The French Foreign Legion Essay Research Paper

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The French Foreign Legion Essay, Research Paper The French, being a thrifty and practical people, have always been willing to let any foreigners assist them in any necessary bleeding and dying for La Patrie. Writes American historian John Elting, From the Scots who rode with Joan of Arc to the Foreign Legion at Dien Bien Phu, the foreign soldier, idealistic volunteer or hard-case mercenary, is an integral part of the French military tradition. Since its inception on March 10, 1831 by King Louis Philippe, the Legion has attracted soldiers, mercenaries and outcasts of every nationality, race and creed in society. It is often assumed that the Legion is merely a mercenary army of society s unwanted thugs, brutes and criminals to serve France s less amiable military endeavors. But

these assumptions, though understandable, are far from the truth. The legion is a rigorously trained, elite outfit of volunteers that have, throughout their history, displayed outstanding courage, preferring to fight to the death, rather than retreat or surrender. So given the legion s history of elite service, bravery and incredible romantic appeal, it is clear there is much more to the legion than meets the proverbial eye. The employment of foreign mercenary soldiers in France dates back to the twelfth century when King Philippe Auguste resolved to acquire a force more dependable than the feudal armies that dotted the kingdom. These Feudal levies were only obliged to stay under arms for forty days and thus could not be counted on for reliable defense or offense against France s

enemies. Auguste instituted a system of payment for his Knights in lieu of their service, the income from which was then invested (by the knights) in the acquisition of routiers or free companions. The practice of employing foreigners grew during the Hundred Years War with England during the 14th and 15th centuries. When, in 1439 France created fifteen companies to form the heart of a standing army, two of these were Scottish. An attempt was made to create a national infantry in the form of the francs-archers French bowmen exempt from taxation – between 1449 and 1509. This initiative failed causing the French Kings to rely on mercenaries and foreigners to fight for them. France s size and power meant the government was not held hostage to turbulent mercenaries, as were the

small and fragmented Italian states during Machiavelli s time. One important consequence of the use of mercenaries, however, was the government s frequent inability to pay for their military service, causing the unpaid and often disbanded mercenaries to be scattered across the countryside, which afforded them a bandit reputation. This unsavory image deepened during the 18th century resulting from France s defeats in the Seven-Year s War, growing nationalist sentiment and calls for political reform in France. Needing to assign blame for their defeats elsewhere, the French turned their anger to the foreign soldiers and the French government that was viewed to have rested their authority on the bayonets of foreigners. (Porch, xvii) This view increasingly called into question the use

of foreign soldiers, while at the same time, the growth of similar sentiments elsewhere gradually reduced the number for foreigners available for recruitment as the practice of conscription became more prevalent. Switzerland remained the exception, as poverty, tradition and government encouragement continued to hemorrhage men into the armies of foreign monarchs. (Porch, xvi) Nevertheless, when the French Revolution erupted in 1789, foreigners were very well represented in the French army, constituting nearly a quarter of its strength. In the West, prejudiced against mercenaries, runs at least to the end of the feudal age, when the expansion of the cash economy allowed Italian city-states to hire condonttieri to actively enforce their foreign policies. According to Machiavelli,