1867), French painter, in his National Guard uniform. By Horace Vernet (1789–1863)

Napoleon did not believe that the middle-class National Guard would be able to maintain order and suppress riots. Therefore, he created a Municipal Guard of Paris, a full-time gendarmerie which was strongly militarized. However, he did not abolish the National Guard but was content to partially disarm it. He kept the force in reserve and mobilised it for the defence of French territory in 1809 and 1814. In Paris during this period the National Guard comprised twelve thousand bourgeois property owners, serving part-time and equipped at their own expense, whose prime function was to guard public buildings on a roster basis. [18] Between 1811 and 1812 the National Guard was organized in "cohorts" to distinguish it from the regular army, and for home defence only. By a skilful appeal to patriotism, and judicious pressure applied through the prefects, it became a useful reservoir of half-trained men for new battalions of the active army. [19]

After the disastrous campaign in Russia in 1812, dozens of National Guard cohorts were called up for field duty the next year; four cohorts being combined to form one line infantry regiment. The 135ème to 156ème Régiments d'Infanterie de Ligne were thus formed. [20] Many of these fought in the campaigns in Germany in 1813 and the invasion of France by allied Austrian, Prussian, Russian and British armies in 1814. Existing National Guard units, such as those of Paris, were deployed as defence corps in their areas of recruitment. Mass conscription was extended to age groups previously exempt from military service, to provide more manpower for the expanded National Guard. Students and volunteers from gamekeepers and other professional groups formed separate units within the National Guard. Clothing and equipment were often in short supply and even the Paris National Guard was obliged to provide pikes as substitute weapons for some of its new recruits. [21] These field and regional units were disbanded in 1814 after the abdication of Napoleon I.

The National Guard at the Battle of Paris in 1814 Horace Vernet - La Barriere de Clichy.jpg
The National Guard at the Battle of Paris in 1814

Six thousand national guardsmen took part in the Battle of Paris in 1814. Following the occupation of Paris by the allied armies, the National Guard was expanded to 35,000 men and became the primary force for maintaining order within the city. [22]

The Restoration

Under the Restoration in 1814, the National Guard was maintained by Louis XVIII. Initially, the Guard, purged of its Napoleonic leadership, maintained good relations with the restored monarchy. The future Charles X served as its Colonel-General, reviewed the force regularly and intervened to veto its proposed disbandment on the grounds of economy by the Conseil Municipal of Paris. [23] However, by 1827, the middle-class men who still composed the Guard had come to feel a degree of hostility towards the reactionary monarchy. Following hostile cries, at a review on 29 April Charles X dissolved the Guard the following day, on the grounds of offensive behaviour towards the crown. [24] He neglected to disarm the disbanded force, and its muskets resurfaced in 1830 during the July Revolution.

National Guard from 1831 to 1872

A new National Guard was established in 1831 following the July Revolution in 1830. It played a major role in suppressing the Paris June Rebellion of 1832 against the government of King Louis-Phillipe. However, the same National Guard fought in the Revolution of 1848 in favour of the republicans. This change in allegiance reflected a general erosion in the popularity of Louis-Phillipe and his "Bourgeois Monarchy", rather than any fundamental change in the make-up of the National Guard, which remained a middle-class body.

Second Empire

Napoleon III confined the National Guard during the Second Empire to subordinate tasks to reduce its liberal and republican influence. During the Franco-Prussian War the Government of National Defense of 1870 called on the Guard to undertake a major role in defending Paris against the invading Prussian army. During the uprising of the Paris Commune, from March to May 1871, the National Guard in Paris was expanded to include all able-bodied citizens capable of carrying weapons. Following the Commune's defeat by the regular French Army, the National Guard was officially abolished and its units disbanded. Also disbanded was the Mobile National Guard (Garde Nationale Mobile) raised in 1866 to provide personnel and officers for rapid deployment operations nationwide, as well as to provide reserve personnel for the armed forces.

End of the National Guard

French Garde Nationale soldier with Tabatiere rifle, 1870 French Garde Nationale soldier with Tabatiere rifle 1870.jpg
French Garde Nationale soldier with Tabatière rifle, 1870

Despite its major role in the Franco-Prussian War, the National Guard was disbanded soon after the establishment of the Third Republic. Having been converted from a volunteer reserve into a much larger force composed mainly of conscripts, the National Guard had lost its identity and raison d'être. It also faced opposition from the army which was opposed to such a large armed force outside its direct control. The role of the Paris units of the National Guard in the uprising of the Paris Commune led to a great degree of hostility towards the National Guard, especially from the Army.

