Prytanée National Militaire

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Coordinates: 47°42′2″N0°4′33″W / 47.70056°N 0.07583°W / 47.70056; -0.07583

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Prytanée National Militaire
La Fleche, College jesuite (portail).JPG
The entrance gate of the Prytanée National Militaire.
Sarthe (72)

Former name Collège royal Henri-le-Grand
TypeMilitary education

The Prytanée National Militaire, originally Collège Royal Henry-Le-Grand or Collège Henri-IV de La Flèche, is a French military school managed by the French military, offering regular secondary education as well as special preparatory classes, equivalent in level to the first years of university, for students who wish to enter French military academies. The school is located in western France in the city of La Flèche. At first founded in 1604 by the King Henri IV the school was given to the Jesuits in the aim to "instruct the young people and make it fall in love of sciences, honor and virtue, in order to be able to serve". It then became the "Prytanée" wanted by Napoleon in 1800.

Secondary education education for most teenagers

Secondary education covers two phases on the International Standard Classification of Education scale. Level 2 or lower secondary education is considered the second and final phase of basic education, and level 3 (upper) secondary education is the stage before tertiary education. Every country aims to provide basic education, but the systems and terminology remain unique to them. Secondary education typically takes place after six years of primary education and is followed by higher education, vocational education or employment. Like primary education, in most countries secondary education is compulsory, at least until the age of 16. Children typically enter the lower secondary phase around age 11. Compulsory education sometimes extends to age 19.

Classe préparatoire aux grandes écoles French undergraduate education prior to entering Grandes écoles

The classes préparatoires aux grandes écoles (CPGE), commonly called classes prépas or prépas, are part of the French post-secondary education system. They consist of two years of study which act as a preparatory course with the main goal of training students for enrolment in one of the grandes écoles. The workload is one of the highest in Europe.

University academic institution for further education

A university is an institution of higher education and research which awards academic degrees in various academic disciplines. Universities typically provide undergraduate education and postgraduate education.


From the Château-Neuf to the creation of the royal college

Françoise d'Alençon, who had become a widow in 1537, decided to retire in her land of La Flèche, which she had received as a gift from her husband Charles de Bourbon. [1] The old feodal castle, actually Château des Carmes, was too old and with no comfort, Françoise d'Alençon ordered the construction of a new building. The "Château-Neuf" (New Castle) was erected between 1539 and 1541 outside of the city, in the place of the Prytanée Militaire and following the plans of the architect Jean Delespine. [1] [2] Some recent new elements give a better idea of the original castle and garden. [3]

Françoise dAlençon Spouse of Charles, Duke of Vendôme

Françoise d'Alençon was the eldest daughter of René of Alençon and Margaret of Lorraine, and the younger sister and despoiled heiress of Charles IV, Duke of Alençon.

La Flèche Subprefecture and commune in Pays de la Loire, France

La Flèche is a town and commune in the French department of Sarthe, in the Pays de la Loire region in the Loire Valley. It is the sub-prefecture of the South-Sarthe, the chief district and the chief city of a canton, and the second most populous city of the department. The city is part of the Community of communes of the Pays La Flèche. The inhabitants of the town are called the La Flèchois. It is classified as a country of art and history.

Charles, Duke of Vendôme French noble

Charles de Bourbon was a French prince du sang and military commander at the court of Francis I of France. He is notable as the paternal grandfather of King Henry IV of France.

In 1550, after her death, her son Antoine of Navarre inherits of her possessions. With his wife Jeanne d'Albret, inheriter of the Kingdom of Navarre, he stays in La Flèche multiple times, as in February 1552 and then in May 1553, a few months before their son's birth, the future king Henri IV.

Antoine of Navarre French king consort

Antoine was the King of Navarre through his marriage to Queen Jeanne III, from 1555 until his death. He was the first monarch of the House of Bourbon, of which he was head from 1537. He was the father of Henry IV of France.

Jeanne dAlbret Queen regnant of Navarre

Jeanne d'Albret, also known as Jeanne III, was the queen regnant of Navarre from 1555 to 1572. She married Antoine de Bourbon, Duke of Vendôme, and was the mother of Henri de Bourbon, who became King Henry III of Navarre and IV of France, the first Bourbon king of France. She became the Duchess of Vendôme by marriage.

Kingdom of Navarre medieval kingdom that occupied lands on either side of the western Pyrenees, alongside the Atlantic Ocean

The Kingdom of Navarre, originally the Kingdom of Pamplona, was a Basque-based kingdom that occupied lands on either side of the western Pyrenees, alongside the Atlantic Ocean between present-day Spain and France.

