The Gendarmerie is the direct descendant of the Marshalcy of the ancien regime, more commonly known by its French title, the Maréchaussée.
During the Middle Ages, there were two Grand Officers of the Kingdom of France with police responsibilities: The Marshal of France and the Constable of France. The military policing responsibilities of the Marshal of France were delegated to the Marshal's provost, whose force was known as the Marshalcy because its authority ultimately derived from the Marshal. The marshalcy dates back to the Hundred Years War, and some historians trace it back to the early twelfth century.
Another organisation, the Constabulary (French: Connétablie), was under the command of the Constable of France. The constabulary was regularised as a military body in 1337.
In 1415 the Maréchaussée fought in the Battle of Agincourt and their commander, the "Prévôt des Maréchaux" (Provost of the marshals), Gallois de Fougières, was killed in battle. His existence was rediscovered in 1934. Gallois de Fougières was then officially recorded as the first known gendarme to have died in the line of duty and his remains are now buried under the monument to the gendarmerie in Versailles.
Under King Francis I (French: François Ier, who reigned 1515–1547), the Maréchaussée was merged with the Constabulary. The resulting force was also known as the Maréchaussée, or, formally, the Constabulary and Marshalcy of France (French: connétablie et maréchaussée de France). Unlike the former constabulary the new Maréchaussée was not a fully militarized force.
In 1720, the Maréchaussée was officially attached to the Household of the King (Maison du Roi), together with the "gendarmerie" of the time, which was not a police force at all, but a royal bodyguard. During the eighteenth century, the marshalcy developed in two distinct areas: increasing numbers of Marshalcy Companies (compagnies de marechaussée), dispersed into small detachments, were stationed around the French countryside providing law and order, while specialist units provided security for royal and strategic sites such as palaces and the mint (e.g. the garde de la prévôté de l'hôtel du roi and the prévôté des monnaies de Paris.)
While its existence ensured the relative safety of French rural districts and roads, the Maréchaussée was regarded in contemporary England, which had no effective police force of any nature, as a symbol of foreign tyranny. English visitors to France saw their armed and uniformed patrols as royal soldiers with an oppressive role. In 1789, on the eve of the French Revolution, the Maréchaussée numbered 3,660 men divided into small brigades (a "brigade" in this context being a squad of ten to twenty men.)
During the revolutionary period, the Maréchaussée commanders generally placed themselves under the local constitutional authorities. Despite their connection with the king, they were therefore perceived as a force favouring the reforms of the French National Assembly.
As a result, the Maréchaussée Royale was not disbanded but simply renamed as the gendarmerie nationale (Law of 16 February 1791). Its personnel remained unchanged, and the functions of the force remained much as before. However, from this point, the gendarmerie, unlike the Maréchaussée became a fully military force. During the revolutionary period, the main force responsible for policing was the National Guard. Although the Maréchaussée had been the main police force of the ancien regime, the gendarmerie was initially a full-time auxiliary to the National Guard militia.
In 1791 the newly named gendarmerie nationale was grouped into 28 divisions, each commanded by a colonel responsible for three départements. In turn, two companies of gendarmes under the command of captains were based in each department. This territorial basis of organisation continued throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.
Under Napoléon, the numbers and responsibilities of the gendarmerie, renamed gendarmerie impériale, were significantly expanded. In contrast to the mounted Maréchaussée, the gendarmerie comprised both horse and foot personnel; in 1800 these numbered approximately 10,500 of the former and 4,500, respectively.
In 1804 the first Inspector General of Gendarmerie was appointed and a general staff established—based in the rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honore in Paris. Subsequently, special gendarmerie units were created within the Imperial Guard, and for combat duties in French occupied Spain.