Perceived as an embodiment of the revolutionary republican "nation in arms" at the time of the Revolution of 1789, the National Guard was formally disbanded on 14 March 1872 as a threat to the security and order of the new Third Republic.

The National Guard was superseded by the creation of territorial regiments, made up of older men who had completed their period of full-time military service. These reserve units were embodied only in times of general mobilisation but remained an integral part of the regular Army.

Resurrection (2016–present)

After several terror attacks in France, which intensified in 2014–15, French President François Hollande declared the establishment of a new third National Guard. By his words, the Guard would be formed using military reserve forces. Hollande expected to start parliamentary consultations in September 2016 on the matter. [3]

On 12 October 2016, during a weekly meeting of the Cabinet, the National Guard was officially reconstituted after 145 years, as the fifth service branch of the French Armed Forces under the Ministry of the Armed Forces. [4] The revitalized Guard would also reinforce elements of the National Gendarmerie and the National Police in securing major events nationwide while it would perform its historical responsibility as a national military and police reserve service.[ citation needed ]

It was expected that the new Guard would grow to a 72,500-member force in 2017 and grow to an 86,000-member national reserve in 2018. [25] [26] The formation of the revived Guard would be assisted with a dedicated 311-million euro budget and its personnel come from the reserves, members from the private sector and active personnel seconded to the service. Unlike the Guard of the Revolutionary Wars, its officers are now seconded from both the Army and the National Gendarmerie and are graduates of their respective academies.[ citation needed ]

As of 2019, Division General Anne Fougerat serves as the Secretary-General for the National Guard, who reports to the Chief of Defence Staff and the Minister of the Armed Forces.

Related Research Articles

Swiss Guards

Swiss Guards are Swiss soldiers who have served as guards at foreign European courts since the late 15th century.

Bertrand Barère French politician, freemason and journalist (1755–1841)

Bertrand Barère de Vieuzac was a French politician, freemason, journalist, and one of the most prominent members of the National Convention, representing the Plain during the French Revolution. The Plain was dominated by the radical Montagnards and Barère as one of their leaders supported the foundation of the Committee of Public Safety in April and of a sans-culottes army in September 1793. According to Francois Buzot, Barère was responsible for the Reign of Terror, like Robespierre and Louis de Saint-Just. In Spring 1794 and after the Festival of the Supreme Being, he became an opponent of Maximilien Robespierre and joined the coup, leading to his downfall.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jacobin</span> Political club during the French Revolution

The Society of the Friends of the Constitution, renamed the Society of the Jacobins, Friends of Freedom and Equality after 1792 and commonly known as the Jacobin Club or simply the Jacobins, was the most influential political club during the French Revolution of 1789. The period of its political ascendancy includes the Reign of Terror, during which time well over 10,000 people were put on trial and executed in France, many for political crimes.

Timeline of the French Revolution Timeline

The following is a timeline of the French Revolution.

<i>Sans-culottes</i> Armed working class people defending the French Revolution

The sans-culottes were the common people of the lower classes in late 18th-century France, a great many of whom became radical and militant partisans of the French Revolution in response to their poor quality of life under the Ancien Régime. The word sans-culotte, which is opposed to that of the aristocrat, seems to have been used for the first time on 28 February 1791 by Jean-Bernard Gauthier de Murnan in a derogatory sense, speaking about a "sans-culottes army". The word came into vogue during the demonstration of 20 June 1792.

The Thermidorian Reaction is the common term, in the historiography of the French Revolution, for the period between the ousting of Maximilien Robespierre on 9 Thermidor II, or 27 July 1794, and the inauguration of the French Directory on 2 November 1795.

July Revolution 1830 overthrow of the Bourbons by the July Monarchy in France

The French Revolution of 1830, also known as the July Revolution, Second French Revolution, or Trois Glorieuses, was a second French Revolution after the first in 1789. It led to the overthrow of King Charles X, the French Bourbon monarch, and the ascent of his cousin Louis Philippe, Duke of Orléans, who himself, after 18 precarious years on the throne, would be overthrown in 1848. It marked the shift from one constitutional monarchy, under the restored House of Bourbon, to another, the July Monarchy; the transition of power from the House of Bourbon to its cadet branch, the House of Orléans; and the replacement of the principle of hereditary right by that of popular sovereignty. Supporters of the Bourbons would be called Legitimists, and supporters of Louis Philippe Orléanists.