On 3 December 1603, by letters patent sent from Rouen, Henri IV authorised the return of the Jesuits, who had been banned by the parliament of Paris in 1594 after the failed attack against the King made by one of their latter pupils, Jean Châtel. The King allows them to live in the places where they were before their departure and in other cities. Henri IV recommends them to particularly stay in his house of La Flèche in order to establish their college. [4]

Letters patent type of legal instrument in the form of a published written order

Letters patent are a type of legal instrument in the form of a published written order issued by a monarch, president, or other head of state, generally granting an office, right, monopoly, title, or status to a person or corporation. Letters patent can be used for the creation of corporations or government offices, or for the granting of city status or a coat of arms. Letters patent are issued for the appointment of representatives of the Crown, such as governors and governors-general of Commonwealth realms, as well as appointing a Royal Commission. In the United Kingdom they are also issued for the creation of peers of the realm. A particular form of letters patent has evolved into the modern patent granting exclusive rights in an invention. In this case it is essential that the written grant should be in the form of a public document so other inventors can consult it to avoid infringement and also to understand how to "practice" the invention, i.e., put it into practical use. In the Holy Roman Empire, Austrian Empire and Austria-Hungary, imperial patent was also the highest form of generally binding legal regulations, e. g. Patent of Toleration, Serfdom Patent etc.

Rouen Prefecture and commune in Normandy, France

Rouen is a city on the River Seine in the north of France. It is the capital of the region of Normandy. Formerly one of the largest and most prosperous cities of medieval Europe, Rouen was the seat of the Exchequer of Normandy during the Middle Ages. It was one of the capitals of the Anglo-Norman dynasties, which ruled both England and large parts of modern France from the 11th to the 15th centuries.

Jean Châtel attempted to assassinate King Henry IV of France on 27 December 1594. He was the son of a cloth merchant and was aged 19 when executed on 29 December.

The first Jesuits priests arrive to La Flèche in the beginning of November 1603, [5] led by Pierre Barny, named rector of the college. [6] In January 1604, the college welcomes its first students. From its first year, the college knows a success and counts around 1 000 pupils. Their number grows fast in the following years. [7]

The Jesuit College (1604–1762)

The castle of La Fleche. LaFlecheCastle.jpg
The castle of La Flèche.

The first Jesuits left Pont-à-Mousson on 16 October 1603, and reached La Flèche on 2 January 1604. They started to teach grammar, rhetorics, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, philosophy, mathematics, and theology. A foundation edict was issued at Fontainebleau in May 1607, in which the building started to take its present shape.

Graduation registry for Descartes at the College Royal Henry-Le-Grand, 1616 DescartesGraduationRegistry.JPG
Graduation registry for Descartes at the Collège Royal Henry-Le-Grand, 1616

René Descartes was one of the first and most illustrious students of the school from 1607 to 1615, and introduced the school in his Discourse on Method under the phrase "I was in one of the most famous schools of Europe".

The College continued to expand, and, upon the death of Henry IV, a vast church was built, in which the hearts of Henry IV and his wife queen Marie de Medicis were enshrined.

Missions to China and the Americas

Many of the Jesuit missionaries who went to the Americas or China during the 17th century had been trained at the College. [8] Among them were Énemond Massé, who became an early missionary to Canada and became Minister of the College upon his return in 1614. When he went back to Canada, he was accompanied by Charles Lalemant, another alumni of the school. [8] Paul Le Jeune, also a student of the College, is considered as the "father of the Jesuit missions in New France", and was the Superior of the Jesuits in Quebec from 1632 to 1639. [9] Others were Erard Bille, Jacques Buteux, Nicolas Adam, Barthélemy Vimont, Paul Ragueneau, Claude de Quentin, Isaac Jogues. [9]

In China also, numerous students of the College became active participants to the missions. Three of the five Jesuits sent by Louis XIV to China were from the Collège: Jean de Fontaney, the Superior of the mission, who had been a professor of mathematics there and became Rector of the school until 1710 after his return from China; Joachim Bouvet, who was a philosophy student in 1676, became a teacher to the Kangxi Emperor; Claude Visdelou, who was a repetitor and a teacher at the school from 1676 to 1678. [9] Others included Guillaume le Couteux, Pierre Foureau, Charles de Broissia, Emeric de Chavagnac, Jean-François Fouquet, and Joseph Labbe.

Around 1650, the College became a center of cosmopolistic learning, as "Americans, Indians, Tartars, Russians, and even Chinese visited it" . In 1751, two Chinese students were enrolled: Yang Dewang (Etienne Yang Tche-teh), and Gao Ren (Louis Kao Fen). [10]

Cadets school (1764–1776)

Engraving of the Prytanee, 18th century. PrytaneeXVIII.jpg
Engraving of the Prytanée, 18th century.
"Le Triomphe du Prix d'Honneur", 1887, M. Cres. PrytaneeTriomphe.jpg
"Le Triomphe du Prix d'Honneur", 1887, M. Crès.
Prytanee students having lunch around 1900. PrytaneeStudents.jpg
Prytanée students having lunch around 1900.

