Who Was “The Action Francaise”

The Action Française (also known as the AF) figures promintently in The Betrayal In The Louvre.  The AF was an organization active in France early in the last century until, approximately, the liberation of Paris from the Nazis in 1944. The group actually achieved some degree of political power just after WWI during a period of extreme French nationalism. However, my research found no evidence of the noble families of France banding together after the Revolution and creating the organization described in Betrayal in the Louvre.

The real Action Française seems to have been strongly anti-parliamentarian, anti-Semitic, and preached virulent nationalism. Its leader, Charles Maurras formulated the doctrine of integral nationalism, which sought a restoration of the monarchy because this was considered the only institution capable of unifying strife-torn French society. Action Française was widely supported by Roman Catholics, small businessmen, and professional men. It advocated the overthrow, violent if necessary, of the parliamentary Third Republic (1870–1940). The disruptive tactics of the Action Française and its youth group, the Camelots du Roi (“Hucksters of the King”), brought it to prominence among several right-wing groups before World War I.

As with other radical, anti-Semitic movements which washed across Europe in the 1890s and early part of the 20th Century, this one had its roots in the Dreyfus Affair. A famous trial in which a Jewish officer, Alfred Dryfus, of the French army was wrongfully convicted of treason. This trial was the basis of the “international Jewish conspiracy” and some consider it to mark the beginning of anti-Semitism in early twentieth Century Europe.

Dryfus was charged with passing military secrets to the German Embassy in Paris, and in 1894 he was convicted of treason and imprisoned on the notorious Devil’s Island. The conviction was based on documents found in the waste-paper basket of the German military attaché, Major Max von Schwartzkoppen.

The French military, at first, believed Dreyfus was guilty of treason, but soon learned the evidence against Dreyfus was weak to non-existent. Unfortunately, it was deemed too late to admit they were wrong. To admit a mistake would bring down the government. Dreyfus was convicted and sent to the infamous Devil’s Island.

It was not until 1906 that Dreyfus was cleared of all charges and readmitted into the army. He was also made a knight in the Légion d’Honneur (Legion of Honor). Dreyfus was recommissioned to fight behind the lines of the Western Front during World War I as a Lieutenant Colonel of Artillery though he did actually serve on the front-lines in 1917.

Groups like Maurras’ Action Française that were created during the affair endured for decades. Ultimately, the AF was discredited for its collaboration with the Vichy government and with the Nazis. Its members largely drifted away, though some were arrested and imprisoned as collaborators.