Hubert Lyautey

Hubert Lyautey

wearing the insignia of a Marshal of France
Birth name Louis Hubert Gonzalve Lyautey
Born (1854-11-17)17 November 1854
Nancy, France
Died 21 July 1934(1934-07-21) (aged 79)
Thorey-Lyautey, France
Allegiance  France
Service/branch French Army
Years of service 1873-1925
Rank Général de division
Awards Marshal of France
Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor
Médaille militaire

Louis Hubert Gonzalve Lyautey (17 November 1854 – 21 July 1934) was a French Army general and colonial administrator. After serving in Indochina and Madagascar, he became the first French Resident-General in Morocco from 1912 to 1925. Early in 1917 he served briefly as Minister of War. From 1921 he was a Marshal of France.[1] He was dubbed the Maker of Morocco and the French empire builder, and in 1931 made the cover of Time.[2][3]

Early life

Lyautey was born in Nancy, capital of Lorraine. His father was a prosperous engineer, his grandfather a highly decorated Napoleonic general. His mother was a Norman aristocrat, and Lyautey inherited many of her assumptions: monarchism, patriotism, Catholicism and belief in the moral and political importance of the elite.[4]

In 1873 he entered the French military academy of Saint-Cyr. He attended the army training school in early 1876, and in December 1877 was made a lieutenant. After graduating from St Cyr, two months holiday in Algeria in 1878 left him impressed by the Mahgreb and by Islam.[4] He served in the cavalry,[5] and was to make his career serving in the colonies and not in a more prestigious assignment in metropolitan France. In 1880 he was posted to Algiers, then campaigning in southern Algeria. In 1884, to his disappointment, he was recalled to France.[6]


In 1894 he was posted to Indochina, serving under Joseph Gallieni. He helped crush the so-called piracy of the Black Flags rebellion along the Chinese border. Then set up the colonial administration in Tonkin, and was then head of the military office of the Government-General in Indochina. By time he left IndoChina in 1897 he was a lieutenant-colonel and had the Legion of Honour.[7]

In Indochina he wrote "Here I am like a fish in water, because the manipulation of things and men is power, everything I love".[8]


From 1897 to 1902 Lyautey served on Madagascar, again under Gallieni. He pacified northern and western Madagascar, administering a region of 200,000 inhabitants, beginning the construction of a new provincial capital at Ankazobe and a new roadway across the island. He encouraged the cultivation of rice, coffee, tobacco, grain and cotton, and opened schools. In 1900 he became Governor of Southern Madagascar, an area a third the size of France, with a million inhabitants; 80 officers and 4,000 soldiers served under him.[6] He was also promoted to colonel in 1900. In Madagascar he wrote to his father "I am Louis XIV and that suits me". He believed that he did not crave power for its own sake.[8]

He returned to France to command a cavalry regiment in 1902, before being promoted to general de brigade that same year, largely a result of the military skill and success which he had shown in Madagascar.[5]


General Lyautey reaches Marrakesh, Le Petit Journal, October 1912

In 1903 he was posted to command first a subdivision south of Oran and then the whole Oran district, his official task being to protect a new railway line against attacks from Morocco.[9] French commanders in Algeria moved into Morocco largely on their own initiative, early in 1903. Later in the year Lyautey marched west and occupied Bechar, a clear breach of 1840s treaties. The following year he advanced further into Morocco, in clear disobedience to the Minister of War, threatening to resign if he were not supported by Paris. The French Foreign Minister issued a vague disavowal of Lyautey, because he was concerned at clashing with British influence in Morocco[10] – in the event Britain, Spain and Italy were placated by France agreeing to allow them a free hand in Egypt, northern Morocco and Libya respectively, and the only objections to French expansion in the region came from Germany (see First Moroccan Crisis).[11]

Lyautey met Isabelle Eberhardt in 1903, and employed her for intelligence missions. After her death in 1904, he chose her tombstone.[12]

Early in 1907 a prominent French doctor was killed in Marrakesh, possibly as he was attempting to lay the groundwork for French expansion, causing Lyautey to occupy Oujda in eastern Morocco on the Algerian border.[13] Having been promoted to général de division, Lyautey was Military Governor of French Morocco from 4 August 1907. After taking Oudja, he went to Rabat to put pressure on the Sultan, getting embroiled in a power struggle between the Sultan and his brother, with Germany and France taking sides in the dispute.[9]