Paris Commune (1789–1795) Parisian government from 1789 to 1795

The Paris Commune during the French Revolution was the government of Paris from 1789 until 1795. Established in the Hôtel de Ville just after the storming of the Bastille, it consisted of 144 delegates elected by the 60 divisions of the city. Before its formal establishment, there had been much popular discontent on the streets of Paris over who represented the true Commune, and who had the right to rule the Parisian people. The first mayor was Jean Sylvain Bailly, a relatively moderate Feuillant who supported constitutional monarchy. He was succeeded in November 1791 by Pétion de Villeneuve after Bailly's unpopular use of the National Guard to disperse a riotous assembly in the Champ de Mars.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Storming of the Bastille</span> Major event of the French Revolution

The Storming of the Bastille occurred in Paris, France, on 14 July 1789, when revolutionary insurgents stormed and seized control of the medieval armoury, fortress, and political prison known as the Bastille. At the time, the Bastille represented royal authority in the centre of Paris. The prison contained only seven inmates at the time of its storming, but was seen by the revolutionaries as a symbol of the monarchy's abuse of power; its fall was the flashpoint of the French Revolution.

François Hanriot French Sans-culotte leader

François Hanriot was a French Sans-culotte leader, street orator, and commander of the Garde Nationale during the French Revolution. He played a vital role in the Insurrection of 31 May – 2 June 1793 and subsequently the fall of the Girondins. On 27 July 1794 he tried to release Maximilien Robespierre, who was arrested by the Convention. He was executed on the next day – together with Robespierre, Saint-Just and Couthon – by the rules of the law of 22 Prairial, only verifying his identity at the trial.

French Guards Regiment Military unit

The French Guards were an elite infantry regiment of the French Royal Army. They formed a constituent part of the Maison militaire du roi de France under the Ancien Régime.

Womens March on Versailles 1789 event as part of the French Revolution

The Women's March on Versailles, also known as the October March, the October Days or simply the March on Versailles, was one of the earliest and most significant events of the French Revolution. The march began among women in the marketplaces of Paris who, on the morning of 5 October 1789, were nearly rioting over the high price of bread. The unrest quickly became intertwined with the activities of revolutionaries seeking liberal political reforms and a constitutional monarchy for France. The market women and their allies ultimately grew into a mob of thousands. Encouraged by revolutionary agitators, they ransacked the city armory for weapons and marched on the Palace of Versailles. The crowd besieged the palace and, in a dramatic and violent confrontation, they successfully pressed their demands upon King Louis XVI. The next day, the crowd forced the king, his family, and most of the French Assembly to return with them to Paris.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">National Gendarmerie</span> Militarised police force in France

The National Gendarmerie is one of two national law enforcement forces of France, along with the National Police. The Gendarmerie is a branch of the French Armed Forces placed under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of the Interior, with additional duties from the Ministry of Armed Forces. Its responsibilities include policing smaller towns, suburbs and rural areas, along with special subdivisions like the GSPR. By contrast, the National Police is a civilian law enforcement agency that is in charge of policing cities and larger towns. Because of its military status, the Gendarmerie also fulfills a range of military and defence missions, including having a cybercrime division. The Gendarmerie has a strength of around 102,269 people.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Constitutional Guard</span> Military unit

The Constitutional Guard was a French royal guard formation which lasted a few months in 1792 as part of the Maison du Roi, being superseded by the National Guard. It existed in the period of the constitutional monarchy during the French Revolution.

Maison Militaire du Roi de France Military branch of the French royal household

The maison militaire du roi de France, in English the military household of the king of France, was the military part of the French royal household or Maison du Roi under the Ancien Régime. The term only appeared in 1671, though such a gathering of units pre-dates this. Like the rest of the royal household, the military household was under the authority of the Secretary of State for the Maison du Roi. Still, it depended on the ordinaire des guerres for its budget. Under Louis XIV, these two officers of state were given joint command of the military household.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Maximilien Robespierre</span> French revolutionary lawyer and politician (1758–1794)

Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre was a French lawyer and statesman who became one of the best-known, influential and controversial figures of the French Revolution. As a member of the Estates-General, the Constituent Assembly and the Jacobin Club, he campaigned for universal manhood suffrage, the right to vote for people of color, Jews or actors, and the abolition of both clerical celibacy and slavery in France. In 1791, Robespierre was elected as "public accuser" and became an outspoken advocate for male citizens without a political voice, for their unrestricted admission to the National Guard, to public offices, and to the commissioned ranks of the army, for the right to petition and the right to bear arms in self defence. Robespierre played an important part in the agitation which brought about the fall of the French monarchy on 10 August 1792 and the summoning of a National Convention. His goal was to create a one and indivisible France, equality before the law, to abolish prerogatives and to defend the principles of direct democracy. He earned the nickname "the incorruptible" for his adherence to strict moral values.

Insurrection of 31 May – 2 June 1793 Coupe by the Montagnards and fall of the Girondins

The insurrection of 31 May – 2 June 1793, during the French Revolution, started after the Paris commune demanded that 22 Girondin deputies and members of the Commission of Twelve should be brought before the Revolutionary Tribunal. Jean-Paul Marat led the attack on the representatives in the National Convention, who in January had voted against the execution of the King and since then had paralyzed the Convention. It ended after thousands of armed citizens surrounded the Convention to force the deputies to deliver the deputies denounced by the Commune. The result was the fall of the 29 Girondins and two Ministers under pressure of the sans-culottes, Jacobins of the clubs, and Montagnards.

Events from the year 1791 in France.

Jean-Bertrand Féraud

Jean Bertrand Féraud, was a French politician of the French revolutionary era.

National Volunteers (France) Military unit

During the upheaval of 1791, the young Constitutional Kingdom of France began a process of mobilisation, which would become known as a Levée en masse in a call for volunteers to defend the borders of France. With monarchist emigration growing and the King and his court preparing to flee, Article 14 of the law of 15 June 1791 passed making the mass levy official. The new law called for at least one unit be raised in each department and in each district for the national defence of the territory.


  1. "La Garde nationale |".
  2. 1 2 "France to create new National Guard 'to protect its citizens'". 28 July 2016. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  3. 1 2 "France to form National Guard to counter terrorist threat, Hollande says". France 24. 28 July 2016. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  4. 1 2 France creates National Guard to battle terrorism
  5. Unknown (1788–1790). "Mr Necker". Archives départementales de la Seine-Saint-Denis. Retrieved 12 March 2020.
  6. A Self-Defining Bourgeoisie in the Early French Revolution: The Milice bourgeoise, the Bastille Days of 1789, and their Aftermath by Micah Alpaugh. In: Journal of Social History, 2014
  7. The Making of the Sans-culottes: Democratic Ideas and Institutions in Paris ... By Robert Barrie Rose, p. 49
  8. Almanach de la Garde nationale du Limousin, 1 janvier 1790, p. 48, 53
  9. Robespierre and War, a Question Posed as Early as 1789? by Thibaut Poirot. In: Annales historiques de la Révolution française 2013/1 (No. 371)
  10. Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution by Ruth Scurr
  11. Œuvres complètes de Maximilien de Robespierre, tome 6, p. 642
  12. The Life and Character of Maximilian Robespierre. Proving ... that that Much ... by James Bronterre O'BRIEN, p. 417-421
  13. Devenne Florence. La garde Nationale; création et évolution (1789 – août 1792), p. 58. In: Annales historiques de la Révolution française, n° 283, 1990. doi : 10.3406/ahrf.1990.1411
  14. Crowdy 2004, p. 14.
  15. Schama 1989, p. 604.
  16. Schama 1989, p. 252.
  17. Philip Haythornthwaite, page 87 Uniforms of the French Revolutionary Wars, ISBN   0 7137 0936 7
  18. Mansel 2003, p. 4.
  19. PD-icon.svgOne or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain : Maude 1911 , p. 229.
  20. "French Infantry Regiments".
  21. E.G. Hourtouille, page 127 "1814 The Campaign for France", ISBN   2-915239-56-8
  22. Mansel 2003, p. 13.
  23. Mansel 2003, p. 217.
  24. Mansel 2003, p. 218.
  25. La « garde nationale », un vivier de 72 000 réservistes en 2017, Le Monde, 12 October 2016 issue
  26. Garde nationale, la génération « Charlie Hebdo », Le Monde, 27 October 2016 issue


Further reading