Charles André Joseph Marie de Gaulle (listen (help·info)) (November 22, 1890 – November 9, 1970) was a French general and statesman who led the Free French Forces during World War II and later founded the French Fifth Republic and served as its first President. In France, he is commonly referred to as Général de Gaulle or simply Le Général.
Prior to World War II, de Gaulle was a tactician of armoured warfare and advocate of military aviation. During the war, he reached the rank of Brigadier General and organised the Free French Forces with exiled French officers in England. He gave a famous radio address in 1940, exhorting the French people to resist Nazi Germany. Following the liberation of France in 1944, de Gaulle became prime minister in the French Provisional Government. Although he retired from politics in 1946 due to political conflicts, he was returned to power with military support following the May 1958 crisis. De Gaulle led the writing of a new constitution founding the Fifth Republic, and was elected the President of France.
As president, Charles de Gaulle ended the political chaos and violence that preceded his return to power. Although he initially supported French rule over Algeria, he controversially decided to grant independence to Algeria, ending an expensive and unpopular war. A new currency was issued to control inflation and industrial growth was promoted. De Gaulle oversaw the development of atomic weapons and promoted a pan-European foreign policy, seeking to diminish U.S. and British influence; withdrawing France from the NATO military command, he objected to Britain’s entry into the European Community and recognised Communist China. During his term, de Gaulle also faced controversy and political opposition from Communists and Socialists, and a spate of widespread protests in May 1968. De Gaulle retired in 1969, but remains the most influential leader in modern French history.
De Gaulle was born in Lille, the third of five children of Henri de Gaulle, a professor of philosophy and literature at a Jesuit college, who eventually founded his own school. He was raised in a family of devout Roman Catholics who were nationalist and traditionalist, but also quite progressive.
De Gaulle's father, Henri, came from a long line of aristocracy from Normandy and Burgundy, while his mother, Jeanne Maillot, descended from a family of rich entrepreneurs from the industrial region of Lille in French Flanders. The “de” in “de Gaulle” is not a nobiliary particle, although the de Gaulle family were an ancient family of ennobled knighthood. The earliest known de Gaulle ancestor was a squire of the 12th-century King Philip Augustus. The name “de Gaulle” is thought to have evolved from a Germanic form, “De Walle”, meaning “the wall (of a fortification or city)”, “the rampart”. Much of the old French nobility descended from Frankish and Norman Germanic lineages and often bore Germanic names.
De Gaulle was educated in Paris at the College Stanislas and also briefly in Belgium. Since childhood, he had a displayed a keen interest in reading and studying history.. Choosing a military career, de Gaulle spent four years studying and training at the elite Saint-Cyr. Graduating in 1912, he joined an infantry regiment of the French Army.