Following the Second Restoration of 1815, the gendarmerie was reduced in numbers to about 18,000 and reorganised into departmental legions. Under King Louis Phillippe a "gendarmerie of Africa" was created for service in Algeria and during the Second Empire the Imperial Guard Gendarmerie Regiment was re-established. The majority of gendarmes continued in what was now the established role of the corps—serving in small sedentary detachments as armed rural police. Under the Third Republic the ratio of foot to mounted gendarmes was increased and the numbers directly incorporated in the French Army with a military police role reduced.
In 1901, the École des officiers de la gendarmerie nationale was established to train its officers.
Five battles are registered on the flag of the Gendarmerie:Battle of Hondschoote (1793): Four hundred gendarmes of the 32nd Division (equivalent of a regiment under the Revolution) engaged in battle on the left wing of the army. They seized enemy artillery positions and lost 117 men.
Villodrigo (1812): The 1st legion of Gendarmerie on horseback, belonging to the Brigade of Cavalry of the Army of the North, clashed with the British cavalry on 23 October 1812. Charging with sabres, they penetrated enemy lines, killing 250 and taking 85 prisoners. Colonel Béteille, commanding the brigade, received twelve sabre cuts, but he survived.
Taguin (1843): Thirty gendarmes on horseback were mobilised to take part in tracking the tribe of the emir Abd-El-Kader and participated in his capture. In a painting by Horace Vernet, which immortalises the scene (and hangs in the Musée de Versailles), the gendarmes appear alongside the Algerian Governor-General, Henri d'Orléans, duc d'Aumale.
Sevastopol (1855): Two infantry battalions of the Regiment of Gendarmerie of the Imperial Guard participated in taking the city. The 1st battalion seized a strategic position that contributed towards the final victory. A total of 153 Gendarmes fell.
Indo-China (1945/1954): Three legions of infantrymen from the Republican Guard were formed at the end of 1946. Charged with the formation of the Cochin China Civil Guard, they assumed security roles and patrolled the borders, suffering heavy losses: 654 killed or missing, and 1,500 wounded.
The gendarmerie is sometimes referred to as the maréchaussée (an old name for the service), and the gendarmes as pandores. The symbol of the gendarmerie is a grenade, which is also worn by the Italian Carabinieri and the Grenadier Guards in Britain. The budget in 2008 was approximately 7.7 billion euros.
In French, the term "police" not only refers to the forces, but also to the general concept of "maintenance of law and order" (policing). The Gendarmerie's missions belong to three categories:Administrative police (police administrative), upholding public order, safety checks and traffic controls, assistance to people in imminent danger, protection duties, etc.
Judicial police (police judiciaire), handling penal law enforcement and investigation of crimes and felonies
Military and defense missions, including military police for the armed forces
These missions include:The policing of the countryside, rivers, coastal areas, and small towns with populations under 20,000, that are outside of the jurisdiction of the French National Police. The Gendarmerie's area of responsibility represents approx. 95% of the French territory and 50% of the population of France
Criminal investigations under judiciary supervision
Maintaining law and order in public gatherings and demonstrations, including crowd control and other security activities;
Police at sea
Security of airports, civil nuclear sites and military installations
Provision of military police services to the French military—on the French territory as well as during foreign operations (OPEX)
For the Republican Guard (Garde républicaine—which is part of the Gendarmerie), participation in the state's protocol and ceremonies
The Gendarmerie, while remaining part of the French armed forces, has been attached to the Ministry of the Interior since 2009. Criminal investigations are run under the supervision of prosecutors or investigating magistrates. Gendarmerie members generally operate in uniform, and, only occasionally, in plainclothes.
The Director-general of the Gendarmerie (DGGN) is appointed by the Council of Ministers, with the rank of Général d'Armée. The current Director-General is Général Richard Lizurey who took office on September 1, 2016.
The Director-General organizes the operation of the Gendarmerie at two levels:at the operational level. The DGGN is in charge of plans, operations, procurement, training and support of the forces in the field.
in an advisory position for government in all matters pertaining to the Gendarmerie.