On 14 October 1909, in Paris, Lyautey married Inès Fortoul, widow of Joseph Fortoul an artillery colonel, god daughter of Empress Eugénie and president of the French Red Cross, who had just organized the Red Cross in Morocco.[14] He returned to France in 1910, and in January 1911 he took up command of a corps at Rennes.[5][9]

In 1912 Lyautey was posted back to Morocco, and relieved Fez, which was being besieged by 20,000 Moroccans. After the Convention of Fez established a protectorate over Morocco, Lyautey served as Resident-General of French Morocco from 28 April 1912 to 25 August 1925. Sultan Moulay Hafid abdicated at the end of 1912, replaced by his more pliable brother, although the country was not fully pacified until 1934.[15]


Lyautey has been called "perhaps France's most distinguished or infamous homosexual."[16] Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau whom Lyautey despised, as he did most politicians joked that Lyautey was "an admirable and courageous man who always had balls up to his ass. It's just a shame that they are not always his."[17] It has been speculated that Lyautey might have provided Marcel Proust with the model for the character of the homosexual Baron de Charlus in his magnum opus Remembrance of Things Past.[16]

The actual evidence for Lyautey being a homosexual is primarily circumstantial,[18] but it was widely regarded as an open secret at the time,[17][19] one which some historians claim Lyautey did not take any effort to hide.[20][21] Robert Aldrich writes that he liked hot climates and "the masculine company of young officers".[8] Lyautey's wife is said to have told a group of her husband's young officers that "I have the pleasure of informing you that last night I made you all cuckolds," implying that the officers were all paramours of her husband, and that she had had sex with Lyautey the night before.[17]

Lyautey's homosexuality, or at the very least his "homophile sensuality"[21] or "Greek virtues",[17] was in some ways connected with his time in Morocco. Lyautey's sexual preference for men was not caused by his sojourn in Morocco, as there were those who objected to his appointment as commander there because he was a homosexual.[20]


His personal beliefs evolved from monarchism and conservatism to a belief in social duty. He wrote a journal article "On the Social Function of the Officer under Universal Military Service". However, his colonial policies were similar in practice to those of Gallieni, a secular republican.[5] He was suspicious of republicanism and socialism, and believed in the social role of the Army in regenerating France.[8]

Lyautey adopted and emulated Gallieni's policy of methodical expansion of pacified areas followed by social and economical development (markets, schools and medical centres) to bring about the end of resistance and the cooperation of former insurgents. This method became known as tache d'huile (literally, "oil stain"), as it resembles oil spots spreading to cover the whole surface. Lyautey's writings have had a significant influence on contemporary counterinsurgency theory through its adoption by David Galula.[22] He also practiced politique des races, i.e. dealing separately with each tribe, analogous to the British policy of divide and rule.[23]

Lyautey is considered to have been an apt colonial administrator. He tried to balance blunt military force with other means of power and promoted a vision of a better future for the Moroccans under the French colonial administration. For example, he invited a talented young French urban planner Henri Prost to design comprehensive plans for redevelopment of the major Moroccan cities.[24][25]

In Morocco from 1912 he was publicly deferential to the sultan[9] and told his men not to treat the Moroccans as a conquered people.[5] He opposed Christian proselytising and the settlement of French migrants in Morocco,[26] and quoted with approval Governor Lanessan of Indo-China "we must govern with the mandarin and not against the mandarin".[8]

Reaction to outbreak of World War I

On 27 July 1914, Resident-General Lyautey received a cable from Paris from the undersecretary of foreign affairs Abel Ferry.[27]

He was quoted as telling his officers:

They are completely mad. A war between Europeans is a civil war. This is the most monumental foolishness that they have ever done.[28]

However, like many professional soldiers, he disliked the Third Republic, and in some ways welcomed the outbreak of war "because the politicians have shut up".[29]

On 27 July War Minister Messimy told Lyautey to prepare to abandon Morocco except for the major cities and ports, and to send all seasoned troops to France. Messimy later said this had been a "formal" order.[30]

