November 19

Marseillaise – The Facts

It would not be unreasonable to describe Fairfax journalist and author Peter FitzSimons as a passionate republican.(I am delighted to say that nobody calls me a passionate monarchist.)

Mr FitzSimons is so passionate he cannot resist including it in his sports column in the republican Sydney Morning Herald.

In his column of 12-13 November 2005, he lauds the French anthem, La Marseillaise, which is magnificent, particularly in the Berlioz setting.

He says it was written “in honour of the troops of the town, who were heading up to Paris to take on those trying to restore the French monarchy."

Not exactly, Mr. FitzSimons, not exactly.

Rouget de Lisle, variously described as a royalist or a moderate republican, composed the song in Strasbourg, not Marseilles and when France was still a constitutional monarchy.

Its original name was Chant de Guerre de l’Armée du Rhin ("Battle Hymn of the Rhine Army").

Its present name came from its adoption by the volunteers from that town.

But when de Lisle refused to swear allegiance to the republican constitution, he was cashiered from the army, thrown into gaol and almost guillotined.

He was released during the counter-revolution, and wrote a hymn to celebrate the downfall of Robespierre.

When the apparently republican Napoleon made himself Emperor, the song was banned, and this ban was continued on the restoration until King Louis –Philippe came to the throne in 1830. (It was banned again by the Emperor Napoleon 111, restored in 1870, and again banned by Petain and in all occupied France from 1939 to 1945)

In old age, de Lisle would have been condemned to die in poverty, but the King rescued him from this by granting him a pension from his own resources.

De Lisle was badly treated by republicans, but well treated by the monarchists.

Perhaps the moral surely is, put not your faith in republican politicians.

Until next time,

David Flint

Read more on the Marseillaise


Marseillaise, Peter Fitzsimons

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