9 rue Princesse

Crossroads of Battles and Europe

Conservatory of the birthplace of Charles de Gaulle in Lille ©️ PP

The birthplace of Charles de Gaulle in Lille has reopened its doors at the end of a restoration undertaken from 2019. The health crisis has delayed public access to 9 rue Princesse by a few months. The visitors discovering a house, which everything was done during the works, until the choice of objects and decorative elements, so that it restores the atmosphere of the last decade of the nineteenth century, cannot fail to raise the question of the determinism of place and environment on the life of the greatest figure in the political history of contemporary France.

Jeanne came to give birth in the house of her parents, some of whose ancestors were Irish, Scottish and even Badois and of course mostly people from the North, entrepreneurs and industrialists from Lille and Dunkirk. Lille was indeed one of the first French cities which, because of its proximity to England, benefited from the industrial revolution.  England, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands and even the United Provinces of the Kingdom of Spain were the neighbours of this metropolis. Industry at the crossroads of Europe and also the corridor of invasions and the space of great battles, in addition to the teaching activities of Henri, Charles’s father, in schools held by the Jesuits in Paris, was the initial physical and mental perimeter.

Charles de Gaulle grew up in Paris but he often returned to Rue Princesse in this house large enough to gather cousins, uncles and aunts. This northern region of France was part of his life. His choice after Saint-Cyr – which surprised many – was that of the 33rd Regiment of Infantry of Arras and the destiny made that it was commanded by a certain colonel Pétain.

Charles knew that was where things were going. The fields of honour could be fields of glory since the battle of Fontenoy in 1745 which saw the victory of the Marshal of Saxony before the eyes of Louis XV. But there was also Waterloo in the nearby province of Brabant, certainly defeated but whose barely deafened echoes reached Chateaubriand which magnified the event. And also, between Belgium and France, the fights of 14-18 where he served and the assault of Dinant on the Meuse was a little his Pont d’Arcole. The Battle of France at the edge of the Second World War confirmed that the Northeast was indeed the “secular infirmity” of France through which the invaders broke.

Charles de Gaulle, “I would like…” ©️ PP

The pre-science of such events could only impose itself on the spirit of the future leader of free France. Young, romantic and ardent, he wrote in the family home the text entitled “I would like…”: “When I have to die, I would like it to be on a battlefield…”.

At the Régiment d’Arras, Charles de Gaulle chose his region of birth, commanding rural youth and the sons of miners; he also adopted the Republic. It was Louis XIV who had created Saint-Cyr, Napoleon re-established the institution and the Republic continued the imperial work.

The 33rd Regiment lost 60% of its strength in the dreadful bleed of 14. This confirmed Pétain’s analysis of the weakness of the French artillery, but such a doctrine also had a wait-and-see attitude to which de Gaulle did not adhere, which was aimed at the fiery and the onslaught.

But a military person is not necessarily a militarist. The experience of 1914, a French trauma for generations, did not inevitably forge warriors. It even led France towards pacifism which was one of its main weaknesses in the 40s with the drop-birth since the mid-1930s and the division of the country. The conquerors offering themselves to machine-gun fire have become defenders and this is also the meaning of the future deterrent force developed under the Fifth Republic. The battle plans were replaced by those of the economy to restore France, the time of the organizers and administrators came. A European spirit also flourished in the corridor of the battles and in the small number of neighbouring national cohabitations.

The 9 rue Princesse was a little the crucible of all this and it blows today an air of childhood rid of the miasmas of centuries-old clashes.  For Anne, the princess and all the children of France.

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