World War I

At the outbreak of war Lyautey was commanding 70,000 troops, all members of the Armee de l’Afrique or part of La Coloniale. Under French law, metropolitan conscripts might only under very exceptional circumstances be made to serve abroad. Initially he sent two Algerian-Tunisian divisions to the western front, then another two, plus two brigades of Algerians serving in Morocco, and a brigade of 5,000 Moroccans. Over seventy battalions of Algerians and Tunisians served on the Western front, while one Moroccan and seven Algerian regiments of Spahis (cavalry) served dismounted on the Western Front - others fought in Macedonia or – mounted - in the Levant.[31]

In 1914 33 officers, 580 soldiers and the weapons of two battalions were lost in an expedition near Khenifra. Although this was to prove the only incident in Morocco during the war, Lyautey was worried about the threat of jihad as a result of German propaganda in Morocco, and many of the remaining legionnaires were German. Four territorial regiments were sent from the south of France and served alongside the mobilised European colonists.[32] By mid-1915 Lyautey had sent 42 battalions to the Western Front, receiving in return middle-aged reservists (who to his delight were regarded as seasoned warriors by the Moroccans), battalions of Tirailleurs Senegalaise and Tirailleurs Marocain, as well as irregular Moroccan goums. With 200,000 men Lyautey had to hold down the Middle Atlas and the Rif, suppressing rebellions by Zaians at Khenifra, Abd al Malik at the Taza, and al Hiba in the south, the latter aided by German U-boats. Lyautey argued that Verdun and Morocco were part of the same war.[33]

Lyautey disregarded advice to concentrate major forces in a few cities and took a personal risk by spreading them all over the country. At the end, his gamble turned right as he got a psychological edge over potentially mutinous tribal chiefs.[27] Lyautey had 71,000 men by July 1915. He insisted France would win the war and continued with the usual trade fairs and road and rail construction.[32]

Minister of War

Lyautey briefly served as France's Minister of War for three months in 1917, which were clouded by the unsuccessful Nivelle Offensive and the French Army Mutinies. Lyautey was apparently surprised to receive a telegram offering him the job (10 December 1916) and demanded, and was given, authority to issue orders to Nivelle (the new Commander-in-Chief of French forces on the Western Front) and Sarrail (Commander-in-Chief at Salonika); Nivelle's predecessor Joffre had enjoyed much greater freedom from the War Minister and had also had command over Salonika. Prime Minister Aristide Briand, not going into detail about Joffre’s removal, replied that Lyautey would be one of a War Committee of five members, controlling manufacturing, transport and supply, and thus giving him greater powers than his predecessors. Lyautey replied "I shall answer your call". Lyautey had to spend a good deal of time touring units and learning about the Western front.[34][35]

Lyautey was strongly disliked by the political Left, and when Briand reconstructed his government in December 1916, Painlevé declined to stay part (he had been Minister of Public Instruction and Fine Arts) as he was reluctant to be associated with him, although doubts about the replacement of Joffre by Nivelle rather than Philippe Petain also played a role (Painlevé was later himself Minister of War for much of 1917, then briefly Prime Minister late in the year).[36]

Lyautey was met with a fait accompli as Nivelle, whom he would not have chosen, had been appointed Commander-in-Chief by the acting War Minister Admiral Lacaze, whilst munitions under Albert Thomas (formerly Under-Secretary for War) were hived off into a separate ministry assisted by the industrialist Louis Loucheur as Under-Secretary of State. Lyautey had hoped to rely on Joffre, Ferdinand Foch and de Castelnau, but the first soon resigned from his job as advisor, Foch had already been sacked as commander of Army Group North, de Castelnau was sent on a mission to Russia, and Lyautey was not permitted to revive the post of Chief of the Army General Staff.[37]

Lyautey was hard of hearing and inclined to dominate conversation. He preferred to deal directly with the British government via the British Embassy, to the annoyance of the British CIGS Robertson, who despite disliking Lyautey, tried in vain to open private channels of communication with him (at a time when generals of both countries tried to prevent politicians from "interfering" in the details of strategy). On the train to the Rome Conference (5–6 January 1917) Lyautey stood before a map lecturing the British delegation on their Palestine campaign. Robertson, a man of notorious bluntness, listened to the lecture then asked Lloyd George "has he finished?" before retiring to bed.[35] Robertson told Lloyd George "that fellow won’t last long". He wrote to the King’s adviser Clive Wigram (12 January) "Lyautey … is a dried up person of the Anglo-Indian type who has been in the colonies all his life and talks of nothing else. He talks a good deal. He has no grasp whatever of the war as yet and I should doubt if he remains long where he is now." [38]

