France on Trial

France on Trial

The Case of Marshal Pétain


Winner of the Duff Cooper Prize 2023
A Telegraph Book of the Year
A Times, Spectator and Prospect Book of the Year

One of the great contemporary historians of France
on one of the most controversial periods of twentieth-century French history

Few images more shocked the French population during the Occupation than the photograph of Marshal Philippe Pétain - the great French hero of the First World War - shaking the hand of Hitler on 20 October 1940. In a radio speech after this meeting, Pétain told the French people that he was 'entering down the road of collaboration'. He ended with the words: 'This is my policy. My ministers are responsible to me. It is I alone who will be judged by History.' Five years later, in July 1945, the hour of judgement - if not yet the judgement of History - arrived. Pétain was brought before a specially created High Court to answer for his conduct between the signing of the armistice with Germany in June 1940 and the Liberation of France in August 1944.

Julian Jackson uses Pétain's three-week trial as a lens through which to examine the central crisis of twentieth-century French history - the defeat of 1940, the signing of the armistice and Vichy's policy of collaboration - what the main prosecutor Mornet called 'four years to erase from our history'. As head of the Vichy regime in the Second, Pétain became one of France's most notorious public figures, and the lightening-rod for collective guilt and retribution immediately after the Second World War. In France on Trial Jackson blends politics and personal drama to explore how different national factions sought to try to claim the past, or establish their interpretation of it, as a way of claiming the present and future.


  • Julian Jackson brings to life here with his customary mastery the trial in 1945 of France's highest ranking military officer, accused of having betrayed his country. Philippe Pétain knew extremes of glory and shame in his long military career. In 1919, as the supreme commander of French armies in World War I, he rode down the Champs-Elysées at the head of a victory parade. After June 1940, with almost unlimited power and prestige, he governed France under German occupation. In 1945 he sat in a French courtroom charged with treason for his exercise of that power. In this compelling book, Julian Jackson gives the reader a seat in the jury box and then follows France's debate over Petain - hero or traitor? - over the next fifty years.
    Robert Paxton, Mellon Professor Emeritus of Social Science, Columbia University

About the author

Julian Jackson

Julian Jackson is Emeritus Professor of History at Queen Mary, University of London and one of the foremost British scholars of twentieth-century France. A Certain Idea of France: The Life of Charles de Gaulle won the Duff Cooper Prize, the Elizabeth Longford Prize for Historical Biography, the American Library in Paris Award, the Franco-British Society Literary Prize, the Grand Prix de la Biographie Politique du Touquet and the Prix Special du Jury de Prix de Géopolitique. His other books include France: The Dark Years, 1940-1944, which was shortlisted for the Los Angeles Times History Book Award, and The Fall of France, which won the Wolfson History Prize in 2004. He is a Fellow of the British Academy, Commandeur dans l'Ordre des Palmes Académiques and Officier dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
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