The Gendarmerie headquarters, called the Directorate-General of the National Gendarmerie (Fr: Direction générale de la Gendarmerie nationale (DGGN)), long located in downtown Paris, had been relocated since 2012 to Issy-les-Moulineaux, a southern Paris suburb.
The Directorate-General of the national gendarmerie includes:The general staff, divided into offices and services,
The inspector-general of the Gendarmerie (I.G.G.N.)
Three main directorates
Human Resource directorate (D.P.M.G.N.)
Finance and Support directorate (D.S.F.)
Operations directorate (D.O.E.)—The general, chief of the Operations directorate, has authority on:
Organisation and evaluation subdirectorate,
International co-operation subdirectorate,
Defence and public order subdirectorate,
Public safety and road traffic safety subdirectorate,
Criminal Investigation subdirectorate.
Two joint Gendarmerie/Police offices
Joint Information systems office (ST(SI)2)
Joint purchasing office (SAELSI)
The main components of the organization are the following:The Departmental Gendarmerie—organized in 13 regions, each reporting directly to the Director General (DGGN)
The Mobile Gendarmerie—organized in seven "zonal" regions (those of the 13 regions that host a National Defense Zone headquarter)
The Republican Guard
The Overseas Gendarmerie—in charge of French overseas departments and territories
Five specialized Gendarmerie branches (Air, Air Transport, Maritime, Ordnance, Nuclear ordnance security).
The Provost Gendarmerie
GIGN: the Gendarmerie's intervention and crisis management unit
The education and training establishment
The administration and support establishment
The above-mentionned organizations report directly to the Director General (DGGN) with the exception of the Republican Guard, which reports to the Île-de-France region.
The reserve force numbers 25,000 (not included in the 100,000 total). It is managed by the Departmental Gendarmerie at the regional level.
The Departmental Gendarmerie, or Gendarmerie Départementale, also named «La Blanche» (The White), is the most numerous part of the Gendarmerie, in charge of police in small towns and rural areas. Its territorial divisions are based on the administrative divisions of France, particularly the departments from which the Departmental Gendarmerie derives its name.
It is divided into 13 metropolitan regions (including Corsica), themselves divided into groupements (one for each of the 100 département, thus the name), themselves divided into compagnies (one for each of the 342 arrondissements).
It maintains gendarmerie brigades throughout the rural parts of the territory. There are two kind of brigades:Large autonomous territorial brigades (BTAs)
Brigade groups composed of smaller brigades supervised by a larger one (COBs).
In addition, it has specialised units:Research units, who conduct criminal investigations when their difficulty exceeds the abilities of the territorial units
Surveillance and intervention platoons (PSIGs°, who conduct roving patrols and reinforce local units as needed.
Specialized brigades for prevention of juvenile delinquency
Highway patrol units.
Mountain units, specialised in surveillance and search and rescue operations, as well as inquiries in mountainous areas
In addition, the Gendarmerie runs a national criminal police institute (Institut de recherche criminelle de la gendarmerie nationale) specializing in supporting local units for difficult investigations.
The research units may be called into action by the judiciary even within cities (i.e. in the National Police's area of responsibility). As an example, the Paris research section of the Gendarmerie was in charge of the investigations into the vote-rigging allegations in the 5th district of Paris (see corruption scandals in the Paris region).
Gendarmes normally operate in uniform. They may operate in plainclothes only for specific missions and with their supervisors' authorisation.
The Mobile Gendarmerie, or Gendarmerie Mobile, also named « La Jaune » (The Yellow), is currently divided into 7 Defense zones (Zones de Défense). It comprises 18 Groupings (Groupements de Gendarmerie mobile) featuring 109 squadrons for a total of approx. 12,000 men and women.
Its main responsibilities are:crowd and riot control
general security in support of the Departmental Gendarmerie
military and defense missions
missions that require large amounts of personnel (Vigipirate counter-terrorism patrols, searches in the countryside...)
