For Charette then, the Volontaires were not distinct from the zouaves: Loigny was located in the sequence of zouave heroism that had begun at Castelfidardo. The zouaves had never ceased to exist and the fall of Rome did not mark the end of their task. Theodore Wibaux wrote after entering the Jesuit novitiate, ‘I am convinced of the reality of the mission given to the zouaves; and I believe that the generous manner in which the regiment has been dedicated to the Sacred Heart is more than anything else a pledge that it will not cease to exist but is destined to bear a part in the regeneration of France.’32 At the noces d’argent of 1885, organised by Charette to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the regiment, and at the fiftieth anniversary celebrated in the Sacré-Cœur de Montmartre, it was emphasised that the regiment was still a reality.33 The age of the zouaves was immaterial: colonel d’Albiousse declared in 1885, ‘si à l’heure marqué par Dieu, la vigueur de nos bras ne répondait plus à l’ardeur de nos âmes, et bien, mon général, nos fils sont là derrière nous, pour prendre la place de leurs pères’.34 In 1910 the son of sergeant-major Pierre Ségaux confirmed this prediction on behalf of himself, his brother and two other sons of zouaves who were present at the occasion.35
In September 1860 French Catholics’ fascination with the zouaves began. The image of the French volunteers fallen at Casteldfidardo resonated throughout Catholic France. Before the year was out further fuel was added with Julien Allard’s hagiographical biography of Joséph-Louis Guérin, the subject of a cult in his native Nantes. The following year brought memoirs – for instance Oscar de Poli’s Souvenir du bataillon des zouaves pontificaux – franco-belges – and Ségur’s matryology. Soon there would even be works of romantic fiction – in 1862 there appeared in French translation Antonio Bresciani’s Le zouave pontifical, which made extensive use of actual zouave letters.36 The image of the idealised zouave thus swiftly took shape, though it must be remembered that there were different registers at play. Oscar de Poli’s memoirs have light-hearted moments – note his recollection of the regiment’s adopted dog Garibaldi, ‘mort en soldat à Castelfidardo’ - absent from the accounts of Allard or Ségur. Yet, however influential these accounts proved, the first efforts to shape French Catholic understanding of the zouaves came in the form of the sermons preached by Mgr. Pie of Poitiers and Mgr. Félix Dupanloup, bishop of Orléans, two very different supporters of the papacy.37
The analyses of the intransigent ‘neo-ultramontane’ Pie and the liberal Dupanloup were broadly congruent. Both employed the language of martyrdom and identified the zouaves as ‘new Maccabees’. Both saw parallels to the crusades, Pie referring to Rome as ‘another better Jerusalem, more precious, more necessary’, and both noted the recurrence of great names in the ranks of the zouaves.38 By extension, both turned to reflections on the specifically French qualities displayed by the zouaves. Dupanloup argued that martial virtue was a French quality, consistently demonstrated from the siege of Orléans to Sebastopol. So too serving the cause of justice, so outrageously violated by the illegal aggression of Piedmont. The zouaves, he concluded, were martyrs of the Church, natural rights and French honour:
Ils ont attesté à l’honneur de notre nation: que la France dans une partie de ses enfants est toujours la France de Charlemagne et de Saint Louis; que le pays qui envoyait jadis ses plus vaillants chevaliers mourir pour le tombeau de Christ n’a pas épuisé tout ce généreux sang…que le cœur de la France, si on ne l’étouffe pas, si on lui laisse son battement naturel, bat toujours pour l’église catholique.39
Pie, who lacked Dupanloup’s stress on the violation of rights, chose rather to understand the zouaves as a lesson in French values to be addressed to the whole nation. He inveighed against the suggestion that French volunteers for the papacy should forfeit their citizenship in fighting for a foreign power:
Dîtes que votre roi s’appelle Pépin et votre Empereur Charlemagne; dîtes que votre bannière, c’est l’oriflamme de Saint Denys; dîtes qu’un soldat français, au lieu de perdre ses titres de naturalisation, les reconquérait bien plutôt en faisant les œuvres de la France très-chrétienne, en acquittant les dettes de la fille aînée de l’Église. 40
The death of Lamoricière in 1865 offered both bishops the opportunity to return to the theme of the zouaves and French identity. Pie praised the general as ‘a great Christian, a complete Christian…who fought for the militant Jerusalem’. His actions vindicated France, true to her mission of serving the Church: Lamoricière was ‘one of the truest examples of a Frenchman’.41 Dupanloup, speaking at Lamoricière’s funeral in Nantes, concluded that the general went to Rome ‘not to defend an anti-national cause but the French cause par excellence’.42
From the outset, reflection on the zouaves was bound up with questions of national identity. If Napoleon III’s restoration of Pius IX to the papal throne in 1849 might have placed him in a direct line with Clovis, Charles-Martel, Charlemagne, Saint-Louis, Joan of Arc and Louis XIV, his Italian policy disrupted this relationship.43 That the Patrimony of Saint Peter was preserved by the presence of French troops in Rome was, from an ultramontane perspective, wholly insufficient; Pie publically denounced Napoleon III as Pontius Pilate.44 The imperial government had betrayed the papacy and the Catholic mission of France, received at the baptism of Clovis. The locus of French identity shifted to those who stayed faithful, above all the zouaves, ‘the worthy sons of the eldest daughter of the Church’. Pie and Dupanloup argued that the zouaves stood in a line of national Catholic heroism inaugurated by Clovis and embodied in the great figures of Charlemagne, Saint Louis and Joan.