Lyautey attended the infamous Calais conference on 27 Feb 1917, at which Lloyd George attempted to subordinate British forces in France to Nivelle. After a serious argument had broken out between Lloyd George and the British generals, Lyautey claimed that he had not seen the proposals until he boarded the train for Calais.[39] On being shown Nivelle’s plan, Lyautey declared that it was "a plan for "the Duchess of Gerolstein" " (a light opera satirising the army). He contemplated trying to have Nivelle dismissed, but backed down in the face of traditional Republican hostility to military men with political aspirations.[40][41] Lyautey shared his concerns about Nivelle with Petain, commander of Army Group Centre, who would eventually replace him.[42]

Lyautey refused to discuss military aviation even at a closed session of the French Chamber, and at the subsequent open session declared that to discuss such matters even in closed session would be a security risk. He resigned as Minister of War after being shouted down in the Chamber on March 15, 1917, and after several leading politicians declined the post of Minister of War, Aristide Briand's sixth cabinet (12 December 1916 – 20 March 1917) fell four days later.[43][44][45]


Lyautey caused the Institute for Advanced Moroccan Studies and the Sherifian Scientific Institute to be set up in the early 1920s.[46]

During the First World War, he had insisted on continuation of the occupation of the whole country, regardless of the fact that France needed most of her resources in the struggle against the Central Powers. He was in overall command of French forces during the time of the Zaian War of 1914–21. He resigned in 1925, feeling slighted that Paris had appointed Philippe Pétain to command 100,000 men to put down Abd-el-Krim’s rebellion in the Rif Mountains.[9]

Political opposition in Paris ensured that he received no official recognition when he resigned; his only escort home was two destroyers of the Royal Navy.[5]


Château de Thorey-Lyautey, now a museum

Marshal Lyautey served as Honorary President of the three French Scouting associations.[47] His château in the east of France at Thorey hostsd the museum of French Scouting.

Paris Exposition

Lyautey was commissioner of the Paris Colonial Exposition of 1931, designed to encourage support for the Empire in Metropolitan France. The introduction to the visitors guide contained Lyautey’s instruction: "you must find in this exhibition, along with the lessons of the past, the lessons of the present and above all lessons for the future. You must leave the exhibition resolved always to do better, grander, broader and more versatile feats for Greater France." A special extension line of the Paris Metro was built to Bois de Vincennes. Despite costing the French government and City of Paris 318m francs, the exhibition made a profit of 33m francs. Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy, Portugal and the USA also contributed exhibitions on their overseas possessions, but not Britain, which despite repeated pleas by Lyautey cited the cost of its own exhibition of 1924.[48]

A building in Bois de Vincennes housed part of the Colonial Exhibition of 1931; Lyautey’s study is preserved as part of the foyer.[49]

Final years

The sarcophagus of Marshal Lyautey at Les Invalides, Paris

In his final years, Lyautey became associated with France's growing fascist movement. He admired Italian leader Benito Mussolini, and was associated with the far right Croix de Feu. In 1934, he threatened to lead the Jeunesses Patriotes to overthrow the government.[50]

Lyautey would have liked to have been a national saviour; he was disappointed to have played only a minor role in France’s political life and in the First World War.[51]

Lyautey died in Thorey and was buried in Morocco, but his body was reinterred in Les Invalides in 1961.[9][52]