Nearly 20% of the Mobile Gendarmerie squadrons are permanently deployed on a rotational basis in the French overseas territories. Other units deploy occasionally abroad alongside French troops engaged in military operations (called external operations or OPEX).
The civilian tasks of the gendarmes mobiles are similar to those of the police units known as Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité (CRS), for which they are often mistaken. Easy ways to distinguish them include:the uniform of the CRS is dark blue, the gendarmes mobiles are clad in black jackets and dark blue trousers;
the CRS wear a big red CRS patch; the gendarmes have stylised grenades.
the helmet of the gendarmes mobiles is blue. The CRS helmet is black with two yellow stripes
The Mobile Gendarmerie includes GBGM (Groupement Blindé de la Gendarmerie Nationale), an Armoured grouping composed of seven squadrons equipped with VXB armoured personnel carriers, better known in the Gendarmerie as VBRG (Véhicule Blindé à Roues de la Gendarmerie, "Gendarmerie armoured wheeled vehicle"). It is based at Versailles-Satory. The unit also specializes in CBRN defense.
GIGN (Groupe d'intervention de la Gendarmerie nationale) is an elite law enforcement and special operations unit numbering about 400 personnel. Its missions include counter-terrorism, hostage rescue, surveillance of national threats, protection of government officials and targeting of organized crime.
GIGN was established in 1974 following the Munich massacre. Created initially as a relatively small SWAT unit specialized in sensitive hostage situations, it has since grown into a larger and more diversified force of nearly 400 members,
Many of its missions are classified, and members are not allowed to be publicly photographed. Since its formation, GIGN has been involved in over 1,800 missions and rescued more than 600 hostages, making it one of the most experienced counter-terrorism units in the world. The unit came into prominence following its successful assault on a hijacked Air France flight at Marseille Marignane airport in December 1994.
The Republican Guard is a ceremonial unit based in Paris. Their missions include:Guarding important public buildings in Paris such as the Élysée Palace, the residence of the Prime Minister of France, Hôtel Matignon, the Senate, the National Assembly, the Hall of Justice, and keeping public order in Paris.
Honour and security services for the highest national personalities and important foreign guests;
Support of other law enforcement forces (with intervention groups, or horseback patrols);
Staffing horseback patrol stations, particularly for the forests of the Île-de-France region;
The non-metropolitan branches include units serving in the French overseas départements and territories (such as the Gendarmerie of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon), staff at the disposal of independent States for technical co-operation, Germany, security guards in French embassies and consulates abroad.
Placed under the dual supervision of the Gendarmerie and the Navy, its missions include:police and security in the naval bases;
police at sea;
assistance and rescue at sea.
The Air Transport Gendarmerie (Gendarmerie des Transports Aériens) is placed under the dual supervision of the Gendarmerie and the direction of civilian aviation of the transportation ministry, its missions include:police and security in civilian airfields and airports;
filtering access to aircraft, counter-terrorism and counter-narcotic activities, freight surveillance;
surveillance of technical installations of the airports (control tower...);
traffic control on the roads within the airports;
protection of important visitors;
judiciary inquiries pertaining to accidents of civilian aircraft.
The Air Gendarmerie (Gendarmerie de l'Air) is placed under the dual supervision of the Gendarmerie and the Air Force, it fulfills police and security missions in the air bases, and goes on the site of an accident involving military aircraft.
The Ordnance Gendarmerie (Gendarmerie de l'Armement) fulfills police and security missions in the establishments of the Délégation Générale pour l'Armement (France's defence procurement agency).
As the name implies, this branch is in charge of all security missions pertaining to France's nuclear forces.
The Provost Gendarmerie (Gendarmerie prévôtale), created in 2013, is the military police of the French Army deployed outside metropolitan France.
