Hubert Lyautey

Portrait of Marshal Lyautey, photo collection DMPA


Louis Hubert Gonzalve Lyautey was born in Nancy on the 17th November 1854, achieved the Baccaleaureat in July 1872, entered Saint-Cyr and 1873 before attending army training school 1876. Made a lieutenant in December 1877, he was posted to the 20th light cavalry regiment at Rambouillet before being transferred on request to Châteaudun. Trained in cavalry, in the 2nd regiment of hussars, he joined his regiment in Sézanne in August 1880, which left two months later for Algeria. Posted to Orléansville followed by Algiers, he developed a passion for Arab civilisation, learning the language and familiarising himself with colonial matters, administration and French and Algerian politics. He preferred a solution of autonomy and protectorate to the policy of total assimilation to France and direct administration, believing that France's action could only be accepted and respected by itself respecting the civilisations and cultures it sought to manage, and that this must be achieved by working in association with the local elites.

After a few months spent in Teniet-el-Haad, outpost of southern Algeria, captain Lyautey was moved to the 4th light cavalry regiment in Bruyères, in the Vosges, in 1882. In October of the following year he became aide-de-camp for general Hotte, general inspector of cavalry, whom he followed in his postings to Commercy then to Tours. On the 19th November 1887, he took command of the 1st squadron of the 4th light cavalry regiment of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. In this position, he set about improving the living conditions of his men, both materially as well as culturally, and to train them, putting his reformist principles into practice with regard to the officer's social role. He was given the opportunity to publish his innovative theories in an article which was to have a major impact, entitled ?On the social role of the officer in universal military service?, published in the Revue des Deux Mondes (Two Worlds Review) on the 15th March 1891.

Transferred to the 12e regiment of hussars at Gray, then made Chief of Staff of the 7th cavalry division at Meaux in 1893, Lyautey was appointed major in Indochina en 1894. First as Colonel Gallieni's Chief of Staff, then as major of the Chinese border military zone (Lang Son territory), he took part in the expeditions to upper Tonkin against the Chinese pirates pillaging the region. By Gallieni's side, and convinced that the populations must be shown the French army's strength to prevent them gaining the upper hand, he set up the necessary infrastructure for improving the region: reconstruction of villages, road building, rebuilding and development of cultures and business. Second-in-command, before being promoted to Chief of Staff of the occupation forces, he was subsequently appointed to director of the military bureau of Armand Rousseau, governor general of Indochina. Improving his knowledge of Indochina's political, administrative and financial issues, he continued his action throughout the territory. In March 1897, he returned to Gallieni, appointed a few months previously as the governor general of Madagascar. Gallieni assigned him the task of pacifying the northwest and the west of the island followed by organising the south. The occupation of the territories was combined with large-scale infrastructure work designed to improve the economic and commercial growth of the country.

Promoted to colonel in 1900, he returned to France in 1902 to take command of the 14th regiment of hussars at Alençon before being called to the South-Oran region in 1903 by Charles Jonnart, governor general of Algeria. Appointed as brigadier general, he took command of the Aïn Sefra subdivision in October then of the Oran division at the end of the 1906. Eventually appointed major general in 1907, the following year he became the government's high commissioner for the occupied zone in the Oudjda region of Morocco. He began his task by supervising the redevelopment of the border zone between Algeria and Morocco, the seat of constant unrest, by setting up new frontier posts designed both to secure the region, regularly threatened by incursions from tribes hostile to the French presence as well as to open up the route into Morocco. He set up a line of frontier posts stretching from the south of Béchar, renamed Colomb, occupied in October 1903, leading to the north at Berguent, in the oasis of Ras el Aïn, in June 1904. He dedicated the months that followed to strengthening and extending the operation towards the west. As much a diplomat as a military man, Lyautey also improved and increased contacts at the same time with the various local chiefs in order to bring them around to accepting French policy. After the pacification of the border region between Algeria and Morocco, he returned to France in 1910 to take command of the 10th army corps of Rennes.

In March 1912, the convention of Fès established the French protectorate over Morocco, whilst the north of the country remained under Spanish influence. Lyautey became its resident general commissioner on the 28th of the following April. The protectorate was not unanimously accepted in Morocco however. There were many opponents to the treaty and to the sultan who signed it. The situation continued to deteriorate yet further. Arriving in Casablanca in mid-May, Lyautey went directly to Fès, which was besieged by the Berber chiefs' troops. It was to be the beginning of a difficult campaign. The country was in total chaos, and administratively and economically, the protectorate had to be entirely built from scratch. At the end of the violent battles, peace was finally returned to Fès and its region. During the summer, a new sultan was named. Lyautey was called upon to re-establish this new sovereign's religious and political authority to the whole country. Peacemaking in the region was slowly but surely achieved. In May 1914, Taza, strategic town for entry to Algeria, was occupied. The plains and coastal towns were now under French control. At the same time as these military operations were being carried out, he undertook large scale economic and social modernisation work in order to promote growth in the country. Important administrative, legal and economic reforms took place. Administrative frameworks were set up, ports, agriculture research and mining were all developed, towns and roads were modernised and schools and hospitals and dispensaries were created and built, and fixed or mobile sanitation stations... the task was enormous.

During the First World War, he briefly became War minister from December 1916 to March 1917, in the Briand cabinet before returning to Morocco. Despite weakened manpower, he managed not only to maintain a French presence but also to increase his influence throughout the whole conflict. On his return and for eight more years of working tirelessly, intense political and economic activity led by him contributed to the country's growth. The crowning achievement of his career came in 1921, when he was awarded the title of Marshal of France. In the Rif, however, the situation was beginning to cause concern. The uprising led by Abd el-Krim against the Spanish was advancing, threatening French Morocco. In spring 1925, Abd el-Krim attacked, threatening the Taza and Fès sectors. Lyautey, who had seen his forces gradually reduced in numbers over the recent years, immediately organised a defensive barrier whilst waiting for reinforcements. Opposed to the French governments' handling of operations, and subsequently denied by them, he returned for good to France in October and retired to Thorey, in Lorraine. From 1927 to 1931, he undertook a last mission, the organisation of the international colonial exhibition of Vincennes.

Marshal Lyautey passed away on the 27th July 1934. Initially buried in Rabat, his body was exhumed and repatriated to France in 1961 to be buried in the Invalides cemetery. Hubert Lyautey was awarded the Grand-Cross of the Legion of Honour and was also decorated for outstanding gallantry in the field, of the colonial medal of Tonkin and Morocco, holder of the medal of Morocco for campaigns in Casablanca, Oudjda and Haut-Guir, as well as numerous foreign decorations. Elected to the Academy Française on the 31st October 1912, he was also the author of several studies and books, including "The social role of the officer in universal military service", published in La Revue des Deux Mondes (The Two Worlds Review), 1891, The colonial role of the army, 1900, In Southern Madagascar, military penetration, political and economic situation, 1903, Letters from Tonkin Madagascar: 1894-1899, 1920, Words of action: 1900-1926, 1927, Letters from youth: 1883-1893, 1931.