Nonetheless, despite Napoleon III’s desire to extricate France from the peninsula, French troops were once again to prove decisive. The hasty recall of the troops who had withdrawn in fulfilment of the September Convention, ensured the defeat of Garibaldi at Mentana. The Marist Paul Huguet, an admirer of the zouaves’ ‘incomparable acts of virtue and devotion’, argued that they had preserved the French flag from ‘the shame of an inerasable stain’ by holding the Garibaldians at bay until the arrival of French forces. France’s national vocation, he concluded, had endured.45 Eventually, however, the ‘abominable betrayals and execrable crimes’ that Huguet had identified outweighed the zouaves’ example: God’s punishment fell on the Second Empire. Gaston de Sonis, who later fought alongside the zouaves at Loigny, wrote after the disaster of Sedan that God was teaching France a terrible lesson: expiation was required.46
In 1873 the first French pilgrims to Rome made a penitent address to Pius IX. They acknowledged that France’s neglect of her mission had led to disaster for both nation and papacy. The pilgrims concluded: ‘Le salut de la France, c’est le triomphe de l’Église. Le salut de la France, c’est votre délivrance.’47 This was by no means an original line of argument. Commemorating Loigny in 1871 Pie explained the Volontaires’ logic: ‘Behind our human Fatherland there is the spiritual Fatherland, there is the Church, there is Rome.’48 This insistent linkage of France to Rome points to what became an important element in the zouave legend, namely the concordance between 1860-70 and 1870-71. The zouaves upheld the cause of France in Rome and, conversely, in fighting for France they did not cease to be the Pope’s soldiers. Sauveur Jacquemont noted that the comités catholiques supported the Volontaires, accepting that they were continuing the zouaves’ Catholic mission.49 L’Univers asserted, ‘[le régiment] ne s’est pas transformé en prenant et élevant son étendard contre nos ennemies. Sans changer de consigne et en restant ce qu’il était, il s’est trouvé français.’50 Significantly, the Volontaires at Loigny charged to the cry of ‘Vive la France! Vive Pie IX!’ In the Sacré-Cœur basilica in 1910, commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the regiment, Mgr. Francois-Marie-Anatole de Cabrières drew a parallel – the faithful had offered stones for the building, the zouaves and volontaires had laid down their lives: ‘what a monument you raised in honour of Pius IX!’51
Nonetheless, the equivalence of the two combats was not necessarily self-evident. Though they preserved their own identity, the zouaves were ultimately under the authority of the republican Government of National Defence. It was unclear how victory under these circumstances might lead to either the salvation of the papacy or the associated re-Christianisation of France. Theodore Wibaux found hardship in the campaign of 1870-71, but no spiritual reward. After Loigny he judged patriotism an ‘empty phrase’ and struggled with the very idea of serving the Republic: ‘the thought of receiving a Prussian bullet under the auspices of the Republic is most repugnant to me, though I should have deemed it an honour to receive any number of wounds under the paternal eye of the Holy Father and for his sake’.52
Henri Derély, a captain in the zouaves, attempted to resolve the tension between the Volontaires’ heroism and the disagreeable principles of Gambetta’s republican Government of National Defence, by disassociating one from the other. ‘Loigny’, he argued, ‘n’a pas été une victoire pour l’armée de la ‘Défense Nationale’ qui n’avait pas appelé le Dieu de Clothilde à la rescousse; mais Loigny était une victoire du Christ aussi bien que Tolbiac. Le Sacré-Cœur, ce jour-là, s’est emparé de l’âme de France.’53 The dominant post-Loigny image of the Volontaires as soldiers of the Sacred Heart indicated that they had fought for France, but France understood in very different terms to those of the Government of National Defence or the Third Republic. The banner of Loigny, venerated as a quasi-sacred relic, acted as shorthand for the uniqueness of the Volontaires’ exploits. Jesuit Alfred van den Brule recalled holding the banner:
Je fus saisi d’une si indicible émotion que la portant instinctivement à mes lèvres je la baisai comme j’eusse baisé la robe ensanglantée de la France vaincue, que dis-je? Comme j’eusse baisé la robe humiliée et triomphale à la fois de mon saveur Jésus Christ.54
