Top 10 facts about the French National Anthem: La Marseillaise


 

Like most countries, France has a national anthem. If you’ve never heard it before, it’s called La Marseillaise! La Marseillaise translates roughly to English roughly as “something from Marseilles,” which is a city in southern France.

That’s just one fun fact about the French national anthem! Keep reading to learn more fascinating facts about La Marseillaise.

1. La Marseillaise was written in 1792

La Marseillaise

Commemorative plaque “La Marseillaise” on the facade of the Banque de France, place Broglie, Strasbourg – WikiCommons

You need to know a little bit about what was going on historically at the time that La Marseillaise was written in order to understand the meaning behind the French national anthem.

In 1792, France was in the midst of the French Revolution. Other European monarchies started to become concerned that the new revolutionary attitude of the French would spread to other countries and cause other monarchies to fall. Europe came together to fight against the Revolutionaries, and the war was called the War of the First Coalition.

At the beginning of the war, the French troops were weak and other coalition troops successfully crossed the border and defeated the French soldiers. 

The mayor of Strasbourg, France, Baron Philippe-Frédéric de Dietrich, decided that his troops needed a marching song to keep their morale up. Enter: Monsieur Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle (that’s a mouthful, I know!).

2. Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle wrote La Marseillaise

Rouget de Lisle

Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle located in the Bibliothèque Nationale – WikiCommons

When the mayor of Strasbourg put out his request for a marching song for his troops, Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle, a French officer, stepped up to the plate. He was based in Strasbourg himself and also saw the need to keep his fellow soldiers motivated and ready for battle.

The original song was called “Chant de Guerre pour l’Armée du Rhin” or, “War Song for the Army of the Rhine” in English. The Army of the Rhine was a portion of the French army that was located on the France/Germany border.

Rouget de Lisle has since become very well known in France, and almost every major city and town in the country features a road or plaza named after him!

3. La Marseillaise was written in one night

Rouget de Lisle

“Rouget de Lisle chantant la Marseillaise pour la première fois” by Isidore-Alexandre-Augustin Pils – WikiCommons

Rouget de Lisle was an amateur musician as well as a soldier. When the mayor of Strasbourg asked for a marching song, Rouget de Lisle got to work straight away and was able to complete the song in just one night!

He then performed his song in front of the mayor. The moment was immortalized in a painting by the French artist Isidore Pils, which you can see above!

4. La Marseillaise was composed in Strasbourg, France

Strasbourg

Strasbourg, France by Monika Neumann – Pixabay

As mentioned, Strasbourg is a city on the France/Germany border. Today, as it was in 1792, Strasbourg is in France. But, throughout the years it once belonged to Germany and it was even it’s own free imperial city at one time.

In 1681, Strasbourg became a French city after Louis XIV’s armies defeated the Alsatian army. Then in 1871, after the Franco-Prussian war, the city went back to the Germans. It wasn’t until the end of World War I in 1918 that Strasbourg became French again. Briefly, during World War II, it was passed back onto the Germans after France was defeated in 1940. It has remained French ever since!

Today, Strasbourg is a mixture of both German and French culture and is one of the best places to be during Christmastime.

5. La Marseillaise was adopted as the national anthem in 1795

Three years after Rouget de Lisle wrote La Marseillaise and presented it to the mayor of Strasbourg, it was adopted as the national anthem of France.

The National Convention was the first official government of the French Revolution. It was created after the Insurrection of August 10, 1792, and was the first government that the Revolutionaries created themselves. The monarchy was officially out, and the Republic was in.

On July 14, 1795, the Convention made La Marseillaise the first official national anthem of the new monarchy-free France.

6. La Marseillaise is named after the soldiers from Marseilles who first sang the anthem

Now that you know that La Marseillaise was written in Strasbourg, you may be wondering why it’s named after Marseille instead of Strasbourg. Fair question! The national anthem is called La Marseillaise because it was a hit with volunteer soldiers marching from Marseille to Paris to fight for their country.

7. Napoleon banned La Marseillaise

Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte, 1805 by Unknown – WikiCommons

When Napoleon Bonaparte came into power in 1804, he was on a mission to change the way things were done in France. He was obsessed with war and glory and France was at war for much of his reign. He was also a notorious control freak, so it doesn’t surprise me that he decided to change the national anthem.

When Napoleon was in charge, the French national anthem was called “Veillons au salut de l’Empire,” or “Let us See to the Salvation of the Empire” in English. Again, I know that’s a mouthful!

8. In 1879 La Marseillaise was restored as the French national anthem

La Marseillaise

“La Marseillaise” by Jean Béraud – WikiCommons

As some of you may know, Napoleon was eventually exiled to Saint Helena in 1815 where he would live out the rest of his days alone. After he was removed from power, France briefly returned to a monarchy with King Louis XVIII, who reigned for 10 years. King Louis wasn’t a huge fan of La Marseillaise either as it was an anthem for revolutionaries. His predecessor, King Charles X, who was king for 6 years, also refused to adopt the song as the national anthem.

It wasn’t until 1879 that La Marseillaise was reinstated as the French national anthem, and it has remained so since.

9. La Marseillaise’s lyrics are pretty violent

If you speak French, when you listen to La Marseillaise carefully you may notice that the words are a little…intense. Which is really understandable if you think about the time period it was written in and the fact that it was used to motivate tired French troops. Here is a small section of the anthem in English to give you an idea:

“Arise children of the fatherland

The day of glory has arrived

Against us tyranny’s

Bloody standard is raised (repeat)

Do you hear, in the countryside

The roar of these fearsome soldiers

They are coming into our midst

To cut the throats of your sons and consorts

To arms citizens

Form your battalions

March, march

Let impure blood

Water our furrows.”

10. And they have caused controversies

Many people criticize the lyrics because they have negative and potentially racist connotations. Some defend the anthem and credit the time period it was written in, while others argue that it should be changed to reflect the more open France of today.

Over the years several artists, writers, and other celebrities have fought to change the anthem. In the 1970S, singer Serge Gainsbourg even wrote a reggae version of the song. In 2014, several people attempted to come together to rewrite the lyrics but it was unfortunately never changed.

Conclusion

There you have it, dear readers! I hope you enjoyed learning more about France’s national anthem. I encourage you to watch the video above to hear it yourselves!

If you’re in Paris and want to learn more about French culture and history, why not join one of our walking tours? We have plenty of options to choose from, and our expert guides really now their stuff. Click here to learn more!

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