A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE ÉCOLE SPÉCIALE MILITAIRE DE SAINT-CYR
Founded by Napoleon
The École Spéciale Militaire de St-Cyr was founded on May 1, 1802 by Napoleon I. The school was first located in Fontainebleau near Paris in the buildings of the Maison Royale de St-Louis, a school founded in 1685 by Louis XIV for "impoverished" daughters of noblemen who had died for France. The cadets moved several times more, eventually settling in Saint-Cyr, located west of Paris, in 1808.
World Events and Distinguished Graduates
After Waterloo (1815), the school was disbanded. Until then, 4,401 officers had been trained, 3,338 of which had gone into the infantry. The École Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr reopened in 1818 and operated until 1940. During the Nazi occupation of France in the Second World War, the school moved from Saint-Cyr, near Paris, to the south of France in Aix-en-Provence but was closed in November 1942. Allied bombings on June 12, June 20 and July 21, 1944, destroyed many buildings at the Saint-Cyr location. In 1945, the French military decided that future officers for all French armed services would train in one place. Officer training was moved to Coëtquidan in Brittany, France, and the school was then named the École Spéciale Militaire Interarmes (Special All-Arms Military School). Officer cadet training at the École Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr did not take place again until 1961. Statues and monuments from the Saint-Cyr location west of Paris were brought to Coëtquidan, along with the name, spirit and tradition of the school inaugurated under Napoleon's reign. Distinguished graduates of St-Cyr include French presidents MacMahon (1873-79) and de Gaulle (1958-69) and General Mitterand, the brother of the French president.
St-Cyr has retained many of the traditions and customs established during its first 40 years. For example, re-enactments of famous battles and ceremonies using authentic battle gear and uniforms of the period are staged every year. However, since 1802 several changes were made to the uniform and the school motto.
Napoleon's original motto: "Ils s'instruisent pour vaincre" ("They study to overcome/conquer/win") was changed by the restoration king, Louis XVIII, to: "Ils s'instruisent pour la Defense de la Patrie" ("They study for the defense of the homeland"). The Napoleonic version was used again from 1848 to 1870. That motto was next changed to "Honneur et Patrie" (Honor and Country") until 1918, when it reverted again to the original Napoleonic wording.
For further information, contact Dr. Frances S. Chevalier, Norwich University Professor of French.