That Derély thought to mention Tolbiac was telling. In the Catholic narrative of French history Tolbiac marked the inception of France, a providential victory over the invading Germanic Alamans. The Frankish king Clovis, in recognition of the divine aid he had received, converted to Christianity and was baptised by Saint Remi, a national baptism by which France became la fille aînée de l’Église. This dedication to the cause of the Church was found in Pépin, Charlemagne and Saint Louis. Joan of Arc brought about French renewal by once again identifying France with the Church.55 The Government of National Defence, however, was blind to the true mission of France. As in 1860, it was the zouaves/Volontaires who recognised and upheld French values. Loigny, despite its outcome, represented a victory of Christ; for former zouave Jean Delmas, ‘a miracle of patience, of confidence in God and of joy in sacrifice’.56 Loigny was fitted into the continuum of French greatness. The comparisons with Thermopylae (also applied to Castelfidardo) were supplemented with suitable national examples. In 1889 Vié de Saint Bernard, abbé of Clairvaux, considered comparisons with Bouvines, Patay and Valmy and in 1911 Mgr. Stanislas-Arthur-Xavier Touchet of Orléans pronounced it greater than Austerlitz. Challan de Belval, a doctor who tended to the wounded of Loigny, identified a great moment of national renewal: ‘De par le Christ le Sicambre Clovis a fait la France! De par le Christ Jeanne d’Arc l’a ressuscitée! De par le Christ et sous les plis de votre glorieux étendard couvert du sang de vos héros vous l’avez immortalisée.’57
In the continuum of French national history, there was one figure above all others: Joan of Arc, credited with having resurrected France through her victories and through her supreme moment of triumph, her martyrdom at Rouen. The zouaves/Volontaires were conceptualised as the successors of Joan. In 1868, in a sermon on the liberation of Orléans, Mgr. Louis Baunard, rector of the Catholic Faculty of Lille University, drew a parallel between the actions of Joan, the redemptive heroine and the zouaves at Mentana. Both proved their fidelity to the ‘pact of alliance’ that linked France to God, and both offered their blood in expiation.58 Loigny was, however, the great parallel. Mgr. Maurice d’Hulst, rector of the Free Catholic University in Paris, consecrating the rebuilt church in 1893, argued that Loigny was greater that the neighbouring battlefields of Patay, Sargeau or Meury, victories of Joan. True glory was found in defeat and martyrdom:
le témoignage, la fidélité héroïque qu’aucun revers ne déconcerte, qui s’attache à une cause perdue et la sauve en croyante à elle. Jeanne, vaincue, enchaînée, calomniée, condamnée, brûlée a cru à la France et sa foi ne l’a pas trompée. Jeanne est morte et la France lui a dû la vie.59
Yet, enthusiasts identified a still closer link, conflating Loigny with nearby Patay (where not a shot was fired, as Theuré, curé of Loigny, bitterly noted).60 Charrette was, not unjustly, accused of fostering the confusion: ‘C’est sur le même champ de bataille où Jeanne d’Arc en 1429 déployait sa bannière, que nous avons eu l’honneur de déployer la nôtre qui sera toujours pour nous comme une relique merveilleuse.’61 The image endured, despite the protests of the inhabitants of Loigny (culminating in the 1901 renaming of the village as Loigny-la-Bataille). At a tridiuum celebrated in honour of Joan in Bordeaux a cathedral canon told the faithful:
quatre siècles et demi plus tard, au 2 décembre 1870…c’est le triste hiver de l’année terrible et sur cette même plaine de Patay un grand linceul de neige est étendu comme pour recevoir le cadavre de la grande nation qui meurt. C’est la France qui est coupable et doit expier; mais l’expiation n’est pas la mort pour qui espère en Dieu…de ce champ de bataille, deux fois historique et cent fois héroïque l’honneur va sortit intact, immaculé, empourpré d’un sang glorieux et avec l’honneur, le secret de la résurrection.62
The concept of expiation was at the heart of the zouave enterprise. France had proved an apostate nation; Napoleon III betrayed France’s mission as la fille aînée de l’Église. Whether God’s justified anger might be averted depended upon the innocent blood offered in expiation. Blood was the key to redemption and discourse on the zouaves was saturated with it. Enrolling in the zouaves was understood primarily in terms of expiatory sacrifice. The ‘zouave saint,’ Joséph-Louis Guérin, did not expect victory, but aligned himself with, ‘all the martyrs who offered themselves to the executioners’.63 The ultramontane leader, Louis Veuillot, encouraging the young Theodore Wibaux to enlist, was explicit: ‘we want to offer our blood in order to atone for the disgraceful defalcation of France’. Veuillot hoped for the grace of a second Castelfidardo, a defeat fecund in martyrs.64 The idealised zouave accepted hardship, extreme physical suffering and death joyfully.65 Dying words that encapsulated these sentiments were eagerly transcribed.