In 1764 following the expulsion of the Jesuits, after a lapse of two years, the school was transformed by Louis XV and Choiseul into a military institution designed to train young cadets for admission to the École Militaire, the "École de Cadets ou École Militaire préparatoire à l’École Militaire du Champ de Mars". These efforts at creating military institutions followed military defeats in the Seven Years' War  (1756-1763). The school was reserved to 250 students of noble extraction, as well as sons of officers who were wounded or died in combat, and the sons of the Chevaliers de Saint-Louis.

College (1776–1793)

In 1776 the Count of St Germain attempted to close the school, but it was re-established by Louis XVI, who gave its management to the "Fathers of the Christian Doctrine" (Pères de la Doctrine chrétienne). Among others, they educated the future General Bertrand, who accompanied Napoléon to Saint Helena, and the two Chappe brothers, who invented the aerial telegraph.

The College was closed in 1793 following the advent of the French revolution. For a while, the buildings were used for a variety of purposes, such as becoming a cordonery for the Army of the Republic.

Prytanée Militaire (1808–today)

On 24 March 1808, Napoléon renamed the school "Prytanée Militaire", in a classic reference to the Greek prytaneis (literally "Presidents"), an executive body acting as the religious and political heart of ancient Greek cities. As Napoleon had moved to Fontainebleau to establish his court, he had decided to transfer the "École Spéciale Militaire de Fontainebleau" to Paris, and the "Prytanée de Saint-Cyr" to La Flèche. Since then various names were adopted for the school, such as "École royale militaire" (1814–1830), Collège royal militaire (1831–1848), Collège national militaire (1848–1853), Prytanée impérial militaire (1853–1870), Prytanée militaire and Prytanée national militaire (since 1870).

During World War II in 1940, the Prytanée had to be moved for a few years successively to Billom, Valence, then Briançon.


Swearing-in ceremony, for Prytanee student preparing to Ecole de Saint-Cyr c. 1950. Baptemepromo.jpeg
Swearing-in ceremony, for Prytanée student preparing to École de Saint-Cyr c. 1950.

Today the Prytanée provides secondary education and also has "Classes préparatoires", that is, preparatory classes to the entrance examinations of the French elite Grandes Écoles, such as École polytechnique, the Navy École Navale, the Army École Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr, the École de l'Air and various civilian engineering or commercial graduate schools.

The school's students are nicknamed "Brutions", as a classic reference to the inhabitants of the Bruttium region of Roman Italy, who had a reputation for their roughness and fighting spirit.


Sergent-Major insignas. PrytaneeSergentMajorInsignas.JPG
Sergent-Major insignas.

The school grades received by students are even today symbolized by military insignias which are worn on the traditional uniform (Uniforme de tradition), starting with "Sergent-Major" (4 golden chevrons) for the top of a class, "Sergent" (3 golden chevrons), "Caporal-Chef" (2 red and 1 golden chevrons), and finally "Caporal" (2 red chevrons). Typically, the top ten students of each class during a given quarter would receive such insignias.

Colored shoulder badge, with a "Navy" anchor. PrytaneeShoulderBadge.JPG
Colored shoulder badge, with a "Navy" anchor.

Students also have colored shoulder badges for each year, attached to the daily fatigues ("Uniforme de travail"), starting with blue for the first year of high school, orange for the second, and green for the third. These badges can further be adorned with various small symbols and decorations, especially expressing the type of career to which each student is aspires.

Famous alumni

Rene Descartes (1596-1650). Frans Hals - Portret van Rene Descartes.jpg
René Descartes (1596–1650).
Claude Chappe (1763-1805). AduC 175 Chappe (Claude, 1765-1828).JPG
Claude Chappe (1763–1805).
Gallieni (1849-1916). Joseph-Simon Gallieni.jpg
Gallieni (1849–1916).
Patrick Baudry (1946-). Patrick Baudry.jpg
Patrick Baudry (1946–).
Jean-Francois Clervoy (1958-). JeanFrancoisClervoy-NASA.jpg
Jean-François Clervoy (1958–).

The Prytanée has trained various military and non-military celebrities. In chronological order:

Famous professors


^ On vit arriver au Collège "des Américains, des Indiens, des Tartares, des Russes et même des Chinois", Marchant de Burbure (1803)

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  1. 1 2 Pierre Schilte, Le Château-Neuf de Françoise d'Alençon, Cahiers Fléchois no. 1, 1979.
  2. Beaupère, Bernard (1985). Lavauzelle, Charles, ed. Histoire du Prytanée national militaire (in French). Paris. ISBN   2-7025-0102-8.
  3. Baudry, Hervé (2016). Un jardin oublié: le Château-Neuf de La Flèche. Éléments pour une reconstitution (16e-18e s.)», IN: Paysages et patrimoines (in French). Tours. ISBN   978-2-86906-416-4..
  4. ( Schilte 1980 , p. 76).
  5. ( Beaupère 1985 , p. 78).
  6. ( de Rochemonteix 1889 , p. 64).
  7. ( Beaupère 1985 , p. 7).
  8. 1 2 Shenwen Li, p.45
  9. 1 2 3 Shenwen Li, p.46
  10. Shenwen Li, p.37