The Objects

10th May 1815

Source:, with permission of the Bibliothèque nationale de France

A New 'Marseillaise'

Contributed by: Katherine Hambridge

The revolutionary origins of the 'Marseillaise' are well known. Originally the ‘War Song of the Army of the Rhine’, it was written in 1792 by a constitutional monarchist in Strasbourg, Rouget de Lisle, to inspire troops to protect France against its enemies. Quickly adopted and adapted by the French, it soon acquired an association not just with war, but with the popular sovereignty of the French Revolution in general – and with the fall of the monarchy in particular. This is what made it so popular across Europe for much of the nineteenth century, but also what made Napoleon consider it dangerous during his increasingly autocratic rule: the song was dropped from the official song list under the Empire.

Napoleon returned in 1815 on a wave of popular support, with François-René Chateaubriand reporting that 'the people are singing La Marseillaise, and the red caps are back: they are putting them on busts of Napoleon … The Revolution is coming back to life'. Once in power, Napoleon attempted to harness this sentiment by emphasizing his own revolutionary credentials, and he tolerated the organisations of neo-revolutionary fédérés that sprang up, even if he refused to arm them [see 14 May].

One such group, in the Rhone valley, used the tune of the 'Marseillaise' for their ‘La Fédération’, sung at a meeting on 16 May (for a translation and recording, see ‘Further Information’). But the day after Napoleon’s the acte additionnel was ratified at the Champ de Mai (1 June), Napoleon had the Marseillaise deleted from the official song list, again mistrustful of the very 'people power' that had reinstated him as head of France.


‘La Fédération’ (to the tune of the ‘Marseillaise’)

(You can hear a recording here)

Comment, une ligue étrangère,
Viendrait, en nous dictant ses lois,
Porter une main téméraire,
Sur les plus sacrés de nos droits!
Sur les plus sacrés de nos droits!
Faut-il, sous la verge allemande,
Courber un front humilié?
Français, ont-ils donc oublié
Que Napoléon nous commande?
Aux armes, fédérés!
Sauvez l’aigle vainqueur!
Marchez! Marchez !
Vous défendrez la patrie et l’honneur!

What? Should a foreign league
Come, dictating their laws to us,
And, with a reckless hand, Touch the most sacred of our rights! Touch the most sacred of our rights!
Under the German rod, must we
Bow our humiliated brows?
Have the French forgotten then
That Napoleon is in charge of us?
To arms, federates!
Save the victorious eagle!
March! March!
You will defend the motherland and honour!

Further reading:
Dominique de Villepin, Les cent jours, ou, L’esprit de sacrifice (Paris: Perrin, 2001), p. 256

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