In their martyrologies relating to Castelfdiardo and Mentana respectively, Ségur and Huguet betrayed a fascination with what Huguet termed ‘[the zouaves’] blessed and triumphant ends, their smiling death agonies’.66 Huguet judged them ‘yet more beautiful… on the bloody straw of ambulances and at hospital [than on the battlefield]’.67 Ségur captured the zouaves’ fortitude and resignation, and also obliquely their innocence: ‘they lay on their bloody beds as if in the wedding bed of truth, singing canticles of eternal love’.68 On the young Mizaël le Mesre de Pas, wounded on the eve of Castelfidardo, Bresciani wrote:
Prends ton vol âme angélique; ton sang sera une semence de martyrs! Tu fus le premier à en arroser la terre, mais d’autres entreront en ciel avant toi, parce que Dieu veut que la première couronne soit plus resplendissante que les autres et multipliera les fleurons pour l’éternité en prolongeant tes souffrances.69
Guérin too, was favoured with a slow and painful death ‘since doubtless the divine remunerator reserved a yet more glorious crown for him in heaven’.70 Both proved suitably eloquent on the nature and meaning of their agony. Mizaël turned to Mary: ‘Je vous offre [mes souffrances] en union de celles qui déchiraient votre cœur au pied de la croix.’71 Guérin thought of Christ: ‘Mon Dieu, combien je souffre, mais que votre volonté soit faite…combien je suis heureux d’offrir mes faibles souffrances à ce bon Jésus qui a tant souffert pour moi.’72
Others found it harder to summon up the necessary resignation and abnegation. Bernard de Quatrebarbes who died in 1867 struggled to reconcile himself to the prospect of life with only one arm and a crippled hand: ‘je sais qu’il est infinement bon…je m’offre tout entier à lui. Si seulement je ne me plaignais point; mais ce qui me console, c’est cette pensée que le bon Dieu a bien dit ‘Que ce calice s’éloigne de moi’!’73 Nonetheless, the dominant note was not only an acceptance of pain and suffering, but even a positive pleasure in it. A zouave made light of the amputation of two fingers, observing that it was little, considering that he had come prepared to give all his blood and all his limbs.74 Guérin’s comrade, Arthur Chalus, was by no means unique in repeating that he was happy to die; as to Paul Parcevaux, ‘his joy at giving his life for God was so great that it shone in his features’.75 Observers saw parallels to Christ’s Calvary and the Eucharistic sacrifice. Abbé Simon de Latreiche wrote of the injured of Castelfidardo, ‘ils rendent [à Jésus Christ] le sang pour le sang, et tandis qu’à la voix du prêtre le sang de l’Agneau coule sur l’autel du sacrifice, le leur coule dans une union réelle et vivante’.76
The language of martyrdom employed by Ségur and Huguet did not disappear in the context of the Franco-Prussian War. In some cases there was a sense of deferred martyrdom, a martyrdom that represented the culmination of a career begun at Rome. Zouave Henri de Verthamon, bearer of the banner of the Sacred Heart at Loigny, died five days later in considerable suffering, reflecting, ‘how I regret not having died at Rome for religion, for the Holy Father…but one can only want what God wishes’.77 Yet there were also fresh martyrs to celebrate. Victor Charruau, a volontaire who fought at Brou and Loigny, was described in terms to match any zouave: ‘Dieu voulait faire de lui une de ces hosties pures et saintes qui continuent la passion de Jésus Christ et expient les peines du monde.’ His death had an explicitly redemptive quality, abbé Pergeline reporting that he had prayed to suffer longer to redeem the soul of a friend.78
There was, however, one notable difference between the martyrs of Castelfidardo or Mentana and the martyrs of Loigny. The marked feature of those who fell at Castelfidardo and Mentana was their youth – the ‘gentle and delicate and adolescent’, Georges d’Héliand was aged nineteen, Alfred de la Barre de Nanteuil and Alfége du Beaudiez only twenty, while the ‘very pure and very gentle’, Mizaël de Pas resembled a young girl, ‘so much was his appearance modest and virginal’.79 The English zouave, Julian Watts-Russell, who died at Mentana aged a mere seventeen, was described by his comrade Wibaux as, ‘the youngest, and perhaps also one of the most innocent among all those who fell on this glorious field’. He resembled an angel in death.80 Even zouaves approaching thirty might be portrayed as children. Delmas wrote of Hyacinthe de Lanascol, ‘his death was that of a child. He fell asleep smiling’.81
