Les soldats du Pape. Les zouaves canadiens entre l’Europe et l’Amérique ed. by Jean-Philippe Warren (review)
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Reviewed by
Warren, Jean-Philippe, ed. – Les soldats du Pape. Les zouaves canadiens entre l’Europe et l’Amérique. Québec: Presses l’Université de Laval, 2015, xviii + Pp. 143.

At the present time, it might not seem surprising that a transnational movement of religiously-motivated volunteers has attracted attention. While parallels to radical Islamist movements are generally avoided—and with good reason—it is certainly true that historians’ interest in the multi-national Papal Zouaves is of relatively recent date. After the stream of memoirs, martyrologies, fictional works, and hagiographical accounts had dwindled to a trickle in the early twentieth century, the Papal Zouaves seemed to have sunk into obscurity. Even in the early twenty-first century, it was possible to publish a history of European Catholicism in which they do not merit a single page (Nicholas Atkin and Frank Tallett, Priests, Prelates and People, A History of European Catholicism since 1750. It was not until the close of the twentieth century that interest in the Zouaves was rekindled with Jean Guenel’s valuable study, La dernière guerre du Pape. Prior to Guenel’s work, there were only a few rare exceptions to this neglect; most notably, René Hardy turned his attention to the Canadian volunteers in two important works from 1976 and 1980. It is fitting that this pioneering scholar of the Canadian Zouaves supplies the foreword to this fine collection of essays that springs from a colloquium held in Rome, under the auspices of the Délégation du Québec à Rome, and the Canadian Papal College on the occasion of the 125th anniversary of the latter’s foundation.

Though invariably honoured, and, importantly, not just by their compatriots, barely 500 Canadians volunteered to come to the aid of the beleaguered papacy. Only 350 reached the eternal city; the seventh detachment of 115 men did not arrive in France until 11 September 1870. In the confusion of the fall of the Second Empire, this latter force were unable to cross France and within a few days of their arrival Rome had fallen to the forces of Victor Emmanuel. Moreover, due to a series of obstacles to recruitment—including a temporising response from the Vatican, more interested in financial aid than soldiers—the first detachment did not arrive until 1868; consequently, contrary to expectations and contrary to their legend, the Canadian Zouaves did not serve the papacy on the field of battle, and were unable to boast any actual martyrs for the papal cause. Attention was instead drawn to Alfred LaRocque, who volunteered independently and was seriously wounded at Mentana. “Un seul convalescent était suffisant, semble-til, pour bâtir une légende,” as Danielle Miller-Béland and Jean-Philippe Warren put it in a sharp of survey of the military poetry devoted to the Zouaves. The ultramontane Mgr Bourget of Montreal would play on LaRocque’s memory in launching the Canadian movement. Despite their relatively small number, the Zouaves were not only hailed as heroes on their return to Canada, but, as Diane Audy shows in the closing chapter, their memory was to endure. At the turn of the twentieth century, the veterans’ Union Allet, in allowing not only Zouaves’ sons but any young men who met the entry requirements to join, developed into an active movement that could boast nearly 2,000 members in the 1950s and 1960s. By contrast, the ambitions for a new settlement established by returning Zouaves were ultimately disappointed. Despite the optimistic propaganda, Piopolis did not [End Page 730] succeed in living up to the image of a new prosperous Christian community built by the “new crusaders” in a military-style campaign of colonisation.

This study is very much driven by its editor, Jean-Philippe Warren, who holds the Research Chair on the Study of Quebec at Concordia University, author of two of the eight chapters, co-author of a further two, and editor of the account left by Louis Dussault, one of the unfortunate final detachment. As Bruno Dumons and Warren point out in the introduction, notwithstanding the multi-national character of the movement, studies on the Zouaves frequently limit themselves to a national...


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