THE POPE’S LEGION by Charles A. Coulombe


The Multinational Fighting Force That Defended the Vatican
Email this review


Passionately argued rehabilitation of Pius IX’s international regiment of Zouaves, by Catholic journalist Coulombe (Vicars of Christ: A History of the Popes, 2003, etc.).

In 1860, the Papal States were isolated and beleaguered by the growing movement for Italian unification, led from Sardinia by King Victor Emmanuel II’s prime minister, Count Camillo Benso di Cavour, and his frequent tool and occasional opponent, Giuseppe Garibaldi. Resolving to resist being ousted (again) from Rome, Pope Pius IX sent out a call across the Catholic world for volunteers to become “Swords around the Cross.” The reaction was swift. General Lamoricière, a devout Catholic who had gained glory for France in the conquest of Algeria 30 years before, organized and commanded the Zouaves, named after one of North Africa’s fierce-fighting Berber tribes. The papal forces comprised members of the French and Roman nobility, Belgian, Irish, Swiss and even American volunteers. (Some “irreconcilable Confederates” arrived after the Civil War, finding comfort in another gallant lost cause.) Vastly outnumbered by the Sardinians, many of whom were seasoned veterans of the recent Crimean and Franco-Austrian wars, the spirited Papal Zouaves nonetheless gave valiant resistance over the next ten years, at Castelfidardo in 1860 and against Garibaldi’s onslaught on Rome in 1867. Coulombe does an expedient job of wading through the military details necessary to fully depict this tangled resolution of the “Roman question.” He portrays the crusading Zouaves as indomitable spirits, noting that they went on to fight in France and Spain, even to evangelize in the interior of Africa. Their kind of militancy has fallen into disfavor in recent years, but Coulombe does his best to revive the brand for a new generation.

An unabashedly admiring tribute to men of fighting faith.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-230-60058-4
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2008