Ségur, in emphasising the torments endured by the dying zouaves, developed a striking tension between the suffering endured and the zouaves’ young and delicate bodies. It was clear that the zouaves’ true strength lay in the fortitude with which they accepted pain and death. The language employed suggested the bodies of adolescents rather than grown men and had strongly feminising aspects. This was heightened by the stress laid on zouave mothers. Both Ségur and Huguet devoted the closing chapters of their martyrologies to zouave mothers who mourned their fallen sons. The mothers were depicted as exemplars in their willing acceptance of the pain of loss and in their understanding of the designs of God. Georges d’Héliand’s mother, a widow confronted with the death of her only son declared, ‘I must thank God who made my George experience a happiness which I could never have given him if He had left him to me.’ She even reportedly recited a Te Deum at the news.82
There were young Volontaires – both Joseph Perraud and Fernand de Ferron died at Loigny aged nineteen – but the tenor of the descriptions of the martyrs of Loigny was very different. In part there were no martyrologies comparable to Ségur’s work, but there was no shortage of memoirs and annual commemorative sermons were delivered. The fallen of Loigny were no less heroic than the fallen of Castelfidardo and their status as martyrs was almost invariably commented upon. Both defeats were understood in terms of expiatory sacrifice, but the language of youth and innocence was not applied to Loigny. This can be explained in three ways. First, Castelfidardo represented the inception of a legend and image of a legion of young Christian martyrs captured the imagination of Catholic enthusiasts. Loigny (and Auvours) were seen in terms of the last acts in the zouave epic, the culmination of their mission. By the time of Loigny the zouaves were experienced and battle-hardened men, notwithstanding the presence of young Volontaires. Second, emphasis was laid on the bearers of the flag of the Sacred Heart and the heroes Charette and Sonis, none of whom possessed the striking youth of many of the martyrs of Castelfidardo. Third, in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War, with fierce debate as to the reasons for the defeat, Catholics sought to rebut republican accusations that Catholic teachings produced weak, soft and passive men.83 The feminising language that was applied to the zouaves of Castelfidardo held little appeal in this changed context. Just as the language of the crusade could not be applied to Volontaires, a new portrayal of Christian soldiers was required in 1870-71.
The great set-piece of 1870-71 was the battle of Loigny, an engagement that cemented the reputation of the zouaves/Volontaires and became central to the zouave myth. It also gave them a new hero, potentially even a saint: the Catholic and monarchist general Gaston de Sonis, commander of the 17th Corps. The classic zouave account starts with a conversation on the eve of the battle. Sonis testified to his conviction that the salvation of France hinged on re-Christianisation, pointing to his flag of a white cross on a blue background, only to be told by Charette, ‘this heraldic cross doesn’t speak to me enough about Jesus Christ’.84 Charette thereupon produced the banner of the Sacred Heart embroidered by the Visitationist nuns of Paray-le-Monial that he had received in Tours. Charette offered the honour of carrying the flag to his friend comte Fernand de Bouillé, but the latter demurred, not having served in Rome.85 Instead Henri de Verthamon carried the flag into battle – Bouillé picked it up when he fell. In a lethal relay the flag passed from Verthamon to Bouillé to his son, Jacques, to Édouard de Cazenove de Pradines to Jules de Traversay to the zouave Ferdinand Le Parmentier. The chaplain Pierre Doussot finally brought it back from the battlefield.86 Of the flag-bearers only Le Parmentier, Traversay and Cazenove de Pradines survived, the latter taking pride in his status as disabled veteran of Patay, choosing to sit in the National Assembly in zouave uniform with his arm in a sling. The blood-stained banner became a relic, prominently displayed at commemorative ceremonies.