Gendarmerie units have served in:Syria
The uniform of the Gendarmerie has undergone many changes since the establishment of the corps. Throughout most of the 19th Century a wide bicorne was worn with a dark blue coat or tunic. Trousers were light blue. White aiguillettes were a distinguishing feature. In 1905 the bicorne was replaced by a dark blue kepi with white braiding, which had increasingly been worn as a service headdress. A silver crested helmet with plume, modelled on that of the French cuirassiers was adopted as a parade headdress until 1914. Following World War I a relatively simple uniform was adopted for the Gendarmerie, although traditional features such as the multiple-cord aiguillette and the dark blue/light blue colour combination were retained.
Since 2006 a more casual "relaxed uniform" has been authorised for ordinary duties (see photograph below). The kepi however continues in use for dress occasions. Special items of clothing and equipment are issued for the various functions required of the Gendarmerie. The cavalry and infantry of the Republican Guard retain historic ceremonial uniforms dating from the 19th Century
Officiers Généraux (General Officers)
Officiers supérieurs (Senior Officers)
Officers Subalternes (Junior Officers)
Militaire du Rang (Serviceman of the Rank)
The National Gendarmerie consisted of approx. 103,481 personnel units in 2006. Career gendarmes are either commissioned or non-commissioned officers. The lower ranks consist of auxiliary gendarmes on limited-time/term contracts. The 103,481 military personnel of the National Gendarmerie is divided into:5,789 officers and 78,354 NCOs of gendarmerie;
237 officers and 3,824 NCOs of the technical and administrative body;
15,277 section volunteers, from voluntary gendarmes (AGIV) and voluntary assistant gendarmes (GAV);
1,908 civilian personnel are divided into civil servants, state workers and contracted workers;
40,000 reserve personnel. This reserve force had not yet reached the authorised size limit. Only 25,000 men and women were signed up for reserve engagements (E.S.R.).
This personnel mans the following units:Départemental Gendarmerie
1,055 Community brigades;
697 autonomous brigades ;
370 Surveillance and Intervention Platoons (PSIG);
271 Dog-handling Teams;
17 Mountain Platoons;
92 Departmental Brigades for Investigations and Judicial Services;
383 Research sections and brigades;
14 Air Sections;
7 River Brigades;
26 Coastal brigades;
93 departmental squadrons for roadway security;
136 Highway Platoons;
37 brigades for the prevention of juvenile delinquency;
21 Centers for Information and Recruitment.
6 Special Security Platoons.
5 squadrons and 10 companies of Republican Guard;
40 brigades of gendarmerie for air transports and research sections (BGTA);
8 Protection Units;
19 Air sections and detachments;
18 gendarmerie armament units.
3 673 personnel overseas posts;
74 brigades and postes of the maritime gendarmerie;
54 brigades of Air Gendarmerie;
23 schools and Instruction Centers.
The Gendarmerie nationale's Prospective Centre (CPGN), which was created in 1998 by an ordinance of the Minister for Defence, is one of the gendarmerie's answers to officials' willingness to the modernise the State. Under the direct authority of the general director of the gendarmerie, it is located in Penthièvre barracks on avenue Delcassé in Paris and managed by Mr Frédéric LENICA, (assisted by a general secretary, Colonel LAPPRAND) "maître des requêtes" in the Conseil d'Etat.
The Gendarmerie has used helicopters since 1954. They are part of the Gendarmerie air forces (French: Forces aériennes de la Gendarmerie or FAG—not to be confused with the Air Gendarmerie or the Air Transport Gendarmerie). FAG units are attached to each of the seven domestic "zonal" regions and six overseas COMGEND (Gendarmerie commands). They also operate for the benefit of the National Police which owns no helicopters (the Police also has access to Civil Security helicopters).
Forces aériennes de la Gendarmerie (FAG) operate a fleet of 55 machines belonging to three types and specialized in two basic missions: surveillance/intervention and rescue/intervention.Eurocopter AS350 Écureuil: 26 machines (surveillance/intervention)
Eurocopter EC135: 15 machines (surveillance/intervention)
Eurocopter EC-145: 14 machines (rescue/intervention)