General - History


The French army of the monarchy had several ranks of general officer:

  • Brigadier des armées ("brigadier of the armies"): a rank in a grey area of seniority, conferred on certain colonels who were in command of a brigade. These officers wore colonel's uniform with a star on the shoulder straps. This rank was abolished in 1788.
  • Maréchal de camp ("field marshal"): the first substantive rank of general. The maréchaux de camp wore a special uniform, blue and red, with a single bar of gold lace, and in the late 18th century also received two stars on the shoulder straps. With the abolition of the rank of brigadier des armées in 1788, it became the lowest general officer rank, but its insignia of two stars was unchanged. The rank was redesignated brigade general in 1793 which retained the two star insignia. This explains why French generals' insignia starts with two stars.
  • Lieutenant général: the highest military rank. Lieutenants généraux wore the same uniform as the maréchaux de camp, but with two bars of gold lace, and in the late 18th century also received three stars on the shoulder straps.
  • Général: an appointment conferred on a lieutenant général who was commander-in-chief of a campaign.
  • Maréchal de France: not a military rank, but a dignity of the Crown.

During the French Revolution, the ranks of maréchal de camp and lieutenant général were renamed général de brigade and général de division, and the appointment of général was renamed général en chef. In 1793, the dignity of maréchal de France was abolished.

Napoléon Bonaparte reinstated the dignity of maréchal de France, now named maréchal d'empire. In 1814, the ranks of général de brigade and général de division reverted to maréchal de camp and lieutenant général, but were changed back again in 1848.

The Third Republic of the 1880s reorganised the ranks of général:

  • Général de brigade, wearing two stars.
  • Général de division, wearing three stars.
  • Général de division commandant un corps d'armée (divisional general commanding an army corps), an appointment conferred on certain généraux de division, wearing four stars. This appointment became the position and style (rang et appellation) of général de corps d'armée in 1936.
  • Général de division membre du conseil supérieur de la guerre (divisional general - member of the superior council of war, a body of the Ministry of War which had the functions of a general staff), wearing five stars.
  • Général de division commandant la place de Paris (divisional general commanding the sector of Paris), wearing six stars

The experience of the First World War transformed the structure of the French Army. The superior council of war was abolished and an appointment of général de division commandant une armée (divisional general commanding an army) was created. This appointment became the position and style (rang et appellation) of général d'armée in 1936. The dignity of maréchal de France was reinstated and given to the commanders-in-chief of the conflict, such as Joseph Joffre, Ferdinand Foch and Philippe Pétain.

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