  1. Teyssier, Arnaud. Lyautey: le ciel et les sables sont grands. Paris: Perrin, 2004.
  2. 1 2 Bell, John (June 1, 1922). "Marshal Lyautey: The man and his work". The Fortnightly Review. pp. 905–914. Retrieved 1 August 2013.
  3. Singer, Barnett (1991). "Lyautey: An Interpretation of the Man and French Imperialism". Journal of Contemporary History. 26: 131–157. doi:10.1177/002200949102600107.
  4. 1 2 Aldrich 1996, p134
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Clayton 2003, p216-7
  6. 1 2 Aldrich 1996, p135
  7. Aldrich 1996, p63, 135
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 Aldrich 1996, p137
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Aldrich 1996, p136
  10. this was a few years after the Fashoda Incident and the Entente Cordiale was not yet in existence
  11. Aldrich 1996, p32-3
  12. Aldrich 1996, p158
  13. Aldrich 1996, p34-5
  14. Singer, Barnett; Langdon, John W. (2008). Cultured Force: Makers and Defenders of the French Colonial Empire. Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press. p. 199. ISBN 978-0-299-19904-3.
  15. Aldrich 1996, p35
  16. 1 2 Martin, Brian Joseph (2011) Napoleonic Friendship: Military Fraternity, Intimacy, and Sexuality in Nineteenth-century. UPNE. ISBN 9781584659440, p.9
  17. 1 2 3 4 Hussey, Andrew (2014) The French Intifada Granta. ISBN 9781847085948
  18. Merrick, Jeffrey and Sibalis. Michael (2013). Homosexuality in French History and Culture, Routledge. ISBN 1560232633, p. 208-209
  19. Gershovich, Moshe (2012) French Military Rule in Morocco: Colonialism and its Consequences Routledge. ISBN 9781136325878 p.91 n.27
  20. 1 2 Porch, Douglas (2005) The Conquest of Morocco Macmillan. ISBN 9781429998857 pp.84-86
  21. 1 2 Aldrich, Robert (2008) Colonialism and Homosexuality Routledge. ISBN 9781134644599
  22. Rid, Thomas (2010). "The Nineteenth Century Origins of Counterinsurgency Doctrine". Journal of Strategic Studies. 33 (5): 727–758. doi:10.1080/01402390.2010.498259.
  23. Aldrich 1996, p106
  24. Cohen, Jean-Louis. Henri Prost and Casablanca: the art of making successful cities (1912-1940). The New City, (fall 1996), № 3, p. 106-121.
  25. Wright, Gwendolyn. Tradition in the service of modernity: architecture and urbanism in French colonial policy, 1900-1930. The Journal of Modern History, 59, № 2 (1987): 291-316.
  26. Aldrich 1996, p136-7
  27. 1 2 Dean, William T. (2011). "Strategic Dilemmas of Colonization: France and Morocco during the Great War". Historian. 73 (4): 730–746. doi:10.1111/j.1540-6563.2011.00304.x.
  28. Le Révérend, André. Lyautey. Paris: Fayard, 1983. p. 368.
  29. Herwig 2009, p28
  30. Doughty 2005, p50
  31. Clayton 2003, p175
  32. 1 2 Greenhalgh 2014, pp119-20
  33. Clayton 2003, p181-2
  34. Doughty 2005, p320-1
  35. 1 2 Woodward, 1998, p. 86.
  36. Doughty 2005, p338
  37. Greenhalgh 2014, pp172-3
  38. Bonham-Carter 1963, p200 "Anglo-Indian" in this context means a British person who has spent his life abroad in the Empire, not a person of mixed race.
  39. Doughty 2005, p331-2
  40. left-wing hostility to generals with military pretensions was largely caused by memories of General Boulanger and in particular of the Dreyfus affair. General Gallieni, one of Lyautey's predecessors, had faced similar hostility, wholly unfounded as he had in fact been attempting to assert ministerial control over the Army
  41. Clayton 2003, p125
  42. Greenhalgh 2014, p184
  43. Staff (March 15, 1917). "Lyautey Resigns as War Minister; French Official Steps Down Because of Stormy Scene in the Chamber. Uproar Prevents Speech. Cabinet's Foes in Tumult When He Questions Desirability of Discussion.". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 August 2013.
  44. Woodward, 1998, p. 104.
  45. Doughty 2005, p336
  46. Aldrich 1996, p248
  47. John S. Wilson (1959), Scouting Round the World. First edition, Blandford Press. p. 33
  48. Aldrich 1996, p260-3
  49. Aldrich 1996, p324
  50. Szaluta, Jacques "Marshal Petain's Ambassadorship to Spain: Conspiratorial or Providential Rise toward Power?", French Historical Studies 8:4
  51. Aldrich 1996, p138
  52. Hubert Gonzalve Lyautey at Find a Grave


Further reading

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Cultural offices
Preceded by
Henry Houssaye
Seat 14
Académie française
Succeeded by
Louis Franchet d'Espérey
Political offices
Preceded by
Pierre Roques
Minister of War
December 12, 1916 – March 14, 1917
Succeeded by
Lucien Lacaze
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