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In July 1830, King Charles X of France signed into law a series of decrees known as the July Ordinances in order to re-establish an absolute monarchy to curtail an increasingly radical elected government. The ordinances suspended the freedom of the press, dissolved the elected legislature and disenfranchised the commercial bourgeoisie. Within three days a popular insurrection had removed Charles from the throne. Eventually Louis-Phillipe, the duc d’Orléans, took the throne as a constitutional monarch having established his egalitarian credentials during the earlier French Revolution. Under the new constitution, only French nationals could serve in the army. Nevertheless, there were many foreigners still in France: those attracted by the promise of the earlier revolutions and former foreign soldier’s in Napoleon’s Grande Armée
On 10th March 1831, King Louis-Phillipe established the French Foreign Legion to enable these foreigners to fight to achieve France’s colonial ambitions in Algeria, which had proved to be an unpopular posting with French soldiers. The Legion remained outside the regular French army, thus circumventing the constitutional ban on foreign soldiers, although French citizens – especially those considered to be disruptive influences – were also encouraged to join.
Four years later the Foreign Legion took part in their first actions on European soil in support of Isabella II in the First Carlist War. Over the following decades they also served in Italy and Mexico. During the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), the authorities waived the rule that légionnaires could not serve within Metropolitan France because of shortages of experienced soldiers. As well as serving in various colonial campaigns, légionnaires fought in both world wars and continue to see action today.
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